|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Young: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 180B, 180C and 182B. I am very glad that the government amendments, which were inserted as Clause 117 in another place, cover national health service trusts. The Minister did not refer to that, but the issue was referred to on a number of occasions when we debated the matter last March. I am also glad that they ensure that sex education takes account of the religious and cultural background of pupils. I welcome the Minister's further amendment that she has moved this afternoon.
However, although I welcome the new amendments, they are much weaker than those that were passed by the House of Lords last March. My amendments, which the House was then good enough to support, encouraged marriage, set clear principles for determining inappropriate material and gave governors an absolute veto over what materials could be used in schools.
In welcoming the fact that the Bill now takes account of pupils regardless of their religious or cultural background, I make the point once again that my amendments have cross-party support and cover all religions.
Amendments Nos. 180B and 180C are essential. I am glad that the Minister recognised that I have identified a gap in the provisions made for sex education. I make no apology for the terms in which I speak to the amendments. They are essential because I know full well that local education authorities give training and advice to teachers, governors and parent governors on sex education and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so and that such advice will increase with the new guidelines.
Local education authorities are also the major providers of in-service training. It is therefore essential that marriage is put at the centre of their courses. I am delighted to see so many on the Bishops Bench today. I do not think that I have ever seen quite so many before. I hope that they will support my amendment if they really believe in marriage.
The wording of my Amendment No. 180C applying to local education authorities is very nearly the same as Amendment No. 182B, which applies to governors and teachers. So I am completely consistent in what I am saying. It seems to me that one should be consistent, and that marriage should be on the face of the Bill in the two areas of provision relating to sex education.
I was pleased that the noble Baroness made the point that I have taken the wording from the Government's own publication. I do not want to spend time now telling the noble Baroness on just how many occasions marriage is included in the Government's Green Paper, Supporting Families. Incidentally, I was always under the assumption that a Green Paper emanated from the Government, not from one particular department, and that every department signed up to it.
The noble Baroness explained in some detail why the amendment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn was acceptable and mine was not. That is an outstanding example of government spin. There are those of us who take these matters very seriously; I count myself as one. Marriage is at the centre of Supporting Families, and all I am doing, with the intention of being helpful, is to quote from the Green Paper. I had intended to quote precisely the same paragraph as the noble Baroness quoted, but I shall not take up the time of the House.
It is important that the House should be aware that, even today, local education authorities are producing material which is entirely inappropriate. My attention was drawn to this by a friend of mine who is a school governor and who was invited to attend a conference a couple of months ago on sex and relationship education. Perhaps I may read part of the paper that was issued to participants. It stated:
It is essential because of the material that is currently being used by LEAs. One example is a book that is being used in Birmingham. Marriage is not mentioned at all, yet it contains plenty of advice on abortion, "coming out", gay rights and bisexuality. Material recently issued by Leicestershire mentions marriage only when pupils are about to leave school.
I do not believe that the guidelines that are linked to the government amendment make clearer the whole issue of what is appropriate or inappropriate. What emerges from paragraphs 1.8 and 4.5 is that what is not appropriate is inappropriate. It is a kind of circular argument. Yet those who saw the exhibition that we held with regard to what local education authorities and some teachers thought appropriate in 1988 and what health promotion units think is appropriate today will have found much of the material simply appalling. All this material is paid for by the taxpayer. Many people, myself included, would regard much of it as pornographic, and all of it is put before children. I am certain that if Section 28 is repealed and the minimum provisions are not in place, the floodgates for this appalling material will be open for ever more. Perhaps I may reinforce the comment of my noble friend Lord Campbell. Guidelines, weak as they are, are not enforceable. So I believe strongly that my first amendment is essential. I hope that everyone in the House who believes in marriage will support it.
My second amendment--again, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone--is similar to the one introduced by my honourable friend Mr Gerald Howarth in another place. As I said, it is based on words from the Government's Green Paper. If the Government do not believe the words in their Green Paper, what can I do about it? It now seems that they do not. If they do--one must assume that that is the case--why not write them on to the face of the Bill? I am not asking for anything other than that.
It is incredible that we should be debating the need to include marriage in sex education. Marriage is still the basis of society. Many of the greatest problems being faced today--rising crime and an enormous welfare bill, to name but two--arise from the breakdown of marriage. If we examine the guidelines, we get little comfort. Marriage is mentioned only three times in 33 pages. In modern jargon, the guidelines are non-judgmental and value free. That means in effect that adults have abdicated their responsibilities to pass on traditional beliefs and knowledge, leaving children free to choose any kind of lifestyle, and that all lifestyles are to have equal value. As a kind of sop to adult consciences, children are given more rights in exchange.
