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Baroness Young moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 7, Amendment No. 8:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we are being asked to consider a most important amendment at the Third Reading of this Bill. We have had barely a week since its publication. We have been refused a recommittal of this clause when we would have had adequate time--

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am extremely obliged to the noble Baroness. It is not true that the Opposition

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were refused recommittal. I was approached on Monday. I said that I was prepared to consider it but that I needed certain information, such as the amendments which the Opposition proposed to table. The noble Baroness's amendment was tabled yesterday. The House did not see it until today. I did not receive that information. The recommitment Motion needed to be tabled yesterday in order for the Public Bill Office to operate. I did not receive the information which would have enabled me to take a decision on recommitment. It is not true that I stopped recommitment.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I do not intend to take up the time of the House on an argument on this matter. If the noble Lord the Chief Whip considers that it is an easy matter to draft amendments at two days' notice on something that one has just seen, and to try to draft them, as I would hope, accurately, he is asking a great deal of people who, after all, are volunteers.

At the outset I must make it clear that the government amendment is not a substitute for what has come to be known in shorthand as Section 28. As the noble Baroness made clear, the amendment before us is expected to be a substitute for Section 28, which the Government expect to repeal. The minimum requirement that I and those who have been good enough to support me need is both Section 28 and the amendments that I and my colleagues are proposing. Even so, health promotion units--in case your Lordships are unaware of what those are, it is the new name for health education authorities--are not covered either in the Local Government Bill or in this one. But that is a matter to which we must return on a future occasion.

I say that because in speaking today I know that I am speaking for the overwhelming majority of the population which does not want the promotion of homosexuality in schools. I have had some 4,000 letters begging me to stand firm; letters from teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, hundreds of church-goers, parents, grandparents and even a few homosexuals. For the issue which we are debating has touched a chord in the British people. In persisting in these extraordinary policies, the Government are not acting in a way that the majority want. The issue crosses party. It is not a party political matter. I know that people in the Labour heartlands of Scotland and Wales and the big cities are as disturbed about it as Conservatives are. It is an issue on which all the great religions--the Moslems, the Jews and the Christians--are united. I and those who have been good enough to indicate that they support me are not, as we are sometimes called, a bigoted minority. On the contrary, we are a majority; and the House, in voting last month to keep Section 28, reflected that majority.

Today, we are standing for the protection of children and the support of parents. In today's world, parents find it very difficult to bring up children, with all the temptations before them. When their children are in school, they do not want homosexuality to be promoted; nor do they want their children to be

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subjected to the literature which many of us have seen. That literature is currently promoted by health promotion authorities and, quite simply, people find it appalling.

I now turn to the Government's amendment. I recognise that some in the House today would like to find a compromise on this difficult issue and they believe that this provides one. I suspect that that is the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. Others believe that Section 28 will in any event be repealed and, therefore, it would be better, as some have said to me, to try to get the best that they can. At first glance, there is an attraction in the amendment. It starts by supporting marriage and the importance of family life. That is something upon which I believe we all agree. As the noble Baroness made plain, it reinforces what the Government said in their consultation document, Supporting Families.

However, the amendment goes on to state in subsection (2)(b) that stable relationships, which are not and have not been defined but which could mean "homosexual unions", are,

    "key building blocks of community and society",

along with marriage. The legal advice that I have been given is that the equivalence of marriage and homosexual unions plainly contradicts the precedence given to marriage in the first statement in subsection (2)(a) and opens the way for the promotion of homosexuality in schools. The guidance makes clear that pupils can and are to be taught that homosexual unions are a key building block in society, equivalent to marriage.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn has already been quoted, I hope that he will not mind my saying that I heard him on the "Today" programme where he admitted that there was a loophole in the Government's amendment. Therefore, the Government's amendment is not a substitute for Section 28 but, equally important, it is not a compromise on the central issue. The fact that Stonewall, the homosexual lobby, has welcomed the government amendment should underline that point.

