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Baroness Blatch: My Lords—

Lord Alli: In the other corner—

Noble Lords: Order.

Lord Alli: I am not giving way to the noble Baroness, my Lords.

In the other corner are gay organisations with their own equality agenda. To the many in this House who are in neither of the two camps, may I say that I have a huge sympathy for you for what has become an almost annual if not monthly event? I understand that if you vote against the repeal of Section 28 you will be labelled as a bad Christian.

Lord Elton: My Lords, there is no proposal to do as the noble Lord suggests. My noble friend is not proposing to reinstate Section 28.

Lord Alli: My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I shall come to that very point.

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I understand that some noble Lords who vote against the repeal of Section 28 will, even if they are bishops, be labelled as bad Christians, and possibly as uncaring about the safety of our children. And if they vote for the retention of Section 28, they will be condemned as homophobic and endorsing gay bullying. Section 28 is just one of those issues. It was designed to divide and it is unsurprising that it does just that.

We all take our predictable paths. It is bit like a bad soap opera—we deliver our lines, and in some cases we play to the camera. However, I ask noble Lords the same questions as others will no doubt pose later today. Why would the NSPCC, Childline, the Children's Legal Centre, the Children's Rights Alliance, the National Children's Home, the National Youth Agency and the Children's Society all write to noble Lords setting out their support for the repeal of Section 28? Could they be so misguided as to believe that the repeal of Section 28 will leave schools exposed to an onslaught of inappropriate material?

Those organisations have considered this issue in detail, discussed it and agreed to put their views on paper and in public. They are not a few individuals writing letters with anecdotal evidence, trying to undermine an organisational response. Those organisations have reputations that we have learned to trust. This is not a group of trendy, left-wing, politically correct individuals. These are people who have dedicated their lives to helping, teaching and working with children.

Why would an overwhelming majority of MPs vote for the repeal of Section 28 if they believed that it would harm vulnerable children?

Lord Elton: My Lords, I should be grateful if the noble Lord would answer the point. There is no proposal to reinstate Section 28, which has actually already been removed.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I shall come to that very point.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Alli: Then let me deal with it directly, my Lords. The enactment of the repeal would depend on a set of criteria of which the Secretary of State must be satisfied. However, the Secretary of State can never be satisfied that all those conditions are in place over the period. As noble Lords know, this is effectively a wrecking amendment. Nobody here believes that it is anything but that.

Perhaps I may inform the House why those people support the repeal. It is because they understand that sex education in schools is not governed by Section 28. No matter how many times the other side repeat it, it does not make it true. They know that maintained schools must have a written policy on school sex education. Because of Section 404 of the Sex Education Act 1996, they know that governing bodies of all secondary schools are required to provide a programme of sex education which is offered to pupils

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above the age of 16. Because of Section 352 of the Education Act 1996, they know that the governing body and head teachers must ensure that sex education encourages people to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life. Because of Section 403 of the Education Act 1996, they know that parents have the right to withdraw their children from all or part of sex education. Because of Section 405 of the Education Act 1996, they know that the schools are under a duty to promote the education guidelines of the Learning and Skills Act.

In fact, we have discussed this countless times in connection with that legislation. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn is not in his place. He sought to find a compromise and a way through via an amendment to satisfy the House on that very issue. He said,


    "In an ideal world, these issues would be expressed more precisely. But in relation to the government amendment, there has been considerable discussion to find the appropriate words to deal with these matters and it is certainly a considerable advance on Section 28, which does not at all protect children in school from these matters".

5 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, can the noble Lord direct his attention at some time in his speech to the reasoning of my noble friend Lady Blatch and explain where and why it was defective?

Lord Alli: My Lords, I would rather get on because others wish to speak and I do not believe that I should make the noble Baroness's arguments for her. We must take heed of the organisations and professionals as well as the countless people who tell us that they work with children.

Section 28 is about one group of people trying to use the law to embody their own prejudices. Section 28 has no place in the protection of children, let alone in a modern, civilised society.

I turn to the specifics of the noble Baroness's amendment. As I said, it disguises the fact that in effect it prevents the repeal of Section 28 happening until the Secretary of State is satisfied that he has done everything in her amendment. It also seeks to use parental choice as a cloak under which to disguise what is simply an amendment to prevent the repeal of Section 28. The amendment is unworkable. It is simply a wrecking amendment.

I have one final request. Abstention, while welcome, may not see the back of Section 28. I believe that it will not be repealed without noble Lords walking through the Lobby and voting for the repeal. The measure is supported by a powerful and, in my view, compelling coalition of children's organisations, Christians, Labour, Conservative and Liberal councillors and MPs. It is a coalition which cares about children and their welfare and most of all it is a cross-party coalition. Please support that coalition and vote down this amendment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether he has seen

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the letter from the care organisation, Christian Action Research and Education, which has reached me and I imagine a number of Members of this House, which states quite clearly,


    "Baroness Blatch has tabled a straightforward amendment to re-institute Section 28".

