County, Controlled and Maintained Special Schools

Orders of the Day — Education Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons am 10:15 pm ar 21 Hydref 1986.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden 10:15, 21 Hydref 1986

I beg to move amendment No. 232, in page 21, line 6, after 'policy', insert `with regard to matters other than sex education'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this we shall discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 233 to 240.

Amendment No. 114, in page 30, line 16, leave out clause 26.

No. 226, in clause 26, page 30, line 18, after 'shall', insert 'in consultation with parents of registered pupils at the school'. No. 221, in clause 26, page 30, line 18, leave out 'are reasonably practicable'.

No. 228, in clause 26, page 30, line 22, after `considerations', insert 'In particular the value of fidelity within marriage and chastity before it'. No. 115, in clause 26, page 30, line 22, leave out 'and'.

No. 222, in clause 26, page 30, line 22, after 'or, insert 'stable'.

No. 116, in clause 26, page 30, line 22, at end insert `the promotion of happy and stable relationships between partners, the pattern of family structures in the area of the authority, the likely impact of such education on children in non-traditional family structures or in care, the values of ethnic and religious minorities in the area, the availability and proper use of contraception, and the availability of, and legal provisions relating to, abortion'. No. 118, in clause 26, page 30, line 22, at end insert— '(2) It shall be the right of any parent to withdraw his child from any sex education to which that parent objects.'. No. 242, in clause 26, page 30, line 22, at end insert— '(2) The Secretary of State may by order direct any Local Education Authority to remove any books on sex education which in his opinion are unsuitable or morally corrupting.(3) A local educational authority which has received such a direction shall require all governing bodies of schools within that Authority's area to comply with the direction.(4) Any teacher who uses such books on sex education contrary to an order by the Secretary of State shall be liable to instant dismissal.(5) Any parent whose children can be shown to have suffered by the use of books on sex education, which have been subject to an order of the Secretary of State, may bring an action for damages against the Local Education Authority concerned.'. No. 244, in clause 57, page 61, line 2, at end insert '26'.

Mr. Secretary Baker's motion, That Clause 26 be transferred to end of line 19 on page 47.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

I wish briefly to take the time of the House to set out the Government's position.

The issues associated with sex education in schools have been the subject of much debate and discussion in this House, in another place, and in the country generally. Strong feelings have been expressed—understandably so—as this is a uniquely sensitive aspect of schools' work, which bears directly on the physical, emotional and moral wellbeing of pupils.

The Government remain firmly committed to sex education as an essential component part of preparing pupils for the realities and responsibilities of adult life. For that area of a school's curriculum, it is important that the provision offered should be appropriate and should reflect the best of existing practice. That is the intention of clause 26.

The clause could be, and indeed has been described as "a statement of the obvious". Perhaps that is so, but in this area the obvious is worth stating and establishing. I am sure that all in this House would agree that such a difficult and sensitive area of the curriculum cannot be dealt with adequately, other than within a moral context. Similarly, it must be right and proper for schools to encourage youngsters to look at questions of personal relationships and sexuality in a positive manner, which recognises the realities and responsibilities of sexual maturity, marriage and parenthood-in other words, we are talking of the value of family life. The vast majority of schools and teachers for the past 15 years or more have been approaching sex education in an appropriate and responsible manner, and for them clause 26 can he seen simply as giving statutory endorsement and underpinning to their work. Regrettably, however, not all local education authorities and schools live up to this ideal, and there has been increasing concern about instances of the use of educationally unsound teaching materials and methods and the propagation of extreme and unrepresentative views of sexual ethics and quite bizarre behaviour by certain authorities and teachers. I do not propose to detail these instances here and now, but I believe that all hon. Members will be familiar with the kind of abuses which I have in mind.

Understandably, parents throughout the country and from every walk of life have been disturbed by the reports of such undesirable so-called sex education and are anxious to see their children protected from such influences. The provisions of clause 26 will go much of the way towards ensuring that irresponsible and inappropriate teaching does not find its way into the classroom. There has, however, been pressure for this provision to be reinforced, by giving parents a statutory right to withdraw their child from any sex education provision to which they object, and we have two amendments before us, Nos. 117 and 118, which would have this effect.

Attractive as such a course may seem at first sight, it is not the answer. A statutory right of withdrawal from sex education would be wrong in principle, unworkable in practice and, above all, would evade rather than tackle the problem of unsuitable teaching being imposed on pupils against their parents' wishes.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

My hon. Friend says that the right of withdrawal would be impracticable, but this is happening throughout the country already. Parents are withdrawing their children from sex education. It is done usually in consultation with the school and no prosecution follows. Is my hon. Friend saying that the Government's position is that if in future parents seek to withdraw their children from sex education that will amount to a failure to attend school regularly under section 36 of the Education Act 1944? If that is the guidance that is to be given by the Government to local education authorities, it is going a great deal further than anything that we have seen to date.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

My hon. Friend may be aware that under present regulations within schools if a parent approaches a head teacher and, with the agreement of the head teacher, there is an arrangement whereby the child may not attend certain classes, that is the situation that obtains. The situation that will obtain in future is one that I shall explain as I proceed with my argument, which I think will cover more than adequately the issue that has been raised by my hon. Friend.

The Government and Parliament have a responsibility to take effective steps to ensure that the provision offered in this important area of education is educationally and morally sound and acceptable to parents. We cannot simply encourage parents who may have concerns about what is on offer to opt out.

Parents have no right elsewhere in the secular curriculum to select from what schools have on offer. The provisions for withdrawal from religious education do not offer a precedent here. The 1944 settlement made a clear distinction between religious education and the secular curriculum, as a reflection of the particular place of the religious interests in the dual system. Religious freedom is a fundamental right in this country, hard won over many generations and rightly cherished. I cannot accept that any aspect of the secular curriculum, no matter how sensitive, can be viewed in the same light.

On the question of practicability, we live in a world where issues of personal relationships and sexuality are not conveniently compartmentalised. We cannot prevent children from picking up information about sexual matters from television or the newspapers or from day-to-day conversations with their friends. As a result, inside the school, there are many situations in which questions concerning sexual matters may arise, either spontaneously or as part of a planned programme, for example in discussion of literature, or in lessons in biology or home economics. Sex education itself is often not a separately timetabled subject, but encompasses a variety of different parts of the curriculum. Pupils' education would be seriously harmed if parents had an absolute right to require that their child should be withdrawn on each and every occasion on which sexual matters might be mentioned.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden 10:30, 21 Hydref 1986

I shall continue my argument for a while, because it is important to maintain the flow. From my experience of teenage children, it is unlikely that they themselves would welcome such a measure.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I acknowledge the point that my hon. Friend has just made. There is much concern among parents following an advertisement placed by Derbyshire county council in the Derby Evening Telegraph at this time of cutbacks in education, about which we regularly hear, regarding the creation of 285 new teaching posts. I ask whether my hon. Friend accepts that part of the parents' concern would be the bottom paragraph in the advertisement, which states: The council's policy is that all people receive equal treatment regardless of their sex, marital status or sexual orientation. The fact that county education authorities are advertising teaching posts in that vein is causing great concern among parents.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

I consider that the local education authority is using its hard-earned and hard-fought for financial resources in an extremely reprehensible way. It is not something that I would welcome. I do not think that many hon. Members would welcome the use of education money for such a purpose. I hope to go on to explain how the Government's amendment will assist in trying to refute such a use of education funds.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers , Rhondda

Do the Minister and the Government propose that such circumscriptions be introduced into the public school sector also? I am sure that the Government have at heart the vast number of pupils who go to public schools about which people can exercise a choice. Indeed, they advertise various aspects of their curriculum and the way in which they educate children. Does the Minister agree that the criteria should apply to public schools, or does she believe that public school pupils are not required to have any sex education at all?

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

If the hon. Member understood what were the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, he would know that he does not have responsibility for public schools. It may be something that he knows about rather than me. I am not aware that we are talking about that. We are talking about the maintained sector.

The amendments which we propose to clause 18 will, I believe, strike effectively at the root of public concern about sex education — the possibility of inappropriate methods and materials finding their way into the classroom, and the newspapers, against parents' wishes. Under the proposed new arrangements, control over sex education in county, controlled and maintained special schools would be removed from teachers and local education authorities, and placed in the hands of the new-style governing bodies provided for under the Bill, with their increased parental representation, and answerable to an annual meeting of the full parent body. The governing body would be responsible for deciding, and stating publicly, whether a school is to offer sex education and, if so, what its contents should be and how it should be organised. This is broadly the position already in voluntary aided schools. In doing so, the governors will be required to have regard to the local education authority's policy and to consult the head teacher, but not specifically to consult the LEA.

Under the proposed new arrangements, the governors would have the power to decide that a particular textbook or teaching aid should not be used in the classroom, and to determine the way in which particularly controversial issues, such as homosexuality, should be approached by teachers, if at all. They would also have the discretion—presently exercised by the head—to decide whether, in certain particular circumstances, where there are irreconcilable differences between the views of an individual parent and the school's approach to sex education, a particular pupil might be withdrawn from certain lessons. I hope that that answers the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls).

Although the governors would, in principle, be able to decide that sex education is not to be provided at all in a particular school, I expect that, in practice, they would be guided by the Government's firm belief that sex education is an essential curricular element and that to deprive pupils of any teaching in this field—where not all parents are able or, indeed, willing to offer the necessary information and guidance themselves — would be to leave those pupils prey to misinformation, misunderstanding and playground gossip and ill-prepared for the responsibilities of adult life. The position of examination courses which require the study of reproduction and sexual behaviour, notably biology, is specifically safeguarded in the amendments.

The Government's proposals are a recognition of the unique sensitivities surrounding sex education and the extent of public and parental concern. We have no intention of introducing similar arrangements for the handling of other contentious aspects of schools' work. Those schools and teachers who are providing appropriate and responsible sex education should welcome their work being endorsed by the governing body. Only those who are pursuing ill-thought-out or inappropriate policies should find their work questioned, and rightly so. I have already mentioned that the governors will be required to consult the head teacher in determining their policy, and I sincerely hope that they will, in the main, be guided by his or her professional expertise and advice. Teacher representatives on the governing body will also be able to influence and inform the policy-making process.

I stress that, under the proposed new arrangements, all the parties concerned will continue to be bound by clause 26, which requires that any sex education provided is set within a clear moral framework and is supportive of family life.

Photo of Mr Michael McNair-Wilson Mr Michael McNair-Wilson , Newbury

What exactly does my hon. Friend mean by a "moral framework"? As there is no absolute morality, is she talking about Christian morality?

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

The only description of the moral framework which one can talk about is the well-understood view of family life—a loving and sharing relationship within the confines of family life. [Interruption.] I did not say that. It is right and essential for the Government and the House to offer the education service a clear statement of the broad principles which should inform "good" sex education. I need hardly say that I am concerned that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) and his colleagues propose that clause 26 should be deleted from the Bill. The most recent question underlines that concern. It would not, however, be appropriate for such a statement to move beyond the general and to seek to prescribe, in primary legislation, the detailed content of sex education lessons. To do so, would be to set an undesirable precedent and would unreasonably constrain the power which we are now seeking to give to governors to decide on the content and organisation of sex education in their own schools.

We have a number of amendments before us which seek, in various ways, to alter or expand the wording of clause 26. I must admit to rather more sympathy with the intentions of those tabled by Conservative Members than the proposals of the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) and his colleagues, who appear to have a view of the priorities for sex education provision which I imagine would be of concern not only to many parents but to many teenagers.

However, I am firmly of the view that clause 26, unamended, sets out in unequivocal terms what I might term the "tone and tenor" of appropriate sex education, and serves clear notice on all concerned of the standard which the House expects all schools to reach. The Government will be offering further guidance on how these broad principles should inform detailed practice in sex education when we issue a final version of our circular on sex education at school, a draft of which was issued for comment earlier in the summer. Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools will also be issuing substantive professional guidance on the teaching of sex education, following references in its recently published discussion document on "Health Education from 5 to 16 Years". These are the appropriate vehicles for the discussion of the detailed content of sex education provision — not primary legislation.

On a motion to move clause 26 to a different place in the Bill, I should explain that, as we come to consider the final shape of this legislation, it seems to us that clause 26, on sex education, would be better placed in part IV with other similar provisions.

I believe that the new arrangements we have proposed for the control of sex education, set within the broad framework established by clause 26, offer the most effective way of achieving the aim, which I would hope all in this House share, of ensuring that all schools offer appropriate and responsible sex education in which all parents can have full confidence and which offers all pupils the best possible preparation for facing the challenges, choices and responsibilities which sexual maturity and adult life bring.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

It is widely recognised that sex education is an important part of the curriculum and it is common ground on both sides of the House that it is essential that children are made aware not only of the physical facts but of the wider social and moral issues. Such knowledge is an aid to development and a protection for young people as they grow up in a world in which social and moral attitudes are changing and in which there are varying patterns of relationships and behaviour.

