HC Deb 08 May 1987 vol 115 cc997-1014

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Would it be in order, Mr. Armstrong, to speak on the Bill as a whole?

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Certainly the hon. Lady may do that. The Bill has only two clauses.

Dame Jill Knight

This Bill came into being for a very good reason. It has not come into being because there have been vague suspicions that all is not well about the teaching of sex in our schools. It is before the Committee because there is evidence in shocking abundance that children in our schools, some as young as five years, are frequently being encouraged into homosexuality and lesbianism. That is happening in our schools, is being paid for out of rates, and is against the wishes of the children's parents.

For those reasons, and because of the abundance of evidence, the Bill was introduced in another place where, of course, it has gone through all its stages. It gained unqualified acceptance from all sides and all political parties in the other place.

As I have said, there are many pieces of evidence as reasons for this Bill. I shall quote only a few examples, First, there is a publication called "The Playbook for Kids about Sex". It is written for young children and is presented in the type of colour and line drawings that would appeal to a child. In fact, it is the most frightening piece of propaganda against children. There is also a book called "The Milkman's on his Way". I shall not shock the House by quoting from it, but, in explicit terms, it describes intercourse between a 16-year-old boy and his adult male homosexual lover. The book glorifies homosexuality and encourages youngsters to believe that it is better than any other sexual way of life.

Recently, the lesbian and gay development unit of Haringey council made a video called "How to become a lesbian in 35 minutes". Under the aegis of the council, it was shown to mentally handicapped girls, of whom one was aged 18, one was aged 16, and the others were much younger. Another book is being promulgated by a local council. It is called "Jenny lives with Eric and Martin". That book has been the subject of a great deal of public protest. It pictures a little girl of about six in bed with her father and his lover, both of whom are naked. It is a picture storybook, aimed at six to eight-year-olds, and is made available by education officials in and for junior schools. There was a great outcry. Anyone who would oppose the Bill should read that book and consider how they feel about it. It tells youngsters: Jenny is a little girl. Martin is Jenny's dad and Eric is Martin's lover. They all live happily together. Eric draws Jenny a series of cartoons of two men saying: I love you, Fred. 'I love you too, Bill.' Why don't we move in together? 'That is a good idea.''' It is terrifying to me that local councils have been promoting that kind of stuff. I could give the House many examples, but I shall not go on. There is a pile of filth, and it is shocking when one considers that it is all paid for by the rates. What is the aim?

Today, one or two of us are thinking about manifestos. I shall not go into the reason why, but certainly we are doing so. I look no further than the gay liberation front manifesto to find the reasons for such stuff appearing before our children and being promulgated and proselytised to them. The gay liberation front manifesto states: We must fight for something more than reform. We must aim at the abolition of the family. This will benefit all women and gays. We could argue for some time about how true it is that the abolition of the family would help women, but it is debatable whether it would be anything other than a disaster for the country.

It is important that the House should understand that the Bill in no way attacks the rights of adult people to live their own lives in their own way. It is a free country. Many homosexuals live their lives totally within the law and would no more think of molesting little boys than a normal heterosexual would think of molesting little girls. Nothing in the Bill is aimed at such people. There is all the difference in the world between allowing adults to live in the way in which they consider is right for them and trying to pervert little children.

I remember the occasion many years ago when we were first presented with a Bill on homosexuality and the rights of homosexuals. The debate was joined as to whether homosexuals were born or made. An elderly gentleman who had been a colonel in the Indian army told me that it was his belief that homosexuals were made if enough influence was exerted upon them. He said that in the hill country and in parts of Poona, when he was in the Indian army, drummer boys used to be sent out from England —they were often orphans—and sent up to the forward areas to the regiments. He said—I have never forgotten this—that not one of those children had a chance. They all ended up as homosexuals because of the life they were forced to lead. I find it outrageous that little children should have been perverted in that way.

Those in another place and millions outside Parliament object to little children being perverted, diverted or converted from normal family life to a lifestyle which is desperately dangerous for society and extremely dangerous for them. Any venereologist will say that syphilis, gonorrhoea and genital herpes are characteristically infections of homosexuals. If that were not enough, we now have the terror of AIDS. Very few hon. Members fail to appreciate the seriousness of the danger that AIDS presents to the whole of our society, yet some of that which is being taught to children in our schools would undoubtedly lead to a great spread of AIDS. Even the knowledge of the danger of AIDS has not stopped the promoting of homosexuality among little children.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

The hon. Lady has suggested that the whole of our society is in danger from AIDS — homosexuals and heterosexuals. There is evidence in some countries of an increasingly wide spread of AIDS among the heterosexual population, and I do not understand why she is dwelling on homosexuality. It seems that in the end AIDS will affect all people in about the same way.

Dame Jill Knight

The hon. Gentleman's intervention suggests that he has not done his homework on AIDS. The disease spreads into ordinary heterosexual members of society through contact with those who have had AIDS, and I think that 95 per cent. of those who start AIDS come from the homosexual section. It is from that section that the danger of AIDS has come, and within that section the danger is infinitely more severe than in any other. That is where it started, and I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman, who has a serious regard for morality and good behaviour in life, can fail to appreciate that little children as young as five years of age in our schools ought not to be taught that homosexuality is a normal way of life. It is undoubtedly true that the desperate disease of AIDS starts with and comes mainly from homosexuals.