My first two amendments are designed to deal with that major flaw. The first, Amendment No. 8, separates "marriage" as a key building block from "stable relationships". It is given precedence. The second amendment refers to "stable relationships" and is amended to read stable "family relationships", thus tightening the definition and accepting that children's stability is important. It would apply even if parents were not married. I have used the term "family", as in "family life", which was originally used in Section 46 of the Education Act 1986, now Section 403 of the 1996 Act.

These two amendments are central to my case. As I said, they are not a substitute for Section 28, which applies to local authorities. They apply to schools and, in particular, to teachers and governing bodies. We need both because Section 28 has been effective. It is a longstop. Those who, with the Government, want the repeal really cannot argue, as they did a month ago, that Section 28 should be repealed because it has been too

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strong. We were told that it encouraged bullying and prevented teachers from explaining homosexuality and counselling pupils. Today, those people say that Section 28 should be repealed because it does not apply to schools. They say that it has no effect and should go. Really, one must make up one's mind one way or the other what one believes. However, that 180 degree turn within a month seems to me rather strange, even for this Government.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Baroness no doubt recalls speaking to this House about the importance of sending a signal. Does she agree that Section 28 sent a signal which many of us believe had a thoroughly undesirable effect?

Baroness Young: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Earl that Section 28 sent a signal. I believe that that signal was good and had a good effect. The majority of people in this country believe so too.

My third amendment is intended to strengthen and define much more closely what is meant by "inappropriate materials". I was very surprised at the complacent attitude adopted by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on this matter. Many noble Lords visited the exhibition which we arranged in this House. I do not believe that one Member came away other than deeply shocked by material which was paid for out of public funds and which is currently used in youth groups or was used in schools before 1988.

The government amendment leaves the definition of "inappropriate" entirely to subjective judgment. The form of words in my amendment,

    "[what] a reasonable person would regard as inappropriate",

is a recognised legal concept which I believe the courts can interpret. Furthermore, the question of "appropriateness" is placed within the setting of Sections 403, 403A and 403B. That means that the emphasis on marriage must be respected. The exhibition which I held illustrated all too vividly the type of material that was used in some schools pre-1988 and which today is promoted by health promotion units and some education authorities. Some of the books which were produced for use in primary schools were, quite simply, sickening. Under those circumstances, I feel that it is essential that we have a much tighter definition of "inappropriate".

My next amendment, Amendment No. 17, would require that any substantial changes to the guidelines that the Secretary of State might propose must be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament. That is what happens to each of the 10 subjects of the national curriculum. Now that sex education is to have far more detailed objectives in law, which the accompanying guidance--all 28 pages of it--shows, I believe that substantive changes similarly should be subject to affirmative resolution. That is clearly entirely in line with the practice for national curriculum subjects.

The last amendment, Amendment No. 19, which I have tabled relates to a new issue. Under the law as it stands, parents have a right to withdraw their children

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from sex education lessons if they so choose. This amendment would enable parents to be consulted about the nature and content of the syllabus and the teaching material used. It would represent a new statutory right and would reflect the best practice of some of the best schools.

In summing up, in my amendments I do not object to or speak against the whole of the government amendment. I have already said that I welcome the statement on marriage and, in subsection (4)(b),

    "the reasons for delaying sexual activity and the benefits to be gained from such delay".

Like all noble Lords, I am appalled that we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the European Union. Clearly, if anything can be done to correct that situation then, of course, it should be done.

The amendments which I tabled today are designed to strengthen marriage, increase the safeguards against inappropriate material, safeguard Parliament's right over the curriculum and strengthen the rights of parents. Above all, they are designed to protect children. Had the government amendment been recommitted, we would have had time to discuss the matter more fully and I would have given a longer and more detailed explanation of all the points that I have put forward. As it is, I hope very much that these amendments will commend themselves to the House. I believe that that would enable us to accept an amended government amendment which would improve the Learning and Skills Bill. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, following the withdrawal of my amendment in Committee, I must begin my remarks by thanking the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and his officials for the courteous and painstaking way in which they have listened, over and over again, to the concerns which the Archbishop of Birmingham and I, with our advisers, have expressed and for their co-operation in these past weeks.

