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Brian Taylor, political editor
"Ministers are once again trying to draw a line under the matter"
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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 22:04 GMT 23:04 UK
Ministers in Section 28 rethink
Ballot papers
Keep the Clause is conducting a private ballot
The Scottish Executive has announced a major concession on Section 28 in a final effort to end the controversy over its proposed abolition.

Ministers have agreed to introduce legal safeguards for schools teaching sex education once the law banning teaching on the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship has been removed from the statute books.

However, the move was described by the Tories as "an astonishing climbdown".

Sam Galbraith
Sam Galbraith: Seeking to reassure parents

Groups including Keep the Clause, which has received financial support from Scots transport millionaire Brian Souter, have opposed reform because they said no legal guarantees had been put in place.

They said this left it up to individual local authorities to decide what children could be taught, with no effective means of determining what that would be.

The Keep the Clause campaign has embarked on a private ballot of Scots voters, seeking their views on retention or reform of Section 28.

The decision by ministers has been seen an effort to close down one of the most damaging controversies confronting the executive.

Education Minister Sam Galbraith has tabled an amendment to the School Standards Bill which would oblige schools and councils to pay heed to the new guidance on sex education.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon: "Executive now on SNP ground"

Mr Galbraith signified that the move was in response to parents' fears.

He said: "I think they've had so much misinformation that I can understand their worries and fears.

"We've now put in place the package of safeguards, we're giving stautory underpinning to the guidance that we've given out."

"I trust now this will reassure the parents and I will be writing to them to explain in detail the current position."

The measure would contain a clause stressing the value of stable family life.

The new move was first suggested by the Scottish National Party and has their support.

Brian Monteith
Brian Monteith: "An amazing climbdown"
The party's education spokeswoman, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, said: "The executive should have seen the benefit of this earlier but I'm glad they've now taken up the SNP suggestion, moved firmly on to SNP ground and I'm happy to support them to move on and seek a resolution to this problem."

But Tory education spokesman, Brian Monteith MSP, was scathing in his reaction.

He said: "This is an amazing climbdown by the government. Only on Tuesday of this week I put a similar amendment which was completely rejected by the education committee on this bill and now the executive's bringing its own amendment forward."

A spokesman for the Keep the Clause campaign described the announcement as "a small step in the right direction", but added: "We cannot welcome this move until we have seen the revised sex education guidelines currently being drafted.

"The Scottish Executive has failed to answer the crucial question - will these guidelines give homosexual liaisons the same moral equivalence as heterosexual marriage?

Cardinal Winning
Cardinal Winning: "Marriage must be protected"

"We urge the electorate to cast their vote and show the strength of feeling for the retention of Section 28."

The Catholic Church in Scotland welcomed the move but said it still had "grave reservations" about the proposed repeal of Section 28.

In a statement, Cardinal Thomas Winning said: "We believe that any enforceable guidelines or guidance should include the promotion of marriage as the surest and best context for the upbringing of children."

The decision has privately dismayed some Labour backbenchers - who feared it was further evidence of further drift by the executive n the face of pressure.

The ministerial announcement came just hours before Stacegoach boss Mr Souter and pop star and DJ Boy George were expected to clash on the issue of Section 28 on the BBC's Question Time programme.

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See also:

07 May 00 | Scotland
March for Section 28 repeal
06 May 00 | Scotland
Section 28 vote dubbed a farce
11 May 00 | Scotland
Souter defends Section 28 stance
11 May 00 | Scotland
Souter and Boy George clash
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