My Lords, in tabling this amendment, I shall cover ground that was explored in some detail in Committee and on Report.
This amendment seeks to comprehend the misgivings expressed by ourselves and other noble Lords on all sides of the House at the sharp divide created by the Bill between the treatment of those under the age of 19 and those over it and to take account of the reservations expressed at that time by the Minister.
I stress that this amendment is a permissive amendment. The duty laid on the learning and skills council under Clause 2 of the Bill is to provide "proper facilities" for education and training for those aged under 19. This amendment will give the Secretary of State powers, under certain circumstances, to extend that duty to those aged over 19. As we know from earlier debates, the distinction between proper facilities for those under the age of 19 and the reasonable facilities for those aged over 19--the distinction between Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill--is that the under-19s have an entitlement to education and training up to the level three qualification, whereas the over-19s have no such entitlement. What is "reasonable" under Clause 3 is a matter of taking account of the council's resources. In other words, such a provision will be made available for the over 19 year-olds where and when the council can afford to make it, whereas the under-19 provision will be provided free of charge. In most cases the over-19s will be expected to find ways of meeting the costs of their tuition.
The purpose of this amendment is not to extend that entitlement in blanket form to the over-19s, but to write into the Act a power for the Secretary of State to extend it to specific categories of people, if he so wishes. It is a mild amendment, but it does allow for a degree of flexibility.
In the debates that we have had on this issue, there have been discussions on the number of different categories of people who might qualify for such an extension. The Minister was particularly sympathetic to those with learning difficulties and disabilities, and to some degree has met the concerns that were expressed in her amendment to Clause 114, which extends the right of assessment up to the age of 25.
From these Benches, our concern has focused not only on those with learning difficulties and disabilities, but also on those who, for one reason or another, miss out on their opportunities to participate in mainstream education and training between the ages of 16 and 19--indeed, often between the ages of 13 and 19--but then seek to make good these omissions at a later stage in life. If we are prepared to pay for expensive sixth form education for 16 to 19 year-olds who stay on at school, it is not unreasonable that we should be prepared to spend a similar amount on those others who do not use their entitlement at that time, but who wish to return later to education and training.
The National Skills Task Force, an advisory committee set up by the Secretary of State to advise him on the skills needs of the nation, recommended that such an entitlement be extended to those up to the age of 25. In its second report, it recommended that,
"All people should be entitled, up to their 25th birthdays, to publicly funded education and training up to a level of capability up to and including first Level III qualifications".
This recommendation echoed that of the Kennedy report, commissioned prior to the election by the Labour Party when it was still in opposition, to help develop its policies on further education. At the time, the report was widely endorsed by the Labour Party.
As the Minister has made clear time and again, that while accepting that the needs of older age groups who have lost out on educational opportunities should be met, priority must at present lie with the 16 to 19 year-old group, and that there are not sufficient resources to meet the needs also of the older group at this time. In his reply to my noble friend Lord Tope on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, stated that,
"We are clear that the LSC's priority must be the 16 to 19 age group and nothing must detract from that. Let us get that right and then focus the increasing resources devoted to adults on enhancing and developing higher level skills ... To extend the entitlement has substantial resource implications. Although it is attractive in many ways, that point must be taken into account".--[Official Report, 13/3/00; col. 1332.]
I do not dispute the Government's priorities. The Social Exclusion Unit's report, Bridging the Gap, highlighted the horrifying statistic that some 160,000 young people aged 16 to 19 have dropped out of education and are now neither in employment nor continuing with any further education or training. That is a scandal and a start has to be made--as indeed the Government have done both with the New Deal and in this Bill--to tackle that situation. But--and this is the point of this amendment--we should not forget those who are now older and, having perhaps whiled away their youth, come to realise later that they need qualifications and are therefore keen and motivated to learn, but cannot afford to fund themselves through the relevant courses.
As the Minister has said, extending the entitlement is attractive in many ways, but is too expensive at the moment. This amendment does not extend that entitlement, but it does make provision, on the face of the Bill, for the Secretary of State to extend the entitlement to specific categories of people aged over 19 as and when he has the resources and wishes to do so. As I have indicated, in not extending the entitlement now, the Minister is neglecting the advice of his own appointed advisory group. He is also neglecting the advice of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, whose report was welcomed by his party when it was published.
We recognise that resources are limited and that priorities have to be defined, but we are of the opinion that an element of flexibility should be written into the Bill so that, in the future, the Secretary of State may be able to extend the entitlement without further legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, being a Cross Bencher and a believer in compromise, I wish to speak to both Amendments Nos. 1 and 6, as they are grouped together. I hope that that is in order.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, has moved an eminently reasonable formula, simply bestowing on the Secretary of State an enabling power allowing for extension beyond the age of 19 where learners might otherwise miss out on their first opportunity on the ladder of lifelong learning. I realise that the Government may not be inclined to make further changes to the Bill at this late stage, but I would hope that, if the amendment is not pushed to a Division, the Government will be minded to enhance the Bill with this amendment in another place.
Turning now to Amendment No. 6, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the word "compromise" is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as,
"the intermediate state between conflicting opinions".
In the case of this amendment, I genuinely believe that the House has reached a compromise. Protagonists of disability rights, myself included, have argued for an extension of entitlement up to the age of 25 for people with learning difficulties or disabilities--not as a blanket entitlement, but simply as an enabling power to allow learning and skills councils to provide continuity in education; levelling out the proverbial playing field.
To her credit, the Minister has reflected on this view and has proposed this new amendment, Amendment No. 6, to assess the needs of students with learning difficulties up to the age of 25, confident that providers will then make a serious attempt to meet those needs. At best, the Minister's confidence will be upheld, smoothing the passage through further education for young people with disabilities, and at worst we shall at least have a more accurate picture of unmet needs. I should like to thank the Minister for her considerable co-operation and I look forward to observing LSCs and providers working within the spirit, and perhaps beyond the letter, of the law.
My Lords, in replying to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I should like to speak also to the government amendment grouped with it, Amendment No. 6.
The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, concerns the balance between Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill. We have debated this many times, and it is right that we should do so. They are very important clauses that determine the main duties of the LSC. We have focused our debate on the policy and the issues and I believe that we have had useful exchanges of views and clarification of our positions. I shall have more to say on that in a moment. However, perhaps I may begin by drawing the attention of noble Lords to some difficulties with the amendment as it is drafted.
The amendment would allow the Secretary of State to rewrite a core duty of the LSC--and I should emphasise the fundamental nature of this duty. It would allow him to do so without any form of parliamentary scrutiny whatever. He could extend the duty under Clause 2 to adults and in doing so he could specify any conditions that he thought fit. If this amendment became part of the Bill, Parliament would be saying, "Here are the duties set out in Clauses 2 and 3, but don't pay too much attention to them because they can be changed at any time and for any reason, without even informing Parliament".
The amendment would permit a fundamental alteration to primary legislation by administrative fiat without any consultation or proper parliamentary control. If the Government had tabled this amendment, I am in no doubt that we would have been severely criticised. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee did not raise any concerns about the delegated powers contained in the Bill. Indeed, it was very complimentary. However, it would have had a field day if the Government had sought a power such as this.
However, turning to the substantive points made by the noble Baroness, I doubt that there is much between us in terms of the fundamental priorities for the LSC. The noble Baroness has said before that she agrees with our priority for 16 to 19 year-olds; the issue is whether that priority can be extended to adults who meet specific criteria.
In an earlier debate the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked whether we intended to implement the recommendations made in the Kennedy report and in the third report of the National Skills Task Force. Indeed, she made reference to both those reports in her speech today. She is correct; those reports are relevant to the groups she mentioned.
I should like to acknowledge the work done by my noble friend Lady Kennedy in producing the report, and also the key role that it played in informing the direction upon which we are now embarking. In our response to the report on widening participation, we acknowledged the urgency of improving the nation's qualification base, in particular the then 7 million adults with no formal qualifications. That is particularly important given that the number of jobs requiring low skills is declining steeply.
To widen participation, we made clear that we must concentrate on those with few if any qualifications. Noble Lords will be aware that we are making considerable investment in further education. Some of the extra money will be used to tackle the problems that I have just mentioned. By using greater attainment at level two as a stepping stone, we will encourage more people to attain level three. It was no coincidence that we published our response on the same day in February 1998 as we published The Learning Age, our consultation paper on lifelong learning, which in turn informed the proposals contained in our White Paper.
We welcome also the contribution which the skills task force made to the debate on both developing the skills of our young people post-16, and on improving the skills of lower-skilled members of the adult workforce. In the second and third reports, the task force made important contributions to both the analysis of the current situation and in proposing constructive measures to address them. We are sympathetic to the needs of both the groups covered by the task force's entitlement recommendations. There is clearly common ground between both the task force and the Kennedy report in moving not just towards a level two entitlement, but also to a level three entitlement.
It is clearly necessary to have in place a system of incentives and provision which delivers a flow of skilled new entrants to the labour force, and which allows those already in the labour force effective opportunities to improve their skills in addition to what we might term the "academic" route to higher education and beyond. We are looking carefully at the task force's proposals. But given the related public spending implications of an entitlement approach, it is only right that we should consider the proposals alongside other key spending priorities and consider the most cost-effective methods of tackling those issues.
The entitlement issue is a serious one. Placing such duties on the LSC is not a matter of expressing aspirations or long-term aims; it gives legal rights to everyone to whom the duty extends, enforceable in the courts. As I have said on several occasions before, we have no difficulty whatever with the sentiment which gave rise to the amendment, but an entitlement not backed up by significant resources would be meaningless. We expect to make good headway in tackling under-achievement and low attainment and in giving everyone the best opportunities in life that we can.
The noble Baroness indicated that the strength of her amendment is that entitlement could be extended as resources permit. But although agreeing with much of what has been said today, there are other, more acceptable ways, of addressing those concerns. In particular, Clause 27 allows the Secretary of State to attach conditions to the public funds he makes available to the LSC, and that includes the specific provision permitting the Secretary of State to attach conditions in respect of specific groups of people. We have already indicated that we would be willing to use that power in respect of such groups as the unemployed. In principle, as resources become available, there is no reason why the Secretary of State could not indicate a priority for allocation of financial resources towards those without a level two qualification, for example.
In considering the deployment of resources as they become available, the use of provisions related to funding would seem more appropriate, relevant and flexible. What is important is that, as resources permit, we are able to ensure that they reach those who need them. I hope and believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, recognises that that applies equally to students with learning difficulties or disabilities as to any other group of students. In substance, I believe that there is little between us. The debate is about means rather than ends. In view of that, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I turn now to Amendment No. 6. Let me say at the outset that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, for what he said and for his spirit of compromise. Amendment No. 6 has relevance to Amendment No. 1. It fulfils the commitment that I gave on Report to bring 19 to 25 year-olds with learning difficulties into the scope of Clause 114(3). At present, that subsection gives the Secretary of State power to arrange assessments of 16 to 19 year-olds other than those with statements who leave school at 16 and who are covered by the duty under Clause 114(1) and (2).
The effect of the amendment is to extend the power so that it applies up to the age of 25. It brings this broader age-group within scope of eligibility for an assessment of their education and training needs and hence the provision which is required to meet those needs under Clause 3. Let me expand on what I said on Report, and in so doing I come back to one or two points made by noble Lords during our last debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker--he is not in his place--spoke eloquently about people who, by the age of 19, have not benefited fully from education or training, not through any fault of not trying, but as a result of their learning difficulties. He said that they should not be thrust out of colleges and told that their education has come to an end. My noble friend Lady David made the same point. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, drew attention to the waste when students with learning disabilities do not complete their education and training and was supported in that by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth.
I agree with those sentiments. My amendment goes a long way towards addressing them. Let me give three examples of people who would be eligible to be considered for an assessment under Clause 114(3) if it is accepted: first, young people with learning difficulties who start an FE or training course at 16 but are unable to complete it as other students and do not do so by the age of 19; secondly, young people whose learning difficulties delay the start of their further education or training until the age of 17 or perhaps even 18, and who could not be expected to finish until after the age of 19; thirdly, people whose entry into FE and training is delayed beyond the age of 19 because of their learning difficulties. I believe that picks up the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on Report.
There is another group of young people whose interests we must serve. During our discussions on Report I said that I was sympathetic to what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, had said about local education authorities cutting the funding for young people with SEN statements who are still studying at school when they reach their 19th birthday. I am grateful to the noble Lord for writing to me just this week with an example of a recent case where an LEA chose to end the funding of a young person aged 19 before the end of the academic year. Even if only a minority of authorities are taking such action where it is inappropriate, I am determined that that state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. I am pleased to be able to confirm that we will be taking action to stop it happening in future.
Clause 7(2) of the Bill allows the LSC to impose conditions on the way that LEAs use the funds that are allocated to them for their school sixth forms. We intend to use this provision to require LEAs to ensure that funding for pupils with SEN statements in mainstream school sixth forms, or in special schools, will not simply end on their 19th birthday but will continue until the end of their course. We have other powers in Clause 6 that require FE colleges to act in the same way.
I return to the assessment process. In responding to an amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, I made clear on Report that we shall want to offer guidance on how we expect the assessment process to work. I also said that we shall need help from the post-16 disability consortium, and others, in drawing up that guidance. The guidance will, of course, embrace the full age range covered by Clause 114(3). It will also cover eligibility for an assessment, as well as process.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, spoke of the need for some simplicity. I could not agree more. Where there is good practice now, we have to build on it. But where practice is not good, we must do everything we can to ensure that it changes. I accept very much the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Addington, about the burdens on parents of students with learning difficulties, and on the students themselves. The last thing we want is for such burdens to be made worse by insensitive bureaucracy. Therefore, our guidance will certainly cover that point.
In view of the profound reservations that I have expressed about the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and bearing in mind the assurances I have been able to give to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and others, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment. I should point out that I shall be moving the government amendment at the appropriate time.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I am disappointed that she is not prepared to take our amendment into account and add it to Clause 2. In so far as the drafting is flawed, that could have been tidied up during the Bill's passage through another place. The amendment was drafted specifically to give the Minister concerned flexibility and to allow for the fact that resources are not available at present.
However, I am heartened by the reassurances that the noble Baroness has given that the Secretary of State will use the flexibility that he has under other clauses of the Bill--in particular, Clause 27--to extend entitlement, especially to those who are unemployed. In the light of those reassurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, on Report I rehearsed the arguments for this amendment which turn on the desirability of having on the face of the Bill a better balance between the duty of the learning and skills council to provide vocational education--education for work--and providing a broader category of education--education for life. At that time, I received support from all sides of the House, as well as from the noble Baroness.
I understand that the noble Baroness will say that she can bring forward a government amendment to Schedule 3, which will cover the point that I made. Therefore, subject to what the noble Baroness says in her response, I shall not press my amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sorry that I was unable to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, completely on these matters in earlier debates. Under its main duties Clause 2(3)(b) already obliges the LSC, when securing proper facilities for those aged 16 to 19, to take account,
"of the different abilities and aptitudes of different persons".
That links directly to the provisions of Clause 2(1) where education is not going to be "suitable to the requirements" of those aged 16 to 19 if the LSC does not prepare them for adult life generally, including life outside the workplace.
This Government want the LSC to make a real difference to people's lives, especially young people, by helping to support families and build stronger neighbourhoods. I can assure the House that the LSC will play a very important role in promoting the benefits of learning outside the workplace--not just the economic benefits, important though they are, but also the personal, family and community benefits that learning can, and should, bring. Therefore, we intend that "training", within the meaning of Clause 2(4)(c), should have as broad a definition as possible; that is why the paragraph refers specifically to,
"vocational, social, physical and recreational training".
We want to ensure that our young people grow up to make the correct and informed choices that we want them to make, whether that choice is about a career or how to behave socially. Similarly, we are not awaiting the establishment of the LSC to take action on some of the issues that concern the noble Lord; for example, the group established under Professor Crick on citizenship met for the first time in January and is due to report in June or July. Further, the FEFC, as part of its Curriculum 2000 initiative, is creating specific funding for key skills and enrichment courses for full-time 16 to 19 year-olds.
The FEFC's Curriculum 2000 regime explicitly recognises, for the first time, enrichment courses running alongside A-levels and full-time vocational courses. Students undertaking such activities, coupled with key skills, will earn the funding equivalent of a full A-level. At present, a wide range of enrichment activities is eligible, including the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme, work experience, health education and sports.
Nevertheless, I listened to what the noble Lord said today. I should like to offer to try to meet his continuing concerns by making an amendment to the Bill in another place. Schedule 3 to the Bill provides that the council must establish a "young people's learning committee". I accept that the preparation of young people for adult life outside the workplace is where the council can, and should, make a real difference. I believe that there is a case for recognising this by specifying in Schedule 3 that the committee must also consider and advise the council on the matters that I recognise are of such importance to the noble Lord--as, indeed, they are to the Government--and which he has raised in his amendment.
