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26 Nov 2008 : Column 275WH—continued

Perhaps people should reflect on whether the operation of the benefit system in Holland is a more important factor than providing lots of sex education in explaining why there is a low rate of teenage pregnancy in that country.

A lady called Mena Laura Meyer, who produced the seven-part documentary series “Sexy” for Dutch TV last year, says that sex education is the least relevant aspect of the country’s success in having lower levels of teenage pregnancy than other European countries. The article in The Times ends:

which was something my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) mentioned. The article continues,

Although I am not entirely comfortable with all those suggestions, they are probably all better than having a never-ending supply of sex education in our schools.

It would not be so bad if standards in our schools were so high that teachers had nothing but sex education to worry about. However, I am afraid that anything but that is true. The Government should be ashamed of the literacy and numeracy rates for school leavers. Some 2,500 pupils failed to achieve functional adequacy in English, and just under 3,500 failed to achieve functional literacy and numeracy. Surely, the Government should concentrate on ensuring that people can read and write when they leave school, rather than taking every opportunity to fill their heads with sex education, which is clearly making no difference whatever. As one parent said:

That is a very good point.

Mark Williams: I have a bit of experience in this matter. Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that over a school year, five or six one-hour sessions in which a school nurse delivers broad-based sex and relationship education will undermine the teaching of other curriculum subjects? He has used words to the effect that the curriculum is full of sex education. The assumption that it is being taught every week or every day simply is not correct. It is taught in a cross-curricular manner, through the existing science curriculum and through
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personal studies and relationships and sex education. Huge amounts of the school day or week are not being spent on sex education.

Philip Davies: Given the hon. Gentleman’s experience and knowledge of the subject, I am sure that he will acknowledge that it is not the only extra-curricular activity that schools are being invited to do. They are invited to teach children about healthy eating. They are told that they have to teach children about community cohesion. The Government are placing all sorts of burdens on schools that take them away from their core job of teaching children the subjects parents want them to learn about when they are at school. Schools should not be teaching kids about things that parents are more than capable of teaching them. If we want parents to take responsibility for bringing up their children, we have to give them that responsibility. They will never take it on while the state takes it away from them.

Kerry McCarthy: I perhaps should have asked this question at the beginning of the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I am not clear exactly what he means by the term “sex education”. Does that cover other aspects of relationships as well? I think the stance he is taking is that it should be parents who give all sorts of moral guidance to their children. In that case, does he think that schools should not be teaching them about such things as bullying, drugs or alcohol abuse? Is he saying that it should be only about history, geography, maths and English? Where is the border?

Philip Davies: I think that the hon. Lady is being rather disingenuous. Of course, bullying is something that takes place in schools, so it is right and proper that the school makes clear what its bullying strategy is.

Kerry McCarthy: So does sex.

Philip Davies: The hon. Lady is presumably admitting that sex education is not a great triumph if by her own admission sex is taking place at school. Presumably about five minutes after a sex education lesson is the likeliest time for it to take place. She is not providing a great advert for the success of sex education.

Voice, the education professionals’ union, has said that

That surely is no way to go.

However, the Government—despite all the evidence that sex education is not really making any difference and is not making a great deal of difference in countries that claim that it is—insist on giving more and more sex education to younger and younger children. We hear that 14-year-old girls could be taught about their right to have an abortion. That is an idea from the Family Planning Association, to which I think the Government are sympathetic. They want to make sex education compulsory. That certainly is not the case in Italy and I do not believe that it is the case even in Holland—even the Dutch have not gone so far as to make it compulsory.
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The Government want more school-based clinics to administer jabs that can make girls infertile for up to three months.

Surely the message that the Government should be sending is that it is against the law to have sex under the age of 16—that should be it. We should not be saying that it is okay to have sex under the age of 16, so we will give young people all the tools that they might need to sort themselves out while they are indulging in it. Surely the Government cannot think that is a good message to give young people. What kind of leadership or strategy is that? It is totally offensive to most people.

The Minister is trying to slide compulsory sex education into our schools for children as young as five without proper consultation of parents, despite his promise in a letter to CARE—Christian Action, Research and Education—that

That consultation did not take place. Many parents felt excluded from the process.

Jim Knight: I will set this point out more clearly when I respond to the debate, but we have put in an additional consultation process by setting up an expert group. However, no changes can be made to the curriculum without full and proper consultation, and we are still some way away from that taking place.

Philip Davies: I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate, he will confirm that he will meet people and organisations that are not as enthusiastic about sex education as he is, to have a balanced consultation and to get a balanced representation of views. Rather than cherry-picking the people he wants to get responses from, he needs to meet some of the people who are concerned about more and more sex education in schools.

Let me quote the words of a few parents. One parent sent an e-mail to say:

Another parent said:

Another said:

One parent said that they were “seriously considering home schooling” as a result of the plans. Do the Government really want to encourage that? Another parent said:

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Another said:

I have two children: one is five years old and the other is three. I certainly do not want them to be given sex education at the age of five—perhaps in the future, when that has not worked, the Minister will want to extend it to three-year-olds. The never-ending insistence that sex education is the only way forward is completely barmy, completely senseless, completely mindless. There is no evidence at all from anywhere in the world that it will help. The problem will continue to get worse, not better, until the Government accept that it is things such as family breakdown and the benefits system, not a lack of sex education in schools, that are driving the increased levels of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The present Government always go for the easy option, where they can look as though they are doing something without offending anybody. Well, if the Minister persists in insisting on more and more sex education in schools for younger and younger children, particularly at primary school, he will find that more people are offended by that than he thinks. It is time for the silent majority to make their voices known to the Minister.

