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Ms Armstrong: That Act was overtaken by a subsequent Education Act, which put the teaching of sex education in the hands of governors, in consultation with parents. The previous Government issued guidance which made that clear. The guidance stated that section 28 could not apply in schools.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I have no hesitation in supporting the amendments that the Government are to introduce on the matter. On the issue of law making, however, my right hon. Friend should publish the advice that she was given. I find the Bill neutral. The previous Act may be contrary to human rights, but the Bill is not. When the Human Rights Bill went through another place, the Lord Chancellor said that there would be a burden on Government to explain why it was not possible, unusually, to make a statement of human rights compliance.
It should also be borne in mind that, since the case of Pepper v. Hart, what is said in the Chamber can be considered by the Law Lords. Unless the fact of human rights compliance is explicitly stated on the Floor of the House or in the explanatory memorandum, which is silent
Ms Armstrong: I have made it clear that we believe that there are considerable doubts whether section 2A is compatible. It is our responsibility to say that we are certain that a Bill is compatible. We are not certain; there are considerable doubts. I believe that the comments on the Bill have been published, as the advice was given by lawyers to the organisation known as Justice. My hon. Friend says that the Bill may be compatible, but because it amends section 2A that may bring its compatibility into doubt.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): The Minister claimed that the Local Government Act 1988, which includes section 28, was superseded by another Act. However, I believed that we were considering section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986, which was superseded by the 1988 Act. The 1988 Act should therefore prevail. However, is the Minister suggesting that the European convention on human rights will render the House powerless to protect children and to uphold the protection that parents want enshrined in law?
Ms Armstrong: Section 28 is not about protecting children. The Government have made their position clear on the responsibilities of sex and relationship education. The Education Act 1994 places the responsibility for that clearly in the hands of governors in consultation with parents. We affirm that.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said that he would publish guidance, which clearly outlines the way in which governors should deal with sex and relationship education. Teaching and work with children have nothing to do with section 28. Conservative Members should bear that in mind when they vehemently oppose abolishing section 28. They are not trying to protect children. I wonder what they are trying to do if not to promote prejudice and bigotry in this country.
Mr. Mackinlay: If it is not possible to get the Bill through Parliament in the form that my right hon. Friend and I would like, perhaps because of decisions in the other place, we will face the dilemma of whether to enact a Bill that does not comply with the European convention on human rights. That would be misunderstood around the world, because the Bill also covers mayors, elections and so on. It would be perverse if, to correct stupid law making under previous Governments and poor advice from the Lord Chancellor, we ultimately produced an Act which stated that it contravened human rights legislation. That is bonkers.
Ms Armstrong: That is not a matter for me. I am not in charge of the House's decisions. I believe that the House will make the Bill compatible with the European convention on human rights. I hope that Opposition Members and Members in another place will take note.
As we move into the 21st century, we are also moving towards a new era of local government and local partnership, with councils working together with other organisations and local people to improve the quality of
As I explained earlier, the version of the Bill that has been brought to this House from another place is not yet in the form that the Government would like. We shall propose changes when we progress to the next stage. I repeat that we want the Bill to be compatible with human rights legislation.
The Bill is far from being a centralising measure. We intend it to return local government to the heart of local communities. It grants new powers and their attendant responsibilities to councils and the local people whom they serve. The Bill should receive a Second Reading.
The Minister made a torrent of extravagant claims. I have never heard so much jargon on a single issue. She said that the Bill will revitalise local democracy, put local people at the centre and bring a new democratic settlement for local communities and talked of a democratic, dynamic and fair solution, of empowering people to tackle 21st century problems and so on. Those aspirations are universally shared, but largely irrelevant to the subject at hand and most unlikely to be delivered by the Bill.
We welcome aspects such as the introduction of standards committees, the abolition of surcharging and the extension of councils' responsibilities, but we regret that the Minister appeared to rule out the Lords amendment to allow councils to keep the fourth option--the status quo. The Bill is a hotch-potch and the consideration of it has been a shambles throughout. We have seen more of that today. Proposals aimed at setting in concrete the shape and form of local government for decades should be thought through in minute detail, experimented with, piloted properly in the real world and tempered to reflect the views
Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): The last major reform of the structure of local government was the abolition of the Greater London council. Can the hon. Gentleman describe the temperate way in which pilot schemes were introduced by the Conservatives when that was suggested?