25 FEB 2019

Speech in debate on sex education

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

I shall try to be absolutely impeccable, Mrs Moon. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. It is also a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), whom I seem to follow often in Westminster Hall debates. It is very appropriate that we should discuss this subject today when, as we can all see from the annunciators, the Secretary of State is still talking about relationships and sex education in the main Chamber.

There are two issues and I will treat them separately. The first is sex education, which is essentially about reproduction, and the second is relationships education. The issue of sex education raises two interesting points for me. The first is faith schools, and the second is the rights of parents. I am not one of those people who think that we should simply abolish all faith schools. Faith schools play a crucial role in our society and, at a time when we have gone a huge way to seeing what parents want—how they want their children to be taught—and allowing them to bring forward free schools, it is crucial that we acknowledge their rights to continue to have that with faith schools.

On the question of the rights of parents, I would like to start from the other end by saying that I do not think it is appropriate to put all the effort on to headteachers, who should have this decided by parents. I am sure that many of us remember the times when we had to have conversations with our own children about sex education, and however embarrassing they may have been—it was for me as a parent—it was for us to take them forward. I would like much more in the way of encouragement for the rights of parents. That is why I am enthusiastic about the right to opt out of sex education and to see that as part of the role of parents.

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con) rose—

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) rose—

John Howell

I will give way first to my right hon. Friend.

Mrs Miller

My hon. Friend talks compellingly about the rights of parents and of faith schools. Does he not also think that children have the right to know what a good, healthy relationship looks like in this day and age and how to keep safe? Do children not have that right as well?

John Howell

I partially agree with my right hon. Friend but am not sure I go all the way with it. Faith schools provide a lot of such education, or could provide a lot of it, if they were worked with and engaged with in a much more successful way.

Jess Phillips

The hon. Gentleman talked about how a parent could be there to give guidance and should be able to opt out if they wish to give the guidance. What would he say to a parent who is perpetrating domestic abuse or even sexual violence at home, or to a child who is growing up in that type of environment? How will we ensure that, when those people opt out, the child can understand what a healthy relationship looks like?

John Howell

The hon. Lady makes an important point. One does not want to see that level of abuse continuing down the generations, but those issues can be picked up by other measures and dealt with in that way.

Seema Malhotra

Could the hon. Gentleman explain how he sees that happening? I will give him an anecdotal statistic from my constituency. I asked a headteacher of a primary school how many children in one class he thought might be subject to seeing domestic violence at home. His answer was five or six, which is pretty staggering. It shows a huge risk in the environments that many young children are growing up in.

John Howell

I am afraid that I do not know the answer to the hon. Lady's question. I will not attempt one off the top of my head, but will think about it for a little bit.

I believe that we already take away so much from childhood. We should fight against the sexualisation of children—that applies to all children. I see a need to address some of these issues, but I do not see that the details of reproductive sex art should be part of the compulsory situation.

There is a lot of good in the proposals for relationships education. I will give two examples, the first of which is mental health. I have always had a great interest in the mental health of children at schools in my constituency. One only has to look at incidents of children's mental ill health to see that we do not want the child to continue to be distressed.

We live in a completely different age to that in which I was brought up. We live in an age in which there is a tremendous amount of social media—it is almost impossible to get away from it. That can produce the problems of pornography. There is a need to have some awareness, but that is an area in which the parents can be involved in a big way.

The second issue is online grooming. I come from a county that has had a major online-grooming scandal over the past few years. Seven individuals abused many girls—I have no idea how many, but the BBC claimed that hundreds of girls could have been abused in that way. I would like evidence to show what effect relationships education could have had in that situation. Could it have prevented that abuse from taking place or were parents in a better position to deal with it?

There are different types of relationships, of course. One cannot pretend that schools exist in a vacuum. One cannot pretend that we do not have lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships. I have been very supportive of them. We have to acknowledge that that is the legal situation in the country. We need to talk about the fact that different forms of relationships exist and make that fact clear.

We are not asking for sacred religious texts to be rewritten or torn up. The role of Ofsted, which was mentioned earlier, is absolutely crucial in that respect. I urge the Government to instruct Ofsted to take a sensitive approach in recognising the nature of faith schools, and to work with the schools to deliver a better view of the way in which they deliver education. That means that schools need to be able to teach—they have a duty to teach—what is allowable under the law without having to approve it. That is the situation at the moment.

In making these remarks I have been advised by the Jewish Community Council and the Torah Education Committee, which run a number of Orthodox Jewish schools. It should be taken as a positive sign that they have reached out, because they are concerned about the effects of the regulations and would like to work with the Government to take them forward. Above all, it is important to remember that we are not asking them to tear up the Torah in order to take this forward. We are asking them to work with the Government to come to a proper solution.

