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The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I want to raise one or two points. The first is that I seem to remember a definition in which it was stated that the only way to explain the difference between education and training was as follows. If your daughter came home from school and said that she had received sex education, you would probably be very grateful. If she came home and said that she had received sex training, you would be somewhat concerned. On a more serious point, I believe that one worry is that role play—an issue mentioned in some of the lobbying material—falls into the area of training. That is one concern in people's minds.

The whole matter of Section 28 is a complete red herring. The LGA briefing—discredited or otherwise—clearly states in its penultimate paragraph:

That is interesting because it shows that perhaps we need some protection. I believe that such protection should be democratic and at the school stage. Conditions vary hugely in different areas. I am sure that there are deprived areas where very explicit education is required and that in other areas, where people are perhaps better behaved, such education does not need to be quite so explicit so early.

Therefore, I believe that discretion should be left in the hands of the parents, who can decide what is needed for their own children. Sending the material to parents may be a very good way to deal with the matter and may even revitalise some marriages—or perhaps, these days, I should say "partnerships".

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I declare an interest as a patron of the Family Planning Association. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has asked us to discuss in this debate the terms of her amendment rather than, by implication, the whole principle of Section 28. I shall attempt to do that, although I say to her that I believe Section 28 and the

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way that it set a context for sex education in this country over a number of years is very relevant to the amendments that she puts forward and the likely consequences of those amendments.

My own view is that Section 28 was ill-conceived and, I believe, a source of great confusion. Even though it did not relate specifically to schools and to teachers, it encouraged a climate in which teachers avoided dealing with issues of sexuality in schools because of fear, inadequate training or, indeed, homophobia. That then acted as a barrier to young people receiving help and support and created a situation in which homophobic bullying was far less likely to be challenged. I believe that it also led to an inhibition in bringing forward health promotion in relation to sexual issues.

I recommend that noble Lords read the report of the House of Commons Select Committee, produced only three weeks ago. It spoke about the alarming rise in sexual disease in this country and the inadequacies of many of our services in dealing with it. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that the Government will need to address that matter. The report also gives a very strong clue as to the need for more effective health and sexual education measures in our schools and in society in general.

I have four children in school and I certainly want them to be able to talk openly and honestly to teachers and to me and my wife about issues concerning sex, sexuality and relationships. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, has suggested, it is not always easy for parents to do that. We do not live up to the expectations that are often placed on us by official edicts from government departments, the Family Planning Association and other august institutions. It is very difficult to do so. That is why what schools do is very important indeed, and why Section 28 was a major mistake—it inhibited what teachers felt able to do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, says that repealing Section 28 will lead to problems because the current guidance is not sufficient. My experience is that the current guidance is very sensible, that schools understand what the guidance means and requires, and that the large majority of schools have been able to implement it to the satisfaction of the great majority of parents.

My noble friend Lady Massey, who is not in her place, made the very telling point that governing bodies have a critical role to play. These days, governing bodies are much more experienced and have to work much harder than they did 20 or 30 years ago. They no longer listen to a head teacher's report once a term and then rubber-stamp and endorse the head's decision. Governing bodies now take an active interest in the life of a school and have corporate responsibility for the decisions that they make. A large proportion of those governors are parents.

In the face of very little evidence that some of the materials mentioned by noble Lords opposite are actually used in our schools, the suggested ballot seems to me to be extremely heavy handed. I suspect that

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those materials are rather more an urban myth than a reality. I know to my cost that the House is traditionally averse to the passing of unnecessary legislation. The potential ballot proposed by the noble Baroness is surely a very heavy hammer to crack a very small nut.

My noble friend Lady Massey talked very wisely about the problems for teachers who are confused and not confident about the teaching of relationships and sex education. Far from conveying parental rights, the Draconian sword of the potential of a poll could, in my view, lead to a continued loss of confidence among those teachers. Teachers need to teach sex education in a consistent and sensible framework, and I believe that the guidance that is available provides that very framework.

I have not always agreed with the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on education. In fact, I rarely agree with her on education. However, she has championed the cause of taking responsibility away from the department of government and local education authorities and placing it with schools. I agree with her and I applaud her for that. But, at the end of the day, why on earth do we not trust teachers in schools, working in partnership with governing bodies and parents, to implement that guidance in a sensible way?

In my view, the acceptance of the noble Baroness's amendment for the potential of a poll would inhibit the sensible approach of teachers to the proper and effective teaching of sex education. I very much hope that the House will reject her amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I very much endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just said in respect of trusting teachers and governing bodies.

