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Lord Hylton: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he has announced a review of existing legislation, which could be helpful. Will he give an undertaking now that that review will include the needs of children between the ages of six and 18 and their need for good access to their parents on non-school days?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is exactly the purpose of a reviewto consider such subjects. I am sure that if it is a perceived problemwe have no evidence to suggest it is a major problem for local authority employerswe will include it in that review. I am happy to give such an undertaking.
As usual the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has been most helpful and has also put his finger on some weaknesses in this amendment. The difficulty which neither the noble Earl nor the Minister addressed is that children are out of school only in the holidays and on Saturday and Sunday. It may be that flexible school hours could be looked at some time.
It is possible that the results I seek to achieve could be achieved through guidance to local authorities urging them to pay attention to the importance of the time between parents and children and the necessity, as school programmes stand, for parents to be available either on a Saturday or Sunday during term time.
Next week we shall debate the Second Reading of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. I shall make then, as I make now, the point that there is no better way to encourage anti-social behaviour in young people than to deprive them of the time and attention of their parents, especially their fathers. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Once again, sadly, Section 28 has become something of a political football. I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association and I was shocked, therefore, to receivewithout a covering letter and in a House of Lords envelopea briefing paper for this debate which contained inaccuracies and was written on Local Government Association headed notepaper. Having discussed the matter with the chief executive of the Local Government Association, he informed me that the LGA did not circulate the paper. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, did so, using House of Lords facilities and its materials.
I was told that the person who drafted the paper did not follow the proper procedures, including a requirement to clear the paper with the LGA public affairs office. The person has been interviewed and disciplinary proceedings are likely to follow. I have even heard that a council was telephoned by someone from the LGA who was looking for material to strengthen the brief. He said:
The Local Government Association conservative group has put out a press release stating that it did not lend its support to the briefingin fact it was not even consulted about the briefand therefore it is not the all-party brief that has been claimed. The chief executive criticised the tone of the paper and said that it has never been LGA policy to criticise individual Peers by name. As I am criticised in the paper by name, I have received a fulsome apology from the chief executive. He went on to say that someone had got it wrong and that he was dealing with it as a disciplinary matter.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alli, almost certainly will be speaking in the debate and he will have an opportunity to rebut anything that I have said. I am not giving way because the noble Lord will have an opportunity to speak during the debate.
I am sorry to use precious time on this issue but, given the wide distribution of the briefing paper and the fact that many people will have been influenced by it, it is important to set it in context and to place it on the record.
Today it is my wish to focus on what has always been my concern and that of my late friend Lady Youngthe protection of children. Mine is a simple mission in the debate. It is to protect children from the worst form of sex education. My amendments will achieve that by giving power to parents to make judgments about the sex education of their children and what they receive in school.
My views on the issue of Section 28 are well known, but three concerns have led me to table alternative amendments which would replace Section 28. First, although there has been much misunderstanding about Section 28and as long as the perception of this clause rather than the reality is responsible for endless challenges in ParliamentI thought that it would be helpful to find a way of addressing the more sensitive issues without in any way compromising the protection of children.
My second concern is that Section 28 was not drafted to protect children from unacceptable health authority materials, including inappropriate heterosexual materials, or from visiting sex educators and advisers, who assist in schools at no cost to local authorities.
My third concern, which has led me to table an alternative amendment, is that for many parents Section 28 does not provide a simple remedy. Once Section 28 has been breached, the only routes available to parents are the very costly judicial review procedures, the intervention of the district auditor or the monitoring officer of the local authority. None of those options is very easy for an ordinary parent to resort to. It is for these reasons that I have tabled amendments which I believe should be supported even by those who wish to see Section 28 repealed.
If Section 28 is repealedas, indeed, it would be under my amendmentswe must strengthen the protection of children. It is not enough to say that the guidance issued under the Learning and Skills Act provides sufficient safeguards. For example, it is true that local authorities and schools must have regard to the guidancebut that does not oblige them to comply with it. As your Lordships will know, guidance can be considered but then ignored quite legitimately. The law requires schools and local authorities only to have "regard to" the guidance. As one local authority-funded sex education publication has already pointed out, to have "regard to" does not mean to "adhere to".
