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Local Government Bill

Volume 129: debated on Wednesday 9 March 1988

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Lords amendments considered.

4.22 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raise with you a matter of which you are already aware, the selection in relation to what was clause 28 when it left the House and will now be clause 29 of the Local Government Bill. You have given considerable thought to the amendments that I have tabled. For one last time, I shall briefly put to you the argument for taking one or both of the amendments that I propose.

May we be allowed to debate whether, instead of the word "promote" in clause 29, as it will now be, we should have an alternative word, "commend", as was suggested in another place? The dictionary makes it clear — perhaps I did not make this argument clear before—that, whereas "commend" has only one meaning, "promote" is open to a variety of meanings. The ambiguity of the word "promote" could render the legislation controversial and problematic in a way that "commend" could not. The "Oxford Dictionary" makes it clear that there are different types of meaning of "promote", but "commend" has only a positive, welcoming or recommending sense. That word would seem to restrict the ambit of the clause and, therefore, raise a different issue about its reach.

The other matter relates to the grouped pair of amendments that were tabled by me, amendments (b) and (d) to Lords amendment No. 10. The proposed amendment would delete the word "homosexuality" and replace it by
"sexual activity between persons of the same sex."
That matter, too, was debated in the other place. To paraphrase the argument in the other place, to promote or commend homosexuality is arguably scientifically impossible in the sense that, if homosexuality is a condition or an orientation, it cannot in any way be promoted or commended with any concrete effect. The alternative would be to make it clear—it would accord with the mischief with which the original proposer of the new clause sought to deal in Committee—that what was intended to be dealt with by the legislation was the promotion or commendation of sexual activity between people of the same sex. That clearly falls to be considered within the context of the legislation, and certainly—I do not think that there is any dispute—should not be promoted or commended by local authorities.

But there is a difference. In practice, it would be the difference between a local authority properly allowing a teacher, for example, to respond to a proper question, and the local authority going on with its present duties and responsibilities in commending specific activity and being seen to endorse it.

I am aware that you have given thought to the matter, Mr. Speaker, and I am grateful. But I ask you, particularly in respect of the first point, which I may not have put clearly enough before, to consider one more time whether we could have an opportunity to have what would be the only possible debate on the substance of the legal wording and interpretation of a controversial clause to a controversial Bill.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have had discussions about the matter. In the light of what he has said to me, I have looked at the matter again. I am afraid I cannot change my selection.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order arises out of the fact that we are discussing the business at all today. The Lords amendments were available to Members of the House of Commons only some time on Friday of last week. That meant that it was impossible for hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, since the Government knew what the situation was, to table amendments until the sitting of the House on Monday. Clearly, the Clerks of the House had to judge whether the amendments were in order. Such decisions were, broadly speaking, communicated, at least to me, yesterday — I make no criticism of the Clerks in that respect—by which time, of course, it was impossible to table any further amendments and have them on the Order Paper to be accepted by you for debate. That cannot be a reasonable way for the House to deal with its business.

The problem was raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition with the Leader of the House during the business statement last Thursday. The Leader of the House said:
"The Bill will be available in the Vote Office first thing tomorrow".— [Official Report, 3 March 1988; Vol. 1440, c. 1156.]
I am not sure that it was available first thing, but it was certainly available during Friday. That is simply not good enough to enable all Opposition parties proper time to scrutinise the implications, to table amendments, to discuss them with the Clerks, to seek advice, and to secure debates on issues that we believe to be of importance to us and to our constituents.

Like the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I regret that some amendments standing in my name and in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends have not been selected. Had the business not been concertinaed in such a way, the problems could have been avoided. It cannot be an acceptable or satisfactory way in which to proceed with important legislation affecting not only aspects of local government finance and contract compliance but people's civil rights and other matters of fundamental importance to us all in a democratic society. Although it is probably too late to do anything about today's proceedings, I hope that somehow these problems can be eliminated in future. The position of the House is weak and growing weaker vis-a-vis the executive — whichever party forms the executive. I cannot believe that Members of Parliament or the public want Parliament to grow weaker and weaker, especially with a mounting load of legislation from any Government. I raise this matter with you, Mr. Speaker, because it is important to put it on record and to seek ways of ensuring that these problems do not arise again in future.

4.30 pm

I fully appreciate what the hon. Member has said about time. I think that it is important that the Opposition, and indeed the whole House, has time to table properly drafted amendments. I shall look again carefully at the starred amendments, but at first sight I do not think that I can change my selection.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. No one is criticising your selection of amendments or the advice that the Clerks have put forward. What is causing great concern to Opposition Members is the deliberate efforts by the Government's business managers to make it difficult for Opposition Members to table amendments that are in order on difficult matters, and the totally slipshod approach by the Department of the Environment and the Office of the Leader of the House. Those are the only possible explanations as to why you, Mr. Speaker, and the Clerk have been put in some difficulty, as have Opposition Members.

We have heard today from the same Secretary of State on a different Bill. He made an announcement about three matters he wanted to introduce into the Local Government Finance Bill, but he cannot even promise that they will be brought forward in time to be considered in the already guillotined Committee. He is proposing, or at best promising, that they will be brought forward to be discussed in the already guillotined report stage of the Bill. That statement follows the problems that we have had with a major announcement of new policies which are to be incorporated into the Education Reform Bill so that we had to change guillotine motions and God knows what else.

The House is being treated with contempt by the Government's business managers, who are not one jot interested in giving the House the opportunity properly to scrutinise the legislation. They want simply to push through slipshod amendments as rapidly as possible. It is simply not good enough. If necessary, will you, Mr. Speaker, call a meeting of the usual channels so that we can avoid what is happening at the moment occurring again and again?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As amendments to Lords amendments are by nature the most difficult to draft satisfactorily because of the limited scope of what is before us, is it not the normal practice for the period between Lords amendments coming to the House and being debated by the House after Third Reading in the Lords to be two weekends and a full week in which we can, as the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) argued, consider any amendments that we wish to table, see whether they are acceptable in drafting terms for consideration by you, Mr. Speaker and table further amendments if they are not? I seek your ruling about whether the timetable was complied with in this case and whether any course is open to us whereby we could proceed with this business for some time, see how far we get and resume it on another day while we deal with the remaining Orders of the Day.

I fully appreciate the importance of time to the Opposition and to the whole House in tabling amendments, particularly to Lords amendments. Although the matters that have been raised have my sympathy, they are not matters for me. Perhaps they should be pursued with the Leader of the House when he is here tomorrow.

Clause 1

Defined Authorities

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, leave out line 13.

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this it will be convenient to discuss also Lords amendments Nos. 6, 31 and 33.

The Development Board for Rural Wales is established to operate as a development agency with economic and social functions in rural Wales. The DBRW is akin to the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the Development Commission in England, which are both precluded from the Bill's provisions.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales ensures that the board exposes its activities to competition and uses private contractors wherever it is possible and reasonable.

The opportunity has also been taken in amendments Nos. 31 and 33 to remove the board from the competitive tendering provisions of part III of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 governing building and maintenance by direct labour organisations. The part III provisions have little practical impact on the board as they apply to bodies with direct labour organisations of about 30 employees. The board has only 12 employees in its organisation.

Will the Minister confirm that the board is seeking these amendments?

That being so, can the Minister provide any enlightenment as to why the provision was included in the Bill in the first place?

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3

Other Definitions

Lords amendment: No. 2, in page 3, line 38, leave out "a parish or community council".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. Christopher Chope)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

When parish and community councils were added to the list of defined authorities in clause 1, it became necessary to delete the reference to them in clause 3 which implied that they were not defined authorities. This was only noticed after the Bill had left this House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11

Report For Financial Year

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 10, line 11, leave out "the first relevant date" and insert "30th September".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
(Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this it will be convenient to discuss also Lords amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 28 to 30.

These amendments bring the Scottish report dates into line with those applicable to England and Wales.

There was some discussion about this in Committee, and a plea was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) for a consistent approach north and south of the border. Although the amendment was tabled by the hon. Member for Maryhill, the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) also spoke about it. He said:
"The date of 31 December specified in the Bill could give rise to practical problems. The Bill does not say, 'By the last post on 31 December'—if there is a last post … Can the Scottish Office confirm that an official, or at least a Minister will be present in New St. Andrew's House and that the doors will he open to receive the hundreds of annual reports at one minute to midnight on hogmanay?"
I am glad that in response to that my hon. Friend said:
"throughout the year Scottish Office Ministers are available."
We did see the force of the argument of the hon. Member for East Lothian. It is no part of my desire to see the terms of the Bill impinge on the happiness of Scotsmen at hogmanay, hence the amendment.

However, a more weighty argument was made by the hon. Member for Maryhill who said that we should have consistency north and south of the border.

What was a practical proposal by the Accounts Commission has simply been rendered redundant by the introduction into the Bill of a further refinement of the audit process.

As previously drafted, reports by Scottish authorities were to be prepared by 30 November and submitted to the Secretary of State by 31 December. The Bill now requires reports by all authorities, including Scottish authorities, to be prepared by 30 September and sent both to the Secretary of State and to auditors by 31 October. The Commission for Local Authority Accounts in Scotland takes the view that it is no longer necessary to have different dates for preparation and submission of reports for Scotland. This is because the Bill now makes provision for auditors to check the statements of rate of return for those activities covered in the Local Government. Planning and Land Act 1980, as well as those covered by this Bill and to highlight any discrepancies in the report. This will ensure that the reports received in the Department are subject to scrutiny and based on audited figures. I am sure that the House will agree that that provides welcome consistency north and south of the border.

I hope that the House will agree that these are uncontentious points. Indeed, they are in response to the hon. Member for Maryhill who spoke, not only on behalf of herself, but the Opposition when she said:
"The Opposition believe that it is only fair that England, Scotland and Wales should keep to the same dates, whatever they may be." —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 10 November 1987: c. 620–24.]
It is perhaps slightly ironic that I am responding to the representations of those hon. Members when they are absent today. However, I am sure that in due course the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) will bear that news to his colleagues—[Interruption.] Yes, I realise that they are in Scotland at a conference. The amendment does precisely what they asked and I commend it to the House.

In response to the Minister, although Labour Members are not present [Interruption.]—although the hon. Members who raised those points are not present—I am sure that they will appreciate what the Minister has said because it shows that the Government have at least some sense of humour. I am glad to note that Scottish custom, tradition and long usage has been taken into account in producing the changes.

I wish that the Minister would convey to his colleagues the same willingness to make sure that the same rules apply north and south of the border and in Wales in other pieces of legislation. On the Housing Bill, for example, it has been strongly argued—but not yet accepted — that what is happening in Scotland should happen in England and Wales. Perhaps the Minister could use his best offices to secure similar provisions across the border in that Bill as he has now secured in this.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 4 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 17

Local And Other Public Authority Contracts: Exclusion Of Non-Commercial Considerations

Lords amendment: No. 7, in page 14, line 17, at beginning insert

"Subject to the provisions of sections 18 and (Questions relevant to code of Practice on Employment of Disabled),".

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 8.

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Hon. Members will have noted that, apart from these two amendments, no substantive changes to the provisions of part II of the Bill were made in the other place. Their Lordships accepted the principle behind the provisions, as did this House, that local authorities should not be in the business of setting themselves up as extra-statutory enforcement agencies on matters which are already the subject of existing statute and which have, where appropriate, their own enforcement processes.

The position in relation to the Race Relations Act 1976 is quite different. In it, the local authorities are given a specific statutory role of enforcement, and this is acknowledged in the Bill in clause 18, where the local authorities may ask specific questions of contractors, and take into account the replies that they receive.

However, the statutes directly relating to the employment of the disabled are the Disabled Persons (Employment) Acts of 1944 and 1958 which do not include such a role for local authorities. I shall give reasons why that is correct later. Their Lordships accepted, as did this House, the principle that local authorities should not assume the role of enforcing the provisions of those Acts, a role which rightfully belongs to the employment service of the Department of Employment.

What we are all seeking—their Lordships, this House and certainly the Government — are the best possible opportunities for the disabled to be able to gain employment. I would like to emphasise our total commitment to the principle that disabled people should have every opportunity to obtain useful and gainful employment. Our record on positive measures to help disabled people gain those opportunities is strong.

For example, last month sections 5 and 6 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 came into force. Those measures include a requirement to assess the needs of disabled school leavers, taking account of a range of services including education, vocational training and employment. We have also recognised that disabled people on income support should be able to earn more money without it affecting their benefit. and next month that disregarded sum will be increased from £4 to £15 per week.

In 1986–87 nearly 84,000 disabled people were placed in work through MSC general programmes, and over 17,000 disabled people were in sheltered employment. In 1987–88 the MSC will spend some £133 million on programmes specifically for the disabled, of which some £87 million will have been spent on sheltered employment. £22 million on employment rehabilitation;£15 million on resettlement services; and almost £9 million on training at residential training colleges.

4.45 pm

Nevertheless, it is clear that the other place felt strongly that more should be done to help disabled people with employment. There was concern about this in this House too before the Bill left here. The Government accept that they should respond to this clear feeling of both Houses. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is announcing a review within his Department of the policies and programmes that he supports for disabled people in employment. The review will take account of the recently completed study by the National Advisory Council on Employment of Disabled People. It will also take account of the conclusions that the Public Accounts Committee reaches on the National Audit Office's examination of the quota arrangement and other arrangements made for the benefit of people with disabilities.

In the light of this, I hope that the House will be willing to accept that it would be appropriate for the amendments to be reversed.

The Secretary of State may be coming on to this point. and I apologise for intervening if he is, but does he accept that what he has said so far relates only to national Government policy and to employment by central Government, whereas we are obviously concerned about local government employment policies and local government's ability to take on disabled people and employ then adequately?

Yes, I am coming to that, but if I do not satisfy the hon. Gentleman when I do come to it, I shall happily give way to him again.

If the amendments agreed in the other place were to be accepted, it is our belief that they would do nothing to further the interests of disabled people, but would in fact provide a possible means whereby local authorities could discriminate against contractors that they did not like for other reasons. Amendment 7 merely paves the way for the new clause introduced by amendment 8. That new clause empowers authorities to ask questions of potential contractors about the non-commercial matters set out in clause 17(5)(a), in order to ensure that contractors have due regard to the Manpower Services Commission's code of good practice on the employment of disabled people.

When the amendments were debated in the other place, the argument in their defence was that there was no contract compliance requirement in the amendments; no extra-statutory enforcement rights; no compulsion for local authorities; and no interference with the efficiency of the companies concerned. Hon. Members will recognise that that is simply not the case. If the Bill was now to remain unamended as their Lordships have sent it to us, an authority could decide to refuse to do business with a particular company on the ground that, in the authority's view, the company did not have proper regard to this particular non-statutory advisory code. In our view, that is an open invitation to local authorities to exercise covert discrimination against contractors of whom they disapprove possibly for other reasons.

If all a local authority wishes to do—this was the expressed reason for the clause when moved in the other place — is bring the code of good practice to the attention of firms with which it is considering doing business, there is nothing in the Bill which prevents that. Indeed, that part of the new clause in amendment 8, which would allow authorities to refer prospective contractors to relevant agencies, is entirely superfluous. Nothing in the Bill stops authorities referring contractors to the employment service or the Manpower Services Commission — the relevant agencies — if they consider that contractors need advice or guidance on employment of disabled people.

Nor is there anything in the Bill to stop authorities calling together employers in their area to discuss ways in which the various recommendations and suggestions in the code of good practice can best be implemented. That sort of action seems far more relevant to local government, and indeed much more likely to have an effect on the local people whom local authorities exist to serve, than crude contract compliance measures applied to contractors in general. Many contractors will be supplying goods made in factories miles from the authority's area and some even overseas. No system of local enforcement regarding disabled employment is sensible when a national policy is essential, and that is what we have.

The amendments are not about local authorities dealing with employers in their area. They are not even concerned with authorities' own role as an employer of disabled people—in no sense affected by the amendments—or with the way in which the 1944 and 1958 Acts are observed. They are about giving local authorities the power to discriminate against certain firms by imposing their own views on how an advisory code of good practice should be observed, and refusing to do business with them if the authority does not agree with those firms' interpretation of the code. I do not believe that the amendments would result in any more jobs for disabled people. They would give the most intransigent of authorities a new weapon with which to discriminate against contractors in a subjective and non-commercial way.

It is at the heart of part II of the Bill to deny authorities the chance to do such things; and it would be very difficult to defend not extending the practice embodied in the amendments to other matters, such as sexual discrimination, nuclear-free zones, apartheid or anything else. We would have lost the logical distinction upon which the Bill is based.

Can the Secretary of State explain the relevance of the amendments to the local authorities? If the amendments were accepted, they might not produce more employment for the disabled, but they certainly would not produce less. Indeed, they could result in more employment possibilities. The amendments would not have automatic consequences, but they would at least challenge local authorities and their contractors to consider whether they are doing enough. That is the great merit of the amendments and why they got all-party support in the other place.

I believe that the amendments could easily result in fewer jobs. The harassment of firms could result in them being unprepared to tender for a local authority contract. Therefore, the result could be possible employment losses and even job losses for the disabled.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the amendments are well-meaning, they might risk undermining the whole basis of the Bill — to stop political discrimination — and generally weaken Government policies that have resulted in an 80 per cent. increase, in real terms, in spending on the long-term sick and disabled?

My hon. Friend has summarised the case that I put at greater length. We have tried to recognise the concern felt by hon. Members and the Lords that more could be done for the disabled. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has introduced a new intitiative to find ways to help the disabled nationally. I believe that such help is better given nationally rather than through patchy and sometimes unhelpful attempts to use contract compliance for that purpose.

I support the Lords amendment. I was amazed by the Secretary of State's defence of the present position. First, he went through a long catalogue citing the so-called generosity of the Government towards disabled people. The disabled people in my constituency do not find the Government very generous.

The right hon. Gentleman has hinted that the Secretary of State for Employment will undertake a national review of disabled people's ability to get jobs. Why has the Secretary of State for Employment not done that before? Why has he waited all this time? I am sure that that question will not be lost on disabled people.

The Secretary of State for the Environment has suggested that the Lords amendment may allow local authorities to threaten contractors. What we are discussing is opening up opportunities for disabled people. If nothing else, the Lords amendment helps to raise the awareness of contractors, which is at the heart of the matter, to their obligations and to the common decency of allowing disabled people greater opportunities in the job market.

The Lords amendment is not strong. It merely allows local authorities to draw contractors' attention to the code of practice on the employment of disabled people, to consider their employment policies in the light of that code and to enable the authority to refer them to the local disablement advisory service. There is nothing earth-shattering about that. There is no provision in the amendment that would allow a local authority to refuse a contract if it considered that the contractor was not complying with the code.

Employment quotas, as set out in the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944, are also excluded from the amendment. In short, the amendment is limited, but it is extremely important. It puts a marker down to ensure that local authorities and contractors who submit tenders should consider closely the needs of disabled people in the community. If we pass the amendment, it would provide an extra encouragement — not a statutory duty — to employers to employ disabled people and reduce discrimination against their employment.

