|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Hamwee: The Minister is looking to the Front Benches. We are very happy to have let my noble friend Lord Russell speak for us. It is a matter of party policy to support the repeal of Section 28; it was moved by my honourable friend Edward Davey in another
Lord Bassam of Brighton: We expected that there would be amendments to Clause 121, which repeals Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 as inserted by Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. I shall refer to it as Section 28 from now on for brevity because this is how it has become known colloquially. The Oppositionthe noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in particulargave notice that she would pursue this course at later stages of the Bill.
Having said that, I am very disappointed to see these amendments on the Marshalled List. The repeal of Section 28 was, after all, supported by an overwhelming majority in another place. It is worth stressing that that support came from all sides of the House. Members from the party opposite spoke admirably about the need for repeal.
There is a clear sense that the time has come to remove this piece of divisive, unpleasant and nasty legislation from the statute book. In another place, the provision to repeal Section 28 was voted in by 19 to 2 in Committee. The amendment to remove repeal was defeated by a ratio of 5:1 at Report.
I was encouraged by the general tone of debate on this matter on Second Reading. In this House, too, most spoke in favour of repeal. Since then, some of the points raised in the debate have become the subject of cordial correspondence between my noble friend Lord Alli and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am also aware that my noble friend Lord Rooker has corresponded on the matter.
I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, signalled their intent to oppose Clause 121 standing part of the Bill. I will address that later, setting out the broad reasonsalthough they are well rehearsedfor repeal.
Amendment No. 221F seeks to place a duty on local authorities to have regard to a new government code on sex education. It is, in our view, unnecessary, because we believe we already have in place a robust framework of protections.
The amendment has at its heart the role local authorities play in sex education. It is based on a misconception that local authorities still determine what is taught in schools. They do not. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, expressed her concerns at Second Reading. My noble friend Lord Rooker's letter focused in particular on those matters. However, it seems to have had little effect, and I will repeat what was said earlier for the benefit of the Committee.
Local authorities no longer determine sex education. The framework for sex and relationship education in schools has been strengthened since we last debated the repeal of Section 28 in your Lordships' House during the passage of the previous Local Government Bill. This point is fundamental, and we need to be absolutely clear on it. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 amended the Education Act 1996 to remove local authorities' principal responsibilities.
LEAs of course recommend materials to schools to facilitate sex education. The noble Baroness remarked on that and produced some evidence to that effect. However, LEAs are already under the duty through Section 351(6) of the Education Act 1996, as amended, to have regard to the Government's sex and relationship educationSREguidance in any input they have. The responsibility for determining whether any such materials are used and how they are used is entirely for teachers and governors, not local authorities. It is important that we all understand this basic position before I move to some of the more detailed points.
The amendment covers other important issues to which we should turn. First, the matter of consulting parents on the nature of sex education and the material used to facilitate this learning. This amendment seeks to introduce new mechanisms for consulting parents on the nature of sex education, schools' written statements and on the material used to facilitate learning. This leads me to wonder whether the noble Baroness has listened to any of the previous debates on this issue during the course of the Bill.
The amendments in 2000 mean that head teachers and governors are under a statutory duty to have regard to the SRE guidance. This has been in place for some time and has been widely praised, not least by Members of the party opposite in another place. The SRE guidance specifically addresses parental involvement.
The guidance says it is essential that schools work in partnership with parents who should be regularly consulted on sex education in schools, particularly when the contents are being reviewed, and that parents' wishes should be reflected in schools' policies. Schools should discuss and take on board any concerns raised by parents with regard to materials. These arrangements are between schools and parents. Section 28 has no relevance and no bearing on it.
If it comes to personal endorsement, I have received the letter from my local secondary high school where my two elder children go, inviting me to comment or inviting us to consider whether we think the sex education is appropriate. Where parents are unhappy with sex education in schools, they can withdraw their children from the elements not covered by the national curriculum. However, the fact is that less than 1 per
Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he accept that that is very difficult if, without notice, the drama teacher uses drama lessons for sex education? Will he also accept that it is difficult if the history teachers uses history for peddling sex education? We know this happens, and this makes it nearly impossible. I nearly read out from "Colours of the Rainbow" where they advocated hiding sex education in other subjects in the national curriculum because that was a way of making it difficult, if not impossible, for parents to withdraw their children from sex education.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Obviously, it is important, and the guidance makes it clear that teachers should be able to deal openly and honestly with issues relating to sex and sexual orientation. But they must have regard to the guidance, whether they be drama teachers, history teachers or whatever. The level of complaints about this is minuscule.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I have never been a history teacher; I am not sure that my history master at school talked a great deal about sex in our lessons, but it was not something that could be ignored. However, the noble Earl, who is a very fine lecturer and academic, knows this much better than I, and I accept entirely what he says.
