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10 Mar 2003 : Column 52—continued

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Does my hon. Friend accept that no matter how clear or unclear the guidance may be, the effect of section 28 is to stop teachers trying to prevent homophobic bullying? It means that many schools cannot explain effectively what homosexuality is all about. In this modern day and age, there needs to be openness in schools, as in society in general.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I entirely agree with the last sentence of my hon. Friend's intervention. There must be complete openness in schools. I think that colleagues will recognise, when I quote relatively selectively from the guidance, how well written it is. If it is strictly adhered to, I cannot see that there would be a great problem with sex education in schools. The problem comes when some of the things to which my hon. Friend alluded happen. I shall come back to that, but first I shall concentrate for a moment on the guidance.

10 Mar 2003 : Column 53

Colleagues will have noted that new clause 11 requires the Secretary of State to

that is, the section that abolishes section 2A—a report about


that is, the written statements and materials—and about

which I have already read out. If colleagues vote for the Bill to remain as it was when it emerged from consideration in Committee—that is, in the absence of section 2A—we want to see some strengthening of the position.

I shall quote from the guidance. It is introduced by three points, and starts by saying:

That means personal social health education. It continues:

in response to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), I would almost add "open lives".

The document continues:

It adds:

The document also says:

That is very important; we can begin to see how reasonably written the document is.

Page 9 says:

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Clearly, what is appropriate at secondary school age would be entirely inappropriate at primary school age. I shall give a few examples that amply demonstrate that.

The document also says:

Finally, page 15 of the guidance document says:

Of these teenage pregnancies, 38 per cent.—almost 39,000—ended in abortion. We have to get sex education in schools right.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): If the hon. Gentleman wants to enshrine that guidance in law, I find it difficult to accept his argument. The guidance gives parents, governing bodies and teachers the flexibility to take account of the very things that he says are important, such as cultural background, age and the religious affiliations of the area. Would it not be difficult to recognise those differences in pupils' culture and religion if the hon. Gentleman tried to enshrine the guidance in law as he suggests?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I take the hon. Lady's point, but it is important that we try to get the subject right. It should be taught on a national basis, and best practice in sex education should be adopted by all schools. One way of achieving that is making sure that the guidance is largely adhered to.

I shall give the House one or two examples of how things can go wrong. I give the Minister notice that I want to press him on what is meant by the Learning and Skills Act 2000 which, via new section 403(1C) of the Education Act 1996, states:

At the moment the position is very unclear indeed—I shall come back to that in a minute.

Some of the material produced by health authorities is inappropriate. A rather nasty booklet has been produced by an organisation called PHACE West. I shall not subject the House to its contents except to say that it refers to practices called rimming and scat—I do not know what they mean. PHACE West is partly funded by public funds, and its booklet is available to children as young as 12. Such material is inappropriate for young children. I am pressing the Minister hard for the meaning of subsection (1C), because his colleagues the Education Ministers certainly seem to be unclear about its meaning.

Another booklet was produced by the Scottish Executive and entirely funded by public funds. I accept that the law in Scotland is slightly different, and shall not subject the House to some rather nasty bits of that booklet. Suffice to say it talks about teaching children aged seven to 11 about anal intercourse, masturbation, all about the clitoris, lesbianism, oral sex and bisexuality. That is another example of where things have gone wrong. Another rather nasty booklet was produced by Avon health authority, but I shall spare the House the gory details. However, we need to know what is meant by health authority guidance in subsection (1C).

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My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) has done the House a great service in tabling amendments that demonstrate the ragged edges caused by the Government's getting rid of section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986. As Conservative spokesman, I have said that the issue is one of freedom of conscience, and shall abstain from voting on my hon. Friend's amendments, to demonstrate strict neutrality on the Front Bench. None the less, there are some ragged edges.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): If this is a genuine free vote—and I believe that it is—why should my hon. Friend be inhibited from voting?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am not inhibited from voting one way or another. I just think that it would be wrong, in proposing our compromise new clause—to which I shall now turn—to indicate which way I feel section 2A should go. There will be colleagues who have strong views either way, and I respect those views. I respect the strong views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) and I respect my hon. Friends who hold the opposite view. From my own point of view, I shall maintain a strict neutrality and not vote either way.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I am following closely what my hon. Friend is saying and he is making his arguments very carefully and concisely. Does he agree, however, that if examples of this material exist, and if there are clear indications that abuse could occur, and if section 28—as it is colloquially known—is swept away by the Government with Liberal Democrat support, the onus should be on the Government to come up with an alternative method of protecting our children, rather than that being left to the official Opposition?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. I have no idea whether the Government are going to accept my new clauses or not, but if they are not, there needs to be further negotiation. If no such further negotiation takes place, I am sure that our noble Friends and colleagues in another place will wish to take the matter up. I do not expect this to be the last word on the subject.

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