Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (England) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 6:45 pm, 24th April 2019

The noble Baroness is quite right. This is an extraordinarily difficult area for teachers to teach in and, sometimes, for parents to talk about. I endorse anyone who says we should provide sufficient money to train teachers to do this, and give them the actual materials to use. If developing these centrally helps to make it easier, I would be in favour of that as well.

I had an awful lot to say but, unfortunately, most of your Lordships have said most of it already. I therefore welcome, first, the fact that we recognise that children must be taught to see the world as it is and not as some of us want it to be and, secondly, that we recognise that there are legitimate differences between our views on some of these issues. Sometimes these views are extremely strong. It is therefore predictable that there will be challenges to a change in the law that diminishes and, in some cases, extinguishes, the right to withdraw children. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, has kindly indicated two areas on which the Government need to ensure they are briefed: the provisions in the European Convention on Human Rights and English case law which, between them, make it necessary—unavoidably so—to end the complete right of withdrawal that existed until now. This is sure to come up in the courts so it would be helpful to your Lordships to know about it.

On the subject of withdrawal, I have one small suggestion. The cases will be fairly numerous but nothing like as numerous as some others. Those cases where parents object to the withdrawal of their right to withdraw will be sufficiently few as to have no consistent form or yardstick. I wonder whether the Government should consider creating an appeal body which, by its rulings, could develop what the courts would call case law: some sort of yardstick to which teachers could refer in coming years as it is built up, as to what is acceptable.

To me, the actual administration of the teaching of these subjects presents great difficulties, because the calendar age and the biological age of children are never, or very rarely, absolutely in step. Therefore, the points at which a child should be moved into a different room, or treated differently from others in some way, and then made different and embarrassed, are very difficult to determine.

As I said, your Lordships have said a great deal; it has been a wise debate. It has also been an encouraging debate—it has certainly encouraged me. I regarded the whole of this subject with great apprehension when I started reading it, but if the Government can sort out the difficulty over the mixing of relationship education and sex education, and the withdrawal interface, then this can turn into good legislation. However, that means the inspectorate needs to keep a close watch on how this develops and we need to know parental reactions to it. My mailbag and those of my noble friends have been rather different from those of the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Cashman. We have had very large numbers of letters from Muslims, Jews and Christians; those cares have to be catered for. We must see what the reactions are and have a report; first, after three years, when those who are not in the first flight will have two years’ experience, and then, probably, five or 10 years later. Mores change in society and we will have to change the legislation with them.