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Lord Whitty: I apologise if my initial remarks misled the Committee into thinking that we were holding a general debate. However, in practice that is what has happened, but it is now necessary to move on to the other amendments. Therefore my present remarks will be directed specifically to the amendment of the right reverend Prelate.

I believe that some very wise remarks have been made in the course of the debate. I should like in particular to draw the attention of the Committee to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, and to those of the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley. We should bear their words in mind as we proceed with these issues.

The original drafting of Section 28 was an extremely rapid event which did not go through the normal wise and considered process of parliamentary counsel, but rather was a response to a fear--I accept that it was a genuine fear--among politicians. It was not drafted in the usual way for legislation both in this House and in another place. Its continuing effects have led to ambiguity and worse: it has led to fear among teachers and social workers of what they might be accused of, were they to proceed with normal advice to some of their pupils, and indeed to adults.

The wording proposed by the right reverend Prelate is an enormous improvement on Section 28 and therefore I should say that in many ways the Government sympathise with much of what the right reverend Prelate is attempting to achieve here. For example, we agree wholeheartedly that children should be taught about the importance of marriage, of family life and of bringing up children and that it is not the job of teachers to promote a particular sexual orientation. Sex and relationships education should be carried out within a social and moral context and taught in a caring situation that stresses self-esteem, mutual respect, responsibility and the importance of family life. The crude wording of Section 28 cuts right across that.

However, it is also the responsibility of teachers to deal with the real world. As the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, pointed out, in the real world many children will already have faced moral dilemmas and pressures--along with the concerns and queries those problems raise--in their own family lives through their siblings, their parents, their friends, neighbours and colleagues. Those questions must be answered and be dealt with by teachers, social workers and youth workers. At present, the shadow of Section 28 prevents them doing so.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he aware of a survey carried out by Stonewall of a large number of teachers who were asked what inhibiting factors prevented them from dealing effectively with bullying? Not one of them invoked Section 28. They invoked lack of policy,

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inexperienced staff, governor disapproval, parental disapproval, pupil disapproval, teacher disapproval and other staff disapproval, but no one said that Section 28 was an inhibiting factor.

Lord Whitty: That same Stonewall study indicates clearly that teachers do not have adequate guidance because of the existence of Section 28. That same study shows that nearly half of teachers have experienced homophobic bullying in their schools and do not have the means to deal with it. That same study indicates that there is a serious failure to tackle homophobic bullying in our schools. We should be dealing with that.

Earl Russell: Does the Minister agree that to label any group of people as "unequal" and then to say that they should not be bullied is a contradiction in terms?

Lord Whitty: I agree with the noble Earl in that respect. Whatever one's lifestyle (if I may use that term), it is a matter of civil rights. It is not a matter of discrimination and should not be a matter for the law. However, I believe that we shall return to that issue in the debate on the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young.

The problem relating to this amendment is that people believe that there will be a vacuum if we remove Section 28. There is not a vacuum at present due to Section 403 of the Education Act 1996, to which the noble Baroness and other noble Lords have referred. That requires that, where sex education is given, teachers and schools must take all reasonable steps to ensure that it is given in a manner which encourages pupils to have regard to moral considerations and to the values of family life. That is the duty of the governing body in which parents play a full part and from which, indeed, if parents do not agree with the form of sex education conducted in their schools, they have the right to withdraw. Therefore, there is already provision in education legislation for that vacuum to be filled. We are now in the process of revising that guidance.

Baroness Blatch: Again, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He is using specific arguments and it is important that they should be properly countered, if possible. In a document entitled School Sex Education: Why, What and How? A Guide for Teachers--therefore, it was a teaching document--the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, produced a matrix whereby schools could deal with sex education outside the national curriculum right across all subjects--biology, English, health education, history, home economics, geography, religious education, tutorial time, languages, physical education, social studies, etc--to get round the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education because they cannot withdraw them from those subjects.

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5.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty: That simply proves the point that sex education and the whole approach to sex needs to be placed in a broader context. However, parents have that right where there is a specific sex education session, as the noble Baroness well knows. Of course, it is important that schools do not see sex, sex education and health education connected with sex as being entirely isolated from the rest of life. That is part of the problem with Section 28. We must put it in a social and behavioural context and not leave it "ghetto-ised" in an area where discrimination and the detrimental effect of attitudes towards particular groups of pupils and, indeed, adults will develop.

As I was about to say, we are in the process of revising that guidance. The right reverend Prelate kindly referred to the discussions which he has already held with my colleague Ministers on those revisions. That discussion will continue. As I indicated earlier, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is happy to become involved in that process with the representatives of the churches and of other faiths and with others who are concerned with sex education. We have indicated that we shall consult further on this matter and that, among other things, we shall consult on whether the spirit of the right reverend Prelate's amendment is best dealt with in primary legislation or guidance, or in a balance of the two. If we accept the spirit of much of what he says, we are therefore prepared to see whether the guidance can be given greater coherence and greater force in whatever area we proceed.

I make one other point at this stage. At the beginning of the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that this issue deals with children and not adults. Of course, the powers of local authorities deal not just with children but with other social services. Much of the material which has been used, I believe erroneously as background to the debate, is in fact directed at adults. Some noble Lords may feel that some of it is appropriate; others may consider that it is of great benefit to the advice and counselling services which I believe local authorities should be providing to the gay community and to those who feel that they have some doubts about their sexuality.

Were we to maintain Section 28 in its present form, the issue would be not only its indirect effect on children--and it is indirect because Section 28 does not deal with that--but its effect on adults and social services, on youth workers for the older group, and on local authority services as a whole. That is where I believe that the point of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, comes in. If we define something which is legal in a way which allows local authorities to discriminate against a particular group, that is an infringement of the civil rights of that group and an infringement of the egalitarian and fair provision of local authority services to that group. Therefore, we enter a wider debate. I believed that I should put down that marker now because the matter is not simply about children; it is about society as a whole. We should recognise that society as a whole includes the gay community,

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whether or not we approve of its behaviour, and it includes a lot of people who depart from the ideal of marriage.

The law in this area has an obligation to treat adults equally and to treat children fairly so that they understand the complicated world into which they are moving. I believe that the way forward will be to engage in wider discussions on this issue, to decide whether we can put a form of words on the statute book which will be appropriate and whether we can agree on the basis of guidance. I hope that we shall be able to reach a consensus later during the progress of this Bill. Therefore, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for indicating that he is prepared to withdraw his amendment at this stage. I regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has not indicated similarly that she will withdraw at this stage. We shall now proceed to the other amendments.


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