Local Government Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 10th July 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Palmer Lord Palmer Crossbench 4:45 pm, 10th July 2003

My Lords, I have added my name to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and after such a powerful contribution it is difficult to say very much else. I believe that many of your Lordships will have received a letter, probably this morning, from the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and others urging support for the repeal of Section 28 and attacking the Christian Institute. I have yet to see any evidence that the Christian Institute briefings are misleading as is alleged. I have always found its material to be rigorously researched and thoroughly reliable.

I was deeply shocked to receive such a letter from such eminent people and even one from a right reverend Prelate for whom I have the greatest respect, and indeed, affection. The letter calls for the repeal of Section 28. The amendments to which I have put my name, of course, allow the repeal, subject to certain conditions. I hope that noble Lords who put their name to the letter will be willing, therefore, to look at these amendments with an open mind.

I support the amendments because I believe that there is a genuine need for strong, statutory safeguards to protect children from inappropriate sex education. Vague guidance and warm words from the Minister are simply not enough. Many people who have had sight of some of the ghastly sex education material recommended by various councils may have been surprised that such material even exists. That it should also be recommended by local authorities—bodies with statutory responsibilities for schools—is even more appalling.

I shall not begin to repeat what I said in Grand Committee. Suffice it to say that we have learned in Scotland that there are people in positions of influence in education who are prepared to recommend some awful sex education material for use with young people. Recommendations made by Learning and Teaching Scotland, the Scottish Executive's education quango, caused such a furore among parents that 12,000 of them signed a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for them to be withdrawn. The parliamentary Education Committee sympathised with their concerns, and, after many months of pressure, the chairman of Learning and Teaching Scotland conceded that some of the resources are unfit for use with young people.

Of course, in a highly charged debate such as this, whenever any noble Lord cites an example of a resource or a recommendation which others find shocking, some people will try to split hairs about the status of the resource or what the council meant by its recommendation. Ultimately, however, if there really are people producing this sort of material with the intention that it should be used in school sex education, I believe that we must do everything we can to ensure that they are unsuccessful. That is why I support these amendments. They are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, intended purely to support the protection of children. Even with Section 28 in place, the sorts of powers which her amendments give to parents would always have been a good idea. If Section 28 is to be removed, I believe that the amendments are absolutely essential.

I would also urge noble Lords who support Section 28 to support these amendments as a realistic alternative—one which addresses all inappropriate sex education, not just material to do with homosexuality. I would also urge noble Lords who oppose Section 28 to support these amendments. There is certainly no way in which they can be thought as anti-homosexual. The amendments make no statements about sexual preferences at all. Instead, they move parents closer to the centre of the circle when it comes to deciding sex education policy. That can only be a sensible and logical idea. It places more powers in their hands to ensure that the sex education that their children receive is appropriate.

Who would deny parents a greater role in the sex education given to their own children? I believe that very few of us would. Who would deny them the right to view the material to be used? Who would deny them a legal right to be consulted? Who would refuse them a right ultimately to vote on the sex education policy in their child's school? I believe that the noble Baroness ought to be congratulated. She has sought to provide new safeguards which protect children by bringing in greater influence from their parents. I can see no good reason why her amendments should not attract the broadest possible support from all sides of your Lordships' House.