3.7 pm

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale, and a great pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is known in the House for speaking his mind and being forthright, and long may that continue. None the less, certain responses need to be made when he states a particular view—a view with which I certainly disagree. He has given the Government strong advice today, and I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s saying, “Advice is the most precious gift of all because it is often given by those who need it most themselves.” In talking about the facts of life, the hon. Gentleman may need to hear one or two facts of life from what is perhaps another planet for him—my constituency of Nottingham, North.

Nottingham, North has the highest number of teenage pregnancies not only in the UK, but in the whole of western Europe. That is a very serious problem to us. In my constituency, 218 teenage girls had a baby two years ago—the latest period for which figures are available. About 60 per cent. of babies are born out of wedlock in my constituency, which is a very high number; I think that the national average is 46 or 47 per cent. So, in many senses we are looking at a different world from the nuclear family that I suspect was the example that the hon. Gentleman had in mind.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con) rose—

Mr. Allen: I will give way, but I must apologise, Mr. Gale, in that I need to leave the Chamber fairly swiftly after completing my remarks. I will not extend them as I normally do by giving way too often.

David T.C. Davies: I appreciate that. I wonder, as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned it, whether he thinks it a good or bad thing that so many people in his constituency are born out of wedlock.

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Mr. Allen: It is a real thing, which means that policy makers need to take account of it, whatever judgments we make of people. I do not judge any hon. Member in this Chamber for their own family arrangements and I think it is important that we ensure that where, as in this case, a majority of people are born out of wedlock, that is taken into account as we discuss policy.

What we really need is what the children of the hon. Member for Shipley have, which is social and emotional capability. They have that because he and his partner have provided love, care, attention and nurture for them, and they perhaps do not need assistance of the sort that many other children might need.

For example, if the hon. Gentleman were a single parent, or if, sadly, he passed on and left his wife in that situation, it would be a tougher call to ensure that those young people got the education they needed. I am sure he would manage it, but let us imagine for a second a young girl living on her own in one of the working class estates in my constituency, with no extended family and trying to raise a young baby. She clearly would not have the same advantages that I and the hon. Gentleman have had. There are times when assistance is needed.

That point leads me to the next part of my argument, about why sex and relationship education has a role to play.

Philip Davies: Does the hon. Gentleman accept, given what he has just said, that parents should have the right to have their children opt out of sex education in schools, if they feel that it is not right for their child?

Mr. Allen: I believe that in many places parents can do that, and schools can too. It should happen by consent. In my city, we are interested in putting together a broader package—not just sex and relationship education, and indeed not just personal, health and social education, which includes the broader relationship possibilities that are taught. We are interested in putting together for the 11 to 16-year-olds a life skills agenda, so that they can be socially and emotionally rounded people.

If someone has all the relevant social facilities—the ability to interact and converse, to resolve arguments without violence and to establish clear relationships, as well as an understanding of what it is like to have a family or a baby—that can be life-changing and life-moulding. Someone with those facilities can do well in life even without great qualifications. I think that great qualifications follow from them. If someone has the currency and vocabulary within them for such social interaction, the rest happens. Such people can create a good family and hold down a job; they will have attainments and, I hope, would go to university or college.

I know about the problems in this context from my constituency. One aspect is that we have the lowest number of people who go to university. That is not because of some innate problem with the people in my constituency. It is because often they do not get the chance to make good some of the disadvantages that they suffer, in their early years in particular.

It is important that sex and relationship education and other such education are given age-appropriately. The hon. Member for Shipley left in the air an inference that a five-year-old is taught the basics of reproduction. That is not and will not be the case. I feel that such
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education is very important, and I know that it must be done at an age-appropriate level. That means on occasion—perhaps in a constituency such as mine, with 218 teenagers having a baby in one year—that there is a need for them to know about abortion, contraception and the long-acting injection that can provide defence against pregnancy, and about chlamydia and sexually transmitted diseases.

If those people do not know about those things, they will, out of ignorance, make wrong life choices and there will be more little ones growing up like those the hon. Gentleman talked about. They will be in a similar position and the problem will worsen.

I agree that we should not be complacent about sex and relationship education. It has its deficiencies, but that is bad sex and relationship education. The hon. Gentleman’s argument would be much stronger if he were urging better and improved sex and relationship education, which would benefit people. It is part of broader social and emotional development.

One of my criticisms of past Governments would be that they sometimes saw such education as merely a matter of the physical and reproductive, not as a question of relationships and the social interactions that are needed to develop effective people. Speaking as we are in the wake of the Baby P episode and the news of the family in Sheffield this morning, we are clearly not yet raising young people to be effective parents and to optimise their parenting ability. Heaven knows that not only do we need a short-term strategy for resolving the difficulties in particular processes and in particular cases, but that hon. Members need a strategic view on how to ensure that in generations to come we reduce the number of those one-off cases, and allow people to benefit and flourish as individuals, so that they can realise themselves as effective parents.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on parental responsibility to this extent: there are those who cannot exercise the responsibility that he clearly does, and I hope everyone in the Chamber does, and we need to ensure that it is possible for everyone to do so. What is good enough for him and for me is good enough for the kids who are having children in my constituency. The help that they need is not just SRE and education on making good life choices.

Those young people, or young mothers—the hon. Gentleman talked about parents, and I do not mean to pick him up linguistically, but in my experience it is often more correct to talk about one parent—can benefit incredibly from having a one-to-one relationship with a health visitor who teaches them how to raise their child in a loving way, and teaches that child how to get the best out of school. That takes a little bit of money early on.

The hon. Gentleman may know that I am a disciple of early intervention. A pound spent in the early days is worth £100 spent later on. Primary SEAL—social and emotional aspects of learning—enables young people who do not get the relevant learning at home to learn the basics of how to get on in life and what to do socially to make the best of themselves.

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