Blunkett intends to drop sex clause

April 7, 2000

The government looks set to remove its controversial Learning and Skills Bill clause on the portrayal of homosexuality in sex education next week.

The move, signalled by education secretary David Blunkett last week in response to peers' opposition, could leave Conservative MPs fighting to keep what was a government amendment in the bill.

The amendment, clause 117 in the bill, was attacked and significantly amended by Conservative peers two weeks ago. So much so that the government said its amendment had been demolished.

Mr Blunkett indicated during the bill's second reading debate in the Commons last Thursday that he intended to remove clause 117 entirely. In its unamended form, it would have meant children learning that "stable relationships" - which could be between long-term, same-sex couples - are as important as marriage as building blocks of society.

The clause was introduced in an amendment by further and higher education minister Baroness Blackstone during the third reading in the Lords a fortnight ago. It was seen as an attempt to buy off Lords' opposition to government plans to repeal section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act.

But successful amendments, tabled by Conservative peer Baroness Young, effectively neutered the government amendment.

Peers and MPs had expected the government to reverse Baroness Young's amendments during the bill's Commons committee stage,due to begin next week. This raised the prospect of serious delays with the onset of a legislative ping-pong.

But last Thursday Mr Blunkett said: "Given the changes that the House of Lords made, progress will not be made simply by eliminating the words used. We cannot accept something in the bill that deliberately eliminates efforts in schools to reduce prejudice and misunderstanding."

The clause was accompanied by guidance on sex education lessons, which is being sent to schools. Mr Blunkett intends to proceed with the guidance even though the clause is to be deleted. Conservative MPs are alarmed that sex education policy may be left to government guidance with no legislative safeguards and are anxious to reinstate clause 117 as amended.

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