Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

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Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by Brown »

Madam Speaker,

I rise today to introduce legislation to the House to correct a grave injustice in Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1985 which has had disastrous implications for many British citizens and, indeed, British youth, throughout the past decade and a half.

Before I begin my speech in earnest, I wish to make clear to the house my own personal religious and moral beliefs on the question of same-sex relations. I am a devout Roman Catholic, and I believe sincerely that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman, and that intimate relations between two people should be confined to this holy estate between a woman and man brought together through Holy Matrimony in the sphere of moral correctness. However, Madam Speaker, I hold a great many moral beliefs dear and close to my conscience that I do not legislate in this House.

While we can not leave our morality at the door when we enter this Chamber, we must remember the words of our Lord who reminded us that the greatest commandment is love--and while I am not a priest and will never try to legislate the deeply held beliefs of myself and my Church--I will never forget that commandment, and always challenge myself to live out that commandment not only in my private life, but also in my public life.

I am continually challenged to do better by the Rule of St. Benedict which exhorts us to treat every person we encounter as if they were Christ Himself, with all the charity, with all the reverence, and all the love we would give Him if He stood before us. I’ve always rather believed that to be an impossible goal and, indeed it is for us mortals, but it nevertheless is a goal worth aiming for--and this challenge has frequently made me rethink my previously held beliefs and conceptions at various points in my life.

Here we are now--at a time when bullying in our schools of gay youth continues at a painful rate. Where many of our children are not being shown the love they are due as children of God--where they are not being shown the support that they are due from this Kingdom as subjects of Her Majesty the Queen.

Whatever the original purpose was behind Section 28, it is time for everyone on all sides of the House to recognize: this provision has done far more harm than good to our children, and our society. Under Section 28, schools have been unable or uncertain about how far they can go to protect victims of homophobic bullying, have been unable or uncertain about their ability to host student and community-led organizations to address these issues, and, I fear Madam Speaker, Section 28 has likely been an aggravating factor in the sad saga of the AIDS crisis.

It is long past time that we do away with this confusing, hurtful, and unproductive statute that has hurt our youth, our communities, and our schools. The time is long past for us to remove this state-sanctioned homophobia and recognize that we are all Britians and, for those of us who believe, are all children of God.

Madam Speaker, I wish to make one thing clear: the repeal of Section 28 will empower our local communities--a goal that all parties in this House profess to share. By repealing Section 28, we will not be mandating that our schools or local communities create any programs--but we will be returning the power of making that decision to where it belongs, our local communities, our local governments, and our local schools. That, Madam Speaker, is where that power rightly presides.

Finally, Madam Speaker, I wish to echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition who today gave a speech in America to the ACLU, making it clear that we must not suppress speech. In his speech, he noted: “...courageous individuals have used the powers of free speech, of political expression, and of free association to work together against the coercive interests of a backwards state.” The Leader of the Opposition is quite right to say this--and the damage that Section 28 has caused by suppressing this freedom of speech and expression has been harmful to our country, and now is the time for us to undo that damage. It is my sincerest hope that he and the members of his party will follow his clarion call for the freedom of expression in supporting this legislation to ensure that every one of our youths is able to express themselves, is able to organize into groups to promote that self-expression, and need not fear censorship from their Government by doing so--and I commend this bill to the House:

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  • BERNARD BROWN
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Re: Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by CWard »

Madam Speaker,

Recently the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs has taken up the task of reviewing certain laws and weighing the precedent they have set. Today we continue the work of creating a fair society of every citizen. In 1988 a Conservative Government passed the Local Government Act, which most notoriously includes Section 28. This small piece of legislation creates two classes of citizens in this country- those who are accepted and those who aren’t. Those who are in heterosexual relationships and those who are in homosexual relationships. As we continue in the new Millenium, it is time for us to leave these archaic relics of discrimination behind us. For too long those gay and lesbian British citizens have been discriminated against by law. But they are just like you and I. They have served on our councils. They’ve shopped with us. They’ve taught our children. They’re not asking for special treatment, they’re asking to be treated and respected just as anyone else. These are people just like you and me. Some may be in this House today. So yes Madam Speaker, these people do have the inalienable right to be gay because they have the God given right to exist and live in this country.