The importance of sex education is acknowledged in the HMI document "Health Education from 5 to 16 years" in the recently published Department of Education and Science circular to local education authorities and governors—a good circular—and in the Government White Paper "Better Schools".

We know that the majority of pupils are strongly in favour of sex education. We know that there is also considerable evidence of strong parental backing for sex education. The Policy Studies Institute's survey of 200 families with teenage children found that 96 per cent. of parents thought that schools should provide sex education. Another study of 16,000 parents carried out by the health unit of Exeter university found that three quarters of those questioned wanted their children taught about human reproduction, conception, pregnancy and birth and 27 per cent. even went so far as to say that they preferred the school to take responsibility for all aspects of sex education and personal relationships. Therefore, it is clear that there is strong support by parents for sex education in schools. According to the PSI survey, most parents stressed the need for a partnership between school and home. Where there were criticisms, parents tended to concentrate on the inadequacy of the coverage of sex education rather than on any over-provision.

Another significant finding of the survey was that sex education is not confined to a special subject. It is taught in a number of subjects including personal and social education, health education, religious education, biology and English, as well as arising more informally in personal counselling or following the pupils' questions.

I am sure that the HMI is right when it says that sex education ought to deal with such issues as contraception, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases and homo-sexuality. They are part of today's world and our children have to be made aware of them. However, because those issues in particular, and sex education in general, are sensitive and potentially controversial they have to be handled in a careful, balanced and responsible way, as they are in the majority of cases. If sex education is to be effective particular care has to be taken to retain the support and confidence of parents both for what is taught and for the material used in schools. I welcome the stress which a recent ILEA document, "The Teaching of Controversial Issues in Schools" gives to the need to consult parents.

The promotion of materials or teaching methods which do not have the support of parents is certain to be counterproductive and is likely to undermine attempts to produce balanced attitudes towards sex and sexual relationships. A backlash could endanger sex education.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education 10:45, 21 Hydref 1986

Yes, but only once, as many hon. Members want to speak on this subject.

Photo of Mr Richard Hickmet Mr Richard Hickmet , Glanford and Scunthorpe

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that much of the concern that has given rise to the amendment relates to the manner in which the ILEA has promoted sex education in inner London schools and the manner in which sex education has been promoted in places such as Brent and Haringey? Does he believe that the book recently put out by the ILEA is a desirable publication? Does he consider that the proceedings last night in Haringey, and recently in Brent, were desirable? If not, what should be done about such matters?

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

That question should really be addressed to the Government. The hon. Gentleman questions me about material that he says has been put out by the ILEA. I think he is referring to a certain book. That was not put out by the ILEA to schools, and it is to he used only with the support of parents. Personally, I do not believe that that book should be for general use, and nor does the ILEA.

Now the question of legislation. On Second Reading and in Committee I said clearly that I thought it important that any local authority should retain the confidence and support of parents. I repeat that now. At those stages of the Bill my hon. Friends and I took the view that it was wrong for sex education to be in the Bill. I note that when the measure began its life in the other place, it did not include the clause on sex education. In other words, the Government then agreed with us. Their conversion was imposed on them in the other place. Let us be honest about that.

Lady Hooper, speaking in the other place on behalf of the Government, was absolutely right when she said: We must look to individual teachers to exercise good judgment in planning their teaching and selecting appropriate teaching materials. We should not take away that admittedly heavy responsibility from teachers. Only they can properly exercise it, subject to the regulations and to the pressure parents can exert at their annual meetings, or other meetings".—[Offieial Report, House of Lords, 15 April 1986; Vol. 473, c. 650.] Our position remains that we do not believe sex education should be in the Bill and that it is best left, as Lady Hooper said, to a partnership involving teachers, parents, governing bodies and local education authorities.

I come to the parental opt-out alternative which has been suggested by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), if he is allowed to pursue it, having arrived here late. On Report we tabled an amendment along similar lines. However, unlike the hon. Gentleman, we consulted teachers' organisations, LEAs and other bodies, parents and governors. We became convinced that it would be undesirable and impractical to opt out. We found particularly persuasive the letter of 7 August which the present Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction sent to hon. Members.

The letter from the Minister was very persuasive. It stated: Any such right would be wholly innappropriate in the secular curriculum and would open the door to the fragmentation of school education. Nor could it be worked in practice. Sex education is often given, not as a separate time-tabled subject, but as an element of several different parts of the curriculum …Pupils' education would be seriously disrupted, and the schools' task made unmanageable, if pupils had to be withdrawn every time sexual matters were discussed. The Minister was correct, and we should heed his advice.

I would now like to consider the Government's new amendment, which the Secretary of State produced at his party conference as a compromise solution. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman and the new Minister have not stuck to the position for which the Minister argued so persuasively in his letter in August. I cannot help suspecting that it was the need to produce a bone for the Conservative party delegates and for the Secretary of State's Back Benchers rather than the facts that swayed the Secretary of State and the Minister to their present course. Be that as it may, the solution which the Minister has put forward this evening is highly unsatisfactory. First, contrary to the wise words of Baroness Hooper, and indeed to what the Secretary of State had to say at the Conservative party conference about the importance of building up the role of head teachers, the amendment will remove all responsibility from teachers. It will also remove responsibility from the local education authorities—

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Yet the governing body already has adequate powers over the curriculum by the articles of government. As the Minister stated in his letter in August, it will have additional powers over the curriculum when the Bill is passed. It appears as if the amendment is simply window dressing. There is no real argument for giving the governing body total control over sex education.

There is an even greater problem. The Government have said that they are in favour of sex education, yet under the amendment it will be possible, as we have heard from the Minister, for a governing body to decide that there should be no sex education in a school. That is completely illogical. The Government have said that they believe in sex education and that it is an essential part of the curriculum yet they are allowing governing bodies to decide that schools should not have sex education. The amendment goes way beyond the opt-out amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Leicester, East. It is against the best interests of pupils and parents and against the Government's policy.

However, there may be a cop-out as the head is required by the amendment to consider the governors' statement, and he has then to ensure that the curriculum is compatible with it except — and hon. Members should note this point — where it conflicts with any part of an examination course in the curriculum. On the face of the amendment, the head is not required to change the content of examination subjects, for example, biology, home economics or sociology, which may include sex education issues. If that is the correct interpretation, many schools could simply re-organise the curriculum to include sex education under other subjects. Is that what the Government intend should happen? I hope that the Minister will answer that point.

The Minister's letter to hon. Members states that the governors would also have the discretion to allow pupils to be withdrawn from sex education lessons at parental request. It is difficult to discover from the wording of the amendment if that is really the case. That is difficult to understand. I do not see how this follows from the wording of the amendment. I have taken legal advice on the amendment, and the Government have clearly used their legal advisers, but it will be a matter for the courts to decide. That is not a sensible way to legislate. Will the Minister explain to the House how the amendment gives governing bodies the right to allow pupils to opt out? The Government amendment is ill-conceived, badly drafted and probably unworkable, and we shall vote against it.

In conclusion, I agree that sex education is a very important subject, but I must say that in recent weeks I have found distasteful the obsessive interest that a few Conservative Members have displayed in the issue. I wish that they were as interested in the inadequate supply of books and equipment, the bad state of repair of too many schools, the shortages of teachers and all the other problems in education. I look forward to welcoming the hon. Member for Leicester, East and others to future debates on education.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Orpington

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you allow a separate vote on amendment No. 118? Now that we have heard the speeches of the two Front-Bench spokesmen, is it not desirable that, if requested, there should be a separate Division on amendment No. 118?

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Yes. Amendment No. 118 has been selected for a separate Division, and when we reach that point I shall ask an hon. Member to move it formally. Perhaps I could also inform the House that there has been a request for a separate Division on amendment No. 114. That has also been granted, and again I shall ask an hon. Member to move the amendment formally when we reach it. I call Mr. Peter Bruinvels.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Mr. Bruinvels.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me that, in recent years, standards in the House have slipped occasionally. Will you confirm that it is grossly discourteous to the House for a Member to come into the Chamber eight minutes after a debate has started and then expect to be called to speak in that debate, not having heard eight minutes of the Minister's opening remarks?

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

I have called Mr. Bruinvels.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East

May I make the point clearly that I was 30 seconds late, for which I apologise. I was certainly no later than that.

I begin by thanking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the concessions that they have made in response to our calls for children to have the right to opt out of sex education if their parents are especially concerned about sex education in schools. As I speak to amendment No. 118, in my name and in the names of almost 60 of my colleagues, and to amendment No. 242, I shall seek to put across the point that although we are grateful and pleased that the concession has been made, we do not believe that it has gone far enough to allow us completely to accept my hon. Friend's statement.

To me, sex education is fast becoming a mass of conflicting ideas and ideologies. If we knew what sex education was about, we could understand its meanings and perhaps matters would not be as worrying as they are, be it in Haringey or in Brent. Gone are the days of plain biology when uncompromising lessons on human reproduction were acceptable. Instead, some teachers—I stress the word "some" — promote their sexual preferences, prejudices and proclivities and give talks on their own sexual morality in such a way as to encourage very young children to accept as abnormal what we think is normal and vice versa. Certainly the controversial side issues, such as homosexuality, the books available, such as "Jenny lives with Eric and Martin", the promotion of sexual promiscuity and other deviant sex relationships have caused great concern to many parents and, indeed, to teachers. Irresponsible and unpoliced sex education lessons which occur at present have possibly encouraged children to experiment and put this new knowledge into practice. That will certainly corrupt them.

Sex education must always be balanced, responsible and given in such a way as to encourage all children—they are, after all, very impressionable—to want to live decent, happy and normal family lives and not to be corrupted by some of the hooks that the Opposition seem not to condemn. I believe that it is for parents to decide if, when and by whom sex education should be given. After all, it is a private matter. The wrong books and the wrong teachers will corrupt and deprave.

11 pm

We must ask ourselves what is the purpose of sex education in schools. I do not totally oppose it, but who should give that form of education? Are the teachers qualified? Are they specialists? Does sex education come within the overall syllabus of any particular department? Should it not be included purely and exclusively in biology? What is the content of sex education? Should it not be all-inclusive, with moral teaching, a social setting, biological facts and medical information? At what age should pupils come forward to be taught?

Should visual and audio aids be used? Some of the books and videos used in this country can corrupt children at a very early age. Are the titles helpful? Do they tell the whole story? Should not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State publish a list of the books that he and his officials have approved as being helpful? The governing bodies will now have the ultimate say as to whether sex education is given, but they will certainly need help and advice and no one is better able to give it than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, not just because he is head of the Department of Education and Science but because he is a father and understands the need to protect children. It is not just a matter of the professional role of the teacher or the role of the parent. Young children are being born every day and they are easily corrupted if given the wrong kind of tuition.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State referred to notification for parents, the need for the annual meeting and the obvious opportunities for governing bodies to monitor sex education. The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) said that the Government amendment would give parents an even greater say than we are seeking because sex education could be taken out of the curriculum altogether. I believe that some sex education should be given, but in a responsible way promoting the family and securing what I regard as the mystery of marriage. Biological facts about the reproductive system and teaching about morality are OK, but bringing in sordid sexual experiences and discussing the ifs and buts of homosexuality and promiscuity is obviously dangerous. I should like teachers to be totally qualified in the sex education that they are giving, but many have no experience whatever and do not even wish to teach in the first place.

I should have thought that parents rather than teachers knew best their children's needs and requirements and the final say is certainly best left to individuals. Naturally they will need to find out about what is going on in their life and in their social life, but they must not be subjected to the risk of corruption. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members may find this amusing, but if one leads what is normally a decent life one can stand up and promote traditional family values with confidence and in the knowledge that some people's lives are better protected than others.

It is true that at some time a teenager needs to know the facts of life, but whether a child of five or six needs to be told about homosexuality, as in the book entitled "Jenny lives with Eric and Martin", is another matter. I fear that mentioning these subjects at such an early age will tempt a child to find out more and to put into practice at an early age what is best left to a much later age if one has to go down that devious path. That aspect of life can corrupt. As a well-known lady a few days ago said: The curriculum on sex education is appalling. Young children can be taught the joys of casual sex, every type of contraception, and to regard abortion as just another extension of contraception, with no mention of the fact that a human being is denied life. Even VD comes across as something that can be treated as simply as a case of measles. That is a sad fact of life.

In a recent survey 80 per cent. of parents questioned said that they would like to have sex education in schools but 53 per cent. said that they wanted to be more involved in the curriculum and 76 per cent. urged that homosexuality should not be taught in the schools—an important point—and 75 per cent. wanted to withdraw their children if they felt the need.

