§ Lords amendment: No. 10, in page 28, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert—
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality
§ Read a Second time.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I beg to move amendment (e) to the Lords amendment, at end add'other than by any action undertaken for the purpose of discouraging discrimination against or protecting the civil rights of any person.'
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment (f) to the Lords amendment, at end add'except that nothing in this subsection shall prevent the provision of any service by a local authority to any person where that provision is necessary in the view of the authority for a purpose other than that prohibited by this subsection.'
§ Dr. Cunningham
Welcome though the Lords amendments are, frankly, they are simply not good enough to satisfy our remaining fundamental objections to the clause.
Before I refer to the amendments in detail, I reiterate our view of the major issues that are involved in this clause. The clause affects all local government, all education services, and the arts and library services of our country. It has caused a storm of protest, and understandably so. Here we are dealing with fundamental issues of principle. It is not just a provision to ensure neutrality on homosexuality. Much more than that is at stake. Indeed, everyone's right to information and the arts, the rights of minorities, the way in which a free society is tolerant of diversity, the way in which a free society organises itself, the way in which minorities are protected' in a free and plural democratic society are at the heart of our objections to the provisions of clause 28.
We are confronted here with issues of people's civil rights and individual freedoms. We are confronted here with the possibility of an extension of censorship, either deliberately or by default. That is why the Arts Council of Great Britain has been so active in opposing the provisions of the clause, arguing, as we do, the severe risk that prohibition on "promoting" homosexuality will prohibit almost any literary or artistic activity that has an element of homosexuality within it.
The provisions set a dangerous precedent. The clause represents a new and inherently dangerous direction for the law to take. It breaches an important principle of equality before the law, for minorities to seek to advance their own lawful interests, that could in future be extended to other people.
Whatever the Minister says about our amendments and the issues, I hope that he will give the House an assurance, a promise on the record, that the provisions will not be 371 extended to other public bodies and activities — for example, broadcasting and the Arts Council — which could in future be prohibited on much the same grounds and arguments that could lead to further censorship. I hope that the Minister will make it absolutely clear that the Government have no intention to go further in that direction.
The proposals set a dangerous precedent, because they seek to control what is taught in the classroom, not directly through an education Act, but indirectly by restrictions on the provision of books or other materials that are not themselves prohibited by law. The proposals will encourage discrimination. It is impossible to accept any other construction when the civil rights of homosexuals are already under increased threat and hostility because of the appalling consequences of AIDS. We and many other organisations, including the National Council for Civil Liberties, believe that there is an even greater need to educate and inform and to protect people's equal rights. Whatever is the intention of the supporters of the clause, its impact can only be regressive. Local authorities will have to play safe. They may have to refuse to take any risk in an area that may appear to assist homosexual people, or possibly show them in a favourable light.
The proposals provide an excuse to discriminate against gay and lesbian people. Just as the Sex Discrimination Act 1986 and the Race Relations Act 1976 make it less acceptable to discriminate against women and ethnic minorities, this clause will have the reverse effect and will make it more respectable to discriminate against gay and lesbian people.
These are major and fundamental reasons why further amendments to the clause are necessary. As it stands, it will be bad law, because it is dangerously imprecise in drafting and open to wide and varied, differing interpretation. Take the key words — "promote", "homosexuality" and "acceptability". None of them is defined. As they stand in the Bill at present, they have no fixed meaning. Organisations outside the House and, for that matter, my hon. Friends, others and I have legal opinions almost by the dozen from senior counsel, saying that anything that is published or done in respect of homosexuality could be said to promote it. We need look no further than those legal opinions for reasons why the House should not accept the clause as it stands. The Government amendments to the local authorities' intention do not substantially alter the impact of the clause. It is still dependent upon how the word "promote" is interpreted.
The Government opposed a similar clause in 1986. There has been no explanation from Ministers of why, one year later, they have changed their minds on this matter. There has been no explanation, no argument and no evidence for the about-face by Ministers. There has been no attempt to answer those questions. The Government opposed identical proposals in 1986 specifically because Ministers argued that those proposals were open to harmful misinterpretation. The Government were saying that a year ago. We said it too, but we are saying the same thing now. Why have the Government changed their position?
I believe that they have done so for the basest and most contemptible political motives. I believe that they have done so because they seek some political gain from aiding 372 and abetting bigotry and discrimination against gay and lesbian people. In the absence of any other explanation, that is bound to be the conclusion that people will reach, inside and outside the House. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) wishes to intervene, I am happy to give way to him or to his hon. Friend who is making so much noise from a sedentary position, but does not have the guts to stand up and say publicly what he is muttering in private.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
What the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is saying is totally contemptible to democracy. He is saying that the Government should not pay the slightest bit of attention to popular feeling on this issue and that, in his opinion, the population at large is bigoted. I should like him to withdraw that.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I said no such thing. I was saying that the Government were bigoted and were seeking to encourage bigotry—which, unlike the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), I do not believe is a trait displayed by the majority of people in Britain. On the contrary, I think that the majority of people are decent and civilised in their approach to these matters, as we ought to be in any plural democratic society.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
This is a very important point. The hon. Gentleman expressed an attitude of principle. He identified what he calls gay and lesbian people, but he must do the House the duty of saying to what extent he regards perversion in any psychopathological form as wrong. There is no question at all that homosexuality in either sex is psychopathological perversion.
§ Dr. Cunningham
Many people, in particular homosexual people, will find the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) deeply offensive. Apparently, he fails to recognise the reality of different people's sexual orientation. His intervention shows that he is portraying the very characteristic about which I was complaining among Ministers. He is showing a form of bigotry about these issues which has no place in our debates.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
It is honourable that the hon. Gentleman has given way again, but it is not simply a question of different orientation. Sadism and masochism are not just orientations of human conduct; they are psychopathological manifestations of morbid conduct—and homosexuality is the same.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I regret having given way to the hon. and learned Gentleman again. He has just repeated something which I think is totally unacceptable and, frankly, also wrong.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
The hon. Gentleman talked about the Government changing their mind. Will he help the House by explaining why he supported what was then clause 27 in Standing Committee? He said:I shall vote for the amendment and I hope and expect that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do the same.In regard to the ban on the promotion of homosexuality he said:We do not wish to change that in any way, shape or form.
§ Dr. Cunningham
If the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) were to read all of what I said, he would see that I went on to say:it is not, and never has been,nor do we expect or want it to bethe duty … of any local authority to promote homosexuality."ߞ [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8 December 1987; c. 1211–14.]No one is asking for that. Gay and lesbian people do not want that.
Since the hon. Gentleman was talking about the record, perhaps he will also acknowledge, as I am sure he knows, that I said in Committee on behalf of my hon. Friends in response to something produced at a very short notice in the Committee that we were fundamentally opposed to some of the provisions of this clause and we would seek to amend it drastically on Report.
That is what we tried to do, with the greatest support from outside the House. The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends voted down those very wide-ranging amendments. We are now presenting the House with yet another opportunity to do exactly that today. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, having reflected on it, will take a different view now from the one that he took at the time.
We oppose the proposals because the prohibition on promoting homosexuality covers any and every activity in which a local authority engages in furtherance of its duties and responsibilities.
It is not an abuse for local authorities to recognise the existence of a minority in their communities. Estimates suggest that 10 per cent. of the adult population in Britain may be gay or lesbian people. It is not an abuse for a local authority to devote — as some do quite properly — relatively small resource allocations to meet the legitimate needs of those minorities. That is not an abuse. It is a perfectly proper thing for local authorities to do, and should be acceptable in a civilised society.
As we have argued before, the teaching of children in school and other places of education also could be adversely affected by the proposals, as could essential activities such as the counselling of young people because of their own sexuality or that of their parents.
Amendment No. 10 was said to be moved by the Government in the other place to clarify the Government's position on what was meant by "intentionally promoting homosexuality", although, as I have argued, the meaning of those words is still unclear. The amendment introduces some limitation, however minor, on the concept. As I said, we certainly will not oppose it, but it simply does not go far enough. Other Government amendments accepted in the other place make explicit reference in subsection (1)(b) to the publication of material, and further reference to "financial or other assistance" for the purposes of promotion are welcome in so far as they go, but they do not remove the fundamental objections.
Amendment No. 12 is simply a declarity, in that it states that a court shall draw such inferences from evidence before it as it sees fit. That does not seem to move the debate on at all.
The amendments tabled in my name and in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition deal with the issues of civil rights and the provision of services for a purpose other than the promotion of homosexuality. I am grateful that they have been selected for debate.
374 I do not want to be too unkind to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) as we are probably speaking on the same side of the argument—[Interruption.] Well, I welcome the fact that we are on the same side on an important issue of civil liberties. I suppose that he must somewhat regret his comments that were published in The Independent this morning—although perhaps, like me, he was not consulted by the journalist who wrote the article in the first place. However, I am grateful that we are on the same side of the argument in this debate.
The amendment, inserted by the Government on Report in the House of Lords, does not go far enough. Amendment (e) would qualify the prohibition on the promotion of homosexuality in relation toany action undertaken for the purpose of discouraging discrimination against or protecting the civil rights of any person.It is an important amendment, pointing to a serious practical difficulty which has still not been resolved either by the Government or by the House of Lords.
Amendment (f), which is also tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and myself, goes even further. It would deal directly with the question of a service provided for a purpose other than "the promotion of homosexuality", which, under the clause, would risk falling within the prohibition. The amendment provides that where a service is provided for another purpose and where the provision is necessary to meet a need within the community, it should fall outside the terms of reference of the clause.
The amendment seeks to highlight the areas of activity that are undertaken as part of a council's provision which might be thought to have an indirect consequence in the terms of the clause. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Northampton, North is muttering again. I hope that he will participate in the debate and put his views on the record. I am trying to explain to him the purpose of our amendments. If he has something to say, I hope that he will try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The fact is that the Government, at least privately—they do not have the courage to say so publicly—must be deeply regretting ever having given way to the pressures to embark on this legislation in the first place. There have been many debates in both Houses, and debates and demonstrations around the country, illustrating not only the depth of opposition to this proposal, but the deep concern that is felt by many people in all walks of life, including people way beyond the boundaries of the Labour party or, indeed, any other political party.
I make it clear that we do not support the intentions of the clause. The motives and implications behind it are deeply to be deplored. It should not be accepted by Parliament. I make it absolutely clear that a future Labour Government would not allow the implications and provisions of the clause to remain on the statute book.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
I have listened to our previous debates in the Chamber and suspect that I have read as widely as any hon. Member on this issue both since and during our proceedings. I did not support the clause originally and all that I have subsequently seen has not ultimately persuaded me to change my mind. Amendments (e) and (f) that were moved earlier, by the hon. Member deserve support.
I begin on a point on which I hope that I can unite hon. Members. I recognise, as I think do all hon. Members, the 375 importance of protecting our children from evil influences, however defined. I speak as someone who has two teenage children of my own, so I have a little knowledge of what is involved. However, the permutations of wording through which this House and the other place have gone have not persuaded me that we have either justified the need for the clause or that the wording that we have produced is other than a minefield, awaiting exploitation by scores of lawyers in years to come. I do not know whether "promotion" means "talking about", or "selling the advantages of", to take but two possible interpretations. Undoubtedly, hon. Members could provide many more.
I speak as one of the honorary vice-presidents of the Conservative group for homosexual equality. We want to put forward four brief points. I hope that if my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government cannot answer them during the debate, he will at least take account of them. They relate to the question, "What is 'promoting homosexuality'?" First, if a local authority assisted a well-run counselling service to help homosexuals to come to terms with their sexuality and to cope with the consequences that many experience, is that "promoting homosexuality"? Secondly, if a local authority allowed a homosexual organisation to hire a room in one of its buildings for a public meeting on the same terms as any other organisation — I am referring to law-abiding citizens—is that "promoting homosexuality"? Thirdly, if a local authority bought for its public libraries books that discussed homosexual love favourably or presented sympathetically the lives of homosexuals such as the late Lord Britten and Sir Peter Pears, is that "promoting homosexuality"? Fourthly, if sex education classes presented homosexuality in a balanced way, as required by the Department of Education and Science under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, is that "promoting homosexuality"?
§ Mr. Squire
From a sedentary position, my hon. Friend says "yes", and in that case we have a slight problem of conflict with the law.
I have mentioned that I have two children. I happen to think that the teaching of sexuality of any sort does not belong in school. I believe that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) made some comment to that effect in our earlier exchange. I agree completely that school is not the place for that sort of thing. However, it is the place for teaching an honest and balanced approach to this subject just as to any other.
In one of our national newspapers today—the most well-read one—there is a cartoon portraying a middle-aged man retiring through the front door of his house, leaving his son, who is drawn effeminately, hanging by a rope from a lamp post, having clearly been hanged or attempted to be hanged. I put to one side those people who may find the subject funny — presumably that is why they drew a cartoon—because that is not the point that I want to make. In my constituency, I probably have a substantial minority of law-abiding, God-fearing Roman Catholics—I suspect a proportion similar to the number of homosexuals and lesbians—
§ Mr. Squire
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished my point.