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Sonning Common Conversations in the street 28 April 2018

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Marginalised Young People and Brexit 18 April 2018

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Thame Neighbourhood Plan 11 April 2018

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Wheatley Village Archive 13 February 2018

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Watlington Neighbourhood Plan meeting 5 January 2018

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Jack and the Beanstalk Oxford 14 December 2017

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Dying to Work 12 December 2017

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Learning how to spin wool Henley 9 December 2017

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Watlington Christmas Tree Festival 9 December 2017

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Muscular Dystrophy concert Henley 7 December 2017

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Leukaemia CARE Henley 2 December 2017

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Councillor surgery Thame 2 December 2017

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Wheatley Post Office 1 December 2017

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Wheatley Fire Station 1 December 2017

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Wheatley Merry Bells surgery 1 December 2017

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Cystic Fibrosis Event 29 November 2017

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Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust 29 Noveber 2017

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Leonard Cheshire Disability event 29 November 2017

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Henley Music School Competition Shiplake 26 November 2017

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Bix Art and Craft Show 25 November 2017

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Something Wicked, Henley 24 November 2017

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Henley Business School 24 November 2017

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RT Television 22 November 2017

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Watlington Primary School discussion with students 20 November 2017

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Watlington Primary School Road Safety 20 November 2017

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Thame Artists and Makers Fair 18 November 2017

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Henley Market Place Fair 18 November 2017

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Scamps, Benson 17 November 2017

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Wheatley Park School 17 November 2017

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Bletchingdon School 17 November 2017

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Thame Remembrance 12 November 2017

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Visit to Thame Charities Fair 4 November 2017

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Discussion with constituents Henley 4 November 2017

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Visit to Ewelme School 3 November 2017

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Visit to Horspath School 3 November 2017

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Visit to Abbeywood School Berinsfield 3 November 2017

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Meeting Thames Valley Air Ambulance 31 October 2017

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Surgery Thame 27 October 2017

Meeting with Culham group 27 October 2017

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Meeting with CCG 27 October 2017

