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Local Government Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill Hl

Volume 483: debated on Thursday 18 December 1986

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

1.28 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

In so moving I should like your Lordships' leave to read the terms of what I moved nearly 10 years ago, on 14th June 1977, against the late Lord Arran's Bill reducing the age of homosexual consent from 21 to 18. What I then moved (at col. 14 of Hansard) was:
"in view of the growth in activities of groups and individuals exploiting male prostitution and its attendant corruption of youth, debasement of morals and spread of venereal disease, this House declines to give the Bill a Second Reading".
That Motion was carried by a majority of 152 to 25, and had the very substantial support of the whole House.

What I then said of homosexuality, at col. 14, was this:
"Given any disability whatever, one has the alternatives of either making the best or making the worst of the situation in which one finds oneself. Homosexuals have this choice. It is as open to them as to anyone else. Those who make the best of their situation are the responsible ones who would no more molest little boys than a responsible heterosexual would molest little girls, or go down the streets soliciting strangers, or reject stabilised relationships for promiscuity. The law does not concern itself with them and nor do I".
Those who make the worst of their situation are the sick ones who suffer from a psychological syndrome whose symptoms are as follows: first of all, exhibitionism; they want the world to know all about them; secondly, promiscuity; thirdly, proselytising; they want to persuade other people that their way of life is the good one; fourthly, boasting of homosexual achievements as if they were due to and not in spite of sexual inversion; lastly, they act as reservoirs of venereal diseases of all kinds. Ask any venerealogist: syphilis, gonorrhoea, genital herpes and now AIDS are characteristically infections of homosexuals.

I was referring to male homosexuals. I did not think then that lesbians were a problem. They do not molest little girls. They do not indulge in disgusting and unnatural practices like buggery. They are not wildly promiscuous and do not spread venereal disease. It is part of the softening up propaganda that lesbians and gays are nearly always referred to in that order. The relatively harmless lesbian leads on to the vicious gay. That was what I thought then and what I still in part continue to think, but I have been warned that the loony Left is hardening up the lesbian camp and that they are becoming increasingly aggressive.

One of the characteristics of our time is that we have for several decades past been emancipating minorities who claimed that they were disadvantaged. Are they grateful? Not a bit. We emancipated races and got inverted racism. We emancipate homosexuals and they condemn heterosexism as chauvinist sexism, male oppression and so on. They will push us off the pavement if we give them a chance. I am, in their jargon, a homophone, a heterosexist exploitationist. The whole vocabulary of the loony Left is let loose in a wild confusion of Marxism, Trotskyism, anarchism and homosexual terminology. I have files and files of it with which I shall not weary your Lordships. The coffee table glossy Changing the World, produced by ILEA, is said to be a charter of gay lesbian rights, as they are claimed to be. I have put that and other material in the Library for all to see and study. It does not bear quotation in your Lordships' House.

I shall not make a long speech in commending this Bill to your Lordships. It is too short a Bill to need one. I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for help in drafting it. It has only one main clause, with four subsections. The first subsection prevents a local authority from giving financial or other assistance to any person for the purpose of publishing or promoting homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship or for the purpose of teaching such acceptability in any maintained school. The words "other assistance" would of course include providing local authority premises for a guest speaker; that would be forbidden.

The second subsection declares that a breach of the first is justiciable in the civil courts. The third identifies the class of persons who may institute proceedings under the second and gives them locus standi. The fourth merely excuses a local authority for deliberate disobedience to its instructions by its employees. There then follow the Short Title and the scope of jurisdiction. It does not apply to Northern Ireland.

I have had overwhelming support for this Bill from all over the country, and a very good press. I believe I shall have support this afternoon in your Lordships' House, to judge by the number and quality of the speakers who have put down their names and to whom I am greatly obliged.

Only two dissentient voices have been raised against the Bill. One is (surprise, surprise) that of the most reverend Primate the Archibishop of York, who feels it is a further incursion of centralism into our education system. The other is that of Professor Peter Campbell, chairman of the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. He takes the exact opposite view from that taken by the most reverend Primate and thinks we need more centralism in our education system, not less, but thinks it unfair to start with homosexuals. Well, as Mandy Rice-Davies once said on a celebrated occasion, "He would say that, wouldn't he?"

I cannot put the world to rights singlehanded, but I can locate a specific mischief and begin there as I am doing this afternoon with one of the worst mischiefs corrupting the fibre of our children and ultimately of our society itself. They are its future. I shall leave the most reverend Primate and Professor Campbell to settle between them the question of centralism versus decentralism and I shall say no more at this stage. The hour is late and many other noble Lords are waiting to speak.

My Lords, I commend this Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—( The Earl of Halsbury.)

1.36 p.m.

My Lords, it was typically kind of the noble Earl to acknowledge the paternity of this Bill, but it was courageous to have adopted it as his own so as to give it the best possible start in life and all the advantages which only the noble Earl could confer: a prologue of persuasive clarity which is such as to stamp the order of our debate with the hallmark of his own sincerity and purpose; a masterly exposition of the part of the measure of misconception that permeates the anathema ex cathedra of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York and a reasoned resolution to some of the objections of Professor Campbell.

This is an emotive subject, but the case for the Bill rests solely upon reason. It is a very limited Bill in scope and structure. It is not designed to harass or humiliate homosexuals. They are often sad and lonely people, unable to have stable relationships, and they are, I am sure all your Lordships will agree, worthy of compassion. The provision of special services, welfare facilities, by local authorities for these people is in no way inhibited by the Bill. To express a limit is to avoid this. The Bill does not prohibit the appointment of a homosexual teacher. It in no way impinges upon sex education as ordinarily understood. It in no way derogates from any aspect of existing legislation.

To take but two examples in the realm of the local authority, the advertisements in Gay News for a lesbian and gay unit administration officer and for other similar appointments would not fall within the prohibition. Another example is babysitters on the rates for lesbian mothers while they attend a conference. Neither the conference as such nor the provision for the babysitters would fall within this prohibition.

Other noble Lords—and I am anxious not to take too much time—will deal with matters which clearly lie within the prohibitions: such matters as the promotion of lesbian and gay rights, as it is called—although what is gay about it is difficult to appreciate—as it is implemented in our schools. That falls within the prohibition, as does the provision of explicit books of certain types—and on the Floor of your Lordships' House it is wholly inappropriate to quote from some of them—which are made available to these children, with contact addresses; and also references to other, similar books. Such books were once described by a police officer—and I quote him—as "a lure to pervert the young". In one of them, as I think your Lordships will have seen from the papers, you have a girl aged five in bed with two naked homosexuals, one of whom is said to be her father. Hence this lead to the acceptable family aspect which is being promoted.

Of course, there are the borderline cases. To give but one example of the borderline cases, to illustrate how the Bill would work, the fostering facilities offered by one of these local authorities are such that they afford to homosexual couples of either sex fostering facilities for children of either sex on exactly the same basis as is afforded to heterosexual couples. That, on the facts of any particulr case—and it would be, of course, a matter for the judge to decide on the evidence—could fall within the prohibition or could not.

The plain and simple intendment of the Bill is to curb an abuse of rates which is of particular concern to parents; for the promotion of homosexuality as this so-called family relationship, as is implemented today, which is acceptable all too often in its presentation, has the presentation of what they call "positive images". These positive images, as implemented as a matter of policy, involve a direct attack on the heterosexual family life—as the noble Earl put it, pushing us off the pavement. They do it in various ways, and two ways come to mind. One is that they attack the paternalistic disciplines of an ordinary family as being totally wrong because children should be totally free. Another is to teach the children that in some way the reproductive potential of the heterosexual relationship constitutes a positive social mischief in an over-populated world.

In this age of tolerance, have we not really reached the intolerable where parents seeking to protect their children from moral corruption are exposed to abuse, ridicule, threats of violence and even visitations of violence? Parental rights are virtually denied and challenged; and, what is more, the traditional ethos of local government has been traduced.

