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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness is not suggesting that I am dishonest. The context, the content and the detail of how the lesson should be taught is all in the teaching pack.
The truth of the matter is that decisions as to what materials are to be used in schools are not for the local authority, but for the individual school, as the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, said. Again, we have set out in the amendment that inappropriate materials
Having set out the Government's position, let us look at the rest of the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. It is clear in its intention to import the lawyer into the class room. I have many friends who are lawyers, but I do not think that that is appropriate. It talks of children being protected from teaching material which "any reasonable person" would regard as inappropriate. What is the definition and purpose of this reasonable person?
The noble Baroness knows full well that in such a sensitive area as sex education, there has to be consensus to deliver it in our schools. The proper people to reach that consensus are teachers in consultation with governors and parents. But this amendment opens up a challenge from any reasonable person who may or may not have something to do with the school. If the debates over the past few months have taught us nothing else, they have taught us that teachers in our schools need support to deliver effective sex and relationship education. They cannot do that if they are under constant threat of challenge in the courts. It is living with the day-to-day threat of that challenge, imposed by the previous government and their willingness to impose by central dictat in this area, that has so disabled the delivery of effective sex education in many areas of the country.
The amendment seeks to continue to hold back and stifle the good work that teachers are doing, which they do in consultation with parents and with the support of parents. It is an absurd amendment aimed at disenfranchising those most concerned with the delivery of sex education; that is, the teachers and the parents. The government amendment sets out that young people should be entitled to accurate information. The proposed amendment from the noble Baroness and others makes that entitlement contingent on the view of the so-called "reasonable person". There are many reasonable people in your Lordships' House tonight, but they have many different views on this sensitive and difficult matter.
I turn to Amendment No. 17. It calls for any guidance on sex and relationship education which is issued, or is substantially revised, to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Such a provision is virtually without precedent for education guidance and would be unnecessary. The whole purpose of the government amendment before the House today is to establish the principles which should inform the
The objectives and principles which will inform the guidance have been subject to very wide consultation, including with leaders from the Church and faith groups and those in the education world. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that many faiths have been consulted in addition to the Anglican and Catholic Churches. Although it is the case that the Chief Rabbi personally was not consulted, his representatives were.
The way in which they are to be reflected in the guidance is subject to a major consultation and we shall take on board the comments we receive. Perhaps I may reassure those noble Lords who asked questions about the draft guidance and the consultation process--that is, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and the noble Lord, Lord Tope--that we intend the consultation to be a real one and to be a serious one. We shall listen carefully to any responses that are made. But of course we shall have to strike a balance between a whole variety of different comments which may be made.
Under the government amendment, both Houses will set clear statutory provision to which the Secretary of State must adhere when issuing the guidance. There are arrangements to consult widely on the guidance and we have already consulted very widely on the draft guidance. We have consulted with those who have expertise in sex and relationship education and whose job it is to deliver it and whose children it concerns--that is, the headteachers, the teachers, the governors and the parents--and we shall continue to consult them.
Having agreed a clear framework, it would be totally inappropriate in constitutional terms for Parliament to become involved in the detail of the guidance. Indeed, there is a positive benefit in allowing schools to develop policies sensitive to their local communities and the children who attend the schools.
Amendment No. 17 also leaves unclear the circumstances in which parliamentary approval would be needed. It refers to "substantial revision" as a trigger. This would leave the Government unclear about whether to bring any revisions forward for approval. Guidance in the educational world is often revised to take account of changing circumstances and new policies. In some circumstances, changing just a few words might be taken as a substantial revision. It would be quite wrong to place such vague words in legislation. For those reasons, the Government oppose the amendment.
Amendment No. 19 would require schools to take reasonable steps to involve parents in the sex and relationship education offered at school and the materials used. This is a very important issue and I want to reinforce what I said in my opening speech. Research shows that children want their initial sex and relationship education from their parents and families, with school and other adults building on that later. We have made a significant point in the guidance about
As I said in my opening remarks on the government amendment, since September 1994 there has been provision for parents to withdraw their child from all or part of sex education provided by a maintained school. Nowhere in our amendment are we seeking to remove that provision. In fact, as I said earlier, very few parents exercise their right to withdraw. But it will remain open to a parent who is not content with the sex education offered in their child's school to remove their child.
I should also remind the House that the amendment before it today setting out the principles and objectives for sex and relationship education requires headteachers and governors to have regard to the guidance. The guidance specifically sets out that schools should involve parents in their sex and relationships education policy and the steps that need to be taken when they intend to use sensitive material. I have already quoted the relevant passage from the guidance in my comments on Amendment No. 13. The guidance is quite clear on the need for consultation, so the amendment is unnecessary.
We have heard a great deal of talk as to whether the Government are saying that homosexual relationships are the moral equivalence of marriage. I have set out very clearly the Government's position in bringing forward this amendment and the guidance which is out for consultation. We support the institution of marriage. I remind the House of what is said in the amendment. It states that in receiving sex education children should,
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could confirm one point. Is it part of the Government's thinking that this will enable them to make our statute book compatible with convention rights?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I was about to come to one or two specific questions of that kind that had been raised by noble Lords in the course of the debate. I can confirm that the noble Lord is correct in his interpretation of the Government's approach.
Perhaps I may respond to points that were made by my noble friend Lord Stoddart. He suggested that the Government had been wrong in failing to consult the noble Baroness, Lady Young, although I do not think that she suggested that herself. It is not normally the Government's policy to consult members of the Opposition about the formulation and development of policy. I cannot remember being consulted in the many years I sat on the Opposition Front Bench on this kind of matter. I do not really see why the Government should be asked to do so. Perhaps I may also say to my noble friend, because he seems to have forgotten this, that the guidance out for consultation is indeed a draft. I have already commented on our intention to take this extremely seriously.
We have come a long way in the debate on sex and relationship education and the many issues which connect with it. It has at times been very arduous. But throughout this Government have listened carefully to all the concerns that have been expressed. Much heat has been generated, but I would ask noble Lords to consider that where there was before in relation to Section 28 only negative threats which gave no advice to teachers on how to take forward sensitive issues of sex education, we now have set in place a wide range of statutory provision and well thought through guidance to help teachers and schools to deliver sex education.
Those safeguards reflect the need to protect children and young people, but they also guide teachers and schools on how to address the individual needs of all young people so that they can grow up respecting themselves and others. We have turned the negative into the positive. It is what our young people deserve and what they expect.
Finally, perhaps I may come back to the government amendments, which have been agreed after long negotiation with representatives of the Churches, to whom we are most grateful. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, was kind enough to compare them with the 39 articles. I cannot say whether they stand up to the quality of the drafting of the 39 articles, but I recognise that, just as I am sure is the case in the 39 articles, not every element will be acceptable to every Member of your Lordships' House. I hope that a spirit of compromise will prevail. I urge noble Lords to withdraw their amendments and support the government amendments. But if they are unable to do so, then I urge Peers from all sides of the House to join me in the Lobby so that together we can ensure that we do not let down our young people.
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