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Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I simply want to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young, a question or two. No doubt she will be aware of the Sex and Relationship Education Guidance paper. On page 14 it states that:
I ask the noble Baroness whether she agrees that it is reasonable to ask that of teachers. I do not believe that it is; if we were to pass her amendment. Many teachers would then have to say things that they did not believe. It is not that they might not believe marriage to be a good thing; very probably they would consider it to be a good thing. Some might even have tried it--several times! In one sense or another they might well believe marriage to be the most reliable framework for raising children. For many people it is. However, when the noble Baroness said that she can prove it, my response is that I should love to see the evidence. What she makes is a value statement. One cannot prove value statements, but never mind. We should all like it to be true.
One is placing teachers in an impossible position. If one says that they are not allowed to give their own opinions and are not even allowed to have opinions, one can only ask them to do things which are generally accepted throughout society, and, frankly, this proposition is not generally accepted. It is a step too far. I want to know what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, believes that the teacher should say in a situation such as I outline.
The Earl of Listowel: I wish to speak in defence of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. One should not idealise marriage. Often it fails--and fails miserably. However, marriage is important for children. The US national longitudinal survey of youth found that boys raised by unwed mothers were approximately two-and-a-half times more likely to be imprisoned. In England and Wales between 1993 and 1995 the infant mortality rate was approximately 50 per cent higher among children of unmarried parents.
I have met children. I met a child whose mother said to him, "I wish that you had never been born and I wish that I had had an abortion". Obviously she said that in the heat of the moment. She would not have said that if she had thought more carefully. I believe that one reason why marriage works is that it provides a process by which adults can decide that they wish to commit to one another and are likely to want to have children together. That does not necessarily come about through cohabitation.
I very much favour the Home Secretary's idea of having a six-month delay between saying that one wishes to be married and the act of marriage taking place. We should reinforce marriage. We should make it more of a credible institution so that people say, "We are marrying and are thinking of having children. This is a very serious business". That is desperately important. I support the noble Baroness's amendment.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I rise to support the first amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I support strongly my noble friend's amendment and, indeed, that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. We all hope that in relation to guidance for sex education the Bill will be strengthened through the amendments tabled this evening. However, whether or not we are successful in that objective, it will be no substitute whatever for the repeal of Section 28. Sadly, that is what the Government's late amendments to the Bill are about.
My second point relates to a matter raised by the right reverend Prelate; that is, even if it were possible by law to enforce the guidance, it is not possible to enforce learning. It is possible to enforce teaching but not learning. The new Sex and Relationship Education Guidance has been published--even before this Bill reaches the statute book. Therefore, so far as concerns most of us here, the guidance is a fait accompli.
Thirdly, on the basis of Amendment No. 182, the only part of the guidance that appears to be compulsory is item 1.8 which relates to the use of materials. That is why amending the Bill is so crucial. We need something stronger on the face of the Bill: the guidance must be strengthened. We should be concerned about children not only in the classroom but at the school gates, in their play areas, in their youth clubs, or wherever they are prey to the influence of other people.
Freedom under the law for parents to withdraw their children is now made nigh on impossible by the encouragement of schools to teach sex education through many curricular subjects; for example, drama, personal and social health education and many others. Would the Minister say how parents will be advised and helped to exercise their right to withdraw their children from sex education?
The Prime Minister himself has said that it is absolute nonsense--I think he used the word "rubbish"--to those who said that role playing was permitted in schools. However, paragraph 4(4) of the guidance actually encourages role playing for sex education in our schools.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, in his amendment, is asking that children learn about the nature of marriage. The right reverend Prelate's interpretation of the nature of marriage is wholly acceptable to me in the terms in which he has spelt it out, but I have to say that the nature of marriage as understood by many other noble Lords--whom I shall not name--would not be acceptable. I think the noble Lord, Lord Warner, gave it away: it is a dumbing down. It is equivocation. It is taking the lowest possible common denominator.