Now, how to deal with it? As your Lordships appreciate, local government is a creature of statute, so it is only by statute that it may be ordained what lies within the province of local government and how such ordinance may be enforced. We have no written constitution. As matters stand (and I am relieved to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, in his place) it lies as a matter of law within the administrative discretion of the local authorities to pursue these very policies—a discretion which is not subject to judicial review unless there is bad faith, error as to limit of power, some substantial procedural irregularity or unreasonableness verging upon absurdity. Hence the need for interventionist legislation and the justification for some type of enforcement as is proposed by this Bill.

This was recognised in the Widdicombe Research Papers. The role of local government was considered at Volume III. Chapter 5. At Volume IV, page 109, reference is made in those papers to the proliferation of pressure groups at local level devoted to the achievement of particular goals, one of which, sexual behaviour, is in point. And it is recommended in that research paper that in this and in other regards there is a need "for adjustments to be made". Such is the case for interventionist legislation which must be met by those who oppose the principle of the Bill.

It may well be that certain noble Lords may entertain preconceptions about ILEA. I mention ILEA because they set up the 1984 project, "Relationship and Sexuality", and they put on a course in May 1986 which included as one of its stated aims to develop materials "presenting positive images of lesbian and gay men". This, in the wake of the old GLC "London Charter" of 1985 and the implementation of some of the 142 recommendations, in particualr "Tell it to the classroom" and "Kangaroo courts for teachers", could well fall within the prohibition.

As your Lordships know from the papers, the Association of London Authorities, some ten London local authorities and three elsewhere, all in densely-populated area, in fact implement these policies. One local authority alone has spent £180,000 promoting these positive images (and I quote) "from nursery school to further education".

Taking into account the safeguard measures in the Bill, which not only afford a defence but could also affect dismissals and reinstatements, it will be for the civil courts to decide, in accordance with well-established procedures, whether to grant interim relief, whether a breach of prohibition has been made out on the evidence on a substantive hearing, and, in the very rare case, whether to award damages. Costs will be in the discretion of the court, and the sanction for enforcement will be contempt. Officers and servants of the local authority may not be impleaded other than in the contempt proceedings. Enforcement goes to the principle of the Bill, but the proposed procedural machinery for implementation goes to drafting, which would ordinarily be resolved on consideration of amendments at Committee stage.

In conclusion, may I say this. It is common ground that children are exposed at this moment to corruptive influences as a matter of local government policy. It is common ground that the role of local government has been abused, and it is common ground that these manifestations of misconduct are not acceptable. So may we not make common cause of our common concern, accept the principle of this Bill and give it a Second Reading?

1.51 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to support this Bill, following the telling speeches made by the noble Earl and by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I do so from a conventional Christian point of view: not one particularly Protestant or Roman Catholic but just Christian. I hasten to say that I am not speaking under the guidance of my political or spiritual masters or after consultation with anybody at all. I am speaking just as my conscience tells me to speak.

Any Christian, it seems to me, must approach the question of homosexuality with particular care. There is nothing that I can find about it in the Gospels—subject, as always of course, to any corrections from the right reverend Prelate—and what is to be found in St. Paul is undoubtedly quite firm but is not necessarily binding on all of us. When the Wolfenden report was produced 30 years ago, I introduced a Motion in this House in favour of it, at a time when no one in the other place would touch it with a barge pole. I remember getting up to move that Motion and wondering, as I rose to my feet, whether I was on the right side. Of course by that time it was a little late to change. I proceeded along that line, and I still feel I was on the right side.

I spoke just afterwards to the most distinguished of all the Law Lords. I have not asked his permission to quote this, and indeed I might or might not obtain it. He led the opposition to that Bill, and I congratulated him on his eloquence. He said (and I am glad he is still with us): "I only made up my mind at the last minute whether I was going to be for it or against it". So your Lordships can see that these are very delicate matters of conscience.

I was called at that time by the late Lord Boothby, who was not then a Member of this House but who was interested in these matters, "The non-playing captain of the homosexual team." I mention that only because I do not want anybody to think that I suffer from some form of paranoia about homosexuals, male or female. In recent times I have addressed a number of homosexual societies, both male and female. If anyone is going in for that kind of talk, I think they will have a better time with lesbian societies than with male homosexual societies. That is my experience. At any rate, there is certainly profit to be derived from speaking to such bodies and arguing these matters with them.

When I wrote a book some time ago about St. Francis of Assisi, I was told by a famous Franciscan that I must have a chapter about St. Francis and contemporary lepers. Your Lordships may remember that whenever St. Francis saw a leper he went and kissed him. I suppose he would do the same today with someone suffering from AIDS. I am not going to dwell on that subject at all, but it comes into my mind at this moment. I changed the chapter in the book to St. Francis and contemporary outcasts and I dwelt briefly on a number of people whom I regarded as outcasts. Of course outcasts do not always like being called outcasts, but I dealt with the position of the mentally disturbed, the blacks, homosexuals and criminals.

I pleaded in all those cases then for much more compassion and understanding, and I would certainly say that homosexuals, particularly the kind of homosexuals referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, but really all homosexuals, whether they are high-minded or not, deserve our compassion and understanding. Today we are asked to support a Bill which would prevent the promotion of what is called now a positive image of homosexuality by certain London boroughs. That means the insistence in the growing propaganda of these boroughs that heterosexuality and homosexuality should be placed on precisely the same footing. I am bound to say, having studied some of this propaganda that I agree with the noble Earl that it is shocking and is not really suitable for the delicate ears of your Lordships. Of course the promotion of homosexuality goes hand in hand with a good deal of promotion of promiscuity of all kinds, aimed in quite a few cases at very young children. It is revolting stuff.

I am not going to deal with two important aspects of this question. One is the extent to which central government should interfere with local government. That is perhaps not for me to deal with today. Secondly, I shall not deal with the responsibility which falls on the leaders of a great political party—in this case my own party, the Labour Party—for making sure that the moral ideals of the party are properly reflected at local level. It is very distressing for honest, serious Labour people in these boroughs to find themselves being told that this propagation of active sexuality is Labour Party policy. Of course it is far from being that. I leave that happily to the leaders of my own party in this House and elsewhere.

However, I am bound to say that when I hear these references to the loony Left from the noble Earl, whom I am supporting, my mind goes back to the great school—he now regards it as the greatest of schools—which we both attended. He was there rather later than I, but we overlapped. I think that from our experience of that great school (and the other public schoolboys who may be present today may agree) in those days at least homosexuality was not a perquisite of the Left-wing. I think that is something to be borne in mind because old public schoolboys may become a little self righteous and they may be asked: where do the ideas of the loony Left come from? I therefore wonder whether everybody may feel they are qualified to be the first to cast stones. However, that is by the way. What I am concerned about is the simple issue—and, alas, it is a very relevant issue today—regarding what we have just heard (and we shall hear more) from the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, about what is going on.

Can any country claiming to be Christian spend public money on the active propagation of actual homosexual practices? Of course I am not talking about homosexual attitudes. Everybody is aware that homosexual feelings are not sinful even by the strictest of Christian standards. We are talking of actual sexual relationships and behaviour. These are being promoted now in some areas as an alternative to fidelity in marriage and family life. If one is asked whether any Christian country can hold up its head if it allows a large amount of money to be spent on the promotion of such practices, there can be only one answer, which is of course a negative one.

As I indicated earlier, I am not going to bring AIDS into this debate. It strengthens the argument, obviously, but I do not feel that it is necessary to bring in AIDS in order to make out this case. I should have said what I am saying now before I had ever heard of AIDS.

Homosexuals, in my submission, are handicapped people. Of course some of them do not confine themselves to relations with their own sex. I suppose Oscar Wilde is one of the most famous examples. I am not referring to people who attempt to have it both ways, but I am talking of people whose tendency is so strong that they can have relationships only with their own sex. I think particularly of male homosexuals because, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, brought out, lesbians are no danger.

The tragedy of such people is that they cannot enjoy family life and they cannot have children. If only for that reason I suppose that not many of us—perhaps none of us—would wish our children or grandchildren to grow up homosexuals. But, as I think I indicated earlier, in so far as these people are handicapped they deserve our fullest compassion and understanding.