My amendments do not prohibit anything. Instead, they devolve decisions about sex education down to school level and, for the first time, give parents a role, in law, to determine the contents of sex education for their children. My amendments rely entirely on the good sense of parents and on the fact that they, above all other people, understand what is in the best interests of their own children.
I accept that schools are expected to consult parents about the content of sex education. However, the strength of my amendments is that they give parents a legal right to be consulted about the sex education policy of a school and its method of delivery, and to have information about and access to the materials
As a last resort, if all the normal grievance procedures fail, 10 per cent or more of registered parents can trigger a ballot of parents within the school. If the ballot is supported by a majority, the school is obliged to comply with the parents' wishes.
Existing government guidance on sex education advocates that schools should seek to work in partnership with parents. I absolutely agree with that. In the main, most schools will do that most of the time. I also believe that most problems which occur will, under my amendments, be resolved at school level. However, we have a duty to protect those children in schools where this is not the case. That is why I believe that the best way forward is to strengthen the power of parents to make judgments about what is best for their own children. As I have said, if 10 per cent or more of parents are deeply unhappy with the content or delivery of sex education thenI repeatas a last resort, a ballot of parents is an appropriate way to resolve the issue.
I said that Section 28 must not be repealed without safeguards being put in its place. The Government argue that no further safeguards are necessary. The Minister will no doubt argue that the guidance on sex education is sufficient. But there are problems with the guidance. Consider what some local authorities have recommended for the teaching of sex education while, at the same time, claiming to comply with the guidance.
Very few parents would knowingly allow their seven year-old child to participate in a class discussion of anal intercourse, yet there are local authorities that recommend a sex education pack outlining just that. Very few parents would allow their 11 year-old child to take part in a teacher-led discussion on the use of sexual toys, sadism, masochism, dressing up and tying up, involving multiple partners in sex at one time and other activities which, quite frankly, I cannot bring myself to repeat on the Floor of the House, yet there are local authorities which recommend such resources. For the benefit of those noble Lords who are laughing, I should say that I do not find such matters amusing.
The latter lesson I described is to be found in a pack called Taking Sex Seriously. Many more such lessons can be found in that publication. I hope that noble Lords will agree that inviting children of 11-plus to discuss sado- masochism, bondage and sex orgies is not appropriate sex education. It is frankly astounding that such appalling resources are being recommended for use in schools by local authorities. To my knowledge, Taking Sex Seriously is currently recommended by a number of local authorities. Despite campaigning letters to the contrary, this information is irrefutable.
However, I know that many local councillors do not even know what council employees are recommending in their names. In fact it happened to one quite recently, who was named in the publicity surrounding this issue. This is all the more reason for giving parents a legal right to disclosure and consultation.
Advisory teachers working for Brighton and Hove and East Sussex Councils specifically recommend that all secondary schools should obtain a copy of Taking Sex Seriously. They claim that their advice to schools is based on the Government's own guidelines.
"Beyond a Phase" is currently recommended by Gloucestershire County Council and in response to recent criticisms the council defended its actions by quoting previous government guidance. There can surely be only one conclusion. There is a problem and guidance alone will not solve it.
Although no doubt the Minister will argue that it is schools and not local authorities that are responsible for sex education, local authorities are highly influential. In most cases they are the employers of the teachers in schools. Local authorities provide teachers with courses on how to teach sex education and produce sex education guidance for teachers. Some local authorities fund advisory teachers for personal, social and health education, specifically to write sex education material or to advise teachers how to teach sex education.
My amendment to Clause 121 makes it clear that the repeal of Section 28 is subject to the terms of my new subsection (2A) to Clause 127, which deals with commencement dates for the Bill. My amendment therefore stipulates that the repeal of Section 28 can only take place when arrangements are in place that establish a right for parents to view the materials used in sex education and to be consulted when schools set a policy on the use of people who are not teachers to take sex education lessons. That does happen in some schools and there have been problems when third parties who are not teachers make poor judgments about the kind of materials that are suitable for children. Schools that use staff or volunteers from outside agencies should have a policy about doing so and ensure that arrangements are in place to inform parents of their new rights and to update government guidance.
A vote against my amendments would be a vote against giving parents a right in law to be consulted by schools about the content and delivery of, and the materials used in, sex education.
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