Mr. Dubs

It is my understanding that the danger of AIDS is now faced equally by both the heterosexual and homosexual sections of the population, and that there are certain countries where heterosexuals have been as affected by AIDS as homosexuals. I am talking about medical opinion on the likely way in which AIDS will spread in future, unless the spread of this dreadful disease is checked. It is misleading to suggest that the link between AIDS and homosexuality is such that there is not the likelihood of an equivalent link between AIDS and heterosexuality.

Dame Jill Knight

I must urge the hon. Gentleman to look into the subject with rather more care than he has obviously done so far. If he asks any of the eminent doctors in London—let alone outside London—who are experts on the subject, he will find that AIDS starts among homosexuals, and that they pose the greatest danger. The disease spreads to others when a homosexual with AIDS has relations with a woman, or gives tainted blood that has not been screened. We know of that danger from other countries.

The hon. Gentleman must not try to hold up our proceedings. He may be seeking information on the matter, but I must tell him, with the greatest courtesy, that at present he is not very well informed on it. Any doctor who has specialised in the subject would say, "For God's sake, do not promote homosexuality as a way of life. It is desperately dangerous."

Let me return to my main theme. The proselytising in schools of a homosexual society is all paid for by the ratepayers, 99 per cent. of whom strongly object to their money being used in that way. Parents' associations have been set up: the Parents Action Group has been particularly active. Nearly a year ago, a deputation from the group went to protest to the deputy leader of a local council that the policy discriminated against religious beliefs. The deputation included people with a wide range of religions—for instance, Catholics and Muslims—and some with no religion. They were told that the Koran needed updating, and that the Bible should be rewritten. What a thing to tell parents who are anxious about what is happening to their children. Further, a member of the gay and lesbian sub-committee of the council told the group that "parents do not know what is in the best interests of their children … we do." Some of the doctors do, too.

Let me add in passing that teachers who have protested strongly at what they have been asked to do have been discriminated against and intimidated in the most frightening manner. That worries me as well.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent by some councils in promoting homosexuality in our schools. All of that money could be far better spent. I am not talking about boroughs in which no council houses need repairing, and nothing needs to be done about the roads; I am not talking about councils that have examined everything in their remit and have concluded that there is nothing else on which to spend their money. Every penny of the money spent on promoting homosexuality could and should be far better spent elsewhere, and it bothers me to learn that parents and ratepayers who have gone to protest have on some occasions been physically attacked.

This is a very short Bill, with one main clause and four subsections. Subsection (1) 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. Hon. Members should note the words "other assistance". The other assistance would cover the provision of local authority premises for a guest speaker or the financing, of conferences to get over the homosexuality message to six-year-olds. Anything of that kind would be banned by the Bill.

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Subsection (2) provides that a breach of subsection (1) shall be dealt with in the civil courts, and subsection (3) identifies those who may institute proceedings under subsection (2). They are given locus standi. Subsection (4) sensibly excuses a local authority if it has taken reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the law but its instructions have been ignored.

Clause 2 relates to the short title. It provides that the Bill will not apply to Northern Ireland.

The Bill has completed all its stages in another place and support for it came from right across the political spectrum. The Earl of Halsbury, who introduced the Bill, was supported by the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Longford, Lord Campbell of Alloway, Lord Denning and Lord Bellwin. They feel that the Bill should be enacted as it stands as it would put a stop to the iniquitous corruption of children. I thank all those who have helped in various ways to frame the Bill. Not thousands but millions of people of all parties and of none have said that they support the Bill. I hope that the House will bless it and will pass it.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

I am glad to take this opportunity to congratulate my kinsman the Earl of Halsbury on his clear discernment of the public mind on an important moral issue. We owe him gratitude and praise for carrying this Bill through all its stages in the other place.

We live in an age of doubt. Many moral certainties of Victorian times and the orthodox Christian traditions of earlier generations are being questioned, openly challenged and quite often publicly flouted. Everyone should approach moral questions with humility. The Greeks gave us the injunction—"Know thyself."—at the same time as they originated our democratic culture. How many people can claim truthfully to have attained full self-knowledge? The road to self-knowledge often takes us through stony places. Many of our moral beliefs originated with the teaching of the Greek thinkers. Our own Christian testament was written in Greek, yet homosexuality was not always condemned in classical Greece.

The whole subject remains a source of difficulty and uncertainty in the consciences of a number of people— including, as I know, an element among my constituents in Kensington. But it is an obvious fact that a man's physique shows rudimentary female characteristics, and I think that few men would claim to be entirely devoid of qualities that we associate primarily with the feminine virtues. Few women, I think, would wish to be entirely without any element of manliness. Indeed, some of the grandest figures in history and the most influential personalties of today have a broad sexual orientation.