It is unbelievable that the Government are contemplating the removal of the amendment, especially when we are aware that an increasing number of employers are failing to meet the disabled employment quotas, and therefore their legal obligations under the 1944 Act. In 1986, only 27 per cent. of employers carried out their legal obligations. Unemployment among disabled people is double the rate among their peers—for some disabled groups the difference is even greater.

In such circumstances, given the emotional implications for the disabled, their economic dignity and well-being, it is nothing less than a disgrace that the Government should seek to change the law not only to outlaw practices that are presently lawful, but also to seek to throw out an amendment that attempts to encourage employers to meet existing legal obligations and encourages compliance with a voluntary—I stress that word—code of practice. That code of practice was launched in 1984 with the support of the Prime Minister, the CBI, the TUC, the Institute of Personnel Management, Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation and the all-party disablement group of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) is joint chairman. That code of practice encouraged employers to establish a written policy for the employment of disabled people and the rehabilitation of those who had become disabled.

Throughout what has passed for a debate on this subject and on sex discrimination, the Government have monotonously repeated that they accepted, reluctantly, racial equality as part of contract compliance because, tinder section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976, local councils already had an existing statutory duty to act thus. However, by the same token the Government would not accept that disabled people or women should be included in the Bill because there was no equivalent to section 71 that related to them.

Yesterday, the Equal Opportunities Commission published the report that it has sent to the Home Secretary regarding the urgent reforms that are needed to our sex equality legislation. It has recommended contract compliance. The report is addressed to the Home Secretary and I do not know whether the Secretary of State for the Environment has received a copy. I have a copy with me today. It was sent to me this morning and it makes very good reading. It pleads with the Government to introduce contract compliance as a statutory duty on all local authorities, health authorities and other public bodies.

I understand that the Government said that if the Equal Opportunities Commission recommended contract compliance, they would consider it. There could be no better time than now — during the week of international women's day—for the Minister to honour his assurances to the Equal Opportunities Commission and to the women of this country on this matter and to bring forward an amendment in line with what is proposed in "Equal Treatment for Men and Women — Strengthening the Acts."

5 pm

It is ironic that last week the Government announced their intention to bring forward a Bill later this year to introduce contract compliance—the very same policy — in Northern Ireland. The Government hardly bother any longer to deny that their actions in Northern Ireland are being prompted by strong pressure from the United States, where a campaign to boycott investment, or even to encourage disinvestment, has been gaining ground because of persistent discrimination against the Catholic minority. The introduction of contract compliance in Northern Ireland is meant to head off that pressure.

I appeal to the House to consider what message we shall be sending out to people with disabilities and to women if we reject the Lords amendment. It is invidious and highly divisive to appear to be elevating one form of discrimination above another. The Government have been shown today to be hiding behind empty formalism to cover their opposition to contract compliance — and even to voluntary codes of practice — to improve opportunities for disabled people and for women, and we shall never forget their actions on these issues.

Contract compliance has shown its tremendous value to women in the United States. It has been welcomed in this country by a great many people, including the Institute of Personnel Management, which sees it as a valuable mechanism for spreading good and more professional codes of practice.

Baroness Platt of Writtle, who chairs the Equal Opportunities Commission, is not, I may say, a supporter of the Labour party—far from it. She said of the Bill:
"Because local authorities will have the power to impose requirements and ask questions about issues of racial discrimination but not sex discrimination, their customers will inevitably concentrate on the former to the exclusion of the latter. This would be a most retrograde development, given the very serious problems of discrimination against women that still need to be tackled. It could seriously prejudice the position of women".
That comes not from a Labour peer but from Baroness Platt, who is a Conservative.

We commend the amendments to the House. We welcome the initiative on Northern Ireland, and we want the Government to act even-handedly. If they are introducing contract compliance in one form in Northern Ireland, they should introduce it in this other form on the mainland. We shall reserve judgment on the question of ethnic minorities until we see what comes of the Secretary of State's list of questions. We urge the Government to think again about the totally incomprehensible exclusion of people with disabilities and of women from the Bill. We shall oppose the Government and support the House of Lords. I know that my hon. Friends will join me in the Division Lobby, as, I hope, will those Conservative Members who believe that people with disabilities need the maximum encouragement and support and that those of us who do not share their problems should be constantly aware of them nevertheless. I hope that for once we might defeat the Government.

Order. I remind the House that the amendments deal specifically with the disabled and not with women.

As a long-time member of the all-party disablement group, I am naturally interested in the amendments. I was intrigued when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out that these are the only two substantive amendments that their Lordships suggested to this part of the Bill. I should have thought that that would give added weight to them.

When I first read the amendments, they seemed likely to help disabled people who are seeking employment. All of us must know that disabled people, once employed, are diligent and valuable employees—probably the best on the payroll—but that it is far from easy from them to get the job in the first instance. It seemed to me that the amendments might help disabled people, and I therefore proposed positively to support them. However, I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend said and was interested to hear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is to bring forward a review of policies for the disabled. I cannot bring myself to vote with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I am seriously considering abstaining, because I feel that he gave a very good explanation of his reasons for opposing the amendments.

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) was absolutely right in her initial decision fully to support the amendments. She is wrong to say now that she will abstain. She should have sufficient courage, as many of us have done over the years, to vote against the Government whom she supports if she thinks they are wrong. She accepts the assurance that the Government will bring forward proposals in the future, and perhaps they will. However, this is here and now and she should support the amendments on that basis. The amendments will do something positive at this moment, so why wait for proposals to emerge in the distant future which, knowing this Government, will get more and more distant? Why not give the benefit of the doubt to the amendment No. 7, which is extremely good?

I can understand the Government's being vindictive in relation to contract compliance when it comes to whether an employee should or should not be a trade unionist. I can understand it when they say, "You cannot seek contract compliance in relation to those who deal with regimes pursuing policies of apartheid." I can understand that, because that is the Government's nature, and such decisions are perfectly acceptable from their point of view. However, I find it difficult to understand why they should be vindictive to the disabled, which is what their attitude amounts to. I suppose that I know the real reason: their friends may find that their profit margins will be down a little if they have to employ some disabled people.

That is an absolute insult to disabled people. Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

It is not an insult. It is my view of the Government's attitude, based on the bitter experience that we have had since they came to power nine years ago. They put profits before the interests of ordinary people and concern themselves only with their friends in the City of London and those who make profits at the expense of the mass of the people. That is what is behind the clause. It is disgraceful that the Government are not prepared to give the amendment their support. I welcome the fact that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench are prepared to do so.

A number of us spend much of our time dealing with disabled people, including the hon. Members for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and myself. We have discussed this issue at a meeting of the all-party disablement group and there is a difference of opinion between us that will probably emerge during the debate.

The Secretary of State was ill advised to speak of the Government's record of helping disabled people. He was on extremely weak ground. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. He was not in the House yesterday when the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled was condemned for failing fully to implement that Act. That is a failure by the Government. The Secretary of State mentioned what the Government had done in terms of income support. Practically everyone who is involved with disablement is concerned about the Government's failure to provide adequately for disabled people under that head. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the jobs that have been found for disabled people under the general programme of the Manpower Services Commission. He did not mention the thousands who have not been helped through that programme. The right hon. Gentleman was wrong to speak of the Government's successes in this area.

I am amazed that the Secretary of State should be opposed to the amendment. It is incredible that he should object to it. The proposed clause would be helpful to disabled people and damaging to no one. It reflects badly on the Government that they have chosen to bring their full force against the amendment and to make clear their determination to oppose it.

What is it in the clause that is terrifying the Secretary of State? It provides that local authorities will be able to refer contractors which have not adopted the recommendations of the code of practice on the employment of disabled people to the disablement advisory service. It would allow — not force — local authorities to ask questions about a company's policy on the employment of disabled people. What is wrong with that? Surely it would be a great step forward. Companies that did not have a policy could be referred to the DAS, and it would then be for the DAS to decide how best to proceed.

This simple measure would help us to ensure that good practice is promoted, and it would advance the excellent work of the DAS. No one is opposed to the code of good practice. The Prime Minister has stated:
"employing disabled people makes good business sense."
I was present when the right hon. Lady launched the code of good practice. It was a happy occasion. We were all together, including the hon. Member for Exeter, who does so much for disabled people. Everyone supports the code, and I and others are seeking merely to draw attention to it.

If local authorities are willing to help with encouraging contractors to utilise disabled people's skills, and to retain staff who become disabled, they should be permitted to do so. No one would lose by contractors having the expert advice of the DAS brought to their attention. At the same time, disabled people would gain.

However fine the code may be, and however distinguished the members of the DAS may be, no one would claim that it is getting the support or the results that it deserves. A common attitude among far too many employers is, "The code is fine but it has nothing to do with me, thank you very much."

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Some companies adopt the code but far too many do not. What do we do about the companies which do not? The relative failure is effectively measured by the statistic that shows that many disabled people are unable to gain employment. The level of unemployment among the disabled is twice that of the unemployment among the able-bodied. That is the official figure, which we can take with a pinch of salt. Suffice to say that a far greater proportion of disabled than able-bodied people are unemployed.

A major cause of the unemployment of disabled people is prejudice. It is vicious, bitter, vindictive, unpleasant and unacceptable prejudice. The disabled are rejected by employers who do not want to know. I know many disabled people who apply for jobs. If they are honest enough or naive enough to mention their disability on the application form, they will not even be seen. I know some disabled people who have made over 100 applications for jobs. They are not even granted an interview when they mention their disability. More effort should be made in promoting the code of practice.

Local authorities are an important weapon in the armoury for promoting the code, and the proposed clause will enhance their effectiveness. The Government argue that the proposed clause is superfluous and that local authorities will be able without it to promote good employment practices in their own areas. I believe that the clause would provide an important instrument for local authorities to acquire information that would enable them to know which employers should be referred to the DAS. It would be an easy, cheap and cost-effective procedure.

The Minister in the other place said that this aspect of the clause was superfluous. He claimed that local authorities could refer companies to relevant agencies in any event. Unfortunately, he missed the point. It is crucial that we should know which companies to refer. If local authorities sought to obtain that knowledge through general surveys, the Government would be quick to condemn them for wasting resources. They would argue that that was not the job of local authorities. The Government cannot have it both ways.

The Government suggest that local authorities will be able to discriminate against contractors during the tendering process by using their response to questions to decide who receives a contract. That is not the intention of the proposed clause. The Secretary of State should take that on board. I spoke to Lord Basnett this morning—it is his amendment—and he confirmed that that is not the intention of the proposed clause. Instead, it would allow a basic question to be asked: "Have you adopted the recommendation of the code of practice on the employment of disabled people?" A negative response would mean that the contractor could be referred to the DAS. The amendment would not allow contracts to be withheld. It would not give local authorities extra statutory powers and duties.

I would favour an amendment that permitted discrimination against companies that did not play fair with disabled people. I am all in favour of that sort of discrimination. I would be prepared to hit contractors very hard if they discriminated against disabled people. It is discrimination that causes distress, anxiety, suffering, poverty and despair. I would deny contracts to such companies. I make no bones about that. If I could persuade local authorities to deny them contracts, I would do all in my power to ensure that that happened. The Secretary of State should recognise that the clause does not do that. It is very limited. All the clause proposes is to help to promote good practice. If the Secretary of State found that there were technical problems, he could easily change it.

For the sake of fact, may I point out that local authorities are enabled to disallow a contractor if they are not satisfied with him? In other parts of the Bill there are powers for them to take that decision. If the new clause were in the Bill, it could be a defence against the district audit questioning why a local authority had not gone to the lowest tenderer. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. He does not realise the effect that the amendment would have.

The Secretary of State is trying to say that, if this small amendment was agreed, as I hope it will be, local authorities, whom I thought he trusted as responsible people elected by the electorate, would use it as a trigger to do something illegal. That is a very poor interpretation of the responsibility of local authorities. I believe that they would interpret the clause in the spirit which Lord Basnett intended—that is, to draw the attention of employers to the code of practice. It would encourage them to do that. The Secretary of State does not understand the proposed new clause. He has misinterpreted it. He is misleading the House. He should accept that it would be in the interests of disabled people.

I have spoken long enough. If the Secretary of State insists on rejecting the clause, he will show that dogma is more important to the Government than helping disabled people. The clause has no drastic implications and would not alter Government policy towards local government. It would encourage efficiency and would help employers to develop good employment practices. It would help disabled people and would give them hope. It would lead to them getting more jobs. It is absurd for the Secretary of State to say that it would lead to disabled people getting fewer jobs. That is standing the truth on its head. I hope that the House will speak clearly tonight. I hope that Conservative Members will join us in the Lobby and give fresh hope to disabled people.

My right hon. Friend will know that the Lords amendment which he is asking us to reject is supported by a wide range of voluntary organisations representing the disabled and by the all-party disablement group. Therefore, it is rather more of a cross-party issue than we are accustomed to.

The amendment represents a genuine attempt to advance the cause of disabled people in the vital employment sphere. Over the years I and colleagues on both sides of the House, working within the all-party disablement group, have secured the support of the Government for small but important amendments to diverse pieces of legislation. We have done this to remove discrimination or to remove obstacles which are placed in the path of disabled people trying to pursue normal lives.

We all know that the disabled desperately want to work and to live normal lives. They make very good employees, as other hon. Members have pointed out. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave the best description in 1984 when she said:
"People who employ disabled workers know from experience that it makes good business sense to employ people who are loyal and hard-working and have skills and abilities to offer."
I could not find a better description for employers thinking of taking on disabled workers.

The sad thing is that, despite the quota system and all the other measures which have been adopted over recent years, the level of disabled unemployment is double the rate for able-bodied people. The Lords amendment, as I read it, is designed to draw the attention of contractors to the recommendations which are put forward in the Government's own code of good practice on the employment of disabled people. The amendment seeks to get local authorities to refer contractors who have not adopted the recommendations to the Disablement Advisory Service.

The question which we face is whether the Lords amendment gives local authorities a power of any sort to force contractors into contract compliance or to interfere in their efficiency, and whether that works against the principle of part II of the Bill. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for writing to me about this. My right hon. Friend has explained the Department's view, which is that the amendment would in some way give powers to local authorities to interfere in normal business practice. I find that hard to believe, just as I find it hard to accept the other point which my right hon. Friend made, that we can leave things exactly as they are because local authorities can carry this out anyway. According to my right hon. Friend, they can advise firms which are putting forward tenders for contracts to get in touch with the Disablement Advisory Service or with any other body. I do not accept that that stands up to examination.

It is only a few years since we secured an amendment to the companies legislation to require a company in its annual report to make a direct statement about what it was doing for its disabled employees and for disabled people. One could adopt the same argument as my right hon. Friend and say that we did not need that because companies could always put something in their reports about what they were doing for disabled people. In fact, Parliament judged that it was necessary to do more than that.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), I cannot go into the Division Lobby against the Lords amendment. I accept my right hon.

Friend's assurance that he has been working extremely hard, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, on bringing forward a new programme for disabled employment. I welcome that assurance deeply. I can only stress how vital it is to develop a new and more effective strategy for the employment of disabled people. The position is not good. The quota system is not being enforced and too many disabled people are out of work.

I look forward to the initiative which my right hon. Friend has promised, but today I must declare my support for this small voluntary step towards good practice. I cannot go into the Lobby to vote for the rejection of the Lords amendment.

I too support the Lords amendment and thank Lord Basnett and his colleagues for the all-party support in the Lords for this important change to the Bill, which would help disabled people if it were enacted. Like other hon. Members I am disappointed at the attitude of the Government Front Bench. Some Government Departments have had an honourable and progressive approach towards disability. I am afraid that the attitude of the Secretary of State confirms that the Department of the Environment regrettably is at the back of the queue when it comes to making progress for disabled people. We have seen that before and we see it again today.

The reality is that discrimination against disabled people exists in employment. We had this argument three or four years ago when the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) introduced an antidiscrimination Bill. Mr. Donald Stewart, who then represented the Western Isles, also brought forward a Bill. We were assured that other steps were being taken, as we have been assured today that other steps are being taken. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) mentioned what we heard in the Chamber yesterday, that assurances given two years ago about the carrying out of the provisions of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 are still subject to negotiation with local authorities.

Two years have gone by and we are still no nearer getting some of those provisions brought into force. I welcome any discussion which is taking place and any progress on improving the position under the quota scheme, to which the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) referred and which is completely inadequate. Some of the provisions have not been enacted. We have an opportunity with the Lords amendment to do something now. Although this is a very modest provision, we have the opportunity to do something which has already been done. All we have to do is to desist from undoing what has been done in another place. Goodness me, I cannot see the Government's justification for taking this line. If we disagree with the amendment, we shall be putting the interests of disabled people second to the interests of a totally unfettered, free market economy. There are times when a Government, even this Government, must strike a balance.

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Instances of discrimination still come to our attention. Only a few weeks ago in my constituency surgery I learned of a case of blatant discrimination. An employer said that disabled people need not apply for a vacancy. For that to happen in this day and age, and for the Government not to support even the modest provision in the Lords amendment, underlines the need for us to take more draconian powers. We should seek an anti-discrimination Bill which will deal with this question in the context of employment and in a number of other areas as well. People would then be aware that they cannot get away with the kind of stipulation that occurred in my constituency.

My colleagues and I have received representations from many bodies about Lords amendment No. 7. I am involved with disability matters in a number of ways. I am the president of the Spastics Society in Wales. The Spastics Society wrote to me from its headquarters in London about the amendment stating:
"Research by The Spastics Society shows that disabled people suffer unjustifiable discrimination in the labour market. The clause is a modest proposal to ensure that good practice is actively encouraged in this important area. We see it as entirely appropriate that the Government's policy should be promoted in an attempt to ensure disabled people have the same opportunities as their abled-bodied counterparts. It is difficult to understand why the Government would not want to see its own policy and the work of its Departments supported in this way. Disabled people trying to find work will also feel let down if this support is withdrawn from their attempts."
I put these views formally on the record on behalf of the Spastics Society.

Hon. Members will have received similar representations. Organisations making those representations understand the difficulties facing disabled people in work. We should heed those representations. I have also received representations from the Royal National Institute for the Blind. It states:
"The RNIB supports the clause, which would help the employment prospects of visually handicapped people seeking work. They have to compete on unequal terms in the labour market, in an era when the industrial base of the economy, the area in which the majority of visually handicapped people have historically found jobs, has contracted considerably. During the last decade there has been a dramatic fall in the number of visually handicapped people getting jobs in the blue collar sector, and sheltered employment has not taken up the slack … RNIB is concerned that the positive steps which local authorities have been able to make in encouraging companies to promote equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities should be allowed to continue. Lord Basnett's clause would achieve this."
Obviously, the RNIB feels as strongly as the Spastics Society on this matter.

