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Baroness Blatch: I said that if it was taught in schools, it was to be taught as a controversial subject, not as a preferred lifestyle. I think that I made that clear in linking myself and my understanding of the definition given in the dictionary. I am sorry if the noble Earl is having difficulty, but perhaps by the time I reach the end of my speech on the amendment, the noble Earl may be more enlightened.
Section 28 protects children. As I said, it is children rather than gay rights that ought to be our primary concern. Section 28 is an effective law. Before the Scottish Executive repealed Section 28 north of the Border, it was used in a legal action to stop the use of a highly pornographic leaflet in a youth group attended by people as young as 12 years of age. The youth group and those who produced the leaflet received funding from Glasgow City Council.
Section 28 has been useful in England as well. It undoubtedly restrains local councils which might otherwise fund materials or individuals to promote homosexuality. Even Peter Tatchell has complained about the "self-censorship" effect where local authorities refuse to fund certain projects for fear of breaching Section 28.
Section 28 has been effective. The vast majority of councils are not recommending flagrantly inappropriate materials for use in schools. I mentioned some of those that are in the debate held at Second Reading on 3rd April, at col. 1539, and I shall not rehearse them again at length. But perhaps I may briefly remind the Committee of some of the details. They do help to show why such protection is needed.
Brighton, East Sussex, Hampshire, Croydon and Wirral councils all recommend a teachers' pack which requires children to role-play being homosexuals and lesbians. Brighton, East Sussex and Gloucester recommend Beyond a Phase, which includes a classroom video that tells 13 year-old children that to obtain sexual satisfaction they should,
I know that most school teachers are far more sensible than the particular education officials who recommend these resources. The vast majority of teachers would believe that these materials are inappropriate. But we know that some teachers have an axe to grind because some advisory teachers clearly believe that the materials are appropriate. That is why they recommend them.
Hard-pressed teachers, especially those new to the profession who are struggling to find time to prepare for classes, will look at these nicely produced lesson plans and rely on them, trusting that if they are recommended by their local authority, then they must be acceptable. That is why we need Section 28.
The vast majority of councils take heed of Section 28. The fact that some councils breach the section is not an argument for scrapping it, any more than the fact that some people break the speed limit is an argument for scrapping speed limits. The problem is wider than just the promotion of homosexuality. The sex education exemplified in the resources I referred to is inappropriate for a host of other reasons.
That brings me to my Amendment No. 221F. At Second Reading I quoted from Taking Sex Seriously, a copy of which I have here with me today. Indeed, I have taken photocopies of one page, an activity page, which is being passed to each Member of the Committee. The document is subtitled:
The pack is clearly designed to be used with young people. There are photocopiable worksheets to be handed out. There are many detailed lesson plans. Anyone who thinks that I may be concerned about nothing should look at this document, which is advocated for use with children from the age of 11 years. All I can say is that it is a disgrace.
Given the alarming growth in sexually transmitted diseases and the other problems associated with promiscuity and early sexual experience, is a teacher-led discussion on group sex really getting children "thinking along the right lines"or by discussing partner-swapping, or sado-masochism, or the other medically dangerous practices which I dare not read out?
No, it is not. I doubt whether I have seen a more irresponsible or reckless teaching pack in my life. Even this year, some local authorities such as Wirral, Croydon and Hampshire are still recommending this document. That is even more surprising given the fact that the publishers have printed a less extreme version of the pack called Safe and Sound.
It has been suggested by some that Taking Sex Seriously is merely a teacher training pack, but it sets out detailed activities for children, including "buying condoms for homework". So the claim that it is merely for teachers and not children is clearly wrong. But if it were only for teachers, it would mean that teachers are being trained in how to give the kind of wholly inappropriate lessons which I have described.
The last time we debated Section 28, the Government promised tough guidance which would protect children from inappropriate material. The Government issued that guidance in July 2000. The recommendations from councils to which I have referred all date from after July 2000.
Clearly the guidance is not strong enough. As a matter of fact, some of the appalling resources are declared to be in conformity with that guidance. Having read the guidance, I think that it is sufficiently vague and contradictory that one could find in it a quotation to support practically anything under the name of sex education.
I believe that the protection of Section 28 is still needed, but so is tougher legislation which gives more power to parents so that, whether the issue is homosexuality or heterosexuality, parents have a greater say in what is taught to their children. Additional remedies should be given to parentsremedies that solve problems at a more local level, the level of the school. Parents are best placed to know what is appropriate for their children. Guidance from central government can never be as good as the close involvement of responsible parents in the education of their children.
Amendment No. 221F would help to ensure that parents had a much better idea of and say in what their children are taught. It would require the Secretary of State to produce a code of practice within six months of the Bill's enactment. That code of practice would be much more specific and practical than the rather general departmental circular. It would have to establish a mechanism for consulting parents about sex education in their children's schools; it would require full disclosure to parents of materials to be used in any education addressing sex or sexuality; it would require disclosure to parents of details of third parties who go to schools to teach about sex or sexuality; and it would place restrictions on the activities of such third parties.
