HL Deb 16 February 1977 vol 379 cc1653-735

7.56 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to provide an adequate supply of qualified teachers of religious education. The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is high time that this House gave much more attention than hitherto to religious education. Naturally I am very much encouraged by the number who have put their names down to speak and by the marvellous attendance on the Bishops' Bench, which no doubt is no coincidence; it is just due to their intrinsic interest in this fundamental subject. I am also delighted to think that so many others are going to speak. This can only be a curtain-raiser to the more fundamental and full-dress debate which is being initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, on religious education in the much wider context on, I believe, 18th May.

I shall myself concentrate on the topic mentioned in my Question: the supply of an adequate number of teachers of religious education. I hope that other speakers will feel free to discuss whatever aspect of the subject seems to them to be relevant. I start with certain convictions that I would hope are widely accepted here. First, we all, and particularly our Government, carry inescapable responsibility not only for the intellectual but also for the moral education of our children. Secondly, religious education is an indispensable element in moral education. Thirdly, there is strong evidence that the vast majority of our population, of our parents in particular, desire religious education for their children. Fourthly, I submit that any general level of religious education that fell below the standard required by the 1944 Act would be quite inadequate. Fifthly, I submit that in our country as a whole we are falling below that level, and in all too many schools falling far below it. In other words, the law is being flagrantly broken on a wide scale.

The Minister who is to reply won distinction in his younger days as a philosopher. He is probably—I only say "probably", because in this House it is always dangerous to generalise—the only Member of this House to whom an important work of philosophy has been dedicated. If any other noble Lord present tonight rises to make a similar claim on behalf of himself or his friends, I shall give way. But unless this is true of one of the right reverend Prelates, as it might be—I am sure they have all dedicated important works of theology to one another—I hand the palm to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.

I am not pressing him tonight to pursue the philosophical implications of this subject. No doubt he will be in his place again on 18th May, and may go into some of these matters from that point of view at that time. I would rather he would direct his attention to the speech made by the spokesman for the Minister of Education in the debate on religious education in the House of Commons last March. I hope that the Minister will at the very least—and a lot of people will be wanting to know what he says about this—confirm in no uncertain terms the support given last year to the religious educational provisions of the 1944 Act. I would remind him at the same time of the Under-Secretary's recognition that these religious provisions are admittedly not being carried out at the present time. The Minister on that occasion fully acknowledged the shortage of qualified teachers, given certain illustrations, which indeed provide the raison d'être for our debate tonight.

Nearly a year later—that is, nearly a year after that debate—I put these questions having given some notice to the noble Lord who represents the Secretary of State for Education here, and we are looking to him of course for an up-to-date assessment and, if possible, a prognosis. I appreciate his difficulties, so perhaps we must not expect too much; nevertheless, we are entitled to press these questions. How far in early 1977 are we falling below the 1944 standard? How far is this due to the shortage of teachers? What are the main causes of that shortage? Have matters deteriorated since last year and are they likely to deteriorate still further under various factors which are operating at the present time?

Three factors which will occur to most noble Lords are these: first, there are the expenditure cuts—I am not arguing about them now, but we all know that expenditure cuts have been adopted by Parliament in the interests of the national economy; secondly, there has been the closing of colleges of education, apart from the expenditure cuts, due to the declining birthrate; and thirdly, there are various administrative amalgamations, into polytechnics for example, which are due to what is thought to be a more progressive arrangement. In all these cases, the danger to the smaller departments such as religious education is bound to be the most acute and I am bound to say that the cuts in many cases on present plans seem to be made without reference to the shortages in certain subjects; but at the moment I am asking questions and not providing or seeking to provide answers.

When we come to my own statement of the position I would say that beyond doubt there is a serious crisis in religious education today and that unless something drastic is done the situation will get distinctly worse. It is not really a crisis of educational theory, although there is plenty of controversy going on. It is not due in any large measure in a direct sense to the assaults of our Humanist friends, and I am glad to note that at least three eminent Humanists will be taking part in this discussion. I hope I do not insult them, because we are all so fond of them, when I say that up to now they do not seem to have had much influence; in other words, from my point of view they have not done much harm up to now. I do not want to upset them because perhaps they thought they had done a lot of harm. I hope they will not be annoyed by what I have said and we shall hear from them with great pleasure; they are much valued colleagues.

It is not really that the Humanists as such have led to this decline in religious education, although I would agree that if this country were a much more religious country than it is now, in all these complicated administrative arguments and negotiated cuts religion would come out better than it seems likely to. The most obvious cause of the crisis is a shortage of teachers of religious education; by teachers of religious education I mean people who are equipped by training to teach the subject in a way that is interesting and educationally acceptable. The House will expect me to offer an opinion about the facts of the shortage, but these are very hard to come by; I have never come across a subject in an all too long experience in this House and elsewhere where it was so hard to get at the essential facts, even given the good will of being ready to supply them on the part of the official community.

I hope it is not impertinent to say that I doubt whether the Government themselves—it is impertinent to ask a lot of questions and then tell the Minister that one does not believe he has the answers, but as I shall not have a right of reply I am bound to say something of this sort to give any reality to our discussion—will be able to tell us what we ought to know if we are to have a satisfactory discussion. If the noble Lord is able to tell us, then I shall apologise; but I do not think I shall have to, and I shall return to this point later.

Meanwhile, I have consulted a number of experts and I will offer a few illustrations of a shortage which, so far as I know, is not denied by anyone. In 1971 there was a very thorough report which included the fact that over 63 per cent of secondary school religious education was taught by people who had not been trained in the subject—nearly two-thirds of them had not been trained in it—compared with 19 per cent in history and 36 per cent. in mathematics.

The same report included the fact that a survey of schools in one area of Yorkshire showed that 95 per cent of primary teachers had not received adequate, or indeed perhaps in many cases any, training in the subject—this is talking about the primary schools and this survey was conducted six years ago—although almost all those people would be responsible for the religious education of their own classes. I have been given a great deal of information by kindly experts relating to the period since 1971. On balance—I do not know whether the Minister would be inclined to dispute this—the position seems rather worse than it was then. On present trends, the immediate provision of specialist RE teachers is likely to worsen annually. Putting it crudely, the position has been bad for a considerable time and is likely to get worse unless something is done.

It is this apparent shortage of teachers which gives a plausible excuse to the numerous headmasters who at the present time are willingly or reluctantly failing to carry out the provisions of the 1944 Act; they say it is impossible because they cannot get the teachers. That kind of excuse at first hearing is difficult to brush aside, but it transfers our inquiry to the colleges of education and the universities, many of which are quick to tell us that there is nothing they can do about it because they are not getting enough recruits from the schools who opt for religious education when they come to college. That would be the defence of the colleges if they are not turning out enough students who are trained in religious education.

In the face of this situation, admittedly difficult, we can either sit down, fold our arms and let things go from bad to worse or we can bestir ourselves into strenuous action. Tonight I insist that the latter course, that of strenuous action, is our bounden duty. Many noble Lords will sympathise with that sentiment, but what can we do about it? To begin with, we can at least demand that steps should be taken to prevent a further deterioration. What is happening in the colleges is extremely serious; colleges are being absorbed at an enormous rate into local institutes of higher education, polytechnics and universities. As they become small fry in these larger bodies, the smaller departments like religious education have every prospect of going to the wall. Examples supplied to me come from Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle among others.

Two responsible lecturers from the City of Birmingham Polytechnic wrote: We are the only two remaining members of a hitherto flourishing department of religious studies which for many years was recognised by Birmingham University as competent for both Certificate Studies and the BA Degree in Theology. The result of the closure of the Department of Religious Education is that within the whole of the LEA sector, opportunity for specialist training in religious studies no longer exists… A principal lecturer from Leeds wrote about his college: This college is shortly to be absorbed into the Leeds Polytechnic. The prospect for any continuance of religious education in future courses seems remote. A similar message comes from a lecturer in Newcastle, who says, Whatever you may think about what we now teach, nothing will be taught quite soon because there are so very few teachers who have been able to take a course. A number of noble Lords have specialist knowledge about Newcastle, including the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, so I hope we shall be hearing a good deal about it before we finish.

I should acknowledge that there are pluses as well as minuses. In Nottingham and Sunderland, for example, the prospects for religious education are said to be better than hitherto; but nobody doubts that the overall picture is extremely menacing. The only person who can do much about this situation is the Secretary of State. She is not all-powerful but she is more powerful than anyone else. I call urgently for an assurance—and I shall spell this out slowly—that the Secretary of State will do all in her power to see that religious education is indeed available in all teacher training establishments. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something helpful about that—I did not hear the Minister's remark. No doubt it was very witty but it was sotto voce.


My Lords, I simply said that I had noted my noble friend's question.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, that is very good. If I may say so, that is what the Minister is employed to do.

What I have just suggested is a minimum. It is a desperate, defensive minimum but, if we really believe in religious education and are genuinely anxious to see the law of the land carried out, we cannot leave matters there. Because we have a wonderful list of speakers I shall mention quickly four other steps that must be taken and shall leave other speakers to develop these or to make their own additions. The first matter is in-service training. By that, I mean the training of teachers who are already at work in the schools. Everyone agrees on the need for in-service training by which those who are already teaching can be qualified by part-time or full-time courses to teach religious education either for the first time or much more effectively than hitherto. In the present economic circumstances, most local education authorities are cutting down on release of teachers for full-time in-service courses. Everything possible must surely be done to check this trend and to reverse it. Here again, it is the Minister—our own in the first place and the Secretary of State subsequently—to whom we must look for strong leadership.