Therefore, there is a genuine threat to our children. As the new pamphlet issued by the Department of Education and Science for 1986 said, parents should play a major formative role, not only in determining the content of sex education but in deciding whether it takes place at all. The heads, the staff, parents and governing parties decide and need to fully consult each other. The consultation process needs advice from the top as to the books that are acceptable and about protection for our young.

Last night, Haringey passed a motion to bring about a positive image policy for homosexuals. That worries me deeply. The parents there do not want it and are trying to stop it, but effectively it is there already. That is a disgrace and a waste of public funds and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) will be developing that if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The most important thing is that a child must never be corrupted. Therefore, we must look at the advantages and disadvantages and dangers of sex education. We must accept that too much ignorance is bad; indeed, just as bad as too much knowledge. As sex education increases, it is clear that much of it is becoming objectionable as too many people have come forward to experiment, and that must be considered a great disadvantage.

Parents are angry. They feel concerned that a number of evil people have taken over the sex education industry. In particular, I name the Family Planning Association, which has done everything in its power to promote some books which have done a lot to corrupt our children. It is clear that such organisations have launched an evil war on marriage and the family and what I and many other hon. Members value deeply. We must never support publicly campaigns for lesbian pupils, as there have been, or action against heterosexism, which it is said is a sexually transmitted disease, or positive promotion of lesbianism. We must not destroy the faith of our young. [Interruption.] It is Labour councillors here in London who make such remarks, doing a lot to corrupt our children. That kind of sex education is unacceptable and is running rife. Parents must always have the opportunity to withdraw their children if they disagree with that kind of filth because they know it corrupts and they know that it is unacceptable to today's society.

Every hon. Member in the House who is a father will know well — [Interruption.] Every hon. Member, a father or a mother, will know well the privilege of having children, the joy of bringing them up and their hope that the children will be brought up in a decent family life where natural things are promoted. The moral is that clean living is the only safeguard for us.

It is essential that we support the family. It is essential that attitudes to sex are taught in a clearly moral framework. The militant voice of those who believe in homosexuality and other practices cannot be considered as normal and we must do everything in our power to stop that. Sex education is a mass of misinformation, misrepresentation and outright fraud and abuse. The term "sex education" conceals far more than it reveals. It conceals a specific social, educational and economic policy which is used to influence sex education and especially the moral values. There is not a shred of evidence that sex education reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies among teenagers. Many more teenagers are being tempted; the number of abortions has increased, as well as the spread of disease. All this has happened with sex education.

Although I want to see the control of sex education maintained, I am not confident that a governing body, with too many Left-wing officials on the newly constituted governing board, will have the opportunity to stop the wrong kind of books being used.

I welcome more parent participation in the governing bodies, but I am not certain that there are enough opportunities for them to override the wish of those bodies. If I went forward and said that I wished to withdraw my child from sex education, the risk is that it would take too long to do so. As yet, the sanctions and the right of appeal have not been clearly spelt out. Why should the onus be on myself, as a parent, to convince all the governing body that I need my child to be withdrawn? Why can I not have the ultimate right to decide when my child needs to be withdrawn? If I do not agree with the sex education in the school surely I should be allowed to withdraw my child.

Many of the provisions before us tonight will not come into practice until 1988—two years before a child can be withdrawn from the sex education lesson. I fear that, by the time one can overturn and replace some of the governors on the governing body—the Left-wing ones who do not believe in the normal way of life—it will be too late. For over a year those children will have been corrupted.

We need an immediate right of withdrawal. We need the right to have our children where they can be best taught—whether in the home or the school. Let us, as parents decide. Why should anyone else tell us what we can or cannot do? An important principle of the Conservative party is that we can opt out of things and we are not force-fed with things with which we do not agree. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has tabled an amendment which will ensure that there is an opportunity for a governing body to opt out. I do not want to be the exception and many more parents need the right to exercise their wish to withdraw their child from sex education lessons.

We must clarify the sanctions and appeals procedure to ensure that there is that absolute right, and that, failing that, the child can be withdrawn. Section 68 of the Education Act 1944 gave parents the right to remove a child from a school if they were unhappy about the teaching. That is an important and welcome right, but if sex education is taught at every other school in the area, where does one send the child? The child must come first. The values are implicit and school sex education must be taught better. The material must be listed and books must be banned. Video material must never be used and parents must have the ultimate veto. It is my intention to seek to divide the House on amendment 118 in the name of protecting our children and ensuring that parents have the ultimate say.

My amendment 242 concerns the books that I want to see banned. The amendment would empower the Secretary of State to ban certain books by order if he thinks that they are unsuitable or morally corrupting. In a recent interview, my right hon. Friend discussed a book called "Positive Books on Black People's History" and explained clearly that he has no such right now. I suggest that there are plenty of books that should be banned. They include "Sex Education, The Erroneous Zone", which suggests that girls should have the freedom to choose as many lovers as they wish, and of either sex. "Make it Happy" discusses oral and anal intercourse.

11.15 pm

I am grateful to the Daily Mail which, on Tuesday 23 September published a very useful list. "Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin", we know about. It involves a homosexual father, his boyfriend and a five-year-old girl. Is that good for our children? "Make it Happy" encourages masturbation, group sex and bestiality. The BMA's "Sex for Beginners" calls for experiments in bondage. Are these the type of books that should be in our schools? "The Rights of Children" is used in social awareness classes in London where they talk about rape and consent to sexual intercourse.

What about "The Playbook for Kids About Sex", a Sheba feminist publication which encourages tiny children aged five to draw pictures of their naked bodies? "13iology for Life" includes homosexuality as an alternative in its sex without pregnancy chapter. It is being used as a possible curriculum workbook for the general certificate of secondary education. "Growing Up: A Guide for Children and Parents" shows pictures of aborted embryos and sexual organs in close-up. "Talking Sex" is the type of book for which we should have no place in our society. "Talking about Youth Work", "Talking about Young Lesbians" — I am grateful to Rachel Tingle who has published a book called "Gay Lessons"—are the type of books that must be banned. They discuss experiences of being gay at school, encouraging gay as the norm. "One Teenager in Ten" boasts about coming out. "A Boy's Own Story" involves a threesome orgy. "The Milkman's On His Way", deals with the awakening homosexuality of a working-class boy. Are these the type of books that we want in our schools?

I urge right hon. and hon. Members to treat this matter with the seriousness that it deserves. Not one of these books should appear in any school. If my amendment were accepted, children who are forced to go through sex education would not be corrupted by the present devious and immoral stand. We must do our best to protect those children. The new governing bodies need all the help that we can give them. It is quite clear that amendment No. 232 will be accepted. I will support it as a step in the right direction, but I pray that my right hon. Friend will outlaw the books that I have mentioned to ensure that children are not corrupted, that there is normal family life and that sex is not made obscene or spoilt by disgraceful books that are being promoted in schools, especially in London. The House should stand up for children's rights, protect parents and help the young to ensure that there is a better future for them in schools.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

I follow an hon. Member who clearly did not benefit from sexual education—if he received any. I shall be brief. I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill and we discussed sex education at length.

I welcome the Minister to her new post. I had great respect for her predecessor and I hope that she and I will work together as amicably. The Bill provides a balance of power between local education authorities and governing bodies and I can see no good reason why sex education should be made an exception. There is great worry among educationists that one subject of all the subjects taught in school should be the responsibility of governors, while the rest of the curriculum remains the responsibility of the LEAs.

The Secretary of State talks about the homogenous band of industrialists who will be brought on to school governing bodies. We welcome them, but if a local highflying industrialist with management ability asks about the responsibility of a school governor and is told that his main responsibility is for sex education and not for the curriculum, that will be a disincentive to such an industrialist.

I am sorry that any hon. Member should argue against sex education for children, because I believe that a child's right to know should override a parent's right to obscure.

There is to be a Division on amendment No. 118. I have had letters from many fundamental Christians, from Plymouth Brethren, asking me to support the amendment. I have great sympathy for those people and I looked at the case carefully, but I believe that children who are withdrawn from sex education are at most risk, because they know little. Christianity is the teaching of love and trust, but, much as one appreciates love and trust, the child who believes in loving and trusting everyone and who has no sex education is greatly at risk from child molesters. I know that parents have a duty, but I also know that parents who do not want their children to be taught about sex are least likely to teach those children themselves.

I appreciate that if 60 hon. Members sign an amendment there is substantial support for it, but I ask hon. Members with open minds to think again. Allowing a parent to withdraw a child from sex education is doing a substantial disservice to the child, just as going too far in the other direction can be wrong.

There is a campaign in my constituency called "Danger Stranger" in which children are taught that people they do not know are dangerous. They draw pictures of strangers who are all 6 ft 9 in tall and have black beards and electric eyes. But the vast majority of sexual attacks on children are committed by people whom they know well, and it is a substantial mistake to say that we shall teach children nothing or teach them that all people are dangerous.

There is also to be a Division on amendment No. 114, which would remove the clause from the Bill. I do not think that we desperately need the Bill, but I know that we do not desperately need the clause. The Secretary of State needs the London boroughs of Brent and Haringey because if he and they did not have each other to complain about I do not know what they would do. There are problems with loony LEAs, but they cannot be tackled through legislation. We believe that passing the clause would bring Parliament into considerable disrepute. The clause is simplistic and fairly dangerous nonsense.

The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) reminded us in Committee that the HMI produced a sober and sane report. It runs to considerable length and. as if to obviate that report and to ignore the good sense behind it, we have a six and a half line clause which will do nothing for children but a lot for the legal profession.

I commend amendment No. 114 to the House. We have always believed that if we cannot come up with an acceptable alternative, it is as well to stick to what we have.

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

I must start with an incontrovertible statement of fact. Every right hon. and hon. Member has a mother, but only one of them has me as a mother. I congratulate by hon. Friend on trying to meet the objections and anxieties of many parents. He wants to create a framework for sex education in schools which is appropriate, moral and kept within certain confines. In my view he has failed on one fundamental issue. He has failed to give parents a prescriptive right as individuals to opt out on behalf of their children. It is possible for them to opt out, but there is no certainty. That is a great flaw in the amendment.

In such a debate it is easy to over-generalise. It is very easy to say that all parents are better at teaching their children about sex, or that any teacher is better than any parent. Neither is true. Some parents will be better than teachers and some teachers will be better than parents. On balance, the parent is usually most aware of the sensitive nature of their children and at what age their child is ready for sex education.

The draft directive to LEAs about sex education accepts that there is a right age and that it is variable. How are teachers to know the right age for each child, and if they do know, how will they segregate the children if the right age is different for each child?

My granddaughter aged nine asked her mother—my daughter—after reading a newspaper story, what was a sexual attack. My daughter then knew that the time had come for her child to be told the basic facts. No teacher could be provided with that sensitive information. Teachers are not in such close contact as parents.

Teachers might make judgments which are irrelevant to a child's needs. Moreover it is the parents who are unsuitable to teach their own children about sex who are least likely to want to opt out of sex education at school. The responsible parent who is worried about the curriculum is more likely to want to opt out.

Far too much emphasis is placed on irrelevant and damaging information in too many schools. We all know about the lunacy of ILEA and I shall not list the books involved. But the attitude is widespread throughout the country. It varies between schools and governing bodies, but I believe that the Minister's guidelines are not restrictive enough.

The Minister could have set down in the Bill a set of simple and clear principles. There should be a fundamental facts of life, birds and bees—call it what we will—sex education programme for children at about the age of nine or 10, which would not need to extend beyond one class and one question and answer session. That should be followed with a further class at about the age of 12 or 13, which may refer to homosexuality, describing it as abnormal and undesirable, and which must refer to all the health hazards, especially those that arise out of promiscuity such as cervical cancer and AIDS, which have been medically proven beyond doubt. There is no necessity to go beyond that and talk about sexual problems or sexual politics. A short two-step course in school is highly necessary if a child is not receiving guidance at home, but more than that is not necessary.

11.30 pm

I fail to understand the passage in a letter from the previous Minister, which we all received in August, to the effect that it was impossible to give parents the option of withdrawing their children from sex education, because the subject permeated a wider curriculum and it would cause massive disruption if a child were withdrawn. Indeed, the letter suggested that a school would find the position unmanageable if that were to happen. How was that true in August, when in October the present Minister said that parents would be given the option to withdraw their children? If it was impossible and unmanageable in August, why was it not so in October? The answer is that the previous Minister's civil servants told him that sex education permeated the whole curriculum. It does, but not at an age where it matters. By the time a child is likely to have a D. H. Lawrence book, in the school curriculum he is likely to have reached A-level standard and will have had his sex education considerably earlier. By the time a child reaches even O-level biology, he will have had his primary sex education lessons. By the time that a child reaches points in history that may be relevant or which give rise to sexual questions, he will have had his basic sex education. Therefore, it was ridiculous to say in the first place that it was impossible to withdraw a child because the curriculum is permeated. That happens at an advanced stage in the child's education. It was possible then and it is possible now. The step taken by the present Minister is progressive and what was said previously was regressive.

