HC Deb 31 July 1984 vol 65 cc228-32 3.59 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Education Act 1944 to place a duty on local education authorities to prevent the political indoctrination of minors at school; and for connected purposes. The first provision of the Bill states: Teaching in State schools shall not be distinctive of any particular political persuasion, ideology or belief. The second provision states: If any parent requests that a pupil be exempted from attendance at any class where contentious political issues are discussed, then the pupils shall be excused attendance and attend other subjects supervised by the school. Almost 40 years ago, a Conservative President of the Board of Education assured education for all. Since that date, it has been a central tenet of our education system that there is an unwritten understanding between parents, schools and teachers about what is acceptable. Although we expect schools to inculcate in children a belief in the values that underpin our democracy, such as belief in parliamentary democracy, both sides of the House totally reject the manipulation — historically from the Fascist Right and, currently, from the Communist Left — of children's minds. Lately, considerable concern has been expressed about the way in which politics is coming into our schools and 125 hon. Members have signed an early-day motion expressing their concern.

I have here a pack from Teachers for Peace called a "dove pack", which is sent to teachers hoping to start peace study courses. It contains no fewer than 60 items peddling the unilateralist line and only two items which even pretend to put the multilateral case. The effect of this "dove pack" is to give the impression that peace can be settled by the West alone without reference to Soviet intentions or activities. As Her Majesty's Inspectorate has said, peace studies carry Trade Descriptions Act problems. It sounds good, and that is why it is so sinister.

Several examples have caused concern to parents. In one Bournemouth school, 14-year-old children were set questions so loaded that they could invite only one answer. A child was asked: Do you realise that the mobility of Cruise missiles on trucks makes the south of England one big target area? Mr. Christopher Searle, teaching at a school in Bethnal Green, wrote: Children should be taught about the injustice of tyranny resulting from America's military and economic stranglehold on the world. This means relating the just violence of guerrillas in El Salvador to American policy in Israel and Britain and to the struggle of our children in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Merchant) told the House this year that a 14-year-old had telephoned him, scared stiff, because he had had the temerity to question the one-sided views of his CND teacher.

I believe, and my Bill makes it clear, that this issue cannot safely be left to local education authorities. A recent survey showed that only 30 per cent. of Labour authorities opposed peace studies. Nor can the issue be left safely to governing bodies. In a Manchester school, a motion was proposed that peace studies should be taught in a balanced way with presentation of both sides of the disarmament question". Incredibly, that motion was lost by six votes to two—all Labour councillors voting against it.

My Bill puts political education in the same position as religious education under section 25 of the Education Act 1944. It has no adverse affect on political, ethnic or religious minorities. Indeed, it protects parents' rights. Just as parents have a right to withdraw their children from religious assembly, so they should have a right to withdraw their children from one-sided political indoctrination. I see no reason why that should apply to private schools, because parents choose the schools for their children. If they want to send their children to Atlantic college to be taught peace studies, that is their prerogative.

Schools act in loco parentis. Parents have the right of control over children up to the age of 18. I do not believe it right that children should spend time in a classroom being force-fed matters beyond their comprehension that are the subject of controversy among adults. Education should discipline the mind to form its own opinions, not impose on the undisciplined mind the half-baked obsessions of political activists. For example, surely it is better that a child should come to reject racism through reason and logic rather than through coarse sermonising from GLC-type agitprop similar in its one-dimensional nature to National Front agitprop.

In a very real sense, peace education is anti-education. It encourages simplistic questioning. It encourages the child to read violence into situations where there is none. The child also reads conflict and oppression, not concern and optimism, into situations that have ensured peace and democracy in this country for 40 years. I believe that neither Right nor Left has the right of dominion over a child's mind. Education is not about forcing people what to think, but how to think.

4.4 pm

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)


Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to oppose the motion?

Mr. Bermingham

Yes, Sir. Any Bill that limits itself to only one sector of education contains a fundamental flaw. The argument that because a subject is taught in a certain way it must therefore he banned is the same argument that led, in 1932, to the Reichstag banning particular forms of philosophy, to the beginning of the pogroms against the Jewish people in Tsarist Russia and, in many parts of the world, to the isolation of a sect because the point of view that was being taught was not liked.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) may say that he does not like CND, but we should not legislate against ideas. Society should be big enough to comprehend ideas, take them on board and defeat them with counter-ideas. To legislate against ideas would take us down a narrow road, leading ultimately to totalitarianism.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take his Bill away, put it in the dustbin and spend the summer rethinking his philosophy. If we are to go down the road of pogroms, opposition and counter-ideas, we shall return to the Inquisition, Protestant oppression of Catholics, pogroms in eastern Europe and so on. While the hon. Gentleman may seek to oppose peace studies, the way to do so is not by legislation. By introducing his Bill the hon. Gentleman seeks to take us down the road towards totalitarianism.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 139, Noes 136.