Secondly, there is the attitude of the headmasters which varies widely through out the country. In the long run it is in the schools that the battle will be won or lost. The supply of teachers in the colleges will depend to a great extent on the standard of religious education in the schools, on the enthusiasm of the headmasters and on the emphasis that they give to the subject. One must point out that, to a large though not to a total extent, the headmasters determine how many pupils take O-levels and A-levels in that subject. We really must do much more than is being done now to see that the 1944 Act is observed. We shall no doubt be reminded of the acknowledged difficulties, but many headmasters could do much more than they are doing, even with their limited resources. Many are concealing a shortage. If any headmasters say, "We are not short of teachers," one wants to look very closely into their arrangements to see whether the minimum provision is being made in their schools. I do not say that they are doing this mischievously but, in practice in many cases, by merging religious education with other subjects, they are taking steps to make sure that none of us knows how much religious education is left at the end of it all. Her Majesty's Inspectors must be given new and much more forceful directions to see that the law is upheld—that seems a modest claim, but I am afraid that it is not being honoured at present—and to see that religious education is indeed available to every pupil attending schools in their area. In so far as there is a vicious circle here, we must break it at all costs, and no one but the Government can take the initiative in doing so.

Thirdly, I believe, as do many others who are much more qualified than I, that religious education must be given an altogether higher status if the 1944 Act is to be honoured. A much more attractive career structure must be introduced if young people are to be persuaded in sufficient numbers to make this a large part of their life's work. The special responsibilities involved in providing religious and moral education are sadly undervalued. However, all that may take some time and I therefore suggest, fourthly, something much more concrete and immediate. May I urge the Government—and here I certainly do not speak for myself alone—to conduct a thorough inquiry into the whole question of the supply of qualified teachers of religious education? I shall of course await with eagerness, as we all shall, the reply of the Minister. I know that, as always, he will be completely frank. If he has not much to tell us, he will not pretend that he has. I do not possess a right of reply but I shall be amazed if by the end of this evening he has been able to give us the factual information for which I have asked him. The less he can tell us, the more overwhelming the case for an inquiry.

8.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset to thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for introducing this matter, which is of very considerable concern to all of us, to your Lordships' attention. I might have hoped that the debate would have taken place after the debate on the Motion tabled by my noble friend Lord Blake, which I believe will take place on 21st May though it has not yet reached the Order Paper. However, a number of your Lordships may like to be aware that that is probably when the debate will take place. As an Anglican, I must say that immense distinction is added to the debate by the preponderant attendance of the right reverend Prelates. As the Benches and the black and white rows in parallel filled, I thought, first, that an ornithologist might expect them to migrate; secondly, that a theologian would hope that they would pray and, thirdly, that a politician would expect that they would go to sleep. I hope that, in all but the second of those anticipations, I shall be frustrated.

The difficulty of taking the debate now is that we are not addressing ourselves to the question of what is to be taught and, therefore, to the volume of knowledge, concepts and attitudes that are to be handled. That is not a proper subject to raise in this debate and as a result we can only proceed on what we take to be the common, accepted ground of what religious education is. At the outset, we have to establish what is the adequacy of the present supply. We know that 8 per cent of students at present in Church colleges are taking main course religious education and that in local education authority colleges the figure is 5½ per cent., but we know very little more and almost nothing about what is going on during service itself.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I have found this a difficult subject to research. This is partly due to the fact that, in England and Wales, a qualification to teach anything appears to be a qualification to teach anything else and one cannot distinguish between somebody who is a teacher of religious education and a person who is a teacher of physical education. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, through his aides, has been kind enough to make available some figures to which I do not doubt he will advert later but to which I hope he will forgive me for referring now. These figures result from some research carried out by the Department which records the figures of deficiency or surplus of teachers in, in this instance, religious education which are thought to have existed in the years 1969–1975. I shall, subject to the very probable correction of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, try to deduce how the figures were arrived at. It appears that in the years 1969 to 1974 there have been deficiencies of 309, 274, 195, 247, 233 and 133 respectively, with a surplus of 45 in 1975. I pause to let that information sink in to those who are not in possession of it, because it appears to be at variance both with the received subjective information and opinion that we have from those in the field, and with much that is slightly more concrete that has been adduced by the noble Earl, Lord Longford.

Therefore I must quickly refer to the methods of arriving at this, which I understand—and I may be wrong—are by means of a questionnaire in which head teachers are required to say what they would like to have if they have not already got it, and what they would like to dispose of if they already have it in the way of teaching resources. As I say, this is arrived at by a questionnaire. But of course there is a tedium attached to the filling in of questionnaires and, considerately, the Department has resorted to the technique, which will be familiar to those of your Lordships who have been discussing the Public Lending Right Bill, of a rotating sample. It does not mean that the subjects are giddy, my Lords; it means that they are different every year, and therefore those who answer the question are addressing themselves to it for the first time each time, and one never has anyone recollecting what he said five years ago.

One reason for this apparent sufficiency of teachers may paradoxically, I believe, be the shortage itself, because a post which is filled satisfactorily, so far as the head teacher and the administrators of the school are concerned, by a non-qualified teacher, ceases to present an item of need in the reply to the questionnaire, because if the teacher of classics or arithmetic is very good in part-time as head of RK or as a junior teacher in RK, then the need for a trained specialist, although it may exist, is not felt.

I shall not forget the need, if only for one reason, because for seven out of the ten years in which I was a practising teacher, I was for—I hope it is not inept to say this—my sins and with no qualifications at all, a volunteer part-time teacher of religious education. I became acutely aware of my deficiencies in this field by reason of the fact that I was reasonably well qualified in my own subject, which is history. I was also acutely aware of the relative importance of any damage that I might be doing in the two separate spheres. Therefore I think that this is a subject to which we must address ourselves with considerable patience and care, and not perhaps in great haste; and I am sure that the noble Lord will agree with me here.

With the post that we spoke of, as a head of department, filled by a non-qualified teacher we are in fact at the beginning of a spiral. You have a non-qualified head of department. You have a reduction of academic drive—and academics among your Lordships will know exactly what I mean; it is not a theological concept at all. There is also a reduction of the supply of expertise and resources which a head of department should supply. That means that the other members of the department, who will almost inevitably all of them be minority time and most of them untrained, will be less well led, less well helped and less well motivated. The result of that is fewer and poorer candidates at O and A levels and that means fewer and poorer candidates for colleges and departments of education in religious studies. Then of course the cycle repeats itself, because there are less qualified and less well qualified people to fill the heads of department, and the heads of the school are better satisfied with the better qualified people that they will find in other disciplines. Eventually in some local education authorities' areas the result is that the subject approaches neglect.

This brings one to the question of the standing of the subject in the esteem of local education authorities, and indeed of teachers. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, has been very aptly precise on this subject. I should like to fill out a little what he says. It appears to me, in so far as I can make it out, that if you specialise in religious education and submit your applications as a specialist in this field, you can get very rapid promotion in the early years because there is a shortage. This is accepted, and it was in fact accepted, I should like to remind your Lordships, as recently as yesterday in the other place by the Secretary of State in reply to my honourable friend the Member for Chelmsford. The Secretary of State said that the problem is that many of those who teach religious education are unqualified in the subject and have not themselves studied in that subject. That is the situation now and we are on common ground.

Well, there is a shortage and therefore very quickly these new entrants get drawn up the rather short ladder to the top of their career in religious education. They can go only as high as a Grade IV scale post, and of course there is considerable promotion beyond this in other subjects before you have to become head of humanities, or a chief careers counseller, or a chief counselling teacher, or whatever it may be. This means that the teacher finds himself, if I may so express it, standing on the broad top of a rather short step ladder, and next to him is a long extending ladder to which he can cross over and go on up, abandoning the care of his department into less well proven hands; and he is likely to do this after his fifth, but before his tenth year of teaching practice. That means that always the people in that post are relatively inexperienced because wisdom grows slowly in this of all subjects.

There should be some inducement for them therefore to improve their qualifications other than the grade post, and it may be that the noble Lord in his reply will say whether he would consider extending the grade scale posts available for the heads of departments in this subject. This incentive does not appear to me to be there. One of the best regarded qualifications for improving the standard and efficiency of a teacher of religious education is to take an advanced diploma. That can take 12 months in a residential centre, and the reward for that and for absence from family and friends for 12 months is an increment of £86 on the annual salary. That is very little to give somebody for the considerable effort and dislocation which he will have to undergo to achieve it. So here are two areas in which I shall listen with attention to what the noble Lord has to say, and I shall quite understand if he would prefer to reply to me later about this, because it is a matter to which we may return in our next debate.

We come again—I will be brief, my Lords—to the matter of standing with local education authorities as an academic subject. I think it is worth saying at this stage that the study of theology, which is what it is in a university, and religious studies, as it is in colleges of education, is every bit as respectable as the study of history or the classics as part of a liberal education. It involves the study of philosophic ideas; it involves the study of a language; it involves the study of logic, and of their transmission. Therefore there is very properly an educational argument in favour of a retention of this subject in school and college and university curricula at not less than its present strength, and hopefully a great deal higher; I repeat, an educational as opposed to a moral or spiritual argument. That needs to be established as a preliminary to any discussions that we may have later.

I hope that your Lordships will take note of the marked change there has been in the content of A- and O-level syllabuses. These are now both good academic courses, but they have changed and the changes have been matched also by the syllabuses of colleges and departments. They have been changed to meet the requirements of an increasingly multiracial community in a world of diminishing size. This means that even qualified teachers, unless they have been very recently qualified, are in fact teaching in an increasing proportion of their syllabus without a sufficient professional academic ground to what they are doing, because the material which is coming in is different in kind and extent from what they studied ten years ago. So, two types of in-service training are wanted. One is to update those who are qualified, and the other is to add a qualification to those who are not. The former of these two may be a major or a minor operation. If it is minor, it will be part-time and it must be locally based.

