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Last Updated:  Thursday, 3 April, 2003, 21:04 GMT 22:04 UK
Tory peer to battle for Section 28
Gay couple
Section 28 was introduced under Margaret Thatcher
A Conservative former education minister has signalled her intent to carry the flag in protest against repeal of the controversial Section 28 rule, which bans the promotion of homosexuality by local councils.

Baroness Blatch, the Tory deputy leader in the Lords, has made it clear she will be taking up the cudgels left by Baroness Young, the arch opponent of repealing the clause who died last year.

Attempts by the House of Commons to repeal the rule were blocked in the Lords three years ago.

The vast majority of parents do not want homosexuality promoted in schools
Baroness Blatch
There had been speculation that Lady Young's death might dampen the enthusiasm of Section 28 supporters for opposing its repeal.

But Lady Blatch has declared that the battle will be on again soon when peers debate the detail of the Local Government Bill.

During the bill's second reading debate in the Lords on Thursday, Tory frontbencher Baroness Hanham also confirmed that her party would be allowing a free vote on the issue.

'Failed to grasp the point'

Lady Blatch told the House: "Many parents are concerned about the use of inappropriate materials in schools, and that is why Parliament has regulated sex education.

"Those who seek the repeal of Section 28 have failed to adequately grasp this point.

"They have failed to grasp that sexuality, just like politics or religion, is a controversial area where parents have strong concerns.

Baroness Blatch
Leading the fight against repeal of Section 28
"The vast majority of parents do not want homosexuality promoted in schools.

"Parents are also concerned about inappropriate materials which cover heterosexuality as well as homosexuality."

Lady Blatch, a former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, insisted: "Section 28 was introduced for a reason. Some local authorities were actively promoting homosexuality in schools. Section 28 acts as a restraint for the majority of local authorities."

Lady Blatch suggested that some councils were "pushing highly unsuitable sex education materials into our schools" despite the ban.

'Inappropriate' material

In Sussex, a resource pack called "Taking Sex Seriously" suggested pupils should think about "the full range of sexual activities", such as dressing-up, tying up, sadism, masochism, anal intercourse, and multiple partners at one time, she said.

Another booklet, "Beyond a Phase", which David Blunkett, as education secretary, described as "inappropriate for schools", was still being recommended by Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, and Gloucestershire, Lady Blatch added.

The government's position is that children in schools should be protected from inappropriate materials
Lord Rooker
But Lord Rooker, minister for housing and planning, dismissed Section 28 as "a deeply offensive" and "unnecessary" piece of legislation.

Its repeal would have "no effect whatsoever on what is taught in schools", said Lord Rooker, who was shadow local government minister at the time the section was added to the 1988 Local Government Bill.

The section applied to councils, but not directly to schools, he said.

"The government's position is that children in schools should be protected from inappropriate materials. They should receive sex and relationships education that recognises the importance of marriage and stable relationships."

'Redundant legislation'

Arguing that this was tackled through guidance under the Learning and Skills Act 2000, he said: "But local authorities have no role whatever in determining what is taught in schools.

"Section 28 plays no part in this framework. In the government's view, it is time for repeal."

Baroness Hamwee, for the Liberal Democrats, described the clause as "redundant legislation".

The Bishop of Guildford said Parliament had "a public duty" to rescue gays and lesbians from the feeling of discrimination.

Hardliners defeated

Labour's Lord Alli, the openly gay peer, said: "I believe Section 28 has always been a law fashioned in bigotry. Section 28 is a law that is now completely redundant. That fact alone should be enough to support its repeal."

Last month, a move by Tory hardliners to stop the repeal of Section 28 was heavily defeated in the House of Commons.

The amendment to the Local Government Bill, tabled by Tory former ministers Ann Widdecombe and Edward Leigh, was rejected by 368 votes to 77.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith was among 71 Tory MPs who backed the move to block repeal of Section 28. Some 23 Tory colleagues voted against the bid.

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