If any hon. Member thinks that that sort of permeation does not exist throughout the country, he is quite wrong. There was a disturbing case in my constituency where a girl aged 164½, who had already had her basic sex education, was singled out by an English teacher, as no part of her curriculum and her set books, and given a book called "Sexual Politics" about feminism, sexuality and such matters. I read the book, and thought it very silly. It was laced with unnecessary pornographic extracts from other books, and was most offensive. That girl had a nervous breakdown and was withdrawn from school. She later returned to school and was once again singled out by the same teacher who had given her that book.

I complained to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, to whom I pay tribute. He went to the trouble of reading the book—which I do not think many Ministers would have done. It was most diligent of him. He wrote to me saying that he would be disturbed to see the book set as reading material in schools and that he considered it quite unsuitable for use in schools. I communicated this to the chairman of the education committee, who did not even reply to my letter. 1 asked him to give an assurance to my constituent that the book would not be included in the curriculum of any schools in my constituency and his reply was "No comment". The man's name is not Bernie Grant. He is not on the Inner London education authority and he is not even a Labour chairman. He is a Liberal chairman. He is an inoffensive, avuncular, family sort of person. He is also ineffectual and—

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

That is as may be. He is just the sort of person who might be chosen as one of these new parent governors. I do not even know whether he is a parent, and that is the danger. I wonder what chance that girl's mother would have had against a governing body composed even in the new way that is proposed. How would such governing bodies react if at the time of their annual report a substantial minority of parents objected to the curriculum and the text of any particular book, parents whose feelings may be very strong as individuals and well founded? Would they effectively be disfranchised as parents?

I cannot accept the assurances of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. His amendment does not give parents a prescriptive right to use their own judgment about their own children, which I believe is a fundamental right, although I give him high marks for trying. Sensible, moderate and family-oriented sex education has never been more important than it is now because the dangers have never been greater, both in terms of political subversion and of deadly health risks. To deny parents the right of control in such an area can only undermine their crucial role as parents, their authority and what many of them consider to be their fundamental rights.

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich

The right hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) was right when she said that on balance it is better for sex education to be given by parents than by teachers. That is especially so when the relationship between the parent or parents who give it and the children is a close and intimate one, where those parents are able to respond to the questions that children ask at various stages in their development. The right hon. Lady knows, however, and we all know, alas, that there are many parents who do not give sex education, that there are many other parents who give it and do it badly, and that there are unfortunately families where the relationship between the parent and the children makes it impossible for that sort of sex education to be given.

We would all agree that ideally sex education should be given within the family, but that is not always possible. Therefore, it seems to me—and I agree with the right hon. Lady—that there is a strong case for sex education in schools. I want to go further than that, but it seems extraordinary that she and others who have spoken from the Government Benches should imply that the only source of information available to growing children about sex is either the parent or the teacher. That is not the position. We live in a society in which the popular press, the media, advertisements and even pornography is available to children. When I taught in a comprehensive school in London years ago, I found extraordinary bits of pornography in the possession of the children whom I was teaching.

For anyone to suggest that children who do not receive sex education from their parents or from teachers are not being influenced and are not learning about sex must surely be very far from the situation which exists in our schools. This is a development in our society that has taken place over the past few decades. I am sure that the average child at school now knows far more about sex, abortion and sexual deviation than most of us, if not all of us in the House, knew when we were at a similiar age.

It is inevitable that if children do not get sex education from parents or teachers, they are likely to be misled by misinformation and salacious material. That seems to me to make sex education in schools not merely desirable but essential. I was delighted to hear the Minister use the word "essential" in her speech. Indeed, she wrote to all hon. Members on 16 October and on that occasion used the word. She regarded it as "essential". Therefore, it was extraordinary to me, when I read the letter—I do not know whether other hon. Members had a similar experience—and saw that it was "essential" for children to have sex education, to read elsewhere in the letter: The governors will be responsible for deciding … whether sex education should be given in a school … and would also have the discretion to allow individual pupils to be withdrawn from sex education lessons at parental request. If the Minister really believes it to be essential for children to have sex education, I cannot understand the amendments, nor can I understand the contents of the letter she wrote to all hon. Members. I am quite convinced that there is a need for sex education. Therefore, I strongly support it. However, that does not mean that I support the new clause. It seems extraordinary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, said, that it has been tacked on at this stage and that the Government did not think of it first. The Government have acted in response to pressure on them. I have received hardly any letters from my constituents on this subject. Quite frankly, I wonder whether a concerted attempt has been made by a number of hon. Members to put pressure on the Government, and the consequence is that kind of contradiction in Government statements, the Minister's speech and the letter she wrote to hon. Members. The Government do not know where they stand.

In this debate there has been a great emphasis, and the proposed new clause places great emphasis, on the importance of family life. The Department of Education and Science and Her Majesty's inspectorate have long recognised, quite properly, that there is a variety of patterns of family life in this country, and that to talk of the nuclear family with mum, dad and a couple of kids as though it were the pattern for everybody is not merely inaccurate in terms of society but is deeply offensive to certain children who come from homes not of that form. HMI's document entitled "Health Education from 5–16" recognises that teachers need to respect different patterns of family life and the variety of cultural influences brought to schools by pupils. The assumption that all pupils belong to nuclear families with two parents present can be wounding and insensitive to children who, for example, live in single parent families.

Anyone who represents constituencies in inner cities and in inner London will know of the high proportion of children who come from single parent families and that an overemphasis of the kind with which the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) presented us, of the nuclear family with father and mother, may be deeply wounding to children who do not come from such families. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to shake his head, but I am quite convinced that that could be the case. It could also be the case where parents are divorced. There is no question in my mind that a great deal of sensitivity is required in sex education.

A worrying amount of information is coming out about the degree to which incest takes place. Children grow up in some families in very worrying circumstances. Some children grow up in families in which one parent is homosexual or has homosexual tendencies. For the House to dismiss all that and pretend that there is another kind of world — a world in which there is not a mass of salacious material produced in the media, in which the vast majority of families are nuclear families that clearly are considered in the legislation—seems to me to be quite wrong. It is mistaken and could be damaging. That is the main reason why I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) about the need to defeat this clause and throw it out.

11.45 pm

I thought that most Conservative Members were against declaratory legislation. Much of this clause is declaratory. If it is not, it is liable to lead to vexatious legislation. I am doubtful about placing the responsibility of providing sex education in the hands of governors. This point has already been well expressed. In the best schools, this responsibility has properly lain with the professionals — the teachers. In doing that job, teachers have cooperated closely with parents. It would be extraordinary if governors had to announce publicly whether their school provided sex education, giving dramatic importance to but one important part of the curriculum.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

This point is essential to the hon. Gentleman's argument on the role of teachers. Does he advocate that teachers should adopt the position of agnosticism when talking about such issues?

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich

Certainly not. I believe—and I am sure that the House agrees—that this is a difficult, sensitive subject on which it is impossible to legislate. Teachers need guidance from HMI, the Department of Education and Science, college courses, and so on about the problems of sex education. I regret the suggestion that the responsibility for sex education may properly be taken away from teachers and that teachers may be irresponsible in the way in which they do the job of sex education. The vast majority of teachers do that job responsibly. To quote a few isolated examples of abuse is no reason for legislation.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

Is not the problem the fact that Conservative Members are trying to impose on teachers a moral framework which they cannot even adequately define?

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich

My hon. Friend has made an important point with which I agree. For the reasons which I have given, I should like the whole clause to be deleted.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

My first inclination was to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr Bruinvels) who spoke to it with his customary mix of honesty and enthusiasm. [Interruption.] I mean that sincerely. But the debate has moved on and a new dimension has been added to the Bill. I believe that the solution offered by my hon. Friend the Minister of State is in the best interests of the pupil and the school.

I accept the need for sex education in schools and acknowledge that in many homes sex education is not a subject of discussion between parents and children. Clearly it is unwise for children to grow up in an atmosphere of ignorance and innuendo. Knowledge gained in such a way is not particularly helpful to a healthy understanding of sex. For that reason, I believe that it should be taught in schools, but taught in a caring, sensitive way, with proper regard to morals and ethics. If children are withdrawn from sex education classes, one of the problems will be their supervision. At a time when teachers are under pressure, the prospect of several children outside a class trying to study independently will undoubtedly cause problems in many schools.

The thought occurs to me, as I am sure it occurs to many other hon. Members, that those children who have been excluded from sex education lessons will undoubtedly talk to the other members of the class to find out what was going on. The information they receive will not necessarily reflect the material of those lessons. Those children will receive a garbled version. The pupils excluded from those lessons will probably receive the worst of all worlds, for they will receive picturesque descriptions from their fellow pupils which need not bear any close relationship to what was taught in the classroom. Also, although sex education is principally taught in one specific lesson, it must impinge on others, for example, biology. If a parent has the right to withdraw a child from one lesson, is it not right and proper that the child be withdrawn from others? It would seem that a precedent may be established with consequences not readily foreseen at this time.

That having been said, I recognise the strong feelings that undoubtedly exist on this subject. I certainly understand the apprehension which many parents feel, especially in the light of some of the appalling literature we have heard described this evening. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East and others who have drawn the House's attention to some of the rubbish and pornographic material which is circulated in our schools. Indeed, some recent examples seem designed to titillate rather than to educate.

The Government amendment ensures that school governing bodies will have the right to approve the material being used. They will have the right to decide whether sex education is to be taught. Surely that is the essence. The new governing bodies will be strengthened and parents will have representation equal to that of the LEA so that they will have the right to express an opinion on the type of material being used. That is an important safeguard and it is for that reason that I believe that it will do much to reassure parents who are concerned about the moral welfare of their children.

I also believe that many parents, knowing this, will do their utmost to serve on those governing bodies, thus ensuring that the quality of governors is much better than perhaps it is at present. I have argued for a long time that parents know best what is right for their children, and I believe that they will have the right to express that within a school governing body. If that is not an adequate safeguard, bear in mind that there is now a public annual general meeting of each school. That means that the parents who are not on the governing body will have an opportunity to cross-examine in detail and in public the school governing body and the head teacher. If they are dissatisfied with the way in which sex education is being taught or the type of material being used, they will have the opportunity of bringing that out into the open and ensuring that the governors and the headmaster answer the searching questions that will undoubtedly be put to them. Nothing so concentrates the parental mind as the prospect of their child being adversely influenced by some of the material which we have heard mentioned in the debate. If governors and head teachers have to answer to those aggrieved parents in public, it will ensure that the teaching of sex education is undertaken in a responsible way.

I welcome the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Minister, and I genuinely believe that it will provide parents with the reassurance that they need. Its general drive and thrust are in keeping with the remainder of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

I oppose amendment No. 118. When Viscount Buckmaster introduced his amendment in the other place, he put the Government on the horns of a dilemma. A welter of confusion has now been built up so that nobody knows where he is. The fundamentalists and bigots have pronounced on this subject, and we have heard some of them tonight. When the noble Viscount tried to befog the issue of what was happening to the schools due to a lack of money, he worded the amendment to stress regard to moral considerations and the value of family life. The Government could not resist using such lovely words, having tried to persuade us over the years that they were the party of morality and family life, as though nobody else and no other party could be. [Interruption.] As I said, the bigots are speaking tonight, and they can be heard on the Government Benches.

It is clear that the Conservatives do not know where they are on this subject. Indeed, they sent hon. Members two letters expressing differing views. The first, dated 7 August, said that the Government could not possibly allow a provision to permit the withdrawal of children from sex education, claiming that any such right would be wholly inappropriate in the secular curriculum. Having made that claim, the Government realised that they had blundered, and at the Tory party conference the Minister had to intervene. But he did not quite know what to do—whether to leave it with those wicked teachers who could not possibly tackle the subject properly, or do something else. In the event, he decided to take the sensitive question of sex education—a subject which is often not even discussed by parents with their children —away from the teachers and place it in other hands. Not knowing in which hands to place it, he finally decided to give it to the governors. Thus, having said that he would not permit children to be withdrawn from sex education, he contradicted himself by saying that school governors would have that right.

The Tories are in a dilemma on this issue because they have not properly studied it. The wickedness is not in the schools but outside. Considering the amount of pornography that is available to people, including children, any fair-minded person must accept that sex education is already taught in a reasonable, responsible and sensitive manner. Obviously, considering the large numbers, somebody somewhere will not tackle it properly or will publish a book with which we do not agree or which causes problems. Educating our children is difficult enough, especially in this sensitive area, and the vast majority of parents value the way in which teachers help to prepare our young people for adult life.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

I will not give way and I wish to be brief. Teachers, Her Majesty's Inspectors and the members of locally elected authorities are trying all the time to improve their approach to the sensitive subject of sex education. It ill-becomes people who know little about it to hurl abuse at those who are grappling with this delicate subject and who are doing their best for our children.

