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David Porter Westminster correspondent
"Desmond Swayne's comments are a little embarrassing for his party"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 15:37 GMT
MP rekindles Robertson row

House of Commons
The exchange took place in the House of Commons

An English Conservative MP has re-opened the controversy over an American evangelist's description of Scotland as a "dark land where public life is dominated by homosexuals".

Desmond Swayne, member for New Forest East, made his comments during Scottish Questions at the House of Commons on Tuesday.

He referred to preacher Pat Robertson's controversial remarks made last May when he was embarking on a business venture with the Bank of Scotland.

The furore which followed resulted in the bank severing contacts with Mr Robertson and apologising to its customers.

Mr Swayne mentioned the evangelist's views during exchanges in the Commons on the repeal of Section 28, the law which bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne: "Robertson might have been right"
He asked Scottish Secretary John Reid: "Doesn't this policy go to prove to parents throughout Scotland and throughout the kingdom that evangelist Pat Robertson could be right after all?

"And if Scotland is becoming a dark land, it is his (Dr Reid's) policy which is doing that."

Mr Swayne's remarks caused some embarrassment on the Conservative front-bench.

A spokesman for the party said the views expessed were the MPs and did not represent those of the Tories.

The Labour minister hit back at Mr Swayne saying it was right to abolish the law which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools but it was also important to protect children.

Cabinet meeting

The issue of the future of Section 28 was expected to dominate Tuesday's Scottish Cabinet meeting in Edinburgh.

Education Minister Sam Galbraith has ruled out new legislation to replace the law which prevents the promotion of homosexuality in schools and some ministers are said to unhappy that more is not being done to reassure parents.

There were reports at the weekend of a split in the cabinet and Labour Party leaders were reported to be concerned at the poor handling of the issue by the Scottish Executive.

Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith: "No new law"

A spokesman confirmed the issue had been discussed at the cabinet meeting and that a unanimous decision was taken to repeal the law.

There is growing concern that the row is refusing to die down and is threatening to dominate the Ayr by-election.

The poll will be the first chance to test public opinion properly on the issue and there are fears that many parents do not want the clause scrapped.

Speaking in Edinburgh on Monday, Mr Galbraith said: "There will be no statutory curriculum in Scotland.

"The tradition of Scottish education has always been that the curriculum is none statutory and its based on consensus.

Speculation dismissed

"That is an important principle and I certainly intend to uphold it."

Mr Galbraith went on to dismiss speculation made over the weekend that ministers had changed their minds about the repeal of Section 28.

He reiterated it would be abolished and he added that the guidelines issued would help to reassure parents about the sex education their children receive at school.

Section 28 (or Section 2a as it is in Scotland) of the Local Government Act was brought in by the Conservatives in 1988.

It prohibits the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities as a "pretended family relationship".

The planned repeal in Scotland appears as part of the local government ethical standards bill proposed by Communities Minister Wendy Alexander.

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See also:
21 Feb 00 |  Scotland
No replacement for Section 28
20 Feb 00 |  Scotland
Parents appeal in sex education debate
11 Jul 99 |  The Company File
Robertson sheds light on Scotland gaffe
15 Jun 99 |  The Company File
Bank chiefs face preacher quiz
05 Jun 99 |  The Company File
Bank drops evangelist
19 Feb 00 |  Scotland
Ministers split over Section 28 repeal
10 Feb 00 |  Scotland
Section 28 review group membership
17 Feb 00 |  Scotland
Blow to Section 28 repeal plan

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