Scottish Parliament repeals Section 28

Chris Gray
Thursday 22 June 2000 00:00
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Scottish ministers have won their long fight to repeal Section 28, the law that bans the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities.

Scottish ministers have won their long fight to repeal Section 28, the law that bans the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities.

The Scottish Parliament passed the Ethical Standards in Public Life (Scotland) Bill by 99 votes to 17 last night, a majority of 82. All that remains is for the Bill to receive royal assent.

Their victory was a bitter blow to the Stagecoach millionaire Brian Souter, who ran a private referendum as part of his hard-fought Keep the Clause campaign to stop the repeal. A Tory amendment to enshrine the status of marriage within the repeal legislation was defeated by 100 votes to 20.

Mr Souter admitted defeat an hour before yesterday's vote, issuing a statement that said: "I believe the fight has been very worthwhile and it is good to see marriage placed at the centre of statutory guidance for future generations of Scots. At the end of the day, the values we have fought for are priceless."

Keep the Clause said it would go ahead with a "final event" at Strathclyde Park,Lanarkshire, on Saturday to wind up its campaign and celebrate "family values".

Ministers had conceded some ground to the antirepeal lobby last week by agreeing to include a reference to "the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage" in guidance to be issued to local authorities on sex education, as recommended unanimously by a specialist working party. The guidelines will have a degree of statutory backing through another piece of legislation, the Standards in Scotland Schools Bill.

Earlier, debating the Bill, the Communities Minister, Wendy Alexander, told MSPs: "Repeal is not and never has been about the promotion of homosexuality in our schools. Nor is repeal about political correctness or even marriage. It is about building a tolerant Scotland."

Ms Alexander insisted the Scottish Executive recognised the central role of marriage in Scottish society. She said Section 28 was being repealed because it was the right thing to do - a long-standing commitment of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, concerning legislation which had acted as an "ugly restraint" on the ability of local government to support all members of their communities.

"This clause is not about marriage - it is about children, all children, and specifically the responsibilities of our local authorities towards our children," she said.

Trish Godman, Labour MSP for West Renfrewshire, said in a closing speech: "After all the raised voices, this is a day for quiet pride as we point the way to a new and tolerant Scotland."

But Keith Harding, Tory MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, appealed for the place of marriage to be more formally enshrined in the repeal legislation. "I may be old fashioned but I feel I speak for a majority of Scots when I say marriage is a cornerstone of civilisation," he said.

The Bill also contains a range of measures for improving standards in public life, including the appointment of a standards commission for local government and other public bodies.

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