The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, the umbrella organisation that pulls together on behalf of numerous disability organisations, has also made representations to all members of the all-party disablement group. This matter cuts across party lines. It states:
"The amendment will not prevent contracts being awarded, but allows local authorities to refer those companies who have not adopted the Code's recommendations to the Department of Employment's Disablement Advisory Service so that they may obtain information on how to improve their policies; nor will it allow contracts to be withheld, but will enable local authorities to ask for information which can be passed on to those responsible for promoting the Code of Good Practice. In this respect the amendment also complements existing Government policy which supports the Code. The CBI, TUC, RADAR and other voluntary organisations also support the Code of Good Practice."
I know that the Secretary of State has said that taken together with another part of the Bill the amendment could create an excuse for local authorities to discriminate against companies that are not willing to go along with the requirements. If local authorities discriminate unfairly against those companies, that could be actionable. If they discriminate on the basis of a policy against disabled people, that is completely justifiable discrimination and I would strongly uphold that. However, the benefits that could arise from having a checklist are more important than the occurrence of a handful or one or two difficult cases. A formal checklist would act as a formal requirement to nudge and remind companies of the need to take that matter into consideration.

I do not believe that the provision will put the world right overnight, but by having a checklist approach—which is not a straitjacket, but an enabling measure—we shall ensure that local authorities that are so minded will have powers to create a checklist and companies seeking tender contracts will be aware that they must take such consideration on board. The proposal is a gentle shove in the right direction. It could be of tremendous benefit to many disabled people. It could also possibly avoid much more fundamental legislation in future. If the Government oppose this modest proposal, I have no doubt that the House must press for something very much more radical.

I rise to support Lords amendment No. 7. Unfortunately, I was unable to hear the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier. I had been given a very pressing green card from a delegation of Royal College of Nursing members from my constituency. I had to use my discretion and make a very difficult choice between listening to my right hon. Friend and seeing Mr. Tony Atkins and my constituents from Leicester who are members of the RCN. I had a very fruitful and rewarding discussion with Mr. Atkins. However, I am placed in a very difficult position because I did not hear my right hon. Friend. If I had heard him, I am sure that I would have found his comments fruitful and rewarding. However, because I did not hear him, I can only state that I have the gravest reservations about rejecting the Lords amendment.

I listened to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). He made his comments with great emphasis, in his usual way. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) elaborated the virtues of the new clause very well.

As I read the amendment, it will allow local authorities to continue to ask questions of prospective contractors, but it would not allow local authorities to refuse contracts on the grounds that a prospective contractor did not encourage the employment of disabled people. It would allow local authorities to promote the Manpower Services Commission's code of good practice on the employment of disabled people.

I do not believe that the new clause is very binding. It would not direct—"direct" is too strong a word—local authorities; rather it would guide them on a code of good behaviour towards their dealings with disabled people. Tributes have been paid to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter for their fine work for the parliamentary disablement group. I want to add to those tributes. Quite rightly, we must recognise that discrimination on grounds of sex or colour is properly banned by law. I am not in favour of banning discrimination of the disabled by law. However, I feel so strongly about it that I would like to see legislation enacted that would make discrimination act for the disabled.

A disabled person is a bargain in the labour market. He is conscientious, keen, unfailingly loyal and hardworking. Perhaps at some time in the future when we are discussing disablement we can introduce legislation requiring employers — the Crown, local authorities or private companies — to discriminate in favour of disabled people. It would be good for disabled people, and certainly for those lucky enough to employ them.

Although I shall listen carefully to what my right hon. Friend says to try to persuade me to support his case against the new clause, at the moment I am fully inclined to support it.

In this relatively short debate, it appears that no one except the Secretary of State is to speak in favour of the Government's line. That, surely, should make the Secretary of State think again about whether he is right in deciding that the amendment should be rejected. Certainly, I shall not accept his advice.

Lord Basnett's amendment is a modest but important improvement to the Bill. No doubt Lord Basnett tabled it in this modest form because he knew that if he went too far he would not persuade the other place to accept it, and he wanted to go as far as he could while still standing a chance of success. I am also fairly certain that he was bearing in mind the vast experience that he had gained over many years in the trade union movement, representing workers not only in local government but in a wide range of industries. He recognised that at present, despite quota systems and other efforts to ensure that disabled people have fair opportunity of employment, they have no such opportunity. We too must face up to that fact.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) made it clear that some disabled people, when applying for jobs, are tempted either to omit any reference to their disability on the application form, or to deny it. It is regrettable that they are forced to act in that way, but, as most hon. Members will know, it sometimes happens. Employers often disregard disabled applicants even when the disability has no reference to the job for which they are applying, which is very sad.

Both my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) recommended more positive discrimination in favour of the disabled, and I see the case for that. It is regrettable that we should sometimes have to legislate to ensure discrimination in favour of the disabled, or any other category who might otherwise be discriminated against, but sometimes it is the only way to ensure that they receive the fair treatment to which they are entitled.

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As I have said, this is a modest amendment, and there is no reason why the Government should reject it. It in no way destroys the principle of the Bill. The Secretary of State knows that Opposition Members are strongly opposed to that principle, but the amendment will merely give disabled people a fair opportunity of consideration by employers.

I thought it outrageous of the Secretary of State to suggest in his opening speech — I assume that I understand him correctly—that some local authorities might not disbar contractors purely because they were not giving disabled people a proper opportunity of employment, but might use that as an excuse to disbar them for other reasons. That is entirely wrong, and shows how the Secretary of State misjudges local authorities on every possible occasion. He seems to feel that their motivation must always be questioned by him and by other Ministers.

The amendment is moving in the right direction, and I feel that the Secretary of State should reconsider his advice. Even if he is not prepared to do so, however, I hope that other Conservative Members will join us in the Aye Lobby.

When the amendment was approved in the other place, it was widely acclaimed in the national press as an improvement to the Bill. It has also been welcomed by many voluntary organisations closely connected with the disabled. Those are further reasons for the Government to think again, and to accept this improvement to the Bill.

Before I came to the House, I had the good fortune to be a member of Glasgow district council, and a full-time union officer. From time to time, I had to represent disabled members.

The Secretary of State would be the first to condemn any local authority that did not pay due regard to the fact that disabled people must be employed. Surely, therefore, it is fitting that local authorities should establish what contractors are doing about employing them. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we are not talking about a window cleaner who may be contracted by the local authority to clean 20 or 30 windows. I was once a member of the finance committee of Glasgow district council. Prices have risen since I left, but we were then handing out contracts of over £1 million. In some instances the contracts awarded in one day exceeded £2 million. That is a lot of labour, and in many cases it is the big employers who are receiving the contracts.

It is only natural that local authorities should be entitled to ask contractors who are employing several hundred men and women what quotas they have for the employment of disabled people, and how those employees are being treated. I do not think that it is enough for an employer simply to say how many disabled people he employs; steps must be taken to ensure that they are not exploited. In many cases, they are exploited: there are no two ways about it.

The other local authority that covers my constituency is Strathclyde, which looks after the needs of 2·5 million people. It can give out contracts for water reservoirs, large civil engineering contracts and motorway contracts. I often hear the Secretary of State talk as if contractors were being bullied by local authorities which have all the power. That is nonsense. If the right hon. Gentleman knows anything about local authorities and contractors, he will know that there is often a dialogue going on on a weekly basis. Some of those companies are employing people—call them PR people, or whatever—whose job is simply to keep in touch with local councils. They have not been bullied; far from it. They know their way around the town halls, and they know who to talk to. If it is put into legislation that regard has to be given to the care of the disabled, I am sure that contractors will ensure that they inform their companies that the legislation has to be adhered to.

The Secretary of State said that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will be involved in a review. He said that everything is all right because the Government have a good record on looking after the disabled. Since becoming a Member of the House I have served on almost every Committee where the Government have sought to destroy the labour and trades union legislation introduced by the Labour Government. They have weakened the unfair dismissal tribunals and done away with schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act 1975. One of their most recent acts was to abolish the wages councils. All of those actions have affected the disabled. It has meant that the disabled in our society and in the work force — those who have been fortunate enough to find a job—can be exploited.

I hope that the Secretary of State will tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment that it is not only within private industry that the disabled are not being too well looked after. As I have said, I was a full-time officer representing public employees and I often had to defend those employees against Government employers. For example, sometimes people in the Health Service were treated shamefully because those in charge did not pay due regard to legislation. I put it to the Secretary of State that he should look at what sometimes happens in some Government Departments and in agencies such as the Health Service, which work directly for the Government. I accept that 90 per cent. of the time those Departments and agencies are excellent employers. However, there is evidence to prove that disabled employees are not being looked after and that their rights under legislation are not being exercised properly.

In spite of what I have said about bad employers, there are many good employers in the private sector and the public sector. If any review is to be held, it is within the wit of the officials serving the Secretary of State to find those good employers and to discover how they can be good employers for the disabled. They should try to get them to give evidence to the review body so that we can ensure that people are looked after properly.

It is clear that the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) was correct. So far, the only supporter of the proposal to delete the Lords amendment has been the Secretary of State. Three Conservative Members, four Labour Members, one representative of Plaid Cymru and myself have all asked that he change his mind. It is a hit shameful that the only two proposals on the Amendment Paper in the name of the Secretary of State which suggest that we should not agree with the Lords are in relation to this proposal. The all-party view expressed in the other place, the view expressed by the all-party committee on the disabled in this place and the view expressed in all the contributions to this debate has had no effect. We have said to the Secretary of State, "Please think again. You are misjudging the mood of Parliament across the parties by seeking to amend what the other place has done." The more one looks at the Lords amendment, the more circumscribed one sees that it is. It simply says that nothing shall preclude a local authority from asking questions and from referring prospective contractors to relevant agencies if that information is necessary in order to ensure that the contractors have proper regard to the Manpower Services Commission's code of good practice in relation to the employment of the disabled.

The Secretary of State admitted that that does not mean that there has to be a duty on a local authority to employ a certain number of people. That does not follow. There is a duty to address the issue, to ask questions and to challenge what may he a failure to meet the needs of the disabled. That is the limit of the amendment. Presumably, that is why it was passed, against the wishes of the Government, in the other place.

The Secretary of State may hold the view that the amendment could prejudice the employment of disabled people. However, the advice of many agencies and charities is that the probability is that it will improve prospects for disabled people. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) and other hon. Members have said the same thing.

I had occasion last year to interview for a job somebody who was disabled by blindness. In the end, for various reasons, I selected somebody else. However, I then took up with the Officers of the House what we do as a corporate body to ensure that we employ adequate numbers of disabled people arid to see whether we do our duty. I was given a perfectly courteous reply through the good offices of the Serjeant at Arms and those responsible for the employment of staff. I was told that we seek to ensure that sufficient numbers of disabled people are employed. That prompting resulted in a specific meeting to consider whether we should be better able to employ blind people or other disabled people in the House. I do not pretend that that meeting would not have taken place in time. However, it was not billed to happen. By asking some questions about the employment of disabled people, particularly the blind, the officials of the House looked again at current practice. That is what this amendment is seeking to do. It is simply to encourage people to look again at their practice.

I should like to refer the Secretary of State to the fact that he and his colleagues conceded that principle during the passage of the Local Government Bill in relation to the Race Relations Act 1975. He will remember that when the Bill was originally presented to Parliament last summer, clause 18 did not exist in its present form. The title of clause 18 is "Race relations matters". We had a debate in Committee in which the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) argued that in the matter of race relations people should be allowed to ask approved questions. The Minister for Local Government, quite properly, accepted the principle in relation to the employment of individuals from ethnic minority communities and accepted the need to ensure that the practices in operation did not conflict with race relations legislation. The Bill came back on Report with an appropriate amendment. By the time the Bill went to the other place we had built in a provision so that people with non-white skins in Britain will be employed fairly and without discrimination.

The Secretary of State has accepted that there can be compromise on this issue and that is why I am not making a ranting or shouting speech. I am asking in a reasonable and, I hope, proper way for him to do for disabled people what he has done for people from ethnic minority communities. It is clear that there is universal support for what the other place did. I ask the Secretary of State to think again and to say that the Government are prepared to hear the argument and recognise the strength of feeling about this matter and change their minds at this late stage.

With the leave of the House, I shall reply briefly to the points that have been made, although I made a lengthy speech earlier that contained the main arguments that the Government have advanced.

In case the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) missed it, I shall repeat the point that I made earlier. There is a clause about race relations because a specific statutory duty is laid on local authorities by the parent statute, which is quite different from the case of disabled employment. Indeed, there was a clause on race relations in the Bill when it was first published. We have consistently said that where a local authority is already an enforcement agent that should be reflected in the Bill, but, where it is not, it should not.

I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) for their helpful and constructive speeches as well as for the work that they do for the all-party disablement group, which I very much admire. To have to make up their minds about this amendment puts them in a difficult position as they are normally supporters of the Government. Perhaps the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster is prepared to abstain means that what I had to say earlier caused her to see that this is not the best way to achieve the results that the House wants. The initiative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to review employment for disabled people will prove to be a better way forward.

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Having listened to the debate carefully, there appear to be two misconceptions about what the Lords amendments would achieve and what they mean. The hon. Member for Barking (Ms Richardson) went off on to the subject of women. I would be out of order if I were to discuss that matter under this amendment—[Interruption.] It would be perfectly in order to discuss disabled women, but not discrimination against women as such. However, I do not intend to discuss this whether it is in order or not.

The hon. Member for Barking said that if the clause remained in the Bill a local authority would not be able to refuse a contract simply on the ground of the disablement employment policies of a contractor. As I pointed out to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), that is not the case, because no local authority is bound to accept any tender. However, if it fails to accept what is clearly the lowest and best tender, it must give good reason for so doing publicly, first, to the district auditor and, secondly, to its ratepayers, who have every right to supervise its decisions in such matters. It would not be possible to refuse a contractor's tender because of his disablement employment record and at the same time get it past the district auditor. If this clause were in the Bill, that would be a perfectly valid reason for refusing a tender from such a contractor.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) gave the game away. He said that if authorities were to be subjective and not objective in interpreting a firm's use of the code and its compliance with it, it would be actionable if they made an ill-judged response. Yes, it would be, without the clause, but it would not be with the clause. The new clause says:
"Nothing ߪ shall preclude a local authority from—(a) asking questions or seeking information relating to work force matters and considering responses to them or ߪ consideration of the information is reasonably necessary to ensure".
The words "is reasonably necessary" will fall within the judgment of the local authority. If the local authority's judgment were that it should not award a contract because of the disablement employment policies of a contractor, the result would be that that decision would be proof against challenge. That is why the hon. Gentleman was wrong in his interpretation.

Did not the Secretary of State rest his case on the slightly different premise that a local authority would be using this as an excuse and not as a reason and might have some other motivation at the back of its mind? If we accept that local authorities are working in a bonafide fashion, would the Secretary of State accept that it is not unreasonable for them to bear this in mind in deciding how a contract is determined?

They may be wrong because they may have misjudged a contractor's compliance. He may be the best complier in the world, but if the local authority gets it wrong he will have no redress. Local authorities may use the disablement employment excuse when they have other reasons in mind. That is why I do not believe that the main result of the clause will be to help disabled people. It will give local authorities a subjective method of discriminating against contractors on spurious grounds.

The second theme of the debate was, "What is wrong with new clause 18(b)?" Clause 18 (b) relates to
"referring prospective contractors to relevant agencies."
As I said earlier, there is nothing wrong with that. Any local authority may refer an employer to the Disablement Advisory Service and may call meetings of local employers to discuss their practices. If a local authority is still not happy, it can bring in the MSC or the Disablement Advisory Service. That is possible at present and will remain so. It is unnecessary, therefore, to incorporate it into the legislation. It does not achieve anything that is not already in the legislation. The distinction is between local authorities doing what is perfectly right and proper and deciding on the award of tenders on their subjective judgment as to whether a contractor complies with the code of practice.

Those are the misunderstandings that arose, and I believe that we will help more disabled people into employment by what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment suggested than the amendment could ever hope to achieve.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that the clause was vindictive towards disabled people. I do not believe that that is remotely true. He further said that many contractors would not employ their full share of disabled people because it would bring their profit margins down. That was vindictive towards disabled people. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that employing disabled people is bad for profits and that therefore firms do not do it was a slur on disabled people, and the House was revolted to hear him say that. I hope that he will withdraw it, and I hope that the House will reject this new clause.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I did not say that the clause as drafted was wrong; I said that the attitude of the Government to it was wrong. I said that some employers would no doubt feel that they might lose a bit of profit, but that is not a slur on disabled people. I have always fought for disabled people and I shall continue to do so. It is the Government's attitude that forgets disabled people.

I can confirm at the outset that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has just repeated exactly what he said in his speech—[Interruption.] After the speech of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), winding up with an abstention, we need take nothing from her.

The clause is so modest that one could ask why we should bother with it in the first place. However, there is a thoroughly justifiable reason for the clause. It is important that we should send signals to all sections of the community.

The clause was drawn up not out of thin air, but from the results and the experiences of our debates in Committee and on Report before the Bill got to the Lords. It was drawn up to take account of all the Government's objections to earlier amendments. It does not extend the enforcement role of local authorities—the Secretary of State's bogey men. It need not involve any additional resources in its operation. Its effect is simply to allow local authorities a limited discretion to ask a question and seek to foster good practice in place of the blanket prohibition currently contained in the Bill.

Let me go back to what this is all about. Lords amendments Nos. 7 and 8, which the Government are seeking to reject, amend clause 17 and add a new clause. Let me remind the House why clause 17 was put in the Bill in the first place. We are here to try to stop the Government taking it out on the disabled. The original notes on clauses stated:
"The purpose of clause 17 is to prevent local authorities and the other specified public bodies discriminating against particular contractors by introducing political or irrelevant considerations into the contractual process."
The notes on clauses list most of the things that should not be covered by the clause so that local authorities cannot get involved. The Government particularly highlighted the fact that local authorities should not ask about rates of pay, numbers of apprentices, work on nuclear missile sites, lorries crossing picket lines, links with South Africa and freemasonry. There is no mention whatever of banning local authorities from asking about the disabled employed by contractors. To seek now to lump in the disabled — that is what the Secretary of State is now trying to do—is a thundering disgrace and the Secretary of State should be ashamed of himself.

The issue is not central to the Government's economic policy, yet not a single Conservative Member of Parliament today has had the guts to come to the Chamber to support what the Government are doing with his or her voice, despite a three-line Whip. The Secretary of State is alone. Most of his hon. Friends, who have not heard the debate and are ignorant about the issues, will be shepherded in by the Whips to vote against the disabled at the end of the debate. That is not democracy. My hon. Friends do not have to be Whipped on a matter such as this.

Two of the three Conservative Members who have spoken gave the impression that they would support the Lords amendments in the Lobby. Certainly the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) gave every impression of doing so. However, I was not clear whether, as he sat down, he was saying that he would abstain.

I thought so—another abstainer Why on earth are Tories abstaining when they speak as they do? The hon. Gentleman made it clear that he would not support the Government and that he stood by the all-party group in the belief that the Lords were right in putting the clause in the Bill.

6.15 pm

If the hon. Gentleman comes into the Lobby with the Welsh Nationalists, Liberals and Labour Members of Parliament, and, indeed, with at least one Conservative Member who is sitting behind, him, he will not be alone. [Interruption.] Have I got that wrong as well? I have got it all wrong. Not one Conservative Member of Parliament has had the guts to come in the Chamber and speak in favour of what the Secretary of State is doing. Three of them have come in with their bleeding hearts on their arms, but have not had the guts to support the Lords in what they have done. It is important that that should be on the record. They are only prepared to abstain.