I should like, however, to make two points very strongly in support of the intentions of the Bill. First, the physical processes of generation can be fertile or they can be morbid and fruitless. It is repugnant to the majority of people to see the endowments of our bodies, which enable us to recreate our own likeness and to perpetuate human life, turned into useless or unnatural channels. They are not happy, although they are prepared to accept, that such practices take place in privacy. They certainly are not prepared to endorse the policies of certain elements on local councils, such as ILEA or some outer London boroughs, that homosexuality should be presented openly, and even authoritatively recommended, with the support of public funds.

Secondly, on a more general constitutional consideration, it has become increasingly widely held since the 16th and 17th century wars of religion that the political organs of the state should not seek to govern or to interfere with the freedom of private conscience. In parenthesis, as we move into a post-Socialist political framework, we are coming, I think increasingly to accept that it is not permissible for political figures to intrude themselves into industry or the workings of the economy either. But it is not generally acceptable now that the state should devote substantial efforts and resources to the dissemination even of the tenets of faith, or the enforcement of codes of personal conduct in private, which enjoy majority support. It is certainly quite inadmissible that a small, unrepresentative group should capture control of a local authority and then divert its resources to the promotion of highly controversial minority points of private belief and conduct within families.

In London many parents — I believe the great majority — are deeply opposed to the promotion of homosexuality in education and will warmly support the Bill. I am proud that it was on my motion last week that the Bill obtained its Second Reading, and I trust that it will now successfully go through its remaining stages in this honourable House.

The Minister for Local Government (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

I have listened carefully to my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) and for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams). I have also read the debates in another place where the Bill received support from all quarters and there were no Divisions at any stage.

As is usual with Bills brought in or taken up by a private Member, I intervene to make clear the Government's view of the Bill. As many hon. Members know, the Government's views of the Bill have, from time to time, been misrepresented. Many of those who have written to hon. Members, whose letters have been drawn to my attention and the attention of other Ministers in the Department of the Environment by those hon. Members, have thought that the Government are opposed to this Bill. That is certainly not the case. Bills brought in by private Members or, as in this case, private Peers, fall into a number of categories. Some embody a policy which is totally alien to that of the Government, and those we must oppose and advise hon. Members to vote against. Others reflect Government policy, and may even have been suggested by the Government. Those, of course, we support. Others may reflect the Government's views, but be on a subject about which the Government think that it is for Parliament to make up its own mind. Others may be in harmony with the Government's views but perhaps not deal with the matter as the Government would think most appropriate.

It is into this last category that this Bill fell when it was introduced. There can be no doubt that every Minister who has been involved with the Bill strongly supports its aim, encapsulated in its long title A Bill intituled. An Act to restrain local authorities from promoting homosexuality". The whole country owes the noble earl Lord Halsbury arid his colleagues a debt of gratitude for bringing forward the legislation and ensuring that the topic stays in the front of public debate.

At the outset of the debate in the other place, my noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale made it clear that the Government have every sympathy with the aims underlying the proposals in this Bill. I re-emphasise in this House that sympathy. The Government share the view that a society is defined by its shared beliefs and habits. There are some kinds of behaviour that Christian charity may lead us to tolerate, but that is no reason why public funds should be spent on promoting that behaviour and no reason why we should tolerate those who spend public funds in that way. Undermining the common standards of society, flaunting behaviour that the overwhelming majority of those brought up in this country and in its traditions find revolting, unsettling the minds of the coming generation is one way — a subtle way — of changing the society in which we live.

All of us have noticed in recent years an attack on the institution of the family, which is the basic building block of society. A society that turns its back on the family and undermines it in any way will pay heavy penalties in the future. One understands that certain people are born with different interests — I put it as gently as I can. I am certainly not one of those who would wish there to be any persecution of those individuals. I do not think that any hon. Member wishes that. The Bill opposes the positive images of lesbianism and homosexuality, as though they were alternative ways of life that should be shown to all children in schools. Those images imply that one can say to children that they can live in a family with a mother and father, but there is an alternative way of life which is just as reputable, in which one lives with a person of one's own sex, and the two are equal. That could undermine the basis of our society. The vast majority of parents, irrespective of how they voted yesterday or of how they will vote in a general election, feel intensely about this matter.

One could say that the positive promotion of the images of lesbianism and male homosexuality as though they are equivalent to family life could bring death in one generation. I am not referring to AIDS. I am talking about death in a generation, because there is no future in it— it is the end of creation. Any society that is concerned for its future in every way and for its continuation must have a clear view about what it is doing.

I am sure that we are all alarmed about many things that have been going on. My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston referred to this. Baroness Cox, who lived until recently in my constituency, said on Second Reading: 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. She referred to the book "Tackling Heterosexism". I have seen that book, but could not lay my hands on it for this debate. I shall provide the book for any hon. Members who would like to see it, because I was horrified by what I saw.

Baroness Cox said that the book 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'. Baroness Cox said: -In places such as Brent"— a place in the British Isles that I know very well— 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." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 18 December 1986; Vol. 483, c. 320–21.] Recently, I was approached in my constituency by parents of all political parties about a document in Brent libraries—"Out in Brent"—which I have with me. It uses a definition that differs from the one that we would have used five or 10 years ago. There are lists of homosexual and lesbian literature; the book was easily available on the lower library shelves and children were picking it up. The name of one library was given to me and many people wrote to me about the matter. I took up the matter. Parents were concerned, irrespective of where they stood on the political platform.

