§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Stallard rose to move to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to amend the order to allow for consultation between parents, governors and teachers covering the teaching programmes on AIDS/HIV for 11 to 14 year-old children; and to provide a conscience clause to allow teachers not to teach this subject to children of this age, and to allow parents to withdraw their children from particular lessons.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on her helpful and constructive winding-up speech on the previous debate. I take no responsibility for keeping her here for yet another debate; indeed, I hope that she will be just as constructive and helpful when concluding this debate. I also hope that I shall be able 1415 to clear up some of the misunderstandings that appear to have arisen since the original Motion was published last March.
§ I believe that the rushed decision by the Government last Autumn to make education about the HIV virus and AIDS compulsory within the science part of the national curriculum has led to confusion and concern among governors, teachers and parents. The Government have overridden provisions on sex education and now appear to be pretending that nothing has really changed. I believe that they have fudged the issue. I hope that this evening the Minister will bring some clarity and sense back into the department's thinking and agree to look again at the matter.
§ In moving this Motion it is not my intention to open up a full-scale debate on the importance of teaching young people about HIV and AIDS; nor about the significance for our society of this serious illness which has sadly affected so many people and which in other parts of the world has reached epidemic proportions. I say that because I am totally committed to the cause of helping those with AIDS and providing information about the virus and the illness to those who need to have it. I am not burying my head in the sand and hoping that the virus will disappear. I want a realistic and honest approach to the issue in our society and in particular in schools.
§ If any noble Lord doubts my commitment, I would ask him to reflect on the following fact. So far as I am aware, only one piece of legislation specifically concerned with HIV and AIDS has passed through this House. I refer to the AIDS (Control) Act 1987. It started life as a Private Member's Bill in another place and I had the privilege of steering it through your Lordships' House and onto the statute book. The Act was concerned with ensuring that we were all aware of the extent and the potential of the problem. The statistics that we now regularly see about the number of AIDS cases are published because of that legislation. They help us to provide and target assistance, resources and facilities where they are most needed. Therefore, I hope that we shall not become too bogged down in a debate about the importance and potential of AIDS. I for one accept its significance. I also accept, having listened to all the debates on the issue, that Members of your Lordships' House share my concern.
§ However, before considering the implications of the Government's decision to make AIDS education compulsory in the science curriculum I need to sketch in some of the background about existing arrangements. I am sure that most noble Lords agree that sex education is an important but sensitive area. In recent years it has perhaps assumed more importance because our society has become more open about sexual matters and the media are constantly communicating information and impressions about sexual relationships.
§ I believe that existing arrangements on sex education have much to commend them. Under the Education (No.2) Act 1986 governors were given primary responsibility for deciding the sex education policy for their schools. Statutory powers were given 1416 to governors under the Act. That put the sex education issue on the agenda of schools in a way that it had never been before. Governors were required by statute to consult parents about their policy. In most cases that has proved to be a helpful and healthy exercise in local democracy and in parental involvement.
§ I am a school governor of an inner-London school where we have all the problems. We are well aware of all the pressures on teachers, parents and pupils. In fact I heard someone say just the other week that in our area the Rottweilers walk in pairs. But, having said that, I have been involved in the process of consultation and discussion. I appreciate the value of those discussions and of their outcome. In our case the outcome has been a fully acceptable sex education programme which is proceeding very well and constructively and which is welcomed by parents and teachers alike.
But there are two other important points about the existing situation on sex education which flow from the 1986 Act and the guidelines that were issued under it. First, the legislation set out a broad control on the content of any sex education. That has been a great reassurance and an encouragement to many parents. Section 46 of the Act requires that governors must ensure that sex education,
is given in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life".
That short statement says what I hope we all know; namely, that sex education cannot and should not be divorced from morality or from family life.
§ Secondly, parents were granted the statutory right to appeal to governors to withdraw their children in specific cases where they did not like the sex education lessons. Governors have discretion as regards how they respond to such requests. But so far as I am aware—and certainly in my own particular case—that right has not been exercised. Moreover, I understand that it is rarely exercised throughout the country. But it is a useful and important provision which reassures parents that if they feel that something inappropriate is being taught they have some outlet for their anxiety.
§ It is six years since the 1986 Act was passed and schools have worked hard to establish procedures under that Act. There have been many thousands of meetings throughout the country about sex education policies. But this position was disturbed by the Government's decision, with very little consultation, to make AIDS education compulsory in the science curriculum through the blunt instrument of secondary legislation.
§ When I say very little consultation, I understand —and I have checked as far as I can—that it was not even in the original draft. No mention was made of the matter in the original draft. It was inserted some time later, about November. That was more than midway through the consultative process. The proposal (five little words) is contained in the order which we are now discussing. It was hardly noticed. In fact it appeared in the middle of a huge 40-page document and went unnoticed by lots of people.
§ We must be grateful to those people who spotted it. I know that a group of individuals belonging to the 1417 Plymouth Brethren inserted advertisements in national papers. That alerted myself and many others to the fact that we should look at this matter. Subsequently letters began to appear in the press and leading articles in the Daily Telegraph and other newspapers which brought the whole thing to light. I could quote them but I shall not because of the time factor. But we are grateful to those people who brought the matter to our attention in that way.
§ My whole argument rests on the premise that AIDS education involves sex education. Of course, I fully recognise that the AIDS virus can be transmitted without sexual contact. Sadly, many people first come in contact with the HIV virus through sharing needles in the course of drug addiction. Others have received it, sadly, through blood transfusions. But in the main we are talking about a sexually transmitted disease. If sexual behaviour changes, the risk of contracting the virus is greatly reduced.
There was a report from a very famous hospital not very long ago which stated:
The only tool to control the AIDS virus is behaviour change".
That came from a hospital group which is very much involved with the virus. The World Health Organisation has warned:
the most effective way to prevent transmission of the virus … is to abstain from sexual intercourse or for uninfected partners to remain faithful to one another".
I do not see anything wrong with those two propositions. I hope that most noble Lords involved in this debate would agree.
§ I fail to see however how education about AIDS can avoid the moral and social issues concerned with sexual behaviour. In fact I think that it is impossible. Furthermore, I cannot see how one can open up the issue in a factual way in the course of a science lesson and leave it there. In my view AIDS education involves talking about relationships—something which does not usually fit neatly into the science laboratory.
§ So what are the implications of the Government's decision? In my view the problem lies with the compulsory nature of the science curriculum and the lack of consultation required about the detailed approaches used. There have been numerous statements by the Department of Education since this order was originally laid and since it came under pressure from correspondence, the national press and so on. But none of them has fully clarified the position. To my knowledge no Minister has said that the provisions of the 1986 Act, which includes the statutory provisions for governors and parents to be involved, will apply to AIDS education in the science curriculum. They will not. Again, I could enlarge on and analyse the Government's reply in detail if necessary. I can assure your Lordships that it is a fact that they have not said that those statutory provisions in the 1986 Act will apply to AIDS education in the science curriculum.
§ From that I conclude that the role of governors in relation to the policies for sex education will not include what is taught under the science curriculum. Of course governors have a general responsibility— 1418 and I know that too—for the curriculum in schools, but the 1986 Act, I repeat, gave them specific statutory responsibilities to consult on the content and approach used in sex education. They have no such responsibility for science in the compulsory part of the national curriculum.
§ Furthermore, parents will have no statutory right to be consulted about how the issue is handled in the context of science. Ministers have stressed that they expect the matter to be dealt with informally at a local level. But it cannot be. In a sensitive area such as this, statutory rights are important and parents' feelings have been overridden. I hope that people will square their conscience on the Parent's Charter with this kind of development.
§ Teachers are placed in a different position with regard to the science curriculum compared with sex education elsewhere in the curriculum. In spite of the development of cross-curricular teaching in schools, it is still primarily science teachers who teach science. They will be expected to handle this aspect of the curriculum like any other. Sex education, on the other hand, is a subject which teachers usually volunteer to take or they negotiate with the head teacher. That is why I have stressed in my Motion the need for the feelings of teachers to be taken into account. I am almost bound to say that there is a case to be made for a specialised group composed of teachers specially trained in the important and vital subject of sex education, HIV and so on, teachers specially trained, prepared, willing and able to carry out this task. There is an argument for such a force to be properly trained and properly funded.
There is one other matter to which I must refer before I sit down. The fears of parents and governors on this issue have been heightened by a booklet produced by the department last November entitled HIV and AIDS: A guide for the Education Service. Ministers have been at pains to say that this booklet contains little that is new; that nothing has really changed and that those who complain about it are misinformed. I have read the booklet umpteen times now and I accept that there is much useful information contained in it. I do not condemn the whole thing willy-nilly—there is some good information in the booklet. I also accept that teachers are unlikely to photocopy the pages referring to what can only be called deviant sexual acts and distribute them to their pupils. I do not think that will happen. But I note that the booklet itself states that in fulfilling the provisions of the national curriculum science order:
The basis of any teaching offered should be the presentation of straightforward, factual information about the virus and about modes of transmission of infection—along the lines of the information provided in the early part of this booklet".
The information provided in the early part of the booklet is mainly in paragraph 19. There are others, but paragraph 19 contains this most straightforward part. It states:
Because HIV may be present in the semen of a man who is infected with the virus, if he has any form of sexual intercourse with an uninfected person he puts that person at risk unless the semen is prevented from entering his or her body. Individuals are particularly at risk if they have anal intercourse. Heterosexual intercourse may also transmit the
virus from a man to a woman, and from a woman to a man. To help protect against these risks a condom (or sheath) should be used".
It goes on to explain quite specifically—I cannot even quote it in its context—how to use the thing. The paragraph concludes:
a single unprotected sexual contact can result in infection with HIV. Oral sex also carries some risks particularly if semen is taken into the mouth".
These are the specifics that it is said have to be taught in a straightforward factual way. So the department is trying to have it both ways; and it cannot have it both ways. The early parts of the booklet make that quite clear.
§ I must therefore question the appropriateness of talking about such things with 11 to 14 year-olds in the context of a school science lesson. This is particularly so when the booklet makes no reference whatever—and this is what I find most offensive—to the moral framework laid down in the 1986 Act. There are other aspects of safe sex not mentioned in the booklet that we all know of and to which we ascribe, certainly those in the Christian community. Abstention from pre-marital sex and fidelity within marriage are not mentioned in the booklet. That and the precautions mentioned by the hospital and the WHO are the only sure ways of preventing the spread.
§ That is why I believe that the Government have fudged the issue. They are happy to repeat—no doubt the Minister will repeat it again this evening—the provisions of the 1986 Act: consultation with parents, controls on content and the responsibilities of governors. But those arrangements do not apply to the science curriculum. That is where the misunderstanding arises—not with me but with the people who are trying to put over the idea that those arrangements exist. They do not. They exist under the 1986 Act and the statutes that I have mentioned, but they do not exist under the science curriculum.
§ It appears that the Government have given in to pressure to make AIDS education compulsory. They have used the science curriculum as a convenient way of achieving that. They poked it in at the end of the consultation period with the hope that it would not be noticed and would be accepted without anyone knowing what was going on.
§ As I said earlier Ministers are facing two ways on this issue. They try to claim that the provisions of the 1986 Act are included while at the same time pushing through the order without those provisions. I have also heard Ministers say that they could not allow a conscience provision or withdrawal from lessons in part of the national curriculum without granting it in other parts. There is a simple answer to that. They should not have included AIDS education in the core science curriculum in the first place if they wished to avoid the difficulty. They should have recognised that other places in the curriculum such as sex education and personal and social education would have been more appropriate.
§ Finally if the Government are worried that the provisions under the 1986 Act are not working to their satisfaction or would cause difficulties in relation to AIDS education, they should have said so openly and invited consultation with parents, governors and 1420 teachers to sort out new arrangements. They should not have allowed a minor piece of secondary legislation, which slipped through almost unnoticed, to leapfrog an Act of Parliament designed to ensure the rights of parents, governors and teachers. I urge the Minister to reconsider and to sort out the mess which the department has left her to handle. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to amend the order to allow for consultation between parents, governors and teachers covering the teaching programmes on AIDS/HIV for 11 to 14 year-old children; and to provide a conscience clause to allow teachers not to teach this subject to children of this age, and to allow parents to withdraw their children from particular lessons.—(Lord Stallard.)
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, on bringing this matter before your Lordships' House and presenting the issue so well—so well that I have little to add except my support. In summarising the reasons for my support, I shall highlight what appear to me to be three major contradictions.
First, there appears to me to be the contradiction between the provisions of the order and the principles enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Education Act 1944, which all affirm the right of parents to have their children educated in ways consistent with their religious, philosophical or ethical convictions, and/or to choose the kind of education that should be given to their children.
It was within that context that, in 1986, the importance of parental involvement in decisions relating to schools' policy on sex education was recognised in law with the requirement that governors should have overall control over that important aspect of the curriculum, as the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, has just emphasised. But the new order denies them any involvement with one of the most complex and sensitive aspects of sex education—teaching about AIDS. They do so in a way which places that teaching in a part of the national curriculum which is compulsory.
The second apparent contradiction—it seems apparent to me and I should be grateful if my noble friend would reassure me—is that between the Government's avowed commitment to respect and to enhance parental rights and wishes and the provisions of the order which deny those rights and wishes with regard, as I have already said, to one of the most sensitive issues of our time. The provisions also impose a heavy burden of responsibility upon teachers with no right of withdrawal from that responsibility.
The third contradiction is that between the principles enshrined in the Education Act 1986 that sex education should be taught in a way which respects moral values and family life, and the guidance 1421 given in the DES booklet on HIV and AIDS which, as the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, has said, refrains explicitly from any discussion of moral values.
That third contradiction is thrown into sharp relief in the light of the welcome statements made recently by my right honourable friend the new Secretary of State for Education when he affirmed his conviction that education should be based upon moral and spiritual values. The proposals for teaching about AIDS as part of the science curriculum seem strangely inconsistent with that commitment. That does not necessarily mean that teaching science is always value-free; but it suggests that the full complexity of ethical and moral issues is unlikely to be adequately addressed as satisfactorily as if dealt with under sex education. Therefore, the provisions of the Education Act 1986 with regard to sex education are unlikely to be met.