I hope that the noble Lord will agree that this proposal represents a clear and firm step towards meeting the concerns that he has expressed and that, therefore, he will feel able--as he indicated--to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 28, at end insert--
("(e) disproportionate expenditure is expenditure that is wasteful or unrelated to the duties and functions of the Council, but shall not be taken to mean expenditure on provision that, by its nature, has higher unit costs than other forms of provision").
My Lords, I shall be brief as this matter was discussed during earlier stages of the Bill. My amendment relates to Clause 2(3)(e) and attempts to define more fully the phrase "disproportionate expenditure". As the clause stands, the paragraph could read as though finance--money in the crudest sense--was the total guide to the operation of the councils. Noble Lords know that both I and my noble friends are worried about the effect of such a crude clause on school sixth forms, as against college provision.
We all know that school sixth forms have a higher unit cost because they provide more services; for example, orchestras, drama and moral and religious education. Moreover, in the case of smaller, rural sixth forms, they play a part in the local community. Therefore, we are worried about the provision and feel that greater guidance should be given regarding the position of these bodies. I realise that Ministers have assured us that they will take this into account. As I have said at previous stages of the Bill, I therefore can see no reason why they should object to having it on the face of the Bill. School organisation committees and adjudicators will make decisions on this matter. Legislative direction will be important. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. As he said, we have discussed this matter at every stage of the Bill. At every stage of the Bill I have said that a paragraph which begins with the words,
"make the best use of the Council's resources" does not need the further words,
"avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".
That must be inconsistent with making the best use of the council's resources.
At Report stage the noble Lord, Lord Bach, went to considerable lengths to try to define and explain what all of that meant. However, I became no more convinced. However, if the Government are determined that they must make reference to "disproportionate expenditure", that can only give rise to suspicions which, I must admit, I did not have at first--but others did have--as to what may lie behind the provision. If that does not apply to the current Government and the current Minister--I fully accept that that is the case--once the provision is included on the face of the Bill it is there for all time, until changed. Future Ministers and future governments may be far less benevolent than those who currently occupy the Front Bench. If the Government insist on leaving the words in the Bill, we are right to seek a better definition and a better understanding of the meaning of the words "disproportionate expenditure" in this context.
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right to say that this matter has been discussed at each stage of the Bill. I believe that the noble Baroness and others who have spoken in all of the debates well understand the arguments. My noble friend has my full support.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment, specifically from the point of view of young people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities. I do so declaring, yet again, my interest as the father of a 19 year-old Down's Syndrome girl with mental handicap who is at the moment going through the considerable difficulties of moving from school to further education. I refer to the sort of thing one comes up against--many parents have experienced this--at the moment with the FEFC and, I fear, in future, with the LSC. Parents who need a special boarding school place for their child are told that that is altogether too expensive and therefore it cannot be allocated. The parents are told that they will have to put up with what is available locally and that the child will have to live in social services accommodation, which may or may not be available, and all that sort of thing.
I should have thought that this amendment, if accepted, would remove all that area of doubt and difficulty for the parents and young people concerned. I also believe that the amendment would fit the Government's laudable determination to achieve joined-up government in this area. The fees of a particular special needs boarding school may look, on the face of it, more expensive than local provision. However, when you go into it, that may not be the case at all. When you have added together the education department's budget and the health and social services departments' costs to look after these young people properly--and, as I have mentioned before, one has now to bring into the equation the Home Office's costs because, unfortunately, a large and growing number of these young people end up in prison because they are not being properly looked after under care in the community--the total cost of what the parents want is often cheaper than that of provision which may be imposed on them as a result of a narrow-minded and short-sighted view of cost comparisons in the education sector alone. Therefore, as I say, I support the amendment.
My Lords, I genuinely congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, on his tenacity and ingenuity in pursuing this matter during the course of the Bill's passage through this House.
Before I discuss the points that he has made in this short debate, I point out that the first part of his amendment at least is, in our view, both defective and redundant. A statutory body such as the LSC may not act outside its powers. It is clearly a matter for Parliament to set out in legislation the functions of the LSC, its duties and its powers. The LSC will be a statutory body corporate and the statute book will determine what it can do. We do not state anywhere in the Bill that the LSC may not spend money on running hotels or casinos, and, similarly, we do not state in the Bill that it should spend money in a way that is wasteful or unrelated to the duties and functions of the council. We do not need to. All that is required is to say positively what it must do--its duties--and what it may do--its powers. If it is not mentioned, it cannot do it. Expenditure that is unrelated to the functions of the council is not just wasteful; it would be illegal. Moreover, the LSC is already under a duty to make the best use of its resources. We have debated that at some length. We believe that the first part of the amendment would introduce redundant and unnecessary words which repeat what is already clear from the Bill.
I turn to the real point that the noble Lord makes so well. He has made clear his concern that the future of sixth forms, and, in particular, of those in small rural schools, should not be threatened by the creation of the learning and skills council. I repeat--as he would expect me to do--the assurances that we have already given as a government that good sixth forms, wherever they are located, have nothing to fear from this Bill. We want to offer a choice of options for all young people to meet their individual and different needs. As the noble Lord himself indicated at Second Reading, a school sixth form may be the best and most appropriate option for many 16 to 19 year-olds, while for others a college option might be more suitable. We absolutely agree with that. A range of options for young people is a healthy situation.
When we previously debated the issue of what could be regarded as "disproportionate expenditure" we made it clear that nothing in this clause would prevent the learning and skills council from funding provision in a small rural sixth form simply because it might be more expensive than provision elsewhere. We fully recognise that some schools will be more expensive than others simply because of their size and location. In the same way, some provision offered by colleges is more expensive than other provision. The present funding arrangements recognise that. Some provision for individual students is more expensive than for others-- here I refer to a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch--particularly when we consider the needs of those with learning difficulties. That is already a feature of current funding arrangements, which have developed under exactly the same legal provisions that are in the Bill. I repeat that nothing in the Bill concerns simple cost calculations. Money is not--to use the expression of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington--the total guide. We fully recognise that much broader considerations must be brought to bear when assessing the need to make provision for young people.
On Report the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that small sixth forms should not be closed down simply because they are small. We agree with him. He made the excellent point that small sixth forms may offer good quality, even though their unit costs are higher than elsewhere. Again, we agree with him. We have said, on the record, that none of the Bill's provisions stops the LSC spending money on expensive provision. We fully accept that high cost provision will be needed in some areas and should be available. The LSC would not be able to fulfil its duties if it failed to make provision that was required, even if that was expensive provision.
We have, of course, listened with care to all that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has said on this issue during the passage of the Bill in this House. We believe that there is nothing between us on this. The Bill as it stands deals with this matter fairly and squarely. We have tried to make that clear on a number of occasions, including today, and we have given assurances that we believe deal exactly with the noble Lord's concerns. We would argue that the amendment is unnecessary. I have repeated the assurances that I have given on behalf of the Government. I hope that that will put the noble Lord's mind at rest and that he will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I am grateful for what he said. However, I should point out that he said that the existing situation with the FEFC already caters for the kind of problem that I put forward. If that is so, it will not solve the problem if the LSC continues to use unit costs as a reason not to give young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and mental handicaps what they need; we will be no further forward. Can the Minister say whether the assurances he has given to my noble friend in regard to normal people will apply also to young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, especially where they need residential education?
My Lords, in general terms I can give the noble Lord that assurance. I should point out that it is set out clearly in Clauses 13, 14 and 114 of the Bill that the needs of those with learning difficulties will be met. They will not be subject--this is the point that I believe the noble Lord is really concerned about--to narrow cost considerations.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I am a historian and I admire 19th century statutes which defined what they meant. I share the worry of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that, as it stands, the wording of Clause 2(3)(e),
"might give rise to disproportionate expenditure" will be interpreted by school organisation committees, adjudicators and, in the end, the courts. I therefore do not feel that there is anything wrong in proposing a definition of "disproportionate expenditure"; I do not think that I am creating a contradiction; and the amendment will meet the points made by my noble friend Lord Pearson. I am afraid that I must ask for the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 24, line 12, at end insert--
("( ) In respect of education or training provided by an employer in the workplace, the right of entry conferred by subsection (2) may be exercised only if the employer has been given reasonable notice in writing.").
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, the intention of this amendment is to place an obligation upon the adult learning inspectorate to give reasonable notice in writing to an employer where it intends to conduct an inspection of workplace education and training provided by that employer.
The House will recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, brought forward a similar amendment on Report when she expressed concern that employers might be placed under an undue burden by the new inspectorate. She also argued that we needed the same provisions for England as those which already apply to Wales under Clause 76 of the Bill.
Your Lordships will recall that on behalf of the Government I accepted all her points, although I invited her to withdraw the amendment, which she was kind enough to do, while we reflected on the exact wording. We have now done so and have made a very minor addition for clarification, inserting a reference to Clause 55(2). Otherwise, the amendment is identical to that proposed by the noble Baroness. I have pleasure in commending this change to the House, and I thank the noble Baroness for her assistance. I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 47, line 2, at end insert--
("( ) In exercising his powers under this section, the Secretary of State shall ensure that any action he takes--
(a) does not adversely affect the quantity or quality of existing information, advice and guidance services provided for young people;
(b) fulfils his duties to all young people under sections 8, 9 and 10 of the Employment and Training Act 1973 and sections 43, 44 and 45 of the Education Act 1997.").
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the Careers Service, in its new guise as the Connexions service, continues to provide careers advice, information and guidance to all young people and does not find all its efforts swallowed up by the new mentoring and personal adviser service which is to concentrate on the disadvantaged. In this sense, the amendment merely reiterates what the Minister has already told us. In the debate on Report, the Minister said:
"Let me finally confirm that the Secretary of State's duties and powers to secure career services will remain and that the delivery of those services to 13-19 year-olds will be within the context of the wider range of support provided by the Connexions service ... However, that is not to say that in the future careers provision will be in any way subordinated ... such provision will be an absolutely key element of the Connexions service".--[Official Report, 14/3/00; col. 1503.]
The Minister continued, at col. 1504:
"This new service is really going to be for all young people, whatever their circumstances and abilities. Careers provision will be a core function of the service ... For many young people this will be the part of the service to which they really want access. It will apply to the great majority who are on track towards achieving appropriate learning goals, to doing well at school and going on to post-school education and who face rather few barriers to reaching their potential".
Why then, if the Minister has given those reassurances, do we raise this issue again and seek to get such reassurances written on to the face of the Bill? It is because the Minister's plans seem to us to be over-ambitious and her sums do not add up. In addition, evidence is emerging from many different areas of the country that those in mainstream education are not getting access to the advice and guidance they need because priorities within the service are shifting towards providing intensive help and mentoring for the disadvantaged, which is the other new half of the Connexions service.
I deal first with the resources element. We know that the aim is to gradually build up the Connexions service, which will eventually cost about £500 million. The Minister made clear that there is at present a shortfall of resources. She said, again on Report, at col. 1504:
"We are committed to resourcing the Connexions service properly. Some of those resources will come from the pooling of existing central government resources and some from those already devoted by local partners to youth support and guidance. Of the existing resources that we expect agencies to contribute, about half will be made up of the existing Careers Service budget".
"We are also considering what additional funding will be required as part of the Government's Year 2000 Spending Review".
However, the Minister also assured the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that the Government would not be taking funds away from the local authority-provided Youth Service. Therefore, the bulk of the funding has to come from the Careers Service, plus whatever new money is allocated in next July's Comprehensive Spending Review. We know that the Careers Service currently costs slightly less than £250 million, which means that the Government will be seeking between £200 million and £250 million out of the next Comprehensive Spending Review in order to finance this new service. Some of it may perhaps already have come in Tuesday's Budget announcement that an extra £1 billion will be given to education. I look forward to hearing from the Minister whether any of that money is to be devoted to the Connexions service.
The problem is that what is being proposed is a very much expanded role for the Careers Service, providing, as we have heard, mainstream information, advice and guidance to young people between the ages of 13 and 19 who are in school or college or who are seeking employment, but also becoming, in the schools, learning mentors, working with all pupils facing barriers to learning to help them to re-engage in effective learning, and, outside the school environment, personal advisers within the Learning Gateway programme. Indeed, during the past year some 1,500 careers advisers have switched to become such personal advisers. But there are only 7,000 careers advisers at present and until new resources are injected into the programme they cannot fulfil all of these functions.
We do not question the value of personal advice and mentoring services in helping disadvantaged young people back into mainstream education and training, but until further resources are provided--they will be available, at the earliest, in April 2001, or, more likely, April 2002, if they are to come from the Comprehensive Spending Review--the new service cannot be provided without detracting from the current level of provision for the Careers Service.
Moreover, there is already evidence that this is happening. The noble Baroness, Lady David, spoke on Report of the consultation document which was being circulated. That document suggests that some 47 per cent of students in the under-16 age group and 63 per cent of those in the post-16 age group, mainly those achieving five A to Cs in their GCSEs--in other words, mainstream good students--will require only paper-based or IT-based advice and will not need, or be guaranteed, access to trained careers advisers or counsellors.
A parent in the South West has a daughter in the sixth form who needs help to plan her future options and routes. A modern apprentice? A degree? Which subject? Which university? Why? She is denied access to a careers adviser because the Careers Service has been contractually directed to work with "higher priority groups" rather than students of average or above average ability.
Another parent writes:
"My two older children had careers interviews in year 11 and in the sixth form. They were really helpful. Now our next son is not getting any advice. He is being discriminated against because he is clever. It's not fair".
Another parent writes:
"Surely, my daughter needs more careers guidance than someone who will not get five Cs at GCSE--she has more options to choose [from]".
"My daughter can't choose her A-levels--how will she choose her degree and job without proper careers advice?"
One parent on the south coast summed up the problem about rationing access to careers advice according to so-called academic ability or problems of attendance, drugs and so on, as follows:
"Does this mean [that] if my daughter truants from school next week she will get an early careers guidance interview?"
At a recent young people's conference in the Isle of Wight, called "Wight 2B Heard", many questioned why careers guidance services were being taken away from sixth-form students. All of this indicates that there are already problems in providing the guidance which the Secretary of State has a duty to provide. It is not fair to young people to withdraw those services from them.
We do not deny the needs of the disadvantaged. By the provision of the personal adviser and mentoring services, which are regarded as an important part of the Connexions document, the disadvantaged will be helped. But that should not be at the expense of the current information, advice and guidance service offered to 90 per cent of young people in mainstream education and training. This amendment reinforces that point and puts on the face of the Bill the assurances that the Minister has given. In so doing it strengthens her arm. Therefore, in her discussions and those of the Secretary of State with the Treasury there may be greater strength behind their plea for more resources. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her letter of 21st March which clarifies a good many points but leaves me with some uncertainties that I should like to clear up before she responds to the debate. In Committee my noble friend Lord Bach said that in schools the learning mentor would be the "first point of advice". But the main purpose of the learning mentors in the Excellence in Cities programme, as the Minister reminds me in her letter, is to work with pupils who face barriers to learning; in other words, with some, but not all, pupils, and on learning issues rather than careers advice. On what basis is that regarded as an adequate replacement for the current arrangements? I remind noble Lords that the present arrangements are based on a partnership between, on the one hand, a careers team and pastoral care tutors within the school and, on the other, a careers adviser based outside the school who is in touch with employers skilled in careers interviewing and able to offer genuinely impartial advice.
Is the system which is working well now to be dismantled, or will the learning mentor still have access, within the Connexions service, to specialist careers advisers based outside the school? The Minister suggested at Report stage, on 14th March, at col. 1505, that that might be the case. However, my noble friend also indicates in her letter that she hopes the majority of personal advisers will be drawn from careers advisers. Since currently there are only 7,000 careers advisers working in the Careers Service in the whole of England, Scotland and Wales, and the Government estimate that they will require between 15,000 and 20,000 personal advisers, the Minister's hope seems doomed to disappointment. The figures simply do not add up. Even if all careers advisers become personal advisers they will provide only some, not most, of the numbers needed. But then there will be no specialist careers advisers left to whom the learning mentors and personal advisers can refer.
The reality appears to be that the Government want to provide personal advisers for all young people, which is an admirable aim if it can be achieved. They will provide the first level of advice and support and identify young people's needs. They will then be able to refer to specialists where that is required. But, despite Ministers' suggestions to the contrary, it seems that the one area where that will not be the case is careers advice, because the only budget which has been brought totally into the new service is that for the Careers Service which is controlled directly by the Department for Education and Employment. The result seems likely to be a loss of the expertise on which most students and their parents depend in making their way through an ever more complex series of course choices, which are also career choices. Many noble Lords may not be aware of their complexity, particularly for 16 to 18 year-olds. At the very time when the maze becomes more complex the key expert support to help students and parents find their way through it is being removed.
I should welcome the Minister's response to three very clear questions. First, will all young people continue to have access not only to a personal adviser/learning mentor but also to a specialist careers adviser? Secondly, how many careers advisers need to remain as careers advisers to make this possible? Thirdly, how many careers advisers does this release to become personal advisers/learning mentors?
