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10 Mar 2003 : Column 70—continued

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): Does the hon. Lady not accept that the nub of this debate is not about accepting or tolerating but about promoting, which is a different thing altogether?

Kali Mountford: I am sad that that has been raised, as it relates to the differences between what people believe and what is true. The fact that someone believes something does not make it true. It is a complete myth that sexuality can be promoted. Members of my family are gay, straight and transsexual, too. Are we saying that any of those people have a lesser or greater place in the family or in society? Of course we are not. If someone were to beg me, on their knees, to be gay, I could not be, because I am not gay. No more could I say to anyone I know who is gay, "You must be straight." It is not possible to promote a particular sexuality as having a greater value than another. I strongly and firmly attest and believe that one's sexuality is as much a part of oneself as any other aspect.

We can no more lop off an arm than change our sexuality—it would be a denial of oneself. It is wrong-headed and a complete myth to suggest that sexuality can be promoted. If it could, everyone would be straight because, when we go to school, to be gay is to be different and normality is promoted—whatever a normal family is. Two parents married for all time with two children and everyone living happily ever after is the preferred and promoted state in schools, and that is supported by guidance, yet people are gay.

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6.30 pm

Mr. Brazier: Does the hon. Lady not accept that, among children, it is wrong to promote sexuality at all and that when a child of 12 becomes pregnant, as has happened in the village next to mine, it suggests that there is too much encouragement of sex among people who are years under the age of consent? I ask the hon. Lady to consider new clause 21, which addresses that wider issue.

Kali Mountford: I would happily go some way with what the hon. Gentleman says about the sexualisation of children, but the new clause that he appears to support would not do much about it. The sexualisation of children is not happening in schools, or even necessarily youth clubs; it is happening in a wider sense, and I deplore it. I do not like the idea of little children wearing adult clothes and behaving in an adult way; that is quite wrong, but it is not happening in schools, and it is certainly not being promoted in them. If it were promoted in the schools where my children are taught, I could imagine that fleets of parents would go down to the school saying, "What on earth are you doing telling my five-year-old that Barbie is an essential part of life and that little girls of five should be like Barbie?" That is not the way that we expect our schools to behave now.

Mr. Bryant: Is not the truth of the matter that children are talking about sex day in day out, and that, rather than promoting anything, it is often a case of answering their questions and correcting some of the myths?

Kali Mountford: My hon. Friend, as ever, is entirely right, and what he says takes me back to the beginning of my remarks: children will always, and should always, ask questions. Without asking questions, how can they know anything? If we do not tell the truth, they will make things up, and the myths about how children are born will continue. I do not want to make the House any more squeamish than it has been made by earlier remarks, but I recently read that some teenagers believe cling film is an appropriate form of contraception. I will not go into how the cling film is used; hon. Members can use their imaginations. That sort of problem leads to what the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) rightly pointed out—too many teenage pregnancies—but that can be dealt with only by answering the questions that young people ask about their own feelings, their own relationships and how they fit in.

Very often, peer group pressure, rather than a teacher trying to instil an idea into a child, is the greatest problem. Those ideas are already being propagated all the time in the playground, after school and wherever young people congregate on street corners, and we must be empowered to challenge them. We must be able to say to young people that some behaviour is not appropriate in a relationship—it is not loving, caring or responsible—and that males and females are not respecting each other's bodies or the child that might result.

All sorts of things are included in the guidance that the hon. Member for Cotswold rightly commended to the House, but I differ with him about enshrining such

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things in law for the very difficult reasons that I have mentioned. My problem is that the guidance would be rigid and fixed for all time.

Mr. Clifton-Brown rose—

Kali Mountford: If the hon. Gentleman wants to tell me how he could change the guidance, he may.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: First, I said that the guidance could be changed by statutory instrument under the affirmative procedure, which is how we would enshrine it in law.

Secondly, does the hon. Lady accept that the written statement will sometimes depart from the guidance? In those circumstances, how are parents supposed to make their views known in their children's school, other than by withdrawing them from the sex education in that school, which is not desirable, as I am sure the hon. Lady would admit? Our mechanism of having a ballot—I expect that it would be used very rarely—would provide those parents with that safeguard.

Kali Mountford: The hon. Gentleman says that the measure would be used very rarely. Thank goodness for that, as it shows that the good sense of teachers and governors, which I have already outlined, will prevail. I cannot imagine how the measure would be used at all because the current system is working well.

It has been established in Committee and repeated on the Floor of the House today that section 28 is obsolete. The hon. Member for Cotswold has accepted that many times in debate. If the guidance is working well now, and since hon. Members have not been able to cite a single complaint from parents who have not been able to influence the school, what is section 28 for? Why not allow the variety of education that exists to continue, so that education can be as dynamic as we would want it to be?

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I speak in favour of amendment No. 8. It is a long time since I have said anything in public about section 28. Although I tabled the related amendment to the Local Government Bill in 1987, I have kept out of the debate for some years now. In view of all that has happened and all the things have been said in the past 15 years and again this evening, I thought it might be helpful if I could try to get the debate back to the reality of section 28 and away from the assertions and assumptions that have been made ever since.

I listened with great care to the impassioned speech made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant), and I pay my respects to him for saying what he said. He said that the Bishop of Oxford was wrong and he knew it. May I say, as gently as I possibly can, that the hon. Gentleman's views of the purposes behind section 28 are wrong? I tabled it, and I hope that he will accept that none of the assertions that he has made were in my mind in the time.

When I arrived in the House for the first time in 1987, I had spent 11 years in local government at a time when various councils and councillors were wasting huge

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sums of public money and using large sums of public money to achieve social change that the overwhelming majority of people in this country did not want.

Michael Fabricant: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Wilshire: I will not because of time, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.

I was enthusiastically opposed to what I saw as a misuse of money then, and I remain so now.

I suffered the fate of all new Members of Parliament; I was unceremoniously dumped on to a Standing Committee. No one took the trouble to tell me that, as a Government Back Bencher, I was not supposed to say or do anything, so I tabled an amendment. Little did I realise what I was unleashing when I did so. I doubt that many other MPs have been accused of causing people to abseil from the Public Gallery on to the Floor of another place. I do not think that many other MPs, at least not in the past century, have been blamed for a siege of Parliament. Indeed, I got a fair amount of hate mail and a fair amount of publicity, most of it unflattering.

It might be relevant to say, perhaps in my own defence, that I gave an interview to a newspaper called Capital Gay. I do not know whether it still exists, but on 5 February 1988, it published the outcome of that interview and the start of the article is as relevant now as it was then.

It says:

To this day, I protest that section 28 has nothing to do with bigotry, and it certainly had nothing to do with bigotry when I introduced it.

My focus 15 years ago was on the use and misuse of taxpayers' money. It had nothing to do then—and it has nothing to do now—with lifestyles or making moral judgments.

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