Good teachers, on reading the guidelines, will be placed in an impossible position as they struggle to follow all of this. There is no mention of right or wrong. That is extraordinary in a document such as this. The rest of us who have read it should hardly be surprised that there are so many teenage pregnancies and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.
Yet the extraordinary thing is that we know from all the polls taken that the overwhelming majority of young people want to get married, and that the overwhelming majority of parents would welcome education on sex in marriage. I cannot understand why, if the Government really listen to what people want, they will not accept the amendments.
I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn will not think me discourteous if I comment on his amendment before he has spoken to it. But in the way that this debate in being taken, this may be my only opportunity to do so. Some noble Lords may well think that there is very little to choose between the amendment of the right reverend Prelate which refers to governors and teachers and my second amendment,
Furthermore, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has said, the House must understand that this is a package. Amendment No. 182A is linked to Amendment No. 180A. Clearly, the intention is that, if carried, the Government will be able to repeal Section 28 with impunity. In fact, it is not a substitute for Section 28. I have already made quite clear what is happening in local education authorities. The amendment on marriage is in effect a toning down of what the Government themselves said previously. Therefore, I very much hope that the House will accept my amendment.
To sum up: I believe that the two amendments that I am moving are an absolute minimum requirement. They are in the interests of children and parents. They must include marriage because I believe--as I believe do most people in the country--that marriage is the basis of our society. Weakened as it has been, it is still the basis and we should put in front of children the ideal by which they should live.
Of the alternative amendments directed at governors, I believe that mine is the stronger. It is not as strong as I would like, but stronger than the others. Therefore, I ask the House to support my two amendments this evening. I have spoken on this issue before. It is something about which I believe strongly. I am as certain as I am standing here that I speak for thousands of people in the country as a whole, an overwhelming majority, who wish to see these amendments carried.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 182A tabled in my name. I want to make it clear that, although the Churches were not consulted about the amendments made in the Commons, insofar as it goes, I welcome what Amendment No. 182 sets out, not least because it further clarifies what for some has been a continuing area of uncertainty; namely, that some LEAs now have no responsibility for sex and personal relationship education in schools. That is a matter on which there is a misleading article even in today's Daily Telegraph.
But we must not underestimate the demands which this very sensitive area of the curriculum places on our teachers. We need to get into the real schools in the real world, acting, as the teachers are, very much in loco parentis, seeking to impart sensitive knowledge which many believe properly belongs to the home and to the parents. Headteachers and governors must clearly not only keep in touch with parents about this, but carry their confidence and that of the local community. That in itself is no easy task in modern Britain.
That said, I must now return to a concern first expressed in this House by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford in the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill on 9th December last year (Hansard, col. 1044); namely, the importance of marriage. Despite the quasi-jocular remarks made, this Bench remains full square about the importance of marriage. It has consistently done so and nothing that I have said in this House on any occasion during the passage of this legislation or the Local Government Bill can call that into question. Indeed, the bishops of the Church of England issued a statement on marriage, as they understood it, as recently as last year.
In my view, and that of the Church of England Board of Education, a balanced group of people representing different opinions within the Anglican tradition, and which has recently debated the new Clause 117 from the Commons, and the Catholic Education Service with which I have been working very closely are of the view that Commons Amendment No. 182 does not provide, in the statutory enforcement of the guidance, all that is required or indeed all that I believe I was promised. It is for that reason that on 18th May the chairman of the Catholic Education Service, Archbishop Nicholls, who has already been referred to, and I, in a statement broadly welcoming the provisions of Clause 117, said,
In the situation in which we find ourselves, my amendment seeks to rectify that omission. I have had no discussion with the Government about it. The amendment was simply tabled after discussion with the Board of Education, with the Catholic Education Service and with a very rare meeting of the Lords Spiritual. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I am also glad to see so many of them here this evening.
Many people, including the Government, are anxious about what is happening in British society, from concern about teenage pregnancies to mindless football hooliganism; from road rage to rural crime. We seem to expect the schools, the Churches and the Government to do something about them. But surely at its root lies the modern cult of individualism: that what I want matters most. As I see it, the difference between marriage and other relationships, no matter how stable they may be, is that marriage involves not just the people concerned but an accountability to society which formally recognises that family unit and has clear expectations of it. Marriage is a public statement of intention and commitment made by the couple but witnessed on behalf of society. It does not rest simply on the say-so of the individuals concerned. Others are asked to respect that relationship, that new family unit. So I hope I have made it clear why I seek to amend the Bill in the way I do.
Finally, I return to the classroom and the frequently stated proper concerns that if marriage is affirmed in the way I wish it to be, then the children whose parents are not married will in some way be disadvantaged.