If it were suggested that a cartoon be drawn, portraying either some militant Protestant group stringing up some Roman Catholic, or the other way round — some Roman Catholic stringing up an identified Protestant—we would be outraged and would raise that issue on the Floor of the House saying, "This is disgraceful." As a further example—again it is an obvious one—if we were even contemplating similar action from somebody of one colour against somebody of another colour, who is another law-abiding citizen we would again be horrified. The person responsible would be in breach of the law, as I understand it, because they would be accused of inciting racial prejudice. I remind hon. Members that we are talking about a law-abiding minority.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the cartoon by Franklin in The Sun and which I have referred to the Press Council. If the hon. Gentleman is seeking to make a parallel with that cartoon, I suggest he looks at Der Angrif—a German newspaper that was produced by Julius Streicher, the Jew-baiter, in Nazi Germany. I believe that Franklin bases his cartooning models upon that newspaper.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)
I go along with what my hon. Friend says and I share his disgust at the cartoon in The Sun. Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the reason for such a cartoon appearing in a national newspaper, which is read by millions, is the aggressive proselytising by some local authorities on behalf of homosexuals? That has tended to disgust the vast majority of British people.
§ Mr. Squire
I appreciate that my hon. Friend's concern is shared by several of my colleagues and it is important. However, in our discussions on this matter and in our attempts to extract evidence, it appears that most of that evidence arises from one book, in one teacher centre, in one school under one authority. I may be wrong, but I have seen no other evidence. Indeed, as I understand it, that book was kept to help teachers who are occasionally asked to advise pupils who come from homes with gay parents. It is important to realise that we do not live in a world where every child lives with a male and female parent.
§ Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)
My hon. Friend has asked for examples and perhaps I can assist. I have in my hand a leaflet that was handed out to 15-year-olds at a Bristol school. I will not read out the details of that leaflet because I do not think that I should—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] Opposition Members may want that, but suffice to say that the leaflet describes and illustrates homosexual activity and underneath that description says:Go for it! Share the pleasure with a friend.That was handed out to 15-year-olds at a school in Bristol—[HON. MEMBERS: "By whom?"] The Terrence Higgins trust.
§ Mr. Squire
I can only take at face value what my hon. Friend has said. Of course, it is deplorable and despicable that such leaflets exist and I would be happy to add it to my list of one. From a brief glance at that leaflet I cannot 377 believe that it has been produced by or on behalf of a local authority. I shall pass it over to the hon. Member for Copeland and I will happily give way if he can tell me who is credited with producing it.
§ Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I am concerned that it appears that my hon. Friend has not read any of the debates that have previously taken place. For instance, on 11 January the debate in the other place drew attention to the fact that children under two have had access to gay and lesbian books in Lambeth play centres.
§ Dame Jill Knight
I am not telling lies and I do not believe that it is the practice in this House for one who has intervened to give way again. I am quoting from the House of Lords debateߞ
§ Dame Jill Knight
The person in charge, Mrs. Jill Delaney, playleader of the Windmill gardens play centre, said:We have been on training courses where members have access to take this kind of literature into the playgroups but nearly everyone refused. Some of the books on display were terrible. I have children in here as young as 2 years old and I don't think they should be seeing pictures of grown men in the nude in different sexual practices." [Official Report, House of Lords, 11 January 1988; Vol. 491, c. 10131]
§ Mr. Squire
I cannot respond to that specific point because I do not come from Lambeth and I have not seen the literature about which my hon. Friend complains.
§ Mr. Squire
There is a queue forming.
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), I understand that that charge has been denied in more than one quarter. However, I must leave it to other hon. Members who come from that area to confirm or deny that charge. If my hon. Friend is correct, I share her unease that such literature is available to young children. I recognise the importance of protecting young children and the need to do so.
Tonight we are trying to establish the need for the clause as drafted and to what extent the wording of the clause may influence other perfectly normal law-abiding citizens.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I believe that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) should get his facts right. There is no information on the leaflet that he brandished as to who was responsible for its publication or distribution. I believe that the hon. Gentleman should be more accurate and precise in his allegations regarding such sensitive matters.
§ Mr. Squire
I almost feel that there are two debates going on and I apologise to the extent that I have caused that.
§ Mr. Squire
I am anxious to make some progress because I am aware that a number of other hon. Members wish to take part.
§ Mr. Fraser
I represent Lambeth and my wife is a nursery nurse in the borough. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support the monstrous allegation that has been made by the hon. Member for Birmingham Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) who, presumably, is strongly in favour of the promotion of heterosexuality, adultery, troilism arid all the rest of it as opposed to the promotion of homosexuality, about which she is extremely economic with the truth.
§ Mr. Squire
I must press on. I am satisfied that there has been some balance put forward for the Lambeth subculture.
Over the years there has been considerable scientific discussion about the extent to which people can be persuaded to adopt a sexuality that is not their own. In the overwhelming majority of cases it seems that people are born with a particular sexual preference or acquire it during the passage of their lives without the presence of the influences we are discussing. There are many famous examples in history of people who became homosexuals without the benefit of a gay counselling group ߞ we would be foolish to assume that such groups are an absolute essential.
As I have said, I have two teenage children and my wife is a former teacher. In her experience, the suggestion that one can address an average or even below average group of teenagers seeking to proselytise and expect to be heard sympathetically is unrealistic.
There has been much overstatement from both sides about the effect of the clause. It has been suggested that some great works of art, great books and great plays that have been performed for scores of years ߞ including during the time when homosexuality was illegal ߞ are threatened. I doubt that. However, it is possible that the clause as drawn, even with the beneficial effects of amendments (e) and (f), will be taken as some sort of signal by a large number of people that society is becoming more intolerant. I remind the House for the last time that we are talking about a law-abiding minority of people. If people break the law, they must be punished through all the avenues available. I do not wish to see my children threatened by sexual or other aggression, but I want to keep a sense of perspective and I very much fear that the clause goes much further than was ever intended.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
Three months ago I rose to express my distress and disquiet at the sudden appearance of what was then clause 27 of the Local Government Bill. I had hoped that in the intervening months a degree of common sense and decency might have crept into the Government's thinking and that we might now be applauding their decision to withdraw the clause in its entirety from the Bill and to reject everything that it stands for. Sadly, that is not the case. At the Government's behest, their Lordships have made two changes to the clause. Lords amendment No. 11 brings a marginal improvement. Lords amendment No. 12 inserts the idea of intentionalityߞof itself not an objectionable 379 move, but, when qualified with such a sweeping catch-all definition of intention, leaving interpretation totally to the courts, it does nothing to allay the genuine fears that the clause has aroused throughout the country.
The amendments have left untouched the central flaw at the heart of the clause — the undefined, hopelessly vague and dangerously widely interpretable word "promote". The amendments in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends attempt to circumscribe that word to a certain extent. That is why I support them. If the amendments tabled by the Liberal party are put to the vote, I shall not support them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not selected."] I am pleased to hear it, because they would have made matters worse.
Three months ago I asked what on earth the originators of the clause meant by the word "promote". After three months of debate and discussion in this Chamber, in the other place, on the radio and television and on platforms up and down the country, that question still remains unanswered. All that we had in the intervening period were statements such as, "Well, we all know what we mean by 'promote', don't we?" or, "We all know that boroughs like Haringey are up to no good," or, "Of course, there will be no threat to sensible acceptable activities conducted by local authorities." None of those statements represents an accurate analysis of what the word "promote" can be interpreted as meaning by the courts. It is not good enough for the Minister to write to me, as he generously did after the debate before Christmas, to say that in his view none of the activities that I had listed as potentially unlawful under the clause would be caught by it. It is not up to the Minister to interpret what the word "promote" means; it is up to the courts.
After reading through many pages of the House of Lords Hansard, the only attempt at a definition that I could find — in all the many hours of debate — came from the Earl of Caithness, who is the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Water. He referred to local authorities that have in the recent past promoted homosexuality—that is, giving it a standing over and above the standing that is given to similar matters."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 February 1988; Vol. 492, c. 937.]If I were in the business of writing a dictionary, I would certainly not go to the noble Lord for clarity of definition. Such an attempt to define what the word "promote" means takes us no further.
Because of that lack of definition, the central problem remains. The clause will potentially affect any service provided by any local authority for, or on behalf of, or in support of, gays and lesbians in that local authority's area. Let me take just two examples to illustrate my point. First, let us suppose that a teenager begins to discover that he is gay. He feels nervous, upset and isolated. He may be on the verge of contemplating suicide, as the studies suggest many such young people are. Because he would find it difficult to turn to anyone else, he turns to a teacher at his school. He asks, "What on earth is all this about?" In such circumstances, any teacher worth his salt would sit the pupil down and say, "Look, there is nothing at all to be worried about. This is perfectly acceptable. There are millions of people who are gay and they make a valuable 380 contribution to society. There is no reason for you to feel isolated or abnormal about what you are and what you are feeling." That teacher would attempt to advise and counsel and make the teenager feel better about himself and about what he was coming to understand about himself. Would such a teacher be in contravention of the clause? As I understand the clause — certainly as I understand the wishes of those who brought the clause forward—such a teacher would, indeed, be contravening the clause. That means that the important advice and counselling that ought to be available to that very concerned, very scared, teenager will not be available to him. That worries me deeply.
My second example relates to a local authority-owned art gallery wishing to sponsor an exhibition of paintings by David Hockney. I choose the painter advisedly because of what he has said forcefully in recent days. The local authority will fear that it risks being in contravention of clause 28, not simply because David Hockney happens to be gay, but because David Hockney's paintings frequently celebrate the fact that he is gay. That is the key point that will concern a local authority when it is considering whether to mount an exhibition of paintings by one of Britain's greatest artists. I believe that the way in which the clause will be interpreted moves us a step closer to censorship of the arts because that is how it is likely to affect local authorities. I have given just two of many examples.
§ Mr. Neil Hamilton
For many years we have had a law—in statute, and before that in common law—against indecent displays and obscenity. The hon. Gentleman will know that a great many art galleries in this country contain classical paintings of great distinction depicting scenes of sexual violence and what many people might call depravity. Does he know of any prosecutions—under common law or statute law—that have taken place for contraventions of that law?
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman makes two mistakes. The first mistake is that the law on matters that are obscene and indecent specifically includes artistic and literary merit as a defence in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. There is no such defence in clauses 28 and 29. Lord Boyd-Carpenter explicitly stated in another place that the artistic element would not be a defence if a prosecution were brought under this clause if it continues to be part of the Bill and if the Bill is enacted.
The hon. Gentleman's second mistake is that exhibitions of paintings of the sort that I have described might conceivably be prosecutable under the 1959 Act. That measure can be used to bring prosecutions for matters that are obscene and indecent. If the hon. Gentleman is supporting the clause and its inclusion in our body of law, he is wishing to tighten the law on obscenity further to restrict the definition of obscene and indecent. I suggest that this is the wrong place to do that. If he is taking that approach, he is adopting the wrong course.
I have given two examples of the practical, potential implications of the clause. In many ways it will make life worse for teachers, administrators, pupils, artists and librarians. It will have that effect on hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens. It will make life richer for some lawyers and a handful of bigots who want to use the 381 law to their own advantage. To such depths, in the desire of populist advantage, is it sought to drag the Government, a Government who should know better.
More enraging and distressing by far than the practical implications of the clause are the motives that underly it. These motives have not been changed one bit by the amendments that have been tabled in the other place. They remain profoundly undemocratic, anti-libertarian and destructive of all the traditions of tolerance for which this country used to stand.
The proponents of the clause have been saying persistently throughout the country that there is only one form of relationship, one form of sexuality and one form of lifestyle that is acceptable. That form of sexuality will be endorsed, approved, applauded and given enhanced legal status, and everything else will become second-class. It is a view which refuses to recognise the difference, the diversity and the very richness of human life and human society. It is intolerant, immature and undemocratic, and I venture to assert that it is profoundly immoral.
William Shakespeare wrote a major speech as part of a collaborative play about the life of Sir Thomas More. In that play, the king sent out. Sir Thomas More to meet the mob that wishes to drive out the strangers from its midst—the immigrants, the black people, the gays and the lesbians. Sir Thomas More goes out to meet the crowd. He tries to persuade it that it is wrong to drive out strangers and that it might not be in its interests to do so. Shakespeare has Sir Thomas More saying:Graunt them remoued, and graunt that this your noyce
Hath chidd downe all the maiestic of Ingland;
Ymagin that you see the wretched straingers,
Their babyes at their backes and their poor lugage,
Plodding tooth ports and costes for transportacion,
Aud that you sytt as kinges in your desyres,
Aucthoryty quyte sylenct by your braule,
And you in ruff of your opynions clothd;
What had you gott? Ile tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand shoold preuayle,
How ordere shoold be quelld; and by this patterne
Not on of you shoold lyue an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With sealf same hand, sealf reasons, and sealf right,
Woold shark on you, and men lyke rauenous fishes
Woold feed on on another. That is the sort of society that I do not wish to see in this country. It is the sort of society that the progenitors of the clause will bring about. It is a society in which there is one form of acceptable existence, a society in which everything else is second-rate and second-class.