I quote again from a letter printed last year in the Daily Telegraph by somebody who had before her ILEA's book "Secondary Issues?" which is also available to hon. Members. It is distributed to schools and purports to deal with equality of opportunity in secondary education. The letter says: In the section on school libraries it enthuses 'We have included lesbian and gay contact phone numbers on wall charts giving general advice, produced book lists, and we have positively included work on lesbian and gay people in library worksheets."' I draw the following to the attention of hon. Members.

The letter in the Daily Telegraph says: The book notes with approval the removal of a section on romance from a school library". There is no romance in these sad days, according to how some people would like us to live. ILEA replaced the section on romance with a section on 'relationships'—'encompassing lesbian and gay relationships, heterosexual relationships and family relationships.' Organisations listed for schools to contact include a 'Gay Teachers Group'. 12.45 pm

I have other letters, including one to the Prime Minister from another borough in London. I will not delay the House further by referring to other material, except to refer to an advertisement in Haringey's publication "Job Search" that promised preferential treatment for gays and lesbians seeking jobs as play group assistants looking after 5 to 11-year-olds. I remember reading last year that in that borough parents, again from parties of all political views, closed a school for a day because they objected to what was proposed in this type of teaching.

It is wrong for public funds to be used to promote homosexuality as an alternative to the family way of life. It does not follow from that that it is automatically right to invoke the law to prevent local authorities from using public funds in this way. The defenders of those aberrant local authorities will be quick to point out that they are elected, that they are responsible to their electorate, and that the electorate can turn out the members who support practices of which they disapprove. That is true, but it does not mean that Parliament should stand by and do nothing.

Hon. Members will know of my interest in 19th-century local government. Before the reform era in the 1830s, local authorities quite often used their powers to line the pockets of their members. In the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, Parliament did not stand by and leave it to the voters. Our predecessors took effective steps to outlaw such practices. It is for Parliament to define the area of action for local authorities. There can be no doubt of the constitutional propriety of Parliament intervening if we think that local authorities are going too far. There can be no doubt about the support of the Government for the principles behind the Bill.

My noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale also made it clear that the Government have reservations about some aspects of the Bill and it is my duty to comment on those. First, the Bill goes over ground that Parliament has recently traversed. The Education (No. 2) Act 1986 made significant changes in the law relating to sex education in schools. It transferred responsibility for decisions on sex education to the new governing bodies to be set up for every maintained school. It required those concerned to ensure that any teaching on sex is set within a clear moral context and is supportive of family life. There are those who feel that it is premature to enact further measures until we see how the 1986 Act works. On the other hand, the supporters of the Bill have argued forcefully that there is sufficient scope within the Act for the continuance of measures of which we and they disapprove.

Secondly, the Local Government Act 1986 made provision for a code of recommended practice for local authorities when making decisions on publicity. Again, it can be argued that time should be given for this code to be produced, approved by Parliament, and take effect. My noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale told the other place that we intended to include a provision in the code that local authority publicity should not offend against generally accepted moral standards. I can confirm that today we are issuing that code of practice for formal consultation with the local authority associations, as required by the Act.

Finally, it can be argued—people have done that through the ages in the House—that it is premature and that we ought to deal with all the areas in which discretionary activity by local authorities is causing concern. That, of course, is what F. M. Cornford in his classic work "Microcosmographia Academica" identified as the principle of the wedge. I have a copy of that book with me, not by accident. As hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will know, The Principle of the Wedge is that you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in the future—expectations which you are afraid that you may not have the courage to satisfy". The House will have to decide for itself whether or not this approach is correct. I conclude by saying once more that the Government have great sympathy for the aims of those who have promoted this Bill. In fairness to the House, we have identified and I have brought to its attention some aspects which may be shortcomings. It is for the House to decide whether those shortcomings are so great that the clause should not stand part of the Bill. It is a private Member's Bill and the House must make up its mind.

However, the Government do not take the view that those shortcomings are sufficient to deny the Bill a passage. As those who have read my writings will expect, for my part I think that the clause should stand part of the Bill, and I support it.

Mr. Dubs

I am a little taken aback by the way in which the House has, with a measure that is bound to attract a lot of publicity, bypassed some of the normal procedures. I am not clear what happened on a particular Friday afternoon, but it seems that we gave the Bill a Second Reading on the nod—I assume that is what happened— and then we bypassed the normal Committee stage upstairs and we are dealing with the Committee stage on the Floor of the House.

Dr. Boyson

I believe that the Bill was moved to a Committee of the whole House. I just say that in fairness.

Mr. Dubs

I am aware of that. However, we have avoided the normal process of discussion in Committee upstairs and taken it on the Floor of the House. It is my experience that when the House does not give a measure proper scrutiny, it is likely that bad legislation will be the outcome. That has been my experience whenever the House has tried to do things on the nod.