I should therefore like to ask my noble friend to tell me who put the proposed teaching about AIDS and HIV into the science curriculum, and what was the thinking behind it? I find it hard to understand. I have become especially interested in the answer to those questions after carefully reading the teachers' guide produced by the DES. That significant source book is, as I have already mentioned, notable for the absence of any moral content. It is completely amoral and, as such, may be seen as promoting or condoning behaviour which many people would regard as immoral. Also in its concentration on the mechanics of so-called safe sex, that DES booklet focuses exclusively on technicalities and omits any consideration of the ethical aspects of human relationships or the values of family life. That is a matter that causes anxiety which has been brought to my attention not just by members of the Christian community but by people from other religious communities, and none, who respect family values.
In detailed discussions on the transmission of the AIDS virus, it is impossible to avoid the discussion of sexual practices in details which may be inappropriate for children as young as 11. Indeed, such explicit discussion may cause fear about sexual practices of any kind; or, conversely, it may prompt exploratory behaviour which could be morally and/or physically damaging.
Before concluding, I should say that, as a nurse, I am of course in favour of appropriate teaching about AIDS and its prevention; but that must be done in ways which respect the moral, religious and ethical values of parents. In conclusion, perhaps I may emphasise my belief that one of the main purposes and achievements of the provisions of the Education Act 1986 with regard to education about sexual matters was to place it within a context in which parents' rights would be protected and their sensitivities respected. Now, one of the most delicate and complex issues of our times is placed out of reach of that protection and becomes part of a compulsory subject over which parents and governors have no direct control or right of withdrawal of children, and teachers no right of refusal to teach.
1422 I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to respond sympathetically to the amendments or suggest other solutions to the problems that they seek to address, because I believe the problems reflect legitimate, profound anxieties which merit serious consideration.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, in speaking in a debate in which much has been said about parents' rights, I fear that I may be treading on thin ice, because I am not a parent. My approach to the problem is that children have the right to know about this killer disease. There is a great deal of sexual activity before the age of 16. That means that those young people are exposed to the disease and therefore they have a right to know the risks that they are taking.
Much has been said about moral and family values. The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, pointed out that the only way to be sure of not contracting the disease sexually was to abstain from sex. He did not point out that in playing rugby football, as I do, I risk the chance of contracting it from a clash of heads with blood running from both people. AIDS is not contracted as a result of sexual activity only. Indeed the British Board of Boxing Control has made every boxer take an AIDS test. Any contact sport carries a risk of contracting AIDS. There is a risk of contracting AIDS if body fluids are exchanged. Children must be taught that AIDS does not occur purely as a result of sexual activity. We must cover all the areas where this disease is likely to be contracted. Sex education must cover all those areas.
As the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, has pointed out, it may be felt that sex education can be put across in a rather heavy handed way. I cannot judge that matter properly as I do not find that prospect offensive. Nevertheless, sex education and information about AIDS must be provided. Parents have told me time and time again that they often find it difficult to talk to their children about sexual matters such as reproduction. They are glad when teachers provide the correct information on sexual matters.
In providing this information we are not criticising anyone's moral values. Surely moral values will be enhanced if we point out that by breaking certain moral codes people run a risk of killing themselves. That factor should be borne in mind. There is also the matter of withdrawing pupils from particular lessons. I am not suggesting that the noble Lord thought this course of action should be readily available but someone may set a precedent. For example people with certain political views may not wish pupils to be taught about certain historical matters. Racism or anti-semitism could find a way into schools if such a precedent were followed. A person who believes the earth is flat may decide that his child should not study physics.
No matter what the noble Lord's moral convictions may be, I suggest that this Motion is inappropriate. Young people have rights. They have a right to know about the dangers of contracting AIDS. If we deny 1423 them information about AIDS we are denying them the right to be informed about the dangers of contracting it.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for introducing this Motion to us and indeed for the way he introduced it, as he spoke clearly and dispassionately. This is a subject on which emotions inevitably run high because it is such a sensitive issue. I agree with much of what the noble Lord said, although at the end of the day I do not think I can go along with him in the proposed solution to the problem.
It is undoubtedly clear that we look to the Government for certain clarification on this matter, if no more, as there seems to be some uncertainty as regards the relationship between sex education policy and what is required in the national curriculum. Surely young people need at all stages to have access to information about their own physical, mental and emotional development. Such information is an aid towards young people understanding and being in control of their own emerging personalities. They need to be given facts appropriate to their age and they need to be given those facts in a context which enables them to work out and apply spiritual and moral values.
Inevitably and rightly much of both information and values is picked up consciously or unconsciously at home as young people observe and experience parents and family. However, that is not enough. Young people pick up information and values whether we like it or not and often they pick up misinformation and twisted values from their peers, the media, graffiti and from magazines left lying around. Children can benefit enormously from a detached and cool atmosphere in a classroom, where distorted information and values can be brought into the open and can he looked at and where reliable facts can be put at their disposal.
It is surely right that the governors of a school should have responsibility for the school's sex education policy. By that process parents are consulted and in that way become party to what their children are taught in the classroom. As I understand it, sex education is a cross-curricular matter. That is one of the difficulties we face because sex education appears in various parts of the national curriculum.
There is also the issue of whether children should be taught about HIV and AIDS at the lower or higher end of the 11 to 14 age range. I feel that by the end of that age range they need to receive the basic facts. However, I understand—I should be grateful for confirmation of this—that it is part of the sex education policy that the governors can determine at what age in that age range children should receive that information.
I am certainly encouraged to learn that 84 per cent. of secondary schools now have a sex education policy. I hope the remainder will move in that direction. I would guess that there are three areas where many, if not all, of us would like to see improvement. First, we 1424 would like an improvement in the context in which facts about human growth and development, human reproduction, HIV and AIDS are taught, as that is crucial. Education about sex is part of education about healthy living. Young people need to learn these facts in a setting which affirms human dignity and destiny and which affirms the rich potential of human creativity in all its aspects, practical and artistic as well as physical. The setting needs to affirm the importance of the morality of human actions and to affirm and note the consequences of individual choices for society as a whole.
Young people have to learn responsibility for their own decisions and actions. The evidence appears to show that having the facts about their bodies does not of itself induce earlier exploration or experience. However, the context in which the facts are given and handled may in the longer term make all the difference. Here, as elsewhere, I do not believe there are such things as cold facts. There are facts warmed by the context in which they are set.
Secondly, young people need to be engaged at the point they have reached in their pilgrimage of self understanding. They need information which is related to the decisions they face and to the puzzles they experience. Therefore they need facts given to them in a setting where they have the space and freedom to inquire and to bring out their own anxieties and uncertainties. In the area of HIV and AIDS we need to recognise there is a great deal which has to be unlearnt as well as a great deal which has to be learnt.
In large measure young people themselves ought in an ideal world to set the pace of sexual education. A wise sex education policy might well include provision for informing parents about when sensitive information is being given to children so that parents are prepared for the follow-up questions which will no doubt arise at home. I suggest that many parents will value help and advice in how to handle those questions from their own children.
Parents may also need assurance that what is being taught at school will not outrage or upset their own proper parental authority. Young people—and, I dare to suggest, those of us who are much older—need to learn and to relearn that sexual activity is part but only part of the art of building lasting, fulfilling human relationships.
That leads me to my third point, which concerns the crucial importance of the teacher. It is one thing to have a sex education policy but it is another thing to deliver it. It is no surprise, but it is a significant fact, that 68 per cent. of LEAs identified teachers' feelings of embarrassment as one of the most obvious obstacles to a sound sex education. Only a minority of teachers have been given special training for that task. Much more needs to be done. If we are to give teachers, as I believe we must, that profound and crucial responsibility, if we are to entrust to them responsibility for giving young people essential information about sexuality, healthy living, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS, we owe it to those teachers to provide them with the training and support that they need.
1425 As we all recognise, this is a very delicate and difficult area, but we recognise that children must be given the information that they need. What we are uncertain about and what we seek further clarification about is the precise context and way in which that is to be done.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Russell of Liverpool
My Lords, with the leave of the House I have kindly been allowed to bump myself up 10 places on the list of speakers. I am very grateful to the House and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for allowing me to do so. I have a long-standing commitment this evening which I fear may mean that I am unable to stay until the end of the debate, for which I apologise. That was the reason for the change, not my geographical proximity to the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, which might have been confusing.
I am sure that the whole House is extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for giving us the opportunity to review progress to date on this very sensitive area of national curriculum teaching and the opportunity to re-emphasise how very important it is that information on AIDS and HIV is conveyed sensibly, sensitively and effectively in our schools.
Perhaps I should say briefly why I am speaking this evening. I am the father of three very small children—the eldest is only six. I shall do all that is within my power to ensure that they are adequately and appropriately prepared for their lives, both as teenagers and as adults. I also have a particular interest in the subject of health education. On the thankfully rare occasions on which I bore your Lordships with a speech it is usually on that subject. Thirdly, I happen to be a member of the all-party parliamentary group on AIDS so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. I feel that I am at least reasonably well informed about the nature and scale of the challenge which HIV and AIDS present to us all, not simply as inhabitants of the United Kingdom but even as members of the human race.
From what I have said so far it is probably clear that I am strongly in favour of knowledge as the best possible defence against this debilitating, infamous and, it would appear, largely terminal virus. Because of the notoriety of the virus, because it is in large part sexually transmitted, and because in some parts of the world it strikes particularly strongly in the male homosexual community, it is only to be expected that there should be concern about giving information about the virus in a way which minimises its spread while also minimising any distress and embarrassment caused by discussion of some of its means of transmission.
Distress and embarrassment seem to be focused in three main areas of concern: first, that some people take the view that educating children about the means of transmission will encourage them to experiment for themselves with both novel sexual positions and even new sexual orientations; secondly, that AIDS and HIV are statistically insignificant within the population as a whole and that a virus which strikes largely at the urban male homosexual community should be 1426 tackled at source and discussion of it not inflicted upon the rest of us; thirdly, that discussion of the virus should not be forced upon those religious and ethnic communities which find the whole issue morally repugnant and spiritually offensive.
I have great sympathy with that last concern and would urge the Department of Education, governors, teachers and parents to follow the example of certain schools in the London area which are successfully teaching about HIV and AIDS within the science part of the curriculum in areas where there are very high proportions of, for example, Moslem children, with the full support of their parents and local religious leaders. It can be done and it is being done.
Consultation between parents, governors and teachers is desirable, essential and, indeed, is already provided for in drawing up a school's sex education policy. I welcome and strongly encourage such consultation provided that it takes place within the context of deciding how such subjects can best be taught and not whether they should be taught at all. The core curriculum is just that: it is a form of educational spinal cord. By all means decide which form of posture is most appropriate for a school's particular circumstances and by all means emphasise the moral context, but if consultation means the right to decide to remove vertebrae then I am strongly against it. I hope that the Minister will be able to be crystal clear in her reply in stating whether the Government feel that a school should have the right to opt out of any part of the core curriculum.
I return briefly to the other areas of concern which I mentioned—that education about HIV transmission might encourage copycat behaviour and irresponsibility, and that AIDS and HIV is a problem affecting only a small minority of the population and poses little danger to the population at large. I should like to discuss those in the context of the second and third parts of the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard—those allowing teachers to opt out and allowing parents to remove their children from particular lessons.
Two large and authoritative studies—the Rockefeller Foundation Report of 1984 and the Jones Report on teenage pregnancy of 1985—indicated clearly that sex education inculcates greater and not lesser responsibility in sexual behaviour. It is sometimes said that attack can be the best means of defence. In these circumstances I feel most strongly that it is knowledge which is the best form of both attack and defence. I would call as a witness a schoolchild participant in one of the HIV/AIDS events held by the National AIDS Trust during 1990 and 1991, supported and financed by the Health Education Authority. The child said:Sex education has to talk about reality. You can't censor life, you can only censor education. We are going to find out anyway, so isn't it much better to know the facts than the myths?".Is HIV/AIDS a minority problem? Should one only target information narrowly at those user groups most statistically affected? In the UK the groups most affected are expanding enormously. By 1991, 24 per cent. of HIV infection was the result of heterosexual activity and the proportion is rising every year. The 1427 proportion of under 25 year-olds who are HIV positive is also rising fast. The majority of those individuals will have acquired the virus since it started receiving publicity and since it became the subject of government campaigns. The message has not got through to them. We owe it to their younger brothers and sisters and to the generations behind them to arm them with the necessary information that AIDS and HIV have the potential to harm each and every one of them.
I have some sympathy for the discomfort which many teachers and parents feel when confronted with the subject. However, I am entirely unconvinced that a statutory right for either party to opt out themselves or their children is a step forward. Certainly, no teacher should be forced to teach the subject against his or her will and no parents should be forced to have their children attend sex education classes if it deeply offends their religious beliefs. But in both cases I believe that these are matters which should be resolved between the governors, teachers and parents of the school concerned. What is critical and, in my view, indisputable is that the result of this process of resolution should be in the interests of the child, not of the parents, governors or teachers. It should be in the interests of the child.
The other day I heard a sad story. It has a particular poignancy because I expect we can all remember circumstances in our own childhood when we wholly misunderstood something and went through agonies of indecision and worry as a result. An eight year-old boy arrived back from school in a distraught state. He sobbed to his mother that because he had not paid a great deal of attention to his classes that afternoon, his teacher had accused him of being ignorant, and that must mean that he had contracted the HIV virus and would ultimately die. Disentangling the thread of his thoughts from his sobs his mother realised that the culprit was the major government sponsored campaign entitled "AIDS—Don't die of ignorance".
Knowledge is the key. Knowledge is the best deterrent, the best contraceptive and the best anti-viral remedy that we possess. Let us disseminate that knowledge wisely, sensitively, always accurately and in full. I feel most strongly that my children have the right to expect that of their school and of this country.