Finally, I would welcome my noble friend's comments on two other questions that I posed at Report stage to which I have not received answers. First, how do Ministers propose to ensure that there is a seamless transition from the Connexions service to information, advice and guidance services for adults? We have received a promise as to that in paragraph 6.13 of the Connexions policy document but no detail. Secondly, at the moment there is a major concern that the existing funding sources for adult guidance, as opposed to information and advice, are drying up. We are afraid that by the time the learning and skills council comes into being many guidance services will have disappeared with the loss of experience and expertise that that entails. The Minister suggests in her letter that steps are being taken to provide transitional funding. Is that correct?
My Lords, the first part of this amendment requires the Secretary of State to maintain the quality and quantity of existing information, advice and guidance services for young people. The second part is a rather different kettle of fish. It requires the Secretary of State to fulfil his existing statutory duties with respect to careers education and careers information, advice and guidance services. So it would have no legal effect whatsoever. That is why we are somewhat surprised that it should be included in an amendment. A statutory duty is a statutory duty. We do not need repeated in legislation that the Secretary of State must fulfil his statutory duties laid out elsewhere. We are happy to reiterate reassurances in this House as many times as we are asked, but I do not believe that noble Lords would think that their time was being put to good use if we started to repeat legislation along the lines that the Secretary of State must do what he must do! However, real concerns underlie the amendment; and I address them rather than the amendment itself.
First, I am happy to repeat the assurances that we have given at each stage of this Bill: that we are committed to ensuring that there will be no reduction in the provision of information, advice and guidance services for young people in the future. Indeed, the whole rationale for introducing the Connexions Service is that it will improve delivery of such provision through a long overdue, more integrated approach to supporting young people.
The Government are aware of noble Lords' concerns that the Connexions Service should be adequately resourced for its functions. We have repeated many times that this is our absolute intention; and that one of the objectives of phasing in the service is to ensure that there is both sufficient funding and sufficient trained personnel to deliver the high quality provision that we intend as a hallmark of the Connexions Service.
Further concerns have been expressed that existing resources, in particular Careers Service and Youth Service resources, will not stretch to the enhanced provision envisaged. We agree that if the Connexions Service were no more than an umbrella beneath which these services continued to operate as before, this might well be the case. But our intention is for a radically new, integrated, modern support service for young people--a transformation of the existing unsatisfactory situation where a whole range of discrete services deal with the same young person separately.
We believe that there are also savings to be made from the elimination of expensive duplication; for example, in assessing young people's needs and maintaining records. There are also opportunities to exploit new, more effective--including cost-effective--ways of disseminating information and advice; for example, ICT options such as Connexions Direct, which we shall be piloting in the north-east of England. Facilities such as these offer the prospect of freeing up personal adviser time to focus on the more highly skilled aspects of guidance in careers and related matters. All young people need such guidance at some point in their lives and we have set out on previous occasions how every young person will have access to a personal adviser's support as and when they need it.
We do not promise that careers information, advice and guidance will continue to be delivered as now--indeed, we hope that it will not. It is vital that the delivery of all services keeps up with progress, and in particular with progress in technological innovation. Young people will cease to see it as relevant if it does not. But we do intend to improve provision using innovative delivery techniques which we believe will be attractive to young people, widen their horizons, and raise their aspirations. We believe that this will be a real possibility through the new, integrated Connexions Service.
We have given assurances that careers advice will be a core element of the Connexions Service; that there will be no reduction in careers provision--indeed, that we expect it to improve; that Connexions personal advisers will be trained in delivering careers advice and guidance; and that every young person--I repeat myself but it is an important point--will have access to a Connexions personal adviser as and when they need it. We cannot guarantee that every young person will wish or need to have a careers interview. Many are very clear about what they want to do and can access expert advice at home, but for every young person who needs it a careers interview will, of course, be available.
In moving the amendment, the noble Baroness asked about the £1 billion extra money announced for education in the successful Budget introduced a couple of days ago by my right honourable friend in another place. I am delighted to say that it seems to have been received warmly not just by the governing party but by the party opposite and no doubt by the Liberal Democrats. Until the spending review is completed in the summer, we do not know what proportion will be allocated to the Connexions programme.
My noble friend Lady David asked a series of questions. I hope that she will understand that I cannot give her, for example, information on the number of advisers; but I guarantee to write to her with those numbers, and the answers to her other questions; and I shall place a copy in the Library.
On transitional costs, we recognise that there will be additional costs as careers companies and their staff prepare for the new arrangements although we seek to ensure that those are minimised. A working group has been established on transitional issues to consider the implications for the Careers Service; and we are considering the provisions needed to meet those costs in the year 2000 spending review.
I hope that I have given the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, enough reassurance for her to accept that we mean what we say in setting up the new Connexions Service. We mean it to be an exciting new project that will look after all that is best in the Careers Service now, but also improve on it. In that spirit, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. However, these are the same assurances we have received previously. We do not believe that the sums add up. The Minister can give us no assurance today that any of the money mentioned on Tuesday will be devoted to this service. We shall have to wait until July to be clear about the precise amount.
In addition, there is increasing evidence that there is at present some discrimination in the Careers Service against the more able pupils in favour of the more disadvantaged. I should like, therefore, to test the opinion of the House.
moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 52, line 40, leave out ("19") and insert ("25").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 7:
After Clause 116, insert the following new clause--
(" .--(1) The Education Act 1996 shall be amended as follows.
(2) In section 403 (sex education: manner of provision) in subsection (1) for the words "and the value of family life" substitute ", the value of family life and sexual health".
(3) After section 403 insert--
"Sex education: Secretary of State's guidance.
403A.--(1) The Secretary of State must issue guidance designed to secure that the following general objectives are met when sex education is given to registered pupils at maintained schools.
(2) The general objectives are that the pupils--
(a) learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for the bringing up of children;
(b) learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society;
(c) learn to respect themselves and others;
(d) are given accurate information for the purposes of enabling them to understand difference and of preventing or removing prejudice;
(e) are protected from inappropriate teaching and materials.
(3) When sex education is given to pupils who are in the third or fourth key stage or over compulsory school age, the general objectives referred to in subsection (1) are to include the following additional objectives.
(4) The additional objectives are that the pupils--
(a) learn to understand human sexuality;
(b) learn the reasons for delaying sexual activity and the benefits to be gained from such delay;
(c) learn about obtaining appropriate advice on sexual health.
(5) The Secretary of State's guidance must also be designed to secure that sex education given to registered pupils at maintained schools contributes to--
(a) promoting the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of the pupils and of society;
(b) preparing the pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.
(6) The Secretary of State may at any time revise his guidance.
(7) Local education authorities, governing bodies and head teachers must, in discharging their functions under section 403, have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance.
(8) In this section "maintained school" includes a community or foundation special school established in a hospital."").
My Lords, debate so far about this amendment has been confused and disconnected from the truth. Since it was tabled, there has been a great deal of comment in the press, and I regret that much of it has been factually inaccurate or ill informed. In this debate we must at least be clear about the facts. I therefore think it important to set out at the beginning of the debate a clear explanation of what the amendment contains and a clear and unambiguous statement of why the Government have tabled it.
The amendment has been constructed very carefully to reflect the major issues that affect the provision of sex and relationships education and to create a sensitive balance. First, the amendment emphasises the need to learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children. That reflects the primacy of marriage in current society. The amendment is clear about that.
The amendment also emphasises the significance of marriage and stable relationships as key building blocks of community and society. This recognises that, while marriage is a key institution, there are other forms of relationship that are of value and provide love and stability for adults and children. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn recognised this when he spoke on the "Today" programme last Thursday. He said:
"We have got to live in the real world. In the real world there are relationships which are outside marriage, but one would actually presume that stable relationships within society are better than promiscuous and unstable relationships".
That is a particularly important point and I know that many in this House will be reassured that the draft guidance which was issued last Thursday builds on this. It emphasises the need for teachers not to stigmatise children from families and relationships other than marriage.
In the amendment, we want to balance those positive requirements with safeguards to protect children. That is why a key objective is to be protected from inappropriate teaching and materials. There has been a great deal of public comment about the type of material that might go into schools as a result of the proposals and as a consequence of the repeal of Section 28. A great deal of concern has been stirred up unnecessarily and I am sorry that this House has played its part in that. The provision makes clear that school governing bodies and headteachers must have regard to the need to select appropriate teaching content and materials. Our guidance emphasises that this should be done in conjunction with parents.
The remaining sections of the amendment provide for children in secondary schools to learn about human sexuality, the reasons for delaying sexual activity and the benefits from doing so, and how to obtain appropriate advice on sexual health. The draft guidance backs that up by setting out very clearly the basis on which teachers should approach such sensitive topics. The Government hope that as a result teaching will be more confident and information more effective.
Finally, the amendment places sex education firmly in the broader context of spiritual and moral education and preparation for adult life, which have long been established as the fundamental basis of education.
Having described the content of the amendment, I shall explain why we have brought it forward. In part, we want to set aside fears and concerns relating to the Government's intention to repeal Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986; or "Section 28", as it has become known. This is not the time or place to enter into another debate on the repeal of Section 28, but I must briefly address the issue. Section 28 prohibits local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality or publishing material with that intent, and from promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
That provision applies to the activities of local authorities themselves and has never applied to the activities of the governing bodies and staff of schools. Section 28 has always been a negative provision. By that, I mean that it has only ever forbidden what should happen. It gives no guidance as to what should happen in this sensitive area where the needs of all young people in school are required to be met. It undermines teachers in carrying out their duties and it has caused confusion. The Government are right to seek to repeal it for that reason alone, let alone any other. What is needed is clear guidance to teachers telling them what they can do rather than what they cannot and this amendment and guidance seeks to do just that.
Many of the arguments and concerns voiced about local authorities and the provision of sex and relationship education in schools, however deeply felt, simply do not take account of the fact that a local authority now has no power to determine the sex education policy in a school. That task falls to the governing body and headteacher of the school. They do so in consultation with parents. Concerns have also been expressed about what should be taught within sex and relationships education in respect of marriage and stable relationships.
For those reasons, the Government are bringing forward this amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill which will place a clear statutory duty on the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to issue guidance on sex and relationship education in schools. Under the amendment, governing bodies of maintained schools, headteachers and LEAs are under a duty to have regard to the guidance. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, as chair of the Church of England Board of Education, and Archbishop Nichols of the Catholic Education Service Bishops said last week in their combined press release, it will,
"provide more direct and effective protection for pupils and schools in England and Wales than Section 28. The proposed amendment will put broad responsibilities on teachers and governors to protect their pupils and to provide positive sex education within the context of their spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development".
In tabling the amendment, the Government have recognised the need for the guidance on sex and relationship education to be firmly rooted within the wider general provisions of the school curriculum and the new Personal, Social and Health Education Framework which was issued last November. This is the first time that schools have had a national framework for teaching in this area. It will play a vital role in helping pupils deal with difficult moral and social questions that arise in their lives and in society.
The national curriculum and the PSHE framework now have a statement of values setting out the fundamental principles underlying the curriculum. I refer to the statement of values by the National Forum for Values in Education and in the Community, which is contained and set out in the new national curriculum handbooks issued in November. The remit of the forum was to decide whether there were any values that were commonly agreed upon across society. The forum found that there was indeed a consensus. Within the statement of values, there is a section on society. In that section, the forum found that among other things we value families as sources of love and support for all their members, and as a basis of a society in which people care for others. The forum concluded that we as a society support the institution of marriage, but crucially recognised that the love and commitment required for a secure and happy childhood can also be found in families of many different kinds.
We cannot divorce this House from this reality. We here represent a wide range of society and it is our duty to reflect not only that wide diversity, but also what is generally known as the common good. As such, the amendment and the guidance have both had to steer a sensible course between the importance of marriage and family life and the need to respect diversity and difference.
Of course the Government support the institution of marriage. How could we not? It is the mainstay of many, many families. But the reality is that not everyone chooses this course, however much some would like to persuade them to do so. I have spoken of the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community which set out to find a common consensus on values. The Government also recognise, as we did in the Home Office ministerial group on the family document, Supporting Families, that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage. It is particularly important to signal support to those in single parent families.
Concern has been expressed about the references in Amendment No. 7 to "marriage and stable relationships". It has been argued that that gives moral equivalence to marriage and homosexual relationships. It has even been suggested that that equivalence has legal force. That is a complete misunderstanding of the Government's position. The amendment is very clear on that. We support the institution of marriage and recognise its place in society. We recognise that other types of relationship exist and can be stable and successful.
No realistic sex and relationship education could ignore that reality. But we are not changing the legal or moral status of any particular form of relationship in this amendment. When sex and relationship education is delivered in school to pupils, we are talking not just of what type of relationship those pupils may move on to, but their current family circumstances. It would be quite wrong to signal to those children not in conventional married households that they are of less worth than others. School is a place for children to learn, not for them to be ostracised. Care and sensitivity need to be taken in delivering sex and relationships education so that there is no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances.
I ask noble Lords to remember that the guidance which my department is issuing for consultation arose out of a recommendation of the Teenage Pregnancy Report, and the need to address the issue of the high rate of teenage pregnancy in this country. I should like to remind the House that the recommendations in the Teenage Pregnancy Report were also the subject of a wide debate and consensus.
Research shows that effective sex education set within a context of relationships does not encourage early sexual experimentation. It does the opposite--it delays it. We have a duty to inform pupils at school of the biological basics of sex education. That is already required by the national curriculum science order. But it is clear from talking to young people that they want not only biological knowledge, but also to talk about relationships, they want to talk about their feelings and the wider social context of those relationships.
The Teenage Pregnancy Report addressed these issues and recommended good clear guidance to help teachers. The task of delivering sex and relationship education is not an easy one. Effective sex and relationship education cannot be delivered by teachers who lack confidence and are unsure of the boundaries and parameters that they work within.
The purpose of the guidance is to set out those parameters. It gives clear guidance on the choice of materials, it sets sex and relationships education within a values framework, and how to develop the skills and understanding of young people. It gives advice to schools on how to establish and monitor their policy and how to involve parents and the wider community. In short it is a comprehensive guide, drafted to attend to the needs of all young people in our schools. I think it particularly important to stress the needs of all young people in our schools regardless of their home background, and regardless of their own awakening sexuality.
The expectations placed on this guidance have now increased substantially since the matter of the repeal of Section 28 has taken on such significance. It is precisely because of those increased expectations and the need for the guidance to reflect some of those concerns that we have held discussions with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, Archbishop Nichols and others to bring forward a government amendment that would place a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance, to set out the principles to inform that guidance and the objectives to be met when sex and relationship education is taught. Officials in my department have also consulted representatives of all the major faith groups and others such as those in the professional health services so that their concerns were reflected in the guidance which is now out for consultation. We are most grateful to all those consulted, especially to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and to Archbishop Nichols.
The amendment will not change the existing legislation which allows parents to withdraw their children from sex and relationship education classes over and above that required by the national curriculum. That additional safeguard is there for parents who are still not happy with the sex and relationship education being given to their children. I think it important to pause here for a moment and reflect on the fact that although this provision has existed in law for some years it is very rarely used. This surely must be a testament to our teachers and the sensitive way in which they have involved parents. It is in their hands, in partnership with governors and parents, that the task of delivering effective sex and relationship education lies.
I hope it will be helpful to clarify the position of the Welsh Assembly in relation to this amendment and to the guidance. It will be for the Welsh Assembly to decide what action it should take in relation to the provision of sex education in its schools.
I finish by reminding the House of the issue before us. Sex and relationship education is about physical, moral and emotional development. It is teaching about sex, sexuality and sexual health so that young people learn to respect themselves and others as they move with confidence from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. It is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity. This would be inappropriate teaching and both the amendment and the guidance firmly make that point.
This amendment will set in place enabling legislation and clear guidelines that will help teachers rather than hinder them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am extremely obliged to the noble Baroness. It is not true that the Opposition were refused recommittal. I was approached on Monday. I said that I was prepared to consider it but that I needed certain information, such as the amendments which the Opposition proposed to table. The noble Baroness's amendment was tabled yesterday. The House did not see it until today. I did not receive that information. The recommitment Motion needed to be tabled yesterday in order for the Public Bill Office to operate. I did not receive the information which would have enabled me to take a decision on recommitment. It is not true that I stopped recommitment.
My Lords, I do not intend to take up the time of the House on an argument on this matter. If the noble Lord the Chief Whip considers that it is an easy matter to draft amendments at two days' notice on something that one has just seen, and to try to draft them, as I would hope, accurately, he is asking a great deal of people who, after all, are volunteers.
At the outset I must make it clear that the government amendment is not a substitute for what has come to be known in shorthand as Section 28. As the noble Baroness made clear, the amendment before us is expected to be a substitute for Section 28, which the Government expect to repeal. The minimum requirement that I and those who have been good enough to support me need is both Section 28 and the amendments that I and my colleagues are proposing. Even so, health promotion units--in case your Lordships are unaware of what those are, it is the new name for health education authorities--are not covered either in the Local Government Bill or in this one. But that is a matter to which we must return on a future occasion.