Dame Jill Knight

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the measure was fully discussed in another place. That is not unusual in itself. There was a wide-ranging debate, including a Committee stage and Report stage, and a small amendment was moved. There has been nothing untoward in the way in which the Bill has been produced or put to the House. Every rule of the House has been adhered to.

Mr. Dubs

I am not suggesting that every rule has not been adhered to. I am suggesting that, if we can reach the Committee stage of a Bill without the necessary preliminary debate, discussion and scrutiny, although every rule of the House may have been adhered to technically, the real, proper process by which we subject legislation to debate and discussion is not taking place.

The fact is that most people were not aware that the measure was coming up for debate. If they had known, not withstanding the local elections yesterday, the House would not have been so empty. It was assumed that we would spend more time on the previous Bill and that we would not reach this point. The House and the country are effectively being taken unawares by the way in which this measure is being dealt with.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams

I have to object to the hon. Gentleman's line of argument. The Bill was on the Order Paper last Friday for all hon. Members, the Gallery and everybody else to see. I moved that it should have a Second Reading at a time when there were other hon. Members in the House. They could have objected had they chosen, under the long-standing procedures of the House. But not one Member chose to object, with the result that the Bill obtained a Second Reading, as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said, on the nod.

I did not propose that it should be committed to a Committee of the whole House, but with a one-clause Bill is it not really rather fatuous to insist that it has to be sent to a Committee upstairs, which would be appropriate for a longer and more detailed measure? I think that the whole Bill occupies less than about 40 lines. Surely, on a matter of broad general interest, hon. Members might well be glad to have the opportunity to intervene in the Committee stage which is offered when the Bill is taken on the Floor of the House but which is restricted when the Bill is committed to a group of 16 or 20 Members.

Every Member of the House could have been present here today to intervene on the Bill if he had so chosen, but I think the vast majority of Members support the Bill and those who have reservations about it are wise enough to keep them to themselves.

Mr. Dubs

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's line of argument. We all know what happens on Friday afternoons. This measure has been slipped though and I am sure that most Members do not realise that we are in the middle of the Committee stage of a Bill that we did not expect to reach today.

Dame Jill Knight

It was on the Order Paper.

Mr. Dubs

It is no use the hon. Lady saying that it was on the Order Paper. The fact remains that most hon. Members were not aware of it. There are masses of measures on the Order Paper every Friday. There are more than 20 on today's Order Paper. If the first 10 had been withdrawn and we had started making progress on the 11th everyone would have been astonished, as the hon. Lady well knows.

I do not suggest that any Member has not behaved absolutely properly. I am protesting that we are the victims of a procedure which is undemocratic in practice and denies Members the chance to debate a very important matter. I am perfectly aware that there is concern in our constituencies about this issue. Some of us would have liked to consult further on it, had that been possible. It was not possible because of the way in which we have arrived at debating this measure. I believe that the situation is wrong and undemocratic.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) said that the Bill had been subjected to scrutiny in another place, but that is no substitute for a proper debate in this House. Most of our constituents do not follow what goes on in the other House and have no access to Members of that House, so most of our constituents are prevented from making their views known if the only debate is in the other place. If ever there was an argument for abolishing the other House, it is the argument that because a matter has been discussed there we need not bother about it. That is an appallingly undemocratic attitude and I resent the argument by an elected Member of this House that Members of the other House, who are unelected and accountable to no one, have discussed the matter so we need not bother. We are caught in a situation in which we cannot give the measure proper scrutiny.

The Minister has said that the Government have three reservations about the Bill but that if the House wills it the measure will go through. That is not right either. We are dealing with an extremely important matter which goes to the heart of moral issues in this country and the way in which our children are educated. Whatever one's view— the hon. Member for Edgbaston surely believes in proper debate and discussion—it is wrong that we should be bulldozed on such a sensitive and difficult issue on the basis that it has been slipped through the House of Commons when only half a dozen Members were present, so it can just go through.

I resent that approach. It is wrong in principle, even if an election is called on Monday, to bulldoze a measure through in this way. It is possible that a majority might have supported it, but there is no way of putting the matter to the test. It has been an abuse of the procedures of the House to bypass normal democratic debate and discussion and I bitterly resent the fact that the House has been put in this position. There is no opportunity for a proper debate because the Benches are empty.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams

The hon. Gentleman is continuing to advance an argument which is really contrary to the whole tradition and procedures of the House. The fact that the Committee stage of the Bill was on the Order Paper for today was printed and was known to any hon. Member who chose to take an interest. Any hon. Member who wishes to take part in this Committee stage is able to do so now. I have noticed that there are not many hon. Members who wish to intervene in support of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. That is perhaps something that the hon. Gentleman should also take into account. If he feels that there are large numbers of hon. Members who would oppose the Bill had they appreciated that it was going to have its Committee stage today, would he be so kind as to enlighten us by giving us their names?

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Mr. Dubs

This is preposterous. The hon. Gentleman understands what I am saying. I have said that there should be proper debate. I have not ventured a single comment on the merits or demerits of the Bill. I have said that it is wrong in principle that we should not have the opportunity for a proper debate. We are being denied that opportunity. The Government have said that they wash their hands of the Bill and that someone else should decide. They think that there is no need for the Bill, but they are not prepared to do anything about it. That is quite wrong.