The vast majority of parents want schools to continue with sex education because leading studies have shown that few girls and even fewer boys discuss the subject with their mothers, so delicate an issue is it. Because parents are so timid to discuss sex matters with their children, the schools have an important, though difficult, role to play. The reality is that few problems arise about sex education. Some hon. Members are trying to multiply the problems for some curious political gain. They are muddying already difficult waters.

We should beware of bigotry. We should beware of the kind of speech made by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), which was a disgrace to the people and teachers of Leicester. If one board of governors is different from another and makes its own decisions, many different decisions will be taken about the education of our children in many areas. That is the dilemma which the Minister has imposed on the Conservative party and the rest of us at a time when sex education is becoming better and more sensitive than it has ever been in our lifetimes.

12 midnight

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Streatham

Most of us would agree that of course sex education should be taught in schools. I believe that most of us would qualify that by saying that it should be well taught. My speech will be shorter than I had intended as I am following the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim). I agree with almost everything that she said and I do not want to repeat her points.

To pick up on a point made earlier, when I refer to good sex education, I do not mean agnostic sex education. I mean sex education associated with moral values and rights and wrongs related to some of the penalties which might befall one if sex is misused.

It is no good the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) saying that the vast majority of teachers and governing bodies are responsible. Indeed they are. However, what about the youngsters who come up against the irresponsible ones? Irresponsible teachers and governors may he a minority, but to the child and the parents involved, that represents 100 per cent. of the control over what the child is taught.

I was leafing through the magazine called "ILEA Contact" produced by the Inner London education authority. For those hon. Members who are not privileged to be representatives of Inner London constituencies, "ILEA Contact" is a magazine edited by ILEA and sent out every two weeks. I leafed through the letters page of the issue produced on 17 October. Two of the four letters are in support of gays. One is from a gay teacher working in an ILEA school. It states: It is time for the ILEA to state that to present positive images of lesbians and gays in schools is an integral part of its equal opportunities policies. The other letter is signed by teachers in the Hurlingham and Chelsea School NUT group. That letter refers to the book "Jenny lives with Eric and Martin". In that letter the group states that they feel that the book presents a loving, caring homosexual relationship in a very positive way and as such should be on the open shelves … classified with books on 'Families'. They have every right to hold these opinions. However, most of us would agree that we would not wish those teachers to teach our children sex education. Opposition Members must at least have some small qualms about their children being taught by such teachers. If they have no such qualms, I am sure that their wives would have.

A minority of teachers may not be appropriate to teach sex education and a parent might face that minority. For that reason, I give a limited welcome to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's suggestion, and that of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, whom I congratulate upon her new appointment, that a parent may go to a board of governors and state that they wish to withdraw a child because they do not like the teacher. I cannot find that clearly stated in the amendment. I have the Minister of State's letter which states: The governors would also have the discretion to allow individual pupils to be withdrawn from sex education lessons at parental request. However, nowhere can I see that right stated in the amendment. I hope that my right hon. Friend has not made a horrible mistake and left that out of the amendment. Perhaps the Minister who replies to the debate will assure the House that that right will be made available and will point out exactly where it can be found in the amendments, because I cannot find it.

I say a "limited" welcome because a minority of boards of governors — my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester drew attention to one Liberal chairman of a board of governors — will cause some difficulties. Parents will go to those boards of governors, who will say, "No, we think that you are absolutely wrong. We think that your child should read 'Jenny lives with Eric and Martin'." What does a parent do in those circumstances? Some parents will have deep religious feelings about sex education, and their strongly held religious beliefs should allow them to withdraw their children from sex education. I believe that they should be permitted to do so. They may be wrong, but they should have that right if, on grounds of religious persuasion, they believe that their children should be withdrawn from sex education in school. Even if it is good and moral sex education, they should have that right.

Although my welcome for my right hon. Friend's suggestion is limited, I shall support it. I shall also support amendment No. 118, which I suspect will not carry the day, because that is probably the way in which the House should vote.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers , Rhondda

I speak in this debate with a great deal of humility, in that, although I am the father of four children who are now adults—one is a doctor and another a teacher — I still have not found the right prescription that I could offer to the House for educating children in relationships. One sad thing about this debate is that "sex education" is used as such a bald term. I hope that we are talking about education in relationships between people and between adults and children. I do not have a prescription for this. When I talk to my daughter, who is a doctor in general practice, and who I hope will soon make me a grandfather, about these issues, I do not know what to advise her and she does not know what to advise me.

What really saddens me about the debate is that, although the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) said many good things in his speech, he overstated his argument strongly and politicised issues that do not belong to politics. This is one difficulty in approaching such a problem. I can say genuinely that I do not know how I will vote. I know what I will not vote for, but I am not sure what I will vote for. I do not wish to present myself as someone who does not understand the matter, because I understand the problems that parents face today in trying to bring their children into the adult world.

One thing that we do not want is for our children to be subject to pressures before their minds are capable of coping with the dilemmas that come from those pressures.

My aim as a parent was to try to protect my children until they were mature enough to make up their minds, not just in sexual relationships but in all matters. If we could approach the debate in that light, we would be much further along the right road.

I do not wish to delay the House too much at this time of night, but I hope that hon. Members appreciate that no family is an island in this day and age. The hon. Member for Leicester, East should remember that. He cannot create a ghetto from his family. There are too many pressures upon children these days. When we say how bad children are today, we should remember that children are subject to pressures today to which we were never subjected as children. I feel sorry for children today. Through the media, literature and other available material, they are under enormous pressure. That is why it is important that the family—I do not know what a "nuclear" family means—whether it has one parent or two parents, should be able to impart this knowledge and to protect its children without these enormous pressures.

Kids today need protection. Amendment No. 116 is important because it sets out all that should be taught under the guise of sex relationship education or however one describes it. It refers to the promotion of happy and stable relationships between partners and who could argue with that as an educative principle? It goes on to refer to the pattern of family structures in the area of the authority, which may be single-parent or two-parent families, and the likely impact of such education on children in nontraditional family structures or in care because even today, unfortunately, many children are still in care and not living in what might be described as a normal family. It also refers to the values of ethnic and religious minorities which I can appreciate as I come from a country with a substantial minority element especially in terms of language. That problem has also been highlighted by the hon. Member for Merionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) in his amendments Nos. 135 and 136.

Amendment No. 116 also includes the words: the availability and proper use of contraception". What is wrong with that being included in the educative process? I might have reservations about the availability of, and legal provisions relating to, abortion". because like many hon. Members I do not believe in abortion as a form of contraception, but that makes it all the more important that innocent young children should be given some kind of sex education so that they do not need to resort to abortion, particularly the back-street variety which unfortunately is still available.

I ask the supporters of amendment No. 118 why they would want to withdraw their children from the form of education that I have described. I make this point in conclusion as I do not wish to arouse the hostility of Members, perhaps on both sides, who may speak with a measure of hypocrisy on this, but my children have been educated in the state system and therefore subject to the legislation applying to that system. Perhaps Members who have opted out of that system should search their hearts before legislating for children in the state system when their own children are perhaps at public schools and not subject to it.

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Oxford East

I approach this issue very seriously, as I am sure do all hon. Members, because although it may not be the most important issue in the Bill it is one that has concerned a great many Members and therefore one on which we must be very careful in our deliberations.

Having started with the same interest as others, however, I am in some difficulty in relation to the various solutions so far proposed both by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I will explain briefly why. With regard to my hon. Friend's proposals, if sex education were confined to a lesson in school with the simple device of an opt-out clause for parents who did not wish what might in some cases be regarded as a dubious facility to be imposed on their children I suspect that there would be little dissent on either side of the House about the provision of such a facility, but sadly that is not the case.

12.15 am

Having been a member of the Committee which considered the Bill and therefore to an extent forewarned about the issues involved in this question, I took the trouble to ask upper schools in my city of Oxford about their policy on sex education. Indeed, they confirmed what my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) said when he was Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, that none of them teach sex education per se on the syllabus. There is not a lesson to which a parent who wishes to withdraw his child from the system can be directed, saying that that is the lesson to which his child should not belong.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East has the very best intentions in moving his amendment and I commend him for the interest that he has shown, but none the less it is a delusion to imagine that by arming oneself with this so-called protection of the right to opt out we shall be giving parents anything at all. In practice, sex education will continue to be carried out in all those other subjects on the curriculum which will riot be readily identifiable. Indeed, if one were to take the principle to its logical conclusion and withdraw the child from all the possible lessons on the curriculum in which the subject of sex might be taught, the child would be going to school for about 15 hours a week and no more. That is a well-intentioned amendment but it has that fundamental flaw and that is why I cannot support it.

However, sufficient attention has not been paid in the debate so far tonight to the wording of clause 26. As I argued in Committee, and beg the indulgence of the House to argue briefly again, to use words such as due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life may make a lot of sense to lawyers but will in practice only make a lot of money for lawyers.

In the early part of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State whether, when she was referring to the value of family life, she meant the Christian family life. Her reply on that occasion, possibly unwittingly, showed just what sort of difficulties we shall get ourselves into if we believe that that simple and rather neat form of words will present teachers with the guidance that they need in order to construct the form of their sex education lessons.

We have all heard, and Opposition Members have made this doubly clear tonight, of those who will argue that the nuclear family is now out-dated and that we should be prepared to consider that the value of family life might not simply be expressed in that conventional form which I suspect the overwhelming majority of people in Britain would understand, but that it can be equally expressed in slightly less, dare I say, normal forms of family life, a great many examples of which they would no doubt seek to enumerate. Therefore, we are looking at a lawyers' paradise if we look at the words in clause 26 for any comfort at all on this issue.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's suggestion is that we should give the responsibility to governors. That is an innocuous enough proposal and it saves me from the prospect of having to vote against it. It does not improve the situation but it does not make it any worse. But what my right hon. Friend is suggesting is the exact opposite of what, in what I thought was an extremely well-reasoned speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) pointed out was the case—that there will be just as many loony governing bodies quite prepared to put inappropriate material in the curriculum as there are loony members of ILEA teacher co-operatives prepared to write to "ILEA Contact" and say how important they think "Jenny lives with Eric and Martin" is for a balanced sex education curriculum. Passing the buck to school governors will not do any good at all in that small minority of cases where any reasonable parent would be reasonably entitled to be worried about the kind of education that his child was getting.

I draw the attention of the House to what I believe is the redemption of this problem. It is possibly the only practical solution that I have yet encountered. In a recent circular, the Department of Education and Science issued specific guidance to teachers on the subject of sex education.

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Oxford East

This cannot be right, because the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) has just agreed with me, but I shall pursue it none the less. The circular said that one could not sum up a subject as complex as sex education in a couple of simple, however well-meaning trite phrases. It stated that one could not solve the problem by giving parents a single opt-out clause or by deciding that governing bodies rather than teachers, parents, head teachers or local education authorities should be responsible. The circular stated that teachers ought to teach children sensibly, responsibly, unhysterically and in a balanced way. The circular allowed for a detailed exposition of the arguments involved in each of the difficult areas and it therefore made coherent sense.

I have not heard any hon. Member object to its contents. The welcome which the hon. Member for Durham North gave it is shared throughout the professions and by politicians of all colours. It is a welcome guide on how sex education should be delivered in schools.

The only practical solution to the degree of parental and Parliamentary concern which has been expressed tonight and on other occasions is to consider that circular as the basis for a comprehensive code of practice. It should be the duty and obligation of local authorities to have regard to it. It specifies the variety of subjects to be involved and what responsible teachers should be teaching and the kind of material to be used. It considers how teachers should form young minds and at what stage those young minds should be formed.

I recommend hon. Members to reject the trite solutions which they may feel offer them an opportunity to express their revulsion at some of the extremely odd and thankfully unusual examples that we have heard tonight. I share their wish to express that revulsion but I counsel them to reject the simplistic solutions contained in amendment No. 118. With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, hon. Members should have grave reservations about the idea that the problem will be solved by giving the responsibility to the governors. We should press now and in the future for a comprehensive code of guidance to be available in all schools in all authorities.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Barnsley West and Penistone

When I came to the Chamber today I did not know which way I would be voting, but as the debate has gone on I have made up my mind.

It seems to me that a lot of us here have forgotten our sex education, the way it was taught, how and why, when and where. We have also forgotten that people outside the House live in totally different ways from what we think. Unfortunately, in this debate one or two bad examples have been given and some hon. Members would take a broad brush across the entire education system and all the teachers because of the one or two bad eggs. That is the wrong way to go about it.

