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Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving a full answer, although he seemed surprised that we addressed the two amendments together. Given that they were on the same subject, it seemed appropriate and for the convenience of the Committee to do so.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for making that point. I am grateful to her for bringing the two issues together.

Baroness Blatch: I thank the noble Lord. To the noble Earl, I say that the best way that I can answer the particular question is to say that it is one thing for a teacher to say, "Homosexuality is wrong" or to say, "Some say that homosexuality is wrong, and some say that it is right"—in other words, introducing the idea that, like politics or religion, it is a controversial issue. One need only read the papers from the past week to know that it is indisputably a controversial issue. It is another thing for a teacher to say that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality. That is probably what is behind the noble Earl's question. That would be taking sides, as a teacher, and saying, in other words, "There are some who think this and some who think that, but I think that it is equal to heterosexuality". Taking sides in that way would be a form of promotion.

Earl Russell: There are valid senses in which I would say that the Conservative Party is equal to the Liberal Democrats. Has the noble Baroness any objection?

Baroness Blatch: Given the policy differences between us, I probably would have some objection.

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I shall move straight on to that issue. I am not sure about this, but I think that, on my amendment, Amendment No. 221F, the noble Earl said, with the endorsement of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that he wanted "no truck" with it. I do not think that that was the noble Earl's language, but, whatever he said, the point was, "We want nothing of it". If they want nothing to do with a code of practice that would cover proper consultation with parents and strengthen it and give information on the manner in which sex education is taught, the materials used in sex education and the use of third parties in schools, there is a serious difference between us. It would be hugely helpful for teachers and would protect children in schools.

The noble Earl also asked, "Why not other subjects?". In their wisdom, the Government thought it necessary in law to do something about the teaching of politics. They thought it necessary in law to do something about how the subject of religion is handled in schools. It is not uncommon to link politics, religion and sex education. They are highly sensitive and controversial subjects, and it is right that teachers and schools—and governors—should be helped to see their way through what I regard as a minefield.

I would expect us, in the interests of the health of young people, positively to discourage under-age sex and certainly not to introduce children, as part of sex education, to some of the practices set out in the document Taking Sex Seriously. I was not allowed to let the Committee see the document, but I shall read the preamble to a practical exercise for children from the age of 11 upwards. I shall not read out the list of activities. I will leave that to Members of the Committee to read themselves.

The document advises teachers to explain the purpose of the exercise and to ask people to move into groups of three and give them a bundle of strips of card or paper. It then says:

    "Ask them to think about all the different sexual activities two people can do together. Ask them to write each one on a separate strip of card large enough so it can be seen if put up on the wall. Tell them they can put down whatever they think of and that it is best if they do it in a specific way. E.g. rather than just 'oral sex'—

I hope Members of the Committee will forgive me here and bear in mind that this is for children of 11-plus—

    "they might put 'sucking a man's penis' or 'licking a woman's clitoris'. (Some examples of sexual activities are given below. You may need to give a few examples to get the group thinking on the right lines".

I, as a parent, would not wish my children to be in a classroom engaging in that practical activity. I will do what I can, as long as I have breath, to give parents a shot in the arm and give them the right to do something about that kind of sex education in schools.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I do not want to prolong the debate, but will the noble Baroness accept that there are adequate procedures and processes in place for parents to object, if they feel that that sort of material was being used inappropriately in schools? We believe that there is a proper process in place, that the guidance is robust enough and that parents can use

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it if they object. Does she also accept my earlier point that parents have the right and the facility to withdraw their child from non-national curriculum-based lessons that relate to sex education? If people are genuinely offended by that sort of material, they have ample opportunity to complain and to withdraw their children from its effect.

Baroness Blatch: First, that leads me nicely on to the very point I was about to make. Secondly, I have already spoken about the difficulty that parents have in withdrawing their children from that class of sex education that is not within the national curriculum because they do not always know when it is being taught. I have given examples from a document I have quoted twice and am about to quote for the third time of how schools are officially advised and given ways of circumventing the law.

On the Minister's specific point, only as recently as 2003, Brighton and Hove Council strongly recommended what I have just read out from Taking Sex Seriously. It was also recommended by Croydon Council, Hampshire County Council and East Sussex. The proposals for children of 11-plus were strongly recommended in 2003 by Brighton and Hove Council, Croydon Council and Hampshire County Council. The Minister may think there is a robust system in place; the truth is that councils can quite officially and legitimately—these are photostats of the actual documents from those county and borough councils—recommend this kind of inappropriate sex education for their children in school, and they can get away with it.

The noble Lord should have a better idea and should be advised rather more accurately by his officials as to how some of this sex education, which I regard as wholly inappropriate—I know I would be supported by many parents, if they knew these documents existed—was being officially recommended by local authorities.

The noble Lord said that the level of complaints about sex education was minuscule. I have already given one reason why that might be—parents do not always know. It is a brave child who will go home and tell their parents the sort of things they have been hearing in school. When I spoke at the outset to the amendment, I made it clear again and again that the majority of schools, governors and teachers are not breaching Section 28, but that even if a minority is, we should do something about it.

The argument that it is only a minuscule number of parents is not a reason for abandoning the need to protect children, even a minority of children, from inappropriate sex education. The Minister and noble Lords have opposed me and my late friend Lady Young for years. If the issue had not been inserted into the Bill, I should not be talking about it. Those noble Lords always argued that Section 28 was an irritant. It clearly is, because everyone is so rattled about it. Clearly, it has had some effect. For that, I am grateful.

The noble Lord rather ridiculed the attempt by my colleagues in another place to introduce the notion of balloting. The Government have done that in the Bill.

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They have Section 117, which allows balloting with no restrictions on the kind of subjects that could be the subject of such a ballot. One can ballot parents about the quality of any kind of service in the authority. The noble Lord clearly does not know his Bill. He has to look it up to see what I am talking about.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: No, I am aware of them—polls.

Baroness Blatch: Polls are a form of balloting. Local polls reflect the views of people in local communities as to what they think about public services. This, I remind the Minister, is a public service.

If Clause 28 has been effective—the Minister said—he very much regrets it. I have to say that, if the noble Lord is saying that, if Clause 28 has been successful in protecting children from sex education—

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I absolutely object to that inference from my words. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw it now.

Baroness Blatch: If I have got it wrong, I certainly will profusely apologise to the noble Lord, but I heard him say:

    "If it has been successful, I deeply regret it".

I shall check Hansard tomorrow to see whether I am wrong about that. I will do more than that—

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Let us pursue this matter. I am conscious of the time, and I want to see the debate completed. I was not in any way suggesting that there was regret from me. My point was that I did not see that Section 28 was at all relevant to the issue of ensuring that there was adequate child protection. I would not want the inference drawn that the noble Baroness was certainly on the point of drawing. It is not accurate.

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