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The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has made clear that the new guidance to schools on sex and relationships education will stress that it is not the job of teachers to promote sexual orientation but to help pupils to understand human sexuality and to respect themselves and others. The guidance will be firmly rooted in the law which already specifically requires schools to provide sex education with due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life. It will also be set in the context of the national framework for personal, social and health education which includes teaching about the nature and importance of marriage for family life and bringing up children.
Lord Randall of St Budeaux: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for a very helpful and constructive Answer. Is she aware that, especially over the past two weeks, I have been consulting both professionals and lay people and that there is serious concern and confusion in the community, as well as a lack of confidence in the stance of the Government, over the promotion of homosexuality? Does my noble friend agree that before drawing up any guidelines the Government should carefully define and consider in detail the balance between the role of parents and the role of the state in sex education?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I was not aware that my noble friend had undertaken extensive consultations. However, I am interested to hear that he has done so and I am happy to know more about the outcome. I do not believe that anyone has grounds to lack confidence in what the Government are doing in this area. The Government take the issue extremely seriously and are themselves involved in extensive consultations with all the interested parties. One aspect that the Government need to look at is the respective roles of parents and teachers in this sensitive area.
Baroness Young: My Lords, while wishing to read very carefully what the noble Baroness said in her initial response to the Question--I found it somewhat difficult to follow the argument--I ask her whether she will clarify the point raised by the noble Lord about the Government's attitude to the promotion of homosexuality in schools. If there are to be guidelines, will they appear on the face of either the Local Government Bill or possibly the Learning and Skills Bill?
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether the Secretary of State's guidelines will make clear that schools must consult parents about their policies and programmes for sex education in schools?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, any guidance will make clear that schools should consult parents on their policies and programmes for sex and relationships education. It will also make clear that they should not use materials which are inappropriate to the age and maturity of pupils. This area of education is already the responsibility of governing bodies, which are themselves required to consult parents about it.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, can the Minister confirm the very positive discussions on this issue that the Secretary of State is holding with the Churches and the good progress that is being made to find a suitable framework for sex and personal relationship education in schools?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I can confirm that discussions have begun and are ongoing. The Government are enormously grateful to the Churches for the time and effort that they put into consideration of this difficult and sensitive area. The Government have consulted Church and faith groups, including the Jewish and Muslim communities, and will continue to do so until they formally issue guidance for consultation with the schools sector and beyond.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that, without criticising the phrasing of the Question, many of us who are parents and grandparents take a more positive view than that which is contained in it; in other words, we are much more concerned about guidelines to explain and give young children an understanding of homosexuality than guidelines to discourage the promotion of homosexuality to young children?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am obliged. Will these guidelines be available by Report stage; and will the work the Government are doing with the Church be visible in the concrete form of amendments, or some provision?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am always delighted to respond to questions from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. Unfortunately I cannot be helpful to him because I do not know the answer. Discussions are continuing and will continue. They are being pursued as a matter of urgency. However, I cannot say whether the work will be completed by the Report stage of either the Local Government Bill--it will be quite soon--or the Learning and Skills Bill. As soon as the guidance is available for consultation I shall be happy to ensure that the noble Lord has a copy of it.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a somewhat confusing picture is emerging in Scotland in relation to this matter? Following the vote in this House, the Scottish Parliament decided that Section 28 should be withdrawn. That is complicated enough. It is a properly devolved subject. However, several local authorities in Scotland have now made decisions by majority vote to retain Section 28. So it depends where one lives in Scotland as to which provision applies.
I am encouraged by the discussions taking place in England to resolve the problem with guidance. Could that wisdom and those sensible discussions be shared with our Scottish friends to achieve some degree of uniformity and understanding in Scotland?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the Scots are a law unto themselves on this matter. However, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would be happy to have discussions with his opposite number in Scotland. I am aware that the Scottish Executive has issued guidance on sex education. It is not statutory guidance because the curriculum in Scotland is not subject to statutory guidance. But guidance has been issued.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for new procedures for the suspension of hospital medical practitioners. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.