I am concerned that the Secretary of State has decided to give the governors the choice of whether to have sex education in schools. It seems to me that the Secretary of State did not want to make the decision and that the easiest thing was to put the responsibility on the shoulders of others who can make the decision for him. That is wrong. I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the governors of schools do not work with regard to such practicalities. In practice, governors only meet four times a year—that is, if they are lucky. They do not always turn up at all four meetings, so why put the responsibility on governors when we have an honourable teaching profession?

Another matter which worries me, and about which I have asked my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) for assurances, which he has given, which is why I shall be able to follow him through the Lobby, is that we already teach sex education in schools in my area. Parents are happy about that, because it is taught to them first. They are brought into schools and shown the books and aids that will be used, and told how the subject will be approached. They are also given the opportunity to withdraw their children, but none have done so. I would not like anything to harm that system, which is working.

We have made heavy weather of the debate and probably approached the subject in the wrong way. We have probably highlighted the subject more as a result of the debate and made problems for schools rather that than got rid of them. I now know which way I will vote. I once thought that it would be with the Secretary of State, but it will not. It will not be with the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), who had some good points but went over the top. I am sure that I will be able to vote for the Liberal amendment as well.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) rather glibly dismissed the parents of Haringey as not deserving any protection by statute. I happen to represent about half of those parents and I venture to proffer a different opinion. I therefore listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Minister had to say about the effect of clause 26 and the Government's amendments to see whether protection exists. If there is no protection in statute for the parents of Haringey, they will not receive it from the local authority.

Virtually all hon. Members will have seen in their evening papers a report of the disgraceful and scandalous scenes which occurred in the council chamber of the London borough of Flaringey last night, when a group of parents calling themselves the Parents Rights Group—they are of all political parties and of none—went to the council to ask whether they could be heard in regard to the education of their children. They were shouted down, spat upon and urinated upon. Every conceivable obscenity was hurled upon them, and threats of physical violence were made. One was reminded that she lives near Broadwater farm estate.

The group wished to present a petition which reads, We do not want lesbian or gay lessons in our schools from nursery schools upwards. There are some 5,000 signatures. As the borough of Haringey is not prepared to treat this matter seriously, the only recourse that I have is to hand the petition to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with another petition signed by 140 parents of the Bounds Green Infants school which says, We the undersigned object most strongly to the teaching of positive images of homosexuality to our children in Haringey schools. I hand that one also to my right hon. Friend.

The House may wish to know the background to last night's incident. There is now in circulation in my constituency a document called the Labour party manifesto for the last May elections. It was not much in evidence before those elections or, I hazard a guess, the outcome would have been somewhat different.

I wonder whether the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who is smirking, has seen the document. It is written in the name of his party. I shall read the section headed: Lesbian and Gay Rights". It says: The Labour Party declares its commitment to fighting heterosexism. That is defined: Heterosexism is the belief and practice that heterosexuality is the only natural form of sexuality. In other words, homosexuality and lesbianism are equally normal forms of sexuality. How does that affect education? The document says: The Labour Council will support the right of all teachers and other educational workers to be openly lesbian or gay at work … The Labour Council will also begin the process of ensuring that lesbianism and gayness are treated positively in the curriculum. The document says that, in order to further those aims, the council will establish a fund for curriculum projects from nursery through to further education, which are specifically designed … to promote positive images of gay men and lesbians". 12.30 am

How will the Bill protect parents and children from that sort of education when there is a definite and aggressive proselytisation by gays and lesbians to bring as many people as they can into their camp? I know that the majority of parents in my constituency would not tolerate such an approach, but what can they do about it?

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), suggested that the problem will be settled by the new powers to be given to school governors. The LEA will have little to say about these matters, which will be determined by the parent-governors. But how will those governors be appointed'? They will be elected by parents who will hold meetings, perhaps in the same conditions that prevailed at last night's Haringey council meeting. how many parents will want to go through that sort of ordeal every month to try to put forward their point of view and protect their children from influences which those parents regard—rightly or wrongly — as evil? How will they be protected?

Hon. Members may say that I am exaggerating and that parents will come forward. However, is the House aware that there is one council employee for every seven ratepayers in Haringey? It does not require much culculation to see where the recruitment will come, especially as employees are reminded all the time that as they receive pay from the council they are expected to support council policy at all times.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) lives in a fantasy, middle-class world and does not appreciate the reality of what is happening in parts of our metropolis. Has he not heard of entryism in his party? That has resulted in the Haringey Labour party becoming what it is. It has happened to other local parties and I am telling the House about what is being done in the name of the Labour party. I am sure that Opposition Front Bench spokesmen would not add their names to the sort of manifesto that I have quoted, but local parties are fighting elections on such platforms and claim that they have a manifesto to carry out those policies.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers , Rhondda

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

No. The hour is late. The hon. Gentleman made his speech, and I did not interrupt him.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers , Rhondda

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. It is clear that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) is not giving way.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

The parents' group attempted to speak to the teachers in Haringey to see what their attitude would be if it became council policy to provide such education. The answer they received from the head-teachers was, "We are terribly sorry but we cannot discuss these matters with you. We are paid by the council. Please remember that."

That is the political climate in which people in Haringey are living. They look to this House, to the Government, to protect them from the kind of people who are now in control of their area. I am far from satisfied that the legislation goes far enough to give that protection. Unless parents have— with all its faults and difficulties— the right to withdraw their children from classes in schools where that sort of thing is taught, we shall have a very unfortunate generation of children.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Tottenham

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) has said that certain things are being taught in Haringey. He must be fair to the House. He knows that it is not correct. Many of the statements he quoted from the manifesto were, rightly, published before the last election by the Labour party and have been circulated by the local education authority. There is a very big difference between the things published in the sheets from which he quoted and any circulars that have been given to teachers in Haringey. The hon. Gentleman should admit that these things are not yet being taught and that they have not yet been circulated by the local education authority.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

These matters are not yet being taught, but presumably it is intended that they should be taught. Part of the manifesto has already been implemented to the extent of setting up a gay-lesbian unit within the local authority involving six or seven paid officers whose job it is to go right through the system to ensure that such ideas are promulgated through every department and eventually brought into the education system.

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) says that this is not a real policy or mandate. But I took up the matter recently with the prospective parliamentary Labour candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green. I asked specifically whether this was her policy. She said that the council was entitled to do this because it had the mandate—the mandate based upon that document.

If my right hon. and hon. Friends are not prepared to protect parents, God help them.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , South Staffordshire

The House has heard a most eloquent and powerful speech. Nobody who has the care of and concern for the nation's children at heart could listen to that speech without feeling deeply disturbed.

We heard another excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris). The two speeches were close together in sentiment. Over a century ago the House decided that children were not the possessions of parents. It was decided that we should have compulsory education. So, we have to decide, in another age and in another time, what children should be taught.

I have changed my mind since I came into the Chamber. I speak, not just as a parent, but as a governor, as a former schoolmaster and as someone who believes in the Christian normality of family life. I believe that it is impractical, and probably wrong, to say that children either can or should be withdrawn from particular lessons. I reached that view as I listened to the debate. I think that the House of Commons is often at its best when hon. Members can debate and consider away from the constraints of the party doctrine, whatever it may be.

The overwhelming lesson for me from this debate was implicit in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East. The only way to deal with this matter properly and sensibly is for the Government not to abdicate their responsibilities but to grasp the opportunities and realise that, in effect, there must be an agreed syllabus. If there is any subject on the curriculum for which there should be an agreed syllabus, it is this. I quote, for once with approval, the words of Mr. Gradgrind"— it is facts that must be taught. The facts must be taught against the accepted background, and in this country the overwhelming majority of people believe that the normal family consistsof two parents, who are married, with children. That is the background against which the facts should be taught. If the parents believe otherwise, it is for them to teach what some of us might regard as dangerous deviations; it is not right to have those taught in schools. That point has not previously been made, but should be emphasised.

I hope that my right hon. Friend and the new Minister, whom we all welcome, grasp that. No one could for a moment doubt their commitment. I do not believe that the clause they have moved is especially damaging, but it does not grasp the central problem. We need an agreed syllabus; we need parents throughout the land to feel that their children can go to school and be taught the facts—many of them dangerous facts — without overtones, without insinuations, without moral or immoral indoctrination. If the parents then opt out of what the majority consider normality, it is for them to instruct at home. That is the way forward, and I hope that it is the way forward that the Government will take.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I wish to make one of my exceedingly brief speeches. The issue is simple. Conservative Members believe in the responsibility of parents. We believe that parents should have the right of choice. We believe that parents have a greater right to choose in issues that concern them personally, directly and more closely than any teacher, governor or local government authority.

How can we as Conservatives, believing in the supreme importance of parental responsibility, take away from parents the right to withdraw their children, if they so wish, from precisely the sort of teaching that is threatened in boroughs such as Haringey? Unless we support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), this legislation will go on the statute book depriving parents of the right to make that choice. No Conservative should be a party to such legislation.

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

I have listened to almost every word of the debate and formed a view that I wish to express briefly. I ask my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that view before the reply to the debate.

I accept that in our schools a large number of teachers are doing a wonderful job in what is a most difficult and sensitive subject. Only this morning I heard two boys being interviewed on the "Today" programme, and I would like to know the names of their teachers because I would like to write to congratulate them on the wonderful job that they have done. That is my first point.

Secondly, I am glad that my right hon. and hon. Friends are advancing the proposals that they have put before us because I believe that they are a step in the right direction.

But at the end of this lengthy debate I am left with one overriding view. It seems clear that everyone agrees that in some of our classrooms there is being said and done in the name of sex education things that would horrify us if we were parents of the children who are being subjected to it. I have listened for a simple answer to the problem, but there is no perfect answer. If I were one of those parents, I would take my children from those classes whether or not I had a right to do so. Amendment 118, giving such a right, may be an imperfect solution, but in my book it is the only one that comes anywhere near a practical solution, and I support it.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge 12:45, 21 Hydref 1986

The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) said that a great deal of research has shown that most parents are in favour of good sex education in schools. It is probably true to say that in the House there is probably a majority of parents who will feel relieved if good sex education has relieved them of the task of having to do in their own home what has not been properly explained at school.

When I listened to the way in which my hon. Friend the Minister of State outlined the way in which she saw the problem, I was left with the idea that in some way the principles set out in the Education Act 1944 had been lost completely. As I understand the Act, there was a primary responsibility on the parent to decide on the education of his own child. Under that Act, education in a state school or some form of school is not even compulsory, but if full-time and proper education is to be brought about, and if a parent decides to make his child a registered pupil at a state school, he must ensure that there is regular attendance of the child at that school. That is my understanding of the attendance requirement, and withdrawal from classes is precisely the point at issue.

When my hon. Friend the Minister of State was talking about the right to withdraw and it being wrong to do so, she made it sound as if something new was about to happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) spoke about the impracticality of separating sex education in schools, and I accept that that may be the position in Oxford, but by the same token I have had constituents attending my surgeries — fundamentalist Christians and members of the Plymouth Brethren —who tell me that for years they have been withdrawing their children from sex education in schools. They have been able to identify it and they have seen the headmasters of the schools to tell them that they do not believe that that is the right way for their children to be educated. As a Conservative, I believe that in the end it will be those parents who have to decide, rightly or wrongly, what they believe to be in their children's best interests.

We may think that such people are wrong, but I would not like to think, bearing in mind that I have a relatively liberal attitude on these matters, that a fundamentalist Christian has it right. I think that a more liberal approach is probably correct. But I cannot, even as a politician, even in a profession which is not over-endowed with humility and self doubt, assume the intellectual superiority to say to a member of the Plymouth Brethren, "On this issue I am right and you are wrong."

I should like to know—I put this to my hon. Friend in an intervention and perhaps I blinked or something of the sort when she replied—what is supposed to be changing. Are we really going to say that as a result of this measure parents will not be able to exercise their right to withdraw? I hope that I can see my hon. Friend nodding and saying, presumably, that parents will be able to withdraw their children. If that is the position, we have spent the past three hours debating something that did not need debating.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

There is not to be a statutory right, because there never has been the statutory right of withdrawal. There has always been the right of the parent to go to the head teacher —in future, this will be the governing body—and say, "Because of our beliefs, we think that it would be reasonable to aks whether our child could be withdrawn." The position will be exactly the same except that the governing body will be involved instead of the head teacher.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

With great respect to my hon. Friend—I am grateful to her for that reply—I do not see how the position would he quite the same, because in one case a parent might say to a headmaster, "I am withdrawing my child because I do not think that that is right"; whereas, as I understand the role of the governing body— this accords with everything that I have heard my hon. Friend say—the governing body will have a discretion about whether a parent should be allowed to withdraw his child. It is asking too much to think that all those governing bodies will be the repositories of wisdom. Those governing bodies will be made up of parents, among others. Which parent could possibly say to another parent, "I happen to think that you should not have the right to exercise your judgment in this case"?