We come here to another area which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, so wisely touched on at the outset of the debate. It is very important that there should not be large geographical gaps in the availability of this kind of resource, because otherwise people simply will not be able to go into the education they need to improve their teaching. I hope that the noble Lord will tell us what now is the standing of the regional advisory councils in this matter, and what is the guidance which they are receiving from the Department; because this is crucial, and I am not clear (and I am sure many of your Lordships are not clear) what actually is the pull that these councils have with those who are now planning the closure—the necessary closure, to a large extent; that is accepted—of colleges of education. The noble Earl has alluded to Birmingham, Newcastle and other places, and I will not go into further detail.

I think I ought to emphasise, in spite of the fact that I have spoken of departments, that we are not concerned only with secondary education. There is a continuous change of conceptual ability and approach from five years old to adulthood, which is the period we are concerned with, and at the lower end of the scale the outlook is specifically concrete. My favourite example is of the child who was asked, at the age of, I think, six, to draw a picture of the flight to Egypt and drew a beautiful picture of the Holy Family and the donkey, but there was a large round black dot. Asked what it was, he said: "It says in the Bible here, 'Take the child and flee into Egypt'. That's the flea". My Lords, I do not wish to introduce a note of levity into this debate, but I think we must realise the acute importance of the subject in primary schools. First of all, it is accepted by educationists of all colours and philosophies that what goes on in the first eight years of a child's life is of far greater formative force than anything that happens thereafter. Secondly, I happen to believe (though I am trying to keep this in as unphilosophic a vein as possible) that this is, at bottom, the most important subject that a child is taught.

No school, therefore, would be sufficiently staffed without a qualified teacher of religion, whether it was a major or a minor subject in his course; most schools should have two, and big schools should have three. It is not easy to arrive at a figure. You can multiply up these aspirations by the number of schools and their sizes, or you can say that there is an irreducible minimum of time which should be devoted in any respectable curriculum to the subject. In that case, I can only look at precedent, and I am not sure that I agree with it, but there is a general view that one hour in the week at least should be spent on grounding in such matters, and there are 30 hours in the week; so that is a ratio of 1 to 30 in your specialisms. Of course, you have to add to that what is additional to the grounding; that is to say, the academic or exam-based courses. I should very much like to know, either in this debate or in the not too distant future, what the noble Lord's reactions are, and what his Government's reactions are, to these tentative quantifications of what is required.

At this juncture I think I should tell your Lordships that we believe that religious education should comprise part of the core curriculum upon which much of the great current debate centres, and if it is decided to reintroduce a certificate analogous to the old School Certificate we believe that this subject might well need to be a part of it. This may not seem to be a revolutionary statement, but the assumption is not often made that it is our belief. I hope that it is the noble Lord's also. It is certainly built into the Act of 1944; and if this is not so then this is a departure of some significance, and I should have thought indicated a decline in our attitude to this area of education.

Before summing up what I have said, I cannot refrain from saying that we are dealing here, whatever we regard as the proper content of religious education, with something which touches the life not only of individuals but of the nation very closely indeed. There is a general concern about declining standards in education, and this is part of it. There is also general concern about declining standards generally, and this, in my view, is a part of that, also. Therefore, we have a great responsibility to see that we discharge the trust which the Act of 1944 and our parents, and indeed our children, lay upon us.

Religion is an integral part of life. Religious education is therefore an integral part of preparation for life, of equal if less obviously commercial importance with mathematics and science. It must therefore remain an integral part, not only of school curricula but also of college and university curricula. There is a need to increase the esteem in which the subject is held—and this is something we shall return to in May—by local education authorities as well as teachers and parents. We must at all costs make available career incentives and in-service training—and career incentives of course include a look at the career structure, and it is not a subject to which there is an immediate answer—and we must finally recognise that the qualification for teaching religious education is not Christian commitment and amateur enthusiasm, or indeed any other sort of commitment and enthusiasm. It is hard and unremitting work, both in the classroom and in preparation for a teaching career. In this the ministry, the Department and Her Majesty's Inspectors have a role to play in securing the esteem in which the subject is held. I hope your Lordships will consider this very closely, without intemperate heat, and keeping in view the prospect of another and enlarged debate in the same area which is coming shortly. I should like to conclude by thanking the noble Earl once more for introducing this subject; and I think that, if she returns, a word of congratulation to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, might not be out of place, as she is the only person who will have spoken in all three debates this afternoon.


My Lords, before the noble Lord finally resumes his seat, may I ask him a question of fact? A few minutes ago (but I did not like to intervene then) he referred a number of times to "we believe" this and "we believe" that. I thought this was a non-Party debate, and I wondered who "we" were


My Lords, it is a non-Party debate in so far as we have a bi-partisan approach. It occurred to me that some people might think that that bipartisan approach might not exist owing to a defection from the aims, which I then referred to, from my noble friends. I am assuring noble Lords and the House that that defection has not taken place and will not take place, and therefore I take it we are having a bipartisan approach and this is not a Party debate.

The Lord Bishop of SALISBURY

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one thing? I think he mentioned the date of the next debate as being the 18th; I understood the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to say the 21st, or vice versa. Could the noble Lord clarify that?


I did say—at least, I hope I said—the 21st, my Lords. That is certainly what I intended to say, and I will look at my diary and intervene at a later stage if I was wrong. But it is not on the printed Minutes, and therefore it must be taken as tentative.


My Lords, I think the 21st is a Saturday.

Viscount INGLEBY

My Lords, the 18th is a Wednesday.


It is the 18th May.

8.37 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of BLACKBURN

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has drawn attention to a very important subject, and it is, of course, one aspect of a much larger subject; but, as he himself has pointed out, it would be a pity if we were to lose sight of this particular problem by indulging in a general debate on the value of religious education, for which we shall get the opportunity in May. We are concerned with the supply, and therefore with the training, of teachers of religious education, and immediately two aspects of the problem can be seen, for this training can be done either as part of the initial training or through the in-service training courses to which reference has already been made.

The Minister doubtless will give us the figures for students at local authority education colleges doing religious education as a main course. For the Church colleges—I refer to the Church of England colleges in this case—out of 14,427 students at present in initial training, 1,163 are taking religious education as a main course, which is just over 8 per cent of the total. The percentage has not changed materially in the last 5 years, though there was a drop in the previous 3 years. Three years ago the corresponding percentage at local authority colleges of education was about 5½ per cent.; the drop in the previous three years in their colleges was nearly twice as fast as that in the Church colleges. In a way this is to be expected; for one of the purposes of the Church being responsible for its colleges is to make provision for this very need. Indeed, those of us who have responsibility for the Church colleges of education must, and, I hope, will, see what better provision can be made. Since, however, we train only one-sixth of the men and women who enter the teaching profession we cannot solve the problem on our own. We shall maintain at all our colleges a main course in religious education and the growing close co-operation between the Churches in this field—not least in Liverpool with the coming together of two Roman Catholic colleges and one of our colleges and, again, not least, in the Roehampton Institute of Education—is to be welcomed.

While I should like to place on record our appreciation of the considerate and fair treatment given to our colleges by the Secretary of State in her recent statement, even if we were to double the number of students taking religious education as a main course at our Church colleges, it would increase the national total by only 25 per cent. It makes sad reading, therefore, when we hear of local authority colleges where the religious education department is likely to close down. It is understandable that where a college is reduced in size as a result of the current cut-back in numbers, there should be a measure of rationalising of courses; but if this means cutting out courses in shortage subjects it is regrettable. The DES letter 76/1 on the rationalising of college courses asks the regional advisory councils, "to maintain an adequate provision for shortage subjects" and quotes religious education as one of those subjects.

There is a further factor which aggravates the situation. If religious education is regarded in a secondary schools as part of an integrated area such as the Humanities, the shortage of qualified RE teachers may be concealed when the school annual return on staffing is made. Again, the same DES letter underlines the importance of religious education in any professional training for primary school teaching. Clearly, the Churches have a responsibility not only to maintain RE courses at all of our colleges, which we shall, but also to encourage young people to take up the teaching of RE as a vocation, which I hope we shall do. But with the cut-backs over the whole range of colleges being rather more than 50 per cent., not only would our Church colleges of education have to double their percentage of students doing RE as a main course but also all the LEAs would have to do the same to have an input of qualified RE teachers equal to the present input; that is, in actual numbers. Like the Red Queen, you must run twice as fast in order to be able to stay where you are.

Thus, my Lords, while there is no substitute for strong initial training of teachers at all levels, particular attention must be given to the in-service training to which reference has been made. There are two good reasons for this. In the first place, it would provide for an increase in qualified RE teachers, or partially-qualified RE teachers, without making a shortage in any other subject; that is, if people came into the course and added religious education as a further qualification what, in the Service Chaplains' Department, we used to call a "conversion course". This is not only an arithmetical asset but it is also an educational asset. Because of the shortage, qualified RE teachers teach a larger number of pupils for a reduced number of periods than is the case in any other subject. Yet, in religious education personal knowledge and understanding of the pupil by the teacher is more important than in probably any other subject. If, through in-service training, teachers can add religious education to their existing qualifications, they could teach children whom they already knew through other disciplines; and the value of their teaching of religious education would thereby be enhanced.

The second reason for paying attention to the in-service training element of this is that the provision being made by the Secretary of State for 20 per cent of our college places to be devoted to in-service training gives opportunity for a substantial improvement in the situation. If the regional advisory councils can take seriously the shortage of qualified RE teachers, as also the shortage of mathematics teachers, the situation could be materially improved. The Church colleges can, and will, make provision for in-service courses but, as the voluntary colleges are not officially represented on the regional advisory councils, we can do little to ensure that the teachers are given the opportunity of the provisions which we will try to provide. On the other hand, Her Majesty's Inspectorate and the local authority advisers can, between them, encourage the local authorities to make the necessary financial provision especially in the case of part-time courses. Further, it should be pointed out that the religious education resources centres—and I refer to those at St. Gabriel's, Camberwell, and at Ripon and York in particular—are available to all schools and teachers and not only to Church schools and teachers. There are several other resource centres at different stages of development, not all of them Church founded. I refer to those at Canterbury, Durham, Exeter, Carlisle, Gloucester, Lancaster, Birmingham and Isleworth.