Legislation specifically envisages guidance on sex education. Section 351(6) and (7) of the Education Act 1996 makes that clear. Although local authorities no longer have other duties in relation to sex education, they can still exercise functions that affect sex education. New subsection (6), proposed in my amendment, provides that local authorities must have regard to the code when exercising those functions.
The code would be a powerful weapon in parents' hands. If a school failed to consult parents about sex education, any parent could use the code as the basis for making a complaint to the school. The school would then have to explain why it refused to consult parents in accordance with the code of practice issued by the Secretary of State. Parents could also use the code to ask to see the classroom resources used in sex education.
Consultation with parents relates specifically to sex education as defined in Section 403 of the Education Act 1996. However, the code also addresses the situation in which issues of sex or sexuality are purposely discussed under other parts of the curriculum, outside normal, formal sex education. That is necessary because at least one health authority advises schools to circumvent the statutory provisions by teaching sex education through national curriculum subjects such as English. Camden and Islington health authority has published a teaching pack called Colours of the Rainbow. The pack provides detailed lesson plans. It claims to be,
Some of the most inappropriate sex education has often been given by third parties who go into schools. Such people may work for a local health authority or voluntary organisation. They may often be more used to working with adults than with children. People who are not professional teachers can often make misjudgments about what is appropriate for children. Paragraphs (2)(b)(ii) and (2)(c) of my amendment deal with third parties who come into schools to help teach sex education. The code of practice would have a strong influence on local authorities. It would also give power to parents by requiring better consultation and improved disclosure. The code would encourage the sort of partnership that the Government want to forge between parents and schools.
In conclusion, many of us want Section 28 to be retained. But in addition to Section 28, new safeguards are needed to tackle inappropriate heterosexual material and that promote strong co-operation and partnership between schools and parents. I know that the Minister will not agree with me about Section 28, but he should agree with my amendment, Amendment No. 221F, because it gives effect to the good practice highlighted in the Government's circular. I beg to move.
In previous debates, we have heard right reverend Prelates refer to Section 28 as a stabilising benchmark. During our debate on 7th February 2000, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield explained how he had spoken to teachers in his diocese about Section 28. It was through that consultation that he discovered how Section 28 was regarded. Despite the politically correct view that we normally hear from teachers' unions in support of repealing Section 28, there are clearly teachers who take the opposite view and who value the protective effect of Section 28.
If those teachers work in maintained schools, the local authority is their employer. Perhaps they feel that Section 28 prevents the local authority from placing undue pressure on them to toe the politically correct line. Perhaps they feel that it protects their freedom of conscience.
Many parents certainly place their trust in Section 28, judging by the enormous number of letters that we all receive whenever this issue raises its ugly head. Parents seem to view the issue in straightforward terms: they understand that Section 28 forbids the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities; so they support it.
Parents know that it does not forbid objective discussion of homosexuality. My dear friend the late Lady Young used to cite the circular that accompanied Section 28, which stated that expressly. That is a fundamental point of principle. Parents know that it does not prevent teachers from answering questionsnor should itbut that it prevents local authorities from using their powers to encourage a kind of brain-washing approach to homosexuality. Under that approach, young people are told that there is nothing wrong with homosexual activity and that anyone who thinks differently is homophobicwhatever that meansand should be ignored.
In Scotland, we have special reason to note the value of Section 28. I remind the Committee that in 2000, the Scottish Parliament was in the throes of repealing Section 28. A nurse instituted judicial review against Glasgow City Council, which the noble Baroness mentioned briefly. The nurse was concerned that a most grotesque and graphic little booklet about homosexuality, complete with photographs of many of the activities listed, was being used with a youth group. The group that produced the booklet was funded by Glasgow City Council. The youth group itself also benefited from council subsidy. Although the court action had to be aborted because Section 28 was deleted from Scottish law, the nurse's action succeeded in having the booklet removed from circulation, and in drawing attention to the extremes to which some people will go in the usein my view and that of many others, abuseof local authority money.
So bad were the materials that they made newspaper headlines in the national and local press. Eventually, a petition of about 12,000 signatures was handed to the Scottish Parliament. The petition called for the Executive to withdraw its list of recommended sex education materials. The education committee of the Scottish Parliament examined the materials and agreed that there was a problem. Eventually, the chairman of Learning and Teaching Scotland conceded that some of the materials should never be used in schools and said that it would quickly be reviewing its recommendation.
How I pray that, once again, England can learn from Scottish mistakes. That all goes to show what happens when the restraining effect of Section 28 is lifted. It demonstrates that there are people in positions of influence in education and elsewhere who are willing to recommend the most appalling sex education materials for the use of young people in this country.
I remind the Committee that in a privately funded poll, more than 1 million Scottish voters asked for Section 28 to be retained. Section 28 provides a safeguard, a protective influence. It should not be repealed; it must be retained. I fully support the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.
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