HL Deb 28 July 1986 vol 479 cc552-4

2.40 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they approve of Haringey Borough Council's plans for compulsory lessons intended to promote "positive images" of homosexuality in nursery, primary and secondary schools in the borough, and whether parents who withdraw their children from such lessons would be liable for prosecution.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State was disturbed to see press reports of Haringey council's plans. He is making inquiries of the authority to establish the facts and to discover how it proposes to pursue its policy statement with its schools. I cannot comment on the legal position before the facts are clear. The Government would certainly deplore any attempt to encourage homosexual behaviour among school pupils.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that partly reassuring reply. But does he agree that, although most of us could not care less what other adults do in the privacy of their own homes, and are proud that it was this House which took the lead 21 years ago in starting to reform the draconian laws on male homosexuality then prevailing, it is a very different matter when small children are indoctrinated with the idea that homosexuality is every bit as praiseworthy and desirable as heterosexuality? Does he further agree that such indoctrination is definitely not what the vast majority of parents in this country want for their children?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I concur with everything that the noble Lord says.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, is the noble Earl prepared to disclose to the House that, of the letters received by his department in response to the Government's amendment to the Education Bill on sex education in schools, some 90 per cent. were in favour of the amendment? Does he agree that that represents widespread opposition in the country to the type of instruction described in the Question?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I cannot give the figures as to how many letters have been received by my department on the amendment. There are a number of amendments down for the Report stage of the Bill in another place.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, if the Secretary of State was shocked by the press reports, ought they not to be thoroughly investigated, especially if they are causing grave disturbance throughout the country?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I said that my right honourable friend was making inquiries of the authority to establish the facts. There have been a number of rather exaggerated press reports. On the other hand, I think that the council policy statement, which was agreed on 15th July, is pretty horrific as it stands.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, are we not rather more concerned with priorities in education than with sexual mores? Has the noble Earl had his attention drawn to a notable article by my noble friend Lord Annan in which he pointed out that there are two world languages—English and mathematics? Would it not be preferable to concentrate on giving a thorough grounding in those subjects? Has the Secretary of State any reserve powers in that regard?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that mathematics and English are important. I also tend to agree that sensible sex and health education is important. I believe that this is very much a matter for local education authorities. The Government broadly take the view that a balanced curriculum is sensible.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, the noble Viscount said that 90 per cent. of the correspondents were in favour of the amendment. Does that indicate anything more than that 90 per cent. of the correspondents were homosexuals?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I find myself utterly confused by what the noble Lord, Lord Paget, has said. I think that the noble Viscount sitting behind him was trying to indicate just the opposite when he was talking about the amendment that he moved during the recent passage of the Education Bill and not that he was in favour of what Haringey was doing.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, would parents who withdrew their children from such lessons really be liable for prosecution? What prosecution authority would bring such a fantastic case?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has asked me a hypothetical question. The Education Acts lay down a sequence of legal procedures leading to criminal proceedings in the event of parents failing to comply with statutory requirements. It would be for the LEA and ultimately the courts to decide upon action in an individual case in the light of all the circumstances.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is this not one of the barmy councils which barred a number of newspapers from being placed in libraries and yet still allowed Gay-News to be placed there? I do not know what criterion gave them that authority. The Government said that they were writing to those authorities—and I believe that this is one of them—about the barring of such newspapers. What has happened to all that correspon-dence and what is happening now?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I do not have the least idea.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, does the Minister agree that further discussion of this question is a waste of time until we know the facts?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I think that that is what I said in my original Answer.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether this is a Conservative council?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I do not think so.

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that matters of this nature, which impinge in many ways on questions of morality and which are of general public concern, highlight the wisdom of local education authorities having co-opted representatives from the Churches and other concerned bodies?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think that I should have to think about that.