In so far as an attempt is being made to expand homosexualism throughout this community, the outcome can only be fatally disruptive for the family. It is bound to be of profound concern to Christians and to everyone else who wishes to maintain a healthy community. I am not saying that the promotion of acts of homosexuality should necessarily be made illegal. That might or might not be discussed on some other occasion. I say only that it should not be financed by public bodies in a country that still claims to be Christian. I support the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury.

2.3 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to give the strongest support to my noble friend Lord Halsbury's Bill. When I was first made aware of what was going on in certain of our schools by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, I was horrified. Before speaking today, I read some of the material that is being produced by some local authorities for the teaching of schoolchildren. I read extracts from Lesbian and Gay Youth Magazine and from Changing the World, a London charter for gay and lesbian rights. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to page 32:

"What exactly is heterosexuality? And what causes it?".
Then follow nine different denigratory reasons such as.
"In most cases of compulsive heterosexual behaviour, the parents will be found to have suffered from similar difficulties … A terror of mortality lies beneath much heterosexual coupling. Driven to perpetuate themselves at any cost, most heterosexuals are indifferent to the prospect of the world-wide famine that will result if the present population explosion continues unchecked.".
On page 9, one reads,
"Heterosexism is not only individual attitudes, it is an institutionalised system that openly promotes the attitude that heterosexuality and heterosexual family life is normal and natural.".
Under the heading, "Tell it in the classroom", we read,
"There should be openly understood procedures for complaints by college students and school pupils and students about heterosexism as about racism and sexism. Parents of lesbian and gay students should also be allowed to complain about heterosexism.".
What will that lead to? It will lead to the setting up of kangaroo courts to examine teachers accused of heterosexism. As for what will take place in those courts, my mind boggles. When we hear, as I hope we shall do, from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, what has happened to parents who protested at what their children were being taught, I think your Lordships' minds will boggle too.

Finally, I looked through The playbook for kids about sex. I hope that every one of your Lordships will do so too, because I cannot bring myself to quote from it. As a mother and a grandmother, I was more than horrified. I was appalled. I have said before in this House that I believe corrupting children in any way is one of the worst crimes that anyone can commit, and I make no apology for repeating it. I believe that we in Parliament have a duty to protect young people from this kind of pernicious and harmful indoctrination.

As a result of what is going on, a recent poll carried out by NOP research revealed that 59 per cent. of people thought that parents should have the right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons, and this at a time when responsible sex education in schools has been made vital by the spread of AIDS. But who can blame them?

I trust that I have said enough to persuade anyone who is in any doubt that the Bill is really necessary. If any noble Lord has not seen the publications to which I refer and would like to see them before speaking, I have filched them from the Library and have them here. That should save any noble Lord a journey to the Library. The third leader in today's issue of The Times also puts it in a nutshell. I have copies of that, too.

This is a small Bill—a David of a Bill that sets out to kill a Goliath of an evil. I wish it well. Decent people, parents all over the country, will wish it well. As my noble friend has said, he has had a great many letters from people wishing it well. Let us not disappoint them.

2.7 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to welcome this Bill. It is one thing to be tolerant of the sexual deviation of homosexuality; it is one thing not to discriminate against or to persecute those who indulge in the practice. The law on the matter is clear enough so far as I am concerned, and I am quite content to let is stay as it is in that way. Our society has set the standards, and so be it. What to me is abhorrent and why I strongly and vigorously support the Bill—a number of your Lordships have expressed surprise that I should be speaking on this subject—is that the Bill has considerable local government connotations to which I want to refer.

Above all, what worries and troubles me—and that is the mildest way I can think of putting it—is this whole business of accepting homosexuality as an alternative to heterosexuality. This is clearly a distortion of the worst kind and has now reached a point where it is time to say that enough is enough; the thing has to stop and not be allowed to go on as it is going on now, because it is spreading all the time.

I too will desist from a whole series of quotations from the many publications I have seen. The list is long indeed. But I should like to refer to just two which I think are very apposite. One comes from the London evening Standard of 10th December. It was a cri de coeur from a priest who has vowed,
"to fast from New Year's Day unless Haringey Council reverses its policy of positive classroom images of homosexuals".
What the priest went on to say in many ways sums up the depth of feeling and the great concern that exists on this matter. The priest, a Mr. Rushworth-Smith, said:
"Haringey Council want to equate homosexuality with heterosexuality. If they carry this through they will destroy society as we know it".
The London evening Standard went on to say that Haringey parents, thousands of them, from all creeds are praying that in fact this policy will be rejected.

Yet we see in writing by the council the following words:
'We will oppose heterosexism in all its forms and will work to ensure that lesbians and gay men have an equal position in society. Local councils need to take a public stand of opposition to heterosexism as promoting one sexuality as a superior one".
The only other quotation that I wish to read is from the Gay Liberation Front manifesto, which says:
"We along with the women's movements must fight for something more than reform. We must aim at the abolition of the family. The end of the family will benefit all women and gay people".
I wonder whether everyone knows that in the London boroughs of Islington and Lambeth the word "family" is proscribed. It is not permitted to be used. The term to be used is "social unit". One might ask: have we all gone mad? Where do we draw a line? I was impressed by what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, had to say. Knowing his particular views, I thought he made a responsible contribution. But the most important thing he said was in regard to his concern, too, for the family.

There are two other aspects that I want to cover in a speech which must not be too long. I do not think this subject or the Bill calls for that. To me this is the tip of the iceberg. I am concerned so much about the image of local government. Again and again we hear from authorities which claim that they are short of funds to provide services at the levels they wish. The word "cuts" has apparently become engraved on the hearts of all of them. There is sympathy for things they cannot do if they do not have the funds. But how can they possibly equate the spending of money on this kind of propagation of the employment of people at many thousands of pounds a year—not one or two, but many of them—with the need to provide services such as housing, housing repairs, social services and others, for all the people?

When I was elected to office as a councillor I was told—and I tried throughout all the years to carry it out—that we represented everyone in the ward whether or not they voted for us and whatever were their beliefs. That put upon us a special duty to be concerned about the spending of every penny and where it would best be used. Can anyone in local government say, particularly in areas where there is deprivation, that this is the best way to spend much-needed money? I am not speaking about the protection of rights; I am referring to spending money to propagate this kind of belief. That is my first point concerning local government and what kind of priority there should be.

I come now to my second point. Is it not strange that it was the point that the noble Earl referred to as being the objection of the most reverend Primate when he said that his concern was a move towards more centralism, the taking of more powers away from local government to the centre. However, if one looks at the history of what has happened in recent years, again and again local government has protested and objected because this or that power has been taken away. But what do local governments expect if they conduct themselves in this way and so abuse the system which has been set up by statute, as my noble friend Lord Campbell reminded us?

It is no good complaining if you set out to defeat the government at Westminster on its mandated policies. It is no good complaining if you tolerate that kind of behaviour. The fact is that the local authority associations, who were always so proud of their at least outwardly professed neutrality, have done nothing. Why have they not done something and at least spoken out against that which we are assured, and which I accept without question, is not the policy of the Labour Party or any other party? I accept that without hesitation.

These associations are today, in the main, controlled by Labour authorities. They must speak up because the damage which this is doing to the reputation of local government is intolerable to those of us who want to see local government that is not something which we joke about and hold in contempt, and which is feared by parents. We want to protect its image and not see it go back further, as is being allowed. The associations will have to speak up and stop this nonsense, because really that is all it is.

I promised that I would not make a long speech. I applaud the initiative and the courage of the noble Earl in bringing forward this Bill. It is a sensitive subject and so often one tends to shy away from it because one knows that extraneous factors will be introduced as reasons for not taking action. I hope the Government will give this Bill a fair wind and time for it in both Houses. If the Government wish to take over the Bill themselves I am sure that the noble Earl will have no complaint about that. That it is needed is surely something that no one in the House could argue against. There is the fear of thousands and millions of parents and children that these teachings will be imposed upon them. It is fatuous nonsense; it must be stopped and action must be taken. Therefore I am pleased to support this Bill.