The noble Lord, Lord Elder, was right to say that the question here is whether to repeal Section 28 encumbered or unencumbered by the two proposed new clauses. My reading of the new clauses is that the first, tabled as Amendment No. 25, would provide that where a group of parents is unhappy with the way in which sex education is being taught in schools, that group of parents, if it constitutes more than 10 per cent of the governing body, can trigger a ballot of parents about specific provisions relating to sex education.

The second clause, which is Amendment No. 91, maintains that Section 121 shall not come into effect until the Secretary of State is satisfied that parents know their rights under the new clause; that they know the name of the officer whom they should contact if they want to hold a ballot; that full consultation procedures are in place about the way in which sex education is delivered in schools, including a full statement of policy by the governors; that there should be full disclosure of all materials used in the provision of sex education, although "full disclosure" is not defined; and that there should be full vetting of all individuals involved in the teaching of sex education where such people are not members of staff.

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The implication of those two amendments is not that parents are given control—a point about which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made a great deal—but that the Secretary of State would have more power. The Secretary of State—not the governors, as at present—would have to supervise what happens in schools, but the Secretary of State would have to make sure that all the provisions are satisfied. We would therefore have yet more direct supervision from the Secretary of State. I am very surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. The point of my amendments is almost the opposite. They wrest power from the Secretary of State and from local government. They place judgments as to what should happen to children in school in the hands of the parents.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, a reading of Amendment No. 91 indicates that the Secretary of State shall have those powers. It means more directives and more involvement—precisely what we do not want to happen—which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has on many occasions fought to prevent. Parents already have full rights to know about and view all the material that is used in teaching their children sex education, or any other form of education, and the right to express their concerns to heads, to the schoolteachers involved, to governors and to local education authorities. Those arrangements work perfectly satisfactorily at the moment.

My noble friend Lady Scott mentioned that, as a member of a local education authority for 12 years, she has received no complaints about the materials used in teaching sex education. In addition, if they are unhappy with the procedures, parents have full rights to withdraw their children from sex education classes.

First, the proposal put forwarded by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, introducing the possibility of a poll adds yet another layer of complications. Again, it takes away from the responsibilities that lie with governors and teachers and in that sense undermines yet further their authority. The threshold for the ballot is 10 per cent, half of the 20 per cent required when ballots were held for grant-maintained schools, although at that time, the government, which I remind the House was a Conservative government, set the figure at 20 per cent deliberately to avoid the capture by the parent bodies of a narrow interest group.

Secondly, the procedures about ballots are divisive. We will have a two-month period of elections which will tend to politicise the whole issue, feeding dissension among parents and polarising views.

Thirdly, it is not at all clear on what parents will be required to vote. There is talk of a specific proposition but that could be as narrow as the use of a particular textbook or a particular video for a particular class. Yet, it is the whole body of parents that is being asked to ballot on these issues.

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The best way for schools to respond to the parents cannot be put into legislation. School staff must get to know the parents and confer over the school's curriculum, be it on sex education or on other issues. Such matters are best raised informally on occasions when each side has the time and the space to listen to each other. Hustings are not the place to raise specific issues about a school's curriculum.

Parliament has made several legislative attempts over the past quarter of a century to find how best to poll the collective views of parents on school matters. Depending upon one's point of view, they have either been a brilliant success or a dismal failure. Perhaps one thing that they had in common was that they imposed considerable bureaucratic demands on schools and took school staff away from their prime responsibility to educate children.

One exception to all that is Parliament's first attempt to give parents a voice and to put elected parents onto school governing bodies. Parents almost universally have confidence in their elected parent representatives and Parliament should have confidence in them by rejecting the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. In the newly reconstituted governing bodies that will be in place from September 2003 parent governors will have at least one-third of the seats on governing bodies. They will form the biggest group, the biggest stakeholder group, on school governing bodies.

Perhaps I can quote from a contribution that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made to our debates on the Education Bill last year when we were talking about the role of parents within schools and the possibility of ballots on another issue. On that occasion she said:

    "I know of no statute that states that one has to ascertain the views of parents and give due weight to them as regards the running of a school. It is the governing body that does that. Almost any school worth its salt knows its pupils".—[Official Report, 9/5/02; col. 1386.]".

Parents have already elected fellow parents to make their views heard in the decision-making body of the school, the school governing body. Parliament should have confidence in the good judgment of those parents by rejecting the amendment.

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