Conservative MEPs today headed off extreme proposals on “sexual and reproductive health and rights” which would see sex education become compulsory across Europe for children as young as four.

A report by Portuguese Socialist Edite Estrela seeks to enforce a set of rules across the whole European Union relating to controversial issues such as abortion, contraception and gay rights.

Clause 43 of the 30-page report “calls on the member states to make sex education classes compulsory for all primary and secondary school children”.

However, as it was about to be voted upon at a plenary sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Conservative MEPs successfully intervened to have the decision halted and the whole package referred back to the Gender Equality Committee. The Conservative suggestion was approved by 351 MEPs with 319 against.

Marina Yannakoudakis, Conservative spokesman on Gender Equality, said: “While there were many good suggestions in the report to do with women’s rights and equal treatment of gay, lesbian and trans-gender people, we firmly believe that these are issues which should be dealt with by member states and not imposed by Brussels and Strasbourg.

“Most definitely we are not in the business of approving a set of rules making sex education compulsory for infants as soon as they leave nursery. That is a matter for member states – and most importantly for parents – to decide.”

“Sadly some colleagues, including British Labour MEPs, approve such wholesale interference. We, however, will continue to oppose such attempts to dictate to the public on key issues of conscience and ethics.

“I believe very strongly that women should be able to decide their own contraceptive arrangements. I believe there are circumstances where abortion should be available as an option for women.

“But I also believe the EU needs to back off from imposing its diktat on all corners of life.

“National governments must control their own health policies; local authorities, school and parents must decide how and in what way children learn about relationships, sexuality and sex; and crucially national governments must be responsible for how they spend taxpayers’ money on services.”