What happens if a governing body is taken over by people who believe that the most gross sexual perversion should be taught as another form of normality? Are we to accept the possibility of a parent saying, "I am sorry, I have not been able to convince the governing body, but what I am going to say is that the primary responsibility for educating my child is mine and I shall withdraw my child from that identifiable sex education lesson."? I find it absolutely inconceivable that in such a case there would be some form of prosecution against a parent for having withdrawn his child, as if that would amount to irregular attendance.

It seemed to me that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir 1. Percival) put his finger on the issue. He said that if he found himself in that position he would not allow his child to attend. An Opposition Member, from a sedentary position, made the perhaps unwise comment, "So you would break the law, would you?". There is no law to be broken. It is simply a question of withdrawing one's child from one specified area of concern. That cannot amount to irregular attendance. In such a case there could be no question of breaking the law. The amendment is good cosmetic stuff and I can vote for it tonight with a clear conscience, but I do not think that the basic debate takes the matter forward one jot.

Photo of Mr Piers Merchant Mr Piers Merchant , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I shall speak briefly. I can speak only as a layman and as a parent, but I suspect that I am more in touch with the views of the majority of my constituents, who are overwhelmingly ordinary parents, than are all the world's so-called experts on this subject. In fact, it is the so-called experts who I am worried about, as I shall illustrate. My experience comes simply from the large number of letters that I have received from my constituents. Many people with real problems and concerns have visited me. My experience comes also from the sex education I received, on no fewer than three separate occasions, at different ages, when I was at school. My experience illustrates the sorts of problem that the subject poses to all schools and teachers—problems that I should not dismiss lightly.

I first encountered the topic at the age of eight when my classmates and I were so disinterested by the subject that we were driven to boredom. At the age of 14, when I received my next dose of the subject, we giggled at the pictures and films. We found them highly amusing, but not especially educative. When, at the age of 17, we received our third instruction in the subject, we knew it all anyway and were only entertained by the embarrassment of the teacher who was trying to explain the facts to us.

Both the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), in a sensitive and understanding way, illustrated many of the difficulties that the subject poses to those teachers who try to teach the subject in the most positive and helpful way possible. The difficulty is that, in a sense, the whole debate can easily be turned into a nonsense by the exaggerated responses of people on both extremes of the argument. The extreme that worries me most concerns those who advocate the intensive teaching of sex education almost until it becomes a cause célèbre. I am perfectly happy about and do not quibble with the desirability of giving basic, simple sex education — I believe that one of my hon. Friends referred to it as "the facts"—as a necessary subject in school. What worries me is when the subject is extended, often considerably, to those areas of moral question that pose real difficulties for a large proportion of the population who are simply not prepared to accept the moral judgments of others. The subject may be considered to such an extent that all sorts of parents find themselves genuinely questioning the desirability of extending this form of tuition. Given that this is already happening and that much more is taught in many schools than many parents and I think necessary —indeed, these subjects are forced in a wholesale way on curricula—we must ensure that the House protects the rights of parents and children from the one-sided views of teachers or, even worse, in some cases those manipulators of the mind who want to bring about social change via the education system. There is no doubt that there are many such people around. Examples have been given in this debate.

I welcome the Government's amendments. I support in principle many of my hon. Friends' suggestions which have been designed to protect and, in so far as it is possible, to advance parents' rights. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is prepared to accept a number of these amendments in practice, if not in legislation.

I should like to illustrate with one example the reason why I am concerned about sex education. A Newcastle city councillor, Mrs. Eveline Hannaford, sent me a letter. I do not want to mislead the House—the letter referred to a conference that took place three years ago, in 1983. I have checked with teachers in the Newcastle area and have no reason to believe that the position has changed in the past three years. The letter revealed openly the political and propaganda motives of some of those who seek to teach and guide the teachers. Unfortunately, some teachers will be influenced by that teaching and will therefore change their attitudes and influence the pupils in their care. Unless there is strict parental control, freedom and rights, I fear that there will be an insiduous process by which those types of objectives creep further into our schools.

The conference took place at the university of Durham school of education and was subsidised by that school and the Schools Council. It referred to the need to ensure that certain subjects were taught with a particular slant and designed to support and encourage one particular view on the role of women and relationships in society. Referring to the health and sex education session led by Hazel Slavin, Councillor Hannaford stated: This was horrific and I apologise for the sordid details I am giving. She referred first to abortion, to which the hon. Member for Rhondda has referred also. She stated: I commented that I did not think that children should be told about the facilities for abortion as it would be against certain religions. The answer given was 'We must give them all the information and tell them their rights'. Later, she stated: We were then given various pictures of men and women copulating and again the emphasis was put why should the woman have to lie underneath the man. She should be shown lying on top of the man. A picture was shown as outlined above with explicit commentary by the 'lecturer' of the movements of the woman. She continued to inform us that there were, of course, various different methods, but she did not have the time to tell us about them. (All these pictures, I understand, were from text books for schools‡) That was the line that the conference was told should be taught in schools. After referring to a number of similar examples, the councillor stated: I felt horrified at what is being taught in schools and the two Labour Women Councillors from Newcastle (one of which had attended the same lecture in the morning) were also disgusted …I feel very strongly that the Conservative Government pours in money so that all these extreme left wingers can spread their propaganda. This is particularly prominent in the Newcastle upon Tyne Labour controlled Council and there are some horrific examples. Those are her fears. They are my fears too and those of many of my constituents. It is not a question of a backwoods reaction against all sex education; it is simply a desire to protect against abuse in a highly sensitive area. That protection requires vigilance by all involved, by teachers, governors and Ministers. The House should back that requirement.

1 am

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

The speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) was not based upon theory—it would be so easy to base a speech on this important matter on theory—but upon his current experience of what a London borough is doing in schools and allied education institutions. I have discerned—I am not happy to say it—that the same sort of thing is happening in Ealing. I could not allow this debate to take place without making a contribution to it for that reason.

The fact is that the Ealing Labour party manifesto was virtually the same as that read out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green and for that same reason the parents and children of Ealing are being dragged along the same wicked paths. Something has to be done. I do not need to go into great detail because hon. Members have heard it from my right hon. Friend. However, I have to look, as my right hon. Friend is looking, for a guarantee for parents that they can opt their children out of sex education which is based upon pressure to accept lesbianism and homosexuality as more valid than heterosexuality. Parents write to me, come to my surgery and stop me in the street. They are on the verge of social violence. There was social violence in Haringey last night. It is a serious matter.

Ealing has gone one or two steps further than Haringey. The chairman of the education committee is on record as saying—it is in print and has never been denied—that equality of this kind is more important than maths and English, and he means it.

The council education committee is on the verge of appointing a teacher and paying him to be in charge of sexual equality in each school. That is an abuse of public funds at a time when more mathematicians and others are needed. Surely that is where any extra money should be going. The House has to take account of the way in which parents respond to what local education authorities are doing. 1 am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the way in which he has responded. I want to be sure that what he is offering is a guarantee to parents in Ealing that they can opt their children out of sex education which is unacceptable. I am not certain that it is.

Think of the effect of sex education, which pressurises children to accept homosexuality and lesbianism as more valid than heterosexuality, upon Christians, Hindus, Moslems and so on. They are passionately opposed to and deeply upset by all that is going on. If the House does not take account of that it is not doing its duty and it is failing the nation and the children. We have no alternative but to presume that Christian teachers who cannot accept the policy of the education committee will not be appointed to schools because the Ealing Labour party manifesto states that only teachers who accept the council's policy will be appointed. If one has a policy, as Ealing council has, of appointing teachers regardless of sexual orientation how can the House be surprised at the parents' fears that their children will be put into the hands of perverts, practising homosexuals who are interested in children, lesbians and so on. Of course they are frightened, concerned and feeling violent because they will not allow that to happen to their children.

Notices are today being put up in high schools and youth clubs inviting pupils to apply to Gayline and Lesbianline for guidance. I do not believe, any more than parents believe, that those notices are innocently inviting children to seek guidance. If children need advice, they can approach doctors, clergymen and others who are well qualified to give it. Parents in my constituency believe that those notices entice children into a perverted form of life, and that is why they are beside themselves in opposition to them. This House must take deep account of the situation.

Some hon. Members have said that it would not be practical to allow parents to opt their children out of sex education because the subject touches the curriculum at so many points. Surely the same is true of religious education; it touches the curriculum at perhaps even more points. But it has been legal since 1944 for parents to opt their children out of religious education.

The very discipline on a school, on its head and its staff, of parents having the right to opt their children out of a subject results in those concerned with planning the curriculum taking infinitely more trouble to take account of the wishes of parents and the welfare of the children in arranging the curriculum. That is essential. Nothing less will do.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

It is interesting to reflect that for well over 100 years we had no legislation in Britain dealing with sex education in schools. Indeed, when the Bill was first introduced last autumn it did not contain any proposals for legislation on sex education. Even as late as April last the Government were arguing strongly in the other place against having such provisions in the Bill.

The essential question for the House tonight is whet her any of the proposed amendments, or leaving unamended the clause that the Government inserted in Committee, would solve any of the problems about which hon. Members have been speaking. We must also consider whether the questions that have been posed tonight raise real or imaginary problems. Is it not a fact that this subject is proving a rich vein for self-publicists, for those who are anxious to put forward extremist views and for those who are anxious to grab headlines?

I seem to receive many complaints about what people allege is happening in other people's schools. I get few complaints from people about what is happening in their children's schools. Indeed, I have yet to come across one example of a parent who has told a head teacher that he or she is unhappy with the teaching of sex education in school, would like his or her child withdrawn from the lessons and who has been refused permission to withdraw the child. In other words, the present situation without legislation appears to working satisfactorily in the schools.

I suggest that in the majority of schools it works extremely well. Teachers realise that they have a responsibility to deal with the physiology of sex, that they have a duty to consult parents and that if the subject is to be taught well, parents should see the material—films, video or books—to be taught. That enables pupils who want to ask questions to have the choice of asking questions of their teachers after using the material or discussing it with their parents.

There was no fundamental problem in the schools until the Government decided to allow an amendment to be made in the other place to add words relating to moral considerations and the value of family life. From that point the Government have run into difficulties. As the circular stated, it is extremely difficult to define where sex education starts and finishes under that definition.

It does not matter whether we follow the proposals of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) that there should be an automatic right for parents to opt their children out of sex education or whether we pursue the course of obtaining the governors' permission it will be extremely difficult, as the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) suggested, to draw the line. A position will always arise in which a teacher will not be certain whether a pupil should be allowed or told to withdraw from an area of teaching. On occasions in schools, a teacher must adapt what is to be taught. We are all aware that there have been some horrific assaults on children recently. Warnings might have to be given to pupils in schools which one would not wish to introduce to young pupils. Parents and governors should not have to be consulted. If a situation arises, the teacher should be able to take action quickly.

There are many occasions when joyous events happen in households which contain small children. In a natural discussion in a primary school, the arrival of a baby brother or sister in one child's house may raise questions which it would be common sense for.the teacher to answer as they are asked. Other situations arise, especially i n those schools which keep pets, which create questions which demand answers. It would be extremely difficult to draw the line between sex education and general education if we accept the opt-out principle.

There is also the matter of behaviour in schools. Time after time situations arise in schools where a teacher must deal with the issues involved, for example, the circulation of pornography by pupils and the unsatisfactory behaviour of pupils. Will a teacher be able to reprimand two pupils and discuss the objections to the pornography being passed around if one pupil's parents have asked for that pupil to be withdrawn from sex education? If that is the case, the teacher would be unable to discuss those issues.

The Government and those who want to opt out must face the problem that it is extremely difficult to do so once the definition of sex education is extended from the simple physiology of sex to include the questions of moral considerations and the value of family life.

The Government must also make clear whether they expect the headteacher to retain the right to allow pupils to be withdrawn from sex education or whether that right is being taken from the head and given to the governors. That would be disastrous. I can think of many parents who may have had unfortunate experiences or who know that their children have had such experiences, who would feel that they could discuss such matters with a head teacher and gain the head teacher's confidence and so ask for their child to be withdrawn from sex education in the school. They would not want to discuss such matters with the governing body; they would not want to talk about these matters with more than one person.

The Government must face one final problem. There is no evidence that governing bodies will behave any differently from councils. No doubt there will be very good councils and governing bodies and on occasion there will be councillors who, in my view, behave irresponsibly. There will also be occasions when governors behave irresponsibly. It will not be satisfactory for decisions to be taken in these matters by majorities of seven to six if, as a result of public fuss, the decision is changed at the next governors' meeting. How on earth can there be continuity of policy in a school if decisions are taken in that way? There must be a consensus in schools whereby parents and teachers work together to put across the problems involved in having responsible sexual relationships. Unless that genuine co-operation across the community exists, schools will not be providing good education.