My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. Like him, I am particularly grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I warmly support this Bill. Homosexuality clearly is not what God intended for human beings. Therefore I deplore any attempt to promote it by public money as an acceptable family relationship. I deplore it even more if public money is used to indoctrinate children in this way. I warmly support this Bill and I hope that it will get a Second Reading today.

2.18 p.m.

My Lords, I wish to give this Bill the strongest possible support for two reasons. The first is an urgent necessity to put a stop to the use of public money to promote teaching and other policies in our schools which are causing grave offence to many parents and members of the public; and, secondly, because of the harassment and intimidation meted out to those parents who have tried to protect their children's interests.

Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I have no criticism of teaching which increases tolerance and understanding in human relationships, and which reduces the likelihood of victimisation of homosexual groups or individuals. Indeed, I would welcome such teaching. However, what is happening is fundamentally different. It is different in philosophy and in its policies, espoused under so-called positive images; and much of what is being promoted is in the name of so-called anti-sexism. The balance has swung to the active promotion of positive images of homosexuality and outright attacks on the concept of the normality of heterosexuality.

This policy takes many forms and absorbs huge sums of money. For example, the costs of the Haringey proposals for the gay and lesbian unit do or could involve expenditure in the order of magnitude of £250,000, in an area where there is plenty of social deprivation and no shortage of problems which could benefit from such resources.

But it is important to realise that although the parents of Haringey have hit the headlines with their very courageous stance—as one can read in the leader in The Times today—these developments are taking place not only in Haringey but also in other parts of London and other parts of the country. I was speaking to teachers in Manchester on Saturday and was assured that similar policies are being pursued in parts of the North of England. This should not surprise us. A book called "Tackling Heterosexism", which has been brought out by nine London boroughs, recommends that the Inner London Education Authority and other local education authorities should:
"put resources into developing materials and changing curricula in order effectively to challenge heterosexism in lessons at all stages in the education system from primary school up to colleges of further education and that a variety of materials be developed, for example videos for use in lessons which would raise the issues of heterosexism and present Lesbians in a positive light … [and that] heterosexism awareness training courses should be introduced as a compulsory part of in-service training and during teacher training programmes".
In places such as Brent, those who do not pass such courses are to be debarred from sitting on appointments panels, and the implications of that for future appointments are self-evident; namely, that successful candidates in the future will have to be ideologically correct and have the appropriate sexual attitudes.

One of the most deeply disturbing features about the whole of this positive image policy is the kind of teaching materials and books which are being recommended and which are available in teachers' resource units and in children's sections of public libraries. One which has already been referred to by some noble Lords, which is called "A Playbook for Kids about Sex", is written for very young children. Another book, which is recommended or mentioned in ILEA's publications and which is available in the children's section of Haringey libraries is called "The Milkman's on his Way". I shall not shock your Lordships with quotations from it but it describes in very explicit detail intercourse between a 16 year old boy and his adult, male, homosexual lover. It is material such as this that is causing enormous offence and concern to parents and members of the public. I urge your Lordships to look at it. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has offered to make available some of the material that she possesses, and I shall willingly do the same because I think it explains why parents are so very upset. It will also help to explain why in places such as Haringey children as young as four or five are going home from school, and asking their parents whether their friends are gay or lesbian.

I have mentioned the parents of Haringey and I wish briefly to return to their experience because it is instructive for two reasons. The first is because they have been subjected to gross intimidation in ways which are totally unacceptable. When parents have attended council meetings they have been harassed, spat upon, had eggs thrown at them and have even been urinated upon. They have been denied the right to put their views. After one meeting they were followed home and during the night their cars were vandalised. They have received numerous abusive 'phone calls including death threats and what I think are the most ominous of all death threats—death threats to their children. They have been told that the callers know where their children attend school and they will "get" their children.

This intimidation is going on in our own country and here in our own city. Surely we owe it to those parents to give them some protection in the stand they are taking to try to have their children educated in ways that do not violate their deepest religious and moral convictions. When one mother told a councillor that she was claiming the religious freedom which she thought was her right in this country, she was told by him that people have died for their religion and perhaps she should too.

Other parents have been told that their children are not their own, and that they have no rights as parents. They were told by a member of the gay and lesbian sub-committee: "parents do not know what is in the best interests of their children, but we do."

Surely, my Lords, the time has come when we must make provision for these and other parents to have education for their children in accordance with their religious convictions and also give them some protection for their own physical safety. I must add that it is not only Christian parents who are deeply concerned. Many Moslem and other parents are equally worried and active in protest. Indeed, the Parents Rights Group in Haringey have obtained over 5,000 signatures on petitions saying no to homosexual lessons from nursery schools upwards.

It is because of the kind of brutal intimidation to which these parents have been subjected that this Bill is also necessary. We cannot just rely on the Government's proposals—good although they are in principle—to depend on increasing parental representation on governing bodies to defy these evils. In areas such as Haringey and Brent LEAs will just ride roughshod over them.

I am happy to say that support has been forthcoming from some of the local religious leaders though by no means all. I am rather sad to see that no right reverend Prelate is speaking, or has put down a name to speak, in this debate. However, a Baptist Minister in the area near Haringey has held a special service for prayer on these matters and has pledged (as one of the noble Lords has already said) that he will begin a strategic fast on January 1st which will continue either until the council changes its policy or is itself changed.

I hope that this Bill will receive support, from all parts of your Lordships' House as it already has done from speakers. Therefore I do not wish to make any party political points; but it is necessary to understand that there is a political dimension which we cannot ignore and that is the involvement of the hard line far Left in local government and also in local politicised branches of the National Union of Teachers.

At the council meetings where there has been such violence, there is a forest of banners including those of the revolutionary Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and in Haringey the Haringey Branch of the National Union of Teachers.

Neil Kinnock has in the past few days asked these far Left dominated councils if they will desist from these policies which are causing such aggravation, but they have refused to give any such undertaking. As quoted in The Times on Monday, Miss Bellos, leader of the Lambeth Council said:
"If you mean are we going to back pedal on positive policies, as far as Lambeth is concerned, certainly not."
That again is further indication for the need for this protective legislation. As I conclude, I have tried to show that the situation is not only necessary, serious but also urgent. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will support this Bill.

Before I sit down, I have one very minor reservation concerning the wording which I must put on record. I have discussed this with the noble Lord, Earl Halsbury, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. We have agreed that it would be the best policy to identify this problem now and ask perhaps that the committee in another place might consider how to rectify it. I refer to the words in lines 9 to 10:
"as an acceptable family relationship:"
I am worried because these words make the Bill both too wide and too narrow. They imply that promoting promiscuous homosexuality might be acceptable. They also might be taken as derogatory of stable homosexual relationships, where partners live together discreetly for many years. I would suggest that perhaps it might be preferable if those few words were deleted, or if there were to be some other amendment on those lines.

I must emphasise that I hope that this reservation will not delay the passasge of this Bill through your Lordships' House, as it needs to go through with maximum speed if it is to become law in time to protect parents and their children.

As I sit down, I must emphasise that those who are living in our inner city areas such as Haringey, Brent and Inner London and those in leafier suburbs such as Ealing are desperate. Their children are trapped in an education system from which they have no escape. Their children are being subjected to policies which violate their parents' most fundamental religious beliefs and moral values, and in which, not only to quote Yeats' phrase:
"The ceremony of innocence is drowned"
but where they may be exposed to influences which could be seriously psychologically destabilising, and where their parents suffer brutal intimidation. I hope that your Lordships will agree to give them the protection which the Bill can afford.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may say that the material to which she referred is not mine. It was placed in the Library by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. I shall put it back there immediately after the debate.

2.30 p.m.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness. I find myself in agreement with almost everything she says. I find it remarkable that she, like one or two other noble Lords, found the contents of some children's books unsuitable for quoting in the broad-minded atmosphere of your Lordshps' House, when we remember that those books are designed for five-year olds. That is a point we should remember.

I express my grateful support to the noble Earl for introducing this Bill. I speak as a private individual although I speak from these Benches. I feel free to do so because I believe that this matter should not be thought of as a political one, although the authorities against whom the Bill is directed are dominated by representatives of the extreme Left of my party. Because they are extremists I feel no disloyalty, any more than did my noble friend Lord Longford, in speaking against their policies when they are by no means official Labour policies and when I totally condem them.

