Parental Involvement in Teaching: Equality Act

Part of Petition - Closure of Heywood Crown Post Office – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 25th June 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth 3:52 pm, 25th June 2019

It is an honour and a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Ms Eagle, who made a very personal and passionate speech with which I wholeheartedly agree.

I was sorry that we even had to come here today to take part in this debate. I listened carefully to Mr Godsiff. I listened to his apology. I am always more than ready to listen to an apology, but much of his speech contradicted that, and indeed contradicted what he had said on that recording, which I have viewed.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has now read the books—at least some of them—and that my office was able to help with that. I find it unfortunate that he made comments and waded into this debate without having looked at the books, as they are at the heart of the issue. I have looked at the books; I have looked at the material that causes so much alleged offence, but there is nothing that I think could cause offence. In fact, along with many other inclusive educational and teaching materials and books, they teach about all the range of difference that we have in our lives, and they certainly do not get into the details of sex or anything biological; we are talking about things that are age-appropriate, that are directed at younger children. It is about understanding the world around them—that there may be children in their class who are Muslim or Jewish or black or white or a woman or a man or gay or lesbian or trans. This is the world we live in. This is the reality we live in. This is the country we live in.

I live in just as diverse a community as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green. I am pleased to say that at the weekend I went to the Grangetown festival in my community, and was able to visit the Pride Cymru stall, right in the heart of one of my largest Muslim communities; and there, mixing in that community, were the LGBT community, different churches, different mosques, different Hindu temples, and different community organisations. They were all just getting on with their lives and making a difference to their community, supporting young people and running diversionary activities for those who might be caught up in knife crime, or other difficulties, in the community, and supporting each other, and working together as a community. They were not interested in dividing each other over the nature of their sexuality, their sex, their race or their religion; they were all working and living together, so there is a different way we can live.

I have watched the scenes in Birmingham with horror. I believe that people have been whipped up into a sense of true moral panic about some problem that does not actually exist. It has become extremely unpleasant and extremely divisive, as we have seen, and that is spreading, as has been said, to other parts of the UK.

I want to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention, and that of the House, to some of those who have been involved in instigating some of the language, protests and division we have seen. At least two of them have come down to Cardiff recently, one of whom, thankfully, was spotted and a talk was cancelled. A woman called Dr Godfrey-Faussett—in fact, she is being investigated by the British Psychological Society for her comments—said in a YouTube clip last year that there was a

“totalitarian endeavour to indoctrinate our children in sexual ideologies.”

She runs the so-called Stop RSE campaign, and has talked about a “war on morality”.

Another group is the so-called Islamic RSE, run by a gentleman called Ustadh Torofdar. I have seen for myself the guide—the handy guide—that can be handed to parents on how they should in effect infiltrate governing bodies or parent teacher associations, and on how they should influence activities in their schools by alleging a whole set of things that are going on in their schools—of course, no evidence is presented—and suggesting that parents may want to get involved and raise these concerns. It gives form letters to be sent to MPs, the media and schools, with all sorts of wild and fanciful allegations about somehow trying to corrupt young people. I will not read out the letter: I have got it, but some parts of it I just find so offensive.

I had never received a letter of this nature in my constituency ever—I have been an openly gay MP for six and a half years in an extremely diverse constituency—or any of these things until the last few months. They are originating from these groups, which are collaborating. As has been said by my hon. Friends from Birmingham, they often involve individuals who do not even have children at these schools. This is the very nature of a moral panic, and it is a very good example of one. I think we need to look at what is really going on here, rather than any actual perceived problem or issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey spoke about the legacy of section 28. I grew up in a school in south Wales, and I certainly was not out about my sexuality at the time. Like me, many LGBT people struggle with these issues for their whole life, and it can affect when they come out, how they come out and to whom they come out, as well as all sorts of other things in their life. I do not want young people living today to go through these experiences—it is just simply horrific—but I know that things can change. Last year, I went back to a Pride parade in the town where I went to school, and that would simply have been unthinkable when I was at school 25 years ago, when I saw lesbian friends of mine being called “dirty lezzers” and everything else, with all sorts of homophobic abuse going on.

That relates to a time and a place, and to a set of attitudes and a set of laws, that I thought we had got well beyond, and I am sorry to see chinks occurring in different places. We have to remember that this is in the context of a wider debate, with deeply concerning comments being made, including, I am sorry to say, by some of the candidates for the Conservative leadership and, indeed, by newly elected MEP Ann Widdecombe. These are really horrific things that, quite frankly, should be from a bygone age. We have made such progress in this House on so many issues, such as marriage equality or the way we conduct ourselves here. Of course, we are the most LGBT diverse Parliament in the world, and we should be celebrating that. I very much hope that it is setting an example to young people in our country that they can be who they are, because God made them too, just like everybody else.

We have to think about the other side of this. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green voiced concerns about the rights of parents and the rights of certain conservative religious communities, but there is no hierarchy in equality. All the protected characteristics are there alongside one another for a reason, and we should be promoting all of them, not just one, or selectively, or in certain circumstances, or only because it might not offend one constituent group or another. We have to remember that at the heart of this is the wellbeing and safeguarding of young people, including young people in the very schools the hon. Gentleman refers to.