But let me also add, this has nothing to do with my personal religious persuasion. I still hold to a traditional view of marriage personally. But we do not legislate based on any one specific members religious persuasion. Rather, we are seeking today the equality of all people in this country regardless of their sexual orientation.

Now I’m sure the Conservative Party members will have a lot to say in the coming moments. But if I may quote the leader of the opposition some time ago, “People should be free to do what they please, insofar as they're not hurting other people or society at large.” May I suggest they follow the leader and declare that under the law, every citizen should have equal treatment.
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Re: Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by Dr Mary MacAndrews »

Margaret Beckett MP, Leader of the House

Madam Speaker,

I beg this move to second reading
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Re: Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by Marty »

Madame Speaker

So ordered.

Order! The question is that the bill be read a second time.
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Re: Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by Alex Cardigan »

Madam Speaker,

I wish to speak to thank the Secretary of State for preparing this legislation, and to the Government for sticking their neck out in support for an oft mischaracterised minority group. As we enter a new century, I think that it is perhaps an apt time to remind the House that we have just lived through, grown up in, and served the country in a time which is a historic anomaly in the treatment of homosexuals. Members of this House, especially in the Conservative Party, have a tendency to look back; we idolise Latin and ancient Greek at our establishment's public schools. Yet we selectively choose to ignore that the historical tendency of civilised society has been to take a permissive attitude to homosexuality, not least in ancient Greece and Rome.

Some of our great national heroes have been homosexuals. Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron, men of immeasurable contribution to our culture and language; Alan Turing, the man who cracked enigma and may well have won us the war; men who despite their contribution have largely been consigned to the side-lines in their day owing to their lifestyle choices. In France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Andorra, and Monaco, decriminalisation did not initially come in the 1960s as it did for us, but in the 1790s. The sky did not fall in, Madam Speaker. And that is before we get to the long history of homosexuality practised amidst this country's aristocracy, most notably in the Other Place.

However, today's debate is not over any great rights issue for those who have already suffered from the impact of archaic legislation. It is about the next generation. It is about ensuring that teachers are granted autonomy over their classrooms, headmasters over their schools. And it is about getting rid of a piece of legislation ingrained in bigotry, stuffed with hypocrisy. The very wording, "promotion", suggests something quite ugly. That to discuss openly a concept we may find distasteful is to promote it. Does Romeo and Juliet promote suicide? Does the poetry of Wilfred Owen promote war? The answer Madam Speaker is of course no, and that alone makes such wording in legislation a truly reprehensible act.

Section 28 does not exist to stop active promotion of homosexuality in our schools - and believe me, if you have ever set foot into your average British comprehensive, it takes a very brave young man to confess to being a homosexual. Section 28 exists to scare teachers into putting across an archaic right-wing view of the world, and to quell freedom in the classroom. It exists to ensure that the reach of the state, quite contrary to the rhetoric of most Conservatives, is extended far beyond where it need be.

On the whole, I think that today, wherever this legislation passes or not, is a momentous one. Because what twenty years ago would have sparked outrage, and a wide-scale media frenzy of disinformation and bigotry, nowadays will simply provoke a reaction from our most particularly reprehensible right-wing tabloids. What twenty years ago would have filled a member's postbag, to dare to speak out in favour of the rights of homosexuals, today simply elicits a much reduced handful of constituents to react in rage. We have come a long way as a society to get here, or rather, to get back to the historic norm of being permissive. We should show we have come a long way as a House, too, and give this legislation the support it deserves.
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Re: Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by Andy Edwards »

Madam Speaker,

I should note that we can take a lot from the fact that some Members feel it is more important to debate this issue in the press rather than in here. It would be unparliamentary for me to even guess at their motives, and it would be unfair to even think for a moment that this is an effort to try to bolster support for a election that is several years off yet.

I know that there are plenty of capable individuals speaking in favour of this legislative proposal in the press and I hope to offer my voice among them, though I doubt I would be as competent as others, such as the Honourable Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth on an indictment of a plan to allow local referenda to determine specific provisions and specific policies that should be either discussed or avoided in schools.