I do not underestimate the difficulty of the task that we ask of our teachers in providing sex and relationships education. However, the importance of marriage is taught regularly in Church schools. In the eyes of many parents and impartial observers, those
We must be careful that in our pastoral concern for pupils we do not remove ideals and reduce everything to a kind of basic common denominator which may better fit health than sex and relationships education. The best schools in our country are communities in which ideals and challenges are presented and pupils are prepared to make a contribution to society. Demanding though that task is, I believe that our teachers, supported by their governors, want to achieve it. I ask the House to support the inclusion of the amendment standing in my name that pupils learn the nature of marriage and its importance to family life and the bringing up of children.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, not very long ago I argued against the repeal of Section 28, and that view was upheld by your Lordships' House. Subsequently, the Secretary of State acknowledged the decision of this House and introduced an amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill. I appreciated that in introducing that amendment the Secretary of State had genuinely addressed the concerns that I had expressed. Therefore, I spoke in favour of that amendment, believing that if it was carried resistance to the repeal of Section 28 would no longer be necessary. However, the government amendment failed to find favour in your Lordships' House and was defeated by a mere 15 votes. Hence, we return to the issue following further consideration by the other place.
I have given this question much attention. I hope that what I am about to say will not be a repeat of the arguments that I advanced previously. I address the terms of Clause 117, with particular reference to Amendments Nos. 182A and 182B. It is worth while first to explore the common ground on which all sides of the House can unite and compare it with that which divides us. We all recognise that sensible, sensitive sex education must be provided in schools. We know that this issue is not about homosexuality between consenting adults in private. That issue is dealt with in other legislation which has been in force for some time. None of us wants to see homophobic bullying in schools or anywhere else. All of us want children to be protected from sexual abuse, or any other form of abuse. We do not want to see the promotion--I emphasise that word--of homosexuality in schools. We want the teaching of sexual relationships to be carried out in a sensitive and delicate way. Although we want the importance of marriage and family life to be expressed, none of us wants any child to feel inferior because his or her parents have chosen not to marry but, none the less, provide a very stable home life. We do not want the children of single parent families to feel second class. For me, those are the fundamental, sensible and compassionate factors on which we should all be able to agree. They reflect the objectives on which we should be united, and I believe that they are embraced in this Bill and the guidance notes.
Let us consider whether the issues that divide us have any importance or relevance. To be able to do that it is necessary to trace legislative developments since 1986. First, Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986 dealt with the prohibition of political publicity. Secondly, in 1988 Section 28 was introduced. Under Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986, the promotion of homosexuality in schools by local authorities was prohibited. A decade later, in 1996, the same Conservative administration introduced the Education Act. Sex education in schools is dealt with in Sections 403, 404 and 405 of that Act. I do not need to deal with Sections 404 and 405. However, Section 403(1) provides:
From that we see immediately that the authority for teaching sex education in schools has changed and the language used differs from earlier legislation. The essence of Section 28 as contained in the 1988 legislation has been overtaken by the enactment of the Education Act 1996. In reality, Section 28 is virtually ineffective, if not totally moribund.
In the circumstances, I believe that the Government would have been wiser to let sleeping dogs lie than propose the repeal of Section 28 and stir up a hornets' nest unnecessarily. I believe that it has created a polarisation of views--a rallying call around a symbolic flag--between the opponents of homosexuality in general and its supporters, many of whom believe that homosexuality is an equal and alternative lifestyle. That is not, and should not be, what the debate is about. The debate is about the teaching of sex education in schools and, in the process, the protection of school children. Unfortunately, the issue has attracted such publicity that often it overshadows many of the worthwhile successes of the Government, which I support.
None the less, this is where we are. When I opposed the repeal of Section 28, I did so to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State my concerns and those of many others about the protection of children and young people in schools from possible abuse which, in the absence of legislation to prevent it, a minority might try to perpetrate in the teaching of sex education. The proposed repeal of Section 28 can now be seen as something of a blessing in disguise because its defeat has led to Clause 117 of the Bill.
I believe that the Secretary of State has responded. I was disappointed that this House rejected this provision on the previous occasion. However, we now have another opportunity to deal with this matter in Clause 117, the provision having been further refined in the other place. A number of amendments have been tabled, to which I have no fundamental objection. However, as I believe that this House should be united as much as possible on this very sensitive and delicate issue, I favour the amendment tabled by the right
In conclusion, I hope that, having secured in this Bill all that we seek, the House will unite and no longer find it necessary to divide again next week on Section 28. I am sure that we all recognise that that provision no longer has any real relevance.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page