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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I think that would be most inappropriate at this time. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to the fact that this particular document refers to "heterosexism". It is said on page 21 of the document that heterosexism,
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, many concerns are expressed in the amendments discussed today. There are two major issues to be considered. One is that young people should be protected from inappropriate material and teaching about sex and
The new guidance on sex and relationships education is long because it is comprehensive. It provides guidance for teachers; and it refers to the importance of knowledge and understanding, relationships, attitudes and values, such as the values of respect, love and care.
I wish to re-emphasise that, apart from guidance, school governing bodies are legally responsible for policies on sex education which they must report to parents annually. One-third of governing bodies are composed of parents. If they wish, parents can withdraw their children from sex education. This area of the curriculum will be inspected from this year. We have guidance and we have safeguards on the area of the curriculum. Surely we now need to trust schools to implement sex and relationships education.
Those who have been responsibly involved in sex and relationships education for some time, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, know that, far from the rampant promotion of unsavoury material, too little co-ordinated sex education has been taught in schools. I sometimes think that not enough attention is given to the views of the consumers of such education--young people themselves. A recent survey of almost 2,000 young people in Birmingham confirmed what other surveys had found in the past. Young people say that what sex education they had was inadequate, too biological and did not provide an opportunity for them to explore relationships. Many surveys of parents have concluded that parents want their children to receive sex education and learn about sexual health. Parents worry about media distortions of sexual relationships. They want their children to be able to protect themselves and behave responsibly.
The new guidance emphasises partnership with parents and also deals with the question of sexual health. There are concerns from the medical profession in the United Kingdom about HIV and AIDS and other sexually-transmitted infections in young people, as today's generation missed out on earlier public health education campaigns. This amendment refers to the need for accurate information.
The amendment first refers to the importance of marriage and, secondly, to stable relationships. It seems to me that an emphasis on the stability of relationships should be welcomed, both within and outside marriage. Indeed, given the divorce rates in England, we should begin by helping young people to form stable relationships before they consider marriage. Subsection (2)(c) of the amendment is a key concept. If young people respect themselves and others, they are more likely to form stable relationships.
I deal now with the issue of appropriate material in schools. Material used in schools must match the age and maturity of the young person. It must be culturally sensitive; it must be accurate and unbiased. This is true for history, maths and other subjects. It is a particularly sensitive issue for sex and relationships education. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, appears to support this concept. Her amendment sets out a checklist of materials which could eventually be used in the guidelines. It is a consultation document.
In my experience, teachers have never wanted to corrupt and deprave children, nor are they ever likely to. In any case, there are enough safeguards in place to prevent that happening. The schools of which I have knowledge show materials to parents at parents' evenings. I did so when I was a teacher. I resent the insinuation of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that I would ever try to circumvent parents' wishes. Sex and relationships education can be used effectively in schools. However, teachers must not find themselves frozen into failing to deal with sex and relationships issues because they are scared and worried about methods and materials which are not relevant to children's needs.
It is sometimes interesting to ask adults what they thought of their own sex education. They say either that it was, regrettably, non-existent or that it was inappropriate--too little, too late, and mainly biological; sometimes not even human biology, but that of earthworms or rabbits. The ultimate in inappropriate teaching happened to me at school, which is perhaps why I am so keen to get things right. In a subject which was then known as domestic science, the girls at my school had to knit a uterus and, if they ever finished it, push a tennis ball through the end of it to show how a baby was born. That was totally irrelevant to our needs at the time, except that the longer uteruses were quite useful as scarves!
What was produced for consultation last week may not be perfect, nor may the amendment. But it is a start. I have not covered in detail all the aspects of the amendment, but I hope that I have covered most of the issues in a general or a specific way. I urge your Lordships to accept the Government's amendment and work towards giving young people that for which they ask and which they so desperately need.
Lord Tope: But I shall not do so, my Lords. I do not intend to say nearly as much as I would have said had I spoken two hours ago. However, I should like to make one or two comments at this stage as I speak for the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. It was said nearly two hours ago that the government amendment before the House was a compromise, as it is. It is in the nature of a compromise that few get everything that they want. The right reverend Prelate said that neither he nor his colleagues had achieved all that they wanted in the government amendment.
From a different point, neither I nor many of my noble friends have achieved all that we would have wished. I am not sure that I would have wanted an amendment at all. I have doubts about the desirability and wisdom--or even the possibility--of legislating for morality, but we are where we are. I understand the political situation (with a small "p") which brings us to this situation. Something is required to replace Section 28 which gives reassurance to those who need it, of whom I am not one. Section 28, which is a pernicious piece of legislation, became unnecessary and redundant and therefore had to go. I believe that the provisions of the Education Act 1996 passed by the previous government are sufficient in this area. While we certainly need guidance, it is doubtful whether it needs to be in statutory form. That is the compromise that I make in this matter. We on these Benches support the government amendment. A number of my noble friends felt unable to vote against the repeal of Section 28 and, therefore, did not vote at all, but tonight they also support this amendment. That, too, is the nature of the compromise that many of us make this evening. I urge the House to support the government amendment.
I intended to make a number of points on the amendment which I shall not pursue given the hour. However, I should like to put one question to the Minister; otherwise, I may miss my only opportunity to deal with the point. On the front of the guidance one sees "Draft for consultation". The Minister's letter to me (and no doubt to others) which accompanied the guidance stated that consultation would be open until 20th April. While I am sure that the Government will listen to and take account of anything that is put to them--they can do no less--are they prepared to revise the guidance or will the draft be the real guidance once the legislation is enacted? It would be helpful to have an answer to that question because, while there is much in the guidance that I welcome, it is particularly weak in dealing with the issue of homophobic bullying, on which I have spoken in this House in the past but will not do so again this evening.
In view of the time, I say no more except that the amendment is a good compromise. I pay tribute--which I do not do often--to the Government and the right reverend Prelates, in particular the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who I know has worked very hard on the issue. I have been heartened by the fact that on a number of occasions when he has spoken on this matter, as he has tonight, he has made clear exactly what the situation is and, even more importantly, what it is not. I am aware that the right reverend Prelate has not always found this an easy matter. I pay tribute to all concerned. We have a good amendment before us, and I urge the House to support it.
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