But, to the legislation here at hand and, more importantly, to the debate that we should be having here as elected representatives of the people. I don't think there is anyone who would disagree with the notion that children ought to be protected and that they should be taught relevant subjects. This is the guiding principle behind the National Curriculum, established in the Education Act 1996, and language which requires protection against inappropriate materials in sex education in the Learning and Skills Act 2000. So for the thought that this legislation will open the floodgates to promoting inappropriate material considering the age, religious, and cultural background is rather a disingenuous one as this Government firstly cannot and secondly, as has been said by Government Ministers almost ad naseum secondly will not push for massive changes to educational topics as the result of this bill.

Parents absolutely should and absolutely deserve to have the best for their children, and they should and absolutely deserve to have the ability to protect them from inappropriate materials. While the Leader of the Opposition noted that works by Adolf Hitler were not banned during the Second World War, we should and are not arguing that such materials need to be shown and shared to children. Again, for the protection, I would again point to the language in the Education Act 1996 and the Learning and Skills Act 2000 which provide much stronger protections than does Section 28.

The problem with Section 28 is that it is an unjust law, in that it targets a very particular group of individuals in Britain in a way few laws - and in which the way no just laws - do. It implies that the United Kingdom values those who are homosexual as lesser... and it more outright provides shield and cover to individuals, such as Members of this House, who wish to automatically append terms like "predatory" as an almost required prefix to "homosexual." It creates the perception that homosexuality can be taught and actually promoted as though there are young children out there who are wanting to be homosexual. I can say, Madam Speaker, that from our legal codes, from our society, from the acts and views of societies around the world that there is plenty of discouragement against being homosexual if it even could be chosen. Repealing Section 28 will not change that.

What will change is that this provision will be off the books. What will change is that homosexual support groups will be more able to provide support to those who feel bullied or discriminated against. It will let teachers say "it gets better" when they wish to support their own students. These are things that do not happen for fear of crossing Section 28. Why would anyone stand up in support of a law that has the effect of preventing teachers from saying something as simple as "it gets better"?

I know that some of the most outspoken opponents to this legislation have mentioned- again, to the press, and not in here- that they have friends who are homosexuals and that they're wonderful people. First, I would posit to them that they are actually not friends. Merely acquaintances which happen to tolerate any of the Members concerned. But second, this isn't about recruiting for them. That can't be done as homosexuality itself is not a choice. This isn't about trying to talk about how great it is to be homosexual. Those Members should ask their so-called friends about how great it really is. It's not. It's to be constantly called "predatory." It's to be bullied, to be cut off from certain social groups. It's to long for a sense of belonging and kinship and to be told "it gets better." And because of Section 28, support that can help with all of this is banned.

Again, this will not change what is taught in schools. Our law is clear on that. But what this will do is provide for support for those who need it. It will strike a section of law that was designed from the very introduction to be discriminatory. And it sends a message that we are tolerant.

That's just one reason of many this legislation is needed. I look forward to supporting its passage.
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Re: Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by Amelia Lockhart »

Madam Speaker,

Outside of this House, the Conservative Party has sought to use ugly language to question the motives of those who support this legislation. They have sought to denigrate and demean their fellow citizens. In doing so, they risk putting more children at risk. After years of this legislation harming many children and teachers, they wish to continue that harm for longer. I hope when they finally speak in this chamber, they will have a little more consideration for their fellow citizens.

The Conservative Party stand in opposition to informed opinion that favours a repeal, including the British Medical Association, the Family Planning Association, the Local Government Association, the National Association of Head Teachers, the National Children’s Bureau, the National Union of Teachers, the Royal College of Nursers and Save the Children.

These organisations oppose Section 28, and favour its repeal, because Section 28 is leaves young people out cold. It is about teachers unable to answer questions or ask about a young person’s welfare. By using state sanctioned homophobia, as the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government rightly describes it, we have scarred a generation of young people into feeling unable to speak freely about who they are.

There evidence about the damaging impact of Section 28. One study found that while “82% of the schools surveyed were aware of verbal homophobic bullying and 26% were aware of homophobic physical attacks”, just 6% had a discipline policy that referred to homophobic bullying. The survey identified that Section 28 created a climate of fear and confusion, resulting in teachers to err on the side of caution and ignore homophobic harassment and bullying. Let us not pretend that Section 28 is a benign or benevolent piece of legislation.