Sadly, all the proposals to legislate in this area fail to meet the basic requirement of improving on the present position. I hope that the House will reject the proposals to change the legislation and will retain the present system, which has worked satisfactorily for more than 100 years.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden 1:15, 21 Hydref 1986

We have had a long and extremely valuable debate on this subject. I thank all those who contributed to the debate. I understand that they feel very strongly about the sensitive issues that have been raised this evening. Several hon. Members have explained explicitly the reasons for their worry, and the Government must, therefore, accept the challenge laid upon them by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Merchant) and exercise considerable vigilance in dealing with this matter.

My hon. Friends the Members for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) and for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) stressed the method by which sex education might be administered by teachers throughout schools. They mentioned the final version of the circular on sex education which followed "Health Education from 5 to 16". I wish to re-emphasise to my hon. Friends that that will be the appropriate vehicle for discussion of the detailed contents of sex education provision, and we are, therefore, taking on board the views that they expressed to us.

I should also deal with some of the points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey (Sir H. Rossi) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). I accept the strength —almost desperation—with which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey expressed his views and his concern that the provision on sex education will not give parents the option that he believes his right. But I must dispute that with him on two counts. First, clause 26 places a clear duty on local education authorities, governors and heads to ensure that any sex education offered is set within a moral context and supportive of family life. Should parents have evidence that a school is failing to live up to those requirements, they should draw it to the attention of the Secretary of State immediately. The matter will be investigated fully, and should the school or the local education authority be found to have acted wholly unreasonably or in breach of the clause, he will be able to issue directions under existing powers, requiring that their sex education provision be brought into line with the Bill's requirements immediately.

On the anxiety about the exercise of parents' rights through the newly structured governing bodies, I am a little sad that there is so little faith among hon. Members for these new and improved governing bodies. Of course, elections for parent governors will have to include the opportunity for a postal ballot, which of course would be a secret ballot. Any interference in the democratic process by the local education authority would be liable to corrective direction from the Secretary of State. I hope that this will give those bodies some protection.

I should also point out that, recently, there have been examples where parental dissatisfaction has explicitly resulted in action. In one place, the head has been moved from the school and, in another, a suspended head teacher has been reinstated solely through the efforts of parents who feel strongly about it. I have made it clear why the Government do not believe that a statutory right of withdrawal would be an appropriate or effective way of using parent power in relation to sex education provision. When the parents feel strongly about the content and teaching approaches to be used, and they feel sufficiently strongly that they would be prepared to consider withdrawing their children from any teaching to which they objected, I am confident that they will be prepared to channel those efforts positively to improve sex education provision through the arrangements which we propose.

I am sure that parents will attend the annual parents meetings and that they will ensure that their concerns are expressed and debated. I am convinced that they will be able to pass resolutions which the governors will be required to consider, and I cannot believe that any governing body, faced with strong parental pressures, would fail to amend their policies on sex education or would fail to respond positively.

The House has had a long and earnest discussion about these matters. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member of Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) for her clear and sensible speech and to many other Members who have spoken.

I should like to clear up one point before we have a Division. Many Members have asked how amendment No. 233 will allow parents to negotiate the withdrawal of their children from sex education. The key is that the amendment gives governors clear responsibility for the content and organisation of sex education. The organisation of any aspect of the curriculum includes the day-to-day running of the teaching programme—that is, what pupils do what at any given time and who participate in which lessons — so the governors will be able to decide in response to parental requests that a child should do something other than a sex education lesson. Legally, of course, that is no different from deciding to allow some pupils to study, say, history while others study geography. The key is that the school remains in overall control of each child's programme.

I sense that it is time to reach a decision. I ask the House to support the Government amendments and to reject all others.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 300, Noes 138.

Division No. 285][1.25 am
Aitken, JonathanCash, William
Alexander. RichardChannon, Rt Hon Paul
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelChapman, Sydney
Alton, DavidChope, Christopher
Amess, DavidChurchill, W. S.
Ancram, MichaelClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Arnold, TomClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Ashby, DavidClarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Aspinwall, JackCockeram, Eric
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Colvin, Michael
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Cope, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Cormack, Patrick
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Couchman, James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Critchley, Julian
Baldry, TonyCrouch, David
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Currie, Mrs Edwina
Batiste, SpencerDickens, Geoffrey
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyDicks, Terry
Bendall, VivianDorrell, Stephen
Benyon, WilliamDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Best, KeithDover, Den
Bevan. David Gilroydu Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnDunn, Robert
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnDurant, Tony
Blackburn, JohnEdwards, Rt Hon N. (P broke)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterEggar, Tim
Bonsor, Sir NicholasEmery, Sir Peter
Bottomley, PeterEvennett, David
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaEyre, Sir Reginald
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Fallon, Michael
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Farr, Sir John
Boyson, Dr RhodesFavell, Anthony
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardFenner, Mrs Peggy
Brandon-Bravo, MartinForman, Nigel
Bright, GrahamForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brinton, TimForth, Eric
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonFox, Sir Marcus
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Franks, Cecil
Browne, JohnFraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bruinvels, PeterFry, Peter
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Gale, Roger
Budgen, NickGalley, Roy
Bulmer, EsmondGardiner, George (Reigate)
Burt, AlistairGarel-Jones, Tristan
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Glyn, Dr Alan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Gow, Ian
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)Grant, Sir Anthony
Carttiss, MichaelGreenway, Harry
Gregory, ConalMates, Michael
Griffiths, Sir EldonMather, Carol
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Grist, IanMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Ground, PatrickMayhew, Sir Patrick
Gummer, Rt Hon John SMellor, David
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Merchant, Piers
Hampson, Dr KeithMeyer, Sir Anthony
Hannam, JohnMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Hargreaves, KennethMills, Iain (Meriden)
Harris, DavidMiscampbell, Norman
Harvey, RobertMitchell, David (Hants NW)
Haselhurst, AlanMoate, Roger
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMonro, Sir Hector
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)Moore, Rt Hon John
Hawksley, WarrenMorris, M. (N'hampton S)
Hayes, J.Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon BarneyMorrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Hayward, RobertMoynihan, Hon C.
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidNeale, Gerrard
Henderson, BarryNeedham, Richard
Hickmet, RichardNelson, Anthony
Hicks, RobertNeubert, Michael
Hind, KennethNewton, Tony
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Nicholls, Patrick
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Norris, Steven
Holt, RichardOnslow, Cranley
Hordern, Sir PeterOppenheim, Phillip
Howard, MichaelOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Osborn, Sir John
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Ottaway, Richard
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Hubbard-Miles, PeterPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasPatten, Christopher (Bath)
Irving, CharlesPatten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)
Jackson, RobertPawsey, James
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Jessel, TobyPollock, Alexander
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyPortillo, Michael
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Powell, Rt Hon J. E.
Jones, Robert (Herts W)Powell. William (Corby)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithPowley. John
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElainePrice, Sir David
Key, RobertProctor, K. Harvey
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Raffan. Keith
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Knowles, MichaelRathbone, Tim
Knox, DavidRenton, Tim
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanRhodes James, Robert
Lang, IanRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Latham, MichaelRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lawler, GeoffreyRidsdale, Sir Julian
Lawrence, IvanRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Lawson, Rt Hon NigelRoe, Mrs Marion
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkRowe, Andrew
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Lightbown, DavidRyder, Richard
Lilley, PeterSackville, Hon Thomas
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Sayeed, Jonathan
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Scott, Nicholas
Lord, MichaelShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lyell, NicholasShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
McCrindle, RobertShelton, William (Streatham)
McCurley, Mrs AnnaShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Macfarlane, NeilShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnShersby, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Silvester, Fred
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Sims, Roger
Maclean, David JohnSkeet, Sir Trevor
McLoughlin, PatrickSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
McQuarrie, AlbertSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Madel, DavidSoames, Hon Nicholas
Major, JohnSpeed, Keith
Malins, HumfreySpeller, Tony
Malone, GeraldSpencer, Derek
Maples, JohnSpicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Marland, PaulSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Squire, Robin
Stanbrook, IvorTrotter, Neville
Stanley, Rt Hon JohnTwinn, Dr Ian
Stern, Michaelvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Waddington, David
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Walden, George
Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)Waller, Gary
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Sumberg, DavidWarren, Kenneth
Tapsell, Sir PeterWatson, John
Taylor, John (Solihull)Watts, John
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Tebbit, Rt Hon NormanWells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Temple-Morris, PeterWhitney, Raymond
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.Wiggin, Jerry
Thomas, Rt Hon PeterWilkinson, John
Thompson, Donald (Calder V)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)Wolfson, Mark
Thorne, Neil (llford S)Yeo, Tim
Thornton, MalcolmYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Thurnham, Peter
Townend, John (Bridlington)Tellers for the Ayes:
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Trippier, DavidMr. Francis Maude.
Archer, Rt Hon PeterGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Ashdown, PaddyGodman, Dr Norman
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Golding, Mrs Llin
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Barnett, GuyHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
Barron, KevinHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Beckett, Mrs MargaretHeffer, Eric S.
Bell, StuartHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Home Robertson, John
Bidwell, SydneyHowells, Geraint
Blair, AnthonyHoyle, Douglas
Boyes, RolandHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Bray, Dr JeremyHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Janner, Hon Greville
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Bruce, MalcolmKennedy, Charles
Buchan, NormanLamond, James
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Leadbitter, Ted
Campbell-Savours, DaleLeighton, Ronald
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Clay, RobertLoyden, Edward
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)McKelvey, William
Corbyn, JeremyMcNamara, Kevin
Crowther, StanMcWilliam, John
Cunliffe, LawrenceMadden, Max
Cunningham, Dr JohnMarek, Dr John
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Martin, Michael
Deakins, EricMaynard, Miss Joan
Dobson, FrankMeacher, Michael
Dormand, JackMeadowcroft, Michael
Douglas, DickMichie, William
Dubs, AlfredMikardo, Ian
Duffy, A. E. P.Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Eadie, AlexMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Eastham, KenNellist, David
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Ewing, HarryO'Brien, William
Fatchett, DerekO'Neill, Martin
Faulds, AndrewOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Patchett, Terry
Fisher, MarkPendry, Tom
Flannery, MartinPike, Peter
Forrester, JohnPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Foster, DerekPrescott, John
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Radice, Giles
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldRandall, Stuart
Freud, ClementRaynsford, Nick
George, BruceRedmond, Martin
Richardson, Ms JoSpearing, Nigel
Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Steel, Rt Hon David
Robertson, GeorgeStott, Roger
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)Strang, Gavin
Rogers, AllanThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Rooker, J. W.Tinn, James
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Sedgemore, BrianWareing, Robert
Sheldon, Rt Hon R.Welsh, Michael
Shields, Mrs ElizabethWilliams, Rt Hon A.
Shore, Rt Hon PeterWinnick, David
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Silkin, Rt Hon J.Young, David (Bolton SE)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)Tellers for the Noes:
Snape, PeterMr. Allen Adams and
Soley, CliveMr. Don Dixon.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 233, in page 21, line 9, at end insert— (1A) The articles of government for every such school shall provide for it to be the duty of the governing body—

  1. (a) to consider separately (while having regard to the local education authority's statement under section 17 of this Act) the question whether sex education should form part of the secular curriculum for the school; and
  2. (b) to make, and keep up to date, a separate written statement—
    1. (i) of their policy with regard to the content and organisation of the relevant part of the curriculum; or
    2. (ii) where they conclude that sex education should not form part of the secular curriculum, of that conclusion.'.
No. 234, in page 21, line 12, leave out 'subsection (1)' and insert 'subsections (1) and (1A)'.
No. 235, in page 21, line 23, leave out 'such statement' and insert 'statement under subsection (1) above'.
No. 236, in page 21, line 25, leave out 'such statement' and insert 'statement under this section'.
No. 69, in page 21, line 25, at end insert— '(2A) The articles of government for every such school shall provide for it to be the duty of the head teacher to make any statement furnished to him under this section available at all reasonable times, to persons wishing to inspect it.'. No. 237, in page 21, line 35, leave out 'that' and insert 'those'.
No. 238, in page 22, line 2, after '(i)', insert— so far as it relates to sex education, is compatible with the governing body's policy (as expressed in their statement under subsection (1A) above) except where that policy is incompatible with any part of the syllabus for a course which forms part of that curriculum and leads to a public examination;(ii) so far as it relates to other matters,' No. 239, in page 22, line 6, after 'statement', insert 'under subsection (1) above'.
No. 240, in page 22, line 12, leave out 'subsection (1)' and insert 'subsections (1) and (1A) — [Mr. Kenneth Baker.]