I sympathise with the genuine concern that has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. A clear response from the Minister will be greatly appreciated by all sides of the House. When the Government's intentions are completely clear, the consultation process about the most effective way to teach this subject will be greatly facilitated. I also warmly endorse what the right reverend Prelate said about the Government's views on the funding for adequate training for teachers of this very difficult subject.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Brigstocke
My Lords, I greatly respect the motive of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, in moving this Motion. He is quite properly concerned 1428 for the spiritual, moral and physical health and well-being of children. I hope that in turn he will respect my motive for disagreeing with him.
I too am properly concerned for the health and well-being of children. I see Key Stage 3 of the national curriculum as the appropriate and proper stage to start schoolchildren learning, in the words of the revised national curriculum, how the healthy functioning of the human body may be affected by diet, lifestyle, bacteria and viruses, including the human immuno-deficiency virus, the abuse of solvents, tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.
The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to the booklet HIV amp; AIDS, which is subtitled A Guide for the Education Service. It is in no way intended as a school textbook. Teachers need themselves to have factual information. That does not mean that they will teach all that is in the booklet.
I should like to draw attention to another document published by what used to be the Department of Education and Science; namely, Curriculum Matters 6, "Health Education from 5 to 16". Paragraph 44 on "The scope of sex education" reads:The importance of sexual relationships in all our lives is such that sex education is a crucial part of preparing children for their lives now and in the future as adults and parents. In sex education factual information about the physical aspects of sex, though important, is not more important than a consideration of the qualities of relationships in family life and of values, standards and the exercise of personal responsibility as they affect individuals and the community at large. It is therefore quite common to find sex education taught as part of a programme of personal and social education,"—known in schools now as PSE—sometimes in conjunction with religious education, as well as of a health education programme".Nowadays in schools there is much teamwork on a subject as important as sex education. My experience of schools has been that there is very much a team effort in this field. While the facts may come within the science part of the curriculum, the personal and social education programme will be covered most adequately and very sensitively by the teachers of religion, the school nurse (who can take a very strong part in this teaching) and even teachers of English and History. If sex education is to be, as it should be, a part overall of health and wider education, it will come into every part of the curriculum.
I hope I can reassure your Lordships with two other documents which I urge noble Lords to read if they have not already done so. One is A Framework for School Sex Education, published by the Sex Education Forum. It has been endorsed by a great number of organisations—far too many for me to detail now. Perhaps I may just mention the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, the Jewish Marriage Council and the Methodist Church Division of Education and Youth. There is also a very important pamphlet published by the Health Education Authority which gives an outline of the training course which is directed at all those concerned with education and health—the health professionals, who have responsibility for training teachers in this area. A great deal of effort is now being put into helping teachers so that they can 1429 overcome the problems that have already been mentioned of embarrassment and, in many cases, lack of knowledge.
Education and health go hand in hand. In the last century Joseph Lister propounded the principle that bacteria must never gain entry to an operation wound. For that pioneering work in preventive medicine Joseph Lister was honoured with a peerage and a place in your Lordships' House. The team effort of the Department of Education, health professionals and teachers today is pioneering as effective a method of preventive medicine as possible to prevent the spread of this recently discovered virus. Antiseptics conquered bacteria in the 19th century. Education is the only hope we have at the moment to conquer the HIV virus in the 20th century.
In 1990 the Health Education Authority carried out research among 10,000 16 to 19 year-olds. Almost half of them said that they had been sexually active and nearly one third of them had had full sexual intercourse. The older they were and the more partners they had, the less likely they were to use condoms. Contraception to prevent pregnancy was seen as more important than safer sex.
The Health Education Authority believes that it is important for young people to have sound and appropriate sex education before they become sexually active. There is no evidence that sex education leads to promiscuity. It is mistaken to believe that children come to school as empty vessels and can be preserved in a state of innocence until adults decide that they are old enough to learn. Research by the Health Education Authority and others shows that even very young children have acquired information and formed opinions—often quite the wrong ones, as we have already heard—about health issues, including HIV and AIDS. Research indicates that children receive health messages from their environment and the media as well as from their parents. That is interpreted by them in a strictly literal sense to fit their own experience of the world around them. School health education needs to take account of the source of those health messages and of children's experiences. Teachers can then plan health education from the children's perspective, identify their health education needs and build a progressive programme in preparation for the HIV component contained within the statutory order for science.
Children want more information. A study carried out by Isabelle Allen for the Centre for Policy Studies indicated that 98 per cent. of school children want sex education in schools. It warns us not to confuse innocence with ignorance. The headmistress of Chapter School, a non-selective girls' school in Rochester in Kent tells me that in a recent survey carried out by Exeter University on what pupils think of school assemblies, one group of 12 year-olds said that they wanted more talks and information about "things like HIV and AIDS". Yet, according to a survey published yesterday, a quarter of schools have no sex education policy although that has been a statutory requirement since 1987. As stated so well in 1430 a letter to the Independent today, and stated in slightly different words, again very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, we ought to be asking how we can best teach the subject, not whether we should do so. Many parents also want more information from schools on these sensitive health issues.
The overall picture is this. Some aspects of sex education are contained in the national curriculum orders for science, Life and Living Processes. Five to seven year-olds (key stage one) should learn that,living things reproduce their own kind",and eight to 11 year-olds (key stage two) should,understand the process of reproduction in mammals".Eleven to 14 year-olds (key stage three) should,understand the process of conception in human beings [and] know about the physical and emotional changes that take place during adolescence and understand the need to have responsible attitudes to sexual behaviour".In the delivery of the national curriculum in all its stages, consultation and involvement of parents, governors and teachers are not only desirable but essential. Consultation on a school's sex education programme is in fact required by law.
The core curriculum provides a basic framework for knowledge which is available to all young people which parents, teachers and governors can then present in a sensitive manner appropriate to the young people's age and stage of development. If the intention behind the Motion is that the consultation process might lead to schools not teaching this part of the core curriculum, that would have serious implications for other core curriculum subjects and potentially could open the floodgates to other areas being debated and removed.
There are other potential implications which are gravely worrying. If a conscience clause was interpreted as being a way of avoiding teaching the subject in the school, it would be totally unacceptable in that that would deny young people access to vital and possibly life saving information. Similarly, at present it is left to the discretion of governing bodies to decide whether parents can withdraw their children from sex education classes because of religious beliefs. I believe that that is the most appropriate way in which to ensure local sensitivity and respect for parental opinion.
Teachers have rights, parents have rights and children have rights. It could be five, 10, 15 or 20 years before today's school children will profit from the sensible health education that they received as part of key stage 3 science. We dare not put those precious children who are our charges at risk for the whole of their future lives through needless ignorance. We must debate how best to implement the revised science curriculum, not whether to do so.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for raising this important issue, although I cannot agree with his solution.
Since the order that we are discussing relates to the science curriculum, it is worth saying a word on the basic science of HIV and AIDS, although it has not been referred to. In recent weeks many noble Lords 1431 will have seen some considerable space in the press devoted to a theory that HIV does not cause AIDS and is not involved in its transmission in any way. That is certainly not the view of the majority of scientists concerned with the matter in this country. The group that I have the honour to chair held a well attended meeting on 2nd June at which that view was roundly refuted by some eminent scientists and the Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health. I shall be happy to circulate a report of that meeting to any Member of your Lordships' House, whether or not he is a member of our group.
If HIV is the cause of AIDS, which is the opinion of the vast majority of scientists, and if HIV is sexually transmitted, among other ways, it seems absurd not to mention that in both the science curriculum and the more optional field of sex education.
I turn briefly to British Government policy which has been notably successful in containing AIDS compared with that of comparable European countries. On a comparable population basis, we have about half the incidence of Italy and one third of that in France and Spain. We need to ask ourselves why that is so. Although no effort has been spared in this country on treatment or research, the answer has to be prevention. That was reiterated strongly by the Chief Medical Officer at the meeting to which I referred. Despite our relative success compared with other countries, there is nonetheless significant evidence of a slow heterosexual spread into the general population, to which the Chief Medical Officer also alluded.
In his thoughtful and well informed speech, the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, gave some figures. I need not repeat them. It would be a great mistake to retreat from any of the positions that have contributed or could contribute to the continuing success of government policy.
Turning to the Motion, there are a number of points which I wish to bring into play. Several have been mentioned already and therefore I shall be brief. First, I wish to deal with the breadth of opposition to the order. Much play has been made about the 4,000 letters of protest received by the department. I understand that nearly all of them came through a campaign orchestrated by the Plymouth Brethren, whose total membership in the United Kingdom according to the Christian Handbook for 1992–93 is 12,018. It is not therefore a large religious community. Apparently it carried out a similar campaign against the inclusion of computer technology in the national curriculum. I do not believe that it can be considered to be a representative group.
As regards other religious groups, it is certainly not the case that opposition is total. At a recent meeting of our own group we heard Mr. David Lankshear, deputy secretary and school secretary of the National Society (Church of England) for Promoting Religious Education at Church House. He said that many heads of Church of England schools felt that Key Stage 3 was the appropriate stage for the subject. However, there were some schools in inner London which felt that the subject should be introduced earlier in the age bracket, while outer London schools felt that it should be introduced later. There is sufficient flexibility for 1432 that to occur—at any rate that is my understanding. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford asked the same question and therefore it will be interesting to know from the Government whether that flexibility exists.
Catholic AIDS Link appears to share the Church of England view. Furthermore, it has suggested that if pupils are withdrawn there is a moral responsibility on parents to provide the information.
But casting our net wider than the Churches, it is interesting to note that a survey carried out in 1987 found that an overwhelming 96 per cent. of parents wanted sex education to take place in schools. There is, of course, a right of withdrawal in that regard, but when a school has adopted a sex education policy there are hardly any instances of the right being exercised. On the whole, parents in the United Kingdom appear to believe that such matters are better handled in schools. Where the science of AIDS is concerned, the belief that information should come from the school is likely to be even more widespread.
Another factor that we should not overlook is that, although we are talking, perhaps agonising, about Key Stage 3, there is among children much younger than 11 a great deal of confused knowledge about AIDS. The noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, read out a note from the Health Education Authority. I had intended to quote from it but she has done so for me. The Royal College of Nursing holds the same opinion. In a letter the general secretary wrote:Finally, research has shown that from multi-media sources, children have an awareness, and more to the point misinformation about HIV and AIDS … All the more reason for teachers to be charged with correcting this situation".I venture to query whether a group of elderly people—perhaps with the exception of my noble friend Lord Russell of Liverpool—assembled in this gilded Chamber has much knowledge or even conception about what goes on in primary school playgrounds. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford mentioned graffiti, magazines and many influences of that kind. I have even heard of cases in primary school playgrounds where the word AIDS has been used by young children as a swear-word or even as a curse. Yet here we are worrying about introducing them to the subject at the age of 11 or perhaps up to 14.
A further canard is that such teaching gives children ideas that they would not otherwise have and that it encourages them in promiscuity. But strong evidence indicates that increased levels of sex education are correlated to a higher age for first sexual encounters and to a lower rate of teenage pregnancy and abortion. That was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, and my noble friend Lord Russell, who gave the sources of those surveys.
I turn now to the specifics of the Motion. Consultation already exists on the sex education side of the coin. It would not normally exist on mandatory areas of the curriculum. However, as I have suggested, there is no reason why there should not be a variable response as to when to introduce teaching on HIV and AIDS within the overall scope of Key Stage 3, which is normally applicable to children aged between 11 1433 and 14. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, in his original Question tabled in March, before the election, spoke of 13 as being an acceptable age. That might well be the view of some schools and I know of nothing which would stop them proceeding in that way. Of course, we await the Government's confirmation on that matter. Alternatively, as I have suggested, it might be wise to introduce such teaching earlier in our urban schools—for example, those in London—with a higher incidence of HIV and AIDS.
If accepted, conscience clauses would give rise to some curious anomalies. I do not deny that some teachers might not wish to teach about HIV/AIDS on moral grounds. But I venture to suggest that by far the bigger problem is that many teachers may feel unhappy with the subject on grounds of lack of competence and lack of adequate training in a sensitive subject area. Surely that is a matter for pre-service and in-service training, as was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. It is in any case an area in which no sensible head will force a teacher against his sincere objections and will delegate the job to someone more willing and able. Furthermore, if opting out of teaching became widespread, the large majority of parents who want their children to be informed could be unfairly confronted with a patchy service across the country so that those wanting such teaching would not obtain it.
The final prong of the noble Lord's Motion, added only a couple of days ago—it would confer a right of withdrawal on parents—is the one with which I have the least difficulty. I can envisage some religious or ethnic groups which would prefer not to participate. However, I would believe that to be unwise and I believe that with Catholic AIDS Link a moral duty would evolve on the parents to fill the gap.
As regards the offending booklet mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, and quoted from by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, it is guidance for teachers, lecturers and youth workers. Perhaps it might benefit from some improvement and updating, but it is not intended for raw consumption in the classroom. The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, complained that there was no moral guidance in the science curriculum and that therefore that was an inappropriate place to teach these issues. It must be remembered that the science curriculum is not expected to do the whole job. The vast majority of schools have adopted a sex education policy. Only 6 per cent. have decided against sex education, while some 20 per cent. are still undecided. In nearly three-quarters of schools scientific presentation will be supplemented by sex education in a wider moral context. That matter appeared to cause some noble Lords anxiety.
All in all, I hope that the Government will not accept the Motion and will stick to the decision made by Mr. Clarke when Secretary of State and to the position taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Denton of Wakefield, on 5th March. If they wish to move from that position we are entitled to know why. I and others have demonstrated that there are no grounds for complacency in our dealings with this 1434 virus, despite the relative success of this country which I have mentioned. It would be a thousand pities if the Government were to take any steps which conflict with or weaken in any way their successful policy to date. I hope that that is what we shall hear from the noble Baroness when she winds up the debate.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I find it quite incredible that a Conservative Government should he preparing to oppose my noble friend's Motion. Let us see again what it says. It says:to amend the order to allow for consultation between parents, governors and teachers covering the teaching programmes on AIDS/HIV for 11–14 year old children; and to provide a conscience clause to allow teachers not to teach this subject to children of this age, and to allow parents to withdraw their children from particular lessons".I should have thought that the Conservative Party and a Conservative Government would be in favour of everything that is said in that proposed Motion. I find it surprising that the right reverend Prelate could not support my noble friend.
