HC Deb 22 February 2000 vol 344 cc1355-7
2. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

What discussions he has had with the First Minister regarding the repeal of section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986. [109607]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. John Reid)

I have regular discussions with the First Minister on a range of issues relating to Scotland.

Mr. Swayne

Does not this policy prove to parents throughout Scotland and, indeed, throughout the kingdom that the evangelist Pat Robertson may have been right after all? If Scotland is becoming a dark land, the right hon. Gentleman's policy is responsible. Is he aware of the fate of the cities of the plain?

Dr. Reid

I do not think that I could have done better than the hon. Gentleman in illustrating why we needed to look again at section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. His views, and those of Mr. Robertson, gave rise to this, under the Thatcher Government.

The issue is sensitive, and it should be dealt with in a sensitive fashion. It is also an extremely complex issue, on which there are strong feelings on all sides. The First Minister and the Scottish Executive are trying to find a sensitive and correct solution, but, in view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, let me make it clear that neither the Scottish Executive nor the United Kingdom Government seek to promote homosexuality in schools. That is not the intention of anyone in government, north or south of the border. An attempt is being made, however, to balance the protection of children in our schools and the assurance to every one of them that, in civil and criminal terms and in the eyes of God, they are of equal value with ensuring that we do not go to the other extreme, and allow the promotion of homosexuality.

As I have said, the issue is complex and sensitive, and I am afraid that polarisation, and the language used sometimes by the hon. Gentleman and certainly by his hero Mr. Robertson, contributes not light but merely heat to the debate.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the cynical way in which the leader of the Scottish National party, having voted for the repeal of section 2A in the Scottish Parliament recently, now appears to be trying to gather support from those who oppose the repeal in the Ayr by-election? Is that not just another example of the SNP leader's apparent belief that any means justifies the end that he is trying to achieve?

Dr. Reid

I do not want to make any personal remarks. The personalisation of politics seems to be the hallmark of the Scottish National party, and I prefer to leave it that way.

I think that people will make their own judgment on what is apparently a matter of principle that has been overtaken by a Damascene conversion at the launch of a by-election in Ayr. They will decide whether decisions have been made in a profound and principled fashion, or whether they are the result of opportunism.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I would not expect the right hon. Gentleman to take a great deal of notice of Mr. Robertson. Does he accept, however, that he really ought to take notice of Cardinal Winning? Has not Cardinal Winning spoken for many people, not only in Scotland but in the United Kingdom as a whole, in voicing his real concerns?

Why on earth bother with the section at all? It can only encourage the few predatory people who would cause great damage to many young and vulnerable people.

Dr. Reid

Let me answer the first part of the question by saying that I have a profound respect for, and indeed friendship with, Cardinal Winning. The hon. Gentleman will have noted that I was the first Secretary of State to honour the cardinal with a ceremony and a lunch here in his official capacity. He speaks for a great many people, and we take his views very seriously.

As for the second part of the question, we have no intention of allowing anyone, whether predatory or otherwise, to promote homosexuality in our schools. We—and the First Minister and the Scottish Executive—are attempting to find a correct solution to a complex issue, having taken consultations into account and having listened to what people are saying.

As the hon. Gentleman will understand, we are required not only to defend ourselves against those whom he mentioned who would proselytise and promote homosexuality, but to protect children in our schools—all children. Surely, all children are of equal value and equal worth. We have to allow those who care for those children, including the teaching profession, to be able to reassure them of that value and worth without the prospect of falling foul of the law.

That is the profound and complex issue that we are trying to deal with. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he expressed his remarks. If many others did it in that fashion, rather than in the way that his colleague, the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) did, we would probably make more progress on the matter.