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The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I have taken a few soundings not least from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. There seems to be a feeling that perhaps we could move reasonably soon towards a vote.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, has summed up very well the positions and the dilemmas. As the recipient of an absolutely hopeless sex education, I feel strongly that children should be given the opportunity to ask questions and to receive answers. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, spoke of teachers who are "wrecks" when dealing with the subject. I suspect that that is in part because of the generation of children, now grown up, who are not able to deliver good sex education.
Amendment No. 91 imposes the element of conditionality that goes to the repeal of Section 28 and requires the Secretary of State to provide a certificate in respect of each school. On checking with the Library, I find that in this country there are some 34,538 schools. I do not wish to detain the House, but that conditionality is a fundamental point of the vote today. To agree to an amendment which many noble Lords have illustrated is impracticable and unworkable would mean that we would not be repealing Section 28 in the unencumbered fashion that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, suggested.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, 16 noble Lords have spoken in the past hour and a half, so the speeches have been brief and I shall try to be equally swift in my response. First, this is a free vote. Secondly, I suspect that there is not a soul in this place who will change their vote as the result of anything that I say in the next few minutes.
I wish to make a few brief points. First, let us not beat about the bush: this is about keeping Section 28 on the statute book. That would be the consequence of the amendments. I say that because the Government have no intention of organising polls in 30,000 schools. That is out of the question. If the amendment is carried, Section 28 would stay. We need to get that point out of the way at the start.
As regards my own experience, I have nothing to declare. I am not a parent and this is the first time I have sat in a debate such as this. I have never spoken on the issue before, but the experience of friends of mine who are parents certainly bears out what has been said in our debate. However, as a Member of Parliament I did not encounter any problems from teachers, school governors or children following the legislation in 1987.
I can recall some of my own sex education at Handsworth Technical School for Boys in Birmingham. Basically we were told to be careful when going into public lavatories, mainly to make sure that the seat was clean as much as anything else. Our education amounted to gross embarrassment and we all thought "Thank heavens" when self-service chemists came along. That is the reality of it, but one criticism made in a document sent in is that children might be embarrassed when they go into a chemist to buy contraceptives.
I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is in his place. I recall his very courageous action on behalf of the government of the day on the HIV and AIDS campaign. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness,
Secondly, I regret to say that in some ways the atmosphere on this issue is almost the same as it was on 8th December 1987 in Commons Standing Committee A on the Local Government Bill. I was a member of that committee on the Opposition Front Bench. I did not reply to the amendment; that was the task of my right honourable friend Jack Cunningham. The atmosphere in that committee was one of suspicion, fear, accusation and the misquoting of various materials that were circulating at the time. Contrary to the myths that have been perpetuated, we did not vote on it. Noble Lords can check the record and see that the section went into the statute book in Committee without a vote. A vote seeking to amend it was taken later on Reporton an amendment that sought to improve sex educationbut it was voted down. Earlier this afternoon I checked the record and found that the honourable Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, Simon Hughes, moved the amendment.
I do not want to argue about the number of schools in England. I think that there are around 20,000 primary schools and 4,000 secondary schools. That leads me to believe that there are at least a third of a million people functioning as school governors in England alone. With that many schools, there must be at least 50,000 parent governors. I have to say, in all honesty, that if there was a problem that was reasonably or even partially widespread, given the number of lay people involved in school governing bodies, which of course have legal authority in this matternot the councillors on local education authoritieswe would be hearing about it day in and day out. The fact is we do not. Less than one per cent of parents withdraw their offspring from sex education classes.
I shall respond to some of the points made in the debate. First, I shall take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in respect of taking sex seriously. The note that I have been given says that 11-year-olds would never be taught the issues identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The teachers' pack provided an approach to use if the children raise certain issues. That is part of the issuehow do the teachers respond? They are not there to be proactivethey are there to respond. Local authorities, head teachers and governors cannot ignore or contradict the guidance. The materials mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, were part of a reading list for teachers, not for pupils. It is crucial to bear that in mind.
Many of the children's organisations referred to by several noble Lords have asked for the repeal of Section 28. None has seen the need for additional protection with which to replace it. That is partly because there are other organisations that look after
There are indeed some myths about. I will not go through some of the quotes that have been read out, and I will certainly not return to the LGA memorandum, whether if was from the LGA or not, although I note that no one in the course of this debate has said that any of the points made in it were factually incorrect. That is worth noting. Sometimes we have been given a full sentence instead of the part of a sentence that was given in other briefs. It is also useful to note that.
This is not a government issuethis is a free votebut I should point out that the amendments seek to introduce new mechanisms for consulting parents on specific issues. However, those issues are not set out, and it is clear that would be a minefield in itself. The amendments propose that local authorities would undertake polls. We would argue once again that the framework that is already in place that ensures that parents have a voice in what is taught in schools has been ignored. The role played by local authorities in sex education has been misunderstood. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has referred to only two authorities, and I do not propose to go into rebuttals that could come from either of them. One is Labour-controlled and one is Tory-controlled, so this is not an issue of political affiliation.
Decisions about sex education in schools are made by head teachers and governors. I will repeat that: decisions about sex education in schools are made by head teachers and governors, having regard to the Government's guidance, which they are not able to ignore. The sex and relationship education guidance specifically addresses the issue of parental involvement, making it clear that it should be ongoing. The guidance says that it is essential that parents be regularly consulted on sex education in schools, particularly when the contents are being reviewed.
As long as a school has regard to the government guidance by involving parents in devising policy, there should be no reason for parents to object to the content of sex and relationship education. However, if they do, they can raise their concerns with school and the Secretary of State for Education. They can withdraw their children from all or part of the sex and relationship education provided by the school, except for those parts included in the statutory national curriculum for science. In practice, as I have said, very small numbersless than one per centchoose to do so.
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