I say that because in speaking today I know that I am speaking for the overwhelming majority of the population which does not want the promotion of homosexuality in schools. I have had some 4,000 letters begging me to stand firm; letters from teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, hundreds of church-goers, parents, grandparents and even a few homosexuals. For the issue which we are debating has touched a chord in the British people. In persisting in these extraordinary policies, the Government are not acting in a way that the majority want. The issue crosses party. It is not a party political matter. I know that people in the Labour heartlands of Scotland and Wales and the big cities are as disturbed about it as Conservatives are. It is an issue on which all the great religions--the Moslems, the Jews and the Christians--are united. I and those who have been good enough to indicate that they support me are not, as we are sometimes called, a bigoted minority. On the contrary, we are a majority; and the House, in voting last month to keep Section 28, reflected that majority.
Today, we are standing for the protection of children and the support of parents. In today's world, parents find it very difficult to bring up children, with all the temptations before them. When their children are in school, they do not want homosexuality to be promoted; nor do they want their children to be subjected to the literature which many of us have seen. That literature is currently promoted by health promotion authorities and, quite simply, people find it appalling.
I now turn to the Government's amendment. I recognise that some in the House today would like to find a compromise on this difficult issue and they believe that this provides one. I suspect that that is the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. Others believe that Section 28 will in any event be repealed and, therefore, it would be better, as some have said to me, to try to get the best that they can. At first glance, there is an attraction in the amendment. It starts by supporting marriage and the importance of family life. That is something upon which I believe we all agree. As the noble Baroness made plain, it reinforces what the Government said in their consultation document, Supporting Families.
However, the amendment goes on to state in subsection (2)(b) that stable relationships, which are not and have not been defined but which could mean "homosexual unions", are,
"key building blocks of community and society", along with marriage. The legal advice that I have been given is that the equivalence of marriage and homosexual unions plainly contradicts the precedence given to marriage in the first statement in subsection (2)(a) and opens the way for the promotion of homosexuality in schools. The guidance makes clear that pupils can and are to be taught that homosexual unions are a key building block in society, equivalent to marriage.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn has already been quoted, I hope that he will not mind my saying that I heard him on the "Today" programme where he admitted that there was a loophole in the Government's amendment. Therefore, the Government's amendment is not a substitute for Section 28 but, equally important, it is not a compromise on the central issue. The fact that Stonewall, the homosexual lobby, has welcomed the government amendment should underline that point.
My first two amendments are designed to deal with that major flaw. The first, Amendment No. 8, separates "marriage" as a key building block from "stable relationships". It is given precedence. The second amendment refers to "stable relationships" and is amended to read stable "family relationships", thus tightening the definition and accepting that children's stability is important. It would apply even if parents were not married. I have used the term "family", as in "family life", which was originally used in Section 46 of the Education Act 1986, now Section 403 of the 1996 Act.
These two amendments are central to my case. As I said, they are not a substitute for Section 28, which applies to local authorities. They apply to schools and, in particular, to teachers and governing bodies. We need both because Section 28 has been effective. It is a longstop. Those who, with the Government, want the repeal really cannot argue, as they did a month ago, that Section 28 should be repealed because it has been too strong. We were told that it encouraged bullying and prevented teachers from explaining homosexuality and counselling pupils. Today, those people say that Section 28 should be repealed because it does not apply to schools. They say that it has no effect and should go. Really, one must make up one's mind one way or the other what one believes. However, that 180 degree turn within a month seems to me rather strange, even for this Government.
My third amendment is intended to strengthen and define much more closely what is meant by "inappropriate materials". I was very surprised at the complacent attitude adopted by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on this matter. Many noble Lords visited the exhibition which we arranged in this House. I do not believe that one Member came away other than deeply shocked by material which was paid for out of public funds and which is currently used in youth groups or was used in schools before 1988.
The government amendment leaves the definition of "inappropriate" entirely to subjective judgment. The form of words in my amendment,
"[what] a reasonable person would regard as inappropriate", is a recognised legal concept which I believe the courts can interpret. Furthermore, the question of "appropriateness" is placed within the setting of Sections 403, 403A and 403B. That means that the emphasis on marriage must be respected. The exhibition which I held illustrated all too vividly the type of material that was used in some schools pre-1988 and which today is promoted by health promotion units and some education authorities. Some of the books which were produced for use in primary schools were, quite simply, sickening. Under those circumstances, I feel that it is essential that we have a much tighter definition of "inappropriate".
My next amendment, Amendment No. 17, would require that any substantial changes to the guidelines that the Secretary of State might propose must be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament. That is what happens to each of the 10 subjects of the national curriculum. Now that sex education is to have far more detailed objectives in law, which the accompanying guidance--all 28 pages of it--shows, I believe that substantive changes similarly should be subject to affirmative resolution. That is clearly entirely in line with the practice for national curriculum subjects.
The last amendment, Amendment No. 19, which I have tabled relates to a new issue. Under the law as it stands, parents have a right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons if they so choose. This amendment would enable parents to be consulted about the nature and content of the syllabus and the teaching material used. It would represent a new statutory right and would reflect the best practice of some of the best schools.
In summing up, in my amendments I do not object to or speak against the whole of the government amendment. I have already said that I welcome the statement on marriage and, in subsection (4)(b),
"the reasons for delaying sexual activity and the benefits to be gained from such delay".
Like all noble Lords, I am appalled that we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the European Union. Clearly, if anything can be done to correct that situation then, of course, it should be done.
The amendments which I tabled today are designed to strengthen marriage, increase the safeguards against inappropriate material, safeguard Parliament's right over the curriculum and strengthen the rights of parents. Above all, they are designed to protect children. Had the government amendment been recommitted, we would have had time to discuss the matter more fully and I would have given a longer and more detailed explanation of all the points that I have put forward. As it is, I hope very much that these amendments will commend themselves to the House. I believe that that would enable us to accept an amended government amendment which would improve the Learning and Skills Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, following the withdrawal of my amendment in Committee, I must begin my remarks by thanking the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and his officials for the courteous and painstaking way in which they have listened, over and over again, to the concerns which the Archbishop of Birmingham and I, with our advisers, have expressed and for their co-operation in these past weeks.
I assure the House that there have been no deals, but there has been what I regard as an intelligent and realistic discussion of some of the complex and sensitive issues involved in the light of the fears of many people at the prospect of the repeal of Section 28.
Given the negative critical response of the more extreme protagonists on both sides of the debate to this government amendment before the House, while we do not have all that we should have liked, I believe that the present amendment goes a significant way towards achieving what is required. I am grateful to noble Lords on all sides of this House--the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is absolutely right about that--who have sent me their appreciation and support for our efforts to find an appropriate way forward.
But as the debate has continued and my own character and intelligence, to say nothing of my ability to carry out my episcopal responsibilities, have been called into question--and in some correspondence in the vilest of language--I have grown increasingly concerned about one crucial matter. I am most grateful to the Minister for confirming this afternoon that, contrary to popular opinion expressed repeatedly in the media, I and my advisers, with our colleagues in the Catholic Education Service with whom we have been working very closely, were right in the presumption on which I moved my original amendment to the Local Government Bill; namely, that since the last government introduced the national curriculum, the responsibility for sex education in maintained schools has been one in which a local authority cannot promote sex education or personal relationships education without the approval of the governors and the head teacher of each school, with a parental right of withdrawal. In my own mind I have been very clear that that has been the case but the media and many in the country do not seem to have grasped that simple fact.
The previous government placed the serious responsibility on our schools to deliver sex education in such a way as to,
"have due regard to moral considerations and the values of family life".
But it does not seem to me that much attention was given as to how that was to be interpreted in the classroom except that local authorities could not promote homosexuality.
According to press reports, if the present amendment to my original amendment, with its inclusion of the importance of marriage, is seen by some, with the guidance now out for consultation, to be open to varying degrees of interpretation and to open the floodgates to the promotion in the nation's classrooms of undesirable life-styles, I can only wonder what is happening out there at present since this government amendment is far more explicit as to values than Section 403 of the Education Act 1996.
Secondly, this evening I want to express a real sympathy for actual teachers in actual schools trying to do this job. They are at the sharp end of all this discussion. Once again, as in the 1996 Act, they are being asked to shoulder a burden few of them would choose in a society which seems, regrettably, to have few universally accepted moral values in that area of life, if judged by people's practice as reported in the media. The teachers are being asked to do what in a well-ordered society is a sensitive, difficult job which properly belongs to parents and the community as a whole and not simply to the schools.
I am not surprised that their union spokesman, in a kind of knee-jerk reaction, protested at what the Government propose. However, I believe that that reaction sold short the vast majority of teachers. It is suggested by some that you cannot teach the nature of marriage and its importance for family life because your own life style and views may not be supportive of it. Does that then mean that in religious education teachers are unable to teach about any faith other than their own; or that those who teach the English syllabus cannot do that because they do not approve of the values of the author of the set text before them? Of course it does not. Teachers are highly trained professional people.
I am very glad that my brother prelate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, is here because, fortuitously, last Friday I spent a day with a group of head teachers and governors in his diocese in West Yorkshire. In view of the publicity, I must admit that I approached that group, whom I had not met before, with some caution, not to say trepidation, because Yorkshire folk--and I am one of them--speak their mind and speak it bluntly. But I was exhilarated to find that they expressed immense gratitude for what we have tried to achieve.
Again, it is alleged by some that the mention of marriage, which has been the practice of society from time immemorial, may offend some pupils because of their family situation. And I can understand that. But I feel bound to ask whether that means that if there is a child in a class whose parents are doing time for stealing or GBH, the pupils are not taught that theft and physical violence are wrong. Of course it does not. Marriage has been and remains an important part of life. It is a publicly declared, responsible commitment to love and stability by a man and a woman and for the nurture of children. If its nature and importance are not taught, the subject of sex education is not being properly covered in the school.
As the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said on the "Today" programme--which seems to be the flavour of the evening--it is common sense. Education must never be reduced to information, practicalities and techniques. Education is about vision and ideals if it is about anything. I do not share the pessimistic view of some about the ability and sensitivity of our professional teachers, given appropriate guidance, to teach this subject. After all, when your Lordships think about it, it has been done in Church schools, most of which are renowned in this nation in the eyes of parents for the pastoral care they give to individual pupils.
Of course, no legislation is ever perfect, even when scrutinised by your Lordships' House. No such claim can be made in this instance. Naturally, I have spoken with many colleagues, including the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who cannot be here this evening because he is meeting the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Portugal. He and I are both pleased with the focus on marriage as the context for family life and the desire to protect children from inappropriate teaching and materials. But as I said, there are also shared concerns about the vagueness of some of the language. That is a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others seek to address.
In an ideal world, these issues would be expressed more precisely. But in relation to the government amendment, there has been considerable discussion to find the appropriate words to deal with these matters and it is certainly a considerable advance on Section 28, which does not at all protect children in school from the matters about which we are being reminded.
I make no bones about the fact that the amendment does not give us all that we should have liked. As I expected, the discussions with the department have been robust. Personally, I should have liked to see marriage promoted as the setting for sexual intimacy and the nurture of children. But I understand why, in our society, that is a step too far for government, as it certainly was for the previous Conservative administration, in spite of their expressed noble intention to uphold traditional family life.
I was grateful yesterday to receive a letter from David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, commending our efforts and the wording arrived at as "helpful". He points out that what has been missing for much of the debate so far has been an adequate recognition of the fact that head teachers and then staff can deliver sex education programmes only if they have the support of their governing bodies and, crucially, of the parents. We need to remember that. Having given governors and parents responsibilities, we should not patronise them by suggesting that they will act in some undesirable way.
I must ask whether the proposals put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and other noble Lords are about reasonable steps. Are they workable? The governing bodies are already involved. Parents already have a right of withdrawal of pupils. What more could be asked for?
I am of course extremely grateful for the distinction made between subparagraphs (3)(2)(a) and (b) in the government amendment. It may be too sophisticated an argument for some, but "importance" and "significance" have a different meaning. The two subparagraphs deal succinctly with the serious points raised about moral and legal equivalence between marriage and other relationships. An amendment proposed to improve the government amendment uses the phrase,
"the significance of stability in family relationships".
What does that phrase mean?. What does "family" mean? We must ask whether those words are any clearer than those they seek to replace.
The government amendment includes the points that I made in my original amendment to deal with that prejudice, which has led and is leading to bullying, using the good phrase, "accurate information". It deals also with the need to delay sexual activity--a point which John Nicholson seemed to find amusing on the BBC "Breakfast Show" last Thursday. I doubt that parents of pregnant teenagers would share his amusement.
Subparagraph (3)(2)(e) addresses the concerns of many raised by the repeal of Section 28. It relates to teaching. In the light of the exhibition arranged by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in your Lordships' House, it is the materials which give parents the most grave concern. I am told that the word "inappropriate" is too vague; that it needs definition for governors and head teachers to know what it really means. We are underestimating the good sense of the vast majority of governors and head teachers. We are overlooking the parental right to withdraw children. But, in any case, it is no more vague than the word "promotion" in Section 28.
I wish from the bottom of my heart that we could disconnect this debate from that on Section 28 so that we could focus on what is the appropriate task for schools in this area of our national curriculum. That is not possible, but if it were, I firmly believe that the Government's amendment to Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 offers a way forward. I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House will feel able to give it their support.
My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, could he help me on one small matter? Is it not right that in his original amendment, he urged that marriage should be promoted as the fundamental building block of society and of family life? How, in those circumstances, can he now live with a new clause which, having referred to the nature of marriage and its importance for family life, in subparagraph (b) completely undermines that statement by lumping together marriage and other stable relationships and which actually declares that a homosexual relationship can be a key building block of society? I simply do not understand how those two approaches can be taken by the same man.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, asks a significant question. Much time was taken in framing those particular subparagraphs. The first specifies that pupils should,
"learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for the bringing up of children".
"Importance" is the significant word in that subparagraph. We then go on to learn--in a realistic way--about,
"the significance of marriage and stable relationships", within community and society. The noble Lord brought in the word "homosexual", but the amendment did not bring in that word. That is his way of looking at the matter, not necessarily mine. As I was accused of saying on the "Today" programme, stable relationships exist and their significance is obvious over and against promiscuous and unstable relationships. I am therefore able to live with the amendment, although in a perfect world--the world for which I plead with all my heart--it would not be so.
My Lords, I have a simple question. There have been rumours in the Church papers that the right reverend Prelate does not represent the views of the whole Board of Education. Was there a total discussion of the matter by the whole Board of Education before the right reverend Prelate entered into discussion with the Government?
My Lords, there has been a total discussion in the way referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. It took place, at great length, last Tuesday afternoon. All members of the board knew that it was to be on the agenda. It was not possible to have such a discussion before, but I took the opportunity of having a full discussion with the Council of the National Society, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, will know, is a key Anglican body for the promotion of education in our schools. Our cycle of meetings does not always allow us to react to government business in the way that we might like to, but on Tuesday afternoon there was a full debate. I am pleased to tell the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that the board agreed to reaffirm the principles on which we have been working in these discussions.
My Lords, I wonder whether it might be to your Lordships' convenience if I were to make my few remarks. I have tabled a number of amendments. It might be to the convenience of the House to have one complete debate to cover all the amendments. It might be helpful if I were to refer to those now.
The noble Lord says that it is not helpful, but I believe that some noble Lords would find it helpful.
I have tabled Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 12, 14 and 18. Although I feel strongly about some of them, I do not propose to press them because that might muddy the waters of what we are trying to do. Amendment No. 7, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is a struggle to meet the wishes of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. He himself admitted that he did not obtain all that he wanted. That means that what we are discussing is the Government's overriding view. The Government, therefore, will not be able to say that they had the approval of the Churches for their amendment. It was surprising that, when there was concern, the discussions did not include my noble friends Lady Young or Lady Blatch in order to try to find a common course.
I do not know whether it is possible to find a common course because line 15 of Amendment No. 7--which has been referred to--states that people must learn,
"the significance of marriage and stable relationships", and that they are the building blocks of society. What is meant by "stable relationships"? Is two weeks a stable relationship? Or two months? Or nine months? Or two years? Nowhere is the definition of "a stable relationship" covered. Does it include homosexual relationships? The right reverend Prelate said that the word "homosexual" was the word of my noble friend Lord Waddington and not of the right reverend Prelate, but the fact is that this is a statute. The statute, when it is read, makes it perfectly clear that that provision can cover homosexual relationships.
Two lesbians were apparently getting married today. It was all in the newspapers. Is that supposed to be a good thing? The amendment equates marriage with homosexual relationships and other relationships. I am bound to say that I am amazed that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn fell for that. The Church has always taught that homosexuality is wrong, that fornication is wrong and that adultery is wrong. That does not mean to say that none of it happens. Of course it happens; it happens all the time all over the place. But the fact is that the Church should then turn around and help those people. But one does not actually put it in the statute that those are matters about which one should teach children. That is a great mistake.