My Lords, reference has been made to one factor which militates against an increase of students opting for RE, either at initial training or at in-service training; and that is the small number of higher graded posts and allowances. I note that this factor was specially referred to in the report of the Working Party on the Recruitment, Employment and Training of Teachers of Religious Education set up, with encouragement and financial support, by the DES in 1969 and which reported in 1971. Perhaps as a consequence of the position revealed by that report, there could be set up by the DES, who has made financial provision for it, a small unit to monitor its results; that is, to monitor year by year the recruitment and supply of RE students and teachers and also the number and distribution of graded posts in the subject.

Finally, I believe that the qualified teachers of RE in our schools are as devoted to their subject and as academically well qualified as those in other subjects; but far too few teachers are qualified and, as a result, the best qualified have the largest pupil load, making the conditions for teaching less effective. Again, the number of schools encouraging pupils to opt for A-level in religious studies is less than it should or could be. But if the number of graded posts were increased, if the local authorities could ensure that a fair proportion of in-service places in the colleges were allocated to religious education, the situation could materially improve. On our part, the General Synod Board of Education will try to persuade the clergy of our parishes to encourage young people to take up religious education as a vocation. We have a dual system of education not only in the schools but in the colleges as well, and in this particular matter we must work as partners. I will do my best, through the Board of Education, to see that the Church is a willing partner.

8.51 p.m.


My Lords, for the first time since my privilege to be present in your Lordships' House I find myself sitting among the Prelates, not of my choice—that would be impudent, and I would not be so presumptuous—but because of their overflowing numbers tonight. I venture to hope that this physical coincidence will be reflected in the ecumenical spirit in which I try to speak of the overwhelming importance of the education in Christian matters. I believe, in conjunction with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that Christianity is the way and the truth and the life and, for that reason, I regard it as having a priority which is unquestionable.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for introducing this topic, and also for the warning that we should operate tonight with a fairly restricted front. I beg leave to introduce a wider consideration on the grounds that if you look, as no doubt you have done, at the various words in this Motion, you will find that the operative words are contingent and dependent. We are to consider the adequacy of the teaching staff. We are to consider the availability of such processes of qualification as will suit those who are to teach, properly to undertake that office. We are to think of the religious education in itself. Both adjectives, and indeed the noun, are entirely dependent for their veracity on what is the adequacy, what is the required qualification and what, after all, is religion and whether or not you can educate people in religion at all.

I will briefly try to say something on those three themes. It is because I believe the inadequacy at the moment of teaching in religious matters is a result of the prevailing secularisation of the community in which we live that the need for such religious education is no longer paramount and is widely disregarded. It happens that on Wednesdays when such debates take place I try myself out on Tower Hill, which is a fairly robust preparation for any discussion. Once again, today it has been my opportunity to test out the kind of feeling that people have about the need for education in religious matters. I hope that it will not startle your Lordships if I find that it has almost totally disappeared.

There is a residuary group who believe that here is an imperative need which at all costs must be served. But there are a great many people who no longer find any sense of peremptory importance in Christian matters. For that reason, those who endeavour to provide an adequate preparation in religious education are very largely dealing in an area where to begin with there is no response. There is no family background upon which to build and no general sense of great and imperative need for the prosecution of the Christian case.

It is a miserable fact, but it has come home to me again and again that the ignorance of the average man and woman today is a sorry comment on the kind of religious education to which he or she was exposed when younger. My own memories of the theology lesson or the scripture lesson are that it was a prolegomenon to arithmetic and the time when you marked the register. The only spiritual comment that I remember about one of the most beautiful hymns, "Holy, Holy, Holy", is that we were adjured to mind our aitches. That is not because I was brought up in a non-Christian home; I was surrounded by Christianity and baptised by a hosepipe, almost. But, nevertheless, I believe that you cannot provide an adequate need if that need is not itself felt. Perhaps the greatest of all the obligations to which we must attach ourselves is to recreate that need.

I will not press the Christian claim, but I will offer a much more commonplace reason for the imperative need for religious education. At least those who are going to be atheists should know why; and those who are going to reject the Christian faith should have an ample opportunity of knowing on what grounds—suitable and substantial grounds—they make such a decision. The plain fact is that it is deplorable that people should reject Christianity; it is even more deplorable that they should reject it for totally unrealistic reasons. Those reasons are prejudicial to any common sense and have no root in any kind of ideology.

I would break a gentle lance with the noble Earl: though I believe that religion is pre-requisite of morals, yet there is an increasing number of people who think that morals can get on pretty well so long as you have an ideology, and that ideology need not essentially be religious. This is part of the climate of disaffection with the primary needs of Christianity or religion as they are still purported to be generally accepted when, as a matter of fact, they are not.

In the second place, what is the qualification to teach religion? I believe that religion essentially is caught rather than taught. I am persuaded that you cannot communicate the reality of religion unless you are a participant in its activities and have a realistic approach to its principles. It seems to me that the evidence is considerable that a great many of those who purport to teach religion have in themselves no substantial faith, which is the prerequisite of any true communication. Children listen much more to what you are than to what you say, and if what you communicate is some academic list of facts upon which you presume yourself to be neutral, it should be no surprise that, though you may have a textual and scholastic qualification about Church history and certain of the articles of the faith, unless you are committed to that faith, it is impossible to implant it in the minds, let alone the hearts, of those whom you seek to teach.

In the same context, I believe that there is at the heart of the problem of religious teaching a dilemma which as yet we have not resolved. It is the dilemma of selecting a particular subject as having a priority in authority not possessed by any other. After all, the concept of the inspiration of the Bible is the literary counterpart of infallibility. I would communicate to your Lordships that the whole word "inspiration" is a snare and a delusion. Unless it is absolute it has no philosophical and no substantial meaning whatsoever. You cannot be fairly inspired, considerably inspired or rather inspired. One of the troubles that has affected so grievously the communication of religious matters in schools has been the attitude of those who have had, perforce, to regard the Bible as a document which cannot be criticised. But at the same time they are invited to criticise it, and they get into an awful mess because at one and the same time they would regard it as infallible and would at least pretend to their scholars, and those to whom they endeavour to present their case, that it should be subject, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, rightly said, to the normal processes of thought.

I remember that attitude was communicated to me in particular in relation to the story of David and Goliath. I found my sympathies were entirely with Goliath, though they were not supposed to be. Here was a nasty boy throwing stones from a safe distance at a man walking at about two miles per hour in four tons of armour. When David knocked Goliath unconscious he chopped his head off. I do not find that an edifying story. If you believe the Bible to be inspired, you are inevitably endeavouring to communicate something which, on further evidence, any sensible youngster will repudiate as being ridiculous. That is one of the problems. It is a problem which is not universally shared, and I do not want to make too much of it; but there is an automatic and final distinction between a subject which can be argued about and in which criticism ought to be promoted, and a subject which is so authentic and sacrosanct that all that is required of the scholar is to receive it, to imbibe it and to accept it finally.

The debate with regard to religious education as yet in your Lordships' House has not ventured upon what, after all, is the circumstantial problem that outweighs in its significance, and indeed in its difficulty, all the others. One of my heroes is Blaise Pascal: I think he had one of the purest minds of which history has any record. If you read his Pensées you will discover there that he brought the most acute critical faculties to everything except the Bible and religious matters, which he seemed to accept because the prevailing temper, atmosphere and climate conduced to such exceptions.

No longer is that so; and added to the problems that face any critical attitude to Christianity is the proliferation of other faiths. My spiritual father was John Wesley and he had a lot of difficulty on one occasion with a meat chopper in Nottingham; but as far as I know he never had to debate Christianity with Buddhists. But in Hyde Park, not so long ago, there were a number of Buddhist missionaries sent over from what was then Burma in order to save us at the last ditch from the peril of our own violence in the West. They started very properly in the North of Scotland and worked their way South. I found them in Hyde Park, and they knew considerably more about Buddhism than I did. What is more, there were elements in what they said that I found impossible to refute and which showed up in some measure delinquencies and failures in the faith, or at least in the history of the faith, to which I am committed.

When you think of the multiracial society which has come to stay, when you think of the Sikh and the Buddhist, to say nothing of the tremendous revival of faith in Judaism—I do not say that in order to placate anyone sitting here who may later on be taking part in the debate, except to say how much we owe to it—in fact it can be very clearly shown, as I remember a Communist agitator showed to me, that Christianity is, so to speak, not a fallacy but a heresy of Judaism, that Islam is a heresy of both and that Communism can be regarded as a heresy which compounds most of the failures of the other three. Whether or not you agree with that, surely it is true that any religious education in the future must take note of the fact that there are a great many people who do not subscribe to the Christian faith and are not likely so to do. Heady ambitions that evangelism or evangelical jamborees of past days or present times are likely to produce such an overflow of Christian enthusiasm as relatively to blot out these other things, I think, relate to a Cloud Cuckoo-land of the most ridiculous nature.

Therefore, believing as I do that Christianity is the way, the truth and the life, I believe we have to take a much more humble attitude to those who disagree with us, and we have to provide—this is an existential requirement—for those of other faiths an equal and democratic place in the communication of what they believe and instruction in what they should believe. That should include Humanists and, for my money, Marxists as well. But of course that puts an intolerable strain on those who are required to teach. How, in a curriculum of two or three years, can you provide an acquaintance with the various great religions of the world so that they can be more or less taught to those who require to hear them? It is impossible.