The extremism of those policies has been emphasised by one noble Lord after another. They seek not merely to put homosexualism on an equal basis with heterosexualism, as several noble Lords have said, but to suggest that it is superior. I do not intend to go into any further details about the disadvantages of homosexuality because they have been mentioned with great force by many noble Lords.

The point I wish to make is that the rationale of those policies, if rationale there be, is that homosexuality is necessarily innate; it is there at the time of birth in the case of all who are destined to become fully fledged and committed homosexuals in their adult lives, and that therefore in all cases any such proclivity should be discovered, then nurtured and increased. It is as though it were intended not to multiply the number of committed homosexuals, which is what would be achieved, but to diminish the number of repressed homosexuals who are taken as being condemned at present to a life of unfulfilled misery through trying to live a heterosexual life when their natural, true desire, inevitable because innate, is supposed to be otherwise.

I hold strongly that this is not the case. A hereditary Peer can hardly dispute the importance of heredity. However, I believe that in many matters environment is of still more importance. I am sure that there are some, the nature of whose genes predispose them at birth towards homosexuality. I believe that far more important are the influences brought to bear on them between their early childhood—their birth, as Freud would have us believe—and their eventual maturity. My belief is strongly supported by my own personal experiences when I was at Eton in the 1930s, and into which I have no intention of going. The part played by the public schools has also been alluded to by my noble friend Lord Longford.

I have no doubt that these policies will greatly increase the number becoming practising homosexuals though they were, genetically, perfectly capable of leading happy, fulfilled, heterosexual lives if their influence in childhood had been different. I emphasise "happy" and "fulfilled" because I am not talking about morality. If a person is a committed homosexual, so be it: I accept it, and I am quite unconcerned. However, I have a son who has just turned five years and I also have a grandson who is a teenager. My five-year-old son will enter a state primary school in January, and above all I want his life to be happy and fulfilled. If we lived in Brent or Haringey, have no doubt, my Lords, but that we would move away for Sean's sake, no matter what cost in convenience or what disruption might be involved. But others cannot afford to do so, however much they would like to.

This Bill may not be perfect, but I note the strong opinions expressed that it is a model of draftsmanship. It cannot do any harm; I believe it will do much good; and I strongly support it.

2.38 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, most wholeheartedly support this Bill. First, I deal with the necessity of it in point of law because at the moment local authorities are given much too wide a discretion in the way in which they deal with their funds. Section 137 of the Local Government Act, 1972 says that a local authority may incur expenditure on contributions to,

"the funds of any body which provides any public service in the United Kingdom otherwise than for the purposes of gain".
The latest amendment in the 1976 Act states that they can give money to a voluntary organisation whose activities are carried on otherwise than for profit. That is the width of the discretion which is given to local authorities in respect of their funds and the way in which they use them. At the moment the difficulty is how to challenge that in a court of law. We have had recent decisions on the procedure of judicial review saying that the courts are not to interfere with the discretion of local authorities unless they exceed their powers altogether, or do something which is totally absurd. It would be difficult at the moment to challenge the way they are distributing their funds for these homosexual purposes.

I am glad to see subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 1. You have a procedure—we can draw it up from the past—where any person affected who is sufficiently interested, a parent or whoever it may be, or a ratepayer, can go to the courts (the word "justiciable" is used here, but I do not mind which is used) and ask for a declaration that a local authority is misusing its funds and applying them as they should not be, if this Bill is passed, for homosexuality. They can ask for a declaration and an injunction to stop the local authority using its funds in any such way.

If this Bill passes, it will give an immediate remedy to stop local authorities using their funds, if I may say so, for homosexual purposes. That is the objective of the Bill, which I hope everyone will support.

I wish to make a few remarks on more general matters, first, perhaps on religion. I looked up the Book of Genesis again.
"But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly".
And the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

When I read the article in The Times this morning, I thought of altering those words and saying:
"But the councillors of the Borough of Haringey were gay, and corrupted the children of the borough exceedingly".
And, I should like to add, after this Bill,
"The Lords destroyed those councillors".
That is the religious aspect.

May I say a word on the legal aspect of homosexuality. The common law, as long as it has existed, condemned the abominable offence of buggery. I have tried many cases, adults and the like, and sentenced them to three, four or five years imprisonment for that offence.

Sir John Wolfenden's report—we all knew his report, and all followed it—did not legalise it at all. It said, "Over 21, in private, no longer a criminal offence". But the law still preserves, I hope, and protects, our youngsters. Against a child under 16, there can be imprisonment for life.

Let me tell you the influence that these books that we have seen can have on youngsters. A lot of medical evidence was taken for the Wolfenden Report. I should like to read one paragraph of Sir John Wolfenden's report:
"Our medical witnesses were unanimously of the view that the main sexual pattern is laid down in the early years of life, and the majority of them held that it was usually fixed in main outline by the age of 16".
There it is. The influence on youngsters under 16 may make them or mar them for the rest of their lives. Then we see them being made or marred by these booklets and publicity distributed at the hands of the local council in the schools. Are we going to let our young people be corrupted in this way? We need this Bill. It is not only in relation to those under 16 that there can be a sentence of life imprisonment. It is still unlawful, criminal, under the age of 21. We still do not allow it in our armed forces, the army or the navy. We know it destroys discipline and the like.

We must not allow this cult of homosexuality, making it equal with heterosexuality, to develop in our land. We must preserve our moral and spiritual values which have come down through the centuries. One way we can do it—I support it altogether—is by passing this Bill as speedily as we can. I accept the emendation of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I do not think there is any need for the words "acceptable family relationship". A local authority should not give any funds for the purpose of publishing or promoting homosexuality.

I hope that this Bill will pass speedily into law because it will deal with the present evil that has been brought into our society.

2.46 p.m.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming this Bill, introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. It seems very strange to me that in society today, when we spend a great deal of money and time trying to prevent physical and mental disability, in some of our schools they are promoting sexual disability. There is no doubt in my mind that homosexuals and lesbians are disabled sexually. It has nothing to do with their physical ability but is to do with the whole aspect of sex.

In addition, as other noble Lords have mentioned, it is offensive to the practice of Christianity. But not only is it highly offensive to those who practise the main religion of this country: it is highly offensive to those who practise many other religions. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, it will lead to the ultimate breakdown of family life, upon which the whole tenor of this country and its ways have been formed for generations and upon which the whole civilised world has been formed and based.

It is getting late. I shall not say any more except that I note from the Order Paper that we have an almost deafening silence from the Benches in front of me. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will be able to support the Bill, even if only in a few words. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

2.48 p.m.

My Lords, perhaps mine will he the only voice in the debate that is not in favour of giving this Bill a Second Reading. I want to begin by saying that I do not stand here with any brief either for homosexuality or for lesbianism. I fully share all the criticisms that have been made about the behaviour of some councils and councillors in pursuing what they believe to be their duty to their ratepayers and citizens.

I have listened very carefully to the debate and carefully read the words of the Bill. I confess that I am somewhat confused. We are told that there are no politics in the Bill, yet the noble Earl who began the debate said that the loony Left is hardening up the lesbian camp. When we begin a debate on a serious topic such as this and a person whom I greatly respect sets the tone of the debate I think it is sad because the topic deserves to be treated far more seriously than that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, told us that there were no politics in this but then felt constrained to proceed to tell us that there were politics in it, politics of a certain kind. The other puzzle that I have is precisely what the movers of the Bill want. If what the movers of the Bill want is to stop harassment, to stop (as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said) fair-minded people with great worry in their hearts from being urinated upon and spat upon and from having eggs thrown at them, then I shall be, if not the first, alongside her to deplore that anyone anywhere should suffer that kind of behaviour. It has to be condemned. It has of course to be validated; but when it is validated I shall certainly condemn it, too.

We are told that this is but the tip of an iceberg. I was very pleased to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. He began by saying that the Bill is not designed to harm or harass homosexuals. Then we heard various phrases which to me were designed if not to harm or harass then certainly to indicate an attitude of mind towards them. Then I looked with great care to see whether or not there are half-way houses in this matter.