I hope, as my noble friend Lord Pilkington requested, that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn is not speaking for the Church of England. I am a member of the Church of England; it is a church which I admire greatly. But if these are the kinds of conditions which the Church of England feels it appropriate to teach children, I believe that it is wrong. I am amazed also that it is necessary to produce a vast great document--the guidelines. People then have to read that huge great document before they can instruct children. Of course, the amendment itself is long. The trouble with both is that the more that is put in, the more important becomes what is not put in.
With this amendment and guidance we are in danger of trying to cover every item. In 1987 there was pretty strong guidance saying:
"There is no place in any school in any circumstances for teaching which advocates homosexual behaviour, which presents it as the 'norm', or which encourages homosexual experimentation by pupils".
That is clear and robust stuff. A year later it proved necessary to introduce Section 28. In view of the criticism that that section received, let us look at what it says:
"A local authority shall not
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".
This amendment does not say that, and it is a huge weakening of the position. I believe that the Government are making a great mistake.
Perhaps I may refer briefly to my amendments. Amendment No. 10 suggests that we leave out the words "and stable relationships", for the reasons I have already given. I say to the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms that it is a pity that the amendment was not recommitted. He mentioned that the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was not tabled until last night. But my amendments were tabled some days ago. The amendment should have been recommitted because it creates a precedent and it should be considered properly.
Amendment No. 11 suggests that we leave out the words,
"key building blocks of community".
That is a perfectly terrible phrase. It is typical Civil Service jargon. During the passage of the House of Lords Act I suggested that the word "a" might be replaced by the word "an" about which there was a fearful hoo-ha. Later, in a television programme the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor thought that the word "an" was correct, as did the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the noble and learned Lord, the Attorney-General. However, the word "a" was used by the parliamentary draftsman. I do not know whether the parliamentary draftsman was on holiday when this Bill was written, but to put the phrase "building blocks" into a statute is perfectly terrible. It is bad English.
For that reason my Amendment No. 14 states:
"Guidance under subsection (1),
(a) must be cohesive and coherent;
(b) must be transparent and consistent;
(c) should underpin the value of family life and overarch other aspects of family teaching; and
(d) must be undertaken in an efficient and effective manner".
All those words are Civil Service jargon that appears all over the place, particularly out of the mouths of Ministers, whichever party is in power. Whenever any noble Lord hears a Minister talk about "coherent" and "cohesive" he knows that it is like pressing button "B". Out comes all sorts of stuff. That lowers values. I believe that "building blocks" is a bad phrase to use.
Amendment No. 12 seeks to leave out the words,
"learn to respect themselves and others".
In my view those words can be omitted because that is part of education.
Amendment No. 15 seeks to leave out the words,
"and of society".
I do not understand how one can promote spiritual, mental and physical development of society, although such matters can be promoted in relation to individuals.
A number of things have been said about Section 28. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that it did not work properly because it referred only to local authorities. Amendment No. 18 is written in the same words to ensure that it refers to education authorities, governing bodies and head teachers. If Section 28 in its present form does not work, under that amendment it would work, as it covers the words used in the statute.
I believe that the Government are making a great mistake in regard to this matter, and I hope that your Lordships will agree with my noble friend Lady Young.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the attempt by the Government to amend this matter and to provide a strong framework within which sex education can take place. I believe that teachers and governing bodies will be immensely grateful.
I affirm much of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn said. I shall not repeat what he has said. I shall content myself with making one or two points about the amendments currently before the House.
Love, fidelity, stability and joy are not limited to those who have entered into the holy state of matrimony. Such qualities can also be found within other relationships. Neither are those values guaranteed by the state of matrimony. Marriage can be abusive and unstable.
I hope we do not go down the road of taking out the reference to stable relationships. That phrase can be taken to mean same-sex relationships. I emphasise that I speak for myself and not as a representative of any Church, but I am delighted to affirm the situation of those of homosexual orientation who manage, in today's society, to achieve stable, loving and mutually respectful relationships that can be of benefit to the society in which they live. Indeed, some people in those relationships have been judged worthy under British law of being fit parents to adopt children. Stable relationships are not limited to same-sex relationships. Society ought to be grateful to a whole host of stable relationships.
Today, cohabitation is acceptable in many societies, sometimes as a precursor to marriage or as a lifestyle for those who have found that marriage, in its unstable forms, has given them such a bad experience that they cannot bring themselves to enter into it again.
However, there are other relationships. A duty of sex education is to give some thought to relationships that are not sexual at all but have been honoured in our society. I refer to relationships of a celibate nature, perhaps of two sisters living together, or indeed friendships which seem to have been so devalued as not to be considered a building block of our society. Such relationships are very real for those who cannot or will not enter into a marriage relationship.
Something has been said about the equivalence of putting marriage and stable relationships in the same sentence as the phrase "key building blocks of community". Forgive me, but my house is brick, cement, wood, glass and other materials and it is the richer because of all those elements. Society is built on many different foundations, one of which is marriage. But there are others. We owe it to our children to give them some indication of the fact that if marriage is not possible for them, they may still achieve the values of stability, fidelity and integrity in their lives.
Turning to Amendment No. 13, I believe that I am a reasonable person, although I suspect that I may not agree entirely with the noble Baroness in whose name the amendment stands. I believe that the best way to protect our children is to prohibit material that is judged to be inappropriate by governors, teachers and parents in our schools. However, that does not mean that our children can be protected from it outside school. I believe that the role of education is to give our children the tools with which they can judge whether material is appropriate, life-enhancing and of value. In order to do that, it is sometimes necessary to allow them to see other things so as to give them the ability to make those judgments for themselves.
The noble Earl mentioned the detailed guidance currently being proposed. It has been put out for consultation in many different quarters. I warmly welcome this. If noble Lords could see the guidance given to teachers on how to teach other aspects of the curriculum, they would see that this is modest in the extreme. Nevertheless, teachers value both the protection offered by knowing what the department feels is appropriate for them to teach and also the permission. As currently proposed, the guidelines go some way towards helping in the essential discussion of what is right and proper to teach in the classroom.
I do hope that this amendment can be passed today. It will greatly help the proper teaching of sex education within our schools. It will promote the right thinking, good judgment and integrity of living that our children deserve.
"Both prayed to the same God, but the prayers of both could not be answered".
I speak as someone who tries to follow Christian principles. There are plenty of better Christians in the House today, including the right reverend Prelate, and, although he is not here today, there is Archbishop Nichols from my own Catholic Church, who was quoted earlier.
I am a loyal, almost--but not quite--obsequious member of the Labour Party. I am pretty sure that I have voted for the Labour Party in this House more than anyone else in the history of the world. Certainly, I was pushing my way through the Lobby before the present Prime Minister was born. I am a loyal supporter, but when all is said and done, one cannot rely only on the instructions of a Whip where matters of conscience are involved. Although I shall not go into the details now, never before have we been asked to obey the Whip on a matter of conscience of this kind.
Leaving that aside, we all have to follow our own consciences. When in 1935 George Lansbury referred to his conscience at the Labour Party Conference, Ernie Bevin replied that, "I am not going to have George Lansbury hawking his conscience all around Europe". For that reason, it is not wise to bring up the matter of one's own conscience. Nevertheless, on this occasion I regret that I must do so.
I could never forgive myself if I voted for an amendment which appeared to put relationships outside marriage nearly on an equal footing with that of marriage. At any rate, those relationships will be given an official status which I believe would be quite deplorable. I shall not again offer the House my views on homosexuality. The House has heard them more than once. Last Wednesday, I visited a homosexual serving 15 years for buggery. Shortly, I shall have my hand on his shoulder when he is accepted into the Catholic Church. No one can call me a homophobe.
Leaving aside the matter of homosexuality, I shall look simply at the phrase in the Government's amendment about stable relationships. The amendment puts stable relationships outside marriage almost on the same footing as marriage. That would be a wicked thing to do. That is my personal view, not shared by everyone, but shared by some.
I shall finish my contribution by recalling the lines of a poet writing at the end of the last century:
"I trod the road to hell,
But there were things I could not sell
And did not sell".
If I voted for the amendment as it stands without any further correction, I would be betraying myself. That may not matter very much, but I would also be betraying our children for generations to come. I would find that quite impossible.
My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I do not find that this amendment gives me everything I want. If I had been a dictator--which, thank God, I am not--my guidelines would have been shaped much more along the lines of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson. But this amendment includes nothing with which I cannot live.
I recognise that I live in a democracy. I live in a diverse society, a society in which we must draft such matters so that they will be acceptable to a very wide variety of people. For me, the Government's amendment passes that test. I should like to congratulate the Government on their drafting and the right reverend Prelate and his Roman Catholic colleagues on demonstrating drafting skills that I do not think I have seen since the 39 Articles.
When this subject was last before noble Lords, I compared what the right reverend Prelate was doing with attempts being made in the 1540s to draft a formula for bringing together Roman Catholics and Protestants. Over the past 40 years, the division that has grown up among us on matters of sexual morals is as profound as that which grew up in the 16th century on matters of theology. I believe that they are as difficult to reconcile, and they are quite as much differences of principle.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, is a fair and generous person. I shall ask her to recognise--as I think she will--that moral principle is common to both sides in this argument. The noble Baroness speaks to her moral principles and I speak to mine. We are both doing our best according to our lights. I believe that the protection of children is common to both sides. I accept that the noble Baroness believes that she speaks in support of the protection of children. However, so do I. One of us is probably wrong. Which of us it is will be a matter, in the short term, for the House to decide.
Both of us enjoy a very substantial amount of support in the country as a whole. I am not entering into arguments about opinion polls, which are diverse. However, what I will say is that I believe that each of us enjoys the support of at least a blocking third, without which a policy cannot effectively be put into execution.
We are not in the same situation here as we were when we were arguing in the debate on the age of consent. When there is so much division about a question of criminal prohibition, I believe that the burden of proof argument applies: when in doubt, don't. However, this matter is different because we do have a compulsion to be educated.
I know that there is the option of independent schools, to which, curiously, none of this applies. It is also a curiosity that 75 per cent of those who voted to retain Section 28 were from independent schools that were not at any time subject to the provision. However, for most us--and that includes almost everyone in a public service profession--independent schools are not open to us for purely financial reasons. If independent schools are not an option, and if we regard withdrawal from sex education classes as a very inadequate substitute, then we must have, if at all possible, some kind of modus vivendi that is acceptable to people on both sides of the argument.
In fact, we must have fudge. Now one might say of fudge what Churchill said of democracy; that is, that it is the worst system except for all the others. I learnt that as an historian as well as a politician by reading about this country tearing itself apart for 18 years in order to reach, at the end of it, a settlement which, with good will, it could perfectly well have had before all the trouble started. So fudge is a necessary confection.
There is nothing in the amendment with which I cannot live. I am not against marriage. I am proud to be married. I am ready to join with anyone in the praise of marriage. What I am against is monopoly. When I look at the phrase, "stable relationships", whose preservation is absolutely crucial to me, the first thing I think of is my two sisters-in-law, one of whom sadly is recently dead. They lived with men as partners without a ceremony of marriage. When one is married one learns to recognise members of the married trade union. Those two people belonged to it quite as completely as I can ever claim to do myself. Were I to go home and report to my wife that I had voted for an amendment which made her morally superior to her sisters, I do not believe that I would be engaged in the promotion of marriage.
Equally, I remember a divorced single parent with a daughter describing to me when she and her daughter were listening to Mr Michael Portillo's famous fringe meeting on single parents in 1993. Her daughter turned to her and said, "But mum, we are a family, aren't we?". I believe the answer to that question should have been yes.
If I look for a definition of a "family", I turn to St. Augustine's definition of "the state": "an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by a common agreement as to the object of their love". Does that include homosexuals? The government amendment says nothing on this one way or the other. I am perfectly content to accept that it does. If the noble Baroness, Lady Young, chooses to interpret it to say it does not, she is free to do that also. The right reverend Prelates will understand what I mean about the drafting of the 39 articles!
So this is something with which we can live. And if we cannot live with it, I do not know where we go from there. I have wondered over the past weeks whether it would be a way out of the dilemma to end sex education in schools. But I listened at my party conference to a powerful speech about Aids in Africa, describing how people literally do die of ignorance. I cannot go down that road though I have been tempted by it. If we cannot go down that road and we cannot do without a system of state education, the only way out is to accept the government amendment or something vaguely similar to it. There are many aspects of the amendment I do not like, but I shall be happy to support it.
When we discussed in Committee on 7th February this question of the Local Government Bill, guidelines had not been produced. I said that I felt that Mr Blunkett was clearly doing his utmost, though I wondered whether when the guidelines appeared they would be worthy in a way that was acceptable to most parents, different faiths and the public as a whole. Unfortunately, my doubts proved right.
When the guidelines came out, extraordinarily we found that there was a reaction from two major teaching unions denouncing them and saying that teachers would ignore them. That was extremely unfortunate. It is a great shame that they have come out in some degree as defective. Unfortunately, the right reverend Prelate said nothing to us while he was having his consultations and, according to the press, the Chief Rabbi was not consulted, nor was the Muslim community. That was a great pity.
When I say that the government amendment is defective, I must add that I feel it contains some good aspects. It is probable that Mr Blunkett, who I believe is on the side of the angels, is responsible for most of what is good in it, particularly the emphasis on the importance of marriage. But there are three major defects that I see in the amendment: first, the reference to "stable relationships". The Christian Institute consultative QC confirmed that that phrase includes homosexual unions. Indeed, it would seem to me to include any union outside marriage. For example, necrophiliacs, transvestites and sado-masochists who have been living together for some years might argue that they are in stable relationships and may be surprised to find that they are regarded by the Government as forming,
"key building blocks of community and society".
My Lords, I believe the noble Earl knows more about that than I do.
That is the first and far and away the most serious defect in the government amendment. The second is the reference to "inappropriate teaching". We know what that means, but the word "inappropriate" is extraordinarily vague. What I think is inappropriate may not be thought to be inappropriate by someone else. It can mean anything to any number of people and should not appear in an Act of Parliament.
The third defect is the reference to,
"The Secretary of State may at any time revise his guidance".
That is entirely wrong. Another Secretary of State for Education may arrive with quite different views and there is no stability at all. Our amendment requires Parliament to look at the guidance, and that is much better.
There have been references in the debate to the health aspect and to the activities of health promotion services. That is not a matter for this Bill, nor indeed for the Local Government Bill. But it needs to be addressed and I hope that the Government will look at it. There may be urgent need for guidelines to health authorities. They have been, if not producing them themselves, at any rate providing public funds for some of this appalling material that we have all seen.
I make one reference to what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I sympathise with him about "building blocks". We are responsible for including the phrase in Amendment No. 8. However, I hope he will concede that we meant well. It is not a phrase that I should like to see too often in statute.
Privileged people, beginning with the Prime Minister, can send their children to schools they choose very carefully and where the "inappropriate teaching" of these matters is inconceivable. But for those who are not privileged, there is a real risk. I come from Wales where we are still in shock over the appalling story of the abuse of children in care. These are, largely, the children of underprivileged parents and they are entitled to our protection. Therefore, defective guidance to teachers, allowing a small minority of teachers to promote homosexuality in schools, will endanger these children and put them at risk. I do not think that we should do that.
When my colleagues on the Cross Benches and, indeed, all Members of the House consider the vote on this matter, I should like them to compare the two texts; namely, the Government's Amendment No. 7 as it stands, and the government amendment as it would be if our amendments were accepted. I ask them to search their consciences when considering those two alternatives and decide what would be best for their children and grandchildren to be taught. Having decided between the two what is best, I urge them to vote accordingly.
My Lords, I hope that the House warmly welcomes the close, careful and sustained collaboration between the Catholic Education Service and the Church of England Board of Education, represented especially by their chairmen, Archbishop Vincent Nichols and my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, that has paved the way for this amendment. I warmly welcome, too, the Government's preparedness to listen to them and to work closely with them. The prominence given to subsection (2)(a) of new Section 403A (to the 1996 Act) in the Minister's amendment, is especially welcome. I shall be looking for confirmation in her reply to this debate that this priority for the promotion of marriage really is, in the Government's intention, the key to this amendment; and that, like the lettering in a stick of rock, it will appear as such throughout the draft guidance once it has been revised. I shall suggest in a moment that this is not the case in its present form.
With Marianne Talbot in her very important article in last Sunday's Observer, I do not underestimate what a critically important and very demanding change of direction this is, not only for the Government but also throughout our society at this juncture. So I profoundly hope that we shall now see the Government listening in every other area of policy, too, to the clear and persuasive case made by the Churches, by representatives of other faiths and by many others for giving priority to marriage.
There is much both in the amendment introduced by the Minister this afternoon, and in the draft guidance which accompanies it, that I warmly welcome. I have already mentioned subsection (2)(a). I also have in mind subsections (2)(c), (2)(d) and (4)(b) of the Government's amendment and the sensitive and sensible material in the guidance, to which the Minister gave much excellent space in her introductory speech, which explicates these and some of the other subsections. I include in what I welcome as being most important those elements emphasising the unacceptability of bullying (paragraph 1.32) and that encouraging care that there should be,
"no stigmatisation of children based on their home circumstances".