Conscience clauses have been inserted in much legislation. Indeed, Part IV, Clause 76 of the Education Act 1944 gives parents the right to ensure that their children are educated in accordance with their wishes. As far as I know, that has never been repealed. Sikhs are allowed not to wear helmets on building sites in spite of the fact that that might endanger themselves and many of their colleagues. Time and time again conscience clauses are allowed but apparently they are not allowed to teachers and to parents.
I find it strange and incredible that so many speakers should not wish governors, parents and teachers to be consulted on matters of this kind. It is quite clear that teachers need to be consulted and helped. I am sure that all noble Lords will have seen the reports in the newspapers yesterday. I should like to quote from an article in the Independent headed:Children 'denied proper sex education"'.It states:Thousands of schoolchildren are being denied adequate sex education in schools because teachers are too embarrassed to tackle the subject in depth and governors cannot agree what form it should take".Therefore, already there is difficulty because teachers have not been properly consulted and trained. And yet, we are to impose a new duty on them to teach about AIDS and HIV.
Another paragraph in the article states:Education authorities frequently reported that teachers shied away from the subject. 'Some are uncomfortable teaching sex education, even after training', one health education co-ordinator said. Another said, 'teacher confidence, especially among males' was a problem".Therefore, teachers already have a problem teaching sex education and yet we are proposing, without any conscience clause or consultation, to impose yet another duty which will cause even more difficulty for them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, said that this pamphlet is not to be used and will not be used as a textbook and that, in fact, the teaching would not be based on anything in it. And yet, page 13 of the pamphlet states: 1435The basis of any teaching offered",that is, teaching on HIV and AIDS:should be the presentation of straightforward, factual information about the virus and about modes of transmission of infection—along the lines of the information provided in the early part of this booklet—in order to balance the incomplete and inaccurate impression which pupils may have gained from other sources".We are assured that this pamphlet, which contains some lurid stuff, is really insignificant but the pamphlet says that its contents are to be the basis of teaching.
It seems to me that the Government are forcing schools to introduce ideas and concepts which would not normally occur to children, if that booklet is anything to go by. Indeed —and this concerns many of us here this evening and many of us not here this evening—it seems to me that homosexuality and heterosexuality are presented as moral equivalents. Most people in this country simply will not accept that.
In my view the order is yet another erosion of parental rights. It is the sacrifice of a parent's rights to guide the moral well-being of their children and it is sacrificing it to the newest politically correct attitude. Members of this House and another place then wonder why parents want to slough off their responsibilities when the state tells them that they may not have a conscience about what is taught to their children in our schools on matters of sex and sexual morality. As I say, it is little wonder that parents are becoming concerned about the state's attitude towards their ability to bring up their own children.
The Parent's Charter, which was put before the electorate at the last election, specifically provides that there should be choice. Where is the choice here to the parents as to whether their children should be taught in accordance with their own views and concepts? That right is being taken away from them and there is no conscience clause.
Even more incredible, if reports are to be believed, is that Conservative Ministers are now considering reducing the age of consent for homosexual acts from 21 to 16. Therefore, through this order, on the one hand the Government are seeking to prevent the spread of AIDS but, on the other hand, if reports are to be believed, they are considering—and I hope that those reports will be denied this evening—measures which must increase the practice of sodomy, which is a major cause of avoidable AIDS. Have they gone completely mad or are they in the grip of a powerful minority group determined to manipulate public opinion and the law to their ends and for their own purposes?
It is absolutely certain that Conservative Ministers are not listening to the electorate and are certainly not listening to their own party members. I wonder whether they consulted them before tabling this order. Did they even consult the Conservative Family Campaign which, just before the election, sent me a letter begging for a donation, though why they should send it to me I do not know. Of course I did not send a donation. I shall first wait to see what their attitude is towards the order. People as distinguished as Sir Bernard Braine, who is president of the organisation, 1436 and the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing—a Member of this House—are all concerned with the organisation. My guess is that the Government did not consult the Conservative Family Campaign group. Perhaps they did and I am doing them an injustice. If so, when the noble Baroness replies, perhaps she will tell us the response.
It would be wrong to suggest that the Government are without friends in this matter. We see many of them in the House tonight. I do not know how, many there are on council and other estates throughout the country. According to an opinion poll 70 per cent. of the population would wish to be consulted about the matter. What is certain is that they have one friend in Capital Gay. It is a weekly newsheet for lesbians and gay men. It clearly supports the Government. On Friday 5th June it carried an article featuring my noble friend Lord Stallard and his amendment. Had I not seen the article I may not have spoken tonight.
The article states,The amendment, planned for debate on Thursday next week, has been slammed by Aids workers, who called the move `mindboggling.' Ceri Hutton, policy development officer at the National Aids Trust said they would light the move all the way through the Parliamentary process. She told Capital Gay: 'There is no way that religious or moral beliefs should get in the way of safer sex education"'.We are there being told that moral and religious beliefs should not get in the way of what the state lays down as being proper safer sex education. In the last paragraph the article states,And while HIV and Aids does not specifically fit into lobbying group Stonewall's agenda, chief executive Ann Bond said the proposed amendment would put young people at risk because of their prejudices. Lord Stallard should look at his own conscience".Clearly my noble friend has looked at his conscience. He has looked at it long and clearly. His conscience tells him, as my conscience tells me—let me make clear that unlike my noble friend I have no religious conscience—that it is not the state's business to ride roughshod over the consciences of other people. The prime duty to educate their children lies not with the state but with the parents. Let us never forget that. If in all conscience parents feel—whether religious or otherwise—that the state is not educating their child in matters of AIDS and HIV in a way which satisfies their own conscience, then those parents should have the right to say no.
That is all my noble friend is asking. He is asking that parents, teachers and governors be consulted. If they have a conscience then, in the last analysis, they should be allowed to exercise it. What, in the name of God in a democratic society, is wrong with that?
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord Coleraine
My Lords, the House may be surprised, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, may be shocked, to learn that I wish this evening to say a few words on behalf of the Christians known as the Brethren, or Plymouth Brethren, and to support their claim that as a matter of conscience they should be entitled to withdraw their children from lessons where the manner in which HIV is spread and steps to counter the spread are taught. That claim is not to be confused with the claim of conscience put 1437 forward, which I also share, that these matters should not be in a science syllabus; that if they are to be taught they should be taught within the sex curriculum where there is more room for teaching to be set in a moral framework.
The Brethren have been assiduous in their attempts to bring these matters before Parliament. I have been appealed to by one of them of my acquaintance. I have taken the opportunity also to question those of the Brethren who have been most assiduous in bringing their views to our attention in the hope that I may understand something of the views which are common to the Brethren. I sense that it would be presumptuous of me, a Roman Catholic, to claim to understand the full depth of their teachings or properly to express their case to the House this evening in any complete and fully understanding way. Perhaps for that reason I shall be brief.
Having said that, I understand that the Brethren find their rules of life and belief in the scriptures—the books of the New Testament. They hold in particular that they are to be and to live separate from evil. I understand that arising from that they find most orthodox Christians to be in error. I assume, put most simply, that it is because of our attitude to evil that they hold themselves apart from us. They seek to live in the world but not of it. A scriptural text they brought to my attention is to be found in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans:I will have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil".The Brethren wish to teach their children about sexual matters within the family. First and foremost they wish to teach that the rule is that there should be chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. With that rule I wonder what need they and their children have to know of the possible spread of HIV by deviant sexual practices.
I conclude on this simple note. I could go on to ask whether children taught in that way are more likely to contract HIV than children stuffed with information. But I believe that that pragmatic question would not be consistent with the beliefs of the Brethren. So I merely ask that the consciences of the Brethren and of others who hold the same beliefs should now be respected and that they should have the right to take their children out of the teaching of HIV matters in the sex curriculum.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Lord Robertson of Oakridge
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for raising this matter in your Lordships' House. I am concerned with the content of what it is proposed to teach 11 to 14 year-olds under the order. I shall confine my remarks to the danger of acquiring AIDS through sexual activity.
Because of the gravity of the threat of AIDS I understand why the Government want to make the teaching compulsory. However, such a move makes it all the more important to get the content of that 1438 teaching right. In particular, it must be appropriate to the age of the children concerned and it must also be frank and realistic, even if the message is hard to take.
In my opinion the material being provided by the DES contains some points that are inappropriate to youngsters of 14, let alone 11. However, I do not want to pursue that aspect of the matter at this time.
Quite rightly, the material advises against casual sex, multiple sex and sexual experimentation in risky situations. It also advises the use of condoms. In other words, children are advised to adopt the so-called safer sexual practice. Provided that that does not lead to illegal acts and under-age sex, all that is good as far as it goes. However, to think that will be enough to ward off AIDS completely is to delude ourselves and to mislead the children being taught. Just to take one point, condoms have never been foolproof as a means of contraception and they are unlikely to provide a 100 per cent. defence against AIDS. It seems to me that to leave safer sex there would be rather like running an anti-smoking campaign and saying to people that they should smoke low-tar content cigarettes but not going on to say that they should not smoke at all if they want to enjoy good health.
The material does not appear to spell out with sufficient emphasis the hard truth, that if any two people have a sexual relationship without knowing for certain that they are both free of HIV or AIDS infection they are playing a form of Russian roulette with their lives. Yet that is the key point which has to be got across to all of us, however much we want to believe differently. As regards sexual relations, the only safe way, other than total abstinence, is for two people, themselves free from infection, to be partners, and faithful partners at that, for life. That is what I understand God to say to us through the Bible.
In recent years society has grown to assume that many young people automatically will have a sexual relationship as soon as they are old enough. When young people do so to some extent they are fulfilling that assumption. If they are to survive the AIDS epidemic they must be warned of the dangers and taught that there is another way. That way was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, when he quoted the World Health Organisation saying that the most effective way to prevent HIV transmission is to abstain from sexual intercourse or for two uninfected individuals to remain faithful to each other.
It is not a question of moralising but of facing the facts. The watchword must be one person, one partner, for life. Because I feel that at the very least the emphasis in the DES material is wrong, I support the Motion.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, I support my noble friend. I am delighted that at last he is getting some support. I am staggered particularly by some members of my own teaching profession who seem unable to read the terms of the Motion. It is very simple in what it asks and I say that to the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke. It is not saying that there should not be health education. There is no such suggestion. The fact is that sex education was originally included in a 1439 totally different way. It is now being transferred into science and that has changed the whole concept: The fact is that parents cannot now use a conscience clause but they could before.
There is nothing very strange about withdrawing children from a particular subject or withdrawing because of a conscience clause. I was educated at a Catholic school, and all Protestants and Jews who attended at that school had the right to withdraw their children from religious education. No one ever thought that that was strange. Those children did not miss any other part of the curriculum. We must give the parents and the teachers the right and ensure that it cannot be taken away from them. There is an effort to be fashionable. Some of the remarks that some of us make are not fashionable any more. Conscience—what is that?
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, that is right. One partner—that? I have grandchildren of all ages —I am very blessed—and great-grandchildren. Today's 14 year-olds are not very different from the 14 year-olds in my day. As a teacher I know that if you teach children something and tell them intensively about AIDS and how to avoid it, and if you explain about oral sex and other perversions, a 14 year-old is at just the age to experiment. As my noble friends say, you do not have to use everything in the pamphlet. That point has been put right. Why is it in the pamphlet and given to the teachers? It provides the background.
I watched a group of my grandchildren the other day. I could not see any evidence of this great desire to have some kind of sex. They did exactly the same as the children did when I was teaching: the boys got together in a corner and rather enjoyed pushing one another and the girls got together in another corner discussing things. I could not see any evidence of sex. I have discussed with them whether they see drugs at school and whether they hear this or that. I asked them what they understand. They talked to me freely. You must put over a straightforward message.
I still believe that the Old Testament had something to say. I was delighted when my noble friend mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah. If you wish to see evidence of global warming and of all the other events which are happening, you have only to reread the Old Testament, the literature about the fall of the Roman Empire, if you want to be a little more up to date, or the fall of the Greek Empire. Those accounts include greed, perversion and all the matters which will become prevalent in our society if we are not very careful.
I know it is unfashionable, and I am sorry, but in my view it is the duty of the parents to talk to their children about such matters. What kind of parents are they if they cannot explain a simple thing when a small child says "How did I get here?". Do they say, "I am sorry, dear, I cannot tell you that. You had better run and ask the teacher". What total nonsense!
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that AIDS is a killer disease. Applying that test, children should 1440 have explicit information about lung cancer which is also a killer disease. They should also have explicit information about heart disease, cancer of the pancreas and various other illnesses which are all killer diseases. Those matters can be included in health education. I cannot quite see where they can be fitted into science. That is the whole point. These issues are being shifted from one subject to another because of a particular order.
I believe that some of your Lordships have not visited schools lately. It is now quite acceptable to have boys and girls in every school. I do not care who you are, but it is not easy to give sex education to a mixed class of teenagers. I have listened to the people who give it in the social sense. They very dispassionately talk about this kind of thing and say: "Oh, you want to know about an orgasm. Well, it is something like this". We are talking about the basic aspects of human life which are love and procreation because we want children. These are the kind of subjects which we have to discuss with our children.
My noble friend is asking for something which is very simple, but what he has had to put up with! He has had all kinds of insulting letters. It is even worse if you say anything about dogs! There have been some very insulting letters about that subject. I have had hundreds of letters from parents, not cranks. I give this warning to the Government: several parents have said to me: "Why cannot we have a Bill that will make some of these issues totally legal, such as the right to withdraw?" We do not want to become threatening, but the parents feel very strongly about these matters. Rather unfashionably, some of us have tried to voice these issues. I know that the Minister is a woman of great understanding. We hope that, if she cannot give us the answers, she will at least pass on the questions to her noble friend. After all, Mr. John Patten is a very good practising Catholic. I note that he has not returned to listen to what we have to say. I must have a chat with him one day. How does a Minister think? Does one put one's conscience or one's job first? Although one cannot have everything, I was a bit disappointed by the right royal—
§ Baroness Phillips
Yes, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. All this reading about the Royals has been confusing me.