The Bill seeks to prohibit the promotion in schools of homosexuality. We have had "promotion" defined as the discussion of, the teaching of, the mere presence in schools of the topic of homosexuality. If there are those who have come here to support the proposition that it shall not be discussed, that it shall not be argued about, that it shall not be left to the individual children and their parents to form a view, than I very much depart from them.

My Lords, may I intervene for a moment only very quickly to take the point? Nobody is saying that promotion meant what the noble Lord has just said it meant. It is the promotion of the positive images as a matter of policy. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He asked a question and posed others. Almost every person in the Chamber will have different views of what positive promotion is. It is a debatable subject. I would simply remind the House that Section 8(5) of the Education Act 1980 requires local education authorities or school governors to inform parents of the manner and context in which education about sexual matters is to be given in schools.

The department has just published a booklet, Health Education from 5–16. It invites comments by the end of this year. It contains a section on sex education, including the treatment of homosexuality. This is what it says:
"Given the openness with which homosexuality is treated in society now it is almost bound to arise as an issue in one area or another of a school's curriculum. Information about and discussion of homosexuality, whether it involves the whole class or individual, needs to acknowlege that experiencing strong feelings of attraction to members of the same sex is a phase passed through by many young people, but for a significant number of people these feelings persist into adult life. Therefore it needs to be dealt with objectively and seriously".
That is what the booklet published for observation by the public by the Secretary of State says.

What I am arguing is that there is a great danger, if this amending Bill is passed, that it will seek to repress the honest and open discussion of these matters at a time when, in my view, they ought as never before to be discussed seriously and sensibly in our schools.

Criticism has been made of authorities, and particularly of ILEA. Let me simply tell the House that in seeking to fulfil its obligations it has published a booklet called The teaching of Controversial Issues in schools. That gives the following advice, regardless of how that advice may have been interpreted by some authorities:
"Controversial issues cannot, and should not, he excluded from the curriculum in schools: they will arise spontaneously from pupils' interests, experience and questions, and they will have a proper place in planned courses of study. It is recommended that teachers:
  • (i) select controversial issues in a way that is appropriate to the age, maturity and cultural background of the pupils;
  • (ii) handle these issues in the classroom in a professional manner by adopting procedures appropriate for balancing teaching and learning".
  • There is a great deal more written sensibly. I have looked through the booklet. Other than quoting individuals like Sir Keith Joseph, who gave very frank views to the teaching authority on how they should teach another controversial issue (that is, the nuclear issue), the booklet is unexceptional. I have not had the opportunity to read in detail some of the booklets that have been pleaded in aid during this debate. I do not deny what they are said to contain, and I would abhor what they are said to contain as well as anyone else.

    However, I believe that this is not a helpful Bill. I believe it does not promote what in fact we ought to have at the moment, which is a greater understanding of the sexual orientation of everyone who lives in our society. I believe it would have the effect of repressing discussion in schools and of hampering the development of organisations designed to assist.

    Let me conclude by saying this. If anyone here with responsibility on this side of the House believes that the image of the Labour Party or of Labour in local government is aided and assisted by the performance or behaviour of some individuals or collectively in certain parts of the country, then they are not correct. So far as the Labour Party is concerned, we are anxious to ensure that every individual is entitled to be treated with respect and to have their views respected, too. I very much hope that when we hear what the Minister has to say he will sympathise with the situation in which a great many people find themselves, but share my view that a Bill of this kind is not the way to proceed.

    2.58 p.m.

    My Lords, I support this Bill and press Her Majesty's Government to give serious and positive consideration to it. I thank the noble Earl. Lord Halsbury, for bringing the Bill before your Lordships' House.

    I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that I speak from no political motive. I speak for the sake of children. I accept that there are circumstances which lead to two men or two women living together in a lasting and stable relationship. What one cannot accept is promiscuity, bitterness and instability in those relationships. What is also not acceptable is the aggressive promotion and teaching in our schools and in our community of homosexuality as a way of life in our society.

    I wonder whether I might say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that I agree with him that of course knowledge and understanding of different ways of life is one thing, but the promotion of homosexuality as a way of life is another. There well may be books which follow the first line, which is to give knowledge and sensitivity about different ways of living in our society. But if the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, were to read all the books that we have read, I think that he might feel very differently about some of the teaching that is going on in our schools.

    The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke of young children. May I speak of adolescent boys and girls who, more often than not, go through a phase of experiencing deep feelings for older people of their own sex. It is a phase. If it is encouraged, if it is taught to be a way of life, there are some—and I say only some—who will not pass out of that stage, but will remain homosexuals and follow the homosexual way of life to their lasting unhappiness.

    My second point deals with happiness and stability in our society. Children, while growing up, need the experience of living alongside a father and mother who are in a stable relationship. Through this relationship between husband and wife, children learn to relate both to the world of men and to the world of women. In this way, children learn to aspire to a stable marriage with children which provides them with happiness and fulfilment.

    I suggest that research—particularly that of the National Childrens Bureau in the national cohort—and experience show us that a stable, happy family life provides for most people a way of happiness and self-fulfilment. Conversely, there are many lonely people who suffered in their childhood. There are many in our prisons—and I have visited many prisoners—where the prisoners have said to me: "If I had had a stable, normal happy life I might not be here today." Giving financial or other assistance towards publishing about and promoting—and I repeat "promoting"—homosexuality, or for the purpose indeed of teaching homosexuality, deprives both children and adults of a way of life which betokens happiness and stability but undermines the concept of family life.

    3.3 p.m.

    My Lords, it is rarely that I intervene in debates in this House and on legislation which does not affect my homeland of Northern Ireland. However, I feel so strongly on this issue that I am compelled to stand up in the House today and give my full support to this Bill, and to the way in which it has been introduced by its sponsor, the noble Earl. Lord Halsbury.

    For other reasons, I am now compelled to live in Great Britain and cannot live in Northern Ireland. To a great extent, my family have moved to this country with me—my daughter and my sons and granddaughters. My sons and grand-daughters are now attending schools in this country, and I hope that what we are debating here today will make it less likely that they will be brought under the influence of the councils which are propagating homosexuality.

    At present, this propagation is restricted to a few schools, mostly within London; but if those councils are given free rein people will be afraid to stand up to them and will be frightened of them. Some people may be frightened that they will lose votes at local government level, while others may feel that they will lose votes at parliamentary level if they support this Bill. If those people have a conscience, then I can only say that on an issue such as this I should be prepared to lose my deposit in a Parliamentary election. As I listen to my radio every morning, whether it be Radio 1, 2 or 4, and hear the appeals that are being made in relation to the terrible scourge of AIDS that is now affecting this country, I have absolutely no doubt that a significant number of present AIDS carriers within our society were given positive education in homosexuality when they were at school. I believe this is a very necessary Bill and I am quite prepared to face criticism from the so-called libertarians within this country and from those who propagate homosexuality and lesbianism.

    We shall be told that we are a non-elected House and should not put ourselves in the position of dictating the morals or otherwise of people within this country. I believe that this House, elected or not, has a duty. I believe that the other place has a duty as well. I want to see this legislation put on the statute book and I only wish that we could guarantee this afternoon in this House a very full attendance so that those who support and oppose this Bill could go into the Lobby. I shall say that my noble friend, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has shown courage in this House this afternoon. I believe that courage is misdirected, however, and I should like to see a full vote in this House and in the other place to determine which way society will go and how it will be judged in the future in this country.

    I am speaking from a purely personal position in this matter, and from a position of conscience. Most of all, I am concerned about the society in which my grandsons and grand-daughters will he brought up.

    3.06 p.m.

    My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fitt has said that he speaks from a personal point of view. This is a Private Member's Bill, and we are all speaking from a personal point of view. I must make it clear at once that although I am speaking from the Front Bench I am not expressing the views of my party. However, I do believe that I speak for a great many people on our Front Bench when I say that we are sympathetic with the aims of the Bill of the noble Earl. We do not want to promote homosexuality. But perhaps this is a much more complicated matter than the Bill suggests, and I should like to go into a few details concerning it. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, raised some of the problems; but with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, no-one has yet mentioned very much about the wording of the Bill, and I should like to go into a few details about that.