Dr. Boyson

I want to explain one point for the record. I did not say that I did not think that there was no need for the Bill. I said that, as the Bill stood, the Government may have certain reservations about certain points. However, we support the Bill and I certainly support it as an individual. We did not say that we did not think that there was no need for the Bill. There is a need for a measure to control homosexual and lesbian propaganda in schools. I will not be misinterpreted on that point.

Mr. Dubs

Fine. I hear what the Minister has said. Nevertheless, I listened very carefully to the Minister's comments. He went through the Bill and then said that he had to express three reservations on behalf of the Government. I accept fully his own personal position. However, he went through the reservations, which suggested to me that the Bill at this point was unnecessary because two other Bills will come pretty close to meeting the same aims. Therefore, it was not necessarily right in principle to have a third piece of legislation until we have had a chance to assess the effects of the other two. That is a pretty fair rendering of what the Minister said. Normally when we are bulldozed in this way, the Government would say that the Bill should make no further progress and we should consider the impact of the other two pieces of legislation first and then decide. That is the proper way in which a responsible House of Commons would legislate, not in the way that we are seeking to legislate today.

Dame Jill Knight

I remind the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) that earlier today he appeared to suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) the reverse to that procedure. He said that: he would be perfectly happy to skip the other Bills to reach the Bill that he is promoting or one of his hon. Friend's Bills. The hon. Member for Battersea must be consistent. There are rules to which we must all adhere. The hon. Member must not go in one direction in response to one Bill and another direction on a point of procedure.

Mr. Dubs

I have been perfectly consistent. Let me explain to the hon. Lady why I am being consistent. When I argued that there was a Bill standing in my name further down the list on the Order Paper, it must be understood that I was seeking a Second Reading debate for that Bill so that the House would be able to debate the basic principle of my Bill—

Dame Jill Knight

That is exactly the same.

Mr. Dubs

—after which the Bill would have gone to a Standing Committee for further discussion and scrutiny, as is proper.

Dame Jill Knight

Within the rules of the House, the hon. Member for Battersea is perfectly free to ask that his Bill be taken on the Floor of the House. Every hon. Member must consider the position and the date. Bearing in mind that full debates may have taken place in another place, every hon. Member is perfectly free to decide to have a debate on the Floor of the House, and the hon. Member for Battersea would have been free to make such a decision.

Mr. Dubs

I am not disputing the right of any hon. Member to make that decision, nor am I disputing the right of any hon. Member to use the small print of our Standing Orders to expedite business that they wish to further. Nevertheless, I also have the right to say on behalf of many other hon. Members that we resent the fact that we are being bulldozed in this way without an opportunity for debate.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams

Who are those hon. Members?

Mr. Dubs

It is no good the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) asking from a sedentary position who they are. It is disgraceful that an important Bill that affects the way in which our children are to be educated is to be debated without more than a handful of hon. Members present. Even the hon. Member for Edgbaston would surely not wish her Bill to progress without proper debate or discussion.

I resent one more thing. We have not had a chance to go to our constituencies and discuss some of the details with constituents who have raised those matters with us so that we can refer to them in the House. I did not know that the Bill would come up in this form; otherwise I should not be making these points. I am not alone in that. Had I known that, I should have been able to come to the debate with more examples, possibly even in support of what the hon. Member for Edgbaston said, or in contradiction of what she said. But, above all, I would have had the chance to speak to teachers and education authorities.

Technically, the Bill is about local government. The Minister had long experience in education before he came to the House, but there is no representative of the Department of Education and Science on the Government Front Bench. Instead, we have a Minister from the Department of the Environment. I understand why—it is a local government Bill—but the Bill is in fact about education. We are not approaching it as if it were about education, but we should. Then there would be Ministers from the Department of Education and Science and colleagues of mine on the Opposition Front Bench who speak on education, who could address properly and sensibly how best to deal with those difficult and sensitive areas in our schools. I am angry that we cannot do that.

There is not even the chance for a pause so that the House can reflect on those matters. We have to go rushing through with the measure. That is wrong in principle. I should like to ask you, Sir Paul, whether there is any way in which we can be protected from that procedure, which, although technically correct, in practice represents an abuse of hon. Members' rights.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean)

Let me try to help the hon. Gentleman and respond to his question. The proceedings are entirely in order, so I am afraid that there is nothing that I can do to assist him.

Mr. Dubs

I feared as much. I remember when a Bill was being rushed through at an earlier stage in the proceedings than the stage that we have now reached, and Mr. Deputy Speaker said from the Chair that Mr. Speaker did not like Bills being rushed through without an opportunity for proper debate. Although the example is not parallel, that is still the position.

Having made my protest—I feel strongly about that —I should like to refer to the debates in the other place. More than one hon. Member has said, "Well, the other place has debated it. That is all right. It was a full debate." However much publicity and attention were given to the Bill and its passage in the other place, there was not nearly as much as there would be if we were to debate it properly in the House of Commons. We all know that. Feelings run high on the issue, or the hon. Member for Edgbaston would not have called forth the examples that she gave in her speech. I am sure that some people would oppose the Bill and others would like to understand its details better and the implications.