I said three months ago that true morality and true decency mean accepting and celebrating diversity and being tolerant of the fact that everyone, no matter who or what he is, is entitled to live and lead his own life. That is what I shall continue to stand for in the House. I dearly hope that the House will reject the clause and support at the very least the amendments that stand in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It seems sensible and for the benefit of the House if I allow the debate on the amendment to touch upon matters that are covered by other Lords amendments. I remind the House, however, that we are not debating whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
If I may say so, I do not think that the clause will enrich lawyers. There is one fundamental matter that the House should understand and say. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has said, homosexuality is not one of the paths of sexual expression which diversify and enrich human experience. In male homosexuality — homos in Greek meaning "the same" and homo in Latin meaning "man" — there is a perversion of a human function. It is using the excretory anus and rectum with a reproductive organ. That might in itself give us pause, but anyone who comprehends the deep libidinal and psychological orgins of male and female homosexuality should understand that it is a major and unnatural perversion.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I shall give way in a moment.
There are other perversions. As a lawyer who has practised at the criminal Bar, I have met many psychopaths. I have met also many bank robbers. I have met people with all sorts of perversion, who decide either to indulge in them or to refrain from them. It is ill in a debate on the education of children that the concept of the indulgence of deeply seated character perversions should be regarded as a mere alternative. If it is a mere alternative, aggression and sadism are merely parts of the diversity of human experience.
To take up the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, let us consider the small child who goes to his teacher and says, "I have an urge to shoplift. I feel isolated because people tell me that there is something abnormal and wrong about shoplifting." The teacher says, "You must not feel isolated, dear boy. It is just another manifestation of the glorious diversity of human behaviour. So be at home and worry not. There is no morality." I have not heard the words "right", "wrong", "good" or "bad" in the speeches of those who object to the promotion that is to be forbidden under the clause.
§ Mr. Holland
The hon. and learned Gentleman is concerned about corruption of the young. He has quoted Greek and has challenged whether things are right or wrong. Does he think that it was right that Socrates should have been prosecuted for corrupting the young? Does he also think it right that hemlock should have been the punishment?
§ Mr. Fairbairn
It is not a question of yes or no. It is a question of yes or no that Socrates, in corrupting the young, was guilty of a criminal offence. Eventually, the glories of Greece and Athens and their philosophy were smothered and corrupted by the very matter which he spread, as indeed Rome was as well. I do not want to take as long as Gibbon took to write "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire".
Let us be clear about this. Leonardo da Vinci was a homosexual. So was Peter Pears. The fact that a person has this morbid squint is not a reason to condemn him for all else that he does. In wartime, lots of people indulge instincts of aggression and sadism which they keep in 383 control if they are not given the opportunity to exercise them. I have appeared in capital cases for many people who failed to keep those sentiments in check. But that is not an alternative of the diversity of the expression of psychosexual activity which—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) may laugh, but he should understand what motivates people who want to shoot, kill, stab, hit children or be aggressive. [Interruption] Opposition Members may laugh but a simple message should go out from the House. Sodomy and buggery are not natural alternative sexual acts. They are perversions. They result from deep-seated psychopathological perversion. The House should not be seen to say that it is as right to be wrong as it is wrong to be right.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
I would not like to follow the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) too far, but I can think of nothing more psychopathologically sick than to devote one's life to the pursuit of those who follow practices which the hon. and learned Gentleman finds undesirable and to incite the public to hate them. The hon. and learned Gentleman is not a psychiatrist and neither am I. The only reading which I can make of his speech is that he has revealed what many people would regard as a genuine sickness which could do damage to others.
I have never spoken before in the House on this subject, but I am moved to do so by growing alarm at the effect that the clause would have upon millions of people and not only upon those who are gay or lesbian, for their relatives have a concern for them and know that this campaign has been whipped up by the gutter press which has done more to lower the standard of personal and public morality than any others in modern British society.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer and I am not, but I think that the cartoon in The Sun today is an incitement to violence, if not to murder. Those who advocate policies which have that consequence, in collaboration with proprietors who believe that they can increase their circulation by conducting those campaigns, share the moral responsibility for what will flow from them.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. Let us take many people in history. Let us take Oscar Wilde, one of our greatest playwrights and one of the greatest users of the English language. Let us take Lawrence of Arabia. Many people are homosexual. That is absolutely no criticism of them as people. We are not discussing that. What we are discussing is whether or not a local authority should try to persuade people that if they are homosexual they might be Oscar Wilde.
§ Mr. Benn
When the hon. and learned Gentleman reads his speech, I think he will realise that each intervention makes it worse. If it is wrong for local authorities to promote homosexuality, why is it not wrong for anyone to promote it?
I admired the speech of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire). If local authorities cannot do something which will be covered by the clause, the next stage will be that no one can. Every leaflet, every pamphlet, every play and every book would be considered 384 on the basis of whether it put forward a psychopathological condition if we accept the view of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross.
I believe that the pursuit of people who are gay and lesbian is as morbid as could be imagined. It is one thing for the popular press, the sewer press, to pursue such a campaign, but for a Government who have responsibility for the education of children to adopt that campaign and to make it part of the statute of the land can only be interpreted as the crudest opportunism for political purposes. That is my conviction. The effect of it is to scapegoat gays and lesbians. Whatever may be said in the House by Ministers, the courts will not take into account assurances by Ministers. The courts take account only of the wording of legislation.
This is the most blatantly and dishonestly worded clause that I have ever come across. I shall tell the House why. If the sense of the word "promote" can be read across from "describe", every murder play promotes murder, every war play promotes war, every drama involving the eternal triangle promotes adultery; and Mr. Richard Branson's condom campaign promotes fornication. The House had better be very careful before it gives to judges, who come from a narrow section of society, the power to interpret "promote".
The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross used vivid language, which no doubt will guarantee him a place in The Sun tomorrow. [Interruption.] Of course it will; he knows it well. He is expert at getting himself into the newspapers on sexual matters. I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that some of the most horrific sexual crimes are crimes within a heterosexual context. That is so with many rapes and much mutilation, which is promoted in videos and films. These show the crime of one person against another, not the love of one person for another.
To identify homosexual and gay relationships specially as contributing to crime is to fly in the face of all the evidence that as there is more heterosexual sexual activity, more crime is associated with it than with gay and lesbian relationships.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
a: I did not suggest that homosexuality produced crime. However, as the right hon. Gentleman has said that I am good at getting into the papers on sexual matters, will he be good enough to tell me Fiona Fullerton's telephone number?
§ Mr. Benn
Since the clause first appeared, I have received many letters from people who are gays and lesbians who are in genuine fear for their safety and for their lives. Any hon. Member who is interested in civil liberties will be aware that the harassment of gays and lesbians, first initiated by the sewer press and now by the clause for which the Government are responsible, is a major problem. People are afraid of the legislation and of the effect of the Government's endorsement of this scapegoating.
I wondered how I could best contribute to the debate and give my testimony against the clause. I have decided to read to the House in full the resolution on lesbian and gay rights carried by the Labour party conference two and a half years ago. I have sent copies of this resolution to the 385 people who wrote to me. I want to read it out and put on the record the resolution that was passed at the Labour party conference by a majority of more than half a million. The resolution states:This Conference opposes all discrimination against lesbians and gay men and recognises that this discrimination is institutionalised in society. Conference notes that existing Labour Party policy with regard to homosexuality fails to meet the legitimate demands of lesbians and gay men and that a consistent and principled campaign conducted over a number of years is necessary to reverse that failure. Conference therefore:(1) instructs the NEC to draft a lesbian and gay rights policy which would specifically:
- (a) declare that lesbian and gay relationships and acts are not contrary to the public policy of the law and that judges must not use their discretion under Common Law to invent new and discriminatory offences;
- (b) repeal all criminal laws which discriminate against lesbians and gay men, and clarify and codify those sections of the Common Law which deal with public morality;
- (c) in this clarification they should be guided by the maxim that there should be no crimes without victims;
- (d) prohibit discrimination against lesbians and gay men in child custody cases;
- (e) prohibit discrimination and unfair dismissals on grounds in any way connected with lesbian and gay sexuality or life-style;
- (f) prevent police harassment of lesbians and gay men.(2) Calls upon "—this is relevant to the Bill—all Labour local authorities to adopt practices and policy to prevent discrimination against lesbians and gay men, and in particular:
- (a) adopt and enforce equal opportunities in relation to lesbians and gay men along the same lines as Islington, Hackney, GLC, Manchester, Brent and Nottingham;
- (b) end discrimination against single people and lesbians and gay men in housing policies;
- (c) support financially and otherwise special lesbian and gay phone lines, centres and youth groups;
- (d) publicise these anti-discrimination policies.(3) Instructs the NEC to
- (a) organise a campaign of education among Labour Party trade union membership on lesbian and gay oppression in conjunction with the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights;
- (b) produce a leaflet for public campaign using the slogan 'the Labour Party support lesbian and gay rights—join the Labour Party'.(4) Instructs the NEC to set up a sub-committee to organise the implementation of this policy.That resolution was carried under our voting system with 3,395,000 voting for and 2,805,000 voting against. Conservative Members may laugh, but the Labour party conference reaches decisions. It does not simply give ovations to the leader who drafts the policy.
Every Labour Member of Parliament was elected knowing the resolution on lesbian and gay rights reached at the Labour party conference. Tory Members, the artificial psychiatrists and people with prejudices can laugh as much as they like. The day will come when people will look back on this debate and be glad that there were hon. Members on both sides of the House who stood against what is an incitement to harass decent people, who, in the course of their orientation, have adopted gay and lesbian practices which are not contrary to the law of the land.
I wanted to put that testimony into Hansard because people are frightened by what is happening. They want to 386 know that there are people in this House who believe that the policy is wrong, is motivated wrongly, is drafted wrongly and is designed to gain political advantage out of scapegoating a minority who should be left to enjoy their civil liberties.
§ Dame Jill Knight
Having listened with fascination to all that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has read out, I must say that there is nothing in the resolution which states that the Labour party believes that children in schools should have the homosexual lifestyle thrust on them as a desirable alternative to normal heterosexual marriage.
The clause is about protecting children. It has absolutely nothing to do with what the right hon. Member for Chesterfield has just read out. There is no doubt that children have been subjected to a most unhappy, unfair and wrong promotion campaign to try to turn them into supporters of homosexuality.
If anyone doubts that, why did the children's parents complain? When those parents complained, why were they subjected to such vicious treatment? I cannot think it right—
§ Dame Jill Knight
No, I am in the middle of a sentence.
I cannot think it right that parents who complained about what was being done to their children at school should have been kicked and spat upon. If their children had not been treated in the way that I have described, the parents would not have complained.
One of the things that has impressed me—
§ Dame Jill Knight
The hon. Gentleman asks whether it is true. If it is not true, why did the parents complain? That is the point of the matter.
§ Dame Jill Knight
I will give way to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) because he asked me first.
§ Mr. Pike
Will the hon. Lady produce evidence to support her claim? Does she recognise that the clause goes way beyond the protection of children? Will she also accept that, if the protection of children is the main cause for concern, we must give the same protection to children from the threat from heterosexual abuse, which is far more common and a bigger threat to children than the lesbian or gay threat.
§ Dame Jill Knight
The clause has nothing to do with criminal abuse. The clause attempts to stop what has been happening to children. The hon. Member for Burnley must understand the point that I have already made twice—if parents did not believe that what was happening was wrong, why did they complain, and complain to some Conservative Members who tried to stand up for their rights?
§ Dame Jill Knight
The evidence is clear for anyone who will take the trouble to read the debates in another place and in this place. I am amazed at the deliberate blindness and deafness of Opposition Members.
§ Dame Jill Knight
I will not give way. I want to get on; I do not wish to make a long speech.
I have been amazed at the way in which the clause has been interpreted by people outside the House, and astonished at some of the things that have been said this evening. In all fairness, they have only been the same things that have been said by the demonstrators. People are screaming and yelling that books by William Shakespeare will all be banned from libraries. That is ridiculous: nothing in the clause could bring that about.
I wonder why people who say that it is terrible to burn books from a library, or ban them, when they are for adults — I agree with them — have taken no action against the banning of "Thomas the Tank Engine", Enid Blyton, Rupert Bear and Dr. Doolittle. People who say that it is right to ban those books cannot say that they do not agree with any books being banned.