    I wish to make it clear that I, and, I am sure, a great many of my noble friends, would condemn many of the things we have heard about this afternoon. However, I should like to quote from the HMI document Health Education from 5 to 16 in saying that the discussion of homosexuality in schools is important. I understand that the Secretary of State has supported this as well.

    Health Education from 5 to 16 states:
    "Given the openness with which homosexuality is treated in society now it is almost bound to arise as an issue in one area or another of a school's curriculum. Information about and discussion of homosexuality, whether it involves a whole class or an individual, needs to acknowledge that experiencing strong feelings of attraction to members of the same sex is a phase passed through by many young people. But for a significant number of people these feelings persist into adult life. Therefore, it needs to be dealt with objectively and seriously, bearing in mind that, while there has been a marked shift away from the general condemnation of homosexuality, many individuals and groups within society hold sincerely to the view that it is morally objectionable. This is difficult territory for teachers to traverse and for some schools to accept that homosexuality may be a normal feature of relationships would be a breach of the religious faith upon which they are founded. Consequently, LEAs, voluntary bodies, governors, heads and senior staff in schools have important responsibilities in devising guidance and supporting teachers in dealing with this sensitive issue."
    We also have to remember that a certain number of children may be affected if they are living with one parent who may be living also with someone with whom he or she has a homosexual relationship. We have to remember these children when considering what to do about the Bill.

    As to the wording of the Bill, it inhibits local authorities from giving
    "financial or other assistance to any person for the purpose of publishing or promoting homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship".
    It is to this that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred. On the face of it, this does not appear to inhibit local authorities from themselves publishing or promoting homosexuality. It would clearly prohibit the funding of voluntary organisations with such aims, but it is not clear that authorities could not issue such publicity themselves; for example, through lesbian and gay units. To put it at its weakest, the wording is sufficiently ambiguous to cause difficulties, particularly if read in conjunction with the Local Government Act 1986, Section 2(3) of which categorically states:
    "A local authority shall not give financial or other assistance to a person for the purpose of material which the authority are prohibited by this section from publishing themselves.".
    It also refers to,
    "the purpose of teaching such acceptability in any maintained school".
    Again, the issue is whether a local education authority is itself teaching such acceptability or giving assistance to other people, and only the latter appears to be prohibited. Advertising for and appointing, say, an adviser on gay rights for schools would probably be caught by this, but it does not seem to cover teaching staff already in post teaching part of the normal curriculum which may well include homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship.

    This Bill would restrict local authorities in buying material from other bodies (if their purpose was the promotion of homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship) because this would be giving those other bodies financial assistance. If the above argument is correct, authorities could continue to promote outside material already purchased.

    On the question of who can institute proceedings, the Bill as drafted is not entirely clear but it does refer to,
    "any person having a sufficient interest",
    which is probably somewhat wider than "any ratepayer". I hope that the Government, when responding, will deal with the points that I have raised here.

    The Bill is of course intended to curb the amount of work that is being carried out by local authorities on gay and lesbian issues. As my noble friend Lord Longford mentioned in what I thought was an extremely sensible and sensitive speech, it is ironical that the Bill should be introduced at a time when there is a national awareness campaign sponsored by the Government on AIDS, yet it is workers in voluntary organisations—for instance, the Terence Higgins Trust—who have been providing most of the information up to now. Their work could be affected by the Bill.

    I should like to say a word about the remarks of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York about not supporting the Bill because it takes powers away from local government and puts more powers into the hands of central government. As somebody who has repeatedly made the complaint that the Government are taking many more powers to themselves, I should like to say a word in support of what he has apparently written about the Bill.

    I hope that I have said enough to show that I support the aims of the Bill, but I think it is a much more complicated issue than would appear—and, indeed, that has been confirmed by many of the speakers today. I shall listen with great interest to what the Minister has to say in reply.

    3.14 p.m.

    My Lords, I hope no one in your Lordships' House will think me patronising when I start the Government's response to the Bill put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, by saying that he brings great credit to this House by bringing before us a most important subject which is much in the public mind at the moment. It is extremely disturbing to see some of the material which is published or made available by local authorities and I should like to endorse the aims underlying the proposals in the Bill and the tenor of today's debate.

    We have come a long way since the pre-1967 days of sexual persecution. Homosexuality in private between those over 21 who consent is now legal. However, that does not mean either that it should be encouraged or that it should be publicised, both of which, as we have heard today, do go on. The Government believe unequivocably that to promote homosexuality as a normal way of life—to anyone, let alone children—is to go too far and to create the serious risk of undermining those normal family relationships which are the very fabric of our society. There is no doubt, in my mind at least, that this is the effect of some councils' spending of their ratepayers' money. Some would say that it is the reason for it, and as it increases it makes even my simple mind wonder whether this is not in fact the truth.

    The Banquo's ghost haunting this debate has been the connection with AIDS. If local authorities wish to distance themselves in the public mind from charges of encouraging the spread of this disease, would they not be better advised to target any money that they wish to make available to the essential task of ensuring that accurate and effective information is available about how to avoid the further spread of AIDS?

    It is worthy of note that, however odious, damaging or misplaced the funding of gay and lesbian clubs may be, or however distasteful a particular sexual proclivity, this Bill does not attempt to prevent local authorities or local education authorities from pursuing those activities. That, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has made clear, is not what this Bill is about—not, in the vernacular, where we are at. I am not sure that certain sections of the media, and indeed one or two of your Lordships today, have taken that point.

    This Bill seeks to add a new section to Part II of the Local Government Act 1986, a part which, as has been pointed out, is concerned with the regulation of local authority publicity. Section 2 of the Act prevents a local authority from publishing any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party. But quite clearly that provision does not assist with preventing the type of publicity about which this Bill is concerned, since such publicity is not designed to favour the fortunes of a political party. Equally clearly, provisions to stop local authorities promoting homosexuality do not sit easily alongside the existing party political prohibition. I cannot envisage, even when looking on the black side, that homosexuality will ever be a party political issue in the sense of that section.

    Section 3 of the 1986 Act goes on to make it clear that local authorities may publish information under their general powers only on matters relating to their statutory functions. It is by no means clear to me that local authorities are empowered to promote homosexuality in their publicity, as opposed to providing some forms of information. Their discretionary powers in Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 have, as many of your Lordships are aware, been used for a number of bizarre activities, and local authorities are at present entitled to publish information about those activities under Section 142 of the Act.

    They may not use Section 137 to promote bizarre ideas, since we have already stopped that use of Section 137 for persuasive publicity campaigns and other promotional publicity in the 1986 Act. The Government are actively considering whether further limitations need to be put on the use of Section 137 in the context of our consultation on the Widdicombe report, which is due to be completed at the end of the year.

    Section 4 of the 1986 Act is, however, relevant and could be of direct assistance to the noble Earl's objectives. This section enables my right honourable friend to issue a code of recommended practice as regards matters such as the content, style, distribution and cost of local authority publicity. We believe it right, in the highly sensitive area of publicity at ratepayers' expense, to have such a code, to highlight factors that may lead to bad practice, and to require local authorities to take account of certain principles in deciding whether or not to incur expenditure on publicity. In so far as local authority publicity expresses particular views on matters only tangential to the functions of local authorities, or is controversial and sensitive, it will be covered by the principles to be set out in the code of practice. A draft code is currently being prepared for consultation with the local authority associations. The code will, in due course, be placed before your Lordships' House for approval. Your Lordships may well think, with me, that this code should contain clear principles to be observed on the questions which we are debating today.

    I have said that we believe it right to require local authorities to give due weight to these principles. Your Lordships will remember that the House did not accept the Government's advice to this effect. The Government have made clear their intention to bring forward legislation to strengthen the legal status of the code later this Session. I very much hope your Lordships will bear in mind the importance of the provisions of the code of practice when we come to debate those legislative proposals in the new year.

