My Lords, I think everyone would agree that our young people are growing up in an increasingly complex world. Many are the voices that beckon our young people, whether they are our children or youths in society. It is correct to acknowledge that this legislation does not apply to Northern Ireland. But, as one who believes in the union and being part of the United Kingdom, I think it is important to bring to the attention of this House the fact that the pressures of legislation for England quite often come to Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is important to raise some concerns. My noble friend Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley certainly raised many of these issues in his excellent and thoughtful contribution, and I will not repeat those to which he has already drawn attention.
I am encouraged by the high number of responses that the Government received concerning this legislation. But, after the responses were given, suggesting a high level of opposition to the Government’s plans, one has to ask: what is the use? Had the majority of the responses been in a different direction, they would have been greatly used as evidence for why we should move forward with this legislation. But, of course, they were not. It seems strange that the Government have downplayed the responses, which are certainly very interesting and thought-provoking.
I remind this House that the responsibility to raise our children is one that is given not by man but by God. Children are a gift from God. The scriptures tell us that children are the heritage of the Lord. Parenthood is given by God and parents carry a God-given responsibility and authority for raising children. Many children in this nation were taught:
“Honour thy father and mother”.
That is a very important foundation for raising children. In Ephesians, chapter 6, we are reminded that children are to obey their parents. It says:
“Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;)”.
That is also important. We are also reminded that parents are given the responsibility to “train up” their children. That is recorded in the Book of Proverbs, in chapter 22, verse 6:
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”.
Therefore, in my opinion, anything that undermines this is of great concern and is a radical shift with far-reaching consequences.
Sex and relationships education is primarily the responsibility of parents. I noted that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said that she wished she could trust every parent. I wish I could trust every person. I wish I could trust the state. Do we undermine parents—those who desire to honestly and honourably train up their children and fulfil their God-given responsibility to raise them in the fear, nurture and admonition of the Lord? Parental responsibility must be maintained and parental rights of withdrawal from sex education ought also to be maintained.
Today, it seems popular to give sex education to children that ignores biblical standards. I know that drawing this noble House’s attention to this is not popular, but I did not come here to be popular. I came to be honest to my convictions and to honestly state what I have preached for 50 years and believe with all my heart. That seems to be something that is frowned upon. I believe that ignoring biblical standards is damaging to our young people. Whose standards are we teaching? Do we want society’s standards? Do we want what is regarded by society as acceptable? We have to be careful.
I notice that this very day a Statement from the Foreign Secretary in another place concerning the persecution of Christians was repeated here. We talk about the persecution of Christians, but if someone stands up and states Christian principles, it seems that he or she is frowned upon. Even in this House, these views seem to be less acceptable than those of others who have different opinions. I believe that respect is something of vital importance and that we ought to have respect as a standard—respect for the family and for others. That is something I wholeheartedly support.
We talk about relationships. Relationships within the family and society are also something of vital importance. With this legislation, for primary school children, we find that relationship education is something on which a parent does not have the final say. Yet how do you draw a clear line of distinction between relationships education and sex education? And who draws that line? I also think we ought to acknowledge that there are teachers in state or maintained schools who have strong biblical convictions. What about them? What are their rights? Will they be forced to teach what they do not believe, or things that go against their religious convictions?
When the Minister winds up, he has to address the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. The duty is not to compromise the parental responsibility or the teaching that is opposite to the religious and philosophical conviction of parents. That is not to be disregarded. I fear at times that that is set aside whenever it comes to this situation, because the draft statutory guidance states that,
“except in exceptional circumstances, the school should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child, up to and until three terms before the child turns 16”.
Of course they are to respect the parents’ request, but the headmaster is given a greater responsibility and authority over the parent. That is a dangerous situation whenever we come to children being taught to honour their parents, which I believe is a basic right and a fundamental standard for any civilised society.
I therefore feel that the Minister ought to take this legislation back and give a very clear answer to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Morrow and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. I therefore ask that the Minister, having listened to the debate, give earnest and genuine consideration to the appeal from noble Lords in that respect.