§ Dame Jill Knight
I shall not give way. Mr. Deputy Speaker has said that he wants all speeches to be short.
I have also been astonished at the degree of viciousness that I have encountered, as one who initiated the clause. My secretary has been abused, and has been the butt of the most appalling campaign of pornographic telephone calls. At 2.20 one morning, she was woken by someone who objected to the clause, and was subjected to a torrent of pornographic abuse. That is not the way to conduct a proper argument, but it tells us quite a lot about the kind of people who have been taking part in the opposition to the clause.
§ Dame Jill Knight
I have not given way so far, and I must not do so now.
I have been strongly supportive of the attempt to protect children, and no amount of abuse—or having my car vandalised, which has also happened—will stop me protecting them, and protecting the family unit. This I shall do, against all opposition. The family unit is under attack: there is no doubt of that.
We have a clear indication of the motivation for what has been going on. Let me read out a short paragraph that encapsulates the effort that has been going into the promotion of homosexuality in schools, and the downgrading of the family unit:The family unit—spawning ground of lies, betrayals, mediocrity, hypocrisy and violence—will be abolished. The family unit, which only dampens imagination and curbs free will, must he eliminated. Perfect boys will be conceived and grown in the genetic laboratory. They will be bonded together in communal setting, under the control and instruction of homosexual savants.That is the sort of motivation that led to the need for this clause.
I strongly support the clause, and oppose the efforts to water it down and to make it possible for our children still to he treated in such a way.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Like the rest of us, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), by seeking election to this place, must expect her views to be held up for public comment and criticism. That is an obligation. A similar obligation, however, should not apply to those who do not seek public office. Nevertheless, they find their views and lifestyles criticised, often in a far 388 worse way than the hon. Lady or her secretary could ever experience. Let me read from a letter from a constituent that arrived in my office on 5 January:As a young lesbian of 19 years, I can recall only too well the problems I faced during early adolescence and the prejudice and hysteria I was confronted with when I 'came out' at 15. I was hounded at school; I had people spitting at me, people trying to ride their bikes into me, etc. I never went out as people kept threatening to beat me up. I left home, and came to London when I was 16, but even now my sister is teased and victimised because I am a lesbian. There is no way this should have happened to me, and, what is worse, is that some friends of mine had even worse happen to them. I got off 'lightly'. Measures need to be taken to combat this prejudice, and some local councils had begun to do this within education and by aiding lesbian and gay groups, etc, with money and resources. (Money and resources that as rate-payers we are entitled to.) This education is not promotion of homosexuality, it is only a presentation of it in a fair, unprejudiced way—no one can be turned gay by it, the same way we cannot be taught to be straight. But the word promotion is open to interpretation by the courts and this is very dangerous … Many people are going through what I did and this must be stopped. If this Bill is passed it will be another blow to us and a serious violation of our human rights.Let me briefly quote from two more letters, sent since our last debate on this subject. One is from a man in north London, who writes:When I was at secondary school, struggling to come to terms with my sexuality, a few well-chosen and compassionate words from our sex education teacher left a lasting impression upon me; for years it was all I had to cling to whilst all around me gays were jeered in every playground conversation".The other letter is from a parent of a gay child from Sheffield, written in January this year:I have a daughter who is gay and I believe suffered unnecessarily from the pretence that such do not exist. I had always thought that what took place between fully consenting adults in private should not be against the law, but I had not expected it to touch my own life at all closely. I lean to the view that homosexuals are born and not made because her upbringing doesn't seem to have been different from that of my three other children all of whom are heterosexual. In passing I note that my other daughter is left-handed and fortunate in having escaped persecution for that.Arguments are commonly put forward about what happens when someone comes to the conclusion that he or she is homosexual. Let me quote another phrase:When I was young, I was surrounded by images glamorising heterosexuality and it never made me feel I was heterosexual.That is testimony to the prejudice, disadvantage and bigotry that we as a country should be trying to reduce and eliminate rather than to increase it. The inevitable consequence of the Bill which has had a timely representation by the cartoon already described will be to fan into greater bigotry those who already have latent prejudice.
As the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) pointed out, we challenged the Secretary of State in the House at the end of last year about what Ministers had said a year before. I could quote their speeches. They said that the Government did not believe that the enforcement measures contained in a predecessor Bill were necessary and that legal procedures were already adequate. They criticised both the drafting and the need for legislation. The Minister for Local Government, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, did not explain why the Government have completely gone back on a view they held a year ago.
I am aware that since our previous debate small amendments have been made in the other place. I agree 389 with other hon. Members that the three amendments before us tonight marginally improve the previous drafting. The first amendment adds the word "intentionally", and that is certainly an improvement. The second amendment deletes some tautologous words. The third is declaratory and, if it does anything, it might help to make slightly clearer what is already in the clause. However, none of those amendments goes to the heart of the mischief in the clause, nor do they deal with the argument about why the clause should not pass on to the statute book.
I shall respond to the arguments about morality. Many people believe that it is hypocritical for the Government to seek to legislate for morality as they define it when, at the same time, the poor become poorer, the rich become relatively richer, the people who depend on social security will have less chance of obtaining it and when for many opportunity in our society will be reduced because they are riot favoured by the capitalist market-led Government. Morality is not what a lot of people see as the result of the Government's policies. It is not for Parliament to legislate for a nation of 50 million or more people. It is not for Parliament to decide that there shall be one morality for all — the morality of the Government of the day. A civilised society should recognise that it has a duty to legislate for civil rights, for civil liberties and for freedom to choose for all. Adults must be allowed to make their own choices and, provided they do not harm others, they must be free to do so without fear of being victimised. Hearsay arguments such as that unreasonably put forward by the hon. Member for Edgbaston must be challenged. The wording of the clause means that there is a risk that the courts will be given a legislative weapon that will allow them not to protect those whom it is thought they might want to protect but to act far more widely.
The word "promotion" is still in the clause. It is the "promotion" of homosexuality that will be forbidden. The dictionary definition shows that there are two alternative meanings of the word "promotion". The first says:To further the growth, development, progress or establishment of (anything); to further advance or encourage".The second definition is very different. It says:To put forth into notice; to publish; to assert, advance". That is simply the neutral state of putting into the public domain information about homosexuality."Homosexuality" is the second key word of the clause. The meaning is very wide and is not defined clearly in the statute. It will be open to the courts to say that neutral non-commending activity by local councils can be in violation of the law. That is what makes this such a dangerous clause and why it has been perceived widely in the country to be so.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
I am concerned about a point that the hon. Gentleman made earlier. He suggested that in some way the clause radically changes existing law in relation to the rights of the individual. The clause changes nothing in existing law in relation to the practice of homosexuality or lesbianism. Therefore, there is grave danger in whipping up a great deal of hysteria about problems that do not exist. I take the point that he made about the word "promotion". He is on much stronger ground there. However, we have to keep away from broadening the argument and misleading the public by raising issues that are unconnected.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Either the clause adds something to the law—the 390 Government say that it adds something necessary and Conservative Members support it for that reason—or, as the Government argued 15 months ago, it adds nothing to the law and in that case it should not be here.
Other aspects of the clause are open to misinterpretation and were fallaciously added. Inherent in the clause is the belief that homosexuality can be promoted — [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Edgbaston said that it can. That is a hotly disputed scientific issue. I read direct testimony to the House from people who are homosexual. I did not quote hearsay evidence. Those people said that in their earlier years they had been exposed to heterosexual advertising and that it had not changed them in the slightest. The hon. Member for Edgbaston cannot have it both ways. Surely she accepts that the evidence of many scientists and ordinary people shows that people who discover that they have a homosexual orientation have no ability to do anything about it or believe that they have no ability to do anything about it. Therefore, promoting that condition is a logical inconsistency. Of course one can promote activity, but promoting a psychological state is probably impossible. It certainly could not be promoted by a local authority.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
If that is so, why does the GLC's charter for lesbian and gay rights say:Heterosexuality is not natural but acquired"?
§ Mr. Hughes
I dissent front that view. I made it clear in Committee that I opposed the clause from the beginning. I believe that the issue is whether people of different sexuality should be given the same facilities by their local council: the same education, the same information and the same support as anybody else. It seems a matter of simple civil liberties and human rights that they should. We should not be judgmental in one direction or another.
I hope that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) will not seek by law to impose any religious or theological morality on anybody else. He is welcome to seek to persuade somebody to make a choice but not to do that by legislation. People should not be made to put their religion into a second or lower category. That is clearly a parallel implication of the clause.
I shall support the amendments tabled in the name of the Labour party. I understand and appreciate the fact that Mr. Speaker could not select the amendments I tabled, but I believe that they would have been to the advantage of the clause and the gay community. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) does not share that view. However, the advice that I received from people who looked at the issue carefully was that they would be an improvement. However, I am happy for there to be disagreement about that. I hold to my view. I support the amendments and those tabled by the Government.
The tragedy of the matter is that the mischief in the Bill will not be dealt with in the House tonight. An enormous amount of fearful public opinion has asked the Government to allow people with different sexual orientations or concerns to have the same status and recognition as anybody else in our supposed pluralist society.
§ The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Michael Howard)
I have now had an opportunity to look at the dictionary from which the hon. Gentleman was reading a 391 few moments ago. He will recall that he read out three definitions of the word "promote" and took exception to the third. Will he accept, on reflection, that the definition to which he took exception is marked as being obsolete? The last example is recorded as having been used in 1623.
§ Mr. Hughes
If the Minister had read the definition carefully I would accept that, but he has not. I did not quote that definition. I specifically quoted the ones—I ask him to look at Hansard tomorrow — which are above that on that page in the dictionary and which are both extant. I can understand that, in the heat of the debate and to try to deal with a point quickly, the Minister may have read too quickly. There are two alternative definitions, both of which are available to the courts and both of which are extant, and that is where the mischief lies.
The Government have an opportunity to listen to the fears that are being expressed by hon. Members about this clause. Although we shall pass these amendments, I hope that very soon we shall have an opportunity to right the wrong that will have been done to many people by a Government who say they know better what is best for them than they do themselves.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
I took part in the debate on this clause in December. Since then I have received no letters in support of the lobbying that has been carried out by the homosexual opponents of the clause, but many people have written to say they are in favour of the clause. Many of my constituents find the proposition so self-evident that they wonder why there has been any debate whatsoever.
I take the view that the Christian Church has taken over the past 2,000 years, which recognises that some people have homosexual orientation but that homosexual genital acts and behaviour are intrinsically immoral.
I hope that people will recognise that we are not setting out to attack homosexuals for being homosexual, but are entitled to hold the view that homosexual behaviour is immoral. That view has been held by the Christian Church for 2,000 years. St. Paul says that one should condemn the sin but always forgive the sinner. I believe that that is the attitude that Parliament should adopt.
The second question that we should ask is, how far should the law be concerned in sexual matters? Few would argue that there is a place for the law in sexual matters. The question is, what is the extent of the law's involvement? The law quite rightly forbids a range of perversions such as bestiality, under-age sex and other behaviour. We are happy that the law should have a view on such matters. I have always taken the view that St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the "Summa Theologica," got it about right:Human legislation, which is enacted for a group composed for the greater part of human beings who are not of consummate virtue, does not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain".We set out to deal only with those that have a dramatic and detrimental effect on society.
I believe that the Government are in tune with public opinion and what is right for our society. We are not saying that people cannot be homosexual. All that the clause does is say that local authorities may not promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle that people should be encouraged to support. Further, it says that in 392 schools children should not be taught that homosexuality is a way of life that they should follow. That is a very sensible, clear and simple definition.
§ Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)
The hon. Gentleman's reference to St. Thomas Aquinas reminded me that in the same "Summa Theologica" he suggested that any Government who treat their minorities with injustice are tantamount to a tyrant form of Government and should be overthrown by the popular support of the people. Does the hon. Gentleman recall that passage?
§ Mr. Bennett
I certainly do and there is nothing in the clause to contradict what St. Thomas said. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle), who once trained for the Catholic priesthood, should find that this clause has any connection with what St. Thomas said.
We should be aware of the misinformation campaign that has been run by a number of people in society to stir up fears of and misapprehensions about the homosexual community. I am sorry that the Arts Council—which did not defend the rights of newspapers such as those of the Murdoch group when they were banned from public libraries—should seek to misrepresent the effect of this clause.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) was right when he intervened during the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to ask what civil liberties are under attack. The simple answer is that no civil liberties are under attack. The Bill and this clause do not take away the civil rights of homosexuals. The clause merely prevents the promotion of homosexuality, which does not detract from homosexual rights.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The civil rights that are being taken away are for every growing person and young adult to have the same quality of education and the same level of accurate information as anyone else. The right to education should be given equally; there should be a right to have questions answered equally honestly and there should be a right for the same kind of advice, counselling and support as for anyone else.
