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Baroness Richardson of Calow: Unlike most members of the Committee, I have the advantage of having taught sex education. For some years I was a

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religious education teacher in a comprehensive school and sex education was part of the syllabus. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to describe a typical class of 30 pupils who are 13 to 14 years old. In that mixed class, there will be between three and nine pupils who are seriously questioning their sexual orientation. There will be 12 who will already have had sexual encounters of one kind or another. About half will still be living with both their natural parents. Of the remaining pupils, some will be living with a parent who is in a second or third marriage; some parents will have a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend; some pupils will be living with a single parent; and some may be living with a homosexual couple. It is likely that one of the girls in the class will already have had an abortion, and that there will have been one incident of sexual abuse by an adult family member.

To describe a typical lesson, as you enter the classroom, open on the teacher's desk in front of you will be an extremely obscene pornographic picture, with the class sitting with some amusement to see how you are going to react and they will ask what you think of it. There will then be the most unruly and obnoxious child imaginable who, with an air of complete innocence which in other circumstances would win a Bafta award, will mention an anatomical term and ask you to explain what it means.

Sex education is not done in a vacuum. It takes place in a classroom where, I suggest, children have already had more experience of practices of various kinds of sexuality--from television, from pornographic material including that on the Internet, and from sniggering in the classroom--than many of us have had in the whole of our lives. It is those children who must be helped. We are dealing our children short if all that we are telling them is that if they do not live up to the absolute ideal of Christian marriage, they, their parents or the people whom they trust are therefore condemned absolutely. There must be clearer guidelines within our education system. We are failing pupils if we do not allow them to ask questions. If questions are asked, it is up to the teacher to do his or her best to answer them honestly and with integrity.

It is the case that there are some teachers who, because of Section 28, fear the answer that they might give. Some teachers' unions have advised teachers who have asked for guidance to avoid any kind of discussion about homosexuality in the classroom. There are gifted homosexual teachers and there are celibate teachers without commitment who are vulnerable and who have been blackmailed because of the stance that they have sometimes taken in allowing questions to be addressed within that setting.

Local education authorities are not the only ones to provide the material that gets into the hands of children. There needs to be proper material for use by teachers. I suggest that there needs to be better education in teacher training establishments to enable teachers to handle this kind of material in the proper way. A teacher needs freedom without fear. Of course, there needs to be restraint, and any teacher worth his

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or her salt understands that. Most educational establishments can be trusted to know when there is abuse of a system.

We must be sensitive to the family patterns in which people are brought up. Relationships and sexuality need to be informed by a proper exploration of moral values on all kinds of relationships and every kind of sexuality. That needs to apply across the board in terms of relationships. Tolerance and respect for diversity is also an expression of the moral values that need to be taught in our schools. Section 28 has been used to legitimise prejudice and to frighten teachers into inaction when proper discussion would have been appropriate.

Perhaps I may say a word about bullying. I agree with all that has been said in this debate. Any school worth its salt can deal with bullying, and should be doing so. It is foolish to pretend that it does not exist. But I am much more concerned, not with the hurt that one pupil can cause to another by bullying, but with the hurt that a pupil can do to himself or herself by the undermining of self-esteem and self-respect. Everyone who has sexual feelings that sometimes frighten him or her needs to have a place where such feelings can be safely explored and considered, and where every child has a right to respect for his or her feeling at the time. Even if they do not go on to consider that as a life choice, they need to have help.

Perhaps I may refer to my experience as a school governor. It is the responsibility of school governors to outline the sex education policies of a school and, presumably, to check that they are followed throughout the school. Most governors would have an indication, particularly now that parents are part of school governing bodies, of what is happening in the classrooms of the school.

I turn to the Local Government Bill, which is what the Committee is discussing this afternoon. Members of the Committee will have received, as I have, information to the effect that local authorities have interpreted the ability to provide information, money or materials in various ways. The Local Government Bill contains appropriate provisions for the setting of standards, with safeguards and committees to oversee them. I believe that there is no need for Section 28 and we should trust our teachers, governing bodies and local authorities, all of whom are as capable as we are of judging moral values. We should let them get on with it. I ask whether, if Section 28 is retained, we can answer in the affirmative the question relating to the Convention on Human Rights that we are required to answer when any Bill passes through this House.

5 p.m.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: Perhaps I may--

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: I should like--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I believe that it is the turn of the Labour Benches. I suggest that my noble friend Lord Alli speaks next, followed by the right reverend Prelate.

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Lord Alli: I reserve my right to come back later in the debate. In the past 12 months, three times this House has asked "Why?" and three times the Bishops' Benches have prayed for victims and their families. Three times the noble Baroness has enjoined us to thank the emergency services. We ask why one man should plant a bomb containing six-inch nails designed to maim and kill in the middle of the Afro-Caribbean community. Why should he plant another bomb in the middle of the Bengali community of Brick Lane and a third in the middle of the gay community of Soho? How can such evil exist in our fellow citizens? We should reflect carefully on those questions, because some of the answers that we seek lie somewhere in the debate tonight.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness that this is a debate about morality. For me, it is about the morality of hate. I believe that hate exists because we teach our children to hate and divide them by the use of moral codes. When one tells a child that marriage is the only form of relationship that is acceptable, what conclusion will it draw about other forms of relationships when its concept of reality is restricted to right and wrong? What judgment about equality can that child be expected to make? I should like to read an extract from a letter written by a 15 year-old who has first-hand knowledge of what that judgment means:

    "I am very depressed, and very alone ... I used to be a perfect pupil getting high credit marks, but because of the bullying my marks have fallen. I can't tell anyone I wish I was dead--just to have some peace. I am so tired--tired of living and tired of this so-called 'life'. Because of the stress I can hardly eat and I have started taking lots of painkillers ... Nobody knows I am gay--I have no-one to turn to and have no support from anyone. My life has been nothing but a bad headache ... Some say we are all free people but we must question: are we really free? Is it so wrong being gay?"

I do not believe that any child should have to suffer that level of indignity. The repeal of Section 28 is a true test of our moral courage. If we teach our children that gay, black, Asian or Jewish young men and women are moral outsiders, how can we expect them to grow up without prejudice and hate? This debate is about a small number of people whose belief is so strong that they want all of us to abide by their moral codes, and they will use any method to make us do it. It is an unrepresentative and narrow view of how religion should govern our lives. That view relies on those people deciding who are the good and bad people and their belief that sex outside marriage, the wearing of condoms to protect against AIDS and divorce and remarriage are bad. That is a complex set of rules and not everyone can live up to it.

What do these people do in our name or in the name of protecting children? They find the weakest section of society that no one wants to protect and set a moral army against it. They accuse teachers of wanting to seduce children into homosexuality and use the most precious bond between a parent and child--love--to instil fear; and they use our education system to spread inequality and intolerance throughout the land. I say to my friends and colleagues that to begin a speech with kind words such as, "I am not prejudiced", or, "I accept the rights of gay people but", or, "I will do

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anything to stop the bullying of gay young men and women", and then to oppose the repeal of Section 28, cannot remove the responsibility for the legacy of hate.

We are the guardians of the minority and are representative of no-one. We are charged with upholding our country's tradition to fight to protect the freedom of our citizens. I love this country because it fights injustice. I am proud of the flag which flies above this House because it is a symbol of freedom. We have a moral responsibility to fight hate and the crimes that flow from it. If one wants to know how to answer the questions asked after those bombings, one must have moral courage and not teach children to hate. I am glad that the Government Front Bench has decided to consider the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate. It is better to take people with us than to seek to divide. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and allow the Government, along with the right reverend Prelate, to consider what can be brought forward.

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