Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. We cannot have these interventions, especially from the Front Bench.
When the review of the national curriculum took place, and it was initially revealed that the Government did not intend even to refer to marriage in parts of the curriculum such as personal, social and health education and sex education, there was a public outcry. I dare say the Daily Mail had something to say about that--and that might have had something to do with the fact that the Government then responded, given that we know the Prime Minister's views on responding to the concerns raised by the Daily Mail--and the Secretary of State made soothing noises to the effect that of course the Government were going to reflect the importance of marriage and family life in the curriculum.
Indeed, anyone reading the publication issued by the Home Secretary entitled "Supporting Families" would have been forgiven for believing that the Government were indeed strong on family values. It says:
This Government believes that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships . . . we do share the belief of the majority of people that marriage provides the most reliable framework for raising children.
It seems that the Government's views on the importance of marriage and of marriage as
the most reliable framework for raising children
were absolutely clear in that Home Office document.
As ever with this Government, the words that they produce in glossy brochures do not reflect the reality of their deeds. Those words do not appear in the amendments--indeed, attempts here and in another place to insert them were resisted by the Government. Their actions show that they are not interested in family values or in recognising marriage. Their words say one thing, their actions another.
Perhaps nobody told the Government that this could be a touchstone issue. The Prime Minister seems to recognise the importance of the family as a touchstone issue. The memorandum from "TB" dated 29 April 2000 and headed "Touchstone Issues" says:
They are roughly combining "on your side" issues with toughness and standing up for Britain. They range from: the family--where partly due to MCA--
the married couples allowance--
and gay issues, we are perceived as weak . . . all of these things add up to a sense that the Government--and this even applies to me--are somehow out of touch with gut British instincts.
The memorandum concludes:
I do not know whether the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister would see sex education as an eye-catching initiative on the family, but if they did, they palpably failed in that regard.
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The Government were not prepared even to repeat their own words about the importance of marriage and stable family relationships as
the most reliable framework for raising children.
Those were the Government's words, but they have not been prepared to bring them before the House in the form of amendments to the Bill to ensure that it reflects the views of people in this country.
The Minister said that that phrase was rejected because it stigmatised children. I suggest to him that he speak to the Home Secretary, because they were the words of this Government. They were set out in the document entitled "Supporting Families". [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), says that I should examine the context of that statement. It also refers to
strong and mutually supportive families and relationships outside marriage.
It is entirely right that it should refer to such relationships, but the hon. Lady should learn the meaning of the words that the Government wrote. They said:
we do share the belief of the majority of people that marriage provides the most reliable framework for raising children.
They do not refer to the only framework, or to the only reliable framework for raising children, but to
the most reliable framework for raising children.
The Government are now rejecting those words by saying that they stigmatise children. I suggest that Education Ministers talk to the Home Secretary, who wrote the words and gave the impression that the Government were interested in family life and the importance of marriage. Once again the spin, the glossy brochures and the headlines have not been reflected in the Government's actions.
The amendments relate to the guidance on sex education that the Secretary of State must issue. We have a number of concerns about those proposals. The first concerns the suggestion that the Secretary of State will issue guidance to which governing bodies and head teachers must merely have regard.
Ministers have again pretended that the measures will replace section 28 and that they have greater force than they really do. They require governing bodies and head teachers not to follow the guidance, but merely to look at it when drawing up their school's sex education policy. It is incumbent on Ministers, who are trying to pretend that the Bill will ensure that marriage and family life are being taught properly in sex education lessons, to show how that will be the case if people are required only to "have regard" to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield):
For the avoidance of doubt, will my hon. Friend confirm that to have regard to the guidance is neither a direction nor a regulation?
I am happy to confirm precisely that point. My hon. Friend has, perhaps, put it more succinctly than I have. Heads and governors are not required to take any particular action on the school's sex education curriculum. The Secretary of State may revise his guidance at any time, so we are not even confident that the guidance referred to in the Bill will remain in place.
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I turn now to the amendment moved by the Bishop of Blackburn, which adds to the guidance provision the requirement that when children in maintained schools receive sex education,
they learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children . . .
I knew that the Government were control freaks, but I was not aware that they were going to mandate children to learn certain things. One can mandate teachers to teach certain things, but ensuring that children learn them is an entirely separate matter.
There are flaws in the guidance provision that has been inserted into the Bill. The main flaws from the Government's point of view are that it does not replace section 28 and it does not do the job for which it was intended. It introduces some guidance to schools on sex education and the context in which it should be taught. It is a great pity--[Hon. Members: "Ah."] I am so glad that Labour Members share my disappointment at the views of their Front-Bench colleagues. It is a great pity that, having for so many months tried to pretend that they are in favour of marriage, family life and family values, the Government, when challenged, were not prepared to have the courage of their convictions and insert a clause to that effect in the Bill. They rejected the words of their own Ministers about the importance of marriage.
Perhaps we should read some more leaked Government memos to find an explanation. [Interruption.] That woke them up. Perhaps each one is wondering whether the memo that they leaked will be quoted now.
Where is TB?
In his memo, Philip Gould--a name well known to Labour Members--cited the problems that the Government were having and said:
The cost of all this has been high. We are outflanked on patriotism and crime; we have been assailed for spin and broken promises; we are not believed to have delivered; we are disliked on the Left for being Right-wing, on the Right for being politically correct.
Labour Members did not need somebody like Philip Gould to tell them that. They could have found it out on any doorstep, while canvassing on any street, by asking people's views on the Government; it is reflected in any conversation that one has.
Mr. Gould went on to say:
We have got our political strategy wrong . . . We quickly seem to have grown out of touch. Our Ministers simply do not seem as in touch as they were in Opposition . . . We need to be far simpler and more professional. We need to get back in touch. We need to reinvent the New Labour brand.
One way in which the Government could have done so was through the marriage provision in the sex education amendments. Refusing to accept the amendments tabled by Baroness Young shows that they are completely out of touch with the attitudes of most people in this country--with mainstream and commonsensical views.
The Government have tried to portray themselves as a Government of family values. They have palpably failed to do so. They have tried to pretend that they believe in marriage, yet, when put to the test, they have refused to do what was necessary to put that belief into action. This
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Government are living by spin and spin alone. They have been shown to have no convictions, no principles, no values. Their action on this Bill shows that they do not believe in anything. They are living by spin, and by spin this Government will die.