This legislation is about the freedom to discuss, the freedom to ask, and the freedom to help. We are trusting teachers, parents, and communities to decide how best to look after the welfare of young people in school. The state will take a step back and let those who know best decide what is the most appropriate approach to helping our young people. This is not about promoting anything, except the freedom to have a discussion about keeping children safe. If individuals opposite do not trust parents or schools to do that, then they should stand up and say so - rather than hiding behind cruel and stigmatising language.

In this debate, it is vital that we remember that Section 28 does not apply to independent schools. They have been trusted to be able to discuss the issues relating to gay and lesbian people and to protect the welfare of children. If independent schools are trusted, why shouldn’t state schools be trusted? And if Section 28 is required to keep children safe in states schools, as supporters claim, why shouldn’t these “protections” apply to independent schools? I encourage members opposite to state on the record if they support extending Section 28 to independent schools, or is it only students in state schools that should be harmed?

I want to quote an individual who believes himself to be a defender of freedom, the Leader of the Opposition. In a speech to the American Civil Liberties Union he decried, and I quote, an alternative world “where a few members of the political elite demand that it be arbitrarily labelled undesirable and prevented from being discussed further”. He said such a situation “does no one any good.”

I hope that today that individual who spoke in the United States is still alive and well, ready to defend the importance of being able to discuss the welfare of gay and lesbian people. There may be a scared young person, trying to understand their sexuality, and their place in the world desperately in need of someone to turn to, dependent upon the Leader of Opposition’s courage. I hope they will not be disappointed and we can, finally, turn a page of this dark chapter.
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Re: Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by Fred Sackville-Bagg »

Madam Speaker,

I rise today in complete opposition to this horrendous proposal. I could leave it at that, sit down, shut up and just vote against it - however my total disgust at this Government will not allow me to do so. I do not think this House should be lectured at by the Communities and Local Government Secretary on matters of morality and faith. How dare he say that we are not expected to leave our morality at the door, and then proceed to tell us why we should leave our morality at the door, and follow his morality. I have no idea where his morality comes from, but it is not from being a devout Roman Catholic. Father Brown wouldn't know a devout Roman Catholic if it bit him on the behind, which, considering the way he looks, he may quite enjoy.

I understand the reasoning behind treating everybody as if they were Christ himself - however the homosexual is different. One cannot pity Christ. The homosexual must be pitied, they must not be encouraged and repealing this legislation will only encourage them.

Any Member of this House, when discussing a repeal of Section 28 says "Whatever the original purpose was behind Section 28..." is either being entirely dishonest or clearly does not understand the dangers of the repeal. Section 28 was brought in to prevent indoctrination of children by far-left loonies. It was brought in to protect our children from being exposed to such filth as "Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin", to protect their innocence.

Section 28 was about preventing the promoting of the "teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."

It was not brought in to discriminate against homosexuals - and Section 28 has not led to discrimination, despite what the Members on the government benches claim. It has not stopped homosexuals from fornicating. It has not stopped homosexuals from being in a "relationship". It did not stop the Government from lowering the age of consent for homosexuals, and it does not prevent dealing with bullying.

One can stop bullying without "promoting". If a child is being bullied because they are fat, does the teacher need to promote fat people and over-eating in order to deal with it? No.

I was bullied at school because I still had teddy bears when other children decided to grow out of it, and thought teddies were for babies. Did my teachers need to promote the fun and joy that a teddy bear can provide in order to deal with it? No.

Any teacher that says they cannot deal with bullying due to Section 28 has no business being a teacher - because they are either to weak to deal with the bullying or they are part of the loony lefties that Section 28 was brought into stop.

We have been told that this legislation does not change the curriculum, that it does not make provisions for homosexual marriage and homosexual adoption. That it is true. It doesn't. However, what it does do is to create a stepping stone towards this. This legislation may not specifically change the curriculum, but once Section 28 is gone - there is nothing to stop current legislation being changed, or future legislation to be introduced that reverts us back to the days of Jenny, Eric and Martin.

I understand that there are people who feel that there is nothing wrong with being homosexual, and therefore there is no need for Section 28. The problem is that these people pretend that it should never have been introduced in the first place - which means that they found, or still find, Jenny, Eric and Martin to be acceptable and they want children to be indoctrinated.