§ Mr. Bennett
There is nothing in the clause that will prevent that. If the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at the clause he will not see that counselling is not forbidden. What is forbidden is the promotion of homosexuality as being a lifestyle that young people should follow.
Society has a right to say that there are some things that it does not believe should be promoted in the best interests of children. There are many things that we do not allow schools to promote, and about which Labour Members may agree. For instance, we do not allow schools to promote smoking as a good idea. We believe quite strongly that we should be stopping young people from smoking, and we do not say "You should smoke." We do not believe that we should support racism. We make judgments and decide what schools should teach and how subjects should be balanced in the curriculum. It is not unreasonable to say that the curriculum should he geared to the view that the vast majority of people in our society believe to be right. We want to encourage our young people wherever possible — we know that some people would take a contrary view—to be heterosexual—and to live, if they choose to 393 get married, in a loving family relationship. That is the acceptable and proper way for our society to be preserved and maintained.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Will the hon. Gentleman say what mischief in the law this amendment is deemed to he tackling? Is there any evidence that he or anyone else can deploy that a local authority has promoted homosexuality? The evidence seems to be very slender.
§ Mr. Bennett
If the hon. Gentleman had not just walked into the Chamber, he would have heard, over the past hour. Conservative Members giving examples of what has happened in the past year. [Interruption.] I shall give one or two examples. Haringey council has instructed its head teachers to develop courses toPromote positive images of lesbians and gays".
§ Mr. Bennett
No, I have been asked to give examples and I am doing so—in furtherance of its equal opportunities policy involving 'action against racism and sexism as well as against heterosexism'.That was from the Sunday Telegraph on 5 July 1986.
According to The Evening Standard of 23 June 1987, parents in Haringey tore down posters in Haringey primary schools advertising the Gay Pride week organised on behalf of the local authority.
The GLC's charter for lesbian and gay rights, which I mentioned a minute ago, states:Heterosexuality is not natural but acquired.It went on to attack normal sex education because:the current trend towards teaching parent craft assumes that all parents are heterosexual and encourages students to see marriage as the major goal in life".There have been quite a few examples, in the past year and a half, of where local authorities in some parts of London have gone out of their way to promote homosexuality as a lifestyle.
We are entitled as members of society to have a view on that. I am sorry that Labour Members take the view that Conservative Members are not entitled to put forward the viewpoint that is supported by our constituents. Society is entitled to expect all schools to promote a lifestyle which is in accord with Judaic-Christian principles which underlie our society. This clause does no more than ensure that that situation is enforced.
§ Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Having heard the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), it is difficult to know whether to scream or cry. The confusion of thought and misguided instincts that led him to speak as he has done make it difficult to understand what is in the mind of the Government or Conservative Members who will go into the Lobby to support this amendment.
It is difficult to know whether the motive behind the remarks by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) was genuine intolerance, which the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) displayed by referring to homosexuality as a psychopathic logical aversion equivalent to sadism, or simply misguided mischief and the hon. Gentleman thought that he would make a little political capital or have some fun on the Back Benches. I wish that I were speaking after him so that I could understand more fully what led him to make those remarks.
394 Whatever the motive of the hon. Gentleman, or of the Government, unless the clause is amended in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has described tonight, it will do immense damage and cause immense pain and anguish to men and women who just happen to find that their attraction, love and comfort are found in a relationship with members of their own sex rather than the opposite sex.
Conservative Members have referred constantly to choosing homosexuality. Gays and lesbians no more choose how they feel than heterosexuals choose heterosexuality. This is not a logical choice that people make; this is something that people feel.
§ Mr. Wilshire
Presumably the hon. Gentleman has studied all the available evidence from objective academic sources on that point. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I have come to the conclusion that there is a small amount of objective evidence to support what he says and an equally small amount of evidence to the contrary. As long as there are no established facts, we as a society should say that, until it is proved that somebody's sexuality cannot be changed, we must assume that it can be, just in case.
§ Mr. Fisher
As the hon. Gentleman has said, there is little substantial scientific evidence on either side. It is not something that lends itself to such analysis.
§ Mr. Fisher
I shall give way in a moment.
The hon. Member for Spelthorne should look into his own life. Did he make a logical choice to be homosexual or heterosexual? I do not believe that he or any other hon. Member has made that logical, rational choice. They followed what they found to be loving, attractive and helpful in their lives.
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).
§ Mr. Fisher
Before looking at the nature and possible results of that pain and anguish, I want to consider the effects of the clause in its present form on the artistic life of our society and upon our libraries. There has been a great deal of discussion in the public press and elsewhere about that. Undoubtedly, if the clause is carried in its present form, with the uncertainty of its legal language, books in our libraries, exhibitions of photographs and fine art in our galleries, plays in our theatres, and films in art centres may be at risk if those buildings are run or controlled by a local authority. As I understand the word "promote", anything that potentially glorifies, makes attractive or preferential, homosexual, gay or lesbian love is at risk as a result of this clause. The Minister shakes his head. It may well be that E. M. Forster, Jean Genet and others will remain on our library shelves, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) so wisely said, not only is David Hockney proud to be a gay person, but much of his work glorifies and has its roots in the fact that that is how he sees the world, having suffered the intolerance and prejudices which are at the core of this clause. He has seen the world through that experience and through those eyes and that is why his work is so powerful.
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
The hon. Gentleman made precisely the same point to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts on 25 January. He replied:I have been advised that local authorities seeking simply to provide the public with access to a comprehensive range of artistic and literary material will not be put at risk by that provision."—[Official Report, 25 January 1988; Vol. 126, c. 13.]Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that that is no longer true?
§ Mr. Fisher
As other hon. Members have said, assurances from the Treasury Bench will not stand up in court. They have no validity in court. Equally, I would be curious to know who has advised the Minister for the Arts about that. Undoubtedly, the Arts Council has not advised the Minister for the Arts, nor has the Library Association and nor has any regional arts association in Britain. I know of nobody in the artistic community who has so advised the Minister for the Arts.
§ Mr. Dobson
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that possibly the first effort of any Government Department in this sphere was in 1984 when certain literary giants employed by the Customs and Excise raided the Gay's the Word bookshop in my constituency and, exercising their brilliant discretion, confiscated, because they believed it to be obscene, a book which set out the proceedings of the first medical seminar on how to stop the spread of AIDS. That was — I checked it — on advice from solicitors working for the Treasury. If they are the sort of people who are giving advice to Ministers, everybody had better look out.
§ Mr. Fisher
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The uncertainty and unsafeness of the wording of the clause will potentially put those artistic activities at risk if they glorify and beautify and therefore could be said to promote homosexual life.
Undoubtedly, the most beautiful story that could possibly do that is the story of Jonathan and David. I am sure that no Conservative Member would presume that that would be stripped from our library shelves if it were owned by a local authority. That just shows how ludicrous the clause would be if it were not so dangerous.
There is a danger greater even than that of the direct, overt and clear problem of the activities or concerns of local authorities' arts policies being challenged in the courts. That is the intangible danger of self-censorship in the arts. If the clause is passed, it is inevitable that people running local authority theatres or other such places will ask themselves whether they should put on the play, or whatever, or whether that would be risking the viability of their theatres or other places. They will perhaps decide to censor their programmes for next year in advance so as not to put the work of their colleagues or local authorities at risk. Such self-censorship is a much greater danger because we shall not know that it is happening. None of us will know what local authority theatres are doing behind the scenes, so a whole area of self-expression and witness to what it is like to live in our society will quietly, gently and unobservably be written out of our culture. That should give us great cause for concern. It will make it impossible to come back in a year's time to discover what is happening. The Minister may return in a year's time and 396 say that there have been no prosecutions and that Forster and Genet are still on the library shelves. But he will not be able to say how much self-censorship has been applied when applying for commissions, sponsorships or grants.
Already, two clients of the Greater London Arts Association have been advised informally that they would be well advised, when making their grant application for next year, not to refer to the words "gay" or "lesbian" and that their grant applications will be more likely to be successful, and their work to prosper, if they ignore and suppress that side of their work. Such hidden self-censorship is more dangerous, and I hope that the Minister will understand and accept that point.
A third thing is more dangerous still. Local authorities' council chambers will be used as law courts. We already have evidence of that. A motion has been tabled by the Conservative minority group on Haringey's council for discussion on 25 April, which calls on the council to
and so on.
- "(a) Immediately close the Lesbian and Gay unit.
- (b) Abolish the Curriculum Working Party.
- (c) To cease all measures to promote homosexuality anywhere"
§ Mr. Fisher
The hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear," but when that is debated in Haringey council the constraints of evidence and balance that would exist if the first case were brought before a court of law and duly judged will not exist. In a court everyone could see the terms and conditions on which the judgment had been made, but in the borough of Haringey the issue will be determined more by the balance of power, and the same will apply to other councils. Surely every hon. Member would agree that that is not a satisfactory way in which to interpret the law. It is a perfectly fair way in which to interpret the political mandate of the people of any authority, but in this case the effect of the law will be tested, which must be extremely unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. Hind
I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but he has missed one fundamental aspect. If he and I this evening wanted to set up the Westminster gay and lesbian rights association, to raise money and to promote gay and lesbian activities and understanding the problems faced by gay and lesbian people, there is nothing in English law to stop us from doing so. All the clause does is to stop local education authorities from doing that and ramming such ideas down the throats of children in the classroom.
§ Mr. Fisher
It is extraordinary, after the clause has been so widely debated in the House, in Committee and in the press, that the hon. Gentleman has not read it. It does not mention local education authorities; it is about all local authorities. The hon. Gentleman should have read the clause before he intervened.
Any right-minded or tolerant person would find the effects that I have described worrying and undesirable. All hon. Members should recognise that the clause will create an atmosphere of intolerance against, and possibly even witch-hunting of gay and lesbian people. Because promoting their lifestyle is unacceptable, they, by implication, will become unacceptable and dangerous. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said—by implication—that will affect the way courts view custody decisions, it will affect job 397 applications and it will affect police activity. I see the Minister shaking his head. Of course it will not affect such things directly, but the clause has already created an atmosphere—witness the cartoon in The Sun today and the many letters that we have all received. An atmosphere in society has already been stimulated and provoked by the clause. Surely the Minister can recognise that that is true. He may not have intended it, but that is how it is.
This new atmosphere does not want to think about gay or lesbian people or to allow them to express themselves and say what it feels like to he one of them. It wants to turn away from all such things. It is an atmosphere that feels threatened and worried by what people do not understand. Some Conservative Members, like the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), may feel that homosexuality is a mortal sin. No doubt they welcome the fact that gay and lesbian people's rights to express themselves are to be suppressed, driven out and downgraded. Why do Conservative Members feel that way? Some hon. Members have said that it is because of the idea that homosexuality may be promoted. That seems misguided and ludicrous. We are speaking of feelings, instincts. If promotion were effective, everyone would be heterosexual because the overwhelming mass of material in our culture, media, advertising and family lives promotes heterosexuality. Most people are brought up in a heterosexual family atmosphere. That is one of the most determining influences on everyone, quite apart from advertising, Shakespeare and our whole culture, which constantly promotes heterosexual love. If promotion were effective, everyone would be heterosexual. It is perfectly obvious that it is not. The matter is much more complex and personal than that.
Other Conservative Members talked about protecting young people. I do not think that they know—none of us does—at what age our sexuality is decided. I do not think they could find a single psychiatrist anywhere in the country to support their contentions, which are centred on the idea of protection.
One of the Government's ideas is more bizarre than any of the others. In another place, the noble Lord Caithness implied that the clause, far from provoking witch hunts and an atmosphere of intolerance, as I fear it will, will allay hostility. I see the Minister agrees with that—but he cannot.
§ Mr. Fisher
It must be a mistake. The clause will not allay anything. Remember the cartoon in The Sun. Have those feelings been allayed by the clause? That cartoon is a direct result of the clause. It is playing and pandering to, and feeding on, the intolerance in our society—
§ Mr. Fisher
That is a strong phrase, but there undoubtedly is intolerance. The clause will not allay that; it will stimulate it.
We are dealing with two overriding issues. Is ours a society in which people are free to say what they want in the arts and the media? Are they free to talk about how they feel about loving people of the same sex? Are they free to say that even in local authority theatres? Is ours a society in which people are free to love and care for others, irrespective of whether they are of their own sex?
Surely the Minister will agree that freedom is absolutely paramount in a civilised society. He probably will not 398 agree that the Government's record in defending freedom of speech is pretty rotten. But this is far darker, more sinister and more important than other attempts that the Government have made, through pressure on the BBC, banning books or taking people to court. All such things are sad, sick, totally misguided and wrong, and the people of this country will begin to see it. This is more serious and sinister, because a set of people will be made scapegoats by the clause, and that makes it even more painful.
