HL Deb 11 February 1987 vol 484 cc706-9

7.6 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Amendment of Local Government Act 1986]:

The Earl of Halsbury moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, leave out lines 7 to 11 and insert— ("2A.—(1) A local authority shall not—

  1. (a) promote homosexuality or publish material for the promotion of homosexuality;
  2. (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship by the publication of such material or otherwise;
  3. (c) give financial or other assistance to any person for either of the purposes referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) above.")

The noble Earl said: My Lords, with permission from the House I should like to make a few general comments on Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 because both stem from the same situation. During the Committee stage I asked a number of noble Lords who had proposed amendments not to press them in order that we could report the Bill unamended and thereby gain a week before we read it a third time and passed it over to the other place. I gave an undertaking that those amendments with which I had much sympathy would be forwarded to the other place. However, it seemed to me that that was a rather untidy arrangement and that it would be much better to move them on Third Reading in this House.

The amendments are very simple. Perhaps I may take the second one first in order to get it out of the way. Amendment No. 2 merely pushes a little syntactical sandpaper over what was a rather rough grammatical passage in the early draft.

The main amendment is Amendment No. 1 which has taken note of the wishes of my noble kinsman Lord Kilbracken, and of the noble Baroness, Lady David, and, so far as it can be met, the wish of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. These alterations to the first part of the Bill give effect to this aim but I ask your Lordships to note that in the context of the Bill, I am one of a partnership, in that, rather like Castor and Pollux, I am the spokesman and my noble colleague Lord Campbell of Alloway is the draftsman. If there are any questions about the draftsmanship of this amendment and how it meets the criticisms made by the noble Lords to whom I have referred, I shall leave him to speak for it. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, this amendment seeks to clarify and extend the first limb of Clause 1 of the Bill as it stands. This part of the Bill is of general application. It is by virtue of paragraph (a) in the amendment that the distinction is drawn between promoting homosexuality and publishing material for the promotion of homosexuality. It widens the ambit of Section 2 A(1) as it stands by removing the qualification of only publishing or promoting homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship". This limitation was one which did not appeal to certain noble Lords. They wanted a wider provision. Paragraph (c) deals with indirect promotion and publication as distinct from the direct promotion and publication which is dealt with in paragraph (a), both of which, of course, are proscribed. The second limb of subsection (1) as it stands, which is concerned only with the promotion of teaching in schools by the publication of such material or in any other way, is, in effect, a redraft as appears in paragraph (b) of the amendment, subject to a cosmetic change. Because, although the second limb of subsection (1) is designed to proscribe those positive images as an acceptable family relationship, the point has been taken by noble Lords that whatever may be said to the contrary by the local authorities, the homosexual relationship is not a true family relationship but a pretence. The amendment takes that concept on board.

Direct promotion is proscribed by paragraph (b); indirect promotion by paragraph (c). That aspect of the abuse of rates proscribed by the Bill is of general application under paragraph (a) of the amendment and specific application under paragraph (b) of the amendment. The enforcement procedures under subsections (2) and (3), which stand, apply to both. It is due only to the care and trouble taken by noble Lords on all sides of the House that the draft has been improved in that way. I do not know whether it was Castor or Pollux who was the draftsman. I have done my best with it.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, my noble friend Lady David has asked me to apologise for her absence this evening, which is unavoidable, and to say on her behalf that she welcomes the clarification in the amendment, especially, in paragraph (a).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Halsbury moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 6, leave out ("were") and insert ("have been")

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, will your Lordships allow a brief intervention? The discussion on the Bill has afforded us a useful opportunity for an exchange of views with the Government on a matter of great public concern. A sincere debt of gratitude is due to my noble friend the Minister for all the care and trouble that he has taken and for keeping an open mind on the important question of individual challenge, direct enforcement and the limitations of judicial review, which he did when speaking in the debate on the local authorities on questions which are directly in point on this Bill.

As this Bill passes, much of what was at one time controversial is no longer controversial. The lapsed ethos of traditional values has been reasserted, and the principle of the Bill, with its direct enforcement procedure, has been accepted as apt on all sides of the House. In the wake of a recent debate, it is understood that the Government cannot introduce general legislation in this Session of Parliament, and so as on this there is an intolerable aspect of abuse—positive images, the erosion of parental control and the hazarding of the moral welfare of children—the Bill makes but an advisory distress signal to another place. The hope is that it may serve as a basis for an urgent interim measure, pending general legislation, to end that intolerable abuse.

Lord Hankey

My Lords, I approve of the Bill. I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Halsbury and his friends on what they have done in this matter. The Bill is necessary.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, this gives me a convenient opportunity to remind the House of the Government's position on the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale said on Second Reading, the Government have every sympathy with the aims of the noble Earl's proposals, and while accepting and supporting the principles underlying the Bill, there are nevertheless doubts about its provisions in a number of respects.

That is partly because local education authorities are about to lose any power to impose their view of sex education in schools by virtue of the provisions of the new Education Act, since the new style governing bodies, with their increased parental representation, will control the content and organisation of any education offered in their school. That Act must now be given a chance to prove its effectiveness.

The Government do not believe that the enforcement measures contained in the Bill are necessary. Legal procedures are already adequate to ensure that all those with an interest, including parents, can pursue a case in the courts. Furthermore, the Government are also preparing, in discussion with the local authority associations, a code of practice on local authority publicity under Section 4 of the Local Government Act 1986. The intention is that that should help achieve part of the objective of the Bill. The latest version of the code makes it clear that publicity by local authorities should not attack or appear to undermine generally accepted moral standards. We do not therefore believe that the Bill is necessary or an appropriate method of dealing with this one small aspect of the problem.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her whether she will take on board the considered view of many noble Lords on all sides of the House that her assertion that the Education Act is apt to deal with this problem is totally misconceived? There is no such thing as parent power, about which everyone talks. Sitting on boards arranged by a Secretary of State is no substitute for giving ratepayers or parents direct assess to the courts to assert their rights. There are many of us who, although we are loyal to the Government, believe that the Government's views are misconceived. I ask the noble Baroness to think again.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I only wanted to add to what my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, that the noble Earl's Bill plainly represents the considered view, after full discussion, of a large number of your Lordships. I hope that the noble Baroness's right honourable friend will take that into account when considering what further action may be necessary in another place. There is strong feeling about this matter. Many people will be sad to see the noble Earl's gallant initiative frustrated. Many of us hope that the Government will handle the matter in this way.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, if I may end with a rhetorical question: what is wrong with a double-barrelled shotgun? Let the Department of Education and Science have its own legislation. That is one barrel. My little Bill is another barrel. What we miss with one, we may be able to shoot down with another.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.