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Dr. Harris rose--

Mr. St. Aubyn: The hon. Gentleman wants to intervene to talk about that evidence, and I encourage him to do so.

Dr. Harris: Even the chief inspector admitted that his approach was hardly scientific, because during his inspections he did not ask any head teachers whether they reported this problem, whereas the research to which I referred asked people what their experience had been. The chief inspector produced no evidence to back up his view.

Mr. St. Aubyn: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for enabling me to emphasise my point. If one asks questions in a certain way, a certain response may be expected. That invalidates the opinion poll exercise even more than I had realised. If, with no hidden agenda, one talks to teachers and they do not raise the issue as a problem, in all seriousness it is probably not a genuine problem. That is where the argument against the Conservative position on this issue falls down. What we have heard this evening is moral bullying: Labour Members claim to take the moral high ground and then bully Opposition Members into accepting the measure by sheer force of numbers, even though they represent a small minority view within the population as a whole.

I have some problem with the argument that section 28 could not be effective because it is not possible to promote homosexuality. Again, the Government's guidelines, the consultation period on which has just finished, recognise that it is possible in sex education to promote some attitudes and some forms of behaviour rather than others. I welcome the idea that we should promote responsible behaviour by teenagers with a view to discouraging unwanted pregnancy. This country has a serious problem of far too many teenage pregnancies. If, as a result of this new guidance, we discourage teenagers from taking risks and following patterns of behaviour that result in unwanted pregnancies, we will have performed a service for them and improved their chances of having a successful life and establishing a stable family environment in which they can, in due course, bring up children and enable them to have a good education.

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I should be grateful for the Minister's comments on the issue of human rights. I presume that because the guidance to schools has no statutory force, it is merely guidance and there would be no comeback if schools went outside the proposed framework, because no human rights issues are involved. However, our discussions have raised some of those issues.

We must consider the human rights not only of some of the groups whose position has been championed by Labour Members, but of parents, teachers and children. Children have the right to be given objective and fair instruction, and not to be exposed to a point of view and a relentless argument with which the vast majority of families do not agree.

This issue comes down to a matter of trust. From what we have seen, the Government have lost the trust of the people of this country on this important issue. In her winding-up speech on the previous Bill, the Minister for Local Government and the Regions said that she wanted the Government to get away from gesture politics. We all know that everything about the handling of this issue has been to do with that. It was entirely unnecessary to broach the issue of section 28, as is made clear in the Government's own guidelines. The fact that they did so showed that they were trying to appeal--with a gesture--to a specific part of what they saw as their core vote. As so often, not knowing what they believe in, they ended up showing that they believe in nothing at all.

We need to reconsider our whole approach to how we give guidance to schools. We need a more diverse schools system. Tonight we could be having a debate about how we could develop free schools; we could be having a debate about how the very minor concept of city academies, which the Government have floated in the Bill, could be expanded into a much more dynamic and diverse schools sector. Instead, we have been dealing with what is a very narrow amendment.

Let me explain something to the Minister for School Standards, who is clearly somewhat confused. It had not occurred to him that city academies were the thin end of the wedge of the full Conservative policy of free schools. Had we approved a much more fully fledged city- academies approach, the need for the amendment would have fallen by the wayside. Let us suppose that we developed genuinely free schools, genuinely rooted in their home communities--schools whose values and approaches were driven from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. It was, of course, the top-down approach of extreme Labour local education authorities that demanded the response of section 28 in the first place, 12 years ago. If we were to develop the bottom-up, grassroots approach to education--always under the overarching discipline of a national curriculum and a system of inspection by Ofsted--we could trust the common sense of the British people to deliver the right sort of education about sexual development for our children. We would not need guidelines.

When we achieve that, under the next Conservative Government, we can look forward to less regulation, less direction, and less interference in the daily lives and the very good job that nearly all teachers do in our schools today.

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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I have no desire to detain the House unnecessarily, but I consider three points worthy of amplification.

As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) presented his arguments in primary colours. He gave us an unusual but stimulating view of Germany in the 1930s, and, warming to his theme, brought to the debate his usual eloquence and style, if not alacrity.

My first point is that this should not be a partisan matter. We have all brought certain prior assumptions--indeed, certain prejudices--to the debate: all of us, by the time we become Members of Parliament, have such prejudices. It is nonsensical, in a frail and faulty world, to pretend that people on this side of the Chamber are more prone to such prejudices than those on the other side. I think that those Labour Members who are examining their consciences will acknowledge that.

There is a second reason for us not to be unnecessarily partisan. Surely we can all reach an agreement about the value of marriage, which is well proven as the best means of bringing up children. Statistics and studies have been quoted. I refer Members to the work of Patricia Morgan at the Centre for Policy Studies, but many other studies show that children brought up in a marriage have the best life chances. It affects their education, their social development, and a number of other factors. Surely we can reach a common view about the desirability of promoting marriage in our schools.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence produced by report after report that marriage tends to be the most reliable framework for the raising of children--although that is not always the case--the Government refuse to accept that evidence wholeheartedly. They are doing so only very grudgingly.

3 am

Mr. Hayes: I take a slightly more generous view than my hon. Friend does of these things. I think that there are many decent and honourable Labour Members who would agree with our assumptions about marriage and with our conclusions that marriage is the best way of bringing up children. Although I certainly acknowledge that, sadly, that agreement does not seem to have been embodied in some of the Government's actions or embodied sufficiently in their approach to the Bill, I do not think that one could argue that the Minister, for example, does not take these matters seriously. He always takes seriously matters affecting our children and our schools.

There should be some consensus in the Chamber, not only about what we bring to this debate but about our conclusions on the value of marriage and its place in our society. I do not accept the received wisdom that Governments do not make a difference to the way in which society regards marriage. I think that Governments can affect that perception through the tax and benefit system and through a range of legislation. I certainly think that Governments can affect the way in which we bring up our children. Values and attitudes are as important as anything else that schools deliver to children. Values and attitudes are very much about moral assumptions, social assumptions, assumptions about relationships and, yes, assumptions and judgments about sexual activity.

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I do not for one minute buy the moral relativism that is part of the agenda of some people on the left. As I said, I suspect that some Labour Members do not buy it either.

The second point that I wanted to make is about our concern for young people.

Mr. Willis: There is something in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. However, almost every objective study on social disadvantage and social exclusion among young people has concluded that such young people, particularly those who are involved in crime, feel bad about themselves--they have an appalling self-image. Given that the majority of young people in our inner-city schools come from homes in which there is not a traditional marriage relationship, what message does the hon. Gentleman think that he and his colleagues are sending to those young people? Are they not telling them, "The relationships and homes that you are living in are very much less valued"? How will that help to give those young people the confidence that they need to go out into the world?

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