This is a modest clause. I do not have to deploy the case of modesty too much because the clause has no teeth. No contractor or local authority need worry about it. But it is important that both Houses of Parliament should send out a signal, and we should send a signal to their Lordships that if the Government get their way the Lords should not lie down and accept it. They should have the guts to insist on their amendment and send it back to this place.

In addition, the House of Commons should send a signal to employers that Parliament will not tolerate continued discrimination in employment practices in so far as they affect disabled people. I do not propose to read out the list, but the Secretary of Slate's claims simply do not stand up to examination. Able-bodied applicants are at least 1.6 times more likely to receive a positive response from an employer than a disabled person, and the proportion of companies employing 3 per cent. or more registered disabled — their legal quota under the 1944 legislation—has fallen from 53 per cent. in 1965 to only 27 per cent. last year. Therefore, we must send a signal to employers and, even more importantly, to disabled people. We have a bounden duty to do so. All I am asking hon. Members to do is simply to assist us tonight in sending those signals.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 258, Noes 208.

Division No. 206]

[6.17 pm

AYES

Adley, RobertBoscawen, Hon Robert
Alexander, RichardBoswell, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBottomley, Peter
Amess, DavidBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amos, AlanBowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Bowis, John
Ashby, DavidBoyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Aspinwall, JackBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Atkins, RobertBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Brazier, Julian
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Bright, Graham
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Batiste, SpencerBrooke, Rt Hon Peter
Bellingham, HenryBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Bendall, VivianBruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Benyon, W.Buck, Sir Antony
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnBudgen, Nicholas
Bonsor, Sir NicholasBurns, Simon

Butler, Chris Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butterfill, JohnHolt, Richard
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Hordern, Sir Peter
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Howard, Michael
Carrington, MatthewHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Carttiss, MichaelHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Cash, WilliamHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHunt, David (Wirral W)
Chapman, SydneyHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Chope, ChristopherHunter, Andrew
Clark. Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Irvine, Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Irving, Charles
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Jack, Michael
Colvin, MichaelJackson, Robert
Conway, DerekJanman, Tim
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Jessel, Toby
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cran, JamesJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Critchley, JulianJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaKey, Robert
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Day, StephenKnapman, Roger
Devlin, TimKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Dickens, GeoffreyKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dorrell, StephenKnowles, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKnox, David
Dover, DenLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Dunn, BobLang, Ian
Dykes, HughLatham, Michael
Eggar, TimLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Evennett, DavidLightbown, David
Fairbairn, NicholasLilley, Peter
Fallon, MichaelLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Favell, TonyLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fenner, Dame PeggyLord, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Fookes, Miss JanetLyell, Sir Nicholas
Forman, NigelMcCrindle, Robert
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Forth, EricMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fox, Sir MarcusMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Franks, CecilMaclean, David
Freeman, RogerMcLoughlin, Patrick
French, DouglasMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Gale, RogerMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Gardiner, GeorgeMadel, David
Garel-Jones, TristanMajor, Rt Hon John
Gill, ChristopherMalins, Humfrey
Glyn, Dr AlanMans, Keith
Goodlad, AlastairMaples, John
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMarlow, Tony
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorst, JohnMaude, Hon Francis
Gow, IanMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Gower, Sir RaymondMellor, David
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gregory, ConalMiller, Hal
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')Mills, Iain
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Miscampbell, Norman
Grist, IanMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Ground, PatrickMonro, Sir Hector
Grylls, MichaelMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Moss, Malcolm
Hanley, JeremyNeale, Gerrard
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Needham, Richard
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Neubert, Michael
Harris, DavidNicholson, David (Taunton)
Haselhurst, AlanOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hawkins, ChristopherOppenheim, Phillip
Hayes, JerryPage, Richard
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneyPaice, James
Hayward, RobertPatnick, Irvine
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPawsey, James
Heddle, JohnPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Porter, David (Waveney)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Portillo, Michael
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Powell, William (Corby)
Hind, KennethPrice, Sir David

Raison, Rt Hon TimothySquire, Robin
Rathbone, TimStern, Michael
Renton, TimStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Rhodes James, RobertStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonStokes, John
Riddick, GrahamStradling Thomas, Sir John
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasSummerson, Hugo
Ridsdale, Sir JulianTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Roe, Mrs MarionThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rossi, Sir HughThurnham, Peter
Rowe, AndrewTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Ryder, RichardVaughan, Sir Gerard
Sackville, Hon TomWaddington, Rt Hon David
Sainsbury, Hon TimWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Sayeed, JonathanWaller, Gary
Shaw, David (Dover)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Watts, John
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Wells, Bowen
Shelton, William (Streatham)Wheeler, John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Widdecombe, Ann
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Wiggin, Jerry
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Wilshire, David
Shersby, MichaelWinterton, Mrs Ann
Sims, RogerWood, Timothy
Skeet, Sir TrevorYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Soames, Hon NicholasTellers for the Ayes:
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)Mr. Tony Durant and
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.

NOES

Abbott, Ms DianeDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Allen, GrahamDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Alton, DavidDewar, Donald
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDixon, Don
Armstrong, HilaryDobson, Frank
Ashdown, PaddyDoran, Frank
Ashley, Rt Hon JackDouglas, Dick
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Duffy, A. E. P.
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Dunnachie, Jimmy
Battle, JohnEastham, Ken
Beckett, MargaretEvans, John (St Helens N)
Beith, A. J.Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyEwing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Bermingham, GeraldFaulds, Andrew
Bidwell, SydneyFearn, Ronald
Blair, TonyField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Boateng, PaulFields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Boyes, RolandFisher, Mark
Bradley, KeithFlannery, Martin
Bray, Dr JeremyFlynn, Paul
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Foster, Derek
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Foulkes, George
Buchan, NormanFraser, John
Buckley, George JGalbraith, Sam
Caborn, RichardGalloway, George
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.George, Bruce
Cartwright, JohnGordon, Mildred
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Graham, Thomas
Clay, BobGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clelland, DavidGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnGrocott, Bruce
Cohen, HarryHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Haynes, Frank
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Corbett, RobinHeffer, Eric S.
Corbyn, JeremyHenderson, Doug
Cousins, JimHinchliffe, David
Cox, TomHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cryer, BobHolland, Stuart
Cummings, JohnHome Robertson, John
Cunningham, Dr JohnHood, Jimmy
Dalyell, TamHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Darling, AlistairHughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)O'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Parry, Robert
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Patchett, Terry
Illsley, EricPendry, Tom
Ingram, AdamPike, Peter L.
Janner, GrevillePowell, Ray (Ogmore)
John, BrynmorPrescott, John
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Radice, Giles
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Randall, Stuart
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Kennedy, CharlesReid, Dr John
Kilfedder, JamesRichardson, Jo
Kirkwood, ArchyRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Lamond, JamesRobertson, George
Leighton, RonRobinson, Geoffrey
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Rooker, Jeff
Lewis, TerryRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Litherland, RobertRuddock, Joan
Livingstone, KenSalmond, Alex
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Sedgemore, Brian
Lofthouse, GeoffreySheerman, Barry
Loyden, EddieSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McAllion, JohnShort, Clare
McAvoy, ThomasSkinner, Dennis
McCartney, IanSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Macdonald, Calum A.Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
McFall, JohnSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Snape, Peter
McKelvey, WilliamSoley, Clive
McLeish, HenrySpearing, Nigel
Maclennan, RobertSteel, Rt Hon David
McNamara, KevinSteinberg, Gerry
McTaggart, BobStott, Roger
McWilliam, JohnStrang, Gavin
Madden, MaxTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mahon, Mrs AliceThomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Marek, Dr JohnThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Turner, Dennis
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Vaz, Keith
Martlew, EricWall, Pat
Meacher, MichaelWallace, James
Meale, AlanWalley, Joan
Michael, AlunWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Wareing, Robert N
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Millan, Rt Hon BruceWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)Wigley, Dafydd
Moonie, Dr LewisWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Morgan, RhodriWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Morley, ElliottWise, Mrs Audrey
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Worthington, Tony
Mowlam, MarjorieWray, Jimmy
Mullin, ChrisYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Murphy, Paul
Nellist, DaveTellers for the Noes:
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonMrs. Llin Golding and
O'Brien, WilliamMr. Tony Banks.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 8 disagreed to.

Clause 19

Provisions Supplementary To Or Consequential On Section 17

Lords amendment: No. 9, in page 18, line 28, after "1972" insert

"or in relation to Scotland section 56 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973"

6.30 pm

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

It is a straightforward drafting amendment to include reference to Scottish legislation, and should have been included from the outset. The provisions of section 58 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 are, so far as relevant here, the same in effect as those of section 101 of the 1972 Act, and the same provision should be made in respect of arrangements made under section 56 as are made in respect of section 101.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 28

Prohibition On Promoting Homosexuality By Teaching Or By Publishing Material

Lords amendment: No. 10, in page 28, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert—

"(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality"

Read a Second time.

I beg to move amendment (e) to the Lords amendment, at end add

'other than by any action undertaken for the purpose of discouraging discrimination against or protecting the civil rights of any person.'

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment (f) to the Lords amendment, at end add

'except that nothing in this subsection shall prevent the provision of any service by a local authority to any person where that provision is necessary in the view of the authority for a purpose other than that prohibited by this subsection.'

Welcome though the Lords amendments are, frankly, they are simply not good enough to satisfy our remaining fundamental objections to the clause.

Before I refer to the amendments in detail, I reiterate our view of the major issues that are involved in this clause. The clause affects all local government, all education services, and the arts and library services of our country. It has caused a storm of protest, and understandably so. Here we are dealing with fundamental issues of principle. It is not just a provision to ensure neutrality on homosexuality. Much more than that is at stake. Indeed, everyone's right to information and the arts, the rights of minorities, the way in which a free society is tolerant of diversity, the way in which a free society organises itself, the way in which minorities are protected' in a free and plural democratic society are at the heart of our objections to the provisions of clause 28.

We are confronted here with issues of people's civil rights and individual freedoms. We are confronted here with the possibility of an extension of censorship, either deliberately or by default. That is why the Arts Council of Great Britain has been so active in opposing the provisions of the clause, arguing, as we do, the severe risk that prohibition on "promoting" homosexuality will prohibit almost any literary or artistic activity that has an element of homosexuality within it.

The provisions set a dangerous precedent. The clause represents a new and inherently dangerous direction for the law to take. It breaches an important principle of equality before the law, for minorities to seek to advance their own lawful interests, that could in future be extended to other people.

Whatever the Minister says about our amendments and the issues, I hope that he will give the House an assurance, a promise on the record, that the provisions will not be extended to other public bodies and activities — for example, broadcasting and the Arts Council — which could in future be prohibited on much the same grounds and arguments that could lead to further censorship. I hope that the Minister will make it absolutely clear that the Government have no intention to go further in that direction.

The proposals set a dangerous precedent, because they seek to control what is taught in the classroom, not directly through an education Act, but indirectly by restrictions on the provision of books or other materials that are not themselves prohibited by law. The proposals will encourage discrimination. It is impossible to accept any other construction when the civil rights of homosexuals are already under increased threat and hostility because of the appalling consequences of AIDS. We and many other organisations, including the National Council for Civil Liberties, believe that there is an even greater need to educate and inform and to protect people's equal rights. Whatever is the intention of the supporters of the clause, its impact can only be regressive. Local authorities will have to play safe. They may have to refuse to take any risk in an area that may appear to assist homosexual people, or possibly show them in a favourable light.

The proposals provide an excuse to discriminate against gay and lesbian people. Just as the Sex Discrimination Act 1986 and the Race Relations Act 1976 make it less acceptable to discriminate against women and ethnic minorities, this clause will have the reverse effect and will make it more respectable to discriminate against gay and lesbian people.

These are major and fundamental reasons why further amendments to the clause are necessary. As it stands, it will be bad law, because it is dangerously imprecise in drafting and open to wide and varied, differing interpretation. Take the key words — "promote", "homosexuality" and "acceptability". None of them is defined. As they stand in the Bill at present, they have no fixed meaning. Organisations outside the House and, for that matter, my hon. Friends, others and I have legal opinions almost by the dozen from senior counsel, saying that anything that is published or done in respect of homosexuality could be said to promote it. We need look no further than those legal opinions for reasons why the House should not accept the clause as it stands. The Government amendments to the local authorities' intention do not substantially alter the impact of the clause. It is still dependent upon how the word "promote" is interpreted.

The Government opposed a similar clause in 1986. There has been no explanation from Ministers of why, one year later, they have changed their minds on this matter. There has been no explanation, no argument and no evidence for the about-face by Ministers. There has been no attempt to answer those questions. The Government opposed identical proposals in 1986 specifically because Ministers argued that those proposals were open to harmful misinterpretation. The Government were saying that a year ago. We said it too, but we are saying the same thing now. Why have the Government changed their position?

I believe that they have done so for the basest and most contemptible political motives. I believe that they have done so because they seek some political gain from aiding and abetting bigotry and discrimination against gay and lesbian people. In the absence of any other explanation, that is bound to be the conclusion that people will reach, inside and outside the House. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) wishes to intervene, I am happy to give way to him or to his hon. Friend who is making so much noise from a sedentary position, but does not have the guts to stand up and say publicly what he is muttering in private.

What the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is saying is totally contemptible to democracy. He is saying that the Government should not pay the slightest bit of attention to popular feeling on this issue and that, in his opinion, the population at large is bigoted. I should like him to withdraw that.

I said no such thing. I was saying that the Government were bigoted and were seeking to encourage bigotry—which, unlike the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), I do not believe is a trait displayed by the majority of people in Britain. On the contrary, I think that the majority of people are decent and civilised in their approach to these matters, as we ought to be in any plural democratic society.

This is a very important point. The hon. Gentleman expressed an attitude of principle. He identified what he calls gay and lesbian people, but he must do the House the duty of saying to what extent he regards perversion in any psychopathological form as wrong. There is no question at all that homosexuality in either sex is psychopathological perversion.

Many people, in particular homosexual people, will find the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) deeply offensive. Apparently, he fails to recognise the reality of different people's sexual orientation. His intervention shows that he is portraying the very characteristic about which I was complaining among Ministers. He is showing a form of bigotry about these issues which has no place in our debates.

It is honourable that the hon. Gentleman has given way again, but it is not simply a question of different orientation. Sadism and masochism are not just orientations of human conduct; they are psychopathological manifestations of morbid conduct—and homosexuality is the same.

6.45 pm

I regret having given way to the hon. and learned Gentleman again. He has just repeated something which I think is totally unacceptable and, frankly, also wrong.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Government changing their mind. Will he help the House by explaining why he supported what was then clause 27 in Standing Committee? He said:

"I shall vote for the amendment and I hope and expect that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do the same."
In regard to the ban on the promotion of homosexuality he said:
"We do not wish to change that in any way, shape or form."

If the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) were to read all of what I said, he would see that I went on to say:

"it is not, and never has been,"
nor do we expect or want it to be
"the duty … of any local authority to promote homosexuality."ߞ [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8 December 1987; c. 1211–14.]
No one is asking for that. Gay and lesbian people do not want that.

Since the hon. Gentleman was talking about the record, perhaps he will also acknowledge, as I am sure he knows, that I said in Committee on behalf of my hon. Friends in response to something produced at a very short notice in the Committee that we were fundamentally opposed to some of the provisions of this clause and we would seek to amend it drastically on Report.

That is what we tried to do, with the greatest support from outside the House. The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends voted down those very wide-ranging amendments. We are now presenting the House with yet another opportunity to do exactly that today. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, having reflected on it, will take a different view now from the one that he took at the time.

We oppose the proposals because the prohibition on promoting homosexuality covers any and every activity in which a local authority engages in furtherance of its duties and responsibilities.

It is not an abuse for local authorities to recognise the existence of a minority in their communities. Estimates suggest that 10 per cent. of the adult population in Britain may be gay or lesbian people. It is not an abuse for a local authority to devote — as some do quite properly — relatively small resource allocations to meet the legitimate needs of those minorities. That is not an abuse. It is a perfectly proper thing for local authorities to do, and should be acceptable in a civilised society.

As we have argued before, the teaching of children in school and other places of education also could be adversely affected by the proposals, as could essential activities such as the counselling of young people because of their own sexuality or that of their parents.

Amendment No. 10 was said to be moved by the Government in the other place to clarify the Government's position on what was meant by "intentionally promoting homosexuality", although, as I have argued, the meaning of those words is still unclear. The amendment introduces some limitation, however minor, on the concept. As I said, we certainly will not oppose it, but it simply does not go far enough. Other Government amendments accepted in the other place make explicit reference in subsection (1)(b) to the publication of material, and further reference to "financial or other assistance" for the purposes of promotion are welcome in so far as they go, but they do not remove the fundamental objections.

Amendment No. 12 is simply a declarity, in that it states that a court shall draw such inferences from evidence before it as it sees fit. That does not seem to move the debate on at all.

The amendments tabled in my name and in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition deal with the issues of civil rights and the provision of services for a purpose other than the promotion of homosexuality. I am grateful that they have been selected for debate.

I do not want to be too unkind to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) as we are probably speaking on the same side of the argument—[Interruption.] Well, I welcome the fact that we are on the same side on an important issue of civil liberties. I suppose that he must somewhat regret his comments that were published in The Independent this morning—although perhaps, like me, he was not consulted by the journalist who wrote the article in the first place. However, I am grateful that we are on the same side of the argument in this debate.

The amendment, inserted by the Government on Report in the House of Lords, does not go far enough. Amendment (e) would qualify the prohibition on the promotion of homosexuality in relation to
"any action undertaken for the purpose of discouraging discrimination against or protecting the civil rights of any person."
It is an important amendment, pointing to a serious practical difficulty which has still not been resolved either by the Government or by the House of Lords.

Amendment (f), which is also tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and myself, goes even further. It would deal directly with the question of a service provided for a purpose other than "the promotion of homosexuality", which, under the clause, would risk falling within the prohibition. The amendment provides that where a service is provided for another purpose and where the provision is necessary to meet a need within the community, it should fall outside the terms of reference of the clause.

The amendment seeks to highlight the areas of activity that are undertaken as part of a council's provision which might be thought to have an indirect consequence in the terms of the clause. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Northampton, North is muttering again. I hope that he will participate in the debate and put his views on the record. I am trying to explain to him the purpose of our amendments. If he has something to say, I hope that he will try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The fact is that the Government, at least privately—they do not have the courage to say so publicly—must be deeply regretting ever having given way to the pressures to embark on this legislation in the first place. There have been many debates in both Houses, and debates and demonstrations around the country, illustrating not only the depth of opposition to this proposal, but the deep concern that is felt by many people in all walks of life, including people way beyond the boundaries of the Labour party or, indeed, any other political party.