In their statement released a week ago welcoming the amendment now before us, Archbishop Nichols and my brother, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, described it as going,
"a long way to meet the concerns we have expressed to the Secretary of State".
They noted, as I have just done, with warm appreciation that it represents, as they put it,
"a significant development in Government thinking".
They went on to say:
"One of our concerns as been that, if Section 28 is to be repealed, alternative enforceable safeguards should be in place to ensure that school children are protected from inappropriate teaching and materials".
Here is clear encouragement, not just to those who sit on these Benches but to the House as a whole, to consider the extent to which the noble Baroness's amendment does indeed meet concerns of this kind, which I share. My judgment is that it does not yet sufficiently do so. As my right reverend friend put it, there are some things that could be put more precisely.
I recognise, of course, his other and powerful point--or another of his powerful points--that what is put into law through your Lordships' House, and ultimately the other place, has to be workable. I also appreciate the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell--he is not at present in his place, but I am sure that he will return later--about the inevitability of a significant element of "fudge". But there is fudge and fudge; it is just a question of its character.
It is surely the logic of subsection (2)(a), as well as perhaps--here I am obviously guessing, but, I think, with some justification--the prime concern of Archbishop Nichols and of my right reverend friend that, in the giving of sex education in maintained schools, marriage should be carefully distinguished from other couple relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual and however stable. But I also recognise the point made by the Minister and other speakers that other relationships exist which have significant value to the partners, to children and to society because they are stable.
Perhaps I may, again, take up a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It seems to me that it is not a question of one individual being morally superior to another. The question is that of the state in which they are living; it is not a matter of judging one individual as being morally superior to another. But notwithstanding all that has been said so far in the debate, I still find that subsection (2)(b) with its placing together of "marriage and stable relationships" in a single run of words, the consistent repeating of this conjunction at point after point in the draft guidance and the explicit justification for that position in paragraph 5 (on page two of the guidance), seem fatally to undermine the initial clarity established in subsection (2)(a) of the Government's amendment.
Nor am I yet convinced by some of the remarks that have been made in justification of the word "inappropriate". The only attempts to explicate that word that I found in the draft guidance seem to me, again, to have the effect of undermining the pivotal subsection (2)(a). For example, how can there be taught a priority for marriage if paragraph 1.32 of the draft guidance says that,
"there should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation"?
That phrase reappears twice again in the guidance.
There are also surprising omissions in the draft guidance, fine as it is in very many of its parts. There is no mention in paragraph 10 on page three of spiritual values among the others that are noted at length. There is no mention of the Churches, or of other faith communities, among the allies and friends that may be looked to in paragraphs 12 and 6.1; and there is no mention of marriage in either paragraphs 1.18 or 3.5 in both of which it should surely be present. If I may repeat the image, much of the stick of rock seems so far to have missed out on its lettering.
I should also like to draw the attention of the House to paragraph 1.6 on page six of the draft guidance, which speaks as if the Government had come to assume that it is only schools of a "particular religious ethos" that,
"may choose to reflect that ethos in their sex and relationship education policy".
These seem to me to amount to serious deficiencies in the Minister's amendment and in the draft guidance. Even though this is not primarily what we are talking about, it is there in the wings, as other noble Lords have recognised. It is fair to say that they certainly do not persuade me to agree to the repeal of what my right reverend friend the Bishop of Lichfield described on February 7th as the "stabilising bench-mark" of Section 28, inadequate as it is not only in some of the detail of its wording but also in its scope. In my judgment either it, or a successor with improved wording and an eye also on the Human Rights Act, needs to continue to apply not only to local authorities--because they continue to have responsibility for work with children and young people outside schools--to PSHE advisory services, and to libraries, but also to health authorities and trusts, and to the health promotion units, at which, for instance, the draft guidance looks in paragraph 12 on page 4.
Lastly, I note that many of the observations that I have made are addressed in amendments before us. I shall listen very carefully, with many others outside your Lordships' House as well as in it, and of faiths other than mine or of none, to the Minister's replies to amendments and then to the debate as a whole. I shall listen especially to hear the extent to which the so welcome subsection (2)(a) really is the governing thread of all that this amendment and this draft guidance are designed to put in place.
My Lords, I am puzzled as to why those who support the repeal of Section 28 are deemed by the Government to be entirely rational or sensible, but those who oppose the repeal of Section 28 are somehow being extremist and distorting the facts.
My noble friend Lord Pilkington asked about the views of the Board of Education. Only today I received a letter from a member of that board, Mr Locke, who was present at the relevant meeting. He refers to a letter from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn of 14th March. Mr Locke states that the board welcomed the content of the Bishop's letter which emphasised,
"marriage, non-equivalence and inappropriate teaching".
Mr Locke's letter states,
"However, several of us were particularly concerned with the implications of HMG's amendment as now tabled. While marriage would be affirmed as a key social building block, so also would other stable (for how long? heterosexual? homosexual?) relationships. Ambiguity makes for bad law ... I have spoken briefly today to Baroness Young, who has kindly faxed me a copy of the amendments which she has tabled. In my personal judgment, all of them would accord with the Board's affirmations. Her interrelated Amendments 1 and 2 seem to me particularly crucial. Not only are the importance of marriage and the non-equivalence of other relationships at the heart of where the Board of Education stands".
I believe that the Board of Education is supportive of my noble friend's amendments.
"not convinced there were reasons for repealing it. He added: 'The Government needs to be very clear why it is going down this road. Section 28 has not caused difficulties but has constituted a protection which, by and large, has been welcomed'".
The right reverend Prelate also laid great store by parental rights of withdrawal. I was responsible for that being on the statute book at all. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, has produced written material advising teachers how they can circumvent the right of parents to withdraw their children by making sure that sex education is taught through a number of subjects, which makes it nearly impossible for parents to exercise that right. I do not believe that the Government's amendment--even amended by our amendments--is a substitute for the repeal of Section 28. The fight will continue.
However, there is a bafflement not just on these Benches but among Labour Members of both Houses and among the public as to why the Government are preoccupied, indeed, obsessive, about the repeal of Section 28. One clue could be the almost ecstatic support from gay activists. It is no surprise that the Government have elicited whoops of delight from Stonewall and other gay activists. The amendment in its present form is unacceptable. There should be a distinction between marriage and any other stable relationships as a cornerstone of the community.
"I've just seen the posters here in Scotland. I don't think I've ever seen a more astonishing campaign in all my born days. People are being told their children will have to play--what was it?--homosexual role playing in school. No wonder parents are concerned. It's nonsense. No child is going to be given gay sex lessons in school. Not under this Government now. Not ever".
However, page 16 of the Government's guidance states,
"Teachers can avoid embarrassment and protect pupils' privacy by always depersonalising discussions. For example, role play can be used to help pupils 'act out' situations".
Role playing is advocated and yet the Prime Minister says that there will be no such role playing.
I refer to the teaching pack which was prepared for schools in the Avon area. It opens with the words,
"challenging heterosexism and developing discussion on issues of sexuality in the classroom".
Schoolchildren are invited in that document to act out roles including those of a Catholic priest, a nun, a disabled heterosexual man, a bisexual granny, a married man who was "done for cottaging", a married woman who has sex with other women in secret, a black disabled lesbian who is in a wheelchair, a white bisexual man, a transvestite cabaret artist and a male to female transgendered person. Those who produced that teaching pack have to be perverted to advocate inviting young children to act out such roles.
The one point on which I agree with the Prime Minister is that this kind of role playing in schools is nonsense. However, the difference between us is that I believe those words; I am not saying them simply to win a by-election in Ayr.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw any accusation that we do not believe our words; I do not think that a civilised parliamentary debate can usefully be conducted on that basis?
My Lords, I made the distinction between my saying that I thought role playing should not take place on that basis and the Prime Minister also saying that it should not take place on that basis. However, the Prime Minister is responsible for putting his name, along with noble Lords opposite, to guidance advocating that such role play should take place in our schools.
Public surveys north and south of the Border confirm that Section 28 has worked and should be kept. Childhood should be nurtured and cherished and not be made subject to the distorted message of much of the material that would surely circulate if Section 28 was repealed. My noble friend's amendments strengthen the Government's amendment by strengthening the role of marriage, protecting children from inappropriate teaching materials--there are proper tests now in the amendment to make that judgment--and give parents and governors not just the right they have at the moment but a strengthened right not only to be concerned about sex education in schools but also to have a statutory right over control of the materials and the curriculum arrangements for sex education in schools and its teaching. I believe that that is an important extension.
The people of Ayr have spoken on this matter. I hope that noble Lords will follow my noble friend into the Division Lobby tonight; she can certainly count on my support. Meanwhile, as I said earlier, whether or not the amendment is amended, the fight to retain Section 28 on the statute book will continue.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, as I rather think she called into question my integrity with regard to the meeting of the Board of Education, does she accept that Mr Locke was one member of that board and that the board expressed a whole range of opinions, and that Mr Locke did not feel able to press at that meeting the kind of amendment referred to in his letter? We ought to get the record straight. Just as the Churches have a range of opinions about this matter, so, too, I believe, does the Conservative Party. It is quite inappropriate to suggest on the strength of that letter that the Board of Education was united behind what Mr Locke has written.
My Lords, I did not and would not call the integrity of the right reverend Prelate into question, nor that of Mr Locke. I spoke to Mr Locke ahead of the meeting. As he went to that meeting, Mr Locke was very concerned. He had not had sight of our amendments--we were still drafting them--but we gave him an idea of what we were going to do. Mr Locke now says that our amendments accord with the board's affirmations. I have put the letter away now, but the three key issues--including marriage and non-equivalence, which I believe is crucial to this--were affirmed by the right reverend Prelate. But the right reverend Prelate is, I believe, now opposing my noble friend and agreeing that equivalence should be accepted.
My Lords, six weeks ago in this Chamber we debated at length the proposal to abolish Section 28. At the time I made clear my strong view that Section 28 should go. I said then, as I say now, that it cannot be right to enshrine in law personal prejudice or to disguise it as reason. It is from that prejudice that intolerance, hatred and, ultimately, persecution come. I am opposed to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, because once again they seek to enshrine that prejudice into legislation. Their amendments are old-fashioned, divisive and, I believe, homophobic.
In the debate on Section 28, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers said:
"Until about 10 years ago I had never heard of the word "homophobic". If you do not like something you are given a really nasty name like "homophobic".--[Official Report, 7/2/00; col. 428.]
I should say to the noble Earl that up until about 10 years ago I, too, had not heard the term "homophobic", but I did feel its effects on many occasions in my life--and, dare I say it, sometimes in your Lordships' House. The noble Earl may well think that if we did not have a name for homophobia it would not exist. But exist it does--and it has found a new home in the clutch of amendments that we are discussing today. The noble Earl said that he condemned bullying whatever its causes. I believe that.
At the end of the debate on Section 28 the House was dramatically polarised. However, in the midst of fixed and inflexible views, the contributions of some noble Lords stood out. From the Benches opposite, I think of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley; from the Cross-Benches, the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow; from the Liberal Democrat Benches the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee; and there were countless contributions from my own Benches, as well as the brave intervention of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. Their contributions had in common an overwhelming desire to unite the House; to find a way to reflect how society has moved on rather than to live out the old doctrines of the past. I am glad to say that the spirit of their contributions has been incorporated in the Government amendment which has been tabled today.
I understand that the amendment will not please every noble Lord. However, my plea is that we go forward with the amendment, which has been built on the broadest coalition of opinion and which seeks to unite rather than divide. I am sure that many noble Lords will wish to pay tribute to those who have worked together over the past few weeks to try to achieve consensus in this difficult field. I think particularly of the Government and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment; the Churches and church leaders; the educationalists and the teachers; the charities and the voluntary organisations.
I can see the fingerprints of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, all over the amendments, and I know she and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not be satisfied with anything less than outright victory. But this is not a war: there are no enemies; there are no battlefields. The debate is about how we teach our children.
When I spoke in last month's debate, there were many supportive words from colleagues, but I felt myself very much alone. As a gay man, I sat here and heard speeches of pure prejudice. Some noble Lords may not have been in the House for the entirety of the debate and may have missed some of the speeches. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that homosexuality can have terrible and tragic results and that he was no enemy of homosexuals.
No, my Lords, I did not. I said that the noble Earl said he was no enemy of homosexuals but that when they break the Christian rules they have to be penalised. The noble Baroness said again today that there can be no moral equivalence between homosexuals and heterosexuals. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that not all abuse was carried out by homosexuals, but that a good deal of it was.
But today is very different--I do not feel so alone. The noble Baroness and her followers are no longer attacking only me, they are attacking everyone who lives outside her idealised model of a happily married family. Standing side by side with me today are not only the 3 million gay men and women who do not fit into her model, but we are joined by the 1 million divorced or separated people who do not fit into her model; the 4 million widows and widowers who do not fit into her model; the 2 million co-habiting couples who do not fit into her model--and the millions of children that they are successfully bringing up. So I hope that the noble Baroness and her followers will explain to them, in the same way as they have explained to me, why they are not morally equivalent to her. More importantly, I hope that she will explain why their children are to be taught that their parents are immoral.
The Government's amendment before us today has been developed in an inclusive rather than exclusive way. It sets out important objectives for sex education in schools. The amendment and its accompanying guidelines will ensure that no child, from whatever background, should feel that their family is of less worth than any other; that no child, whatever their sexuality, should feel that they are less equal than others; and that no teacher should feel unable to support any pupil from coming to terms with his or her sexuality.
Surely the right way to go forward is by uniting, not dividing; by combining morality with tolerance. I ask the House to reject the noble Baroness's amendments and to support the Government amendment. All we ask for is tolerance and not prejudice.
My Lords, there is much in what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said. As someone who has worked with children, on and off, for 13 years, and who was taught in a primary school near here, I remember a 10 year-old boy putting his hand up all the time and the teacher telling him not to. I noticed he was very pleased to give me presents. I did not have to be told that he did not have a father.
When we talk about the key building blocks and the best way to bring up children, is that not ultimately what marriage is for? Ideally, children should have two parents. They cannot always have that, but that is the best upbringing for children. I say that not only from my own experience but from talking to many professionals in that area.
I am concerned about the clarity of Clause 2(a) and 2(b), as was the right reverend Prelate. Does the Minister accept that we should aspire to a marital relationship where children have security and an ability to grow up with confidence and a feeling of independence? Not everyone achieves this, but surely we must try to help others to see that that is very important if they wish their children to grow up in the best possible way.
My Lords, in Committee on the Local Government Bill, I am afraid that I irritated the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and the noble Earl, Lord Peel, by referring to the European Convention on Human Rights. I shall briefly irritate them, and others, again by doing so now, and for a very simple reason. Unfortunately, we do not yet have in this House a human rights committee like the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee to advise us before we exercise our right to vote about the implications of what we do under the human rights convention.
I said during the Committee stage of the Local Government Bill that I thought that Section 28 as it stood breached the European Convention on Human Rights in several fairly obvious ways. I asked the Minister to confirm that. I did not receive confirmation, and I make no complaint about that. But subsequently, two of my colleagues, David Pannick QC and Helen Mountfield, gave an opinion which made clear their view that there were clear breaches of the human rights convention in Section 28.
Finally, when the Secretary of State had to decide, under Section 19 of the Human Rights Act, whether to give a statement of compatibility for the Local Government Bill, for the first time a Minister was advised that he could not give a statement of compatibility. Why was that? I take it that the reason why the Secretary of State stated on the face of the Bill that in his view he could not say the Bill was compatible was that it would breach the convention. I hope that the Minister, in replying, will clarify and confirm that view.
If that is correct, the Government have been extremely sensible. They have enabled us to solve the problem by producing the guidance that was lacking when we debated this issue on 7th February and by replacing Section 28 with a provision that offers a fair compromise given the passionately held views on all sides of the House. I very much hope that we shall remember the wise words of Judge Learned Hand, of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, frequently reminds me: that the spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right. The point about the government amendment is that it reconciles two camps, each of which is fairly sure that it is right, in an honourable compromise. For that reason, I support the amendment.
My Lords, this is a little difficult. My noble friend Lord Stoddart has his name to some of the amendments. Also, I think the sense of the House is that we are beginning to move towards the end of the debate. Perhaps we can hear three more Back-Benchers, not all from one side, and then hear from the Liberal Front Bench and the Minister.
My Lords, as my noble friend has said, I have put my name to five of the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Like my noble friend Lord Longford, I very much regret that this has become a whipped matter. I used to be obsequious about supporting Whips but I am no longer quite as obsequious as my noble friend.
