Yardley MP Jess Phillips sponsored and spoke in a Backbench Business debate on sexual harassment and violence in schools.
The debate followed on the report published by the Women & Equalities Select Committe, of which Jess is a member.
Jess Phillips MP said in the debate:
"It is a real honour to both follow and work with the right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). She has outlined exactly where the problems exist, what the Select Committee found and the areas in which we still have so much progress to make.
I have worked in this area, including by delivering sex and relationships education in schools, for many years. I have written programmes for the Home Office in the past. In my career I have dealt with hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of rape and sexual violence against adults and children. As the right hon. Member for Basingstoke outlined, the cases are horrendous, and the cases in which children are involved hurt even more.
I am a resilient human being in this subject area; I have been trained and I know what I am talking about. This week, in this place, I find my resilience at its lowest ebb, because I feel like nothing is changing. I feel as if all the things the Select Committee heard about the need for boys and men to be included completely in SRE programmes, about gendered attitudes, about who we can and cannot trust, about the processes that should exist in schools but simply do not seem to—all those things are every single reason why what we have heard about happening here in the past few weeks happens.
We have an opportunity to change things. I have to keep believing that we have an opportunity to change the culture of our schools, Parliament and industries, because after this week it feels a little bit like I should give up having this same conversation. I will rally—do not worry—but the fact is that every single argument that has been made about this place could be applied to our schools at the moment. There is not a clear process in place for the harrowing peer-on-peer abuse that we have heard about, which should be called child abuse—that is what it is.
On the Committee, we heard from parents whose children had been left in the same classroom as their perpetrator. The complaint was not just how harrowing that is, but the fact that there is no guidance: there is no process to tell us what to do. What is so galling about that—and what has been so galling about some of the situations in this place this week—is that, if it were a teacher who had committed, or been accused of committing, some of these crimes against a child, there would be a clear process to follow. Again, I find the parallel to here painful in that there is no process and no threshold for this place and the people who work in it.
I say to the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, who I know deeply cares both about the culture here and the culture in our schools, that getting SRE right does not need to take the length of time proposed. This is not something new; it exists in schools, but is patchy. I also say that, just like here, the advisory group on sexual violence and sexual harassment, which the Government have got on board to help with this, does not have any sexual violence academics, frontline specialists, or sexual violence organisations working on it. I fear that that means we are missing some of the very vital information that is needed to get this right in the future to make sure that we are not prejudiced and do not treat any of this like banter—like something that is just part of a culture that we must accept.
The length of time spent on the issue was, unfortunately, interrupted by the election. We will have to chalk that up to experience. I cannot bear to think that, in a year’s time, we will be having the same debate because the process will not have changed in schools, SRE will not be being delivered compulsorily, and specialist agencies will not have been lined up to swoop in when schools rightly need help—schools are not specialists just as not all of us are specialists in this building. I leave that with the Minister and say that we must act."