The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds has apologised for the behaviour of a Christian charity which ran a campaign described as “vicious” and “cruel” against two peers it said wanted to make sex education compulsory for five-year-olds.
Labour’s Baroness Massey of Darwen and Liberal Democrat Baroness Walmsley have both hit out at the campaigning tactics of the Christian Institute.
Lady Massey said that in her time in the House of Lords she had never known “such a sinister and vicious campaign that has sought to misinform others”, while Lady Walmsley said there had “been wicked insinuations that we would want to do something that would harm children and their innocence”.
Lady Walmsley said there had been false claims she was going to put forward an amendment to the Education Bill to make sex education compulsory for five-year-olds. And Lady Massey said that her amendment, which would have involved Ofsted reporting on issues such as bullying in schools and the teaching of sex education, had been misinterpreted.
Many peers were inundated with letters and phone calls urging them to reject any moves to make sex education compulsory while concerns were raised about the graphic nature of material recommended for children aged as young as five.
During a debate on Lady Massey’s amendment, Bishop Packer said: “While I have no responsibility for the Christian Institute, I want to apologise for any errors or false accusations made in the name of Christianity.
“I also want to affirm, as clearly as I possibly can, the enormous contributions made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Walmsley, to the interests of children in successive debates within this House. I am grateful for all that they have done in the cause of children here.”
He said he spoke with “a certain degree of trepidation” as one briefing he had received on the issue suggested bishops “might like to keep their heads down on this amendment”.
He called for, and received, assurances from the Government that neither the Bill as it stood nor Lady Massey’s amendment would “make sex education compulsory for anyone, whether that child is five or at any other age”.
He said he had “considerable sympathy” for elements of Lady Massey’s amendment. He said that personal, social and health education (PSHE) was “crucial to the development of young people” and said he was pleased the reference to it in Lady Massey’s amendment stressed “the need for it to be appropriate to the age and stage of development of pupils”.
And he said that the amendment would be a way of indicating that it was part of the task of schools and inspectors “to deal with inappropriate sex education literature in the case of young children”.
“I am particularly concerned with bullying,” he said. “It seems to me that although it is inevitably very difficult to get any sort of figures in this area, bullying is not obviously decreasing within our schools.
“Bullying can be extraordinarily insidious in the life of a school. I have been involved in enough instances and discussions, previously as a governor and with some responsibility for schools within my own patch, to know how dangerous bullying can be and what a need there is within schools, which on the whole do an excellent job in seeking to ensure that bullying does not happen.
Following assurances from the Government, Lady Massey withdrew her amendment without a vote.