I make it clear that we do not support the intentions of the clause. The motives and implications behind it are deeply to be deplored. It should not be accepted by Parliament. I make it absolutely clear that a future Labour Government would not allow the implications and provisions of the clause to remain on the statute book.

I have listened to our previous debates in the Chamber and suspect that I have read as widely as any hon. Member on this issue both since and during our proceedings. I did not support the clause originally and all that I have subsequently seen has not ultimately persuaded me to change my mind. Amendments (e) and (f) that were moved earlier, by the hon. Member deserve support.

I begin on a point on which I hope that I can unite hon. Members. I recognise, as I think do all hon. Members, the importance of protecting our children from evil influences, however defined. I speak as someone who has two teenage children of my own, so I have a little knowledge of what is involved. However, the permutations of wording through which this House and the other place have gone have not persuaded me that we have either justified the need for the clause or that the wording that we have produced is other than a minefield, awaiting exploitation by scores of lawyers in years to come. I do not know whether "promotion" means "talking about", or "selling the advantages of", to take but two possible interpretations. Undoubtedly, hon. Members could provide many more.

I speak as one of the honorary vice-presidents of the Conservative group for homosexual equality. We want to put forward four brief points. I hope that if my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government cannot answer them during the debate, he will at least take account of them. They relate to the question, "What is 'promoting homosexuality'?" First, if a local authority assisted a well-run counselling service to help homosexuals to come to terms with their sexuality and to cope with the consequences that many experience, is that "promoting homosexuality"? Secondly, if a local authority allowed a homosexual organisation to hire a room in one of its buildings for a public meeting on the same terms as any other organisation — I am referring to law-abiding citizens—is that "promoting homosexuality"? Thirdly, if a local authority bought for its public libraries books that discussed homosexual love favourably or presented sympathetically the lives of homosexuals such as the late Lord Britten and Sir Peter Pears, is that "promoting homosexuality"? Fourthly, if sex education classes presented homosexuality in a balanced way, as required by the Department of Education and Science under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, is that "promoting homosexuality"?

From a sedentary position, my hon. Friend says "yes", and in that case we have a slight problem of conflict with the law.

I have mentioned that I have two children. I happen to think that the teaching of sexuality of any sort does not belong in school. I believe that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) made some comment to that effect in our earlier exchange. I agree completely that school is not the place for that sort of thing. However, it is the place for teaching an honest and balanced approach to this subject just as to any other.

In one of our national newspapers today—the most well-read one—there is a cartoon portraying a middle-aged man retiring through the front door of his house, leaving his son, who is drawn effeminately, hanging by a rope from a lamp post, having clearly been hanged or attempted to be hanged. I put to one side those people who may find the subject funny — presumably that is why they drew a cartoon—because that is not the point that I want to make. In my constituency, I probably have a substantial minority of law-abiding, God-fearing Roman Catholics—I suspect a proportion similar to the number of homosexuals and lesbians—

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished my point.

If it were suggested that a cartoon be drawn, portraying either some militant Protestant group stringing up some Roman Catholic, or the other way round — some Roman Catholic stringing up an identified Protestant—we would be outraged and would raise that issue on the Floor of the House saying, "This is disgraceful." As a further example—again it is an obvious one—if we were even contemplating similar action from somebody of one colour against somebody of another colour, who is another law-abiding citizen we would again be horrified. The person responsible would be in breach of the law, as I understand it, because they would be accused of inciting racial prejudice. I remind hon. Members that we are talking about a law-abiding minority.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the cartoon by Franklin in The Sun and which I have referred to the Press Council. If the hon. Gentleman is seeking to make a parallel with that cartoon, I suggest he looks at Der Angrif—a German newspaper that was produced by Julius Streicher, the Jew-baiter, in Nazi Germany. I believe that Franklin bases his cartooning models upon that newspaper.

7 pm

I go along with what my hon. Friend says and I share his disgust at the cartoon in The Sun. Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the reason for such a cartoon appearing in a national newspaper, which is read by millions, is the aggressive proselytising by some local authorities on behalf of homosexuals? That has tended to disgust the vast majority of British people.

I appreciate that my hon. Friend's concern is shared by several of my colleagues and it is important. However, in our discussions on this matter and in our attempts to extract evidence, it appears that most of that evidence arises from one book, in one teacher centre, in one school under one authority. I may be wrong, but I have seen no other evidence. Indeed, as I understand it, that book was kept to help teachers who are occasionally asked to advise pupils who come from homes with gay parents. It is important to realise that we do not live in a world where every child lives with a male and female parent.

My hon. Friend has asked for examples and perhaps I can assist. I have in my hand a leaflet that was handed out to 15-year-olds at a Bristol school. I will not read out the details of that leaflet because I do not think that I should—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] Opposition Members may want that, but suffice to say that the leaflet describes and illustrates homosexual activity and underneath that description says:

"Go for it! Share the pleasure with a friend."
That was handed out to 15-year-olds at a school in Bristol—[HON. MEMBERS: "By whom?"] The Terrence Higgins trust.

I can only take at face value what my hon. Friend has said. Of course, it is deplorable and despicable that such leaflets exist and I would be happy to add it to my list of one. From a brief glance at that leaflet I cannot believe that it has been produced by or on behalf of a local authority. I shall pass it over to the hon. Member for Copeland and I will happily give way if he can tell me who is credited with producing it.

I am concerned that it appears that my hon. Friend has not read any of the debates that have previously taken place. For instance, on 11 January the debate in the other place drew attention to the fact that children under two have had access to gay and lesbian books in Lambeth play centres.

I am not telling lies and I do not believe that it is the practice in this House for one who has intervened to give way again. I am quoting from the House of Lords debateߞ

The person in charge, Mrs. Jill Delaney, playleader of the Windmill gardens play centre, said:

"We have been on training courses where members have access to take this kind of literature into the playgroups but nearly everyone refused. Some of the books on display were terrible. I have children in here as young as 2 years old and I don't think they should be seeing pictures of grown men in the nude in different sexual practices." [Official Report, House of Lords, 11 January 1988; Vol. 491, c. 10131]

I cannot respond to that specific point because I do not come from Lambeth and I have not seen the literature about which my hon. Friend complains.

There is a queue forming.

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), I understand that that charge has been denied in more than one quarter. However, I must leave it to other hon. Members who come from that area to confirm or deny that charge. If my hon. Friend is correct, I share her unease that such literature is available to young children. I recognise the importance of protecting young children and the need to do so.

Tonight we are trying to establish the need for the clause as drafted and to what extent the wording of the clause may influence other perfectly normal law-abiding citizens.

I believe that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) should get his facts right. There is no information on the leaflet that he brandished as to who was responsible for its publication or distribution. I believe that the hon. Gentleman should be more accurate and precise in his allegations regarding such sensitive matters.

I almost feel that there are two debates going on and I apologise to the extent that I have caused that.

I am anxious to make some progress because I am aware that a number of other hon. Members wish to take part.

I represent Lambeth and my wife is a nursery nurse in the borough. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support the monstrous allegation that has been made by the hon. Member for Birmingham Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) who, presumably, is strongly in favour of the promotion of heterosexuality, adultery, troilism arid all the rest of it as opposed to the promotion of homosexuality, about which she is extremely economic with the truth.

I must press on. I am satisfied that there has been some balance put forward for the Lambeth subculture.

Over the years there has been considerable scientific discussion about the extent to which people can be persuaded to adopt a sexuality that is not their own. In the overwhelming majority of cases it seems that people are born with a particular sexual preference or acquire it during the passage of their lives without the presence of the influences we are discussing. There are many famous examples in history of people who became homosexuals without the benefit of a gay counselling group ߞ we would be foolish to assume that such groups are an absolute essential.

As I have said, I have two teenage children and my wife is a former teacher. In her experience, the suggestion that one can address an average or even below average group of teenagers seeking to proselytise and expect to be heard sympathetically is unrealistic.

There has been much overstatement from both sides about the effect of the clause. It has been suggested that some great works of art, great books and great plays that have been performed for scores of years ߞ including during the time when homosexuality was illegal ߞ are threatened. I doubt that. However, it is possible that the clause as drawn, even with the beneficial effects of amendments (e) and (f), will be taken as some sort of signal by a large number of people that society is becoming more intolerant. I remind the House for the last time that we are talking about a law-abiding minority of people. If people break the law, they must be punished through all the avenues available. I do not wish to see my children threatened by sexual or other aggression, but I want to keep a sense of perspective and I very much fear that the clause goes much further than was ever intended.

Three months ago I rose to express my distress and disquiet at the sudden appearance of what was then clause 27 of the Local Government Bill. I had hoped that in the intervening months a degree of common sense and decency might have crept into the Government's thinking and that we might now be applauding their decision to withdraw the clause in its entirety from the Bill and to reject everything that it stands for. Sadly, that is not the case. At the Government's behest, their Lordships have made two changes to the clause. Lords amendment No. 11 brings a marginal improvement. Lords amendment No. 12 inserts the idea of intentionalityߞof itself not an objectionable move, but, when qualified with such a sweeping catch-all definition of intention, leaving interpretation totally to the courts, it does nothing to allay the genuine fears that the clause has aroused throughout the country.

The amendments have left untouched the central flaw at the heart of the clause — the undefined, hopelessly vague and dangerously widely interpretable word "promote". The amendments in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends attempt to circumscribe that word to a certain extent. That is why I support them. If the amendments tabled by the Liberal party are put to the vote, I shall not support them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not selected."] I am pleased to hear it, because they would have made matters worse.

Three months ago I asked what on earth the originators of the clause meant by the word "promote". After three months of debate and discussion in this Chamber, in the other place, on the radio and television and on platforms up and down the country, that question still remains unanswered. All that we had in the intervening period were statements such as, "Well, we all know what we mean by 'promote', don't we?" or, "We all know that boroughs like Haringey are up to no good," or, "Of course, there will be no threat to sensible acceptable activities conducted by local authorities." None of those statements represents an accurate analysis of what the word "promote" can be interpreted as meaning by the courts. It is not good enough for the Minister to write to me, as he generously did after the debate before Christmas, to say that in his view none of the activities that I had listed as potentially unlawful under the clause would be caught by it. It is not up to the Minister to interpret what the word "promote" means; it is up to the courts.

After reading through many pages of the House of Lords Hansard, the only attempt at a definition that I could find — in all the many hours of debate — came from the Earl of Caithness, who is the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Water. He referred to local authorities that have in the recent past promoted homosexuality—
"that is, giving it a standing over and above the standing that is given to similar matters."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 February 1988; Vol. 492, c. 937.]
If I were in the business of writing a dictionary, I would certainly not go to the noble Lord for clarity of definition. Such an attempt to define what the word "promote" means takes us no further.

7.15 pm

Because of that lack of definition, the central problem remains. The clause will potentially affect any service provided by any local authority for, or on behalf of, or in support of, gays and lesbians in that local authority's area. Let me take just two examples to illustrate my point. First, let us suppose that a teenager begins to discover that he is gay. He feels nervous, upset and isolated. He may be on the verge of contemplating suicide, as the studies suggest many such young people are. Because he would find it difficult to turn to anyone else, he turns to a teacher at his school. He asks, "What on earth is all this about?" In such circumstances, any teacher worth his salt would sit the pupil down and say, "Look, there is nothing at all to be worried about. This is perfectly acceptable. There are millions of people who are gay and they make a valuable contribution to society. There is no reason for you to feel isolated or abnormal about what you are and what you are feeling." That teacher would attempt to advise and counsel and make the teenager feel better about himself and about what he was coming to understand about himself. Would such a teacher be in contravention of the clause? As I understand the clause — certainly as I understand the wishes of those who brought the clause forward—such a teacher would, indeed, be contravening the clause. That means that the important advice and counselling that ought to be available to that very concerned, very scared, teenager will not be available to him. That worries me deeply.

My second example relates to a local authority-owned art gallery wishing to sponsor an exhibition of paintings by David Hockney. I choose the painter advisedly because of what he has said forcefully in recent days. The local authority will fear that it risks being in contravention of clause 28, not simply because David Hockney happens to be gay, but because David Hockney's paintings frequently celebrate the fact that he is gay. That is the key point that will concern a local authority when it is considering whether to mount an exhibition of paintings by one of Britain's greatest artists. I believe that the way in which the clause will be interpreted moves us a step closer to censorship of the arts because that is how it is likely to affect local authorities. I have given just two of many examples.

For many years we have had a law—in statute, and before that in common law—against indecent displays and obscenity. The hon. Gentleman will know that a great many art galleries in this country contain classical paintings of great distinction depicting scenes of sexual violence and what many people might call depravity. Does he know of any prosecutions—under common law or statute law—that have taken place for contraventions of that law?

The hon. Gentleman makes two mistakes. The first mistake is that the law on matters that are obscene and indecent specifically includes artistic and literary merit as a defence in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. There is no such defence in clauses 28 and 29. Lord Boyd-Carpenter explicitly stated in another place that the artistic element would not be a defence if a prosecution were brought under this clause if it continues to be part of the Bill and if the Bill is enacted.

The hon. Gentleman's second mistake is that exhibitions of paintings of the sort that I have described might conceivably be prosecutable under the 1959 Act. That measure can be used to bring prosecutions for matters that are obscene and indecent. If the hon. Gentleman is supporting the clause and its inclusion in our body of law, he is wishing to tighten the law on obscenity further to restrict the definition of obscene and indecent. I suggest that this is the wrong place to do that. If he is taking that approach, he is adopting the wrong course.

I have given two examples of the practical, potential implications of the clause. In many ways it will make life worse for teachers, administrators, pupils, artists and librarians. It will have that effect on hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens. It will make life richer for some lawyers and a handful of bigots who want to use the law to their own advantage. To such depths, in the desire of populist advantage, is it sought to drag the Government, a Government who should know better.

More enraging and distressing by far than the practical implications of the clause are the motives that underly it. These motives have not been changed one bit by the amendments that have been tabled in the other place. They remain profoundly undemocratic, anti-libertarian and destructive of all the traditions of tolerance for which this country used to stand.

The proponents of the clause have been saying persistently throughout the country that there is only one form of relationship, one form of sexuality and one form of lifestyle that is acceptable. That form of sexuality will be endorsed, approved, applauded and given enhanced legal status, and everything else will become second-class. It is a view which refuses to recognise the difference, the diversity and the very richness of human life and human society. It is intolerant, immature and undemocratic, and I venture to assert that it is profoundly immoral.

William Shakespeare wrote a major speech as part of a collaborative play about the life of Sir Thomas More. In that play, the king sent out. Sir Thomas More to meet the mob that wishes to drive out the strangers from its midst—the immigrants, the black people, the gays and the lesbians. Sir Thomas More goes out to meet the crowd. He tries to persuade it that it is wrong to drive out strangers and that it might not be in its interests to do so. Shakespeare has Sir Thomas More saying:
"Graunt them remoued, and graunt that this your noyce

Hath chidd downe all the maiestic of Ingland;

Ymagin that you see the wretched straingers,

Their babyes at their backes and their poor lugage,

Plodding tooth ports and costes for transportacion,

Aud that you sytt as kinges in your desyres,

Aucthoryty quyte sylenct by your braule,

And you in ruff of your opynions clothd;

What had you gott? Ile tell you: you had taught

How insolence and strong hand shoold preuayle,

How ordere shoold be quelld; and by this patterne

Not on of you shoold lyue an aged man,

For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,

With sealf same hand, sealf reasons, and sealf right,

Woold shark on you, and men lyke rauenous fishes

Woold feed on on another."
That is the sort of society that I do not wish to see in this country. It is the sort of society that the progenitors of the clause will bring about. It is a society in which there is one form of acceptable existence, a society in which everything else is second-rate and second-class.

I said three months ago that true morality and true decency mean accepting and celebrating diversity and being tolerant of the fact that everyone, no matter who or what he is, is entitled to live and lead his own life. That is what I shall continue to stand for in the House. I dearly hope that the House will reject the clause and support at the very least the amendments that stand in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Order. It seems sensible and for the benefit of the House if I allow the debate on the amendment to touch upon matters that are covered by other Lords amendments. I remind the House, however, that we are not debating whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.

If I may say so, I do not think that the clause will enrich lawyers. There is one fundamental matter that the House should understand and say. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has said, homosexuality is not one of the paths of sexual expression which diversify and enrich human experience. In male homosexuality — homos in Greek meaning "the same" and homo in Latin meaning "man" — there is a perversion of a human function. It is using the excretory anus and rectum with a reproductive organ. That might in itself give us pause, but anyone who comprehends the deep libidinal and psychological orgins of male and female homosexuality should understand that it is a major and unnatural perversion.

I shall give way in a moment.

There are other perversions. As a lawyer who has practised at the criminal Bar, I have met many psychopaths. I have met also many bank robbers. I have met people with all sorts of perversion, who decide either to indulge in them or to refrain from them. It is ill in a debate on the education of children that the concept of the indulgence of deeply seated character perversions should be regarded as a mere alternative. If it is a mere alternative, aggression and sadism are merely parts of the diversity of human experience.

To take up the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, let us consider the small child who goes to his teacher and says, "I have an urge to shoplift. I feel isolated because people tell me that there is something abnormal and wrong about shoplifting." The teacher says, "You must not feel isolated, dear boy. It is just another manifestation of the glorious diversity of human behaviour. So be at home and worry not. There is no morality." I have not heard the words "right", "wrong", "good" or "bad" in the speeches of those who object to the promotion that is to be forbidden under the clause.

7.30 pm

The hon. and learned Gentleman is concerned about corruption of the young. He has quoted Greek and has challenged whether things are right or wrong. Does he think that it was right that Socrates should have been prosecuted for corrupting the young? Does he also think it right that hemlock should have been the punishment?

It is not a question of yes or no. It is a question of yes or no that Socrates, in corrupting the young, was guilty of a criminal offence. Eventually, the glories of Greece and Athens and their philosophy were smothered and corrupted by the very matter which he spread, as indeed Rome was as well. I do not want to take as long as Gibbon took to write "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire".

Let us be clear about this. Leonardo da Vinci was a homosexual. So was Peter Pears. The fact that a person has this morbid squint is not a reason to condemn him for all else that he does. In wartime, lots of people indulge instincts of aggression and sadism which they keep in control if they are not given the opportunity to exercise them. I have appeared in capital cases for many people who failed to keep those sentiments in check. But that is not an alternative of the diversity of the expression of psychosexual activity which—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) may laugh, but he should understand what motivates people who want to shoot, kill, stab, hit children or be aggressive. [Interruption] Opposition Members may laugh but a simple message should go out from the House. Sodomy and buggery are not natural alternative sexual acts. They are perversions. They result from deep-seated psychopathological perversion. The House should not be seen to say that it is as right to be wrong as it is wrong to be right.

I would not like to follow the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) too far, but I can think of nothing more psychopathologically sick than to devote one's life to the pursuit of those who follow practices which the hon. and learned Gentleman finds undesirable and to incite the public to hate them. The hon. and learned Gentleman is not a psychiatrist and neither am I. The only reading which I can make of his speech is that he has revealed what many people would regard as a genuine sickness which could do damage to others.