May I therefore make a practical suggestion before sitting down. I am quite sure that sooner or later religious education must be taken very much more in the hands of the established Churches and must be undertaken very much more by the priests, ministers or representatives of those particular cults. That will relieve of boredom a great many parsons today. It will give in restricted areas, where evangelical and religious opportunities are nothing like what they were, an added zest. It will provide the basis on which a far better and more effective communication of religious education can be made. It will, I think, in many respects, also save the Church from an increasing sense that it is not only ineffective but irrelevant. These may appear to be rather hard words, but they are beaten out of a very long experience now of the declining ability of the present generation to communicate with any efficacy the basic truths in which I believe, and to which our fathers gave their adherence, and which I hope this debate will help to recreate.

9.5 p.m.


My Lords, may I first join in the gratitude expressed by others to the noble Earl for initiating this discussion. I come from Scotland, and my first temptation was to use this occasion to deal with the parallel situation against a very different legislative background. I am resisting that temptation. The whole educational system in Scotland may soon be devolved beyond the influence of this House and so I rise now with two intentions. The first is to underline the vast importance of the essential question, not only in the United Kingdom but indeed across the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, has been saying in effect, by reason of the rapidity of change taking place in the consciousness of youth everywhere.

That the future lies with youth is a cliché, but it is a cliché which now has a very sharpened significance. How many people, for example, are aware that in France half the population are under the age of 30 years, that in the United States half the population are under 25 years of age, that in China half the population are under 21 years of age? That is a symbol: what does that spell for disturbance unless we come fairly rapidly to some conclusions? Romain Rolland says that this world: has become a unity and for this high destiny mankind is not yet fit". The late President Kennedy, just before his death, speaking about the Third World, said: A revolution is coming, to be settled either amicably by consent or violently by necessity, unless we soon find a united objective and a world thesis. My intention, then, is twofold. In this area of the world for which we are responsible, I would urge, first, the vast importance of religious education coming much more to the forefront. My second intention is to be short—which means I must risk being telegraphic, almost staccato—but to clear the ground, and again for the sake of brevity, may I first remove two misconceptions that might be in the minds of listeners and make it difficult for them to deal with the main issue. There may be those who say in this House that this is an attempt to return to a new authoritarianism; that is, to put the old faith across good and strong. I think it is important to say that this is not the intention; nor, indeed, is it a possibility. The whole educational system itself is a move away from authoritarianism to an atmosphere of colloquy; or, again in one brief sentence, it is a move from corporal punishment to amicable discussion—teacher and taught. The whole educational system is moving from confrontation to dialogue, and as that happens to be the essence of the Christian faith it is not only welcome but essential to a united world. So it is not an attempt to return to a new authoritarianism.

There may, secondly, be others with a different kind of apprehension for the opposite reason that the Church is now altogether too liberal, that religious education now covers the whole board—so broad as to be hopelessly vague, as has been said by several speakers. This position—again for brevity—is perhaps best summarised by a poem recently written by a teacher, a Mrs. Sandeman called "I only teach RE"— Oh, no, I'm not a Christian, a Moslem or a Jew, Involvement would unsettle my objective point of view, And when I take my lesson I don't moralise or preach: In religious education basic facts are all I teach. I give notes on each religion, however small or odd, The dates of every prophet and the names of every god. And when the facts have all run out I turn to other creeds; Trotsky, Marx and Lenin fill my syllabuses' needs. I do not teach morality or charity or hope, Such abstracts as the love of God are not within my scope. Their spiritual development does not depend on me, No! Let them get their faith elsewhere. I only teach RE. This is a good summary of the situation, and there is an apprehension that attaches to it that the Church is too liberal.

But, here again, let us be careful. The Christian witness must be respected. In our cities, whether in Scotland or in London, very many classes have almost as many Mohammedan and Sikh children, Jews and Humanists, as they have young Christians. Would it really further our faith to ask all these to leave the room, so to speak, while Christianity is extolled? In a united world, it cannot be bad to have united classes. They are a representation of the world in which we are now living. They are a place in which, if rightly expressed, there is far more fruitful teaching, provided many of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, spoke about are also in the mind of the teacher. It is very important that it should be, as I say, right across the board.

It is justified apprehension and this partitioning is not only in religion, but in the whole business of our approach to society. There is, that is to say, the third apprehensive group, who say that we are so hopelessly individualised; that the whole faith, in its essence and its power, is corporate and this is justified apprehension. But this individualising is not just isolationism of Christian issues or religious issues. It is not just in the religious sphere; it is the bane of science, also.

Noble Lords will know the story of the young man who, at the age of 19, went back to the village where he was born, and met the old doctor who had brought him into the world. He told the old doctor that he himself was going to become a doctor, so the old man asked "Are you going to be a general practitioner?" "No, no", said the young man, "I am going to specialise". The old man asked "What are you going to specialise in?", to which the reply was "The nose, the nose. "At this the old man said "You must mean ear, nose and throat", but the young man answered "No, that is far too big a subject. I am going to specialise in the nose. "So the old man asked "To which nostril are you going to devote your life?".

It is a quick way of touching on a serious blemish in our society, scientific and religious. Our departmentalising, unless it is somehow solved, makes it quite impossible to understand the world in which we live. Indeed, the only thing likely to save us is young people themselves, and it is here that I move finally to the positive. I turn to the positive, and plead for serious consideration to be given to religious education in its broadest sense. So much is said against young people today that I would end with a word in their favour which only reinforces our duty to assist. I want to give the shortest instances of the hope that springs up, personal and corporate, from young people themselves. Two great marks of modern youth are their sensitivity and their togetherness. These are our great hopes on which to build.

The first instance is that for years we have had camps for borstal inmates in Iona. Hundreds have come to Iona for a week's holiday, and none has ever run away. But there has been a recent development. The governor of a Scottish borstal institution has made a genuine advance in understanding modern youth. Instead of sending up to our camps, as for years he did, two officers and 20 inmates for a week's holiday, to have a good time, he now sends three officers and 12 borstal inmates because, along with the 12 borstal inmates, there are 12 crippled lads from a home for cripples. Instead of giving the borstal inmates simply a good time he insists that each should be guardian to a cripple—each to help his opposite number perhaps to eat, or to trundle him in his wheelchair, or to take the more active down to the beach and help them to go in for a bathe. What an experience and a joy for a cripple actually to be able to bathe in the sea, each attached to a borstal lad.

With the best will in the world, last summer the three officers thought of making an advance on this. They said, "We will get each of these borstal lads to study the cripple for whom he is personally responsible and, either writing or by coming to one of the officers, to say what are the characteristics of the lad." Obviously the theory was good; it was thought that there would be a reaching out by the borstal lads to understand other people, but at once the lads rose up in indignation and said that in no kind of circumstances would they do such a thing unless the cripple in question was present at the discussion that took place or at the reading of the document. What about this for sensitivity? They typify modern youth—the new youth to meet the new world.

Again—and much shorter—a young man, who happens to be the son of a Church of Scotland Minister and who is very Leftist and up at Oxford, went to Kenya last summer for three months on an aspect of the work done by Voluntary Service Overseas. Before going to Kenya his father wanted to make him the gift of a rather good camera. At once the boy refused the camera, on the ground that he was not going to view Africans as if they were specimens of the human race and that to produce a camera when they were fishing, or working at agriculture, or sitting around the fire would simply mean looking at these people from outside. What sensitivity is this! Very often it is deeper than the sensitivity of the Church. There is this wonderful new opening—this sensitivity which is deeper, I repeat, than the deepness of the Church.

The other great area where they beat us is in togetherness—symbolised, if you like, by all wearing common-or-garden jeans right across the world. It was there in France in 1968 when the youth disturbances took place. The youth protested against the humanist sciences. They protested against psychology, sociology and philosophy, because these sciences had become the vehicle to adapt the worker to a repressive society. "How", they asked "can psychology be used to adapt young people to a society whose very nature is alienation?" Stated more positively, they knew that people come first and that science should be in the service of people and not people as the instruments of science. This is France in 1968.

Or go to American Vietnam. This was the only war in history which was brought to an end by the protest of young people. They knew that colonialism should be subordinate to the welfare of human souls, but here women and children were being napalmed by the 10,000 in the name of freedom, in the name of visiting Christianity. So 95,000 young Americans said, "No" with their feet and disappeared to Canada and Europe—in the name of "togetherness" with the yellow races. This is tremendous, vibrant Christianity, very largely expressed by young people who do not go to Church at all.

And now China in 1976. This is the only country which has moved from mediaevalism to Communism without the intervening stage of capitalism—from mandarins to communes. Your Lordships know that no one can go to university in China who does not spend three months of each academic year working as a labourer on a farm. To understand life or technology you must be a Friend of the Earth, opposed to the West's slavish service of the machine. Which is nearest to the God revealed in our religion? Is it what we say or what they do? We must put this issue right at the top of our priorities. There is a revolution coming, to be settled either voluntarily by consent or violently by necessity.

9.21 p.m.


My Lords, with others I want to say that I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has raised this Question tonight. I think the fact that nearly 20 Members of this House have asked to speak in a debate on an Unstarred Question indicates the wide interest which is felt by us all. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, and I agree on some things, disagree on others; but no one who knows him has any doubts about the utter dedication to human welfare which he always expresses when he takes up causes.

I shall be putting a different point of view from those which have been expressed so far. I am not a Christian. I am a Humanist, but perhaps I may say this: I hope I am as dedicated to the ideal of service to the community and to mankind and to the world as any Christian can be. I feel almost humble in following the speech of the noble Lord, Lord MacLeod of Fuinary—that wonderful work that he has done in the Community of Iona. I appreciate immensely the breadth of attitude which he expressed in his view of Christianity and, if I may, I would say the same of my noble friend Lord Soper.

But I think very great difficulties arise from our debate tonight. I have been interested in one thing. The Question before us refers to "qualified teachers of religious education". I would have amended that to "teachers of religions" and I would have added "ethics". T believe the list of speakers which is now before the House indicates one of the difficulties of religious education: a representative of the Anglicans, a representative of the Roman Catholics, a representative of the Methodists, a representative of the Scottish Church, a representative of the Hebrew religion, myself a Humanist, an Agnostic and an Atheist. This list of speakers indicates the difficulty in our diverse society of teaching any particular religion in our schools.