    Turning now to the second part of the prohibition, we are all agreed that the most dangerous and pernicious effects of loosening sexual values are on children. Schools must approach the difficult task of teaching their pupils about sexual matters in a responsible and sensitive manner. We must ensure that children are not subject to insidious propaganda for homosexuality. Moreover, the physical and emotional dangers of promiscuity should be spelt out. Regrettably there have been instances—we have heard some referred to in this debate—of the use of unsound teaching methods and materials and the propagation of extreme and unrepresentative views of sexual ethics and mores in the main related to the presentation of homosexuality. The Bill seeks to make this illegal by prohibiting financial or other assistance being made available by local authorities for this purpose. Moreover, it refers to a very subjective word—namely, "acceptability", a word which could occupy your Lordships, sitting in your judicial capacity, for hour after hour.

    Be that as it may, the Government are firmly committed to the provision of appropriate sex education in schools and equally to the need for effective action to prevent irresponsible and inappropriate teaching in this field. We debated these important issues at some length earlier this year during the passage of what is now the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. Not least because of the deep concern among parents, Parliament has just approved a change of the law on sex education, through the new Education Act, to prevent such abuses and to ensure that parents' wishes are given due weight and respect by schools.

    Under the new arrangements, all those responsible for the provision of sex education in county, voluntary and maintained schools will be required by law to ensure that any teaching offered is set within a clear moral context and is supportive of family life.

    Full control over the content and organisation of sex education will be placed in the hands of the new-style school governing bodies, which the Act establishes. These have increased parental representation and are answerable to an annual meeting of parents. Parents will thus be able to influence directly the sex education which their children receive, both through their elected representatives on the governing body and through making their views known at the parents' meeting. As part of their new responsibilities for the content of sex education, governors will be able to see any books and other teaching materials which teachers intend to use in this field, and to decide for themselves whether they are suitable for classroom use or not. I am confident that no governing body—given the strong influence of parents—would permit inappropriate and unbalanced materials to be used. It is surely preferable to concentrate, as the Government have done, on ensuring that unsuitable materials never reach the classroom, rather than to look for redress and recourse to the courts after the damage has been done.

    These are significant changes, which demonstrate the seriousness with which the Government views this issue.

    My noble friend Lady Cox, acting in concert with the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, himself, does not know her own power. I am advised that under the Bill and through the Education Act 1944 the Secretary of State is empowered not to allow any such interference in the democratic process nor in the arrangements that he has introduced for parent power, which will be paramount. Should an authority be found to be acting in breach of the provisions of the new Act, I am certain that the Secretary of State will bring to bear on the authority concerned the full force of his powers.

    What all this means is that the Bill of the noble Earl seeks to prevent local education authorities from encouraging the promotion of homosexuality in schools at the very time that those same authorities are about to cease to have a direct role in determining the kind of sex education to be offered in schools.

    My noble friend Lady Cox made the point that books of the nature that we have been discussing this afternoon which are to be found in public libraries need also to be caught. But in public libraries, which are covered by different Acts of Parliament, different considerations apply. Putting a book on a library shelf is not—I repeat "not"—promoting the views put forward in that book. I have no doubt that the House will want to go into this particular subject in some depth in Committee.

    Finally, on that aspect of the Bill, I should express reservations about how the wording of the Bill—with its prohibition of the promotion of homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship—might be interpreted in practice. The House will want to investigate, again in Committee, whether the meaning is clear or whether there is a risk that any teaching about homosexuality will effectively be outlawed. The Government's policy is that schools should be prepared to address the issue of homosexuality, provided they approach it in a balanced and factual manner, appropriate to the maturity of the pupils concerned. The issue cannot be ignored by schools when it is widely discussed in society and when pupils may well ask questions about it.

    We must also recognise the role which schools have in informing their pupils of the threat to health posed by AIDS. Questions about homosexuality are very likely to be raised by pupils in this context and they must be dealt with. As the Government's public education campaign about AIDS makes clear, ignorance is the greatest ally of this terrible disease.

    The Government have made quite clear that any teaching about homosexuality must never, in any sense, advocate or encourage it as a normal form of relationship. To do so would be educationally and morally indefensible. I appreciate that the noble Earl's Bill seeks to prevent only such abuses. I fear, however, that the distinction between these, and what I have described as proper teaching about homosexuality, cannot be drawn sufficiently clearly in legislation to avoid harmful misinterpretation. That is a risk we cannot take.

    In these circumstances, in the Government's view, the Bill is unnecessary. I am confident that the provisions of the new Education Act will prove fully effective in safeguarding pupils from the kind of undesirable and extremist influence about which your Lordships have heard today. They must be given a chance to prove their effectiveness. To support this part of the noble Earl's Bill would be to cast doubt on, and indeed to undermine, the provisions of the new Education Act before they have even come into effect. That cannot be a sensible way of proceeding.

    To summarise, I cannot emphasise enough that the Government have every sympathy with the aims underlying the proposals in this Bill. We are quite convinced that the promotion of homosexuality as an acceptable way of life reflects a misguided and possibly dangerous view, particularly where young minds are concerned. We question however the need for, and the appropriateness of, the proposals set out in the Bill. Educationally, we have already taken steps to put the responsibility where it belongs in the hands of the parents. On publicity we have made an important start with the Local Government Act 1986 which we will ourselves seek to amend and strengthen this Session. The proposed code of practice covering local authority publicity will be particularly helpful in achieving the noble Earl's aims if its legal status can be strengthened. A section dealing with the matters we have been discussing today included in that code would be a far better way of proceeding. I do not want to debate the merits of various trigger clauses with my noble friend, Lord Campbell of Alloway today, but I hope my point is clear.

    The fact that the Government stance is one of neutrality on a Bill of this sort does not, as I have sought to explain, mean that it is negative. I close as I opened by saying that the Government do not disagree with the noble Earl on the aims but solely with the means.

    3.33 p.m.

    My Lords, perhaps I may commence my winding up by thanking all speakers, particularly for the very wide variety of the aspects they highlighted. There was so much unanimity that I shall not go through everything that was said and try to summarise it.

    However, I should like to refer to one matter which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, mentioned and where there was some misunderstanding by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Schoolboy homosexuality starts as post-pubertal curiosity. I discussed it with my parents before I ever went to public school. I discussed it with my outgoing headmaster of my prep school. I discussed it again with my tutor at Eton. As an older boy, a captain of the house, I was expected to collaborate with my headmaster and housemaster in discouraging it wherever I could. Why was I always warned against it! It was simply because a habit once started may become a permanency and can only lead to unhappiness in later life.

    The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, seems to think that discussion of sex in schools is something new. It is not at all new. It has gone on all my life. I have had discussions with my children about it, and they have had discussions with their pastors and masters. We are not talking about discussion at all. We are talking about encouragement, and I am glad to know that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is with me on that.

    The Wolfenden report specified that people's sexual orientation was not fixed on leaving school. They needed a close period of several years so that those of them who may have had homosexual experiences at school had some free time to shake loose from it if they were not in fact permanently orientated that way. I have been told by psychologists that is is only at about the age of 24 that a person's sexual orientation is finally fixed. Therefore the idea of orientating them in the wrong direction for a very long period up to the age of 24 is very wrong indeed. It may lead to total unhappiness in later life.

    Another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, will be cleared up when he sees Hansard tomorrow. I said that I was warned that the loony Left was hardening up to the lesbians. I did not make a positive statement that it was. Therefore I was not introducing politics into this subject.

    I do not think that I can withdraw a Bill which has had so much support. If there is opposition to it then I must express myself Content and take the matter to a Division. It is quite right that a minority should stand up and be counted; but there is something else a minority can do, which is to stand up and not be counted by failing to appoint tellers. That has happened once today.

    I must remind your Lordships that if those who express themselves "Not-content" that the Bill should be given a Second Reading fail to appoint tellers, it is in order for any Member of your Lordships' House from either side who has not spoken in the debate to go to the Table and appoint himself a teller, as a volunteer, for the other side. It is wrong to stand up and not be counted. We must know what the force of argument is, remembering always that I have had not only immense support in your Lordships' House but also immense support in correspondence from all over the country, and a very good press.

    On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.