Division No. 466] [4.8 pm
Alexander, Richard Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) )Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Baldry, Tony Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Batiste, Spencer Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Benyon, William Kilfedder, James A.
Best, Keith Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Latham, Michael
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Lawler, Geoffrey
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Lawrence, Ivan
Braine, Sir Bernard Lightbown, David
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Lilley, Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Browne, John Lyell, Nicholas
Bryan, Sir Paul McCrindle, Robert
Buck, Sir Antony MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Budgen, Nick Maclean, David John
Butterfill, John Malone, Gerald
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Marland, Paul
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Cash, William Mates, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Meyer, Sir Anthony
Chope, Christopher Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Churchill, W. S. Miscampbell, Norman
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Moate, Roger
Clegg, Sir Walter Monro, Sir Hector
Cockeram, Eric Montgomery, Fergus
Colvin, Michael Murphy, Christopher
Conway, Derek Nelson, Anthony
Coombs, Simon Onslow, Cranley
Crouch, David Osborn, Sir John
Dickens, Geoffrey Ottaway, Richard
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Pawsey, James
Durant, Tony Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Eggar, Tim Powley, John
Emery, Sir Peter Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Fallon, Michael Price, Sir David
Farr, Sir John Proctor, K. Harvey
Fookes, Miss Janet Raffan, Keith
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Rhodes James, Robert
Forth, Eric Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Fox, Marcus Roe, Mrs Marion
Franks, Cecil Rossi, Sir Hugh
Freeman, Roger Rost, Peter
Gale, Roger Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Glyn, Dr Alan Sayeed, Jonathan
Gower, Sir Raymond Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Grant, Sir Anthony Shersby, Michael
Greenway, Harry Silvester, Fred
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds) Sims, Roger
Grylls, Michael Skeet, T. H. H.
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Hannam, John Squire, Robin
Harris, David Stern, Michael
Hawksley, Warren Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Hayes, J. Stokes, John
Hickmet, Richard Sumberg, David
Hill, James Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Hind, Kenneth Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Hirst, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Hordern, Peter Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Howard, Michael Ward, John
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Watts, John
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Wiggin, Jerry
Jackson, Robert Wood, Timothy
Jessel, Toby Woodcock, Michael
Yeo, Tim Mr. Peter Bruinvels and Mr. Piers Merchant.
Tellers for the Ayes:
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Ashton, Joe Fisher, Mark
Barron, Kevin Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Forrester, John
Beith, A. J. Foster, Derek
Bell, Stuart Foulkes, George
Benn, Tony Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) George, Bruce
Blair, Anthony Godman, Dr Norman
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Golding, John
Boyes, Roland Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Brinton, Tim Hancock, Mr. Michael
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hardy, Peter
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bruce, Malcolm Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Caborn, Richard Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Canavan, Dennis Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cartwright, John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clarke, Thomas Kennedy, Charles
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cohen, Harry Lamond, James
Coleman, Donald Leighton, Ronald
Conlan, Bernard Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Litherland, Robert
Corbett, Robin Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Corbyn, Jeremy Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Craigen, J. M. McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Crowther, Stan McGuire, Michael
Cunliffe, Lawrence McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cunningham, Dr John Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dalyell, Tam McNamara, Kevin
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) McWilliam, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Madden, Max
Deakins, Eric Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dewar, Donald Maynard, Miss Joan
Dixon, Donald Michie, William
Dobson, Frank Mikardo, Ian
Dormand, Jack Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Douglas, Dick Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Dubs, Alfred Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Eadie, Alex Nellist, David
Eastham, Ken O'Brien, William
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Park, George
Ewing, Harry Parry, Robert
Fatchett, Derek Patchett, Terry
Pavitt, Laurie Spearing, Nigel
Pendry, Tom Steel, Rt Hon David
Penhaligon, David Straw, Jack
Pike, Peter Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Redmond, M. Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S) Tinn, James
Richardson, Ms Jo Wainwright, R.
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Wallace, James
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Rogers, Allan Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Rooker, J. W. Welsh, Michael
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W) White, James
Sheerman, Barry Wigley, Dafydd
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Winnick, David
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Young, David (Bolton SE)
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Skinner, Dennis Tellers for the Noes:
Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & Fbury) Mr. Gerald Bermingham and Mr. John Evans.
Soley, Clive

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. Spencer Batiste, Mr. Peter Bruinvels, Sir Antony Buck, Mr. John Butterfill, Mr. Michael Forsyth, Mr. Piers Merchant, Sir Peter Mills, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, and Mr. George Walden.