I have never spoken before in the House on this subject, but I am moved to do so by growing alarm at the effect that the clause would have upon millions of people and not only upon those who are gay or lesbian, for their relatives have a concern for them and know that this campaign has been whipped up by the gutter press which has done more to lower the standard of personal and public morality than any others in modern British society.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer and I am not, but I think that the cartoon in The Sun today is an incitement to violence, if not to murder. Those who advocate policies which have that consequence, in collaboration with proprietors who believe that they can increase their circulation by conducting those campaigns, share the moral responsibility for what will flow from them.

The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. Let us take many people in history. Let us take Oscar Wilde, one of our greatest playwrights and one of the greatest users of the English language. Let us take Lawrence of Arabia. Many people are homosexual. That is absolutely no criticism of them as people. We are not discussing that. What we are discussing is whether or not a local authority should try to persuade people that if they are homosexual they might be Oscar Wilde.

When the hon. and learned Gentleman reads his speech, I think he will realise that each intervention makes it worse. If it is wrong for local authorities to promote homosexuality, why is it not wrong for anyone to promote it?

I admired the speech of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire). If local authorities cannot do something which will be covered by the clause, the next stage will be that no one can. Every leaflet, every pamphlet, every play and every book would be considered on the basis of whether it put forward a psychopathological condition if we accept the view of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross.

I believe that the pursuit of people who are gay and lesbian is as morbid as could be imagined. It is one thing for the popular press, the sewer press, to pursue such a campaign, but for a Government who have responsibility for the education of children to adopt that campaign and to make it part of the statute of the land can only be interpreted as the crudest opportunism for political purposes. That is my conviction. The effect of it is to scapegoat gays and lesbians. Whatever may be said in the House by Ministers, the courts will not take into account assurances by Ministers. The courts take account only of the wording of legislation.

This is the most blatantly and dishonestly worded clause that I have ever come across. I shall tell the House why. If the sense of the word "promote" can be read across from "describe", every murder play promotes murder, every war play promotes war, every drama involving the eternal triangle promotes adultery; and Mr. Richard Branson's condom campaign promotes fornication. The House had better be very careful before it gives to judges, who come from a narrow section of society, the power to interpret "promote".

The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross used vivid language, which no doubt will guarantee him a place in The Sun tomorrow. [Interruption.] Of course it will; he knows it well. He is expert at getting himself into the newspapers on sexual matters. I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that some of the most horrific sexual crimes are crimes within a heterosexual context. That is so with many rapes and much mutilation, which is promoted in videos and films. These show the crime of one person against another, not the love of one person for another.

To identify homosexual and gay relationships specially as contributing to crime is to fly in the face of all the evidence that as there is more heterosexual sexual activity, more crime is associated with it than with gay and lesbian relationships.

a: I did not suggest that homosexuality produced crime. However, as the right hon. Gentleman has said that I am good at getting into the papers on sexual matters, will he be good enough to tell me Fiona Fullerton's telephone number?

Since the clause first appeared, I have received many letters from people who are gays and lesbians who are in genuine fear for their safety and for their lives. Any hon. Member who is interested in civil liberties will be aware that the harassment of gays and lesbians, first initiated by the sewer press and now by the clause for which the Government are responsible, is a major problem. People are afraid of the legislation and of the effect of the Government's endorsement of this scapegoating.

I wondered how I could best contribute to the debate and give my testimony against the clause. I have decided to read to the House in full the resolution on lesbian and gay rights carried by the Labour party conference two and a half years ago. I have sent copies of this resolution to the people who wrote to me. I want to read it out and put on the record the resolution that was passed at the Labour party conference by a majority of more than half a million. The resolution states:
"This Conference opposes all discrimination against lesbians and gay men and recognises that this discrimination is institutionalised in society. Conference notes that existing Labour Party policy with regard to homosexuality fails to meet the legitimate demands of lesbians and gay men and that a consistent and principled campaign conducted over a number of years is necessary to reverse that failure. Conference therefore:
(1) instructs the NEC to draft a lesbian and gay rights policy which would specifically:
  • (a) declare that lesbian and gay relationships and acts are not contrary to the public policy of the law and that judges must not use their discretion under Common Law to invent new and discriminatory offences;
  • (b) repeal all criminal laws which discriminate against lesbians and gay men, and clarify and codify those sections of the Common Law which deal with public morality;
  • (c) in this clarification they should be guided by the maxim that there should be no crimes without victims;
  • (d) prohibit discrimination against lesbians and gay men in child custody cases;
  • (e) prohibit discrimination and unfair dismissals on grounds in any way connected with lesbian and gay sexuality or life-style;
  • (f) prevent police harassment of lesbians and gay men.
  • (2) Calls upon "—
    this is relevant to the Bill—
    "all Labour local authorities to adopt practices and policy to prevent discrimination against lesbians and gay men, and in particular:
  • (a) adopt and enforce equal opportunities in relation to lesbians and gay men along the same lines as Islington, Hackney, GLC, Manchester, Brent and Nottingham;
  • (b) end discrimination against single people and lesbians and gay men in housing policies;
  • (c) support financially and otherwise special lesbian and gay phone lines, centres and youth groups;
  • (d) publicise these anti-discrimination policies.
  • (3) Instructs the NEC to
  • (a) organise a campaign of education among Labour Party trade union membership on lesbian and gay oppression in conjunction with the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights;
  • (b) produce a leaflet for public campaign using the slogan 'the Labour Party support lesbian and gay rights—join the Labour Party'.
  • (4) Instructs the NEC to set up a sub-committee to organise the implementation of this policy."
    That resolution was carried under our voting system with 3,395,000 voting for and 2,805,000 voting against. Conservative Members may laugh, but the Labour party conference reaches decisions. It does not simply give ovations to the leader who drafts the policy.

    Every Labour Member of Parliament was elected knowing the resolution on lesbian and gay rights reached at the Labour party conference. Tory Members, the artificial psychiatrists and people with prejudices can laugh as much as they like. The day will come when people will look back on this debate and be glad that there were hon. Members on both sides of the House who stood against what is an incitement to harass decent people, who, in the course of their orientation, have adopted gay and lesbian practices which are not contrary to the law of the land.

    I wanted to put that testimony into Hansard because people are frightened by what is happening. They want to know that there are people in this House who believe that the policy is wrong, is motivated wrongly, is drafted wrongly and is designed to gain political advantage out of scapegoating a minority who should be left to enjoy their civil liberties.

    7.45 pm

    Having listened with fascination to all that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has read out, I must say that there is nothing in the resolution which states that the Labour party believes that children in schools should have the homosexual lifestyle thrust on them as a desirable alternative to normal heterosexual marriage.

    The clause is about protecting children. It has absolutely nothing to do with what the right hon. Member for Chesterfield has just read out. There is no doubt that children have been subjected to a most unhappy, unfair and wrong promotion campaign to try to turn them into supporters of homosexuality.

    If anyone doubts that, why did the children's parents complain? When those parents complained, why were they subjected to such vicious treatment? I cannot think it right—

    No, I am in the middle of a sentence.

    I cannot think it right that parents who complained about what was being done to their children at school should have been kicked and spat upon. If their children had not been treated in the way that I have described, the parents would not have complained.

    One of the things that has impressed me—

    The hon. Gentleman asks whether it is true. If it is not true, why did the parents complain? That is the point of the matter.

    I will give way to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) because he asked me first.

    Will the hon. Lady produce evidence to support her claim? Does she recognise that the clause goes way beyond the protection of children? Will she also accept that, if the protection of children is the main cause for concern, we must give the same protection to children from the threat from heterosexual abuse, which is far more common and a bigger threat to children than the lesbian or gay threat.

    The clause has nothing to do with criminal abuse. The clause attempts to stop what has been happening to children. The hon. Member for Burnley must understand the point that I have already made twice—if parents did not believe that what was happening was wrong, why did they complain, and complain to some Conservative Members who tried to stand up for their rights?

    The evidence is clear for anyone who will take the trouble to read the debates in another place and in this place. I am amazed at the deliberate blindness and deafness of Opposition Members.

    I will not give way. I want to get on; I do not wish to make a long speech.

    I have been amazed at the way in which the clause has been interpreted by people outside the House, and astonished at some of the things that have been said this evening. In all fairness, they have only been the same things that have been said by the demonstrators. People are screaming and yelling that books by William Shakespeare will all be banned from libraries. That is ridiculous: nothing in the clause could bring that about.

    I wonder why people who say that it is terrible to burn books from a library, or ban them, when they are for adults — I agree with them — have taken no action against the banning of "Thomas the Tank Engine", Enid Blyton, Rupert Bear and Dr. Doolittle. People who say that it is right to ban those books cannot say that they do not agree with any books being banned.

    I shall not give way. Mr. Deputy Speaker has said that he wants all speeches to be short.

    I have also been astonished at the degree of viciousness that I have encountered, as one who initiated the clause. My secretary has been abused, and has been the butt of the most appalling campaign of pornographic telephone calls. At 2.20 one morning, she was woken by someone who objected to the clause, and was subjected to a torrent of pornographic abuse. That is not the way to conduct a proper argument, but it tells us quite a lot about the kind of people who have been taking part in the opposition to the clause.

    I have not given way so far, and I must not do so now.

    I have been strongly supportive of the attempt to protect children, and no amount of abuse—or having my car vandalised, which has also happened—will stop me protecting them, and protecting the family unit. This I shall do, against all opposition. The family unit is under attack: there is no doubt of that.

    We have a clear indication of the motivation for what has been going on. Let me read out a short paragraph that encapsulates the effort that has been going into the promotion of homosexuality in schools, and the downgrading of the family unit:
    "The family unit—spawning ground of lies, betrayals, mediocrity, hypocrisy and violence—will be abolished. The family unit, which only dampens imagination and curbs free will, must he eliminated. Perfect boys will be conceived and grown in the genetic laboratory. They will be bonded together in communal setting, under the control and instruction of homosexual savants."
    That is the sort of motivation that led to the need for this clause.

    I strongly support the clause, and oppose the efforts to water it down and to make it possible for our children still to he treated in such a way.

    Like the rest of us, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), by seeking election to this place, must expect her views to be held up for public comment and criticism. That is an obligation. A similar obligation, however, should not apply to those who do not seek public office. Nevertheless, they find their views and lifestyles criticised, often in a far worse way than the hon. Lady or her secretary could ever experience. Let me read from a letter from a constituent that arrived in my office on 5 January:

    "As a young lesbian of 19 years, I can recall only too well the problems I faced during early adolescence and the prejudice and hysteria I was confronted with when I 'came out' at 15. I was hounded at school; I had people spitting at me, people trying to ride their bikes into me, etc. I never went out as people kept threatening to beat me up. I left home, and came to London when I was 16, but even now my sister is teased and victimised because I am a lesbian. There is no way this should have happened to me, and, what is worse, is that some friends of mine had even worse happen to them. I got off 'lightly'. Measures need to be taken to combat this prejudice, and some local councils had begun to do this within education and by aiding lesbian and gay groups, etc, with money and resources. (Money and resources that as rate-payers we are entitled to.) This education is not promotion of homosexuality, it is only a presentation of it in a fair, unprejudiced way—no one can be turned gay by it, the same way we cannot be taught to be straight. But the word promotion is open to interpretation by the courts and this is very dangerous … Many people are going through what I did and this must be stopped. If this Bill is passed it will be another blow to us and a serious violation of our human rights."
    Let me briefly quote from two more letters, sent since our last debate on this subject. One is from a man in north London, who writes:
    "When I was at secondary school, struggling to come to terms with my sexuality, a few well-chosen and compassionate words from our sex education teacher left a lasting impression upon me; for years it was all I had to cling to whilst all around me gays were jeered in every playground conversation".
    The other letter is from a parent of a gay child from Sheffield, written in January this year:
    "I have a daughter who is gay and I believe suffered unnecessarily from the pretence that such do not exist. I had always thought that what took place between fully consenting adults in private should not be against the law, but I had not expected it to touch my own life at all closely. I lean to the view that homosexuals are born and not made because her upbringing doesn't seem to have been different from that of my three other children all of whom are heterosexual. In passing I note that my other daughter is left-handed and fortunate in having escaped persecution for that."
    Arguments are commonly put forward about what happens when someone comes to the conclusion that he or she is homosexual. Let me quote another phrase:
    "When I was young, I was surrounded by images glamorising heterosexuality and it never made me feel I was heterosexual."
    That is testimony to the prejudice, disadvantage and bigotry that we as a country should be trying to reduce and eliminate rather than to increase it. The inevitable consequence of the Bill which has had a timely representation by the cartoon already described will be to fan into greater bigotry those who already have latent prejudice.

    As the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) pointed out, we challenged the Secretary of State in the House at the end of last year about what Ministers had said a year before. I could quote their speeches. They said that the Government did not believe that the enforcement measures contained in a predecessor Bill were necessary and that legal procedures were already adequate. They criticised both the drafting and the need for legislation. The Minister for Local Government, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, did not explain why the Government have completely gone back on a view they held a year ago.

    8 pm

    I am aware that since our previous debate small amendments have been made in the other place. I agree with other hon. Members that the three amendments before us tonight marginally improve the previous drafting. The first amendment adds the word "intentionally", and that is certainly an improvement. The second amendment deletes some tautologous words. The third is declaratory and, if it does anything, it might help to make slightly clearer what is already in the clause. However, none of those amendments goes to the heart of the mischief in the clause, nor do they deal with the argument about why the clause should not pass on to the statute book.

    I shall respond to the arguments about morality. Many people believe that it is hypocritical for the Government to seek to legislate for morality as they define it when, at the same time, the poor become poorer, the rich become relatively richer, the people who depend on social security will have less chance of obtaining it and when for many opportunity in our society will be reduced because they are riot favoured by the capitalist market-led Government. Morality is not what a lot of people see as the result of the Government's policies. It is not for Parliament to legislate for a nation of 50 million or more people. It is not for Parliament to decide that there shall be one morality for all — the morality of the Government of the day. A civilised society should recognise that it has a duty to legislate for civil rights, for civil liberties and for freedom to choose for all. Adults must be allowed to make their own choices and, provided they do not harm others, they must be free to do so without fear of being victimised. Hearsay arguments such as that unreasonably put forward by the hon. Member for Edgbaston must be challenged. The wording of the clause means that there is a risk that the courts will be given a legislative weapon that will allow them not to protect those whom it is thought they might want to protect but to act far more widely.

    The word "promotion" is still in the clause. It is the "promotion" of homosexuality that will be forbidden. The dictionary definition shows that there are two alternative meanings of the word "promotion". The first says:
    "To further the growth, development, progress or establishment of (anything); to further advance or encourage".
    The second definition is very different. It says:
    "To put forth into notice; to publish; to assert, advance". That is simply the neutral state of putting into the public domain information about homosexuality.
    "Homosexuality" is the second key word of the clause. The meaning is very wide and is not defined clearly in the statute. It will be open to the courts to say that neutral non-commending activity by local councils can be in violation of the law. That is what makes this such a dangerous clause and why it has been perceived widely in the country to be so.

    I am concerned about a point that the hon. Gentleman made earlier. He suggested that in some way the clause radically changes existing law in relation to the rights of the individual. The clause changes nothing in existing law in relation to the practice of homosexuality or lesbianism. Therefore, there is grave danger in whipping up a great deal of hysteria about problems that do not exist. I take the point that he made about the word "promotion". He is on much stronger ground there. However, we have to keep away from broadening the argument and misleading the public by raising issues that are unconnected.

    The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Either the clause adds something to the law—the Government say that it adds something necessary and Conservative Members support it for that reason—or, as the Government argued 15 months ago, it adds nothing to the law and in that case it should not be here.

    Other aspects of the clause are open to misinterpretation and were fallaciously added. Inherent in the clause is the belief that homosexuality can be promoted — [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Edgbaston said that it can. That is a hotly disputed scientific issue. I read direct testimony to the House from people who are homosexual. I did not quote hearsay evidence. Those people said that in their earlier years they had been exposed to heterosexual advertising and that it had not changed them in the slightest. The hon. Member for Edgbaston cannot have it both ways. Surely she accepts that the evidence of many scientists and ordinary people shows that people who discover that they have a homosexual orientation have no ability to do anything about it or believe that they have no ability to do anything about it. Therefore, promoting that condition is a logical inconsistency. Of course one can promote activity, but promoting a psychological state is probably impossible. It certainly could not be promoted by a local authority.

    If that is so, why does the GLC's charter for lesbian and gay rights say:

    "Heterosexuality is not natural but acquired"?

    I dissent front that view. I made it clear in Committee that I opposed the clause from the beginning. I believe that the issue is whether people of different sexuality should be given the same facilities by their local council: the same education, the same information and the same support as anybody else. It seems a matter of simple civil liberties and human rights that they should. We should not be judgmental in one direction or another.

    I hope that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) will not seek by law to impose any religious or theological morality on anybody else. He is welcome to seek to persuade somebody to make a choice but not to do that by legislation. People should not be made to put their religion into a second or lower category. That is clearly a parallel implication of the clause.

    I shall support the amendments tabled in the name of the Labour party. I understand and appreciate the fact that Mr. Speaker could not select the amendments I tabled, but I believe that they would have been to the advantage of the clause and the gay community. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) does not share that view. However, the advice that I received from people who looked at the issue carefully was that they would be an improvement. However, I am happy for there to be disagreement about that. I hold to my view. I support the amendments and those tabled by the Government.

    The tragedy of the matter is that the mischief in the Bill will not be dealt with in the House tonight. An enormous amount of fearful public opinion has asked the Government to allow people with different sexual orientations or concerns to have the same status and recognition as anybody else in our supposed pluralist society.

    I have now had an opportunity to look at the dictionary from which the hon. Gentleman was reading a few moments ago. He will recall that he read out three definitions of the word "promote" and took exception to the third. Will he accept, on reflection, that the definition to which he took exception is marked as being obsolete? The last example is recorded as having been used in 1623.

    If the Minister had read the definition carefully I would accept that, but he has not. I did not quote that definition. I specifically quoted the ones—I ask him to look at Hansard tomorrow — which are above that on that page in the dictionary and which are both extant. I can understand that, in the heat of the debate and to try to deal with a point quickly, the Minister may have read too quickly. There are two alternative definitions, both of which are available to the courts and both of which are extant, and that is where the mischief lies.

    The Government have an opportunity to listen to the fears that are being expressed by hon. Members about this clause. Although we shall pass these amendments, I hope that very soon we shall have an opportunity to right the wrong that will have been done to many people by a Government who say they know better what is best for them than they do themselves.

    I took part in the debate on this clause in December. Since then I have received no letters in support of the lobbying that has been carried out by the homosexual opponents of the clause, but many people have written to say they are in favour of the clause. Many of my constituents find the proposition so self-evident that they wonder why there has been any debate whatsoever.

    I take the view that the Christian Church has taken over the past 2,000 years, which recognises that some people have homosexual orientation but that homosexual genital acts and behaviour are intrinsically immoral.