I do not believe it is stigmatising children. I think children from broken homes would benefit greatly from the sort of education that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is proposing through her amendments. All the evidence shows that marriage is the most stable form of relationship and that children brought up within marriage do better in every sense. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, asks that children are taught that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships and that that is the most reliable framework for raising children. It is unequivocal as opposed to what I believe is equivocal.
My noble friend's Amendments Nos. 180B and 180C refer to local education authorities which provide training and advice. I hope I did not mishear the right reverend Prelate when he said LEAs will from now on have no role in sex education. That is simply not true. LEAs have responsibility for giving advice, for giving guidance to their schools and also for providing training for sex education, and, in so far as they do, it is absolutely essential that my noble friend's amendment ensures that when LEAs are undertaking that obligation and duty for their schools that they do so having regard to the guidance.
The Government at this time in another department are considering relaxing the laws on cruising for sex, group sex, gay people kissing in public and soliciting, under which a man can be jailed for up to two years for asking another man for sex while in a public place. That is not joined-up government.
All surveys undertaken have shown that there is real concern on this issue. My noble friend has overwhelming support for the stand she is taking. I believe she has taken a courageous stand. The level of care and concern among the thousands who have written contrasts starkly with the level of intolerance by a high proportion of the few who have written opposing my noble friend's stand on this issue. Their mission is clear, and so too is the Government's; that is, do what you can today because it will leave us free to repeal Section 28 next week.
Childhood is precious, and the combination of weak and equivocal guidance and the repeal of Section 28 will violate their innocence and healthy education. I hope that noble Lords will think very carefully and support my noble friend in her amendments.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I have the sense of the House that it would like to reach a decision very soon, but on this issue it is appropriate that at least one speaker from our Benches should take part. I shall do so briefly to set out our position, which has been well rehearsed in the many, many hours of debate we have had on this subject during the course of the Bill.
I have a little sadness that it is this subject, important though it is, that has consumed so much time from so many of your Lordships on a Bill which is actually about post-16 education and of which this issue, important though it is, is not a central part.
I start by welcoming the changes which the Government have made to the Bill in this area. It is in the nature of compromise that it never satisfies everyone. Indeed, it rarely satisfies anyone. In this, all of us who are going to support the Government's view are to a greater or lesser extent compromising. I recognise that that is true on the Benches opposite me, and I refer to the right reverend Prelates here in such number. We are doing that because we want to reach consensus and agreement on what is a very important and sensitive issue. I would appeal to all your Lordships to try to think of it in those terms. We do no good to the people we wish to help and to protect by going forward in such a divided manner.
The hours that have been spent on debating this matter, more particularly outside this Chamber than in it, have produced amendments to the Bill which cover most of the points of concern raised by your Lordships through the many hours of debate.
Similarly, little reference has been made tonight to the guidance. I welcome most of what is in the recently published guidance document. On the whole that document is thoughtful and well balanced. I have concerns over one or two elements but I sense that this is not the time to deal with those.
I believe she is insisting on including in this Bill a comparative statement about the value of relationships. That is her view, and a very sincerely held view. It is probably the view held by most of us here today. But I feel no need to make value judgments about other people's relationships, and I feel even less need to have that enshrined in legislation. One point is well made, and I shall repeat it briefly; namely, our desire to protect pupils in the classroom. This provision is actually about young people, young children, the pupils. It is not about their parents. We should be remember that. How would children feel if they are in a classroom where the teacher is having to teach that marriage is the only stable relationship and their parents happen not to be married?
We may regret this, and personally I do, but it is a fact that last year more children were born outside marriage than inside marriage. How will those children feel when they are in school and they are made to feel that in some way their parents' relationship and their home-life is of less value and a worse bet for a successful life than others?
I now turn to the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. In doing so, I pay tribute to the enormous amount of hard work that I know he has had to do in this Chamber, but I suspect much more outside, in reaching this position. We will support his amendment. It is in terms that are not judgmental. His words are positive without any negative implications and they make a valued and important point without a value judgment. On these Benches we will support that amendment, and I am pleased to hear tonight that that is what the Government intend to do.We shall support the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate, but we cannot support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for the reasons which have been stated so eloquently by other Members of your Lordships' House this evening.
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