I like a clear message. If I ask somebody something, such as, "Can I do this or not?", I do not want that person to dissemble and to say, "On the one hand, but then again on the other hand." I want a yes or no answer. There is nothing wrong with our children that we cannot help them with and there is nothing wrong with our teachers, but let us give them at least some rights if they really do not want to teach this particular subject.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for introducing this Motion for our consideration today. It raises a 1441 most important topic and I fully support the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord and those underlying the Motion.
I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. I, too, should like to hear a clear message. Unfortunately, however, this is not a dead simple subject about which we can be given a crystal clear message. I would align myself rather more with all that my noble friend Lady Cox has said, and despite the strictures that he received from the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford has said. This is a complex issue which needs the careful consideration that your Lordships have been giving it this afternoon.
I must apologise for I have a prior commitment and therefore cannot stay for the wind-up speeches which I should very much have liked to hear. I look forward to reading in Hansard tomorrow the reply of my noble friend the Minister to the questions that have been put to her. However, as I have said, I have a prior commitment for which I am already extremely late.
If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, correctly, he said that he hoped that this debate would not be about whether such teaching should be given, but about how it should be given. Therefore, in answer to what my noble friend Lady Brigstocke said, I hope that the debate on the question of how such teaching is to be given in our schools will continue. As I see it, we are all agreed on the necessity for such teaching.
Some have said that the teaching should be left to the parents. I am a parent and, like others, think that it is often easier for those who are not the parents to give such teaching. I do not believe that I have been as perfect in my dealings with my children on this subject as I should have liked. It is not easy. However, parents undoubtedly have a vital role to play and co-operation between parents and teachers is vital if this issue is to be dealt with adequately. I understand that, by far and away in most circumstances, such teaching is excellently given in our schools. However, there is undoubtedly a minority of schools in which it is not handled correctly.
Although we are dealing not only with the sexual method of the transmission of HIV and AIDS, but also with all the other methods, most of our discussion has centred on the sexual issue. I should like to endorse what some noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oak ridge, have said, that the only safe way of not transmitting this disease sexually is total abstinence. As a Christian, I believe in the value of that and in the importance of stating it. From what I have read I understand that the use of condoms provides only a 95 to 97 per cent. safe method. I have been distressed by the DES guidelines that suggest that the use of condoms is a totally safe method. I believe that that is a misleading view which could be dangerous. If the guidelines are to be revised, I hope that there will be a change of emphasis along those lines.
I should like to comment briefly on the three sections of the Motion. First, I totally endorse the necessity—not just the importance—ofconsultation between parents, governors and teachers1442 as expressed in the Motion. I hope that the guidelines will emphasise that that consultation must be real, not just theoretical. All parties have a vital role to play.
I should also like to pick up what the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Guildford said about the value of schools informing parents about when teaching about HIV and AIDS is to be given. I say that for two reasons—first, so that the parents are ready and can have gathered the information that they need themselves; and secondly, so that parents can put this subject in the context of family values. I appreciate that that will be an extra bit of administration for schools and a pain; but if it can be done, I believe that it will be valuable every time.
The withdrawal of teachers would be unusual. However, if a teacher has a real conscience about the administration of such teaching especially to such a very young age group—and I accept that that is possible—I believe that there should be a right to pass such teaching to another teacher. There should be consultation with headmasters and headmistresses so that the right person is correctly equipped to carry out such teaching. Providing training and help for teachers is crucial given that we are talking about this young age group. I shall return to this point in greater detail in a moment. I hope that more training and help can be given to teachers because 10 times more sensitivity is needed when teaching this subject to this age group than when dealing with an older age group.
I turn now to the question of the right to withdraw children from such teaching. Let me say outright that I am unhappy about parents being given the right to withdraw their children from this teaching unless other effective teaching is substituted for it. The facts are important—especially for the older age group with which we are dealing. If such pupils miss out on some of the relevant facts, such as some of the dangers involved and the reasons for total abstinence or for taking other precautions, great injury could be caused.
My noble friend Lord Liverpool has already suggested to your Lordships that ACET—the AIDS Care Education and Training organisation—should be permitted to conduct this teaching. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister could comment on whether that might be an alternative way of providing the teaching. If this matter was put in a Christian, biblical, sensible and sensitive context, many of the anxieties that parents and others have expressed about this subject could be overcome. ACET's people are trained, equipped and experienced in providing such teaching.
The question of how far parents should have the right to withdraw their children from national curriculum teaching is a difficult issue and one over which I shall leave a question mark.
I turn now to the age groups involved. I have discussed this matter with headmasters in order to sound out their experiences and views in the light of having had to administer this subject. It is disquieting to learn that some schools do not have an adequate policy. I hope that those schools which do not will think through these issues and will not shove them 1443 under the carpet. I am doubtful on the whole about whether it is right to administer any teaching on this subject to 11 year-olds.
I should like guidelines to schools to cover that issue. We are talking about the 11 to 14 age group because that is what is being stated; but I am doubtful about that. I suspect that it is right on the whole to give to 12 and 13 year-olds the scientific facts but to leave to 13 and 14 year-olds the emotional issues that are involved. This requires great sensitivity. I do not feel that the current guidelines are sensitive enough. Someone said that they are too heavy handed. Perhaps in the light of experience and what has gone on since their issue there will be scope in the coming year or two for their contents to be reconsidered.
I should like to take up the question of the right reverend Prelate on the context in which teaching is to be given. I believe that it should be given in the context of human relationships and of the family. That issue is sadly neglected.
In conclusion, I believe that this is an important issue. It needs to be treated with greater sensitivity. I hope that there will be a wider consultation on it.
§ Lord Robertson of Oakridge
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, I did not want to break into his well thought out speech but he was kind enough to comment on mine. He said that I was in favour of total abstinence. That would solve the housing problem rather quickly—total abstinence outside marriage.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for giving us the opportunity of debating this most important matter. I hold the noble Lord in the highest esteem. He is one of the most caring and kind Members of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord and I share the same denomination in our Christian faith. I can understand the concern that the noble Lord and other noble Lords and Baronesses have in supporting the Motion to amend the order covering the teaching programmes on AIDS and HIV for 11 to 14 year-old children. Some noble Lords may remember that when the Education Reform Bill was passing through the House in 1988 I moved an amendment to include health education and life skills in the curriculum. At numerous conferences and meetings since I have heard many people interested in the promotion of good health say that this is necessary.
Until one has been involved very closely with people dying of AIDS I do not think it is possible fully to realise the devastation and full meaning surrounding the consequences of HIV when it leads to AIDS. AIDS is now a worldwide issue. It is not something vague which might happen in the future. It is with us. We cannot and should not be complacent. However pious and worthy are the sentiments underlying this Motion I do not think one can relax the need for a clear message so that young people growing up realize 1444 that they have to live alongside an infectious virus which is yet not fully understood and which can be a killer.
I should like to quote a passage from The Catholic responses to the challenges of HIV/AIDS education. It reads:As the primary teachers of their children, parents clearly have certain rights and duties as to the education of their children in personal, moral and spiritual matters. This places a responsibility upon parents to ensure that their children develop as healthy, emotional, sexual and spiritual persons. The refusal of parents to allow their children to be taught important information regarding such a major pandemic as HIV could be judged as failing in their responsibility to ensure both physical and sexual, as well as emotional health".Children have inquiring minds. I know that from personal experience. Many children from about five years old want to know why I have to use a wheelchair. When I tell them that I have broken my back they often want to know more about how the spinal cord works and about the nerve supply. Once the explanation has been given, they seem satisfied. I feel that if teachers are going to teach children, many of whom will have inquiring minds, the teachers should be fully equipped to answer questions about the complex subject of the HIV virus and how it can develop into AIDS. Does the Minister feel that the teachers who will be doing this necessary part of education are fully trained and confident? I feel that teachers should opt out of their responsibility only if they feel that they are not adequately prepared to do a satisfactory job. This has been an important strand running through the debate. I hope that the Minister will take this point seriously.
Now that governors and head teachers have more responsibilities in running the schools, I should like to ask the Minister whether there is any way of ensuring that they are fully aware of the meaning of HIV/AIDS, so that they can answer questions which may be forthcoming from concerned parents. Parents should have the opportunity of understanding what their children are being taught, so that there is back-up between children, parents and teachers. In reality it can be difficult for many parents to communicate with children over personal matters. Children and parents can feel embarrassed and there can be a breakdown of good relationships. I sometimes feel that parents feel left out and ill informed. I should also like to ask the Minister whether parents will have a right of appeal if they feel that the way their children are being taught is unacceptable.
With the more open way of discussion which is typical of our modern way of life and with the use of radio and television, the real problems of violence, child abuse, rape and all the difficulties of life are uncovered and talked about in public. AIDS is an added problem, hanging over the world like a dark shadow adding to these dangers. I would hope that our aim will be that all human life should be seen as sacred and that its dignity should be respected and protected. Sensible, responsible education about HIV/AIDS is one way of helping to protect our future generations.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord Ashbourne
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, in urging the Government to amend the statutory order which makes AIDS education compulsory in the science curriculum and to allow for consultation with parents, governors and teachers and for parents to withdraw their children from these lessons if they so wish.
In other areas of legislation the Government have quite correctly encouraged parental responsibility and involvement. It seems odd that this commendable theme has not been followed in this instance. Indeed the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 makes parents and governors responsible for sex education.
I am not against teaching about AIDS in schools, although it may sometimes be more appropriately done in the home. However, I certainly take the view that parents who wish to undertake that role themselves should be permitted to do so and to withdraw their child from the relevant class. Indeed, the guidelines to teachers are negative in approach, containing what I would describe as crude condom-based information and dealing with perverted sexual practices which, in many cases, would not occur to 11 to 14 year-old children.
The order appears specifically to contravene the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, which states that,where sex education is given [in schools] it is given in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life".The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to that provision earlier in his opening speech. The order also cuts across the European Convention on Human Rights and its five protocols. The convention says that when the state assumes the teaching burden it must respect the right of parents,to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions".Finally, it ignores the 1991 Parent's Charter, which deals with parental rights and choice in the education of their children.
The message is clear: if you do not want to get burned, stay away from the fire. Alternatively, put another way: if you want to avoid AIDS, the wisest course of action is chastity outside marriage and fidelity inside marriage. Surely that is the message that the Government should be advocating, rather than a mishmash of somewhat questionable clinical measures which may inhibit the spread of the AIDS/HIV virus.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I did not originally intend to speak in the debate because I did not wish to oppose my noble friend Lord Stallard, for whom I have great respect and affection. Indeed, I have been a family doctor in his former constituency of St. Pancras for many years. I know at first hand what a friend he has been to local people. He has fought on their behalf time and again and won many battles for them against injustice and plain incompetence on the part of officialdom. I only decided to oppose the Motion when I realised that it might perhaps, without my noble friend's full agreement, be used as a Trojan Horse—or more appropriately perhaps the thin end of 1446 the wedge, because it is quite visible—to undermine a potentially promising development in our educational practice.
I submit that sex education cannot be divorced from teaching about AIDS and HIV. Sex education can equip young people to understand their developing bodies and emotions while they are at school. That helps them to cope better in the outside world both when they are at school and afterwards in early adult life. When properly taught, sex education does not deal simply with the mechanics of sex alone; it brings it into the whole context of human relationships, as suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. It also deals with the emotional struggles through which all children go as they change into young adults. To arm them with understanding and knowledge of their bodies and feelings is widely acknowledged as the best way to help them avoid the twin dangers of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, which now of course includes AIDS, as well as the emotional pain which can result from mistaken acts committed in ignorance.
Those issues were discussed many times and for many hours in your Lordships' House during the passage of the Education Acts of 1986 and 1988. As a result, safeguards for parents were built into the legislation. The governing body of every school is required to draw up:its own sex education policy in which they should take account of the statutory requirements of the Core Curriculum which are relevant".At the time that the Bill was being enacted the AIDS epidemic was only just being faced. It is true that in the original Act HIV per se was not mentioned as part of the curriculum. But because of the grave importance of the AIDS epidemic it was felt vital that children should learn about it. Last October the revised national curriculum orders for science, as my noble friend pointed out, require pupils in Key Stage 3 to learn how,the healthy functioning of the human body may be affected by diet, lifestyle, bacteria and viruses, including HIV".In addition, Curriculum Guidance No. 5 of the National Curriculum Council recommends as part of health education and as a cross-curricular theme that young people should be able,to discuss sensitive and controversial issues, such as conception, birth, HIV/AIDS, child-rearing, abortion and technological developments which involve consideration of attitudes, values, beliefs and morality".It seems that they are all important areas of knowledge which should help to produce informed and responsible citizens. As has been pointed out by a number of speakers, it is surprising how much more mature are today's teenagers when compared with ourselves at that age, and perhaps for some of us in this House even with our own children. They are not shocked or embarrassed by such topics. As many noble Lords pointed out, reference has been made to those matters in the media. Last Wednesday ITV screened "A Small Dance" at 8 p.m. I thought that it was a brilliant play. I thoroughly applaud ITV for having screened it. It centred on the plight of a girl who was going through a teenage pregnancy due to her own ignorance.
1447 I suggest that very few parents know enough about AIDS to inform their children of its nature in any detail, should they wish, for instance, to withdraw their children from the lessons about AIDS in school. There are many myths about how the disease is spread, as well as the embarrassment which many parents feel when they are discussing sexual matters with their children. I suggest that to allow them to deprive their children of the chance to receive accurate and unbiased information, as my noble friend's Motion would do, would be entirely wrong. I assure my noble friend that children are not embarrassed by this kind of information. They are likely to be more attentive in fact than in any other class if the subject is effectively taught. To receive knowledge does not mean, as has been pointed out by at least four noble Lords, that children will be more promiscuous. In fact, there is evidence that the reverse takes place.
