My Lords, the process by which we have arrived at the document before us has been very lengthy. There has been a very extensive consultation, and Members of all parties in both Houses who took part in it and have brought the matter to this point should feel proud of what they have done. Two people who have not been mentioned today deserve a degree of recognition. As Ministers in the department in the early stages, Justine Greening and Nick Gibb started this process and saw it through. Today, we have arrived at a very well-considered set of proposals, which are a compromise. Inevitably, a compromise is open to attack from both sides; none the less, this one is rather important.
I, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, believe utterly in the welfare of children being paramount. I noticed that in referring to certain cases he went back to 1977, but he will know that one of the opening statements of the Children Act 1989 is that the welfare of children is paramount. I happen to believe that that means that no child should be withdrawn from education designed to protect their welfare, but I am prepared to concede that parents should have a right to withdraw their children up to a point. I believe the Government have been right to set the age limit to the point where a child is within three terms of reaching 16 because we know that children at that point are extremely vulnerable, particularly if they have not had education about what represents safe relationships and sex.
I took part in two meetings that were part of the wide consultation that brought us to this point. One was a meeting with Nick Gibb. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, was there giving us the benefit of her years of wisdom and experience. Nick Gibb made the point, which was also eloquently put by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, that some people are ideologically opposed while some have genuine concerns about what might be taught to their children; we should not equate the two.
I wish we could trust every parent to do the right thing—we cannot. I wish we could trust every teacher to do the right thing—we cannot. But teachers are subject to inspection and regulation of what they do so, ultimately, if a child is missing out in school, it will be found in that way. It is important therefore that, on balance, we give educators a greater role in this than perhaps some people would like.
I want to address the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham about why it should be important to teach relationship education in primary schools. The education of small children—children in primary schools—is about educating them to understand the world. They learn from the world around them. They learn from the relationships that they know and understand. It is a process of explaining to children what good relationships are, which may not be the relationships they know. This is important. It is about educating them as individuals to know what a good relationship is like and what should be happening to them. It is not about encouraging them to develop sexual relationships inappropriately at a young age; it is the opposite. It is about protecting them from relationships that are inappropriate.