Government promises to abolish Section 28

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Indy Politics

The Government yesterday vowed to press ahead with the repeal of Section 28, which bans the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities, despite a defeat by peers over the contentious issue.

However, it became clear that ministers would need the help of a new batch of life peers to swing the balance in the House of Lords to get the measure on the statute book.

David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, had hoped that new school guidelines on sex education, included in the Learning and Skills Bill, would placate campaigners fighting to keep Section 28.

Under his compromise, children would be required to learn the "significance of marriage and stable relationships in society" in schools. However, peers supported - by 190 votes to 175 - an amendment tabled by Baroness Young, a Tory peer, stressing the importance of traditional marriage .

A Downing Street spokesman said the Government was "obviously very disappointed" by the outcome and would reverse the defeat when the Learning and Skills Bill was debated in the Commons next week. "The Government believes it has made every effort to listen to opinions across the range. David Blunkett has done a lot of negotiation with the churches," the spokesman said. "We will want to look at tactics as to how we take this forward, but we are still committed to the abolition of Section 28."

The new list of working peers is expected to be published next Friday. There will be 19 Labour, nine Liberal Democrats and five Tory peers. Ministers hope that the peers will be in place once the Local Government Bill goes back for debate to the Lords in July.

Lady Young's amendment to promote marriage was supported by an alliance of Tory peers, a few Labour peers and crossbenchers on Thursday. The Government will reverse the change and will not seek to reintroduce the guidelines in the Commons. Sources close to Mr Blunkett said the guidelines did not need to be enshrined in law to be available to schools.

The Downing Street spokesman made it clear that there was now little room for a compromise solution. "There is a fundamental difference between what Baroness Young is proposing and what we are proposing," he said.

Mr Blunkett, after lengthy discussions with religious leaders, decided to draft new guidelines after it suffered a heavy defeat when it tried to repeal Section 28 during debate on the Local Government Bill in February. Bishops agreed to cooperate with Mr Blunkett because of their concern about the bullying of children.

But Theresa May, the shadow Education Secretary, called on the Government to back down after the defeat. "The Government should apply some common sense and drop this nonsense," she said. "Parents want the comfort of knowing homosexuality cannot be promoted in schools at public expense and that their children are protected."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the teachers' union NASUWT, also welcomed the defeat of the Government's guidelines. "I think they are unnecessary, they are bureaucratic and they would add considerably to teachers' workload," he said.

"I now think the Government should proceed with its original plan to scrap Section 28 and I don't think the Government should be distracted by futile attempts to placate the forces of reaction in the House of Lords."