They find it completely acceptable for a bunch of school children to mince home and tell their parents "Teacher said it's ok to be gay". Instead of teaching boys to be tough and strong, they want to turn to turn them into effete, mincing Minnies. These people, instead of referring the child to priest to confess their grave sins, or a doctor to seek conversion therapy, want our children to embrace sin and immorality. They want our children to grow up to be carriers of HIV and AIDS. I only hope the NHS is prepared for the surge of cases we are about to see if this legislation passes!

The only thing to stop this is to keep Section 28 in place.
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Re: Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by William Croft »

Madam Speaker,

I rise today to on behalf of the Opposition to table two amendments to the Government's legislative proposal.

First, I move that Section 1 be amended as such:
Section 1 - Repeal of Section 2A

Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 ceases to have effect.
Second, I move that a new section be added after Section 1 -
Section 2 - Balloting of Educational Materials

(1) At the request of five (5) percent of parents of children attending a maintained school, a ballot may be called to review written or oral materials presented to students in said school that would have been otherwise banned as a result of the guidance provided under Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986.

(2) The ballot measure will be voted on within six (6) months of the petition being formally submitted.

(3) A simple majority will be required for the measure to pass and, upon passage, the relevant headteacher and governing body would be required to rewrite the materials in question.


The first amendment is self explanatory, Madam Speaker. While I don't believe the Government should be abolishing Section 28, if we're going to have this debate we should have it properly and the legislation should reflect the correct Act. Consider this a gesture of friendly tidying up, if the Government is willing to accept a little help from a trigger happy cowboy.

I would like to focus my remarks on the second amendment I have tabled, Madam Speaker, but forgive me throughout my speech if I touch on some of the other topics that have been mentioned by previous speakers.

The amendment proposed by the Opposition seeks to ensure safeguards to protect the rights of parents are put into place if the Government is to go ahead with abolition of Section 28. The original intent of Section 28 is simple - to prohibit local authorities from using taxpayer money to fund programs promoting one sort of lifestyle, and to prevent authorities governing maintained schools from doing the same. Whatever the Government thinks of this aim, the reality of their proposal today is that it would rob parents of the ability to oppose the introduction of sexually explicit materials being presented to their children. Abolishing Section 28, without providing anything to replace the safeguards it provides against illicit materials in classrooms, undermines parental authority and strips parents of their rights to protect their children. The Opposition seeks to remedy this serious problem, by affording parents the authority and power to oppose via the ballot box written or oral materials that they take issue with.

Throughout this debate, Government Minister and Labour MPs alike have spoken at length about how they believe this legislation will somehow strengthen freedom of expression and parental authority. The Home Secretary has told us that he believes that parents, "absolutely deserve to have the ability," to protect their children from inappropriate materials. The Deputy Prime Minister has said it is in the intention of the Government to, "trust parents... to decide how best to look after the welfare of young people in school." If they meant what they said, Madam Speaker, then they should be lining up in favor of the Opposition's amendment. Because only through the introduction of this amendment are parents actually afforded the power and authority the Government claims they want to provide them. Section 28 has served as a safeguard that empowers parents to take meaningful action to protect their children, and abolition of Section 28 alone without anything to replace it does absolutely nothing to meaningfully empower parents. Indeed, it does the exact opposite.

The Government doesn't have to take my word for it, they can look to real life examples. There has been this constant misconception in the debate thus far that Section 28 has never been used to safeguard children from sexually explicit material, and that therefor by extension the provision does nothing to strengthen parental authority. This is, of course, not the case. Just last year, a nurse in Scotland sued the Glasgow city council for violating Section 28. The nurse, through her court case, succeeded in stopping public funds from being provided to a youth-group that was disseminating a pamphlet to children as young as 12 that contained aggressively explicit homosexual pornography. Section 28 provided her with the critical authority and agency to block the dissemination of these materials, an objectively good thing in the eyes of the Opposition and indeed any rational person who cares for the wellbeing of our country's children. Of course, as a result of the Scottish Parliament's decision to subsequently abolish Section 28 throughout Scotland, parents and concerned citizens are now left with no recourse to deal with similar issues in the future. The Government's proposals will cause the same issue; robbing parents of any recourse to dispute materials that they believe are too inappropriate and explicit to be presented to their children in a classroom setting. That is why the Opposition's proposal is so vital, as it corrects the major imbalance in the law against parents that the Government, intentionally or unintentionally, will have created through the passage of this legislation.