The second point is that a tenth of people in society will not be able to promote what they feel through artistic works. That is difficult. Undoubtedly, there is a streak of male chauvinism in society. Certainly, any woman in our society would recognise that. They have been marginalised. Their voices have been suppressed and marginalised. They have had to battle to make their voices heard in our arts and media. Undoubtedly, that is true also of gay people. In that respect, I suspect that the norm in our society is not heterosexuality but male chauvinism, which is a different thing. Such people are uneasy and fearful of such things that they do not understand. Whether or not that is the case, unless the clause is amended, as is proposed, it will set back tolerance and freedom of expression and the arts and the media in our society. It will drive things underground. The clause cannot change how people feel. It cannot change what people are attracted by. Although the House cannot delete the clause, as it should, it can at last put down a marker, as the Opposition seek to do, for decency and tolerance by voting for the amendment. I hope that it will do so.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
To sonic extent, the debate is a rerun of the arguments that we rehearsed with the Minister in Committee and on Report. My views are already on the record, and the Lords amendment has done nothing to change them. Various arguments have been expressed by Opposition Members. The clause will be totally unenforceable. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) referred to literature. If he thinks that it will result in any court convictions, he is totally off-beam. The Minister's predecessor rejected the clause just over a year ago, when it appeared in the House of Lords in the form of a private Member's Bill. He said that it would be unlikely to work, that it would be unenforceable, and that it would lead to misinterpretation. As several hon. Members have said, on Report, we did not get any satisfactory explanation from my hon. Friend the Minister.
I shall repeat the question that was posed not only today but on Report. It was posed also by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). How is it that, 15 months ago, for excellent reasons, my hon. Friend's predecessor in the House of Lords advised the House of Lords to reject the private Member's Bill? What has changed? I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he took the legislation through its stages. How is it that, when he presented the Bill on Second Reading, it did not have that clause in it? That is why the clause must be resisted. Smoke signals are being sent out from the House by the enactment of this unenforceable piece of legislation. The House of Commons is getting itself into a frame of mind, ready to legislate down the road of persecution and prejudice.
Some of my hon. Friends cannot understand why there has been a reaction from the gay community. The reason 399 is that they see the style, character and attitude of the House of Commons being reflected in the clause. Some hon. Members have admitted — I do not take their names or views in vain—that if they could go further, they would, but they are limited by the scope of the Bill. Therefore, if we pass this new clause, even with the amendments moved by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), a smoke screen will go out to the gay community. That is that the character and attitude of the House of Commons in 1988, after several years of reasonably civilised debates, is slowly to reduce an element of the 1970s and early 1980s and to go in the reverse direction.
The reason is quite straightforward. It is because of the AIDS scare. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) let the cat out of the bag when he suggested that the House had a duty to follow populism. I do not believe that, in matters relating to free society and libertarianism, we have a duty to respond to populism. We have a duty to lead public opinion. This legislation is doing exactly the opposite.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
My hon. Friend referred to the gay community as though it were a community. I have many close friends who happen to be homosexuals. They are not a community; they are individual people. The mere fact that my hon. Friend calls them a community, as though they were some sacrosanct church, shows why the clause is necessary.
§ Mr. Brown
I am prepared to replace the words "gay community" with "individual homosexuals who have written to hon. Members during the past three or four months".
Individual homosexuals feel that there is a threat in the clause. I am prepared to concede that there is unlikely to be a direct threat from the clause. The clause demonstrates to a homosexual that the green light has been given to The Sun, the News of the World and other newspapers to have an open season on homosexuality. That fear is well founded. If the clause is passed, we can expect individual members to introduce private Members' Bills, with the possibility that the Government will back further legislation in other respects.
The Minister has set out his views. He was not able to satisfy me on Report. I am saddened by his attitude. It was a pleasure for me to serve on the Committee, when he steered an otherwise perfectly sensible, good piece of legislation. That legislation has been spoiled by this unnecessary new clause. Even with the amendments, it is an unfortunate smear on an otherwise good piece of legislation. The Minister will not admit it, but, had he known that the clause would provoke such a reaction by various organisations and individuals, he would not have taken it on board.
I am prepared to accept that certain pieces of good English literature will remain on library shelves. Hon. Members have referred to books by E. M. Forster. Let us suppose that a syllabus for the GCSE examination contains, as is quite possible, books by E. M. Forster. I studied one of his books at O-level. Let us suppose that the school decided to take the class studying that book to see the film "Maurice". I can imagine some people using the clause to prevent that happening. I think that there will be some weird, wonderful and excessive misuses of court time 400 because of this irrelevant and unenforceable piece of legislation. I am sad and sorry that my hon. Friend persists with it.
§ Mr. Holland
First, I should like to comment on a claim made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) which concerned a Lambeth nursery group. I sought to intervene in her speech to ask for her evidence and I am sorry that she is not in the Chamber at the moment. With a constituency in Lambeth, I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) who was able to intervene. The hon. Member for Edgbaston said, "When parents complain." I have not had a single parent alleging what the hon. Member for Edgbaston alleged concerning any school in Lambeth. There has not been a single individual complaint from parents on those grounds. I have not had a single letter supporting the clause. I have received many letters and representations opposing the clause.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) for passing across the literature alleged to be from the Terrence Higgins Trust, which was referred to earlier. The hon. Gentleman may agree that it is not evident that that literature was published by the Terrence Higgins Trust. It looks rather as if it was produced by a local group advertising the Healthline service of the Terrence Higgins Trust. The whole thrust of the trust's argument is precisely to combat AIDS. It is widely recognised that unless literature concerning AIDS is sexually explicit it will not reach its target audience and will in no way serve to combat AIDS.
While there is next to no evidence of public sponsorship of homosexuality, there is overwhelming evidence of private sponsorship of heterosexual pornography, with indecent displays giving grave offence to many people. That is especially relevant to the clause inasmuch as it affects the young.
One of my constituents recently sent me a leaflet advertising various forms of sexual aids, including a broad range which I am sure is known to hon. Members, whether or not they use them. In reality, these are very offensive to many people, whether they are vibrators or stimulators, or other forms of sexual aids. The point was that my constituent picked up the leaflet outside an infants' school. He was offended and outraged that it should have been on the pavement outside a school. He asked me what was my view of the impact which that would have on infants or young children if they saw it, and he asked why the Government do not seek to introduce legislation to restrain the availability of such literature.
It is very difficult to reply for the Government on this matter. They are overwhelmingly concerned to ensure that local authorities are not seen to promote or to be interpreted as promoting any activity which supports homosexual behaviour, yet show no concern whatever about pornographic literature, including literature about bondage or other forms of abuse which is so widely available and so offensive to women, parents and others. One can only conclude that it is available because it serves the interests of profit. It is such a profitable trade that there is no restraint on it, whereas the other does not involve profit but allegedly involves public spending.
§ Mr. Fisher
Does my hon. Friend agree with me and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the crucial difference is that the things he 401 is talking about are designed to harm and humiliate people, whereas homosexuality is about loving and comforting and caring for people of whatever sex?
§ Mr. Holland
I very much agree with my hon. Friend.
Grave problems are raised by the wording of the clause, including the amendments suggested in the other place. For example, how does one distinguish in a court of law between a relationship which is loving and not seeking to promote offence and one which is not? The Government seem to be incredibly sanguine about that. The other place seems to be very optimistic that the word "intentionally" will remedy the matter.
I do not know how many hon. Members have actually studied the issue of intention, or have been able to enjoy what was a standard textbook on that matter in an undergraduate course, certainly read by some hon. Members at a certain university. The book is by Miss G. E. M. Anscombe. The whole point about intention is its ambiguity. Determining what is a fact and the difference between fact and intent is itself ambiguous. Just as the determination of what is a fact may itself be difficult, the problems involving determining intention can be virtually impossible to resolve. That issue is stressed by many philosophers. In some universities that issue has come into the teaching of law. I very much regret to say that in that respect the Lords amendments will not be adequate.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the definition of "promote" is ambiguous, the addition of the word "intentionally" does not remove the ambiguity?
§ Mr. Holland
The ambiguity remains and is being compounded. It will certainly be good news for lawyers, as one can argue as long on the meaning of "promotion" as one can on the meaning of "intentionally". The most common-sense course would be to delete both words from the clause and preferably to delete the clause from the Bill.
The Minister intervened with some enthusiasm when the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke about quotations from a dictionary. But the Minister was quite unaware of precisely what that meant. Indeed, it was part of a debate by a renowned philosopher, A. J. Ayer, who recognised that it was indeed difficult to determine the meaning of words. He ended by saying that by and large the meanings of words corresponded with their use in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Even if one accepts that approach, one still cannot determine meaning unambiguously in an individual context. Wittgenstein stressed that the meaning of words depends on their use, and that the use of words depends in turn on the perception of those who use them, which amounts to their prejudgment of the situation—which, in turn, too often amounts to prejudice. That is the bottom line in the interpretation of those words by those who are likely to bring the actions concerned.
The Minister's claim that there was no danger in the use of a word in a court action because its meaning had been defined as obsolete or was reckoned as obsolete by the Oxford English Dictionary is absolutely no safeguard with this Government. In retrospect, given the outcome, I am glad to say that I was one of those who, when protesting against apartheid outside the South African embassy, 402 found that the rules on picketing had been changed. I was with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and we both had a short ride at the pleasure of the Metropolitan police. The Act under which we were prosecuted was introduced by Wellington after the Napoleonic war. It had not been used since the 1820s or early 1830s, until it was employed, over 150 years later, by the Metropolitan police to justify the restriction on the right to picket and protest against apartheid outside the South African embassy.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I hope that my hon. Friend will not leave this subject without telling the House—indeed, I shall do it for him — that, although we were both arrested, we were subsequently let off without a stain on our characters.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I hope that we can now get back to the amendment before the House.
§ Mr. Holland
I shall be glad to get straight back to the amendment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I think that on reflection you will agree that my hon. Friend's point is not irrelevant.
Although the redundant clause was rejected by the courts, none the less, the police sought to use it. As that Act had not been used for 150 years, I see no guarantee or assurance — I do not know about other hon. Members—when the Minister says, "The meaning of that word is obsolete. Therefore, there will not be a prosecution." There will be prosecutions, which will be time-consuming and involve a great deal of personal strain and anguish for many of those involved. While my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West and I may be sufficiently thick-skinned by exposure in public life not to be concerned about such matters, many people who are not in public life and who do not face its challenges and responsibilities will suffer from such actions in the courts.
I have great problems understanding the arguments not only by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), but especially by the hon. and learned Member for Perth Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). The hon. and learned Gentleman has a peripatetic relationship with this Chamber. He is like the Scarlet Pimpernel—we see him here, we see him there and some times we see him nowhere. I very much regret that he is not here at the moment because I should have been glad to have some clarification of what he thinks the clause is about. It seems that, for him, the clause is about buggery, because he stressed that that is an unnatural act.
I hesitate to suggest this to the hon. and learned Gentleman, because I am not sure that I am more expert in these matters than he is. I will none the less put it to him that if one takes a book such as Sade's "Justine" or the play "Marat-Sade", one has certain difficulties in defining a relationship which involves penetration of the back passage as "homosexual". In "Justine"—one thing that many people find abusive — the sexual intercourse between a range of persons and Justine was exclusively by the back passage. Let us be quite clear in this instant that Justine was a young woman.
There can be no basis for the kind of claims that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made that in some sense a particular form of sexual intercourse is de facto or by association homosexual rather than heterosexual. I very much regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not present to answer certain other questions. Indeed, I am 403 sure that he would have risen to his feet, and I am equally sure that I would have given way. For example, what is homosexual about oral sex? I wish the hon. and learned Gentleman was here so that he could assure the House that he has never had sex on any occasion except by one passage and one passage only. If the hon. and learned Gentleman could assure us about that, we would also be assured about several other matters.
The question of the promotion of homosexuality as a result of events or literature has been mentioned. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) who opened on the Conservative Benches — his speech was extremely persuasive — referred to Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Let us consider a performance of Benjamin Britten's setting of the Michelangelo sonnets. I happen to be extremely familiar with those sonnets and Britten's setting of them. In my opinion, there is no question that, by choosing to set those sonnets, Britten approved of the relationship that they reflected. The Michelangelo sonnets were written not to some young woman in Dantesque manner, but to a papal guard. They are quite explicitly homosexual.
§ Mr. Holland
Very beautiful, especially when they are sung by myself. I will not detain the House with a rendering of those sonnets, unless there is overwhelming support from both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I have heard my hon. Friend sing those sonnets and he tells the truth. I hope that he will regale the House for just a brief moment.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
The only evidence that has been presented by Conservative Members relating to the promotion of homosexuality in schools and its abuse has been quotes from particular newspapers—the Evening Standard and The Daily Telegraph. Is my hon. Friend aware that, on 19 February 1988, The Daily Telegraph produced a list of 100 books that every school leaver should have read? That list included "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov, "Collected Poems" by W. H. Auden, "Don Juan" by Byron, the works of Oscar Wilde and the short stories of Guy de Maupassant. I hope that Conservative Members will take that list seriously and that those books will not be banned from school libraries.