Attended and chaired

Bread and Roses Refugees Event 21 October 2017

Attended and spoke

Meeting re seat belts, Kirtlington 20 October 2017

Attended

Dr South's School Islip 20 October 2017

Attended

Langtree School Woodcote 20 October 2017

Attended

Rail Action Group Goring 19 October 2017

Attended

Chinese Delegation re ADR 19 October 2017

Attended and spoke

Childrens Heart Foundation 18 October 2017

Attended

Council of Europe 8- 13 October 2017

Attended

Councillor surgery 7 October 2017

Attended

Friends of the Earth Fayre Thame 7 October 2017

Attended

Thame St Mary's Fayre 7 Ocober 2017

Attended

Henley Literary Festival In conversation with Philippe Sands 6 October 2017

Attended

Chinnor RFC lunch 6 October 2017

Attended

Radio Oxford 6 October 2017

Broadcast

U3A Goring 5 October 2017

Attended

ITV News broadcast 2 October 2017

Undertaken

BBC News broadcast 2 October 2017

Undertaken

Hidden Henley Exhibition 29 September 2017

Attended

Cuxham Parish Council 29 September 2017

Attended

Chiltern Edge School 29 September 2017

Attended

Bishopswood School 29 September 2017

Attended

Benson Parish Council 28 September 2017

Attended

McDonalds 28 September 2017

Attended

Mediation symposium 27 September 2017

Attended

Cuddesdon Parish Council 26 September 2017

Attended

Oxfordshire Mind 26 September 2017

Attended

Airbus Helicopters 25 September 2017

Attended

Dorchester Parish Council 25 September 2017

Attended

Watlington Hoard Event 23 September 2017

Attended

Crowmarsh Neighbourhood Plan Exhibition 23 September 2017

Attended

Surgery Woodcote 23 September 2017

Constituent Chalgrove 22 September 2017

Met

Charlton on Otmoor School 22 September 2017

Attended

Enviornment Agency 20 September 2017

Met

South Stoke School 20 September 2017

Attended

Thame Business Forum 19 September 2017

Attended

Thame Cricket Club 19 September 2017

Attended

Woodcote Parish Council 19 September 2017

Attended

3rd bridge meeting 18 September 2017

Attended

Henley Food Festival 16 September 2017

Attended

Oxon CCG Health Meeting 15 September 2017

Chaired

SELF meeting 14 September 2017

Attended

Thame Mayor's Civic Service 10 Septembr 2017

Attended

Vale House Sandford 10 September 2017

Attended

Henley Show 9 September 2017

Attended

Breast Cancer Wear it Pink 6 September 2017

Attended

Regatta for the Disabled 2 September 2017

Attended

Meeting Prison Officers 23 August 2017

Attended

Meeting County Council 23 August 2017

Attended

Meeting Berinsfield Parish Council 22 August 2017

Attended

Thame Community Market Day 22 August 2017

Attended

Puiblic meeting South Stoke 21 August 2017

Attended and spoke

Meeting with Ewelme Residents 15 August 2017

Attended

Meeting with County Council 15 August 2017

Attended

Surgery Watlington 10 August 2017

Goring Neighbourhood Plan 8 August 2017

Attended

Constituent Goring 8 August 2017

Attended

Meeting GWR and Network Rail 8 August 2017

Attended

Benson Neghbourhood Plan Group 8 August 2017

Attended

Henley surgery 7 August 2017

Attended

Chinnor Parish Council 7 August 2017

Attended

Lighthouse Thame 26 July 2017

Attended

Gillotts School Henley 20 July 2017

Attended music concert

IFAW's Ivory event 18 July 2017

Attended

RIAT 15 July 2017

Attended

Surgery Dorchester on Thames 14 July 2017

Warborough School 14 July 2017

Attended for discussion with students

Meeting with the Police 14 July 2017

Attended

APPG for Dentistry anhd Oral Health 13 July 2017

Attended

BBC Radio 13 July 2017

Broadcast on Euratom

Cancer Research event, Parliament 12 July 2017

Attended

BBC TV 12 July 2017

Broadcast on Euratom

ITV Meridian 12 July 2017

Broadcast on 1st year of Mrs May

BBC Radio Berkshire 11 July 2017

Broadcast on Chiltern Edge School

Alzheimer's Awareness session 11 July 2017

Attended

BBC Radio Oxford 11 July 2017

Broadcast on Chiltern Edge School

Thame Town Music Festival 8 July 2017

Attended

Islip Village Fete 8 July 2017

Attended

Henley Festival 7 July 2017

Attended

Culham Science Centre 7 July 2017

Visited

Culham Show 2017 1 July 2017

Attended

Meeting Oxfordshire Fire Chief 29 June 2017

Attended

Council of Europe 25 June - 27 June 2017

Attended

Ewelme Church Fete 24 June 2017

Attended

Nettlebed Village Fete 24 June 2017

Attended

Tetsworth village fete 24 June 2017

Attended and supported Neighbourhood Plan

Meteor Choir Henley 24 June 2017

Attended and joined in

MP Sports Festival for Thame 23 June 2017

Attended and played

Met heads of Langtree and Gillotts 23 June 2017

Attended

Chaired meeting of Oxfordshire MPs and CCG 23 June 2017

Attended

ITV Meridian broadcast 21 June 2017

Broadcast on the Queen's Speech

NFU Parliamentary Reception 20 June 2017

Attended

BBC Radio Oxford Drive Time 12 June 2017

Broadcast future options of the Conservative Party

BBC Radio Oxord 12 June 2017

 Broadcast on position of Theresa May

Great Milton Village Fete 10 June 2017

Attended

ThameMayor's Dinner 29 April 2017

Attended

Council of Europe 23-27 April 2017

Attended

Thame Museum 10th anniversary 15 April 2017

Attended and spoke

Brakespear's new walks launch 12 April 2017

Attended

Eye and Dundsen meeting meeting 12 April 2017

Attended

Tiddington coffee morning 12 April 2017

Attended

Weston on the Green public meeting 11 April 2017

Attended

High Sheriff valedictory 10 April 2017

Attended

Meeting at Sydenham 7 April 2017

Attended

Meeting re broadband 7 April 2017

Attended

Henley Annual Town meeting 6 April 2017

Presented medals

Inside Out Checkendon 6 April 2017

Attended

Oxford Brookes TV debate 5 April 2017

Attended

Chinnor RFC 1 April 2017

Attended

Surgery Benson 31 March 2017

Riverside Counselling Henley 31 March 2017

Met

Visit to HMP Huntercombe 31 March 2017

Visited

MPs Health meeting with CCG 24 March 2017

Chaired and attended

Broadcast BBC Berkshire 23 March 2017

Broadcast on teror attack

Broadcast BBC Radio Oxford 22 March 2017

Broadcast on terror attack

Broadcast Radio 4 22 March 2017

Broadcast on terror attack

Meeting constituent 17 March 2017

Met

Meeting Green Belt campaigners 17 March 2017

Met and supported

BBC Radio Oxford 17 March 2017

Broadcast on EU nationals

Session with Bishop of Oxford 16 March 2017

Attended

Henley street surgery 11 March 2017

Attended

Visit to constituents in Elsfield 10 March 2017

Attended

Visit to Police 10 March 20017

Attended

World's Biggest Pub Quiz, Sydenham 5 March 2017

Quiz master

Trade Envoy visit to Nigeria 27 February - 1 March 2017

Attended

Dinner Oratory Prep school 25 February 2017

Attended

Meeting with farmers 24 February 2017

Attended

Opened Wheatley Post Office 24 February 2017

Attended

Meeting of the CCG 24 February 2017

Attended

Benson Patients Panel 23 February 2017

Attended

Brexit discussion meeting Henley 17 Febryary 2017

Attended

Surgery Dorchester on Thames 17 February 2017

Meeting David Hill and John Cotton 15 February 2017

Met

Brexit discussion meeting Thame 13 February 2017

Attended

Meeting John Taylor 13 February 2017

Met

Meeting Leader District Council 10 February 2017

Met

Meeting police Henley 10 February 2017

Met

Meeting Hart Surgery Henley 10 February 2017

Met

BBC Radio Oxford 9 February 2017

Broadcast on schools funding

South Today TV 8 February 2017

Broadcast on schools funding

Together for Short Lives 7 February 2017

Attended reception

Brexit Seminar 4 February 2017

Chaired session

Culham Fusion Centre 3 February 2017

Met

BBC Radio Oxford 3 Februa