I assure the House that there have been no deals, but there has been what I regard as an intelligent and realistic discussion of some of the complex and sensitive issues involved in the light of the fears of many people at the prospect of the repeal of Section 28.

Given the negative critical response of the more extreme protagonists on both sides of the debate to this government amendment before the House, while we do not have all that we should have liked, I believe that the present amendment goes a significant way towards achieving what is required. I am grateful to noble Lords on all sides of this House--the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is absolutely right about that--who have sent me their appreciation and support for our efforts to find an appropriate way forward.

But as the debate has continued and my own character and intelligence, to say nothing of my ability to carry out my episcopal responsibilities, have been called into question--and in some correspondence in the vilest of language--I have grown increasingly concerned about one crucial matter. I am most

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grateful to the Minister for confirming this afternoon that, contrary to popular opinion expressed repeatedly in the media, I and my advisers, with our colleagues in the Catholic Education Service with whom we have been working very closely, were right in the presumption on which I moved my original amendment to the Local Government Bill; namely, that since the last government introduced the national curriculum, the responsibility for sex education in maintained schools has been one in which a local authority cannot promote sex education or personal relationships education without the approval of the governors and the head teacher of each school, with a parental right of withdrawal. In my own mind I have been very clear that that has been the case but the media and many in the country do not seem to have grasped that simple fact.

The previous government placed the serious responsibility on our schools to deliver sex education in such a way as to,

    "have due regard to moral considerations and the values of family life".

But it does not seem to me that much attention was given as to how that was to be interpreted in the classroom except that local authorities could not promote homosexuality.

According to press reports, if the present amendment to my original amendment, with its inclusion of the importance of marriage, is seen by some, with the guidance now out for consultation, to be open to varying degrees of interpretation and to open the floodgates to the promotion in the nation's classrooms of undesirable life-styles, I can only wonder what is happening out there at present since this government amendment is far more explicit as to values than Section 403 of the Education Act 1996.

Secondly, this evening I want to express a real sympathy for actual teachers in actual schools trying to do this job. They are at the sharp end of all this discussion. Once again, as in the 1996 Act, they are being asked to shoulder a burden few of them would choose in a society which seems, regrettably, to have few universally accepted moral values in that area of life, if judged by people's practice as reported in the media. The teachers are being asked to do what in a well-ordered society is a sensitive, difficult job which properly belongs to parents and the community as a whole and not simply to the schools.

I am not surprised that their union spokesman, in a kind of knee-jerk reaction, protested at what the Government propose. However, I believe that that reaction sold short the vast majority of teachers. It is suggested by some that you cannot teach the nature of marriage and its importance for family life because your own life style and views may not be supportive of it. Does that then mean that in religious education teachers are unable to teach about any faith other than their own; or that those who teach the English syllabus cannot do that because they do not approve of the values of the author of the set text before them? Of course it does not. Teachers are highly trained professional people.

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I am very glad that my brother prelate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, is here because, fortuitously, last Friday I spent a day with a group of head teachers and governors in his diocese in West Yorkshire. In view of the publicity, I must admit that I approached that group, whom I had not met before, with some caution, not to say trepidation, because Yorkshire folk--and I am one of them--speak their mind and speak it bluntly. But I was exhilarated to find that they expressed immense gratitude for what we have tried to achieve.