§ Mr. Holland
My hon. Friend has made an important point, with which I agree.
The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross passed through Socrates—stamping where others fear to tread—and then moved swiftly on, in a bound, to the Renaissance and started to speak about Leonardo. I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Gentleman has read Freud's essay on Leonardo's homosexuality and what may have caused it. Several of my hon. Friends have said how difficult it is to date a particular sexual orientation.
Freud said that Leonardo's sexual orientation was reflected in his art. It appears that his sexuality derived either from an experience in his cot no less, when it was possible that his mouth was brushed by a bird's tail, or in the particular manner in which he was kissed by his mother. I am sure that Conservative Members do not 404 regard this as very serious, but I cannot be entirely sure whether the hon. Member for Edgbaston is up with the arguments. I am not sure whether we are safe from the risk that she and others will regard Freud's essay on Leonardo as pernicious in the sense that, by implication, it condones homosexuality, and therefore seek to exclude it from libraries.
The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross came out with words that, if he reads Hansard tomorrow morning, he may come to regret. He referred to Leonardo's squint. Of all the draughtsmen in the world, Leonardo is surely the last whom one can accuse of squinting. But it seems that the hon. and learned Gentleman disapproves of the creative genius of the Renaissance.
We have no idea how the clause will be used. I am concerned because it is unsound in philosophical and legal terms. It will give rise to considerable abuse and will bring considerable distress on those in the homosexual community. Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross, I use the word "community" since gays tend to stick together in their social life precisely for reasons of mutual and collective defence. Such self-defence will be made more necessary by the clause. I oppose the clause because of its ridiculous conceit, as well as because of the offence it will cause to many people who, as my hon. Friends have said, have decent, caring and respectful relationships that happen to be homosexual. I recommend to the House that it reject the amendment.
§ Mr. Wilshire
We have spent three hours discussing the general issues, and it would seem helpful if we could focus our attention on the Amendment Paper, for a moment or two at least, and consider both the Lords amendments and the Opposition amendments to them.
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said that after all this time perhaps those of us who have been closely involved with the clause now regret what has happened. I have no regrets. I have worries about some of the things that others have done and said, and before I discuss the detailed issues, may I place it on record once again that I most certainly deplore bigotry of all kinds. I accept that during the debate over the past few months there have been occasions on which 1 have heard bigotry. Equally, I join Opposition Members in deploring what they describe as the gutter press—their words, not mine. In a debate of this nature, salacious and cheap attacks on people will not achieve what is absolutely necessary if we are to get to the heart of the issue—a constructive, friendly and thoughtful exchange of views between people of different opinions.
As the proposer of what was originally clause 27—I am still trying to keep up with the numbers; at the moment it is clause 28 but I am sure that we shall reach 30 or 31 before the Bill is enacted—I welcome for two reasons the amendments that the Lords have sent us. First, in not rejecting the clause, the Lords have accepted what this House originally accepted—that there is a need for action now and that the Bill is the correct means of taking it. Secondly, the amendments prove the point that those of us who have argued for the clause have always been ready to listen and to take on board suggestions that clarify what was intended at the outset.
The amendments give the lie to the spurious claims that some of the scaremongers have been putting about. By the same token, I totally oppose the two amendments tabled 405 by the Labour party. The first of them seeks to torpedo one of the basic intentions of the clause and the second seems to be a statement of the obvious, which is totally unnecessary in an Act of Parliament. It is interesting that the justification advanced by the hon. Member for Copeland simply fell back on exaggerations that we have heard before, on red herrings with no relevance to the debate and on the scare stories put about by those who want us to change our minds.
§ Dr. Cunningham
The hon. Gentleman asserts that I exaggerate, although I do not. Does he make the same assertions about the Arts Council, the National Council for Civil Liberties, library associations, various local authority associations and all sorts of other bodies and organisations concerned with freedom and civil liberties in our society? Are they all exaggerating too?
§ Mr. Wilshire
I shall deal with that question in detail. For the moment I am saying that I was replying to the earlier speeches of Opposition Members. Many of the organisations which have been mentioned, with the exception of the Arts Council, have raised red herrings that have nothing to do with the clause or the Bill. I was suggesting that they have raised red herrings and scare stories, not that they have exaggerated.
I consider amendment (e) to be a wrecking amendment. It resembles the amendment that the Arts Council tried to get the other place to take on board. It seems to suggest that homosexuality can be intentionally promoted by local government if the motivation is to prevent discrimination or abuses of civil rights. That smacks of the argument that the end justifies the means, an approach that is unacceptable to the overwhelming majority. My postbag—I suspect that this is true of the postbags of many other hon. Members—has been enormously illuminating. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is not in his place. He, like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), moves in and out of the Chamber. The right hon. Gentleman is present when I am not speaking and now, when I am on my feet, he is absent.
§ Mr. Wilshire
The right hon. Gentleman helped me by spelling out the policy of the Labour party. I have received quite a few letters on this issue and when he was speaking I wondered whether he would be able to help me to reply to them. I shall read part of the letter that I received from a gentleman who lives in London, SE3. He writes:I have been a member of the Labour Party and I have supported it ever since 1945, yet I totally agree with your views on homosexuality.He continues:I have already written to Mr. Neil Kinnock … I have told him that unless he and other Labour leaders repudiate the view that homosexuality is on a par with normal sexuality"—He then says that if that does not happen there is no hope of the Labour party ever again gaining power. I wonder whether any Opposition Members can help me answer letters of that sort.
Amendment (e) has three faults. First, it is wrong in any circumstances for local government to try fundamentally to change our national society. In continuing with this 406 theme, I shall try to answer a question posed by an Opposition Member, who asked why I was prepared to support the clause. It is wrong for local government to seek to usurp the rights of this place to discuss the fundamental values of British society. If there is to be a discussion about the promotion of homosexuality, it should take place in the Chamber. If there is to be an attempt to change society, it should be made in our national Parliament and not within local government.
Secondly, amendment (e) is wrong because it is not for local government to advocate—I choose the next words deliberately — abnormal sexual activity for whatever reason. Thirdly, the amendment is wrong because it is not for local government to divert itself from basic services when those services are so in need of improvement.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman has said that if there is to be any change in our national society in terms of sexual mores, the change should be made in this place. Is he suggesting that if we were to pass a law to the effect that everyone should have homosexual relationships those outside would take it seriously and change their way of life?
§ Mr. Wilshire
All I am saying is that the people who say that society should have different values, morals and ethics—I have deliberately kept out of those arguments—and who wish to alter fundamentally national society must do it through the national democratic process and not act in an ad hoc fashion through local democracies.
Amendment (f) has absolutely nothing to do with the Bill because clause 28, or 29 as it will become, says nothing about discrimination or about civil rights. We have been round the argument for nearly three hours. The clause will not prevent homosexuals from doing anything. It will not deny homosexuals any of their civil rights. The clause is about homosexuality and local government; it is not about homosexuals and their personal lives.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
Does my hon. Friend accept that the Sexual Offences Act 1967 showed tolerance, compassion and understanding, though not necessarily approval? If gays and lesbians want people like ourselves to stand shoulder to shoulder against the so-called queer bashers, they have to take this gently and steadily and not expect too much. Certainly they should not expect the 90 per cent. majority in the country to allow that to be a subject on the curriculum in schools.
§ Mr. Wilshire
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point because it gives me the opportunity to say once again for the record that I am totally against any attempt to turn the clock back on the 1967 legislation. This clause has nothing to do with that.
The second point raised by my hon. Friend is also relevant. The very fair point that is important about amendment (e) is that again it raises the problem of the ends justifying the means. The idea is that it is wrong to discriminate against people and that the clause will somehow affect civil rights. We must stand up and say that we agree that that must not happen. The way in which we do so is crucial. If things are advocated, as they have been advocated, argued about and abseiled in the last few months, that will produce a backlash. It is not the clause that will produce the backlash but the arrogant, self-assertive, aggressive boastfulness and self-glorification of 407 a particular lifestyle which is upsetting the overwhelming majority of the people. The lesson which we can learn is that if we wish to change society and to be seen as reformers, we must take society at its own speed. If we try to stampede society, people will feel threatened and there will be a real risk of a backlash.
This is why I am in no way sorry that we have been engaged in this debate over the last few months. Over recent years a dangerous head of steam has been building up. The minority have made the majority feel threatened. If we do not take steps to deal with that, pressure will build up. It is to be hoped that the debate that has taken place has had the effect of lancing the boil so that the minority can become aware of the views of the majority and the majority can say to themselves, "Let us try to understand and answer some of the worries of the minority." As for amendment (f), as I said at the beginning, I believe it to be totally unnecessary. Local government has already got power to do most things unless the law specifically prohibits it. All the amendment does is state the obvious. The amendment seems to be trying to draw attention to claims about problems which will be caused to particular services. That is complete nonsense, as the past three hours have shown.
Much has been made about sex education. There are no problems for teachers provided that they handle the subject of homosexuality in a neutral and objective way. It is interesting to note that, although clause 28 has triggered an enormous amount of discussion, there are some important points in the Department of Education and Science circular No. 11/87. Indeed, this circular was available for debate long before the Local Government Bill was considered in Committee. Paragraph 22 of the circular sets the scene for sex education. It states:There is no place in any school in any circumstances for teaching which advocates homosexual behaviour, which presents it as the 'norm', or which encourages homosexual experimentation by pupils.I can only express surprise at the indignation of Opposition Members. If that indignation were genuine, it would have focused on the points in circular No. 11/87 long before the Local Government Bill appeared.
Worries have been expressed that amendment (f) might affect artistic freedom. We need only consider the legislation that seeks to prevent discrimination against people on grounds of race. Over the years since that legislation has been on the statute book, I have not noticed that Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" has been performed any less frequently.
There is an argument that local authorities should be able to give money to people for counselling services if that helps with problems. I support that, but it is totally spurious to argue that clause 28 has anything to do with that. As I have said elsewhere, I know of no one who has ever argued that the Samaritans promote suicide.
I urge the House to support the Lords amendments and to reject the Opposition amendments to the Lords amendments. By accepting the spirit of the clause, the other place agrees with us that there is a grave abuse of the real role of local government in this country. Local government is intentionally promoting homosexuality. It is assisting others to do the same and it is trying to portray homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
408 By producing the amendments the other place has helped us to clarify exactly what we mean — that our target is local government. By making local government the clear target for the clause, we are answering our critics and we will reassure those who have been worried by the debate that has taken place over the past few months. Above all, by accepting the Lords amendments and rejecting the Opposition amendments, we will do everything that we possibly can to protect our children, our society and above all our future.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I will be brief, but I want to say something about the speech made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight). I felt that her speech owed more to imagination than to truth. I listened to an interview that the hon. Lady gave on Radio 4's "Today" programme. Mr. Brian Redhead asked her to support her statement that she had a great deal of evidence about schools promoting homosexuality. Mr. Redhead asked her what evidence she had and she replied that she had not brought her files with her, but she claimed that she had the evidence. When she was pressed even further, she said "I didn't offer to name any schools." I am not surprised that the hon. Lady has received letters from parents who have been alarmed about the position. They have been alarmed by what the hon. Lady said.
§ Mr. Banks
No. If the hon. Lady will wait a moment, I will give way to her, and that is more than she did to me or to anyone else.
It is not surprising that parents have become alarmed by the kind of scare stories and fantasies that the hon. Lady has propagated in her various interviews and speeches. She has no evidence and she has never been able to produce evidence, other than that which comes from her over-fertile imagination.
§ Dame Jill Knight
I have repeatedly given a list of local authorities in whose areas this has been going on. It seems odd to me that Opposition Members are apparently unaware that local authorities run local schools. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name the schools."] I have repeatedly given all the names of the local authorities, and this is local authority policy. I must also say that parents were complaining long before—
§ Dame Jill Knight
I have named them. The hon. Gentleman must not nit-pick with me. If he does not understand that local authority education runs the schools, he ought to go back and start learning about how these things are done—[Interruption.] Let me complete my remarks to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who was good enough to give way.
None of this clause would have come into being without ample evidence, some of which I have read out tonight. All the parents complained long before I made that broadcast. A pregnant woman was kicked in the stomach and jolly nearly lost her child long before it.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
When the Bill was before the House last time, I voted for the clause, because I believed that it would provide a degree of valuable 409 protection for the children of this nation against what I saw as a possible over-enthusiasm on the part of a small section of people, many of whom flaunt their homosexuality in a way that I regard as unnecessary. Since then, however, I have been reflecting on the clause, and have decided not to support the Government this evening.
I have three reasons. First, I think that the clause is unnecessary. Secondly, although I am certain that my hon. Friends had no intention of causing any such development, the reaction to the clause seems sufficiently dangerous and hysterical to make any value that might be derived from it far inferior to the damage that it will cause.