    I hope that people will recognise that we are not setting out to attack homosexuals for being homosexual, but are entitled to hold the view that homosexual behaviour is immoral. That view has been held by the Christian Church for 2,000 years. St. Paul says that one should condemn the sin but always forgive the sinner. I believe that that is the attitude that Parliament should adopt.

    The second question that we should ask is, how far should the law be concerned in sexual matters? Few would argue that there is a place for the law in sexual matters. The question is, what is the extent of the law's involvement? The law quite rightly forbids a range of perversions such as bestiality, under-age sex and other behaviour. We are happy that the law should have a view on such matters. I have always taken the view that St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the "Summa Theologica," got it about right:
    "Human legislation, which is enacted for a group composed for the greater part of human beings who are not of consummate virtue, does not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain".
    We set out to deal only with those that have a dramatic and detrimental effect on society.

    I believe that the Government are in tune with public opinion and what is right for our society. We are not saying that people cannot be homosexual. All that the clause does is say that local authorities may not promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle that people should be encouraged to support. Further, it says that in schools children should not be taught that homosexuality is a way of life that they should follow. That is a very sensible, clear and simple definition.

    The hon. Gentleman's reference to St. Thomas Aquinas reminded me that in the same "Summa Theologica" he suggested that any Government who treat their minorities with injustice are tantamount to a tyrant form of Government and should be overthrown by the popular support of the people. Does the hon. Gentleman recall that passage?

    8.15 pm

    I certainly do and there is nothing in the clause to contradict what St. Thomas said. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), who once trained for the Catholic priesthood, should find that this clause has any connection with what St. Thomas said.

    We should be aware of the misinformation campaign that has been run by a number of people in society to stir up fears of and misapprehensions about the homosexual community. I am sorry that the Arts Council—which did not defend the rights of newspapers such as those of the Murdoch group when they were banned from public libraries—should seek to misrepresent the effect of this clause.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) was right when he intervened during the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to ask what civil liberties are under attack. The simple answer is that no civil liberties are under attack. The Bill and this clause do not take away the civil rights of homosexuals. The clause merely prevents the promotion of homosexuality, which does not detract from homosexual rights.

    The civil rights that are being taken away are for every growing person and young adult to have the same quality of education and the same level of accurate information as anyone else. The right to education should be given equally; there should be a right to have questions answered equally honestly and there should be a right for the same kind of advice, counselling and support as for anyone else.

    There is nothing in the clause that will prevent that. If the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at the clause he will not see that counselling is not forbidden. What is forbidden is the promotion of homosexuality as being a lifestyle that young people should follow.

    Society has a right to say that there are some things that it does not believe should be promoted in the best interests of children. There are many things that we do not allow schools to promote, and about which Labour Members may agree. For instance, we do not allow schools to promote smoking as a good idea. We believe quite strongly that we should be stopping young people from smoking, and we do not say "You should smoke." We do not believe that we should support racism. We make judgments and decide what schools should teach and how subjects should be balanced in the curriculum. It is not unreasonable to say that the curriculum should he geared to the view that the vast majority of people in our society believe to be right. We want to encourage our young people wherever possible — we know that some people would take a contrary view—to be heterosexual—and to live, if they choose to get married, in a loving family relationship. That is the acceptable and proper way for our society to be preserved and maintained.

    Will the hon. Gentleman say what mischief in the law this amendment is deemed to he tackling? Is there any evidence that he or anyone else can deploy that a local authority has promoted homosexuality? The evidence seems to be very slender.

    If the hon. Gentleman had not just walked into the Chamber, he would have heard, over the past hour. Conservative Members giving examples of what has happened in the past year. [Interruption.] I shall give one or two examples. Haringey council has instructed its head teachers to develop courses to

    "Promote positive images of lesbians and gays".

    No, I have been asked to give examples and I am doing so—

    "in furtherance of its equal opportunities policy involving 'action against racism and sexism as well as against heterosexism'."
    That was from the Sunday Telegraph on 5 July 1986.

    According to The Evening Standard of 23 June 1987, parents in Haringey tore down posters in Haringey primary schools advertising the Gay Pride week organised on behalf of the local authority.

    The GLC's charter for lesbian and gay rights, which I mentioned a minute ago, states:
    "Heterosexuality is not natural but acquired."
    It went on to attack normal sex education because:
    "the current trend towards teaching parent craft assumes that all parents are heterosexual and encourages students to see marriage as the major goal in life".
    There have been quite a few examples, in the past year and a half, of where local authorities in some parts of London have gone out of their way to promote homosexuality as a lifestyle.

    We are entitled as members of society to have a view on that. I am sorry that Labour Members take the view that Conservative Members are not entitled to put forward the viewpoint that is supported by our constituents. Society is entitled to expect all schools to promote a lifestyle which is in accord with Judaic-Christian principles which underlie our society. This clause does no more than ensure that that situation is enforced.

    Having heard the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), it is difficult to know whether to scream or cry. The confusion of thought and misguided instincts that led him to speak as he has done make it difficult to understand what is in the mind of the Government or Conservative Members who will go into the Lobby to support this amendment.

    It is difficult to know whether the motive behind the remarks by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) was genuine intolerance, which the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) displayed by referring to homosexuality as a psychopathic logical aversion equivalent to sadism, or simply misguided mischief and the hon. Gentleman thought that he would make a little political capital or have some fun on the Back Benches. I wish that I were speaking after him so that I could understand more fully what led him to make those remarks.

    Whatever the motive of the hon. Gentleman, or of the Government, unless the clause is amended in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has described tonight, it will do immense damage and cause immense pain and anguish to men and women who just happen to find that their attraction, love and comfort are found in a relationship with members of their own sex rather than the opposite sex.

    Conservative Members have referred constantly to choosing homosexuality. Gays and lesbians no more choose how they feel than heterosexuals choose heterosexuality. This is not a logical choice that people make; this is something that people feel.

    Presumably the hon. Gentleman has studied all the available evidence from objective academic sources on that point. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I have come to the conclusion that there is a small amount of objective evidence to support what he says and an equally small amount of evidence to the contrary. As long as there are no established facts, we as a society should say that, until it is proved that somebody's sexuality cannot be changed, we must assume that it can be, just in case.

    As the hon. Gentleman has said, there is little substantial scientific evidence on either side. It is not something that lends itself to such analysis.

    I shall give way in a moment.

    The hon. Member for Spelthorne should look into his own life. Did he make a logical choice to be homosexual or heterosexual? I do not believe that he or any other hon. Member has made that logical, rational choice. They followed what they found to be loving, attractive and helpful in their lives.

    I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).

    Before looking at the nature and possible results of that pain and anguish, I want to consider the effects of the clause in its present form on the artistic life of our society and upon our libraries. There has been a great deal of discussion in the public press and elsewhere about that. Undoubtedly, if the clause is carried in its present form, with the uncertainty of its legal language, books in our libraries, exhibitions of photographs and fine art in our galleries, plays in our theatres, and films in art centres may be at risk if those buildings are run or controlled by a local authority. As I understand the word "promote", anything that potentially glorifies, makes attractive or preferential, homosexual, gay or lesbian love is at risk as a result of this clause. The Minister shakes his head. It may well be that E. M. Forster, Jean Genet and others will remain on our library shelves, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) so wisely said, not only is David Hockney proud to be a gay person, but much of his work glorifies and has its roots in the fact that that is how he sees the world, having suffered the intolerance and prejudices which are at the core of this clause. He has seen the world through that experience and through those eyes and that is why his work is so powerful.

    The hon. Gentleman made precisely the same point to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts on 25 January. He replied:

    "I have been advised that local authorities seeking simply to provide the public with access to a comprehensive range of artistic and literary material will not be put at risk by that provision."—[Official Report, 25 January 1988; Vol. 126, c. 13.]
    Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that that is no longer true?

    As other hon. Members have said, assurances from the Treasury Bench will not stand up in court. They have no validity in court. Equally, I would be curious to know who has advised the Minister for the Arts about that. Undoubtedly, the Arts Council has not advised the Minister for the Arts, nor has the Library Association and nor has any regional arts association in Britain. I know of nobody in the artistic community who has so advised the Minister for the Arts.

    Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that possibly the first effort of any Government Department in this sphere was in 1984 when certain literary giants employed by the Customs and Excise raided the Gay's the Word bookshop in my constituency and, exercising their brilliant discretion, confiscated, because they believed it to be obscene, a book which set out the proceedings of the first medical seminar on how to stop the spread of AIDS. That was — I checked it — on advice from solicitors working for the Treasury. If they are the sort of people who are giving advice to Ministers, everybody had better look out.

    My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The uncertainty and unsafeness of the wording of the clause will potentially put those artistic activities at risk if they glorify and beautify and therefore could be said to promote homosexual life.

    Undoubtedly, the most beautiful story that could possibly do that is the story of Jonathan and David. I am sure that no Conservative Member would presume that that would be stripped from our library shelves if it were owned by a local authority. That just shows how ludicrous the clause would be if it were not so dangerous.

    8.30 pm

    There is a danger greater even than that of the direct, overt and clear problem of the activities or concerns of local authorities' arts policies being challenged in the courts. That is the intangible danger of self-censorship in the arts. If the clause is passed, it is inevitable that people running local authority theatres or other such places will ask themselves whether they should put on the play, or whatever, or whether that would be risking the viability of their theatres or other places. They will perhaps decide to censor their programmes for next year in advance so as not to put the work of their colleagues or local authorities at risk. Such self-censorship is a much greater danger because we shall not know that it is happening. None of us will know what local authority theatres are doing behind the scenes, so a whole area of self-expression and witness to what it is like to live in our society will quietly, gently and unobservably be written out of our culture. That should give us great cause for concern. It will make it impossible to come back in a year's time to discover what is happening. The Minister may return in a year's time and say that there have been no prosecutions and that Forster and Genet are still on the library shelves. But he will not be able to say how much self-censorship has been applied when applying for commissions, sponsorships or grants.

    Already, two clients of the Greater London Arts Association have been advised informally that they would be well advised, when making their grant application for next year, not to refer to the words "gay" or "lesbian" and that their grant applications will be more likely to be successful, and their work to prosper, if they ignore and suppress that side of their work. Such hidden self-censorship is more dangerous, and I hope that the Minister will understand and accept that point.

    A third thing is more dangerous still. Local authorities' council chambers will be used as law courts. We already have evidence of that. A motion has been tabled by the Conservative minority group on Haringey's council for discussion on 25 April, which calls on the council to
  • "(a) Immediately close the Lesbian and Gay unit.
  • (b) Abolish the Curriculum Working Party.
  • (c) To cease all measures to promote homosexuality anywhere"
  • and so on.

    The hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear," but when that is debated in Haringey council the constraints of evidence and balance that would exist if the first case were brought before a court of law and duly judged will not exist. In a court everyone could see the terms and conditions on which the judgment had been made, but in the borough of Haringey the issue will be determined more by the balance of power, and the same will apply to other councils. Surely every hon. Member would agree that that is not a satisfactory way in which to interpret the law. It is a perfectly fair way in which to interpret the political mandate of the people of any authority, but in this case the effect of the law will be tested, which must be extremely unsatisfactory.

    I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but he has missed one fundamental aspect. If he and I this evening wanted to set up the Westminster gay and lesbian rights association, to raise money and to promote gay and lesbian activities and understanding the problems faced by gay and lesbian people, there is nothing in English law to stop us from doing so. All the clause does is to stop local education authorities from doing that and ramming such ideas down the throats of children in the classroom.

    It is extraordinary, after the clause has been so widely debated in the House, in Committee and in the press, that the hon. Gentleman has not read it. It does not mention local education authorities; it is about all local authorities. The hon. Gentleman should have read the clause before he intervened.

    Any right-minded or tolerant person would find the effects that I have described worrying and undesirable. All hon. Members should recognise that the clause will create an atmosphere of intolerance against, and possibly even witch-hunting of gay and lesbian people. Because promoting their lifestyle is unacceptable, they, by implication, will become unacceptable and dangerous. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said—by implication—that will affect the way courts view custody decisions, it will affect job applications and it will affect police activity. I see the Minister shaking his head. Of course it will not affect such things directly, but the clause has already created an atmosphere—witness the cartoon in The Sun today and the many letters that we have all received. An atmosphere in society has already been stimulated and provoked by the clause. Surely the Minister can recognise that that is true. He may not have intended it, but that is how it is.

    This new atmosphere does not want to think about gay or lesbian people or to allow them to express themselves and say what it feels like to he one of them. It wants to turn away from all such things. It is an atmosphere that feels threatened and worried by what people do not understand. Some Conservative Members, like the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), may feel that homosexuality is a mortal sin. No doubt they welcome the fact that gay and lesbian people's rights to express themselves are to be suppressed, driven out and downgraded. Why do Conservative Members feel that way? Some hon. Members have said that it is because of the idea that homosexuality may be promoted. That seems misguided and ludicrous. We are speaking of feelings, instincts. If promotion were effective, everyone would be heterosexual because the overwhelming mass of material in our culture, media, advertising and family lives promotes heterosexuality. Most people are brought up in a heterosexual family atmosphere. That is one of the most determining influences on everyone, quite apart from advertising, Shakespeare and our whole culture, which constantly promotes heterosexual love. If promotion were effective, everyone would be heterosexual. It is perfectly obvious that it is not. The matter is much more complex and personal than that.

    Other Conservative Members talked about protecting young people. I do not think that they know—none of us does—at what age our sexuality is decided. I do not think they could find a single psychiatrist anywhere in the country to support their contentions, which are centred on the idea of protection.

    One of the Government's ideas is more bizarre than any of the others. In another place, the noble Lord Caithness implied that the clause, far from provoking witch hunts and an atmosphere of intolerance, as I fear it will, will allay hostility. I see the Minister agrees with that—but he cannot.

    It must be a mistake. The clause will not allay anything. Remember the cartoon in The Sun. Have those feelings been allayed by the clause? That cartoon is a direct result of the clause. It is playing and pandering to, and feeding on, the intolerance in our society—

    That is a strong phrase, but there undoubtedly is intolerance. The clause will not allay that; it will stimulate it.

    We are dealing with two overriding issues. Is ours a society in which people are free to say what they want in the arts and the media? Are they free to talk about how they feel about loving people of the same sex? Are they free to say that even in local authority theatres? Is ours a society in which people are free to love and care for others, irrespective of whether they are of their own sex?

    Surely the Minister will agree that freedom is absolutely paramount in a civilised society. He probably will not agree that the Government's record in defending freedom of speech is pretty rotten. But this is far darker, more sinister and more important than other attempts that the Government have made, through pressure on the BBC, banning books or taking people to court. All such things are sad, sick, totally misguided and wrong, and the people of this country will begin to see it. This is more serious and sinister, because a set of people will be made scapegoats by the clause, and that makes it even more painful.

    The second point is that a tenth of people in society will not be able to promote what they feel through artistic works. That is difficult. Undoubtedly, there is a streak of male chauvinism in society. Certainly, any woman in our society would recognise that. They have been marginalised. Their voices have been suppressed and marginalised. They have had to battle to make their voices heard in our arts and media. Undoubtedly, that is true also of gay people. In that respect, I suspect that the norm in our society is not heterosexuality but male chauvinism, which is a different thing. Such people are uneasy and fearful of such things that they do not understand. Whether or not that is the case, unless the clause is amended, as is proposed, it will set back tolerance and freedom of expression and the arts and the media in our society. It will drive things underground. The clause cannot change how people feel. It cannot change what people are attracted by. Although the House cannot delete the clause, as it should, it can at last put down a marker, as the Opposition seek to do, for decency and tolerance by voting for the amendment. I hope that it will do so.

    8.45 pm

    To sonic extent, the debate is a rerun of the arguments that we rehearsed with the Minister in Committee and on Report. My views are already on the record, and the Lords amendment has done nothing to change them. Various arguments have been expressed by Opposition Members. The clause will be totally unenforceable. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) referred to literature. If he thinks that it will result in any court convictions, he is totally off-beam. The Minister's predecessor rejected the clause just over a year ago, when it appeared in the House of Lords in the form of a private Member's Bill. He said that it would be unlikely to work, that it would be unenforceable, and that it would lead to misinterpretation. As several hon. Members have said, on Report, we did not get any satisfactory explanation from my hon. Friend the Minister.

    I shall repeat the question that was posed not only today but on Report. It was posed also by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). How is it that, 15 months ago, for excellent reasons, my hon. Friend's predecessor in the House of Lords advised the House of Lords to reject the private Member's Bill? What has changed? I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he took the legislation through its stages. How is it that, when he presented the Bill on Second Reading, it did not have that clause in it? That is why the clause must be resisted. Smoke signals are being sent out from the House by the enactment of this unenforceable piece of legislation. The House of Commons is getting itself into a frame of mind, ready to legislate down the road of persecution and prejudice.

    Some of my hon. Friends cannot understand why there has been a reaction from the gay community. The reason is that they see the style, character and attitude of the House of Commons being reflected in the clause. Some hon. Members have admitted — I do not take their names or views in vain—that if they could go further, they would, but they are limited by the scope of the Bill. Therefore, if we pass this new clause, even with the amendments moved by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), a smoke screen will go out to the gay community. That is that the character and attitude of the House of Commons in 1988, after several years of reasonably civilised debates, is slowly to reduce an element of the 1970s and early 1980s and to go in the reverse direction.

    The reason is quite straightforward. It is because of the AIDS scare. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) let the cat out of the bag when he suggested that the House had a duty to follow populism. I do not believe that, in matters relating to free society and libertarianism, we have a duty to respond to populism. We have a duty to lead public opinion. This legislation is doing exactly the opposite.

    My hon. Friend referred to the gay community as though it were a community. I have many close friends who happen to be homosexuals. They are not a community; they are individual people. The mere fact that my hon. Friend calls them a community, as though they were some sacrosanct church, shows why the clause is necessary.

    I am prepared to replace the words "gay community" with "individual homosexuals who have written to hon. Members during the past three or four months".

    Individual homosexuals feel that there is a threat in the clause. I am prepared to concede that there is unlikely to be a direct threat from the clause. The clause demonstrates to a homosexual that the green light has been given to The Sun, the News of the World and other newspapers to have an open season on homosexuality. That fear is well founded. If the clause is passed, we can expect individual members to introduce private Members' Bills, with the possibility that the Government will back further legislation in other respects.

    The Minister has set out his views. He was not able to satisfy me on Report. I am saddened by his attitude. It was a pleasure for me to serve on the Committee, when he steered an otherwise perfectly sensible, good piece of legislation. That legislation has been spoiled by this unnecessary new clause. Even with the amendments, it is an unfortunate smear on an otherwise good piece of legislation. The Minister will not admit it, but, had he known that the clause would provoke such a reaction by various organisations and individuals, he would not have taken it on board.

    I am prepared to accept that certain pieces of good English literature will remain on library shelves. Hon. Members have referred to books by E. M. Forster. Let us suppose that a syllabus for the GCSE examination contains, as is quite possible, books by E. M. Forster. I studied one of his books at O-level. Let us suppose that the school decided to take the class studying that book to see the film "Maurice". I can imagine some people using the clause to prevent that happening. I think that there will be some weird, wonderful and excessive misuses of court time because of this irrelevant and unenforceable piece of legislation. I am sad and sorry that my hon. Friend persists with it.