They certainly believe that that is what her amendments do and I suspect that a large number of people outside believe so too.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I have seen it. I believe that it is an accurate portrayal of the amendment.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I understand that that letter was written before the amendments in question were tabled. I had not intended to speak, but it is really important that I should ask your Lordships to address the question before the House, which is not whether Section 28 should be repealed or not, but whether it should be repealed before certain fairly simple requirements are met.

It is not a wrecking amendment because, as anyone can see by reading the two substantial amendments in the group, the process set in place is simple. The process is designed to enable worried parents to have a final say in the way their children are taught. There is no question but that parents are worried and that the material to which my noble friend has referred and quoted, is in circulation or is intended to be acted on, as is clear from the note she circulated in reply to that of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and which he spoke to earlier.

The question, therefore, is simply whether Section 28 should be repealed and nothing else put in its place or whether parents who are already anxious and who will be rendered much more so by the repeal of Section 28 should be given the power to speak in a forum in which what they say will have effect; that is to say, in the forum of the school in which they are taught.

There are so many vibrations in the Chamber at the moment, which relate to an earlier debate about homosexual practices. This is not about that, but all sexual practices, some of which are extremely odd. Some of the non-homosexual ones are perhaps less appetising than anything. It seems a natural thing to give reassurance to parents that their children will be brought up as they want and not as some activist in any cause, heterosexual, homosexual or whatever, believes is fit for them. Parents have the ultimate responsibility. My noble friend's amendments give them the means of fulfilling that responsibility. I hope that your Lordships will go through the Lobby with my noble friend and not vote against her.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I shall speak very briefly. My credentials are that I have taught sex education and I have been a school governor for many years. I suggest that the amendments before us today, for all that they are designed to clarify a situation, would simply compound the confusion about teaching sex education and would not serve parents, teachers or governors well.

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There is much talk about protecting children from unsavoury resources. I shall comment on that later. What concerns me is that the sex education of many young people is inadequate. They are left vulnerable to disease, relationship problems and susceptibility to abuse. This is not protection, but negligence.

I was at a conference this week where 450 young people were discussing sexual health. The question was put to them about the adequacy of their sex education. Only 11 out of 450 thought it was "good". One quotation from the conference was, "They told us what the bits were called and the teacher was a nervous wreck". No wonder if teachers are left in confusion about what they can and cannot teach. Ofsted reports point out that sex and relationships education should be taught by teachers who are confident as well as informed.

The statistics on sexual health speak for themselves and for our woeful failure to educate young people. One in 10 women have Chlamydia: many do not know it. Over 40 per cent of these women are under 20. Over 17,000 men had gonorrhoea last year. We have an unprecedented rise in other sexually transmitted infections. HIV/AIDS rates are rising, especially among young gay men. It is simply impractical to recommend the married state and total fidelity to one's partner being the only viable state. We have to be pragmatic and realistic.

We have heard today and in earlier debates about the unsuitability of resources being produced for schools. I have seen some such materials. Some were not produced for children in the first place. I contacted several teachers and asked about the resources. Ninety-nine per cent of the teachers I spoke to had never heard of them, let alone used them. What evidence is there that such materials are being used in schools?

Let us not be dragged into thinking that there is a plot in schools to corrupt young people—there is not. Let us not be dragged into thinking that unsavoury materials are rife in our classrooms. They are not. Sex and relationships education is probably the most policed area of the curriculum and the most subject to recommendations and guidance. Parental and pupil involvement in assessing resources has increased with the positive support offered by the national healthy schools standards scheme and the DfES sexual relationships guidance.

The Learning and Skills Act 2000, mentioned previously, requires that young people learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children; and that pupils are protected from teaching and materials that are inappropriate having regard to the age, religion and cultural background of the pupils concerned. What could be stronger?

I want to stress that governing bodies have a number of parents as members and that they have power. Governing bodies are charged with the oversight of sex and relationships education. They are already

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expected to ensure the involvement of parents, young people, health and other professionals in developing policies on sex and relationships education.

Parents already have all the rights about which the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is so concerned. I am a school governor and I know that that is precisely what happens. My governing body would be appalled by the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We would not want to spend our time conducting polls of parents. There are already parents on the governing body and we know what happens in the curriculum.

I have just received a communication from the chair of governors of the City of Portsmouth Girls' School, who says that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, would:


    "add to teachers' workload significantly . . . [and] undermines the role and responsibilities of Governors which is both insulting and offensive to the largest voluntary force this country has".

There is no need for the amendment before us. Spreading contention and confusion about sex education will damage even further the confidence of professionals. What they require is training, which is already being made available to deliver this area of the curriculum.

We must not deny our young people the information and skills to protect themselves and to form fulfilling relationships. We must reject the amendment.


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