I have been interested that the Question does not suggest the Christian religion, but it has been assumed in all the speeches which have been delivered that the thought is of the Christian religion.

There are these difficulties: first, that Christians themselves have no unity as to the theology they are to teach. They say in their creeds and their prayers and their burial services a theology which very few intellectual people accept today. Is it to be Christian religion of that old church theology or the Christian religion of the much broader theology which exists even among Christians at the present time?

It is not merely the diversion of conviction among Christians. We are now living in a society which is not only multinational but multi-credal and no credal. I think my noble friend Lord Soper is probably correct when he says that to a very large extent public opinion today is no longer concerned with Christian theology or Christian religion. When in our schools we have Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, as well as those of the Christian faith and those who do not have any religion at all, it seems to me quite intolerable that there should necessarily be a part of our curriculum which is for the teaching of the Christian religion.

This does not mean that I do not appreciate the necessity for teaching ethics in our schools. I deplore as much as anyone can do the attitude of materialism, the attitude of violence, the attitude of individual against individual that is so abroad in our society today. I would have in our schools social, ethical, moral teaching, which would be not only the ethics of Christianity but the ethics of most religions and the ethics of many of those who do not claim to be religious at all. Take the assemblies which are held in our schools—they are mere formal occasions. As the pupils listen to the prayers being read, is there any conviction in their hearts? They regard them as a routine exercise in the curriculum. I am not sure that that type of Christian teaching in our schools does not do more harm to Christianity than if it did not exist.

I would have among the younger students in our schools ethical, moral teaching, teaching insisting upon the supreme ethic of love, of tolerance, of compassion, of human fellowship, of justice, of mercy, of the freedom of thought and expression, of the fulfilment of personality, of identity with others, of appreciation of beauty, kindness to animals, the brotherhood of all races, the exclusion of violence and the need for peace in the world. That is an ethic which is common to Christianity and to nearly all religions; it is an ethic which is common to us as Humanists. If that broad teaching were given with dedication, it might alter the whole outlook of those who are leaving our schools.

There are those who are in the higher classes, the 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds—those young men and women who are seeking the way to life. I expect among nearly all of us those years must have been the age of decision of our attitude to life. I would teach those young teenagers in our schools comparative religions; teaching—yes—the value of Christianity, but also teaching the value of other religions and the value of the contributions of the great Humanists who throughout history have held up the ideal of human fulfilment. I admit there would be the difficulty of finding teachers capable of performing that task. It might be met by inviting representatives of different points of view to discuss these issues with older pupils before they leave school. If this were the case students would leave the schools not merely with a religion or an ethic which they had learned as though it were the only one to be taught, but having seen the value of all religions and the value of the Humanist attitude. There would then be a conviction among them which would be much deeper than simply an emotional view of the teenage years.

We have been extolling the value of religion in schools. Religion in schools also has a great deal to answer for. It has to answer for much of the situation in Belfast and Northern Ireland at this time—the segregation of Protestants and Catholics in schools and the teaching from youth of this difference between them. It is not only a situation that exists in Belfast, Northern Ireland; it also exists in Glasgow and Liverpool and other cities. We must be extremely careful that we do not teach religion in a way which, instead of serving the purpose of the ethics of Christianity, of other religions and of Humanism, means a division among those at school which has such a terrible effect in their subsequent life.

9.35 p.m.


My Lords, we have heard some notable oratory tonight and, if I dare to pick out two or three examples, I was tremendously influenced by the noble Lords, Lord Soper, Lord MacLeod, and Lord Brockway, for I stand very much in the same position as they do, if one can put together three people who really pretend or profess different beliefs but have, I think, the same objects and faith. In conformity with the customs of this House I hope to be able to stay until the end of the debate, and I shall be fairly short myself, but if it is a question of deciding between my last train and hearing the last words of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, it is just possible that the last train may win.


This is a question of morality, my Lords.


Of course. I must say that I was really amazed by the assumption of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, that things are getting worse because religion in the old sense of the term, the kind of religion which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, would discard, is no longer being taught in schools; and beyond that, that the 1944 Act, which I suppose is now 33 years out of date, is not being adhered to. In any other subject than religion the first question you would ask is whether there is still a demand for this kind of teaching. The second question would be whether the Act of 1944 is still relevant to present day thought on religious matters. It would seem to me obvious that if we were discussing a notable shortage of teachers of engineering, the first thing we should consider was whether we were teaching the right kind of engineering and, secondly, whether there was a need for more engineers. If there was, then of course we should make every possible effort in money and in other ways to increase the number of teachers. If, on the other hand, we became convinced that there was no need for the number of engineering teachers that there used to be, then we should not take action on those lines.

Having expressed this kind of view, I would go along very largely with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in feeling that the present religious teaching does not convince the pupils at whom it is directed. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, faces facts so marvellously, when he tells us without any doubt of how few are the people to whom this kind of teaching appeals. I have difficulty in calling myself by any special name because I could not call myself a practising Christian in any way. Nevertheless, I think that the principles of the Christian religion and teaching are probably the best in the world up to the present time. I would be all in favour of the teaching of Christian principles, but not of strict adherence to passages in the Bible which, as I can imagine, no intelligent person today can receive as an absolute truth, or as teaching the kind of ritual which most children nowadays really rather despise.

I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that it is surely possible to teach the ethics of life—if you like, including the ethics of religion, and not only the Christian religion but others—without this dogma being included. I would hope that if the Act of 1944 is now 30 years out of date, the next 30 years will see the coming together of Christians to try to design some sort of education which will include the virtues, the ethics, of the Christian religion, without the kind of rituals which most people nowadays do not want.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Platt, a question, although it carries us somewhat outside the subject tonight? Does he really believe that one can teach the ethics of the Gospels without bringing in what Jesus Christ said about himself; in other words, without the theology?


I do not think I ever said that one should, my Lords. I should have thought that one would have to quote Jesus Christ because he was one of the most important ethical teachers of all time, and I would therefore surely include him. But that does not say that you must go down on your knees and worship a God who is benign, when all you see around you and in the daily newspapers is nothing but disaster.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the noble Lord has not understood my point at all, but, as the hour is late, I will not delay him.


My Lords, I thought the noble Lord asked whether I would quote Jesus Christ, and my answer was that of course I would.

The Earl of LONGFORD

That was not my point at all, my Lords, but no matter.


The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, took the very words out of my mouth when he spoke of the dangers of getting children at a very early age and indoctrinating them. This was well known and is still well known, particularly to the Jesuits, who believe in inculcating doctrine when people are young; and so we have Protestants and Catholics, not only at each other's throats, but murdering each other in the streets of Belfast.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Platt, imputed to myself and to other noble Lords an opinion which I do not think we hold—certainly I do not—may I ask him to take note of the fact that it is not the submission of most of us that religious education should be taught exactly as it was in 1944? Indeed, a great deal of the burden of what I said was that the changes in content and approach were so rapid that it was necessary to have not merely efficient training but efficient retraining. As the noble Lord came to me, as it were, as I finished my speech, I hope he will allow me to come to him as he finishes his and put this straight.


My Lords, I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to this in many different ways; but he said more than once that the very law of 1944 was no longer being observed, and he put that down as some failure on our part. I suggest it is a sign of progress.


I do not withdraw that remark, my Lords; it was the earlier remark which I wished to put right.

9.44 p.m.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, if I do nothing else tonight, I give your Lordships a brief interlude of a female voice in this debate. Something seems to be going very wrong throughout our schools; there is an infectious epidemic of stealing. As a member of a board of visitors of a borstal for about 15 years, I have seen the boys becoming younger each year. We now have many schoolboys; boys who have long records of criminal acts and court attendances. They tell me that thieving is all too easy. It starts with little things and grows, and many of these boys have told me they wish they had been stopped when they started aged seven or eight. Now, at the age of 15, they return to school boasting of the adult life they have lived in borstal, even though they get some opportunities of helping people, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord MacLeod of Fuinary.

What has happened to our Christian moral law? Is it no longer part of our heritage? Have our young children nothing good and right on which to base their lives? Is not the teaching of the difference between right and wrong part of education? Why is there such a spread of violence? I believe that we are depriving our children if we do not give them the chance of religious education at school. It was at school and not at home that I found my way to becoming a Christian in my own right, through having an inspired and dedicated Christian teacher who taught me that the Cross stood for "I" crossed out. The children who do not want to take part in religious education for reasons of conscience are readily excused. There are many people throughout Britain who feel that Christian teaching in schools must be maintained. Perhaps our society has become as it is because the Christian way of life has not been put over in a positive and inspired way. People should want to follow Christ. Children should want to give to society, not always to take from it.

It seems to me that at the present time the Government are not taking any steps to provide an adequate supply of qualified teachers of religious education. Rather the reverse. I must bring to your Lordships' notice the proposed closure of Saint Mary's College of the Sacred Heart at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. If this college is closed, there will be no Christian teacher training college North of Ripon in Yorkshire. It will deprive many prospective students of the opportunity to train in a institution that values the Christian way of life. Does not the Minister agree that the closure of this college would have a very serious effect on the provision of religious study specialists in the North-East? Saint Mary's takes and trains as religious study specialists between 40 and 50 candidates each year. Some are Roman Catholics, some are non-Catholic. The closure would mean the termination of a wide range of successful in-service courses. Is not the type of training necessary of value to teachers of religion? It appears necessary to reduce the number of teachers being trained within the country as a whole, but the North-East seems to have had a disproportionate share of these cuts. The Government have greatly reduced the opportunities for higher education in an area which is already poorly supplied and suffering considerable deprivation and high unemployment.