Because feelings run high on the issue, it would have been right for public opinion to be made aware that we were debating the Bill today. Whatever excuses we have or do not have for looking at the small print or at the Order Paper for what might come up for debate today, the fact is that the public were not aware of that. I defy any hon. Member to say that a large number of his constituents realised that we would discuss the issue today and that he had letters urging him to take a particular view on the Bill in the debate this Friday. I am certain that not one hon. Member had such a letter or any representations from a constituent.

Therefore, we are proceeding without regard to our constituents and without the normal processes that allow us, in discussion and by listening to our constituents, which is a key part of our job, to come here with better knowledge and better information.

I should have liked more detailed discussion with education authorities. The Minister read something from the Inner London education authority. The hon. Member for Edgbaston read something from an education authority and the hon. Member for Kensington also read something that referred to one or two education authorities. However, we have not had a chance to listen to what the education authorities have to say.

If the education authorities had been aware that this Bill was to come before us, it is absolutely certain that they would have written to us to give us their views for and against the Bill. They would also have given us details and examples and we should have had a better informed debate then we are having at the moment. That has been denied to us and it is why I am resentful about the way in which we have approached this matter.

In her speech introducing the clause, which, after all, is virtually the totality of the Bill, the hon. Member for Edgbaston said a great deal about AIDS about which I must take issue with her. I concede that I am certainly not an expert on the subject, but I have listened to and read a certain amount about it, as we all have. I resent the hon. Lady's suggestion that there is such a clear link between AIDS and homosexuality and that heterosexuality hardly comes into the issue. It would have been helpful if a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Security had been here to clarify the matter.

I have not come equipped with all the evidence, documents or research that I have received. Quite frankly, I am not sure that the hon. Lady's comments were accurate. She suggested that we must not in any way—I am not sure whether she used the word "promote" but for the sake of example I shall quote from her Bill — "promote homosexuality" in schools, because of the likelihood that that would increase the chance of people getting AIDS. Is that a fair version of what the hon. Lady said?

Dame Jill Knight

Not really. I mentioned the various diseases which, sadly, are linked with homosexuality. I said that any venereologist would agree with that. I gave a long list of those diseases. I did not intend to speak about AIDS at length. It was the hon. Gentleman's intervention that led me to say a little more about that than I had intended. Our disagreement about this would clearly be settled if the hon. Gentleman would ask doctors about it. Serious diseases are linked with homosexuality but that was only one of a number of reasons why children should be protected from being taught that homosexuality is a way of life.

Mr. Dubs

The hon. lady is linking two rather different things. It is one thing to say that homosexuality is a way of life from which children should be protected—I shall come to that a little later—but it is another thing to assert, as I think she did, that somehow homosexuality means AIDS and that AIDS means homosexuality.

Dame Jill Knight

indicated assent.

Mr. Dubs

The hon. Lady is nodding, so that is what she is saying. However, I must say to her that, having seen her own Secretary of State for Social Services on television and having watched some of the educational and publicity programmes about AIDS, I am by no means convinced that the hon. Lady understands these matters as well as she claims.

Dame Jill Knight

Go and ask a doctor.

Mr. Dubs

It is no good the hon. Lady saying, "Go and ask a doctor," because doctors appeared on the television programmes. Some time ago the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health and Social Security spoke in one of the Committee rooms at a meeting in this Palace of Westminster to answer hon. Member's questions about AIDS. I have listened to doctors. I am not quite as ignorant as the hon. Lady suggests. She made the dangerous suggestion that AIDS affects only homosexuals and that heterosexuals are all right.

Dame Jill Knight

I did not say that.

Mr. Dubs

The hon. Lady came very close to saying that. I gave her three opportunities to put the record straight, but all that she has done is repeat her suggestion. I am happy to give the hon. Lady another chance. To put the matter in perspective, the hon. Lady came armed with information to pilot the Bill through the House and claimed that I was ignorant while she was knowledgeable. If she has all this knowledge, perhaps she would at least explain the matter. I believe that it is both wrong and dangerous to suggest that heterosexuals are not enormously at risk from AIDS.

1.15 pm

The publicity, information and statements from the Secretary of State and Ministers at the Department are based on the suggestion that there is an increasing risk of AIDS spreading through the heterosexual population. Not one hon. Member can deny that. We must be aware of that risk, as well as the risk to other groups, such as homosexuals and addicts who use infected needles. Those are the three main groups. One of the great dangers which prompted the Government to spend £20 million on publicity was the enormous risk of AIDS spreading through the heterosexual population. There is evidence from almost every country to that effect, so I do not see why the hon. Lady seeks to deny it.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Is the hon. Gentleman disputing the figures released by the DHSS, which show that so far well over 90 per cent. of deaths from AIDS have been among the homosexual community?