It really is unfortunate that the Government consulted the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and certain other people but did not consult the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about their amendment. I simply cannot understand that, bearing in mind that the noble Baroness has been the most steadfast leader of the campaign to prevent the promotion of homosexuality among children. Why was she not consulted? We are entitled to an answer. Indeed, it was the failure to consult that persuaded me to add my name to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, because I think that she has been badly treated.
It is also deplorable that the government amendment has been brought forward at this late stage. I repeat a point that had been made, but my noble friend appeared to suggest that he would have supported recommitment if had he understood that that was what many people wanted. He is shaking his head, but it is possible for a manuscript amendment to be moved even at this stage, is it not? Perhaps he would support that.
My Lords, I stand corrected by my noble friend. So we cannot have a proper discussion--a Committee-type discussion--of the government amendment and the amendments to it, as they deserve. We should not be discussing this important matter in the straitjacket of a Third Reading debate.
The new amendment and guidelines do not deal adequately with the complicated moral and personal issues involved in sex education. Like other speakers, I feel very sorry for the teachers who will have to implement these measures. Whatever they do will be seen to be wrong by someone; they will be made scapegoats if things go wrong and government policy is seen to fail. That is most unfortunate. The teachers' unions ought to have made that plain to the Government when the amendment was being prepared.
In that connection, have the teachers been properly consulted about the new guidelines? And what about parents, whose views should be paramount? How have they been consulted? Have they been consulted at all? There is an increasing tendency to ignore parents as the state seems to take on an ever-increasing role in the upbringing of children which properly belongs to parents.
What we never seem to do is take a good, hard look at whether compulsory sex education in schools has delivered what was intended. We merely say that it is a good thing, and go on saying that, even when it has proved to be a bad thing. The aims of the Education Act 1993, the consolidation Act, were, on the face of it, reasonable. But what has turned out in practice is not what we were led to expect.
For example, the numbers of single-parent families have risen by 230,000 since 1992. The number of conceptions among under-16s rose from 7,200 in 1992 to 8,900 in 1996. The number of conceptions among under-14s rose from 363 in 1992 to 451 in 1996. As for marriage, between 1992 and 1997 the number of marriages fell by 10 per cent, while the figure for divorce fell by only 2 per cent. So compulsory sex education has not done much to stabilise, let alone promote, marriages; and the divorce rate continues to rise inexorably--the reverse of what was intended in the legislation.
There is more promiscuity, less sexual morality, less marriage, more divorce, more single mothers, more under-16 pregnancies and more child pregnancies; and, I understand, more cases of HIV--and all those matters were supposed to have been dealt with by the various Acts that have been passed. Clearly, they are not delivering the goods. Therefore, we ought to consider whether we should continue with this approach.
So the objectives of the 1993 Act have not been achieved--quite the reverse. The logic ought to be that we should examine the kind of sex education that has been promoted in schools and consider whether schools are the best places for children to learn about sexual matters. In that, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell. But instead of a complete review, we are being offered more of the same. Even the longstop of Section 28 to prevent the promotion of homosexuality is to be removed without any satisfactory replacement.
It is clear that a great majority of the general public are not in favour of any weakening of the safeguards. Yet those of us who try to reflect that anxiety are often vilified, derided, insulted and even slandered by the so-called liberals. Majorities do not seem to count for anything these days. The powerful minorities with friends in high places hold sway and have to be appeased.
Finally, it appears from at least one project on sex education which is authorised as a guide to teachers--the Avon Project--that heterosexuality is under attack from our health authorities, or at least one of them. I shall quote two passages--
My Lords, I think that would be most inappropriate at this time. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to the fact that this particular document refers to "heterosexism". It is said on page 21 of the document that heterosexism,
"assumes and promotes the notion that every individual is naturally heterosexual and that this is the norm".
I thought that it was the norm. Indeed, it states on page 22:
"In what ways have we been taught to be heterosexual? (Talk about images bombarding us from media, messages we get from school, friends, family, and also what is accepted and why?)".
I understood that heterosexuality was the natural state of things and that it did not have to be instilled into children by parents, teachers or anyone else. It worries many of us that that concept is being taught in our schools and will continue to be taught in our schools. I hope that we can have assurances from my noble friend that the Government will look at the lessons being taught in the guise of sex education in our schools.
My Lords, many concerns are expressed in the amendments discussed today. There are two major issues to be considered. One is that young people should be protected from inappropriate material and teaching about sex and relationships. The other, equally important, is that teachers should be enabled to deliver the sex education for which young people and their parents have consistently asked. I support the Government's amendment, which seems to encompass both issues.
The new guidance on sex and relationships education is long because it is comprehensive. It provides guidance for teachers; and it refers to the importance of knowledge and understanding, relationships, attitudes and values, such as the values of respect, love and care.
I wish to re-emphasise that, apart from guidance, school governing bodies are legally responsible for policies on sex education which they must report to parents annually. One-third of governing bodies are composed of parents. If they wish, parents can withdraw their children from sex education. This area of the curriculum will be inspected from this year. We have guidance and we have safeguards on the area of the curriculum. Surely we now need to trust schools to implement sex and relationships education.
Those who have been responsibly involved in sex and relationships education for some time, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, know that, far from the rampant promotion of unsavoury material, too little co-ordinated sex education has been taught in schools. I sometimes think that not enough attention is given to the views of the consumers of such education--young people themselves. A recent survey of almost 2,000 young people in Birmingham confirmed what other surveys had found in the past. Young people say that what sex education they had was inadequate, too biological and did not provide an opportunity for them to explore relationships. Many surveys of parents have concluded that parents want their children to receive sex education and learn about sexual health. Parents worry about media distortions of sexual relationships. They want their children to be able to protect themselves and behave responsibly.
The new guidance emphasises partnership with parents and also deals with the question of sexual health. There are concerns from the medical profession in the United Kingdom about HIV and AIDS and other sexually-transmitted infections in young people, as today's generation missed out on earlier public health education campaigns. This amendment refers to the need for accurate information.
The amendment first refers to the importance of marriage and, secondly, to stable relationships. It seems to me that an emphasis on the stability of relationships should be welcomed, both within and outside marriage. Indeed, given the divorce rates in England, we should begin by helping young people to form stable relationships before they consider marriage. Subsection (2)(c) of the amendment is a key concept. If young people respect themselves and others, they are more likely to form stable relationships.
The Home Office consultation document, Supporting Families, and the survey conducted by the National Family and Parenting Institute maintain that people sometimes experience difficulties in relationships and marriage and would value education support, and that they find the quality of loving more important than the strictures of families.
I deal now with the issue of appropriate material in schools. Material used in schools must match the age and maturity of the young person. It must be culturally sensitive; it must be accurate and unbiased. This is true for history, maths and other subjects. It is a particularly sensitive issue for sex and relationships education. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, appears to support this concept. Her amendment sets out a checklist of materials which could eventually be used in the guidelines. It is a consultation document.
In my experience, teachers have never wanted to corrupt and deprave children, nor are they ever likely to. In any case, there are enough safeguards in place to prevent that happening. The schools of which I have knowledge show materials to parents at parents' evenings. I did so when I was a teacher. I resent the insinuation of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that I would ever try to circumvent parents' wishes. Sex and relationships education can be used effectively in schools. However, teachers must not find themselves frozen into failing to deal with sex and relationships issues because they are scared and worried about methods and materials which are not relevant to children's needs.
It is sometimes interesting to ask adults what they thought of their own sex education. They say either that it was, regrettably, non-existent or that it was inappropriate--too little, too late, and mainly biological; sometimes not even human biology, but that of earthworms or rabbits. The ultimate in inappropriate teaching happened to me at school, which is perhaps why I am so keen to get things right. In a subject which was then known as domestic science, the girls at my school had to knit a uterus and, if they ever finished it, push a tennis ball through the end of it to show how a baby was born. That was totally irrelevant to our needs at the time, except that the longer uteruses were quite useful as scarves!
What was produced for consultation last week may not be perfect, nor may the amendment. But it is a start. I have not covered in detail all the aspects of the amendment, but I hope that I have covered most of the issues in a general or a specific way. I urge your Lordships to accept the Government's amendment and work towards giving young people that for which they ask and which they so desperately need.
My Lords, I begin by reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that I am very happy to be described as a Liberal, whether with a big "L" or a small one. However, tonight I speak from the Liberal Democrat Benches, which is perhaps a point that the Chief Whip will bear in mind in future. I have the sense of the House that the best thing I can do now is to say that I agree and then sit down.
But I shall not do so, my Lords. I do not intend to say nearly as much as I would have said had I spoken two hours ago. However, I should like to make one or two comments at this stage as I speak for the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. It was said nearly two hours ago that the government amendment before the House was a compromise, as it is. It is in the nature of a compromise that few get everything that they want. The right reverend Prelate said that neither he nor his colleagues had achieved all that they wanted in the government amendment.
From a different point, neither I nor many of my noble friends have achieved all that we would have wished. I am not sure that I would have wanted an amendment at all. I have doubts about the desirability and wisdom--or even the possibility--of legislating for morality, but we are where we are. I understand the political situation (with a small "p") which brings us to this situation. Something is required to replace Section 28 which gives reassurance to those who need it, of whom I am not one. Section 28, which is a pernicious piece of legislation, became unnecessary and redundant and therefore had to go. I believe that the provisions of the Education Act 1996 passed by the previous government are sufficient in this area. While we certainly need guidance, it is doubtful whether it needs to be in statutory form. That is the compromise that I make in this matter. We on these Benches support the government amendment. A number of my noble friends felt unable to vote against the repeal of Section 28 and, therefore, did not vote at all, but tonight they also support this amendment. That, too, is the nature of the compromise that many of us make this evening. I urge the House to support the government amendment.
I intended to make a number of points on the amendment which I shall not pursue given the hour. However, I should like to put one question to the Minister; otherwise, I may miss my only opportunity to deal with the point. On the front of the guidance one sees "Draft for consultation". The Minister's letter to me (and no doubt to others) which accompanied the guidance stated that consultation would be open until 20th April. While I am sure that the Government will listen to and take account of anything that is put to them--they can do no less--are they prepared to revise the guidance or will the draft be the real guidance once the legislation is enacted? It would be helpful to have an answer to that question because, while there is much in the guidance that I welcome, it is particularly weak in dealing with the issue of homophobic bullying, on which I have spoken in this House in the past but will not do so again this evening.
In view of the time, I say no more except that the amendment is a good compromise. I pay tribute--which I do not do often--to the Government and the right reverend Prelates, in particular the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who I know has worked very hard on the issue. I have been heartened by the fact that on a number of occasions when he has spoken on this matter, as he has tonight, he has made clear exactly what the situation is and, even more importantly, what it is not. I am aware that the right reverend Prelate has not always found this an easy matter. I pay tribute to all concerned. We have a good amendment before us, and I urge the House to support it.
My Lords, like a number of other noble Lords, I have sat through the whole debate and found many of the arguments wide ranging. Some contributions have been more temperate and tolerant than others. Nevertheless, it has been a very good debate. As the House is aware, I have argued consistently that this is a matter of conscience. That was why as a matter of conscience I voted against the proposal to reduce the age of consent. That was widely acknowledged to be a matter of conscience and, quite correctly, there was a free vote. When we debated Section 28 recently I was critical of both the Government and the Opposition for imposing a three-line Whip because it was clear that the area of consideration was identical to the reduction in the age of consent. That obvious inconsistency was unacceptable to me, and again I voted in accordance with my conscience, which was in opposition to the Government's proposal to repeal Section 28.
This evening I shall again vote in accordance with my conscience, not someone else's conscience and certainly not the party's conscience. When we debated Section 28 on 7th February we knew that for some years events had overtaken the significance of its provisions. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which by Section 2A amended the Local Government Act 1986, became isolated and effectively moribund by the enactment of the Education Act 1993. The 1993 Act made the provision of personal and sexual education in schools the responsibility of school governors.
However, I recognise, as I believe do most noble Lords, that Section 28 was seen as having much greater significance than its legal status. When the Government proposed its repeal it became a kind of clarion call and the arguments became polarised on one question; namely, whether homosexuality should be promoted in schools. It is on that, and that alone, that I wish to focus my attention. I believe that if we are not careful we are in danger of drifting, perhaps quite inadvertently, into homophobia. This is not about relationships between consenting adults. We all know that homosexual relationships have been legal in this country for a considerable period. Whatever views one may take about that, unequivocally the issue here is the protection of children and young people who are at a vulnerable stage of their lives when they have not yet come to terms with their sexuality. None of us, however accidentally, must allow our feelings about homosexuality in general to cloud our judgment when addressing the specific issue of the protection of children and young people in our schools from the promotion of homosexuality.
Why do I stress this point? Like many other noble Lords, I have received an enormous mail bag about this debate. Many who have written have expressed genuine fears about the promotion of homosexuality in schools. I understand and support their concerns, but I would be less than honest if I ignored the fact that some of the correspondence expressed or reflected homophobic tendencies. Although my position is always to ensure that children are afforded the protection that they need, I worry about the danger of fuelling hysteria, which can only result in making a very difficult and sensitive situation even worse.
It is not my intention to repeat the terms of the Government's amendment to the Education Act 1996, which seeks to replace Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, because the details are before the House. However, I make two short points about the Government's amendment. First, I believe that the Government have changed their position since they were defeated in this House on 7th February. They have reconsidered the matter and produced an amendment which in legal terms--it will be in the appropriate piece of legislation--will afford greater protection to children and young children than Section 28. That amendment, coupled with the guidance notes which have the force of law, means that we have obtained from the Government what we sought. I firmly believe that the Government's proposals make it illegal to promote homosexuality in schools.
Secondly, I am aware that different people will place a different interpretation or construction on the Government's amendment. I believe in all conscience that what the Government have done in response to our decision of 7th February achieves the protection that I sought. I am not prepared to allow any political feelings or general views about homosexuality that I may have to cloud my thinking on this important question. I am solely focusing on the protection of children which initially I set out to achieve. I urge all noble Lords to do likewise.
I know that the term "stable relationships" has caused a considerable degree of concern. But from my reading of the amendment and the guidance notes the term has far more significance for unmarried heterosexual couples living together with children than for homosexual couples. We may have clear views about marriage on the one hand, and unmarried couples living together and bringing up children on the other. But whatever our views, we cannot apportion guilt to the children whose parents are unmarried; and we must never do anything that will lead them to feel guilty, because if we do so the blame is ours and not theirs. I believe that in their proposals the Government are dealing with this delicate situation correctly and sensitively.
I have had my say about the Government's original intention to repeal Section 28. I have expressed my concerns and I have voted according to my conscience. Now the Government have responded in a way that meets my concerns. Therefore, having now achieved what I believe the Government should have done in the first place, I shall support their amendment and shall no longer resist the repeal of Section 28 when the issue comes before us in the summer. It has always seemed sensible to me that when you have won you stop fighting. I commend that view to the House.
My Lords, it has been a long debate and I hope the House will understand if I cannot respond to all the points raised. Were I to do so, I think that we should all be kept here for far too long, and much longer than most Members of your Lordships' House would want.
I should like to say at the outset how grateful I am to many of the speakers in the debate, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, for her wise remarks about stable relationships and the many forms that they can take as well as her equally wise observations about inappropriate materials in schools. I am also extremely grateful to the right reverend Prelate and others who have supported the government amendment, including the Liberal Democrat Benches. In responding to the debate, I want to focus in particular on the amendments spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
Let me begin with Amendments Nos. 8 and 9. I have heard much today about what sort of messages we send to young people. I think that we should have a little humility and realise that we need to be very clear indeed about regulating other people's lives. These amendments aim to set into legislation a statement about the supremacy of marriage, and seek to wreck the consensus approach that the Government have reached with the enormous help of the Churches on this matter. They seek to send a negative signal to those in society who choose not to enter into marriage but nevertheless are in loving, caring, stable relationships.
I spoke earlier about the need for the government amendment to be inclusive and to reflect the whole of society around us. I regret to say that the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, seek to be exclusive. As such they give no reassurance to those in relationships other than marriage and will stigmatise children at school whose parents are not married. We must not go down the road of teaching children to criticise their parents' values and the structure of their families which may be different from those supported by some noble Lords. There is a large percentage of children in this country whose parents are not married. Nowadays almost 40 per cent of all children are born outside of marriage. The proposed amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, are simply unacceptable on that basis alone.
I repeat: there should be no doubt that the Government support the institution of marriage and that they believe that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships. We have set out a framework that is firmly stated in the government amendment and the guidance. In the real world there are many relationships outside marriage. The Government recognise that and their consultation document Supporting Families made it clear that in giving its support to marriage it does not mean trying to make people marry or criticising or penalising those who choose not to. It is not the role of Government to behave in that way. It also states that there are strong and mutually supportive families outside marriage. Regrettably, of course, some marriages are anything but stable: a legal document is no guarantee of stability and we cannot pretend otherwise.