The third reason is linked to that. I think that we are in serious danger of allowing our desire to deal with various ills in society to spill over into finding nice little target groups on whom the evils of society can be blamed. At present, homosexual groups happen to be that target. That kind of hysteria leads to danger for those in such minority groups. When similar prejudice was evinced publicly against Asian immigrants, when they really were immigrants, it led to considerable dangers for the immigrant community.
Let me elaborate those points. I find it very strange that, in this enormously permissive and, on the whole, liberal age, it is probably uniquely difficult for a bachelor to share a house with another man — or for a single woman to share a house with another woman—without a kind of prurient voyeurism being beamed upon them, and all sorts of people speculating, often openly, on whether their friendship issues from some kind of physical behaviour, of which they then choose strongly to disapprove. That is extraordinarily illiberal, dangerous and totally unnecessary.
I believe that if our Lord were here now in physical presence walking about with his group of disciples, there would be plenty of people anxious to view his progress through the world with exactly the same sort of prurient voyeurism as we tend to display now. That is dangerous. What we should be inculcating in our children and the nation as a whole is that relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, should be non-exploitative. The partnerships should be equal in dignity and affection, if that is possible. We are in danger of creating an atmosphere in which it is difficult for people to attain that sort of relationship, and I find that distasteful and worrying.
Homosexuals who have taken it upon themselves to make the maximum demonstration of their anxieties about this clause have done themselves no good. I do not believe that one can promote tolerance or affection by the use of foul language or criminal behaviour. For example, the idea that the secretary of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) should be telephoned in the middle of the night and subjected to obscene language does the cause no good. It is absurd to present that as a full argument against the case. There are extremists on both sides of the argument. They are ugly and unattractive people and their behaviour should be deplored.
During the debate no hon. Member has addressed the issue of the proper function of the teacher. That function should be to assist a child to understand the subject that it is studying and the world in which it is being brought up. Any teacher who uses his or her position to exert undue influence upon a child to believe something simply because the teacher believes it, or worse, because the 410 teacher hopes subsequently to exploit the child by teaching it in that way is a poor teacher. Such teachers are dangerous and should be disciplined out of the profession if they cannot reform.
We do not need this clause because we are in the process of introducing a Bill to reform education. One of the purposes of that Bill is to bring regular assessment of teachers into being and to improve the discipline of teachers. If a teacher behaves in the way that I have described, the new Bill will make it possible to discipline or get rid of that teacher in an appropriate way. We do not need a heavy-handed clause of this sort to achieve that.
§ Mr. Wilshire
My hon. Friend may have reservations about what happens in schools and what legislation is available to prevent it, but will he accept that there is a whole lot more to local government than schools? There is an awful lot more promotion of homosexuality going on by local government outside classrooms.
§ Mr. Rowe
The difficult decision that is faced by any part of our society is where one draws the line to prevent discrimination against an individual or group without appearing in some way to encourage or sell the nature of an individual group. I believe that some local authority officials have gone over the top and, as they did when they tried to prevent discrimination against ethnic minorities, they have evoked precisely the response that they were trying to avoid. I do not believe that that by itself constitutes an adequate reason for this clause.
We would do well in the House and in society as a whole to do our' best to promote privacy and permanence. As to privacy, we live in a society that flaunts private lifestyles to an extent that makes it extremely difficult for an adult or child to be able to enjoy the proper privacy of their own way of life. The media have responded to the voyeurism that is so widespread in society by pandering to it, and that makes it difficult for many people to preserve their own privacy. It is not society's business what individuals do in the privacy of their own homes, provided that they are not exploiting one another. We fought a hard battle about this matter some years ago, and I fear that this clause might be seen as the thin end of the wedge for the gradual destruction of privacy.
With regard to permanence, what matters most is the mutual dignity of a relationship. Children should be taught to honour their partner and to strive for a measure of permanence in their relationships and the mutual support and esteem that a permanent relationship affords. Society has failed to promote that, whether it be between friends of the same sex or of the opposite sex, and that failure helps to account for the extraordinary difficulties that we all have in trying to maintain a permanent, supportive relationship in the privacy of our own homes.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)
Looking back over the years at the subject of homosexuality and lesbianism, I have been struck by the fact that for so long homosexuals were the butt of the music-hall artist. They were stereotyped as being effeminate, made-up, powdered and mincing. This was the general way in which homosexuals were presented to society.
When I was a girl, people did not talk about lesbianism because Queen Victoria said that it did not exist. Nevertheless, the way in which homosexuals were 411 presented was that of stereotyping them as people to be laughed at, to be degraded and to be classified as being something outside the norms of society.
We hoped that the Sexual Offences Act 1967 would begin to change people's attitudes—I believe that it did —and that we would have a society more tolerant of the behaviour of people whose sex life, as the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said, is entirely their own affair.
But some of the stereotyping continues. What interests me is that the moment a local authority or group of people challenge that stereotyping and says, "Hold on a minute, homosexuals are not like that. Lesbians are not like that. They are not all stereotypes. They are not all mincing and effeminate and they do not all wear make-up or wigs. Let us present people in a positive way as individuals, making a contribution to society"—as we all are—they are told, "My God, you are promoting homosexuality. You are saying that it is a good thing and something that everyone should emulate." 9.45 pm While all the stereotyping, character assassination and discrimination is going on, most people make no complaint at all. It is extraordinary that when groups of individuals, local authorities or whatever say that they want people, particularly young people, to have a positive image of their sexuality, which they have not chosen, all hell breaks out and we are told that that is actively promoting homosexuality.
Some hon. Members, although not all, talk about homosexuals and heterosexuals, but some people are bisexual and there are all sorts of degrees of sexuality. People cannot be categorised in the way in which many would try to do.
The clause is about much more than protecting children. So many of the speeches that have been made in defence of the Government's position have talked not about children, but about all sorts of practices and ways in which promotion is taking place.
As many hon. Members have said, although some people are supporting this in the genuine belief that it will be a help, they are wrong. What they are really talking about is re-criminalising homosexuality, as it was in the past. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not true."] If we are not talking about that, we would not have had the speech by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). I am glad that hon. Members say that that is not true. I hope that nobody who supports the clause would say that they would go back to that situation.
But if it were true that the clause is only about protecting children, as one or two hon. Members have said, as did the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), there is a solution. The hon. Lady could have gone along to the Department of Education and Science in which I have been a Minister, with all the evidence that she failed to produce, and she could have said to the Secretary of State, "Look, this is what is going on in our schools. Look at this school. Look at that school. What are you going to do about it?".
If the evidence had been produced—it was not, as has been pointed out—the Secretary of State could have issued a circular or guidelines, he could have pointed out what is already in existence or assisted people in such a situation. That is what could have been done. But no, the 412 clause goes much wider than that. The hon. Member for Mid-Kent hit the nail on the head. A climate of opinion is now being created that makes homosexuals and lesbians the butt of those people who are bigoted and prejudiced. It makes them the scapegoats in our society.
The hon. Member for Edgbaston said that she had been the subject of a great deal of abuse, as had her secretary. She said that her car had been vandalised. What was the point of saying all that, unless she was saying that homosexuals and others who disagreed with her were doing those things to her? My car was vandalised last week, but I do not go around accusing people who hold an opposite view to mine of doing it. It would be completely erroneous to do so.
It is frightening and worrying that reports from, for example, the gay London group of young people show that there is an increase in attacks upon young gays and lesbians in our society. More of them are being beaten up and 20 per cent. have attempted suicide. Ten per cent. of them are thrown out of their homes and large numbers of them are homeless. Some of the arguments and language used in the debate, and some of the attitudes struck in it, promote intolerance towards homosexuals and lesbians, and should have no place in a modern society. We should not be doing that to people.
I found the contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross frightening. He said that if a child went to a teacher and said that he wanted to steal or do something else bad the teacher would tell him not to, because one should not give in to feelings such as that. He even equated homosexuality with murder, if my notes are correct, and said that people should not give in to such feelings. I cannot understand how anyone who knows anything about law or society can possibly equate feelings of homosexuality or lesbianism with a desire to murder or steal. That is utterly ridiculous. It is all right, if one is heterosexual, to give vent to feelings and express them in any way that one wants. Such people may form any relationships that they want, and that is fine. But homosexuals must repress their feelings, said the hon. and learned Gentleman, because they are as undesirable as stealing, shoplifting or murder. That is an unbelievalbe argument.
Some Conservative Members, among them the hon. Member for Edgbaston, said that they were not concerned with reverting to the law as it was before and did not want to discriminate or make life difficult for homosexuals—they wanted only to protect children. The hon. Lady, who started all this, offered no evidence that children were in danger. When challenged, she has never been able to bring forward evidence, and none has been produced. If hon. Members are concerned on the basis of no evidence, they should not support the clause.
§ Mr. Marlow
It is late; I shall be brief; I shall not give way.
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) invited me to speak. I apologise, but it would be ungracious of me not to accept his invitation. I know why he invited me to speak—he was hoping that I would make some injudicious comment that might help him in pursuance of his case. I hope and anticipate that I might disappoint him.
The first rule of politics is that one can make enemies but never friends. If we do something right, we are expected to do so; but, by and large, we will offend 413 someone. On that basis, I understand that many of my hon. Friends want to keep their heads down, and people have advised me to keep mine down on this issue. But there is a case to be made against what has been said by the Opposition.
Those of us who were here at the time were impressed by the articulation—if that is the right word—of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). He made a speech, as he did three months ago, of great honesty and integrity, and we all respect the points that he made. But 1 feel that he was wrong in his basic premise and alarmist in some of his later remarks.
The hon. Gentleman's basic premise — I may be wrong—and the basic premise put by hon. Members on his side of the argument was that the hand is dealt. One is born either heterosexual or homosexual. There is another point of view, and I am not saying that it is right, either. That may happen to some people, but some people become homosexual. They are persuaded, converted or, dare I say it, seduced into becoming homosexuals. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury may think he is right; other people may think they are right; but the reality may well be somewhere in between. We must all accept that that may be so.
The hon. Member is also wrong to say that the measure is anti-homosexual. It is not. There are real concerns among parents that if their children go to school there is a chance, on the argument I have advanced, that some people might seek to convert them from being heterosexual to being homosexual. If they have that concern, it is right and proper that the Government should take account of it. It is therefore right and proper that this amendment should be accepted by the Government.
The hon. Member for Copeland thinks that it is wrong that the Government should listen to public opinion and take account of it. The hon. Gentleman is wrong also to think that the amendment is anti-homosexual and that it is our desire to drive the homosexual community back into the closet. That is not right at all. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said. Homosexuals have friendships and lovers. They live together. They have a way of life. They are entitled to it. That is their life. It can be beautiful. Conservative Members respect that, too. We are not anti-homosexual, nor is the measure that my hon. Friend put forward.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if a schoolteacher said what he has said about some homosexual relationships, he or she would quite probably be in contravention of the clause?
§ Mr. Marlow
The hon. Gentleman said that in his speech. That is his view. My hon. Friend the Minister might refer to that in his winding-up speech. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is being alarmist in his interpretation of the measure.
One of the problems is that some Opposition Members have been alarmist and have misrepresented the matter, because they do not understand or believe in the measure or, perhaps, for political mischief. They have misrepresented what the Government are trying to do. They have had the effect of whipping up hysteria amongst the homosexual community—quite wrongly. The danger is that they will provoke members of the homosexual community into a reaction that will have a counter-effect — the danger that this provocation will cause public 414 opinion to move against homosexuality when it would otherwise not have done so. I caution Opposition Members not to be alarmist about the Government's measure. There is no need for alarm. The more alarmist they are, the worse the effect they will have.
The new clause constrains local authorities against intentionally promoting homosexuality or publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality. We have heard semantic discussion by the hon. Member for Copeland. Really, does the hon. Gentleman wish intentionally to promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality through the local authorities that the Labour party controls? If he does, it might satisfy some members of the management committees of the Labour party but, by golly, it will turn off its supporters.
§ Mr. Pike
Having spoken in the debate on 15 December, I regret that, at this stage, Conservative Members have still failed to produce any evidence in support of the clause. The problem with tonight's debate is that we can consider only the Lords amendment and the amendments that have been tabled in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We need to eliminate the clause from the Bill, but that is not our choice tonight. If the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) really believes that the Bill's objectives are limited solely as he described, he is mistaken. He must understand that many people have fears. Indeed, the hon. Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) clearly demonstrated their fears and reservations about the clause.
Conservative Members have not produced their evidence, but have used a lot of rumour and misinformation to put their case. Certainly there have been press reports that have never been substantiated as to the type of material that is claimed to have been used in schools, or the way in which that material has been used in schools. It is a question not simply of the material which has been referred to by Conservative Members in making their case but of the way in which that material has been used or has been intended to be used.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.