By Simon Caldwell
CHURCH LEADERS have praised the House of Lords for acting on behalf of Britain's "silent majority" in defeating the Government over the promotion of homosexuality in schools.
Both Cardinal Thomas Winning, the Archbishop of Glasgow, and Bishop Vincent Nichols, the chairman of the Department of Catholic Education and Formation of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, expressed relief after peers voted by 2.10 to 165, ,a majority of 45, for an amendment to retain Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act in the new Local Government Bill.
The section prevents local councils from promoting homosexual relationships as equal to marriage. The Government claims it stops teachers from effectively dealing with the bullying of homosexual children.
Since the Bill began in the Lords, the Government is unable to invoke its powers to force it through, meaning that it could be forced to either drop the proposed repeal or to lose its Bill altogether.
Bishop Nichols said he now hopes the Government will heed people's anxieties and said he looks forward to meeting ministers for further discussions on sex education in schools. "The vote in the Lords was a significant signal about people's concerns as to how we present to children an understanding of sexuality, especially in schools," he said.
"The Catholic Education Service is waiting to respond to the next step of the Government's consultation. I am sure the Government understands well the statutory provisions we are seeking."
Cardinal Winning, meanwhile, warned the Scottish Executive to respond properly to the "legitimate concerns of parents and many others" on the same issue.
He said: "The House of Lords has spoken for the silent majority. It must now be clear that there is overwhelming public support for retaining the substance of Section 28. In Scotland. the bishops have made very clear it is not a sufficient safeguard to replace a law with 'guidelines'.
"If parliaments on both sides of the border are sincere in saying that they wish to protect children from the promotion of homosexuality then such protection must be enshrined in law. Only when people see this protection is enforceable will they be reassured."
He added: "We hope the Scottish Executive understands this concern. MSPs determined to repeal at any cost must know they are dramatically out of step with the Scottish people on this issue. Their mail bags. alone, will tell them so."
A campaign to keep the section won a broad base of supporters. including Church of England, Jewish and Muslim leaders, and last week, Education Secretary David Blunkett was presented with a joint statement by the Catholic and Anglican Churches on sex education in schools.
It called on the Government to legally enforce the promotion of the family based on marriage, while it explicitly condemned the "verbal abuse about sexual orientation" and the encouragement of sexual activity among children.
Mr Blunkett has promised his new guidelines, replacing a 1994 circular, would be set in the context of the "importance of marriage, family life, love and stable relationships in bringing up children". They would stress that teachers should not promote sexual orientation of any kind.
The guidelines also formed the basis of an amendment proposed at the start of the Lords debate by Anglican Bishop Alan Chesters of Blackburn, with the backing of the Catholic Education Service. The bishop, who was attacked by both sides, later withdrew the amendment.
Lady Young, the Tory peer whose own amendment to retain Section 28 succeeded, criticised the bishop's proposals because they encouraged councils to promote marriage, but did not prevent them from promoting homosexuality. She said they also did not cover youth organisations nor define the word "family". Bishop Chesters had earlier been accused of a "Jesuitical manoeuvre" by Catholic Tory peer and former Education Minister Lord St John of Fawsley, who voted for repeal on the grounds that Section 28 was "totally unnecessary".
Catholics Lord Longford and Lord Stallard were among a large minority of Labour peers to break the Government's three-line whip and to vote in favour of Lady Young's amendment.
"Homosexuality is against Christian rules," said Lord Longford, an author of the Wolfenden Report that led to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between adults. "Homosexuality can have terrible, tragic results. Whatever else it does, it deprives people of the supreme joy of marriage and children. Helping a young person to become a homosexual means that he will never be married and never have children.
"That is a terrible burden to intlict on a child, although it is no worse than the behaviour of a heterosexual man who has five mistresses. I do not say that one is worse than the other. They are both against the rules. They are both sinful."
One of the most vitriolic speeches came from openly gay peer Lord Alli who claimed the debate was really about -a small number of people" who wanted to force everyone to "live by their moral codes" and who were using the education system to spread "inequality and intolerance throughout the land".