Again, it is alleged by some that the mention of marriage, which has been the practice of society from time immemorial, may offend some pupils because of their family situation. And I can understand that. But I feel bound to ask whether that means that if there is a child in a class whose parents are doing time for stealing or GBH, the pupils are not taught that theft and physical violence are wrong. Of course it does not. Marriage has been and remains an important part of life. It is a publicly declared, responsible commitment to love and stability by a man and a woman and for the nurture of children. If its nature and importance are not taught, the subject of sex education is not being properly covered in the school.

As the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said on the "Today" programme--which seems to be the flavour of the evening--it is common sense. Education must never be reduced to information, practicalities and techniques. Education is about vision and ideals if it is about anything. I do not share the pessimistic view of some about the ability and sensitivity of our professional teachers, given appropriate guidance, to teach this subject. After all, when your Lordships think about it, it has been done in Church schools, most of which are renowned in this nation in the eyes of parents for the pastoral care they give to individual pupils.

Of course, no legislation is ever perfect, even when scrutinised by your Lordships' House. No such claim can be made in this instance. Naturally, I have spoken with many colleagues, including the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who cannot be here this evening because he is meeting the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Portugal. He and I are both pleased with the focus on marriage as the context for family life and the desire to protect children from inappropriate teaching and materials. But as I said, there are also shared concerns about the vagueness of some of the language. That is a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others seek to address.

In an ideal world, these issues would be expressed more precisely. But in relation to the government amendment, there has been considerable discussion to find the appropriate words to deal with these matters and it is certainly a considerable advance on Section 28, which does not at all protect children in school from the matters about which we are being reminded.

I make no bones about the fact that the amendment does not give us all that we should have liked. As I expected, the discussions with the department have been robust. Personally, I should have liked to see

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marriage promoted as the setting for sexual intimacy and the nurture of children. But I understand why, in our society, that is a step too far for government, as it certainly was for the previous Conservative administration, in spite of their expressed noble intention to uphold traditional family life.

I was grateful yesterday to receive a letter from David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, commending our efforts and the wording arrived at as "helpful". He points out that what has been missing for much of the debate so far has been an adequate recognition of the fact that head teachers and then staff can deliver sex education programmes only if they have the support of their governing bodies and, crucially, of the parents. We need to remember that. Having given governors and parents responsibilities, we should not patronise them by suggesting that they will act in some undesirable way.

I must ask whether the proposals put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and other noble Lords are about reasonable steps. Are they workable? The governing bodies are already involved. Parents already have a right of withdrawal of pupils. What more could be asked for?

I am of course extremely grateful for the distinction made between subparagraphs (3)(2)(a) and (b) in the government amendment. It may be too sophisticated an argument for some, but "importance" and "significance" have a different meaning. The two subparagraphs deal succinctly with the serious points raised about moral and legal equivalence between marriage and other relationships. An amendment proposed to improve the government amendment uses the phrase,

    "the significance of stability in family relationships".

What does that phrase mean?. What does "family" mean? We must ask whether those words are any clearer than those they seek to replace.

The government amendment includes the points that I made in my original amendment to deal with that prejudice, which has led and is leading to bullying, using the good phrase, "accurate information". It deals also with the need to delay sexual activity--a point which John Nicholson seemed to find amusing on the BBC "Breakfast Show" last Thursday. I doubt that parents of pregnant teenagers would share his amusement.

Subparagraph (3)(2)(e) addresses the concerns of many raised by the repeal of Section 28. It relates to teaching. In the light of the exhibition arranged by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in your Lordships' House, it is the materials which give parents the most grave concern. I am told that the word "inappropriate" is too vague; that it needs definition for governors and head teachers to know what it really means. We are underestimating the good sense of the vast majority of governors and head teachers. We are overlooking the parental right to withdraw children. But, in any case, it is no more vague than the word "promotion" in Section 28.

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I wish from the bottom of my heart that we could disconnect this debate from that on Section 28 so that we could focus on what is the appropriate task for schools in this area of our national curriculum. That is not possible, but if it were, I firmly believe that the Government's amendment to Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 offers a way forward. I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House will feel able to give it their support.

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