The simple fact is that Section 28 is nothing more than a legal protection against the introduction of sexually explicit material in schools without the consent of parents. The charge made by the Government that Section 28 mandates that teachers allow homophobic bullying, or that it enforces discrimination against one group of people in schools, is nonsense and entirely without any merit. That is likely why the Government has consistently struggled to present any evidence proving this claim, and why the Secretary of State for Local Government gave an introductory speech totally void of any real factual evidence to substantiate his arguments.

If the Government wants to pass legislation to address bullying in schools they should do so, I will support them. If the Government wants to pass legislation combatting the spread of disease they should do so, I will support them. If the Governments wants to pass legislation enhancing freedom of speech they should do so, and I will support them. What I will not support is Labour passing off this legislation for anything other than what it is: an attempt to force upon the British people New Labour’s personal world view and their own assessment of Christian morality. Abolishing Section 28 does not achieve any of the positive impacts the Government has argued for, indeed it does nothing more than to allow public funds to be used for the promotion of a certain life style and rob parents of their legal recourse to prevent such action. Any argument to the contrary is simply disingenuous.

At best, Madam Speaker, this legislation represents an attempt by the Government to force through a proposal that the vast majority of British people oppose. At worst, it is a cynical political ploy motivated by Labour’s hope to cause division within the Conservative Party. And I think it’s increasingly clear to this whole House that their intent seems to be the latter. The way Government Minister have gleefully taken to the press in the hopes of pointing out divisions between myself and other Conservative MPs is embarrassing even by the standards of New Labour. We’re debating legislation that has serious implications on the lives of children in this country, and virtually all Labour can talk about is my personal politics and engage in speculation about how the Opposition will respond politically to their proposals. Parliament is a serious place, where serious proposals are meant to be introduced and debated. It isn't meant to be a forum for political theatre and gotcha politics, which is sadly how this New Labour Government has continued to use it.

While this may make me unpopular with some in my own party, I have said before and I will say again that I take no issue with members of the gay community in this country. I have worked with gay people, I know of many honorable and brave soldiers who have come out as gay, and I utterly reject any rhetoric that seeks to demean or humiliate them. I know I speak for the majority of the people in this country when I say that gay adults deserve to be treated with respect, and that they should be treated equally under the law. This legislation, however, does nothing to meaningful protect gay people and yet does an incredible amount of harm in undermining the authority of British parents. There is nothing equitable about a legislative proposal that seeks to enhance the rights of one group at the expense of another, and as such it is my duty as Leader of the Opposition to oppose it vigorously.
If the Government is serious about combatting the issues they have spoken about over the course of this debate, they should introduce specific legislation to achieve those aims. And if they are serious about enhancing the rights of parents, as they have claimed many times over the course of this debate, they will join the Opposition in passing our second amendment to their legislation.

And with that, Madam Speaker, I move that the Opposition's two amendments be put to a vote.
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Re: Local Government (Section 28 Repeal) Act of 2001

Post by Brown »

Madam Speaker,

It is indeed a great pleasure to see the Leader of the Opposition back in the Chamber and I thank him for his remarks to the House. As to his first amendment, I am happy to adopt the amendment as friendly. I can not, however, accept the second amendment and the Government will be rejecting it.

Firstly, my Right Honourable Friend, the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston did a far more eloquent job than I could have of clearly debunking the fear-mongering we've seen from the party opposite about how repealing Section 28 will open the floodgates of pornography and immorality into our classrooms, so I shant tax the patience of the House on dwelling on this for long. However, it seems important to emphasize again, as the Leader of the Opposition has brought up this concern, that existing legislation in the Education Act 1996 and the Learning and Skills Act 2000 properly ensures that inappropriate materials will not be introduced to our children, notwithstanding whether or not Section 28 remains in force or not.