    First, I should like to comment on a claim made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) which concerned a Lambeth nursery group. I sought to intervene in her speech to ask for her evidence and I am sorry that she is not in the Chamber at the moment. With a constituency in Lambeth, I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) who was able to intervene. The hon. Member for Edgbaston said, "When parents complain." I have not had a single parent alleging what the hon. Member for Edgbaston alleged concerning any school in Lambeth. There has not been a single individual complaint from parents on those grounds. I have not had a single letter supporting the clause. I have received many letters and representations opposing the clause.

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) for passing across the literature alleged to be from the Terrence Higgins Trust, which was referred to earlier. The hon. Gentleman may agree that it is not evident that that literature was published by the Terrence Higgins Trust. It looks rather as if it was produced by a local group advertising the Healthline service of the Terrence Higgins Trust. The whole thrust of the trust's argument is precisely to combat AIDS. It is widely recognised that unless literature concerning AIDS is sexually explicit it will not reach its target audience and will in no way serve to combat AIDS.

    While there is next to no evidence of public sponsorship of homosexuality, there is overwhelming evidence of private sponsorship of heterosexual pornography, with indecent displays giving grave offence to many people. That is especially relevant to the clause inasmuch as it affects the young.

    One of my constituents recently sent me a leaflet advertising various forms of sexual aids, including a broad range which I am sure is known to hon. Members, whether or not they use them. In reality, these are very offensive to many people, whether they are vibrators or stimulators, or other forms of sexual aids. The point was that my constituent picked up the leaflet outside an infants' school. He was offended and outraged that it should have been on the pavement outside a school. He asked me what was my view of the impact which that would have on infants or young children if they saw it, and he asked why the Government do not seek to introduce legislation to restrain the availability of such literature.

    It is very difficult to reply for the Government on this matter. They are overwhelmingly concerned to ensure that local authorities are not seen to promote or to be interpreted as promoting any activity which supports homosexual behaviour, yet show no concern whatever about pornographic literature, including literature about bondage or other forms of abuse which is so widely available and so offensive to women, parents and others. One can only conclude that it is available because it serves the interests of profit. It is such a profitable trade that there is no restraint on it, whereas the other does not involve profit but allegedly involves public spending.

    Does my hon. Friend agree with me and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the crucial difference is that the things he is talking about are designed to harm and humiliate people, whereas homosexuality is about loving and comforting and caring for people of whatever sex?

    I very much agree with my hon. Friend.

    Grave problems are raised by the wording of the clause, including the amendments suggested in the other place. For example, how does one distinguish in a court of law between a relationship which is loving and not seeking to promote offence and one which is not? The Government seem to be incredibly sanguine about that. The other place seems to be very optimistic that the word "intentionally" will remedy the matter.

    I do not know how many hon. Members have actually studied the issue of intention, or have been able to enjoy what was a standard textbook on that matter in an undergraduate course, certainly read by some hon. Members at a certain university. The book is by Miss G. E. M. Anscombe. The whole point about intention is its ambiguity. Determining what is a fact and the difference between fact and intent is itself ambiguous. Just as the determination of what is a fact may itself be difficult, the problems involving determining intention can be virtually impossible to resolve. That issue is stressed by many philosophers. In some universities that issue has come into the teaching of law. I very much regret to say that in that respect the Lords amendments will not be adequate.

    Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the definition of "promote" is ambiguous, the addition of the word "intentionally" does not remove the ambiguity?

    The ambiguity remains and is being compounded. It will certainly be good news for lawyers, as one can argue as long on the meaning of "promotion" as one can on the meaning of "intentionally". The most common-sense course would be to delete both words from the clause and preferably to delete the clause from the Bill.

    The Minister intervened with some enthusiasm when the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke about quotations from a dictionary. But the Minister was quite unaware of precisely what that meant. Indeed, it was part of a debate by a renowned philosopher, A. J. Ayer, who recognised that it was indeed difficult to determine the meaning of words. He ended by saying that by and large the meanings of words corresponded with their use in the Oxford English Dictionary.

    Even if one accepts that approach, one still cannot determine meaning unambiguously in an individual context. Wittgenstein stressed that the meaning of words depends on their use, and that the use of words depends in turn on the perception of those who use them, which amounts to their prejudgment of the situation—which, in turn, too often amounts to prejudice. That is the bottom line in the interpretation of those words by those who are likely to bring the actions concerned.

    9 pm

    The Minister's claim that there was no danger in the use of a word in a court action because its meaning had been defined as obsolete or was reckoned as obsolete by the Oxford English Dictionary is absolutely no safeguard with this Government. In retrospect, given the outcome, I am glad to say that I was one of those who, when protesting against apartheid outside the South African embassy, found that the rules on picketing had been changed. I was with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and we both had a short ride at the pleasure of the Metropolitan police. The Act under which we were prosecuted was introduced by Wellington after the Napoleonic war. It had not been used since the 1820s or early 1830s, until it was employed, over 150 years later, by the Metropolitan police to justify the restriction on the right to picket and protest against apartheid outside the South African embassy.

    I hope that my hon. Friend will not leave this subject without telling the House—indeed, I shall do it for him — that, although we were both arrested, we were subsequently let off without a stain on our characters.

    Order. I hope that we can now get back to the amendment before the House.

    I shall be glad to get straight back to the amendment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I think that on reflection you will agree that my hon. Friend's point is not irrelevant.

    Although the redundant clause was rejected by the courts, none the less, the police sought to use it. As that Act had not been used for 150 years, I see no guarantee or assurance — I do not know about other hon. Members—when the Minister says, "The meaning of that word is obsolete. Therefore, there will not be a prosecution." There will be prosecutions, which will be time-consuming and involve a great deal of personal strain and anguish for many of those involved. While my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West and I may be sufficiently thick-skinned by exposure in public life not to be concerned about such matters, many people who are not in public life and who do not face its challenges and responsibilities will suffer from such actions in the courts.

    I have great problems understanding the arguments not only by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), but especially by the hon. and learned Member for Perth Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). The hon. and learned Gentleman has a peripatetic relationship with this Chamber. He is like the Scarlet Pimpernel—we see him here, we see him there and some times we see him nowhere. I very much regret that he is not here at the moment because I should have been glad to have some clarification of what he thinks the clause is about. It seems that, for him, the clause is about buggery, because he stressed that that is an unnatural act.

    I hesitate to suggest this to the hon. and learned Gentleman, because I am not sure that I am more expert in these matters than he is. I will none the less put it to him that if one takes a book such as Sade's "Justine" or the play "Marat-Sade", one has certain difficulties in defining a relationship which involves penetration of the back passage as "homosexual". In "Justine"—one thing that many people find abusive — the sexual intercourse between a range of persons and Justine was exclusively by the back passage. Let us be quite clear in this instant that Justine was a young woman.

    There can be no basis for the kind of claims that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made that in some sense a particular form of sexual intercourse is de facto or by association homosexual rather than heterosexual. I very much regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not present to answer certain other questions. Indeed, I am sure that he would have risen to his feet, and I am equally sure that I would have given way. For example, what is homosexual about oral sex? I wish the hon. and learned Gentleman was here so that he could assure the House that he has never had sex on any occasion except by one passage and one passage only. If the hon. and learned Gentleman could assure us about that, we would also be assured about several other matters.

    The question of the promotion of homosexuality as a result of events or literature has been mentioned. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) who opened on the Conservative Benches — his speech was extremely persuasive — referred to Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Let us consider a performance of Benjamin Britten's setting of the Michelangelo sonnets. I happen to be extremely familiar with those sonnets and Britten's setting of them. In my opinion, there is no question that, by choosing to set those sonnets, Britten approved of the relationship that they reflected. The Michelangelo sonnets were written not to some young woman in Dantesque manner, but to a papal guard. They are quite explicitly homosexual.

    Very beautiful, especially when they are sung by myself. I will not detain the House with a rendering of those sonnets, unless there is overwhelming support from both sides of the House.

    I have heard my hon. Friend sing those sonnets and he tells the truth. I hope that he will regale the House for just a brief moment.

    Not this evening, unless joined by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross.

    The only evidence that has been presented by Conservative Members relating to the promotion of homosexuality in schools and its abuse has been quotes from particular newspapers—the Evening Standard and The Daily Telegraph. Is my hon. Friend aware that, on 19 February 1988, The Daily Telegraph produced a list of 100 books that every school leaver should have read? That list included "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov, "Collected Poems" by W. H. Auden, "Don Juan" by Byron, the works of Oscar Wilde and the short stories of Guy de Maupassant. I hope that Conservative Members will take that list seriously and that those books will not be banned from school libraries.

    My hon. Friend has made an important point, with which I agree.

    The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross passed through Socrates—stamping where others fear to tread—and then moved swiftly on, in a bound, to the Renaissance and started to speak about Leonardo. I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Gentleman has read Freud's essay on Leonardo's homosexuality and what may have caused it. Several of my hon. Friends have said how difficult it is to date a particular sexual orientation.

    Freud said that Leonardo's sexual orientation was reflected in his art. It appears that his sexuality derived either from an experience in his cot no less, when it was possible that his mouth was brushed by a bird's tail, or in the particular manner in which he was kissed by his mother. I am sure that Conservative Members do not regard this as very serious, but I cannot be entirely sure whether the hon. Member for Edgbaston is up with the arguments. I am not sure whether we are safe from the risk that she and others will regard Freud's essay on Leonardo as pernicious in the sense that, by implication, it condones homosexuality, and therefore seek to exclude it from libraries.

    The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross came out with words that, if he reads Hansard tomorrow morning, he may come to regret. He referred to Leonardo's squint. Of all the draughtsmen in the world, Leonardo is surely the last whom one can accuse of squinting. But it seems that the hon. and learned Gentleman disapproves of the creative genius of the Renaissance.

    We have no idea how the clause will be used. I am concerned because it is unsound in philosophical and legal terms. It will give rise to considerable abuse and will bring considerable distress on those in the homosexual community. Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross, I use the word "community" since gays tend to stick together in their social life precisely for reasons of mutual and collective defence. Such self-defence will be made more necessary by the clause. I oppose the clause because of its ridiculous conceit, as well as because of the offence it will cause to many people who, as my hon. Friends have said, have decent, caring and respectful relationships that happen to be homosexual. I recommend to the House that it reject the amendment.

    We have spent three hours discussing the general issues, and it would seem helpful if we could focus our attention on the Amendment Paper, for a moment or two at least, and consider both the Lords amendments and the Opposition amendments to them.

    The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said that after all this time perhaps those of us who have been closely involved with the clause now regret what has happened. I have no regrets. I have worries about some of the things that others have done and said, and before I discuss the detailed issues, may I place it on record once again that I most certainly deplore bigotry of all kinds. I accept that during the debate over the past few months there have been occasions on which 1 have heard bigotry. Equally, I join Opposition Members in deploring what they describe as the gutter press—their words, not mine. In a debate of this nature, salacious and cheap attacks on people will not achieve what is absolutely necessary if we are to get to the heart of the issue—a constructive, friendly and thoughtful exchange of views between people of different opinions.

    As the proposer of what was originally clause 27—I am still trying to keep up with the numbers; at the moment it is clause 28 but I am sure that we shall reach 30 or 31 before the Bill is enacted—I welcome for two reasons the amendments that the Lords have sent us. First, in not rejecting the clause, the Lords have accepted what this House originally accepted—that there is a need for action now and that the Bill is the correct means of taking it. Secondly, the amendments prove the point that those of us who have argued for the clause have always been ready to listen and to take on board suggestions that clarify what was intended at the outset.

    The amendments give the lie to the spurious claims that some of the scaremongers have been putting about. By the same token, I totally oppose the two amendments tabled by the Labour party. The first of them seeks to torpedo one of the basic intentions of the clause and the second seems to be a statement of the obvious, which is totally unnecessary in an Act of Parliament. It is interesting that the justification advanced by the hon. Member for Copeland simply fell back on exaggerations that we have heard before, on red herrings with no relevance to the debate and on the scare stories put about by those who want us to change our minds.

    The hon. Gentleman asserts that I exaggerate, although I do not. Does he make the same assertions about the Arts Council, the National Council for Civil Liberties, library associations, various local authority associations and all sorts of other bodies and organisations concerned with freedom and civil liberties in our society? Are they all exaggerating too?

    9.15 pm

    I shall deal with that question in detail. For the moment I am saying that I was replying to the earlier speeches of Opposition Members. Many of the organisations which have been mentioned, with the exception of the Arts Council, have raised red herrings that have nothing to do with the clause or the Bill. I was suggesting that they have raised red herrings and scare stories, not that they have exaggerated.

    I consider amendment (e) to be a wrecking amendment. It resembles the amendment that the Arts Council tried to get the other place to take on board. It seems to suggest that homosexuality can be intentionally promoted by local government if the motivation is to prevent discrimination or abuses of civil rights. That smacks of the argument that the end justifies the means, an approach that is unacceptable to the overwhelming majority. My postbag—I suspect that this is true of the postbags of many other hon. Members—has been enormously illuminating. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is not in his place. He, like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), moves in and out of the Chamber. The right hon. Gentleman is present when I am not speaking and now, when I am on my feet, he is absent.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is not silly.

    The right hon. Gentleman helped me by spelling out the policy of the Labour party. I have received quite a few letters on this issue and when he was speaking I wondered whether he would be able to help me to reply to them. I shall read part of the letter that I received from a gentleman who lives in London, SE3. He writes:

    "I have been a member of the Labour Party and I have supported it ever since 1945, yet I totally agree with your views on homosexuality."
    He continues:
    "I have already written to Mr. Neil Kinnock … I have told him that unless he and other Labour leaders repudiate the view that homosexuality is on a par with normal sexuality"—
    He then says that if that does not happen there is no hope of the Labour party ever again gaining power. I wonder whether any Opposition Members can help me answer letters of that sort.

    Amendment (e) has three faults. First, it is wrong in any circumstances for local government to try fundamentally to change our national society. In continuing with this theme, I shall try to answer a question posed by an Opposition Member, who asked why I was prepared to support the clause. It is wrong for local government to seek to usurp the rights of this place to discuss the fundamental values of British society. If there is to be a discussion about the promotion of homosexuality, it should take place in the Chamber. If there is to be an attempt to change society, it should be made in our national Parliament and not within local government.

    Secondly, amendment (e) is wrong because it is not for local government to advocate—I choose the next words deliberately — abnormal sexual activity for whatever reason. Thirdly, the amendment is wrong because it is not for local government to divert itself from basic services when those services are so in need of improvement.

    The hon. Gentleman has said that if there is to be any change in our national society in terms of sexual mores, the change should be made in this place. Is he suggesting that if we were to pass a law to the effect that everyone should have homosexual relationships those outside would take it seriously and change their way of life?

    All I am saying is that the people who say that society should have different values, morals and ethics—I have deliberately kept out of those arguments—and who wish to alter fundamentally national society must do it through the national democratic process and not act in an ad hoc fashion through local democracies.

    Amendment (f) has absolutely nothing to do with the Bill because clause 28, or 29 as it will become, says nothing about discrimination or about civil rights. We have been round the argument for nearly three hours. The clause will not prevent homosexuals from doing anything. It will not deny homosexuals any of their civil rights. The clause is about homosexuality and local government; it is not about homosexuals and their personal lives.

    Does my hon. Friend accept that the Sexual Offences Act 1967 showed tolerance, compassion and understanding, though not necessarily approval? If gays and lesbians want people like ourselves to stand shoulder to shoulder against the so-called queer bashers, they have to take this gently and steadily and not expect too much. Certainly they should not expect the 90 per cent. majority in the country to allow that to be a subject on the curriculum in schools.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point because it gives me the opportunity to say once again for the record that I am totally against any attempt to turn the clock back on the 1967 legislation. This clause has nothing to do with that.

    The second point raised by my hon. Friend is also relevant. The very fair point that is important about amendment (e) is that again it raises the problem of the ends justifying the means. The idea is that it is wrong to discriminate against people and that the clause will somehow affect civil rights. We must stand up and say that we agree that that must not happen. The way in which we do so is crucial. If things are advocated, as they have been advocated, argued about and abseiled in the last few months, that will produce a backlash. It is not the clause that will produce the backlash but the arrogant, self-assertive, aggressive boastfulness and self-glorification of a particular lifestyle which is upsetting the overwhelming majority of the people. The lesson which we can learn is that if we wish to change society and to be seen as reformers, we must take society at its own speed. If we try to stampede society, people will feel threatened and there will be a real risk of a backlash.

    This is why I am in no way sorry that we have been engaged in this debate over the last few months. Over recent years a dangerous head of steam has been building up. The minority have made the majority feel threatened. If we do not take steps to deal with that, pressure will build up. It is to be hoped that the debate that has taken place has had the effect of lancing the boil so that the minority can become aware of the views of the majority and the majority can say to themselves, "Let us try to understand and answer some of the worries of the minority." As for amendment (f), as I said at the beginning, I believe it to be totally unnecessary. Local government has already got power to do most things unless the law specifically prohibits it. All the amendment does is state the obvious. The amendment seems to be trying to draw attention to claims about problems which will be caused to particular services. That is complete nonsense, as the past three hours have shown.

    Much has been made about sex education. There are no problems for teachers provided that they handle the subject of homosexuality in a neutral and objective way. It is interesting to note that, although clause 28 has triggered an enormous amount of discussion, there are some important points in the Department of Education and Science circular No. 11/87. Indeed, this circular was available for debate long before the Local Government Bill was considered in Committee. Paragraph 22 of the circular sets the scene for sex education. It states:
    "There is no place in any school in any circumstances for teaching which advocates homosexual behaviour, which presents it as the 'norm', or which encourages homosexual experimentation by pupils."
    I can only express surprise at the indignation of Opposition Members. If that indignation were genuine, it would have focused on the points in circular No. 11/87 long before the Local Government Bill appeared.

    Worries have been expressed that amendment (f) might affect artistic freedom. We need only consider the legislation that seeks to prevent discrimination against people on grounds of race. Over the years since that legislation has been on the statute book, I have not noticed that Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" has been performed any less frequently.

    There is an argument that local authorities should be able to give money to people for counselling services if that helps with problems. I support that, but it is totally spurious to argue that clause 28 has anything to do with that. As I have said elsewhere, I know of no one who has ever argued that the Samaritans promote suicide.

    I urge the House to support the Lords amendments and to reject the Opposition amendments to the Lords amendments. By accepting the spirit of the clause, the other place agrees with us that there is a grave abuse of the real role of local government in this country. Local government is intentionally promoting homosexuality. It is assisting others to do the same and it is trying to portray homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

    By producing the amendments the other place has helped us to clarify exactly what we mean — that our target is local government. By making local government the clear target for the clause, we are answering our critics and we will reassure those who have been worried by the debate that has taken place over the past few months. Above all, by accepting the Lords amendments and rejecting the Opposition amendments, we will do everything that we possibly can to protect our children, our society and above all our future.