However, the continuing high rate of teenage pregnancy is a matter of concern for all of us, as is the ever-increasing demand for termination of pregnancy. There is plenty of evidence that this is due to lack of or inadequate sex education at school. Although AIDS is not spreading quite as fast as originally projected, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, pointed out, thanks very largely to our explicit and frank public health education, heterosexual spread of AIDS, as he also pointed out, is increasing. Therefore the need for knowledge is urgent.
Perhaps I may divert here to say that the standard, style and courage of the health education which has been used in this country against AIDS is much admired by other countries which have not been as successful as we have in slowing down the spread of the epidemic. This is especially true of the United States, where, although the problem is much worse than it is here, much more prurient attitudes, surprisingly, prevail. Such attitudes put a curb on effective health education.
As for the second part of my noble friend's Motion, no school is likely to force a teacher to teach sex education or knowledge of HIV or AIDS if they do not want to. In any case that would be completely counter-productive. The subject requires special preparation, and not all teachers wish to take part. I suggest that the situation is similar in National Health Service hospitals, where no doctor who has a moral objection to performing an abortion is required to carry one out. Current practice, I think, covers the problem envisaged by my noble friend and I do not think that he need have any fears if things stay as they are now.
What I fear may happen is that the Government will use the sort of fears—
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I did not want to interrupt him, but he is not comparing like with like. Under the Abortion Act there is a conscience clause to allow that physician to exercise his conscience and not participate in that kind of operation. That is all I am asking for. It does not apply under the science curriculum.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, my noble friend need not worry. There is no headmaster or headmistress who would insist on a member of staff taking one of these classes if they felt unable to do so or did not wish to do so. What I fear is that the Government might use the kind of fears that are expressed by my noble friend —which I think are unjustified—to hold back funding for training teachers to undertake this vital part of education. It is not a skill which all teachers have and many do not feel prepared to take on the role since it did not form part of their curriculum at their teacher training college.
A recent survey by the Sex Education Forum, which in fact sparked off the article in the Independent which my noble friend Lord Stoddart, mentioned, suggests that the national curriculum, extracts from which I have quoted, is not being implemented fully in the important areas which we are discussing. Fewer than half of the local authorities surveyed still did not know how many of their schools had sex education policies. That seems to conflict with the data produced by the right reverend Prelate, but I think that they are possibly compatible. It suggests that there is more interest in sex education at the point where it is carried out in schools than by the local authorities. They do not seem to know what is going on in their schools.
But, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, said, only 6 per cent. of schools have actually decided against having sex education policies or including it in their curriculum. The National Union of Teachers says that the Government appear to be cutting time and money for teacher training in sex education—the same skills that are required for sex education are required for education about HIV and AIDS. I hope that the Government will not be swayed by the minority lobby, which has been quite vocal this evening, in under-resourcing this extremely important part of education for real life.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ The Earl of Liverpool
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for introducing the Motion and giving us the opportunity to look at this sensitive question and to focus upon the importance of arriving at the right, balanced decision which is vital to our young children and which will affect their whole outlook and approach to sexual behaviour. It is generally accepted that this is not a party political matter, and so I feel no embarrassment in telling the House that I support wholeheartedly everything the noble Lord said.
These issues are sensitive. On the one hand, the Government's perceived view, until now, as expressed by my noble friend Lady Denton in answer to the Starred Question standing in my name on 5th March this year, was that the disease of AIDS was so serious that the facts about it and how it is contracted must be compulsorily taught in all schools in pretty graphic detail from the age of 11 upwards.
On the other hand, I join with a number of noble Lords who, while agreeing that the disease is serious and that school children should be taught about it, question the wisdom of the relevant part of the 1991 national curriculum order on three main grounds: 1449 first, that 11 is too young to be taught the subject in such detail; secondly, that it should be brought within the general sex curriculum and not taught in an amoral way by the science or biology master; and, lastly, that there should be a provision for parents, on grounds of conscience or strong religious beliefs, to enable them to obtain permission for their children to opt out of that teaching, provided that they undertake to teach them the dangers of the disease in the privacy of their home.
As noble Lords are aware, there is a provision enabling parents to do that in the school sex education programme. There is some question—the point was raised by my noble friend Lady Cox—that if the Government maintain a compulsory education stance, they may be contravening the European Convention on Human Rights which provides that parents must be allowed to ensure that their children's education fits their religious views. I do not believe that there would be anything more than a relatively minimal—if I may use those two words consecutively—number of requests from parents for their children to opt out, especially if, in the view of the parents, it was being taught by the right specialist organisation, such as ACET, which I mentioned earlier this year and which was mentioned tonight by my noble friend Lord Brentford. That would do much to defuse the situation which is causing some parents considerable anguish and worry. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will reflect on this matter. I look forward to hearing what she has to say.
I shall deal briefly with how our European partners cope with the conscience question. I studied some constitutions. The constitution of the Swiss Federation states:It shall be possible for the adherents of all religious beliefs to attend public schools without being affected in any way in their freedom of creed or conscience".The Spanish constitution contains similar words and provides:The public authorities guarantee the right of parents to ensure that their children receive religious and moral instruction compatible with their own convictions".Article 42 of the constitution of Ireland provides under "Education":The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children".Lastly, the constitution of the Netherlands states:Education provided by public authorities shall be regulated by Act of Parliament paying due respect to everyone's religion or belief".The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred to the Parent's Charter. Unfortunately I am unable to quote that verbatim but I suspect that it will contain some similar words.
France is the only European partner country about which I have been able to make inquiries as to how the subject is taught. I am told that until last year students were taught the subject between the ages of 14 and 16. As from this year, the minimum age has been reduced to 13, but parents have the right to enable their children to opt out on grounds of conscience or 1450 religious beliefs. As the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, said, 13 is the age from which children should first be taught the subject.
I thought it might be helpful to have the views of the Professional Association of Teachers on this subject as that association is a representative of the teaching profession. Two days ago I rang the general secretary of that association, Peter Dawson, who made some interesting and, I believe, helpful comments. I shall briefly outline those comments.
He agreed with me that the age of 11 was too young for children to be taught this subject. He endorsed 13 as the age he would prefer to see such teaching commenced. He said that it should be brought within the sex education programme. In other words he agreed with my views on that matter too, but I must assure your Lordships that I did not pressure him in any way at any stage during the telephone conversation. Mr. Dawson also stated that it was his view, and therefore the view of the association—I presume that was the case—that there should be a conscience clause as there is with sex education.
Finally—I thought these were his most important remarks —he stated that education is a partnership between teachers and parents and it is hard to think of any subject where this tenet should be more strongly recognised. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brentford for mentioning the possibility of using the services of ACET. I suggest that that is an avenue which might profitably be considered by the Government and by my noble friend the Minister. I hope she will express some view on that matter.
I accept that under the national curriculum order as it stands the Government are making worthy efforts to alert school children to the dangers of a disease for which at the moment there is no known cure. I repeat that that aim is a worthy one. However, I part company with the Government's stated view up to now in that I believe it is necessary to introduce some fine tuning along the lines proposed in this Motion and by noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the Motion this evening.
As far as I am aware, there has been no debate in another place on this subject and it is therefore much to be welcomed that we have been able to give this subject an airing in your Lordships' House tonight. I hope my noble friend the Minister can give us cause to hope that this particular aspect of the science and national curriculum order 1991 can still be amended to take into account the concerns that have been expressed tonight.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down—I speak now as I did not wish to interrupt his interesting speech—as he has firmly pegged his argument to the age of 13, which he appears to think is a suitable starting point, does he accept the point I made that much misplaced knowledge and misconception is rife in particular in inner city primary schools at a much earlier age? How would the noble Earl address that problem?
§ The Earl of Liverpool
My Lords, it is impossible to control misinformation. However, I feel the right age 1451 at which the ordered informing and teaching of children should start should be at the age of 13 and no younger.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, in rising at this late hour to support the courageous Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, I am aware that much of what I wanted to say has already been said. Therefore I shall try to be brief. However, I wish to repeat that Section 46 of the 1986 Act places a duty on local education authorities, governing bodies and head teachers to ensure that any sex education is given in such a manner as to encourage pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life. The long and the short of it is that making it compulsory to teach 11 to 14 year-olds about HIV and AIDS opens the door for those who wish to flout those provisions of the 1986 Act. I join other noble Lords in saying that this kind of sex education must remain optional for 11 year-olds, and should be a matter for their parents' discretion.
At first sight, one might have been slightly less suspicious of those who secured its inclusion in the compulsory curriculum because they slipped it into science, even if they did so when they thought no one was looking. Science teachers are, I suppose, less open to the propaganda of the politically correct sex, race and class brigade than are teachers in softer disciplines. But, on the other hand, science teachers may not be entirely at ease with all the moral and family considerations required by the 1986 Act, not because they are not thoroughly moral people themselves but because it is a pretty boggy area, as I hope I shall show.
Science teachers may, therefore, have to rely on extraneous material. As other noble Lords have suggested, I am afraid that it would be natural for them to rely on the Department of Education and Science's booklet, HIV and AIDS: A Guide for the Education Service, of November 1991. I am glad that other noble Lords have referred to that document in suitably disparaging terms.
One cannot but agree that that booklet encapsulates an aggressive disregard for Section 46 of the 1986 Act. Nowhere does it contain the smallest concession to moral considerations or the value of family life. For instance, paragraph 10 casts doubt on whether homosexuals are particularly at risk to AIDS. Paragraph 11 continues as follows:In teaching about HIV and AIDS, therefore, it is important to avoid giving any impression that it is a condition confined to certain 'high risk groups'. People risk infection because of what they do, not what they are".The recent series of articles in the Sunday Times would appear to cast some doubt on that statement. To ram some of the rest of that amoral booklet down the throats of even 14 year-olds, especially girls, would be a deeply immoral act.
My noble friend Lady Brigstocke gave examples of other teaching materials which are available and which are less offensive. I have here some material which I understand is widely used in schools. I fear that I should quote from some of the pamphlets put out by the organisation concerned, which is called 1452 AVERT, or the AIDS Education and Research Trust. I have two pamphlets here, one called AIDS & Young People, and the other called AIDS Working with Young People. Both pamphlets are entirely technical. There is no question of any moral or family value in any of the material. The bits which I suppose I should quote to your Lordships, with much distaste, concern oral sex, which is not exactly what one wants promoted to even one's 14 year-old daughter.
I shall spare your Lordships the technical details of oral sex, which are described at some length, but I hope noble Lords will get the flavour of the pamphlets from the following two quotes. The headline is a large one: "Oral Sex". Underneath it says, "Risky?" It goes on to say, having described that activity in great detail:This can be very pleasurable and is common among heterosexual couples and homosexual couples of both sexes".The next headline continues:Are there any sexual activities which are completely safe?We are told that there are a few. Then the pamphlet advises as follows:There are also no risks of infection from mutual masturbation, so long as you don't have cuts or sores on your hand".I would be happy to put those documents in your Lordships' Library, but I assure noble Lords that the flavour continues in exactly the same way. The thought of forcing that material down 14 year-old Moslem girls seems to me to be asking for riots.
So, to finish as quickly as I can, perhaps I may press my noble friend the Minister as to whether the Government could not take teaching about the sexual aspects of AIDS and HIV out of the compulsory curriculum and place it in an optional area instead. One option might be to put AIDS education into the non-statutory guidance produced by the National Curriculum Council. I understand that Curriculum Guidance (No. 5) on Health Education, from the NCC already refers to AIDS. No doubt that could be suitably expanded, if necessary.
I cannot help feeling that the much respected chairman of the National Curriculum Council might welcome that suggestion. In a letter to me yesterday he agrees that it is impossible to teach children about the HIV virus without giving information about how the disease is transmitted. That might be a question of degree, I suppose.
But then he goes on and he—the Chairman of the National Curriculum Council—writes in a rather interesting paragraph:As I understand the legal position, sex education in the 1986 Act is only voluntary where it does not conflict with the statutory requirements of the National Curriculum. My Council felt that the science Order should refer to the HIV virus and also to related topics which raise moral issues but that they should be properly and sensitively handled within the school's own approach to these matters".Then comes the key expression:As a parent, however, I recognise that the issue is finely balanced".If such an eminent person as the Chairman of the National Curriculum Council thinks that the decision is finely balanced, why not let parents take it for their children? Surely the Citizen's Charter goes at least as far as that. Another possibility might be to let AIDS 1453 education form part of the personal and social education curriculum, which on the whole is a pretty dreadful subject, largely controlled by the sex, race and class vigilantes. But at least it is voluntary.
I am sure there are other parts of the voluntary curriculum where AIDS education could be made available to 11 to 14 year-olds. As a last thought in this regard—I do not know what the right reverend Prelate may think of it—I wonder whether it might form part of religious education where, I venture to suggest, science may yet come to discover that it belongs anyway.
I support the Motion and very much look forward to my noble friend's reply to those questions.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I understand many of the concerns that my noble friend Lord Stallard expressed when moving this Motion. I know that they derive from strongly held convictions and from his faith. I know too that he is most concerned about AIDS and its spread. I respect his views but I regret to say that on this occasion, as he knows, I cannot support him. I must assure my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon that it has nothing to do with being politically correct. Indeed it is a little insulting to those Members of your Lordships' House who oppose this Motion to suggest that the reason for doing so is that they are politically correct.
I oppose the Motion, first, because I believe that it would set an unfortunate precedent which would undermine the national curriculum. I oppose it secondly and more strongly because I have been convinced by the many expert bodies concerned to stop the spread of AIDS that it is vitally important for all young people to be properly informed about the disease and that the right place to do that is as part of the normal curriculum in schools.
