HL Deb 01 April 1987 vol 486 cc570-3

2.45 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

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 have now heard from Haringey Local Education Authority in reply to their inquiries last year and again in January this year as to the authority's plans to promote "positive images" of homosexuality, and if not, what action they propose to take.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, Haringey Local Education Authority has now replied at some length to the further inquiries about its policies on the treatment of homosexuality in the school curriculum. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is studying the reply and will respond shortly.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and I am most encouraged to hear that a reply has at last been received. I should like to ask the Minister whether or not Her Majesty's Government are fully aware of the extent of the disquiet and anxiety felt by many parents of the borough at the prospect of their children being exposed to they know not what in the way of unorthodox moral suggestions. In particular, may I ask whether the Government realises that a lot of the anxiety comes from ethnic communities; for example, the Moslem community in Haringey for whom a homosexual lifestyle is perhaps more taboo than it is in the Western world?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the situation as it has been reported by Haringey, and as I have said, as a result of the authority's lengthy reply they are aware of the case the authority itself makes. The situation arises in certain other authorities also. The Government are taking the situation very seriously and that is why in this first issue that has arisen a very careful analysis of the authority's policy statements and its plans for implementing them is being carried out.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that parent power under the Education Acts is bypassed on the pretence that promoting homosexuality is sanctioned by the equal opportunities legislation? Is she also aware that, odd as it sounds in your Lordships' House, that is what is happening in Haringey at this moment? Is she aware that the categoric prohibition in the Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, with its direct enforcement procedures cannot be so evaded?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, if not before, certainly now, I am aware of Haringey's attempt to side-step the provisions of the Education Act 1986. In fact, I understand that the Act applies to any sex education taught in schools, no matter when, where or how it is taught. So, changing the label does not alter that position. In fact, sex education is often not a separately timetabled subject but part of a broader programme of personal and social education or health education, and so the Education Act 1986 applies.

So far as concerns the reference to the Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, my noble friend will know that it is scheduled for Second Reading in another place this coming Friday.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the reason for the delay is that there have been lengthy and proper consultations by the authority with parents, teachers, pupils and governors? Can she also confirm that the positive images policy of Haringey has not been imposed on anyone? In fact, if it were to be considered and programmed it would be in conformity with Section 46 of the Education Act 1986.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we are indeed aware that Haringey argues that its policies are consistent with the law, that it is consulting locally on proposed steps to implement the law and that its previous actions have been misreported. These claims are being studied.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, did the noble Baroness see the report in The Times of 17th March about the pregnant woman who went to a meeting of gays and lesbians in Haringey and was sworn at, punched in the stomach and thrown to the ground?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am aware of the report. It is a most reprehensible situation, but it does not tie in exactly with the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, will the noble Baroness be good enough to answer the question of my noble friend Lord Graham and confirm that to the best of her knowledge no action has been taken in Haringey to promote positive images of gay and lesbian people and certainly not without the agreement of all concerned? Does she also agree that there is a very long path between election manifestos and implementation of those manifestos, whichever party they come from? Will she accept that the consultation, which has to take place in Haringey between the local education authority and the teachers and the governors, is likely to lead to very considerable further delays before any conclusion is reached?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships will welcome any delays in this matter. My understanding is that the local education authority adopted a general policy statement on equal opportunites in November 1985 and a more detailed report on this in relation to homosexuality last September. The primary purpose seems to be to discourage unfair discrimination against homosexuals and other minorities. It has currently set up a curriculum working party to develop guidelines for antiheterosexist approaches in schools and the local authority proposes to consult interested parties before adopting the guidelines. Clearly the subject will arise again when the local authority has come to a firmer decision.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if effective measures can be provided to prevent the promotion of homosexuality in schools, such as those provided for in the Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, there will be widespread rejoicing not only among the parents in Haringey but also among parents in Ealing, Lambeth and throughout inner London, all of whose authorities are committed to precisely these policies?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. We made our position very clear during the passage of the noble Earl's Bill through this House. We understand the reasons for its introduction and we entirely share the concerns which underlie its purpose.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does my noble friend share my amazement that the Labour Party, which derives its inspiration from those two very active heterosexuals, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, now seems determined to confine its appeal to homosexuals?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I note my noble friend's remarks and would refer your Lordships to the date on the Order Paper.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the whole of civilisation as we know it, and most religions, are based on the foundation of a secure family unit consisting of father, mother, child and of course grannies and grandpas, uncles and aunties?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. The Government believe that in this context schools should not avoid teaching about homosexuality but that it should be factual, balanced and sensitively handled. This is particularly important at this moment of time in view of the threat posed by AIDS. My right honourable friend will be addressing this in his forthcoming circular on sex education at school. There can be no justification for any teaching which advocates homosexual behaviour or encourages homosexual experimentation by pupils. However, the main thrust of the Government's policy has always been to set any such teaching in a family context.