I wish to turn now to the thrust of the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment and why I oppose it. I hope the Leader of the Opposition will not find it plagiarism for me to use some of his own arguments that he used while he was in the United States several days ago. He said with far more eloquence than I could ever hope to muster, “It is free speech that lays the foundation of any successful democratic society; enabling the individual to speak his mind, to challenge the ruling majority, and to turn his views into actionable democratic change.” He went on in his speech to properly cite and laud the courage of the suffragettes, who mobilized their power to speak out about something they believed was a great injustice, even as their views were labeled “offensive” and shunned by many in respectable society. One wonders, if the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment were enacted a century ago how any local referendum on whether or not to allow discussion on these items in schools would have passed. I think the House knows the answer to that question.

He goes on in his speech to note “It is no accident that the greatest societal changes we’ve seen throughout human history have come not as a result of state action, but at the hands of hardworking individuals motivated by the cause of creating a better world. It was through their efforts to engage in political speech, and to use their speech to unite in common cause, that the wheels of progress have continued to roll on.” He is, of course right--and it is also right to note that the use of speech to affect societal change has frequently been controversial, objectionable, and deeply distressing to some individuals.

As I made clear in my opening speech, Madam Speaker, I do not believe that homosexuals should have equal rights to hetrosexuals in, say, marriage--and I believe most of the country agrees on this. However, as the Leader of the Opposition made clear again and again in his speech, it is important that we do not oppress or stifle any voices in our free society and allow the continual exchange of viewpoints. Again, to borrow a line from the Leader of the Opposition, “Indeed, vitriol and hatred only fester and grow in the shadows that are cast by state imposed censorship. Open debate and free discussion are the tools through which we can shine light on these views.”

While again I’m certain the Leader of the Opposition and I agree on that marriage is between a man and a woman, I should also hope we agree that none of our youths should be the subject of bullying or violence based on anything--and it is indeed a grave tragedy that this statute has prevented meaningful anti-bullying campaigns centered around homophobia, and has prohibited students and teachers from speaking up and speaking out on this important subject. As a father of 7 children, I would never wish for any of them to be subject to, or the perpetrator of such bullying, and it is a grave injustice that the current statute stifles attempts to the contrary.

The Leader of the Opposition is in error in his belief that Section 28 is not causing damage to these efforts. I would suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that he might wish to spend more time in local schools talking to teachers, teachers unions, and students to have a better understanding of the issues our educators and students face. He might find it more cost effective than trips to the United States to speak to policy groups, Congressional Republicans, and Presidents.

If we were to adopt the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment, we would effectively be allowing censorship, but transfer the authority to issue that censorship from Westminster to the people directly. As a Conservative politician, I should hope that the Leader of the Opposition considers well the words of Alexis de Tocqueville who remarked about the great danger of viewing majority rule as the answer to all our ills, warning of the great “tyranny of the majority” that can be wielded in such a way to shut out dissenting viewpoints. If the parents in Bootle found William Hague offensive, should a majority of them be able to keep teaching William Hague out of our schools? I think not. Judging by the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition in America I would imagine he would not. Naturally however, Madam Speaker, the words that the Leader of the Opposition speaks in here does not always seem in harmony with the words he speaks elsewhere--but, as we all know, all words spoken in this chamber are true and so I take the words he speaks here as gospel on his beliefs of the matter.

In short, Madam Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment would open up an Orwellian future in which the tyranny of the majority decides what is truth and not. I have a great deal of faith in our youth--and I have great faith in our local schools, our teachers, and our local councils. I trust them to make the right decisions on these issues, and I also trust that they will listen to the parents whom they encounter every day, and consider their opinions as they navigate these difficult issues.

In closing, I wish to recognize and appreciate that the Leader of the Opposition has admitted that Section 28, as enacted, was incorrect. It is a good step for him and his party to recognize that Westminster should never have imposed this restriction on our local communities by legislative fiat. While he and I disagree about referendums on what can and can not be said or taught, it is important to mark this important evolution in Conservative thinking for which I am grateful. I hope that, in future, the Conservative party may continue to evolve on the issue of speech to more faithfully match the balanced position in the speech that the Leader of the Opposition made in the United States to the ACLU rather than the statements that we have heard in this House and in the media to allow local communities to address these issues through their governments rather than adopting an approach that makes either MPs or the vote of a majority of people within the community decide what should be censored and what should not.
  • BERNARD BROWN
    Labour MP for Erewash (1997-Present)

    Minister of State for Communities and Local Government
    Biography
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