Consultation on how to teach sensitive issues is of course desirable. There can certainly be no opposition to that. However, at present there is nothing to prevent consultation between a school and parents on any matter. Indeed, it should be encouraged not just on this question but on the science curriculum more generally and on the curriculum as a whole. Successful schools always involve parents in their work wherever they can. They certainly should consult widely and inform parents about their policies.
It is already a statutory requirement for school governing bodies, on which parents and teachers are represented, to draw up their own sex education policies and take into account the statutory requirements of the core curriculum where they are relevant. Consultation is needed both to take into account the parents' suggestions and to allay their fears. I accept what my noble friend and other noble Lords have said; namely, that we need to be sure that more parents are aware of their rights in this respect, in relation not only to sex education specifically but to the rest of the curriculum too.
However, there is no need to amend the statutory order to allow for consultation, as I am sure the 1454 Minister will agree. It is allowed for. So it is a little hard to see how that part of the Motion would have any useful effect. The opportunities are already there.
The second part of the Motion provides a conscience clause which would allow teachers to opt out of teaching the subject. What is the point of having a national curriculum if we make it possible for teachers to opt out of teaching it? There is little doubt that a conscience clause of this kind would undermine the national curriculum. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, when he made the point that there are many aspects of the national curriculum on which teachers might feel strongly, ranging from texts provided in the English curriculum to the question of whether children should be tested on certain aspects of the curriculum. Despite what my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon said, a provision for a conscience clause in the secular curriculum could create serious management problems for head teachers and for governors. I believe that it is unnecessary too. The statutory order does not specify that provision for teaching about HIV/AIDS must be by a science teacher in a science lesson, although that would be the normal expectation. However, as other noble Lords have said, schools have flexibility to find the most appropriate teachers to take on the task; and that is what I am sure will happen. Teachers who are ill-equipped to do so through insufficient training on how to handle a sensitive area such as this, should not be required to take it on. I very much agree with those who have made that point. However, it does not require what seems to me the rather heavy-handed approach of the conscience clause to take into account the difficulties that some teachers may have.
What is needed—I agree with my noble friend Lord Stallard and other speakers—is better training, both initial and in-service training, and more resources and support for teachers to develop both their skills and their confidence in dealing with the sensitive issues involved. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.
It is also important that teaching should not be narrowly scientific but should, in the context of health education and sex education, more broadly draw out the moral questions and discuss the context in which individuals make choices about their behaviour. However, in my experience many science teachers already do that when teaching, for example, about human reproduction. I thought my noble friends and others were a little unfair to science teachers in some of the comments that they made.
The third part of the Motion—that parents should be allowed to withdraw their children from particular lessons in the secular part of the national curriculum —again raises problems. It seems to me to set a rather undesirable precedent. I share the concern that was expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. It could open up many other parts of the curriculum to the same pressures. It could mean that lessons and planning were disrupted and could pose a problem for schools about what to do with pupils who had been withdrawn. Worst of all, it could mean that some pupils, though perhaps only a few, would be withdrawn from classes which all should attend in 1455 order to acquire some understanding about a devastating but entirely preventable disease to which any of them could be exposed if they remain ignorant about how it is contracted. Moreover, it is a disease which they in turn can spread to other young people whose parents did not withdraw them from lessons about it. We must ask ourselves whether it is right to expose young people to risks in that way.
Learning about the disease at school should not be a taboo subject. Nor is it possible, even if we wished to do so, to protect young people from exposure to the issue that it raises. They will hear about it in the playground. They will see, hear or read about it in the media. As the right reverend Prelate said, surely it is better that they should be informed by responsible adults with experience of teaching and dealing with young people's questions and anxieties in a sympathetic way. The alternative is that they pick up hits and pieces of information from various sources which may or may not be accurate and which they may or may not understand.
I must disagree with my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon when he implied that sex education is primarily a parental responsibility. It is also a responsibility of schools and teachers, as others have already said during the debate.
Some speakers have suggested that 11–14 years is too young to start learning about HIV and AIDS. It will be up to individual schools to decide when they introduce the subject into the curriculum within that age group. Many may prefer to leave it to the age of 13 or 14, as the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, proposed. That is probably acceptable but to leave learning until later would not be acceptable. We know from recent Health Education Authority surveys that one-third of young people have had sexual intercourse by the age of 16. We also know that one-third of 16 to 19 year-olds do not believe that it is necessary to change their lifestyle as a result of HIV. It is worrying that young people appear to see HIV as a threat to others but do not see themselves at risk. We must get across the fact that all sexually active people are at risk if they fail to take sensible steps to protect themselves. It is a frightening statistic that one-quarter of 16 to 19 year-olds say that they would have unprotected sex with a new partner.
As the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, pointed out, young people also need to be aware that HIV/AIDS is spreading rapidly within the heterosexual population. The number of cases of AIDS acquired by heterosexual intercourse increased by almost 80 per cent. last year. Moreover, HIV/AIDS has concentrated more and more among young people; 20 per cent. of new HIV-positive cases are aged between 15 and 29 with 50 per cent. under 29. Among women with AIDS, 40 per cent. are aged between 15 and 29 and most became infected in their teens.
I am aware that many of your Lordships would prefer us to delay the teaching of such a delicate and difficult subject until the children are older. I have some sympathy with that but the statistics confirm what all health education experts say; that we must inform young people before it is too late. It is also 1456 unrealistic to hope that most people will accept the view that premarital sex should not take place. They will not.
Any of us who have had friends who have died from AIDS, as I have, will know that it is a terrible disease. At present we cannot cure it, although we must hope that a cure will soon be found. Until it is we can stop its spread only by improving public understanding of how the infection is transmitted. We must ensure that all pupils have access to that information; to do otherwise would be thoroughly irresponsible. However difficult and unpleasant the task, the human and economic costs of failing to take it on are too great to ignore.
I hope that my noble friend will not wish to divide the House on this matter but will instead allow the Minister to take away what has been said and to examine it carefully. In particular, I hope that the Government will reconsider the guidelines on how to combine the teaching of factual information in the science curriculum with teaching about relationships in the cross-curricular subject of sex education. In that way parents will be able to have their say within a more coherent structure. I hope that they will be persuaded of the importance of their children being given the information that they need to avoid contracting this terrible disease. I believe that they will be persuaded that it is needed.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down I wish to make one comment because she is so involved in education. There is the added problem that many young children in schools, perhaps in primary schools, have HIV. Therefore, the problem is more than sexual; there must be an understanding of the virus so that children are not frightened of it.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I accept entirely what the noble Baroness said and I totally agree with her.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I start by saying that I think the issue we are considering this evening is for many of us one of the more sensitive and difficult questions that we are likely to face in this House. It is a matter in which few of the arguments are clear cut; and where for many of us there is a real conflict between two incompatible courses of action, both of which are intended to safeguard the well-being of our young people and both of which carry, in their own ways, a cost. It is also about education and the role of schools in fulfilling their responsibilities under the law; that is, that all teaching should be concerned with the moral, spiritual and cultural well being of our children as well as their physical and academic well being.
In considering these courses of action, it is important for us to be clear on the agreed facts surrounding this issue. Perhaps I may spend a moment or two setting these out. Here certain facts about the threat presented by HIV and AIDS are, I think, generally accepted. Although its origins remain obscure, it seems that few cases of AIDS were known 1457 before the beginning of the 1980s. The virus was identified in 1983. My advice from the Department of Health is that, according to estimates by the World Health Organisation, some 10 million to 12 million people worldwide have already been infected with HIV, of which 2 million have developed AIDS. In the UK, 5,451 cases of AIDS had been reported by the end of 1991. Approaching 17,000 people in the UK were known to be HIV positive; but the true total of those infected is likely to be much higher.
In many countries, the rise in cases of HIV infection and of AIDS has been considerable. In the UK, we have been, relatively speaking, very fortunate in that overall the numbers affected by AIDS and known to be infected by HIV remain low.
The evidence from other countries suggests that continuing public education is needed if our relatively low growth in infection is to be sustained. In the absence of a cure—and it is important to note that there is as yet no cure, and that in spite of the intensive scientific effort devoted to the matter, there seems no likelihood of the development of a cure in the near future—the only weapon available to us in our efforts to curb the spread of the disease is awareness and improved lifestyles. As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, said, a more moral lifestyle would certainly go a long way towards reducing the incidence of HIV and AIDS.
It was for those reasons that my right honourable friend concluded last Autumn that those who had expressed strong concerns about the need for specific provision for education about HIV in the revised science order of the national curriculum had a sound case.
The revised science order, which is due to come into effect on 1st August, requires pupils at Key Stage 3 to study:ways in which the healthy functioning of the human body may be affected by diet, lifestyle, bacteria and viruses (including the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV))".I should say also to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that there is absolutely no flexibility whatever as regards transferring that responsibility to the age of 14 plus.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, perhaps the Minister misunderstood me. I was not suggesting that the responsibility should be transferred to 14 plus. I suggested that there is a possibility, within the 11 to 14 age group, for individual schools to decide the best point at which to introduce teaching about HIV and AIDS.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I know what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, believes personally but she referred to something which my noble friend Lord Liverpool, said; namely, that that subject may be taught more appropriately to an older age group. I believe that the noble Baroness said that there is flexibility to do that. I am merely stating that there is no flexibility at all.
Key Stage 3 means, broadly speaking, the age range 11–14: but it is of course for teachers to judge the point within that span when their pupils' level of maturity and understanding makes it appropriate to introduce 1458 the topic. I should perhaps make it clear that the original order gave the opportunity for teachers to introduce the topic. The revised order makes that opportunity a requirement, with the aim of ensuring that schools give their pupils accurate information about the virus. Here I must stress that—deliberately —the requirement is phrased in sufficiently general terms to give schools wide discretion to decide exactly how they should fulfil that duty. Some may decide to incorporate teaching about HIV into the science curriculum. Others may prefer to incorporate this teaching into their wider programmes of personal, social and health education or sex education. And I have already noted the discretion schools have to decide the age at which their pupils should be introduced to the topic, except that it must be dealt with within the age range 11 to 14. I shall come in a moment to the legal framework within which schools should discharge their responsibility and the clear guidance my department has given as to the context within which sex education should be delivered.
The inclusion of the reference to HIV in the statutory order does not denote any change in the department's policy on teaching about HIV and AIDS which was first set out in the mid-1980s, when the department first issued guidance and teaching materials to schools after extensive consultation with interested organisations—including, in particular, the Churches. The department's Circular 11/87, which remains in force, stressed the importance of introducing pupils in their later years of compulsory schooling to the facts about HIV and AIDS, and the need to ensure that the topic was approached in accordance with the school's overall policy on sex education. Material has been prepared to help teachers in that task, some of which I fear is not very good. Indeed, having read through most of it I must say that some of it is wholly inappropriate. If I can do no more tonight, I hope to raise parents' awareness to challenge the schools, the departments and the teachers who are peddling the sort of literature referred to by my noble friend Lord Pearson.
Governors have the power under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 to determine the way in which the subject is taught, the content and indeed the materials used. Therefore, any materials which come to a school can be rejected by governors and teachers. There is no requirement on the governors to consult with parents. Best practice suggests that they should, and it is my department's wish that they should. But there is no such requirement.
There may be a little confusion on the interaction of the national curriculum and the legal requirements relating to sex education, and I should like to take this opportunity to clear that up.
The Education (No. 2) Act 1986 introduced two major requirements relating to sex education in schools. First, it specified that governing bodies should determine whether their school should offer sex education and, if they so decided, what its form and content should be. Secondly, the governors and others involved in providing sex education were also required to ensure that as far as possible such education was given in such a way as to encourage pupils to have due 1459 regard to moral considerations and the value of family life. Those responsibilities and that clear moral framework remain in force. Again, referring to the comments of my noble friend Lord Pearson, I have some doubts, but if the part of the literature to which he referred was produced in the classroom in the form he described, it would be in clear breach of the moral framework.
The national curriculum, introduced following the Education Reform Act 1988, now requires all secondary schools to teach certain basic elements of sex education. Pupils at Key Stage 3 are required to learn about the processes of conception in human beings, to know about the physical and emotional changes that take place during adolescence and to understand the need to have a responsible attitude to sexual behaviour. But it remains the responsibility of all those responsible for providing sex education in the school—governors and teachers—to do so in such a way as to bring home to young people the moral dimension and the prime importance of the family. That applies equally to those elements specified within the national curriculum, including, from the Autumn term, the requirement to teach about HIV, and to any more extensive programmes of sex education which governors decide their schools should provide. I believe that that is a crucial safeguard of which all parents should be aware. If they are not, my department could issue guidance to schools about it. I will go away with the strength of this debate behind me to ensure that we do just that.
Parents should know that governors must draw up, and keep under review, a written statement of their sex education policy. As parents they have the right to see such a written statement and, if they wish, to raise the issue with governors at the annual meeting which every governing body must hold in order to allow parents to discuss the way in which they are discharging their duties. The department's Circular 11/87 emphasised the need for schools to involve parents as fully as possible in the formulation and development of such policies.
I hope that parents will take full advantage of their rights in this difficult but important area. If parents are unhappy with what is being taught and the form in which it is being taught they should pursue their anxieties with the head teacher and the governors. When they believe the law is being breached and governors are not accepting their responsibilities they should inform my department. There are avenues of complaint if they fail to secure satisfaction. I should myself be glad to be advised of flagrant examples of breach of responsibility.
In particular, I would encourage parents to open up to debate the need for schools to consider their own circumstances and the differing needs and levels of maturity and understanding of their pupils. For example, the policy developed, after full discussion with parents, by the governors of an inner city school may well reflect a high level of pupil awareness, even among relatively young pupils, of the existence of HIV and AIDS. Such a policy will be very different from the approach adopted by governors in areas of the country where the prevalence and the level of 1460 awareness of HIV and AIDS are much lower. It is, I believe, one of the strengths of our current arrangements that such differences can fully and properly be accommodated. It is also worth noting that Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 prohibits a local authority from promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship. Again, some of the matters which we have heard in the course of the debate tonight highlight the need for that clause in the Act.