The true Geordie speaks very fast and in an accent that is difficult for many to understand. If Saint Mary's closes the students will have no choice other than the polytechnic. I believe that the Government will be very unreasonable and unwise if they continue to contemplate the closure of this college. Already colleges which run most successful courses have closed. If jobs in religious education are to be available in the future this can be done by seeing that the subject has an adequately staffed department. This will only happen if the local education authorities support the policies. Essex seems to be an example of what can be achieved. I hope that the Government will consider the great concern that many people have for the future supply of qualified teachers of religious education and will carefully study this point before closing any more specialist colleges.

9.49 p.m.


My Lords, this has become an excellent debate. I say that because there were moments at the beginning when it seemed that this House might concentrate upon the mechanisms of the provision of education rather than upon the content of that education itself. There was a moment, too, when it seemed that we might become obsessed with partisanship in agreement around the subject that we were discussing when what we must always do is to expose the truth of the subject. It is the truth, for me at any rate, that I do not even agree with my own Government on the issue of the provision of teachers in general. I do not believe that there is a sufficient number of teachers of religious education. I do not believe that there is a sufficient number of teachers.

I believe that there is a shortage of cash and that it is a priority that the Government may at this moment be forced to accept that they cannot spend more money on the education of teachers. But how can there be a sufficiency of teachers of anything when truants are roaming the streets of the cities, when the type of thing about which the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, has spoken can be reported, and when we all know that the very fabric of our society is in need of care and attention and loving teaching? Of course, there is no surplus. All that there is is a shortage of resources. I wanted to say that first of all, because I believe it important to set our debate in context.

I want also to say that as one practising daily (when I am not in this House) in the field of in-service education, there is a suspicion gathering in my mind—a suspicion that does not go unshared—that in-service education is being seen as a panacea and as an escape clause from the real point about our education service. Education's first priority is to make certain that our young people get the opportunity to follow through courses with a careful teaching that will lead them to the point where one can add to a store of knowledge of life, rather than offering them in-service education to make up for ravages caused by the failure of the system.

I also want to say that we have oversimplified the problem caused by in-service education itself. When a teacher is taken out of the classroom for his in-service education there is an almost geometric progression of teachers taken also from the Education Service in order to provide the in-service training which is to be given to that teacher. It is possible to prove that in-service education provision in the various amendments to the Education Acts of the past five or 10 years neglected the true arithmetic of the provision of those needing to be released from teaching in order that others might be taught in-service.

I want to go on to some research that I have done in my own area. It will not surprise your Lordships that I went to the Polytechnic of Wales for these figures. There were 19 students sitting finals, having taken religious education as a main subject in the summer of 1975. Six returned to the college to follow Bachelor of Education courses. Only three of those six specialised in religious education, and of the remaining 13 two failed their finals. Eight obtained posts and three did not appear to have done so. That means that there were three out of that year of teachers of religious education specifically trained who joined the ranks of the 40,000 unemployed teachers. The figure of 22 students who took religious education as a main subject and sat their final certificate in the summer of 1976 broke down in this way. Seven returned to the college for Bachelor of Education degrees. Of the other 15, nine have posts, 6 do not appear to have posts, and of the Bachelor of Education group of 1976 all three have obtained their degrees and have also obtained posts. If these statistics seem sterile to your Lordships, they do not seem sterile to me because among the unemployed teachers of religious education in Wales at this moment there is my own 22-year-old daughter.

There is a point that I wish to make as a result of application to distinguished members of the teaching service who are teaching teachers in Wales. It is a point that comes clearly in a letter which I will quote to your Lordships. I ask you at this stage not to request me to reveal the name of the writer because I do not have his permission. It is a view from a very respected educationist who says that: It is quite clear that very many schools have paid scant attention to the serious business of Religious Education and from the evidence of the students entering our institution for teacher training we know that far too many at 'O' and 'A' level have had no opportunity of continuing to consider moral, ethical and spiritual questions as part of a necessary general curriculum". With your Lordships' permission I will come back to that point in a moment.

A survey of Welsh education was specifically undertaken in 1976 and it came to similar conclusions to those quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in initiating this debate, for which we thank him. It said, referring to teaching staff and their qualifications in religious education that, Graduate teachers account for forty per cent, of heads of departments, but of these fewer than half stated that they held specific qualifications in theology or religious studies. Rather more than ten per cent, have taken RE as a main subject…". Rather than quote figures which have already been quoted by the noble Earl, I will go on to say: …almost twenty-five per cent. of those in charge of RE had no specialist qualification and only a very small proportion, fewer than ten per cent, of staff assisting in the RE department had any such qualification. This in all probability reflects two factors. First, it is a result of the national shortage of teachers "— not surplus of teachers, but shortage of teachers— particularly non-graduates, with specialist qualifications in RE, and second it suggests the reluctance on the part of some head teachers to make appointments solely for RE when faced with other needs ". It was at the point when the noble Lord, Lord Soper, rose to his feet that I felt encouraged in the debate, because I had myself felt that we were falling short of the real challenge of the expression of the ethic which then took over in the debate. The other noble Lords who followed emphasised what I thought was far more important than what I call the mechanics, the mechanisms, of providing teachers. There are many teachers looking for jobs at this present time, and I emphasise and re-emphasise that fact. There are qualified teachers in the field of religious education who are unemployed, and I emphasise that fact. But what we are really talking about is the ethical basis of the society in which we live. We are concerned with any contribution to it by any one of the institutions that inform that ethic: whether it be the Christian Church, which is losing its influence; whether it be the schools, which have lost their way in many cases over what they should teach, what the content of their subjects might be and the methods through which they should teach them; or whether it be in fact the home, as has been suggested here, the issue is one of the central ethic of democracy.

It is a fact, my Lords, that the totalitarian régimes of this world do not neglect the basic myth (or they would call it the ethic) of their society; they drum it home. Provisions are made first and foremost to see that those who live within totalitarian States either are coerced or are convinced into accepting the ethic upon which it is based. We, I think, neglect it; and it was a joy to hear my old mentor, leader and noble friend Lord Brockway come to the same conclusion that I think we all have basically, that social, ethic and moral teaching is something which is fundamental, which is basic to the teaching of all subjects. I believe that you cannot in fact teach any subject in the curriculum without bringing into it your basic, fundamental ethic and moral status.

I am just turning the emphasis round from the way it was put earlier; and I am going to have no hesitation at all. Like the noble Lord, Lord Platt, I am going to accept the challenge and to quote from Jesus Christ. The central commandment that he gave to his disciples was: This is my Commandment, that ye love one another". It does not seem to me that we need to distinguish in our teaching; it does not seem to me that we need to divide our society; it does not seem to me that we need to divide ourselves or our children. In this multiracial society, which is gradually growing around us, with all its infinite variety; in this multi-religious and, as someone has already said, non-religious, post-Christian, semi-secular society in which we live, we all know the meaning of love. "Love", as St. Paul said, "is the fulfilment of the law", and I think the fulfilment of the law under the Education Act of 1944 is the provision of as many teachers as our society can afford.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question? When he says "a multi-religious society "and" a non-religious society", could he elaborate or clarify that point a little? It seems to me that a multi-religious society and a non-religious society are two rather different things. Perhaps he could make the point clear.


My Lords, if in fact the syntax of my sentence gave way to the emotion of the moment, I apologise to the noble Viscount. What I was saying was this, that we have in fact a multiracial society in Britain, but not all members of that society subscribe to any religion. A case could be made for saying that the majority of people within this country do not subscribe to any religion. Therefore, we have a multi-religious society and at the same time a secular one.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I was puzzled by what was said by him and by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I follow them up to a point. The code of conduct laid down by Jesus Christ, the code of conduct of the Christian religion, I understand they would have taught in schools and they would associate it with the Christian religion. Would they be willing to see that the other part of Christ's teaching was taught; in other words, the salvation of the individual which is, in some ways, the central part of Christian teaching rather than perhaps the code of conduct? Are they willing for that to be taught?


My Lords, I, too, am puzzled because I fail to see the conflict. I am not dodging the question. To my mind, the salvation of the individual is for the individual with the help of whatever institutions have informed him in the course of his life.


My Lords, the point is that the noble Lord quoted what he called the central dogma of the Christian religion: "Love thy neighbour as thyself". That is the second and great commandment. The first is: "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul". We are asking whether there is an arbitrary separation of the doctrine of our Lord, part of which he accepts and would have taught and part of which he does not accept and would not have taught. I do not want to go into this too long.


My Lords, I am gratified by the interest that noble Lords are taking in my personal religious life. In fact, there were two misquotations in question put by the noble Lord, Lord Elton to me. I actually quoted the words which Christ said: This is my Commandment, that ye love one another". I was quoting words attributed to Jesus Christ in the Bible. I was not entering into the wider theological question of whether there is a God. I could have a very long period of conversation with him about that; but I doubt whether this debate is the place and time for it. I believe that love is perhaps another name for what people call God; I say that Jesus Christ gave as a central commandment and I subscribe to it.


My Lords, can I say that the speaker is entirely right. There is the well-known quotation in the Bible that "God is love".

10.4 p.m.


My Lords, I think that what we have seen this evening—and especially at the end of the speech of the noble Lord opposite, with much of which we all agree—shows that we can get into difficulties of order, as it were, on a subject like this which the noble Earl has wisely put down as a curtain raiser to the bigger debate we are to have later. It is very difficult indeed to keep oneself strictly in order on such a subject as this. It is difficult to say something about teachers and the difficulty of getting teachers without going into what it is they are to teach. Strictly speaking, it is the lack of teachers which is the problem we have to discuss tonight. That is not to say that I myself may not do just what other noble Lords have done this evening; but unless I hear any discreet—I hope, discreet—coughs or such-like, I will not stop what I am saying; although I promise that I shall not take long.

