My Lords, I refer your Lordships to my registered interests as well as to my role as patron of the Terrence Higgins Trust. I begin, unusually, by associating myself with every word of the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I think she got it absolutely right. I also agree with my noble friend Lady Massey.
Interestingly, I too received the letter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, but I did not throw it away because it reminded me of the opposition to equality, tolerance and understanding—three things that should be at the very heart of all education. The letter said that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans relationships were short and lonely. Perhaps my 31-year relationship with Paul Cottingham was short compared to others—I do not know—but certainly it was never lonely and I certainly felt completely fulfilled.
What about the children in schools who come from same-sex families—who have same-sex parents? Are not their relationships and their families’ relationships as important and as viable? Should they not be properly represented, discussed and given equivalence with other loving relationships? Of course they should.
As soon as we put sex and education together, the bonfire starts—especially the bonfire of misinformation. Of course parents will and do maintain control. As was said earlier, whether a parent wishes to teach a child outside school according to their faith or none is entirely up to them. But, please, let us also remember that people of all faiths and none are also lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans. It is vital that children and LGBT children receive comprehensive and inclusive sex and relationships education. In this regard I recommend to your Lordships a book to be published in June entitled Celebrating Difference: A Whole-School Approach to LGBT+ Inclusion by Shaun Dellenty. I have been privileged to see an advance copy.
I commend the Government for the guidance and regulations, and the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, for the way in which he has presented them this afternoon to your Lordships’ House. I am grateful also to the organisations that have made contact: the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Children’s Society, Barnardo’s and the National Children’s Bureau, which provided excellent briefings.
I will finish on a couple of points provided by those organisations in their so-called Sex Education Forum. They state:
Some 92% affirmed that in an independent poll in 2016.
“Effective RSE is a partnership between parents and schools. Parental involvement is integral to the new RSE guidance … Education, not ignorance, is the only way that children will be able to recognise abusive behaviour and know how to seek help. 1 in 20 children are sexually abused and 1 in 3 did not tell an adult (Radford, 2011). Sexual abuse can happen to any child, so the only way to safeguard children is to ensure Relationships Education has no opt out … Bullying and … mental health affect LGBT young people at alarming rates. Nearly half of LGBT pupils (45 per cent) are bullied for being LGBT at school”,
as shown in the Stonewall survey of 2017.
“Schools are already required to teach in a way that does not discriminate on protected characteristics, so an LGBT inclusive approach to RSE is nothing new … Teachers need training in RSE so that schools can offer the high quality provision. 80% of parents want teachers to have training in RSE”,
according to the Sex Education Forum 2018.
I would like to see HIV and sexual health become a core part of the RSE curriculum if we are to empower and inform children for the real world in which they will live.