I should now like to turn to the specific question of right of withdrawal from certain aspects of the curriculum. Your Lordships will be well aware that we have long enshrined in law a right for parents to withdraw their children from religious education and collective worship. That stems in some measure from the historical organisation of schools in this country. We have derived great benefit from a system which embraces both state-maintained schools, where religious education has been effectively nondenominational, and Christian, and voluntary schools, most of which are associated with a particular faith or denomination. Not all of the children attending a school, whatever its character, will necessarily belong to the faith or denomination which that school's religious education reflects. It has therefore been accepted that the parents of such children should be able to withdraw them from that specific area of teaching and from that area only.
The introduction of the national curriculum was within the context of an aim specifically stated in the Education Reform Act of 1988 to ensure that all children were fully prepared by their schooling for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life. Parliament agreed at that time that it should be possible to reach a broad consensus on what education would be needed to fulfil that aim. It ensured that the shape and content of the secular curriculum should be subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny through an extensive process of consultation and legislative procedures. For religious education new provisions in the shape of local committees were introduced to ensure that the framework for religious education in any area accorded with the wishes of its population.
There will occasionally be areas where those two interests, the secular and the religious, to some extent overlap. The current case is one. There are strongly held and irreconcilable views. After careful consideration of the issues, the Government have taken the line that they should follow the broad principles which Parliament agreed should be enshrined in the Education Reform Act 1988: that the curriculum should fully prepare all pupils for the challenges and problems, as well as the opportunities, which their adult lives will present; and that to this end all pupils are entitled to receive a broad, comprehensive curriculum. To create rights of exemption from aspects of the secular curriculum would not in my view be in the interests of securing an effective, broad education for every child. That must be our first concern. However, I must repeat that the teaching of sex education and HIV within national curriculum 1461 science must, and I repeat must, have due regard to moral considerations and the value and promotion of family life.
I fully understand the strength of feeling which exists on this extremely sensitive issue. Indeed, I personally share the concerns of many who have spoken today. I believe that we all recognise the dilemma facing us: on the one hand, there is a clear need to do all we can to protect young people from this disease; on the other, we are properly reluctant to introduce them to its implications during what ought ideally to be a period of their lives when they should be free of the worries that such matters may bring.
I can assure your Lordships that the Government have weighed these two considerations very carefully. We do not come lightly to the conclusion that it is in the best interests of our children to ensure that they are all made aware, as sensitively as possible, of the facts and issues surrounding HIV and AIDS at an age when they are able to understand them. We insist that this must be undertaken by schools in such a way as to bring out fully for young people the moral considerations and the importance of family life. Teaching in this sensitive area cannot be value-free and it is for governing bodies to ensure that the national curriculum requirements are put into a clear moral framework.
We are embarking on a programme of inspections of all our schools. Inspectors will be required to look at all areas of the school curriculum, especially in relation to national curriculum requirements. They will look at how cross-curricular themes are dealt with, including health education. They will look too at the governing body's policies concerning the curriculum, including their policy on sex education and HIV and AIDS, and say whether the curriculum taught in the school is consistent with those policies. They will be under a duty to report on pupils' moral and spiritual development.
I should now like to pick up on a few points that have been made during the debate. Like other noble Lords, my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock was worried about flexibility between the key stages. There is a considerable amount of flexibility between the key stages; but, as I said earlier, the science order requires that an introduction to information about HIV be given in Key Stage 3—that is, between the ages of 11 and 14. There is no discretion to delay the introduction beyond the age of 14.
I have been asked about consultation. There has been some criticism about there being very little consultation. The HIV reference was inserted in the science order as a result of the constructive representations that were made during the consultations on the Secretary of State's proposals. There was then a further stage of widespread statutory consultation on the draft order, which included the reference.
I have also been asked about teacher training. We have provided grant support for the in-service training of teachers, youth workers and advisers. In 1987, under the LEA training grant scheme, the department introduced a separate programme to support 1462 in-service training for education professionals—initially on drugs-related issues, but since 1990 it has included wider preventive health topics, including HIV and AIDS. It is estimated that during the period 1987–91, some 100,000 training course places were provided for teachers, advisers and youth workers.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford asked that secular education should not be introduced too early in the key stage. I believe that he said that it was a matter for the judgment of the governors. It is certainly a matter for the judgment of governors and teachers, but the science order is sensitive about this and emphasises that knowledge of their bodies' natural processes should proceed in pace with the changes that take place during adolescence. A statement of attainment requiring an understanding of reproduction is pitched at level seven, which is the top of the range of the levels for Key Stage 3. That is a clear signal to teachers that this is material for pupils who are approaching the end of the key stage.
I was asked whether it is important that teaching about sex and the HIV virus should be within the broader context of social education. I must repeat that the placing of HIV in the science order does not remove the protection of the requirement to pay due regard to moral considerations and to the importance of the family. That provision of the 1986 Act continues to apply to sex education, whether it is within the science curriculum or the secular part of the curriculum.
The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to the HIV booklet. It states early on—I believe in paragraph 3—that its purpose is to provide basic information for all teachers for professional purposes. There is a specific reference in paragraph 37 to the provisions of the 1986 Act.
On the issue of whether there is a discrepancy between the 1986 and the 1988 legislation, I must advise your Lordships that the 1986 Act provides no arrangements for consultation with parents. The discretion is for the governors who may or may not consult the parents. That is something that I must take back to my department for discussion. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, asked whether there is a right of appeal. There is no right of appeal. Parents can challenge only if a school is in breach of its legal obligation. There is no right of appeal if parents simply do not like what is happening.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, asked about consultation with parents. I refer him to paragraph 11 of the department's Circular 11/87. I could send it to him if he would find that helpful.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked whether teachers have access to good teaching materials. The department issued to all secondary schools in 1987 a video pack entitled Your Choice for Life. Since at that time there was little material available for use within schools an independent evaluation indicated that schools found it useful. Since then a good deal of additional material has been produced by various organisations, including the Churches. The Health Education Authority maintains a regularly updated 1463 annotated list of the resources currently available. I repeat my plea to parents to take an interest in the materials that are used in the school.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, as the Minister said that she is not quite happy and will take the matter back to her department, does she feel that there should be a right of appeal if parents are worried that what their children are being taught is not what they would like them to be taught?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, parents have powers to challenge. They can certainly challenge schools that are in breach of the Act. It is also possible under one part of the 1986 Act for parents to have a view about the content and the way the subject is taught. They do not have the power to say whether it should be taught, a point that has been at issue during the debate today.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said that children pick up their values from home. I was not sure whether he was saying that that is where they should pick them up. I make a plea here for that large and, sadly, growing number of young children who do not pick up their values from home and have no point of reference and no framework in which to pick up values other than at school. For many children schools are now the only anchor in their lives. It is an absolute responsibility of government to ensure that the framework within which children grow up is a moral framework. We must promote all that is good in a young person's life. It is not enough to say that it is a matter for parents. We have a responsibility as government, as schools and as teachers.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, I would not wish there to be any misunderstanding. I did not wish to imply that I thought that all such education should take place in the home. I said that a good deal inevitably takes place in the home but that there is equally a responsibility on the school. I am entirely in agreement with the noble Baroness.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for that clarification.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, said that only 6 per cent. of schools have a policy of not wishing to have sex education in schools. The figure may only be 6 per cent. of schools but that is more than 1,000 schools. In fact, I believe that the figure is almost 1,500 schools. That represents a large number of children. There is an inconsistency in those schools having a quite unequivocal view about sex education but finding that they have to have sex education as part of the science curriculum.
Reference was made to the Plymouth Brethren. I know very little about the Plymouth Brethren and so it is not for me to comment on their views, rather as my noble friend Lord Coleraine said himself. However, the view that, because they are a small group, their point of view is not valid is not one I share. Any point made by any Member of this House on behalf of one or more people is a valid point which we must respect in the way that we have learnt to respect in this House each other's points of view.
My noble friend Lord Brentford asked whether a teacher who is uncomfortable or has a conscience 1464 about teaching this as part of the curriculum can be made to. The answer in theory is that a teacher can be made to, but the practice is that in most schools ways are found by the head teacher and governors so that a teacher is not too compromised. But in theory the straight answer is that the teacher would have to teach the subject.
One problem that I have picked up as I listened to the debate tonight is not so much that children should not be taught the dangers of the disease HIV/AIDS, but what could be described as value-free education and the reluctance on the part of some of those charged with the responsibility to teach the subject to say what is moral or amoral, what is desirable or undesirable behaviour and what is right and what is wrong. I believe that parents and governors can do a great deal to redress such issues in their schools. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, wishes to intervene. I give way.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Baroness. Perhaps I may return to the hypothetical question of a teacher who, on the grounds of conscience, refuses to teach the subject even though he is thought to be the most suitable person to do so by the governors and has been instructed to do so by the head teacher or the headmaster, as the case may be. If that teacher continued to refuse, what would his position be? Would he be subject to dismissal?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I shall answer the question in two ways. In theory a teacher could be made to teach it in the way that a teacher can be made to teach any subject of the national curriculum. This part of the national curriculum theory is no different. However, what I am saying is that, in practice—and there is a distinction between the two—most schools will find a way to ensure that a teacher is not so compromised. If the answer is different from the one that I am now giving the noble Lord, clearly I shall have to write to him on the matter. I have taken advice during the course of the debate because I wished to clarify the matter. From the answer that I was given, my understanding is that, in theory, a teacher does not have the right of a conscience clause.
Perhaps I may deal with one final criticism; namely, that, somehow or other, the people who are concerned about the matter are either zealots or, as has been said, just small groups like the Plymouth Brethren. To counter that, I must pray in aid the fact that the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart, Lord Stallard, Lord Robertson, my noble friends Lord Brentford, Lord Coleraine, Lord Ashbourne, Lord Liverpool, Lord Pearson and Lady Cox are not zealots and are not over the top. They have a concern which I believe probably can be addressed by increasing parents' awareness and by ensuring that the obligation to consider the moral and spiritual dimension of education is properly addressed in our schools.
I can assure noble Lords that I shall bring the views expressed in this debate to the attention of my right honourable friend. He will carefully consider whether, within the overall framework of our provisions for the curriculum, any further means may be found to meet 1465 the concerns expressed. I should like to conclude by repeating my hope that all parents will take full opportunity of their right of involvement in the development of the sex education policy of the governing body of their children's schools and ensure that their voice is heard.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, she attempted in her summing up to excuse her department's booklet, HIV & AIDS A Guide for the Education Service, by referring us to paragraphs 3 and 37. I have taken a little time to read those two paragraphs. I have to tell my noble friend that I do not see how one could read into those paragraphs any support for the moral position, or the values of family life, as envisaged by Section 46 of the 1986 Act. I mention that for her information, so that it goes on the record.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords,I shall verify the matter and, if I have given my noble friend an inappropriate answer, I shall write to him.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, it only remains for me sincerely to thank all those who have spoken, from whatever viewpoint, in what has been an extremely interesting, comprehensive and instructive debate. One positive fact that emerged was the universal acceptance on both sides of the House of the seriousness of the HIV virus. That is a good sign.
Much as I would like to, it would be impossible to reply to many of the points which were raised due to the late hour and complexity of the subject. So I shall refrain from that, except perhaps to ask one or two questions of the noble Baroness who has replied. I should like to congratulate her on her reply and her contribution. I would not call it a summing-up. It was part summing-up and part contribution, and I thought her contribution where she let her own conscience deal with the points in question was better than the part which she read from the brief. However, that is just my opinion.
The Minister quite rightly stressed a number of times the moral framework of the 1986 Act. I am still not absolutely clear that she is saying that that applies to the science curriculum and that the statutory rights of parents, governors and teachers under the 1986 Act will now apply to the science curriculum.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I can say absolutely unequivocally that it does apply. Not only does it apply to sex education as it relates to HIV and AIDS within the science curriculum, but it applies to the whole of the national curriculum too.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, so there is the right then to appeal? If the statutory rights from the 1986 Sex Education Act apply, then there is the right to appeal?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I do not want to confuse the noble Lord about appeal. There is the 1466 right to challenge if it is believed that teaching is not being done within a moral, spiritual and cultural framework.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I shall certainly examine that point very closely. It would be foolish to try to go into detail at this time of night and after such a long reply. However, I can assure the noble Baroness that I shall scrutinise that reply extremely carefully and we shall probably have to come back to it at some other time.
The Minister did not mention the position of private and independent schools where children are equally at risk. How does the curriculum proposal affect them, or does it not? Does it not matter about those children? That will upset many people. But I still feel that the Minister was again making the same error in relying mainly on the 1986 Act and replying in relation to that Act. The Minister was using the 1986 Act almost in error to discuss the science curriculum. There is a difference and the Minister herself said there is a difference, but it is still not clear to most of us.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, because this is such an important debate I think I should make myself clear. The 1986 Act states that sex education should be within a moral and spiritual framework. Within the context of the secular curriculum there is the right not to teach sex education at all. Governors can make the decision that it shall not be taught. Indeed 6 per cent. of schools have chosen to do that.
The moral and spiritual framework is carried through into the national curriculum. What is not carried through into the science curriculum is the right to choose whether sex education shall be taught. There is no choice as to whether it shall be taught; it must be taught.
§ Lord Stallard
All right, my Lords. We shall go into that even further when we look at this matter again. I was not introducing anything strange when I mentioned conscience clauses. This country, Government and Parliament, have a long and proud tradition of recognising people's consciences in all aspects of life, be it military service, health or the wearing of helmets, as referred to by one noble Lord, and there are various parts of the education Act where we already have these conscience clauses. I shall not be happy until I get a satisfactory reply and progress on the basis of applying and maintaining that. People may say that it is a dangerous precedent to allow teachers, parents and so on to opt out, but it is an equally dangerous precedent to prevent a conscience clause from operating in the crucial areas of social and educational life.
Those are the aspects that I shall be looking at when I re-read the debate as many times as I have to and then, it is to be hoped, come back to the noble Baroness with further questions and detailed correspondence. In the meantime I thank the Minister for her reply. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion to resolve, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at nineteen minutes past ten o'clock.