I am a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham. The committee scrutinised these regulations, and I shall give the House a remark or two about our very lengthy discussions, which are reflected in the report to which several noble Lords have referred. In this very sensitive area, the Government have achieved a good balance, but it is a balance and there are contrary views that need to be heard.
When you serve on the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, you struggle away in decent obscurity most of the time, but not when you deal with regulations such as these because we had a huge volume of inquiry. The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, who is on the committee with me, will testify to that. Certainly in all the years I have served with the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, and before that with my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, there has never been the volume of outside representation that we received on this occasion. There was some from those who the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, would say are mad, bad and dangerous to know, and there were certainly some people who had a write-around—you could see that they were all part of a group writing around—but among the more than 400 contributors there were people who had serious concerns, and it would not be right for us to ride roughshod over them in the interests of not addressing their concerns fairly.
If we work on the basis that understanding conquers all, what I learned from our discussions and from reading those particular representations was the difficulty people have in distinguishing between relationships education and relationships and sex education. It is proposed that the first is taught throughout the time a child is at school. Children can be withdrawn from relationships and sex education at the parents’ behest at any time until the end of primary school, and then during secondary education parents have some rights until three terms before the child is 16, and then after that the school is much more pre-eminent in its ability to decide what is right for the child. Those who wrote in to the committee felt that it is not who is being taught but what is being taught that concerns them. This takes me back to the point about the difference between relationships education and relationships and sex education. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham pointed out, there is concern among those who feel this way—and their concerns need to be addressed—that the two will morph into each other, and that is why I hope that the Minister when he replies will take up the point made in our paragraph 28:
“The House may wish to ask the Minister for a fuller explanation of the interrelationship between these two subject areas”.
That is a fair point that was put to the committee by very many people.
The second point where the Government can reassure those who have concerns is about consultation with parents. We dealt with that quite extensively in paragraphs 19 and 20. As a subset of that, we need to learn from what has gone well and to obtain feedback so that those who are not immediately at one with the majority of the House this afternoon can see that their concerns are being addressed and thought about, without us losing the essential point that we now need to move forward on the basis that the Government propose.