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10 Mar 2003 : Column 55—continued

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): My hon. Friend has made a powerful case for our Front-Bench amendments. May I say, however, that the most important single thing to arise out of the case that he has just made is the need for the House to vote on new clause 21—also tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough—which specifically identifies the sexualisation of children as the central issue? That issue is independent of homosexuality or heterosexuality, as many of the examples given by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) show.

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5.30 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I entirely accept the sincerity of the views that my hon. Friend, and many of my other hon. Friends, hold on this subject. New clause 21 is an excellent new clause; it is very similar to my own new clause 11. Unfortunately, new clause 11 comes first, and I suspect that it will be the first to be voted on. Colleagues might wish to call for other votes, however. I have no idea what they might wish to call for.

Mr. Edward Davey rose—

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) rose—

Mr. Clifton-Brown: May I move on? I have an important point to make. I challenged the Minister to give the House an answer on the health guidance, and I wish to take that matter further because, having given the House examples that come from health authorities, I believe that there will be a lacuna in the law. We need the Minister to clear this matter up tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) helpfully wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on this subject on 24 January, saying:

that is the one that I read out—

My hon. Friend received a reply from the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg), on 10 February. The first paragraph states the legal position, as I have done, in relation to how the guidance is enshrined in the Education Act 1996 and exactly what the guidance is. Then, bizarrely, the Minister goes on to say:

We need a much stronger position than that. If the House votes this evening to leave the Bill as it is—that is, to remove section 2A—the Government will need to attend to this matter, and I urge them to use the earliest legislative opportunity to clarify the measure.

I am going to use an unconventional parliamentary technique—for which you will probably call me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and hand the letter across the Dispatch Box. I ask the Minister to clarify the matter when he sums up.

Dr. Iddon: Just for the record, will the hon. Gentleman make it clear whether the material that he has been waving about this evening and in Committee is for the use of children, or to prepare teachers in case they

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get awkward questions from the children? It is important to make clear what the literature is intended for.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hon. Gentleman cannot be so naive as to presume that material produced for teachers is not automatically given to the children. One knows what children are like: even if the teacher does not give the material to them directly, it is likely that it will be left lying around and children will get hold of it. Everybody knows that. [Interruption.] Labour Members may make a huge fuss, but what matters is not whether the material is given to the children or the teacher, but the content of the material. If the content is unsuitable, it does not matter whether the children get the material or not. It is unsuitable for children of the age that it is aimed at—full stop. I shall move on.

Mr. Davey: I want to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. His hon. Friends will want to know that he did the honourable thing in Committee and voted to get rid of section 28. Therefore, can he explain to the House why he will be neutral and not oppose amendment No. 8 if it is pressed to a vote?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I have made my position clear. I will not vote one way or the other if amendment No. 8 is pressed. I shall vote in respect of our compromise proposal. [Interruption.] I have made the position clear, but the hon. Gentleman looks shocked. I can do no more than emphasise what I have said from the Dispatch Box.

I wish to move on to one or two other aspects that must be considered, because the whole thing is fairly untidy and jagged. Here I pay great tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and urge the House to consider not only his amendment No. 8, which has just been referred to by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), but, for a start, my hon. Friend's amendment No. 16, which relates to paragraph 5 of schedule 1 to the Education Act 1996, and pupil referral units.

Through the repeals section of the Bill, the Government are removing paragraph 5, but the problem is that they are not removing paragraph 7, which involves offences relating to section 2A and being able to exclude people from a pupil referral unit. Whatever happens, the Minister must consider that particular jagged edge. This is a serious matter, and amendment No. 16 relates to it. Paragraph 5, entitled "Application of Local Government Act 1986", states:

That is entirely consistent with the Bill as it left Committee and entirely right, but paragraph 8, entitled "Sex education, political indoctrination and political issues", states:

It seems to me that leaving in paragraph 8 would be untidy. The Minister shakes his head. That is fine, but perhaps he will explain why it would not be untidy, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough will press that point in addressing amendment No. 16.

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Another of my hon. Friend's proposals, amendment No. 18, would repeal section 104 of the Local Government Act 2000, which says:

Bullying, whatever form it takes, is an important matter.

My hon. Friend has done the House a service. That section will be repealed if the Bill goes through, and we need to know from the Minister what will take its place. Bullying in schools, whether homophobic or whatever else, is a serious matter.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): The strength of the examples that my hon. Friend has given are not quite reflected in the strength of his new clause 11. Does he intend to say anything about his new clause 17? Merely calling for a report may not improve the situation.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. I was coming to that. For administrative convenience, I want to deal with amendment No. 37 first; then I shall return to new clause 17.

Amendment No. 37 is the second part of our compromise. I have already elucidated the first part in some detail, which is to enshrine the guidance in statute. We feel that the guidance, sensible though it is, should not be able to be amended unless it comes before the House as a statutory instrument under the affirmative resolution procedure.

The second important part of our compromise is that parents should be able to test whether the head teacher and school governing body have adhered to that guidance. We propose that parents should be able to exercise their vote in a ballot if they are dissatisfied with the material and with the written statement under the statute. If at least 5 per cent. of parents so decide, they could trigger a ballot. The majority of parents registered at a school would vote, and if they voted that the material did not conform to the guidance, the head teacher and governing body would have to rewrite it. There would be the possibility of triggering a further ballot, and if parents again voted against the material produced by the school, the default position would be for the Secretary of State to issue his own guidance and statement.

In that way, the parents in a school would have two safeguards. First, under section 405 of the Education Act 1996, they could withdraw their children from school. Secondly, they could trigger a ballot, and a repeat ballot if they thought that the material produced by the school's governing body or the head teacher did not conform with the guidance. We believe that that is a strong compromise, and I hope that my hon. Friends will see that.

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