The DfES has had no complaints in the past 12 months about the way in which the guidance has worked. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness made several references to sex education in Brighton and Hove schools. That is something about which I know a fair bit, given that I have three children there. I contacted the council this very day and asked whether it had received any complaints following the well reported speech made by the noble Baroness at Second Reading. It has had no complaints since, and it had had no recorded complaints for the previous three years. If what the noble Baroness said about the quality and type of material was widespread across the school and teachers were using it as extensively as seems to have been suggested in some of the noble Baroness's comments, I would have expected something. There was nothing there.
In any event, the repeal of Section 28 will have no effect on the framework. Parents are already sufficiently involved in the process of determining sex education. I am not sure what mechanism the noble Baroness has in mind, but I remind those opposite that suggestions made in another place about balloting were firmly criticised for opening the floodgates to divisive campaigns. We should have no truck with that approach.
The amendment would also make available to parents details of those other than teachers involved in the provision of sex education in schools. We believe that aspect is also unnecessary. The current framework already extends, as I said, to such individuals. The suggestion that anyone can just wander into a school and provide sex education to schoolchildren is simply absurd.
The SRE guidance recognises that there are other individuals, such as health professionals, social workers, youth workers and peer educators, who can play a valuable role in sex education. The guidance is clear on the framework within which they must operate and that parents should be informed of the role that they play. Paragraph 6(2) says that people entering school to help deliver sex and relationship education must be made aware of the school's policy and programme and should abide by it. Parents should also be aware of the involvement of the wider community.
The guidance also says that it would be inappropriate for any professional to promote a particular sexuality. As I said, teachers and governors are ultimately responsible for determining the content of sex education in schools. That includes sex education provided by those other than teachers.
On the matter of the framework that applies to those providing sex education to children, the noble Baroness raised concerns at Second Reading about the possible effect of the amendments to the Sexual Offences Bill relating to exemption from prosecution for child sex offences. Noble Lords will be aware that the amendments were successfully introduced at Third Reading of the Sexual Offences Bill. For the avoidance of doubt, the amendments would not prevent those providing sex education from facing prosecution if they caused or encouraged the activity constituting an offence or the child's participation in it. If those providing sex education distribute sexual material to a particular child or children for their own sexual gratification incite or cause the commission of a child sex offence, they would not be protected from prosecution by the exemption.
Finally, this amendment also seeks to make such a code the basis of any legal challenge. However, the framework that I described already exists in statute. Sections 403, 404 and 405 of the Education Act 1996, as amended in 2000, set out that framework. There are several tiers in place that allow external scrutiny, to ensure that school sex education policies are appropriate. Parents must be consulted; Ofsted has a statutory responsibility to inspect personal and social and health education; and parents can complain directly to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Ultimately, parents are already able to seek judicial review.
As I said earlier, fewer than 1 per cent of parents have withdrawn their children from sex education since the provisions of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 came into effect. As I also said earlier, the DfES has received no complaints in the past 12 months on
The noble Baroness's amendment is unnecessary, and I hope that she withdraws it. As to the wider issues relating to Section 28, one of the strong points that the noble Baroness made was that it had already been effective in some way. Well, if that is the case, I very much regret it. My own view is that it has not been the case because, actually, I do not think that it did anything to tackle the imagined issue that the noble Baroness had in mind that it served so admirably to do. Certainly, when I was leader of my council in the late 1980s, the coming of Section 28 worried us a great deal because we made grants available to gay and lesbian organisations that provided a range of highly beneficial advice.
We decided to ignore the effect of Section 28. It had no bearing on our policies. In fact, we even passed a motion and resolution opposing it. The wrath of the government did not fall upon our head, and I am glad that that was the case, because we were right. It was a nasty, divisive piece of legislation that had no practical effect other, I think, than to stir up homophobia and make people who, perhaps, already felt vulnerable in their community to feel even more so.
I hope that we finally knock this on the head this time round. I do not believe that the amendment is at all necessary. I hope that the House takes a different view from that which it has expressed in previous years on the issue.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page