In preparing young people for the opportunities and responsibilities of adult life--which is a clear objective of both the government amendment and the draft guidance--we must honestly reflect that the real world of adult life that young people are moving into may not be one of which everyone in your Lordships' House approves. The amendment and the guidance reflects a balance where we concentrate on young people's personal development and where each individual is valued regardless of his or her marital status. What matters in bringing up children is that they are within a stable and loving relationship: that they are loved, cared for and cherished. The Government's amendment represents a sensible approach that will allow sex and relationship education to be delivered covering family life and marriage while being sensitive to the wide range of circumstances of those children being taught today in our schools.
I turn now to the Amendment No. 13 tabled by the noble Baroness. It relates both to the promotion of sexual orientation and the use of materials. The first part of the amendment seeks to remove the reference in the government amendment to young people being given accurate information for the purposes of enabling them to understand difference and of preventing or removing prejudice. I find it quite staggering that Members of this House would consider removing from the face of legislation reference to teaching children about different groups in society and removing prejudice. The government amendment reflects the wider PSHE framework which is intended to teach young people to respect the differences between people, about the effects of stereotyping, prejudice and bullying, racism and discrimination. We live in a world of many different peoples and beliefs. If we are to prepare young people for adulthood they need to have an appreciation of others with views different from themselves. I am astonished that the noble Baroness seeks to remove this part of the Government's amendment.
Much concern has also been raised about the issue of promoting sexual orientation. Both the amendment tabled by the Government and the guidance are extremely firm in this area. It is the job of teachers and others to help young people learn to respect themselves and others and move with confidence from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. Teachers should be able to help young people understand themselves, and be able to deal honestly and openly with questions about sexuality. Much has been said throughout the course of all the debates on sex and relationship education and the repeal of Section 28 about the need to protect young people. We must not forget that sex and relationship education is for all young people in schools, including those who identify themselves as gay or lesbian. Their protection must not be forgotten and they are entitled to expect honesty, openness and support from their teachers and to receive their education free from bullying because of what they are. Talk of protection must seem very hollow to those who have suffered homophobic abuse at school.
There has also been much talk about converting or persuading young people into a particular sexual orientation. Even if it were possible to convert or persuade young people to a particular sexuality, our draft guidance makes it abundantly clear that sex and relationship education,
"is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity--this would be inappropriate teaching".
Amendment No. 13 also seeks to protect children from inappropriate teaching materials. Let me set out the Government's position on this. Major concerns have been voiced about the inappropriate use of materials. I understand those concerns. It has been one of the major planks of attack by those opposing the repeal of Section 28. I am afraid that we have seen a great deal of misinformation in the media and local authorities stand accused of wishing to send all manner of unsuitable material to schools.
We confuse this issue. Quite clearly, there may be explicit material produced by local authorities to help them fight the spread of disease. They have been successful in that respect in that the incidence of HIV/AIDS in this country is much lower than many previous forecasts. But that material is produced not for schools, but for a particular audience and for a particular purpose.
Much of the concern which has been expressed on some of the material that is available to schools is unfounded and there has been unfortunate scaremongering. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was indulging in such scaremongering when she commented on the use of the term "role play" in the guidance. She then linked that with all kinds of sexual behaviour with which she disapproves. I do not deny that there is reference to role play, but there is not reference to the context to which the noble Baroness referred in the draft guidance.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness is not suggesting that I am dishonest. The context, the content and the detail of how the lesson should be taught is all in the teaching pack.
My Lords, I am not referring to the teaching pack; I am referring to the Government's draft guidance.
The truth of the matter is that decisions as to what materials are to be used in schools are not for the local authority, but for the individual school, as the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, said. Again, we have set out in the amendment that inappropriate materials should not be used. We have also set out firm advice to teachers in the guidance so that they are much more able to choose what is appropriate.
Perhaps I may quote from the guidance. On page 6, it is stated:
"Materials used in schools must be in accordance with the PSHE framework and law. Governors and headteachers should discuss with parents and take on board concerns raised both on materials which are offered to schools and sensitive materials used in the classroom".
Our amendment also sets out that headteachers and governing bodies must have regard to the guidance. In short, the Government have taken on board the concerns expressed and dealt with them.
Having set out the Government's position, let us look at the rest of the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. It is clear in its intention to import the lawyer into the class room. I have many friends who are lawyers, but I do not think that that is appropriate. It talks of children being protected from teaching material which "any reasonable person" would regard as inappropriate. What is the definition and purpose of this reasonable person?
The noble Baroness knows full well that in such a sensitive area as sex education, there has to be consensus to deliver it in our schools. The proper people to reach that consensus are teachers in consultation with governors and parents. But this amendment opens up a challenge from any reasonable person who may or may not have something to do with the school. If the debates over the past few months have taught us nothing else, they have taught us that teachers in our schools need support to deliver effective sex and relationship education. They cannot do that if they are under constant threat of challenge in the courts. It is living with the day-to-day threat of that challenge, imposed by the previous government and their willingness to impose by central dictat in this area, that has so disabled the delivery of effective sex education in many areas of the country.
The amendment seeks to continue to hold back and stifle the good work that teachers are doing, which they do in consultation with parents and with the support of parents. It is an absurd amendment aimed at disenfranchising those most concerned with the delivery of sex education; that is, the teachers and the parents. The government amendment sets out that young people should be entitled to accurate information. The proposed amendment from the noble Baroness and others makes that entitlement contingent on the view of the so-called "reasonable person". There are many reasonable people in your Lordships' House tonight, but they have many different views on this sensitive and difficult matter.
I turn to Amendment No. 17. It calls for any guidance on sex and relationship education which is issued, or is substantially revised, to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Such a provision is virtually without precedent for education guidance and would be unnecessary. The whole purpose of the government amendment before the House today is to establish the principles which should inform the guidance. We have clearly set out in the government amendment the objectives for sex education and we have done so thoroughly.
The objectives and principles which will inform the guidance have been subject to very wide consultation, including with leaders from the Church and faith groups and those in the education world. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that many faiths have been consulted in addition to the Anglican and Catholic Churches. Although it is the case that the Chief Rabbi personally was not consulted, his representatives were.
The way in which they are to be reflected in the guidance is subject to a major consultation and we shall take on board the comments we receive. Perhaps I may reassure those noble Lords who asked questions about the draft guidance and the consultation process--that is, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and the noble Lord, Lord Tope--that we intend the consultation to be a real one and to be a serious one. We shall listen carefully to any responses that are made. But of course we shall have to strike a balance between a whole variety of different comments which may be made.
Under the government amendment, both Houses will set clear statutory provision to which the Secretary of State must adhere when issuing the guidance. There are arrangements to consult widely on the guidance and we have already consulted very widely on the draft guidance. We have consulted with those who have expertise in sex and relationship education and whose job it is to deliver it and whose children it concerns--that is, the headteachers, the teachers, the governors and the parents--and we shall continue to consult them.
Having agreed a clear framework, it would be totally inappropriate in constitutional terms for Parliament to become involved in the detail of the guidance. Indeed, there is a positive benefit in allowing schools to develop policies sensitive to their local communities and the children who attend the schools.
Amendment No. 17 also leaves unclear the circumstances in which parliamentary approval would be needed. It refers to "substantial revision" as a trigger. This would leave the Government unclear about whether to bring any revisions forward for approval. Guidance in the educational world is often revised to take account of changing circumstances and new policies. In some circumstances, changing just a few words might be taken as a substantial revision. It would be quite wrong to place such vague words in legislation. For those reasons, the Government oppose the amendment.
Amendment No. 19 would require schools to take reasonable steps to involve parents in the sex and relationship education offered at school and the materials used. This is a very important issue and I want to reinforce what I said in my opening speech. Research shows that children want their initial sex and relationship education from their parents and families, with school and other adults building on that later. We have made a significant point in the guidance about working with parents and involving them in a school's sex and relationship education policy. Parents do need support in this area, as do schools.
As I said in my opening remarks on the government amendment, since September 1994 there has been provision for parents to withdraw their child from all or part of sex education provided by a maintained school. Nowhere in our amendment are we seeking to remove that provision. In fact, as I said earlier, very few parents exercise their right to withdraw. But it will remain open to a parent who is not content with the sex education offered in their child's school to remove their child.
I should also remind the House that the amendment before it today setting out the principles and objectives for sex and relationship education requires headteachers and governors to have regard to the guidance. The guidance specifically sets out that schools should involve parents in their sex and relationships education policy and the steps that need to be taken when they intend to use sensitive material. I have already quoted the relevant passage from the guidance in my comments on Amendment No. 13. The guidance is quite clear on the need for consultation, so the amendment is unnecessary.
I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will forgive me if I do not go through all his amendments. He has already said that he does not intend to press them.
We have heard a great deal of talk as to whether the Government are saying that homosexual relationships are the moral equivalence of marriage. I have set out very clearly the Government's position in bringing forward this amendment and the guidance which is out for consultation. We support the institution of marriage. I remind the House of what is said in the amendment. It states that in receiving sex education children should,
"learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for the bringing up of children".
That is unequivocal. But, as I reminded the House earlier when I quoted from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, we live in a real world, where it is necessary not only to recognise that there are other forms of stable relationships which are outside of marriage and that stable relationships within society are better than unstable ones. It is not for the Government to give a moral opinion about who people should conduct their relationships with, but our guidance for schools explains the benefits of stability in all relationships.
My Lords, I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could confirm one point. Is it part of the Government's thinking that this will enable them to make our statute book compatible with convention rights?
My Lords, I was about to come to one or two specific questions of that kind that had been raised by noble Lords in the course of the debate. I can confirm that the noble Lord is correct in his interpretation of the Government's approach.
Perhaps I may respond to points that were made by my noble friend Lord Stoddart. He suggested that the Government had been wrong in failing to consult the noble Baroness, Lady Young, although I do not think that she suggested that herself. It is not normally the Government's policy to consult members of the Opposition about the formulation and development of policy. I cannot remember being consulted in the many years I sat on the Opposition Front Bench on this kind of matter. I do not really see why the Government should be asked to do so. Perhaps I may also say to my noble friend, because he seems to have forgotten this, that the guidance out for consultation is indeed a draft. I have already commented on our intention to take this extremely seriously.
We have come a long way in the debate on sex and relationship education and the many issues which connect with it. It has at times been very arduous. But throughout this Government have listened carefully to all the concerns that have been expressed. Much heat has been generated, but I would ask noble Lords to consider that where there was before in relation to Section 28 only negative threats which gave no advice to teachers on how to take forward sensitive issues of sex education, we now have set in place a wide range of statutory provision and well thought through guidance to help teachers and schools to deliver sex education.
Those safeguards reflect the need to protect children and young people, but they also guide teachers and schools on how to address the individual needs of all young people so that they can grow up respecting themselves and others. We have turned the negative into the positive. It is what our young people deserve and what they expect.
Finally, perhaps I may come back to the government amendments, which have been agreed after long negotiation with representatives of the Churches, to whom we are most grateful. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, was kind enough to compare them with the 39 articles. I cannot say whether they stand up to the quality of the drafting of the 39 articles, but I recognise that, just as I am sure is the case in the 39 articles, not every element will be acceptable to every Member of your Lordships' House. I hope that a spirit of compromise will prevail. I urge noble Lords to withdraw their amendments and support the government amendments. But if they are unable to do so, then I urge Peers from all sides of the House to join me in the Lobby so that together we can ensure that we do not let down our young people.
My Lords, I should like to start by thanking all those who have supported me in this long debate. A long time ago, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that the government amendment is of course a fudge. It is of course a fudge. One had only to listen to the arguments to see how they had brought together those who believe in marriage and those who do not believe in marriage. I listened with care to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who said, if I understood him correctly, that he believed in putting marriage first but of course we are in the real world and everything else had to be considered as well. So, of course, this is a fudge. The noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, clearly puts marriage at the bottom of her list of things. Everything else is more important.
My Lords, I must protest against that. No one has ever accused me of not believing in marriage. I believe marriage to be extremely important. Nothing that I said could be construed as saying that marriage is not at the top of my list.
My Lords, I am very pleased to have that statement from the noble Baroness. I shall read again her speech, but the way I heard it, it did not sound quite like that. I can assure her that I have very many friends who are Methodists who would not agree with a great deal of what she said.
My Lords, I have listened quite quietly to all the speeches and I would be obliged if I was not interrupted during mine. It would be very nice if noble Lords would just listen and let me get on with it.
This is a very serious issue. It is not a matter for fudge. It is not actually a matter for a compromise. What in fact is being put before the House is not a compromise but a very clever collection of well spun words which amount to allowing not just marriage but homosexual or other relationships to be equated equally. I would not have stood up so many times to speak in your Lordships' House if I did not always put first in my remarks children. We are talking about children--children who are obliged to go to school; we are talking about responsible parents; and we are putting before them something which is very confused indeed. I have read the 28 pages of guidance. Marriage is hardly mentioned. It is all about sex and relationships. That is the confusion which is put before young people today.
I believe, as I have said many times before, that when you teach, you should teach the ideal to children--what we would like to see that is best. We do that in other subjects. We choose not to do it in this one. However, I do not believe that we should accept the government amendment this evening. It is not a compromise. It is, in fact, not a substitute for Section 28; it is what preceded Section 28 in another form of words--a rather dangerous form of words at that.
I shall not say anything more this evening. I do not accept the government amendment. I ask the House to support me in my amendments which I believe correct the Government's amendment and provide something which is worthy to put before our children. I commend my amendment to the House.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, this amendment has demolished the carefully constructed agreement and safeguards built into the government amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill on the provision of sex education. It has deliberately excluded the key objective that pupils are given accurate information for the purposes of enabling them to understand difference and preventing or removing prejudice.
The prevention and removal of prejudice are essential to the building of a society in which citizens respect one another. The Government are not prepared to support legislation which will leave children from different family backgrounds to be stigmatised and could lead to discrimination and bullying.
In the light of this amendment, and after my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has consulted the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, I wish to tell the House that we shall seek to delete this amendment in another place. It remains for me to pay tribute to those who at some personal cost have been prepared to sit down and work out a rational way forward.
My Lords, first, I refer to a piece of information given by the noble Baroness which is simply wrong. My noble friend's Amendment No. 13--a test of the teaching and materials--relates to whether the information is accurate and objective. That is the amendment on the Marshalled List.
Secondly, I believe that we live in a democracy and that all Members of this House have the right to vote. I would have had to live with the vote had it gone the other way and I should have accepted that as the will of this House. I am sorry that the noble Baroness does not feel able to do the same.
Finally, I respect the views of the noble Baroness, which are shared by many of her friends, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and the majority of his colleagues who are here today. I believe that they had every right to speak and vote, just as my noble friends and I have views which I hoped the noble Baroness would respect. In the past, mutual respect of all the Benches has always been a hallmark of this House. Of course, it is the Government's prerogative to seek to overturn the amendment. But I thought the words of the noble Baroness in defeat were churlish.
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I explain what will happen now. The Government will accept all the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I understand that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, does not intend to press his amendments, so I suggest that when we reach them he says "Not moved" and that the noble Baroness formally moves all those in her name.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Government Chief Whip whether it is a fact that the views of your Lordships' House--after all, the composition of this House has been made by the Government--are to be disregarded to such an extent that a prepared statement was written in advance of the Division and read out immediately afterwards so that the Government apparently take no notice at all of what your Lordships have said.
My Lords, the Government have made the position entirely clear. The words which my noble friend used were very careful. She said that the Government will "seek" to overturn the amendment in the Commons.
moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 7, Amendment No. 9:
Leave out lines 15 to 17 and insert--
("( ) learn about the significance of stability in family relationships;").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, as amendments to Amendment No. 7, not moved.]
moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 7, Amendment No. 13:
Leave out lines 19 to 23 and insert--
("( ) are protected from teaching and materials which a reasonable person would regard as inappropriate having regard to--
(i) whether information is accurate and objective;
(ii) the language and images used;
(iii) the age of the pupils; and
(iv) the provisions of section 403, this section and section 403B.").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 14 to 16, as amendments to Amendment No. 7, not moved.]
moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 7, Amendment No. 17:
Leave out lines 42 and 43 and insert--
("(6) No guidance under subsection (1) shall be issued or substantially revised unless a draft of the guidance has been laid in draft before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 18, as an amendment to Amendment No. 7, not moved.]
moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 7, Amendment No. 19:
Line 50, at end insert--
("Curriculum etc. for sex education: Consultation and approval.
403B.--(1) No curriculum, syllabus or teaching material may be used for the purpose of giving sex education to registered pupils at a maintained school unless--
(a) reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that the parents or guardians of the relevant pupils have been consulted about its nature and content; and
(b) the governing body of the school has approved its use.
(2) In this section--
"maintained school" has the meaning given in section 403A, and
"relevant pupils" means pupils to whom the education in question is to be given.").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
On Question, Amendment No. 7, as amended, agreed to.
Schedule 8 [Amendments]:
[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]
Schedule 10 [Repeals]:
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In doing so, my noble friend Lord Bach and I would like to say how grateful we are to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debates on the Bill. Those debates have been in the very best traditions of this House and have helped the Government to ensure that an improved Bill now passes to another place. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Baroness Blackstone.)
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.