Mr. Dubs

I am not disputing the DHSS figures. I am not sure whether the figure is 90 per cent., but I take the hon. Gentleman's word for it. My point is that the risk to the heterosexual population of AIDS spreading is great. The hon. Lady suggested otherwise, and I was objecting to that.

This is not just a debating point on a Friday afternoon to be forgotten. The matter is serious because it affects our ability to educate all people about the risks, so that they know what the dangers are and can take appropriate action to minimise, reduce or prevent their catching AIDS. The Government have paid great attention to that, Ministers have appeared on television and the DHSS has produced many documents. There has been an enormous effort to educate the whole population about it and it is wrong to give a misleading impression, as the hon. Lady did.

I do not oppose the Bill, but I wish to express the anxieties which many people share. The hon. Lady spoke about promoting homosexuality. I am particularly anxious that we provide proper education about the danger of AIDS and I agree with the Government's efforts to publicise it. We may need more of them, and perhaps the Government started too slowly, but at least they are doing something. We must consider how we shall continue the education campaign against this dreadful disease and we must he careful that we do not inadvertently pass legislation which makes educating our children and young people more difficult. No hon. Member would dispute that. Indeed, in Committee on the Obscence Publications Bill, we were anxious that nothing in the Bill should prevent proper education about the risks that AIDS presents to all sectors of the population.

The hon. Lady also spoke about syphilis and one or two other diseases. Again, she suggested that they had close links with homosexual people. Unless I misheard, she did not add that syphilis can also affect heterosexual people. Indeed, I thought that the risks were about equal to both groups. She sought to confine her remarks about the risks of syphilis spreading to the homosexual population only.

That is misleading and wrong. After all, we are talking about legislation that has to do with how we educate our children. It has to do with education in our schools and about how health risks can properly be put to schoolchildren so that the risks and dangers to them can be minimised. The hon. Lady did not seem to pay much attention to that. Clause 1 states: A local authority shall not.— (a) promote homosexuality or publish material for the promotion of homosexuality;". I should like to ask a question about that. If I had had the opportunity, I would have put down amendments designed to probe more deeply into this matter. Are we quite certain that the phrase "promotion of homosexuality" will not prevent publicity about the risk of the spread of AIDS from homosexual behaviour? That is important in terms of educating our children.

Whether the hon. Lady likes it or not, it is not in dispute that about 10 per cent. of the male population are homosexual. I do not know how accurate that figure is, but it is one that is generally quoted. If that is the case, it is likely that in any class of schoolboys 10 per cent. of them will become homosexuals whether they want to or riot. That is the way in which physically and biologically they are developing. I am not aware of any medical opinion which disputes the basis of that.

The Minister spent a good part of his life teaching. I wonder whether we should not pay attention to the fact that in a class of boys about 10 per cent. are likely to develop as homosexuals. Is it not important that schools should publicise the risk of AIDS to those boys? If they are not taught about that, I do not see how we are doing right by the boys in our schools. I should like to see this issue properly debated. Some people may say that the promotion of homosexuality does not mean that, and that one can describe the risk of getting AIDS through homosexual behaviour while not promoting homosexuality. I do not now the answer to that question. If I had the answer and could be assured that that was not a problem, I could move on. However, while I have my doubts, I have to draw the attention of the House to that.

I am persuaded by medical opinion and by what the Government have said that in the AIDS epidemic we face one of the greatest health crises that has affected us, and indeed the world, for centuries. We must do nothing that minimises our ability to prevent this dreadful disease from spreading. Is this Bill likely to have that effect, or is it likely to hamper the right of teachers to give sex education that will explain these matters, consistent with the 1986 Act about which the Minister spoke? Perhaps he will explain that in a little more detail. That is one of my worries about the Bill.

My other worry about the Bill relates to what the Minister said about the sort of educational material that can be made available to schools and the rights of parents, governing bodies and teachers to decide together how these matters can be put over in schools. I should like to have a little more information about that. I appreciate that the Minister cannot speak on behalf of the Department of Education and Science, but I am quite sure that he is equipped to throw a little more light on the subject. My two main worries are, first, whether we are preventing the teaching of all students in schools about the dangers of AIDS and, secondly, about the general approach to sex education and how it will be affected by the Bill.

We cannot deny that homosexuality exists and that there must be some reference to it; otherwise we will send our young people out into the world not very knowledgeable. I repeat that, in the context of advertising and publicising the dangers of AIDS, we have gone some way towards doing that. I should like to believe that the Bill does not stop us going further in that direction.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 20, Noes Nil.

Division No. 159] [1.24 pm
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Shelton, William (Streatham)
Buck, Sir Antony Stanbrook, Ivor
Currie, Mrs Edwina Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Dykes, Hugh Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Wall, Sir Patrick
Lightbown, David Wiggin, Jerry
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Moynihan, Hon C. Tellers for the Ayes:
Neubert, Michael Sir Brandon Rhys Williams
Ridsdale, Sir Julian and Mr. Roger Sims.
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Alf Dubs.

Question accordingly agreed to.

It appearing on the report of the Division that fewer than forty Members had taken part in the Division, THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN declared that the Question was not decided, and left the Chair.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

declared that the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.

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