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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that those roadworks are to continue for six weeks and that for some period during those six weeks Parliament Square is to be closed?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I was not aware of that but, again, I believe that that is a matter not for me but for the House authorities.

Lord Elton: My Lords, can the Minister tell us how Members are to get to the House during the period of closure?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am sure that there are alternative ways to reach this House other than via Parliament Square. I use them every day.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is there sense in the view that, when possible, Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge should not both be disrupted simultaneously?

Lord Carter: My Lords, that is an extremely good idea and I am sure that that, too, should be communicated to the House authorities.

Local Government Bill [H.L.]

3.11 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 68 [Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality]:

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn moved Amendment No. 364B:

(2) For the sidenote substitute "Principles relating to sex education".

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(3) For subsections (1) to (3) substitute--
"(1) The local education authority shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that where sex education is given to any registered pupils at a maintained school, it is given having regard to the following principles--
(a) that marriage should be promoted as the fundamental building block of society and of family life and as the proper context for the nurture of children, and
(b) that pupils are entitled to develop without being subjected to--
(i) any physical or verbal abuse about sexual orientation, or
(ii) the encouragement of sexual activity."
(4) In subsection (4)--
(a) for "(1)(b)" substitute "(1)";
(b) for the words from "means" to the end substitute "has the meaning assigned by section 20(7) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.".").

The right reverend Prelate said: I beg to move this amendment at the beginning of what I expect to be a keenly argued debate on Clause 68. I do so because, whatever the rights and wrongs of Section 28, of which we shall no doubt hear much this afternoon, there is a very real concern about the effect that its repeal will have on schools. It is feared that they will be free to promote homosexuality. On the other hand, there is a real desire to have a sound, generally accepted basis for sex and relationships education.

Most of the comments that I have managed to read--and my postbag has been large--have been concerned with the effect that the repeal of Section 28 will have on schools. As chairman of the Church of England Board of Education, I move my amendment after detailed consultations with the chairman and officers of the Catholic Education Service. I am glad to have the support in principle of the leading article in last week's edition of the Catholic weekly, The Tablet.

My amendment is intended to put an end to the present confusion, which was trotted out even on Saturday morning on the radio by the presenter of "Yesterday in Parliament", and to make life easier for those charged with delivering SRE; namely, the teachers in our schools. Clearly, there is much confusion about the legal standing of Section 28 so far as concerns schools. It was passed in 1988 to prevent local authorities promoting homosexuality. In those days, local authorities had a direct responsibility for the curriculum in most maintained schools, other than church aided schools. Therefore, Section 28 achieved what those who wish to retain it, rightly, in my view, desired. However, education legislation has moved on and has changed the position of the LEAs with regard to schools. One of my difficulties this afternoon is having to deal with what is primarily an education responsibility in the context of this Bill, which is concerned with local government.

Since 1988 the national curriculum for schools has been introduced and education Acts passed which have placed what we are concerned about firmly in the hands of the governing bodies of the schools. In a situation in which parental choice largely decides

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which schools flourish--at least numerically in pupil numbers--it seems hard to conceive of school governors pursuing a policy which promotes homosexuality. However, I hope that they will take every step to prevent bullying based on sexual orientation. In other words, whatever happens to Section 28, the desire of the vast majority--the so-called "silent majority"--of parents and, indeed, of society at large for SRE to be based on heterosexual marriage as the norm will not be met. The confusion will remain.

However, I am well aware and, indeed, fully share the concern of those in this House and outside who say that, irrespective of the legal position under which our schools now operate, the Government's desire and intention to repeal Section 28 will send out signs and signals. As a Christian leader I believe that signs and signals are most important. The signs and signals in this case are that homosexual relationships have parity with heterosexual relationships and marriage, as understood and practised for generations as the Christian tradition has understood that.

Some believe--and I believe that the Government must listen to this for it is a widespread concern--that if Section 28 is repealed then all safeguards go and "anything goes", as they say. My amendment seeks to prevent just that and to put an end to uncertainty in the classroom and, it is hoped, to remove some of the fears which exist as to future developments. In his reply to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the comments of the Chief Inspector of Schools last Thursday (Hansard, col. 348), the Minister reminded the House that plans by the Department for Education and Employment are well advanced to issue guidance to schools to replace circular 5/94. The Churches have been and are actively involved in that consultation. As part of that process, last week the Catholic Education Service and the Church of England Board of Education issued a list of things they would expect in such guidance, including as point 3:

    "Traditional marriage should be promoted as the fundamental building block of society and of family life and as the proper context for the nurture of children".

Our correspondence with the Secretary of State--this is reinforced by statements in the media over the weekend--leads me to believe that our concerns representing those millions of parents and teachers are now being heard. The Secretary of State, David Blunkett, has made it clear that young people should be taught about the nature and importance of marriage. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority reached agreement on shared values in our society, which included the importance of marriage. The PSHE framework, which has been published, for the first time refers to the importance of marriage. That has been widely welcomed in the country. I understand that Ofsted will inspect PSHE and SRE provision. Those are steps that I greatly welcome.

However, as I have been forcefully reminded again and again, the guidance has still to be produced, agreed and published. Trusting soul though one would expect me to be, sitting on these Benches, I am not that trusting. I am not prepared to leave things absolutely

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to chance, to see Section 28 repealed with no guarantees as to what will emerge, or to leave a continuing vacuum of confusion for the schools and their teachers to face. Hence, the effect of my amendment will be that LEAs, as much as it lies within their power, can promote marriage as the fundamental building block of society and family life and for the nurture of the nation's children.

I have tabled a similar amendment in what I believe to be a more proper place--namely, the Learning and Skills Bill--which will impose on governing bodies and head teachers of all schools the duties imposed on local authorities by this amendment. Together, they ensure the provision of sex education of the kind that I believe the vast majority of British people will welcome.

Nevertheless, I have been accused that by tabling my amendment I have let down the silent majority. I believe that the reverse is the case and that my amendment will give statutory force to what will be the principle underlying the guidance circular. That is what is required. I am asking for similar treatment in England to that given by the Scottish Parliament; namely, the undertaking by the First Minister in Scotland that the,

    "package of safeguards and its proposals for revising guidelines",

will be published before the final vote is taken.

Finally, although all schools are already required to have a policy to deal with bullying, I do not want my amendment to be seen as in any way supporting bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation. I know enough about bullying on grounds of religious faith and practice to realise how serious that is, hence my proposed subsection (3)(b)(i). My proposed subsection (3)(b)(ii) seeks to prevent the act of promotion of heterosexual or homosexual activity among children and young people. That has caused great anxiety to parents, teachers, youth workers and social workers.

Much more could be said in support of this amendment, but I believe that, together with my proposed amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill, this amendment will have a far more positive and far-reaching effect in our schools than the negative and ineffective section it seeks to replace.

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