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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank my hon. Friend Helen Jones for leading this important debate today.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Shabana Mahmood and applaud the powerful contribution she made. She set out clearly and articulately very sensitive and difficult issues. Like her, I have a Muslim background, and the way in which she set out the issues is really worth applauding, and I am grateful to her. The only downside is that she made many of the points that I wanted to make in my speech. However, I am conscious that there are others yet to speak, so I will shorten my speech accordingly and not repeat too much of what my hon. Friend said.
Like my hon. Friend, in recent weeks I have been contacted by many of my constituents who have expressed concerns about the proposals, and I want to put their concerns on the record today. They are absolutely clear, as am I, that the need to teach our children respect for others and tolerance, as well as how to be safe, particularly in the modern era with all the safeguarding challenges that technology and social media now bring, must remain a key consideration. However, their concerns are understandable because, as has been mentioned by hon. Members from across the Chamber, the policy has been poorly communicated to parents and schools.
Despite running for several months, the consultation process was not made known to many parents, and even schools were unaware it was running. Only now, with the implementation of the policy rapidly approaching, have parents and schools been made aware of its existence. They are deeply upset that they did not have a chance to get involved in and contribute to the consultation.
As we have heard from today’s speakers, everybody agrees that this is a sensitive issue. Much better engagement with parents is warranted, and that needs to be handled carefully, with a proper, meaningful consultation, carried out in a well informed manner. Sadly, that did not happen, and parents have concerns that they feel have been left unanswered.
Parents have also expressed concerns to me regarding the age-appropriateness of what will be taught in schools. They tell me that they are apprehensive that the content, which we do not know the details of, will not be suitable for primary school children.