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Relationships and Sex Education — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 25th February 2019.

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Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Chair, Petitions Committee 4:30 pm, 25th February 2019

Yes. As I have said, parents are vital to all of their child’s education, but particularly to relationships and sex education, and good schools want to work in partnership with parents. However, unless we allow our children to make choices, they will not develop the skills and the emotional resilience that they need in adult life, and I think that what the Government have suggested is a reasonable compromise.

So what is the problem? I think, from the correspondence that I have had, that it centres on the teaching of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Let us be honest, there is nothing new about this. Since 2010, schools have had a duty under the Equality Act of that year to deliver an inclusive and non-discriminatory curriculum, and many schools have gone further than that. I will refer again to a Catholic school, simply because that is the system I know. Cardinal Newman high school in Luton, for instance, has had all its teachers trained in LGBT and gender issues, so that they can tackle bullying and ensure that they give children the right guidance.

In the end, this is actually not about what someone called background indoctrination. We cannot indoctrinate someone to be gay any more than we can indoctrinate someone who is gay to be heterosexual, although practitioners of some very nasty conversion therapies have tried in the past. This is about respect for difference and recognising that we live in a pluralistic free society. If I demand respect for my faith, which is a minority faith in this country, I have to give the same respect to other people’s faith, but also to the choices that other people may make in life. This is about tackling bullying: 45% of LGBT people have been bullied at school. That has to end. Young people have to know that whoever they are, whatever their sexuality, they will be welcomed and cared for.

Most schools and, I think, most parents, whatever their background or religious affiliation, would have no problem whatever with that, but there has been a lot of misinformation going around, so I say to parents who are concerned, “First, talk to your child’s teachers. Go in; don’t let other people tell you what they are doing. Go and have a look at the materials they are using. Go and talk to them about what they are trying to achieve. And you will see that there is very little to worry you there.”

I say to the Minister—this is not a phrase often heard from my lips—that I think the Government have got this about right. There is the right to an opt-out in certain circumstances. There has to be a right for children to opt in at some stage, and I think that the Government have got the age for that about right—in other words, just before they leave school. I also say to parents, “Trust your children. If you have brought them up with the right values and the right perspectives on life, you have nothing to fear from this.” It really is about creating a society in which we can respect one another, respect our differences and work together. At a time when society seems to be becoming more and more polarised and people are shouting at one another on social media all the time, that is a sensible and reasonable thing to do and is good for all of us.