Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Bill on teaching abstinence in sex education passes first vote in Commons

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Conservative MP Nadine Dorries
Earlier this afternoon, a Ten Minute Rule bill proposing the teaching of abstinence to girls in sex and relationship education lessons passed its first vote in the House of Commons. The motion, entitled "Sex Education (Required Content)", was proposed by the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who is best-known for her anti-abortion stance, and reads as follows (it's easiest to search the page for "Dorries" to find it):
"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes."
MPs voted 67-61 in favour of the motion, with a number of the ayes apparently coming from members of the Conservative Christian Fellowship. It's important to point out that it is immensely unlikely that Dorries' bill will become law, as this helpful BBC piece on Ten Minute Rule bills explains:
"If the bill is approved by the House at this first reading stage, it joins the queue of private members' bills waiting to receive a second reading.

The government will only rarely allow a ten minute rule bill to progress far enough to become law so MPs tend to use this procedure simply as a way of gaining publicity for a particular issue."
But while the motion probably won't reach the statute book, its success today illustrates the existence of a small group within parliament, spearheaded by Dorries, that aims to introduce socially conservative legislation, particularly in relation to sex and reproductive rights. Dorries, alongside the Labour MP Frank Field, has introduced amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill that would place new obstacles in the path of women seeking abortions, and she will no doubt take encouragement from today's vote on sex education.

Update: This piece by Sunny Hundal over at Liberal Conspiracy is worth reading for a view on what exactly Nadine Dorries is proposing, and what her long-term aims may be.

Update 2: The Guardian now have a report on this, quoting what Dorries used her ten minutes to tell parliament:
"Peer pressure is a key contributor to early sexual activity in our country. Society is focused on sex. Teaching a child at the age of seven to apply a condom on a banana is almost saying: 'Now go and try this for yourself'. Girls are taught to have safe sex, but not how to say no to a boyfriend who insists on sexual relations."
Of course, children are not (at least as far as we can ascertain) taught at the age of seven how to put condoms on bananas. Perhaps just one of the reasons why Chris Bryant MP, speaking against the motion, described it as "the daftest piece of legislation" he has encountered in the Commons.
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