My Lords, I begin by saying that here, where we are now, in this Chamber, in 1944, was passed the Act of Parliament the provisions of which it seems are not being carried out. I had just come out of the RAF after four years' service, to take part in what was the first great domestic measure which the House of Commons had seen since the beginning of the war. I can only tell your Lordships what a joy it was to get one's mind for a moment off the struggle—which, thank Heaven! by that time had seemed to be an inevitable victory for us—and to be able to talk about the future and the world which we wanted and, in particular, the education problem. The right honourable R. A. Butler (now Lord Butler of Saffron Walden) sat where the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is now sitting, and Mr. Chuter Ede, his excellent Parliamentary Secretary of the Labour Party—because we had a Coalition Government at that time—sat on the other side of the Chamber and not beside my noble friend.

We went through the Bill from the beginning of the Sitting after Christmas until we rose at Easter. For the most part during that time we spent two days a week on that Bill. There was a Coalition Government, and one might think the Bill would go through very much "on the nod"; but, oh dear me, no! There was as much opposition then as there is now, as my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel has reminded me by his smile. In saying that, it was a great joy at that time to have my noble friend back with us for the first time, having recovered from that terribly long illness which I remember well and which most of us have read about in his book.

A great deal of our time was spent upon the religious aspects of the Bill. The main one was set out in what is now Section 7. It was clearly laid as a duty upon local authorities, so far as their powers extended, to contribute towards the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of the community—note the order of those words, my Lords—by securing that efficient education throughout those stages shall be available to meet the needs of the population of the area. That set the matter out. In Clause 25 were the details of how that was to be done. They are now enshrined in that section. We are here tonight to see that those legislative words which were passed then are put into practice; or else it is the duty of the Government to bring in some other Bill to change the situation entirely.

Until such a time as that arrives, what we are doing tonight is saying to the Government: "There is a bad situation in this country today. There are not enough teachers of religious education. Why not? What have you done about it?" I should like to put a few direct questions to the noble Lord who is to reply. I beg him to be assured that I do not necessarily expect him to know the answers now. He is one of the most overworked noble Lords among us and to expect him to know all the answers is more than anybody can expect. However, I should like an answer at some time, perhaps when we come to the debate which is to take place in May.

I should like to ask what are the possibilities for providing serving teachers to retrain as teachers of religious education. I have made inquiries and have been told that although the number is not large, there are teachers who would like to avail themselves of this opportunity. There are courses available, but they do not somehow seem to be called together or to be dealt with as they should be by the local authorities. The noble Lord has the power, or rather his right honourable friend has the power, to bypass those channels and set up these courses, provided that could be done—and I stress that I would not advise that it should be done, but I believe it could be done—within the existing budgetary possibilities of the Department.


My Lords, in order to be clear about the question which the noble Lord is asking, may I ask whether he is speaking of in-service training courses? Am I right?


Yes, my Lords: that is correct, and I should be very grateful if we could have an answer to that question at some stage. Again, I should like to emphasise what has been said by so many speakers tonight: that any proposed cuts in the number of teachers we have should be levelled out in such a way that the teachers of religious education are not the ones to suffer the greatest cuts of all but that these cuts—necessary as they may be—should be made absolutely fairly, and because all has not gone well with the training of teachers they should not be victimised in that way and suffer a bigger cut.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, has, I am glad to say, made the case very much better than I could have done for the retention of the College of St. Mary's in Newcastle. I should like to emphasise all that she has said about that. Here I find myself in a somewhat difficult position, because I believe that the noble Lord will tell us that the present situation has arisen as a result of an agreement between his own Department and the Roman Catholic authorities that there should be some phasing out of the college and that the work done there should be done by the Polytechnic in Newcastle. I hope that is not true but, if it is, I still think it is wrong, because that college has an immense knowledge and an immense background of teaching religious education. It turns out nearly as many non-Catholic teachers as it does Catholic teachers. Owing to the geographical position, which the noble Baroness set. out so well, I think it would be a great disservice to allow that work to go to the Newcastle Polytechnic which, until the present moment, or at any rate just recently, has been busily engaged in dismantling the faculty altogether. Therefore, the knowledge which they can have of the job must be infinitesimally small compared with that of St. Mary's College itself. Is this not an unwise thing to do, when you have ready-made a skilful, trained machine to produce the very article which is in such short supply?

If I may turn to another matter, I should like to ask this question: how many of the local education authorities have special advisers whose services in these matters are of such great value? I shrewdly suspect that quite a number of them do not avail themselves of this possibility. Also, may I remind noble Lords of what to me is a very sombre, if not sinister, thought, that the chances of a graduate student being able to take religious education as a main subject in his or her course have declined in the last 12 years to half what they were in 1965. I think that the Government—and not only this Government, but other Governments, too—must be held very much to blame for allowing this situation to arise.

This is the point where I have to follow some other noble Lords and ask: why am I worried about all this? Why are we all worried about this? When I say "all", I mean that large numbers of people are worried. It is surely because we believe that children should have the right to learn everything about the Christian religion, which is far and away the main religion of this country, when they are young. What they do when they grow up is their affair. But I think that we ought to give them the chance and that we should foster this.

When the noble Lord, Lord Brockway—for whom none has a greater affection and respect than I have, because I have seen him at work for many years and know the good he has done—talks about ethics, and how he is so gone on ethics, does he ever stop to think of where these ethics come from, where they were born? These ethics were born in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, in the words of our Lord and the practices of the early Christians. Those are ethics. Look, my Lords, at what the Romans said about the Christians when they were in the arena—"Look at these Christians. See how they love one another." That is what we have to get back to, and we can do that only if we have the teachers to teach us about them. Surely, if "education" means anything, we should have the intelligence when we grow up to be able to decide how we will practise the ethics, of which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, talks, in the knowledge of where they have really sprung from.

I will not detain your Lordships for more than a moment, as I have been far too long already, but I just want to ask the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, one other important question. Will the Government consent to a survey, which would not be very difficult to hold, to find out one or two facts: for example, what percentage of religious education students actually go into RE after completing their courses; secondly, how far is religious education available as a truly realistic option for CSE, "O" and "A" levels—that is, the religious teacher potential in schools; and, thirdly, why do people choose, or not choose, to do RE? If the noble Lord could have a survey made to tell me that, we might be able to get useful data which would help to put matters right.

I conclude by asking one other question on Schedule 5 to the Education Act. Paragraphs 10, 11 and 12, state that where a local education authority has set up a conference to prepare an agreed syllabus, and the conference has not agreed unanimously—that is the interesting point—on the matter to be taught, then they must report that fact to the Minister who will set up his own body to decide what it is to be, and that decision will then be implemented. May I ask the noble Lord whether he can say to what extent the Minister has had to make these decisions, if at all, during the last 10 years.


My Lords, if I may answer off the cuff—and I will confirm this—I think never.


My Lords, there you are!

10.21 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to enter into the debate, which has been extremely interesting, but in view of the late hour I propose to deal very briefly with the view that is taken by myself and the Jewish community in this country. I appreciate the points which have been made in many of the speeches. However, I happen to be of the opinion that the basis of the ethics which we want to bring home to our youth and with which we want to inspire them rests in the religions which we respectively observe if we happen to be religious people.

As I understand it, this is a debate in which we are considering the necessity for having a sufficient supply of teachers who will be in a position to bring to our youth—indeed, to our adolescents, if necessary, and I think it is necessary—the ethics, the principles and the observances of the religions which those of us who happen to be attached to religious beliefs observe. Therefore, I shall speak for a few moments. There is much which I could say about the points which have been raised in the course of the debate, but it is very late and there are other speakers. Nevertheless, I wish to bring to the notice of the Government and of all Members here what the position is so far as the Jewish community is concerned.

Due to the small numbers of my particular community, it has never been possible for us to establish a college similar to those which are run by sections of the Christian community. Tonight we have heard an appeal in respect of one of them—I think correctly. Therefore, it has been our practice to encourage qualified teachers to undertake a further course of study at an institute of higher Jewish learning. It will be readily appreciated that such a course, involving a longer period of study that is not commensurately rewarded, is not attractive to a young person who is anxious to launch himself or herself upon a career. In recent years, therefore, we welcomed—and T want to ask my noble friend to take note of this—the opportunity which was afforded to us at Trent Park College to establish, within the religious studies department of that college, a course of Jewish studies.

I think one other college also had a similar course. This has enabled young people to emerge as qualified teachers, but having a specialised knowledge of Judaism obtained during their course. Due to closures and amalgamations which have taken place throughout the country, the possibility for such an arrangement in future has receded. The Jewish community in this country is therefore very much concerned, first, that overall facilities should be available for teachers to obtain adequate training, and further, that the community in particular will be afforded facilities elsewhere, similar to those which were extended at Trent Park.

I should like to venture a few words, not regarding any sectional interest but affecting the life of this country as a whole. We have heard eloquent speeches in respect of ethical principles, and so on, and there are some of us who believe that the teaching of our respective religions is as important in that particular direction as any other kind of teaching that may take place. In times of increasing violence when moral standards are eroded and young people are subject to ideologies inimical to the traditions of the Western World and, if I may say so, of the Judaeo-Christian civilisation, I believe it is of vital importance that we should sustain a supply of qualified teachers who are able to impart to young people a consciousness of values which transcend purely material considerations. In my view, religious education fosters responsibility, citizenship and regard for the rights of man.

I cannot place sufficient emphasis—I wish I could—owing to my lack of being able to express myself as I would wish to, on the importance of religion in that particular respect. We are drifting into a state of society which is absolutely contrary, and which adopts methods and actions—and noble Lords will have heard me refer to these on a number of occasions, terrorism and Heaven knows what—which are contrary to the real principles of our respective religions. In my view, it is so important that the children in our country today should be taught by people who are religious people in the sense in which some of us understand religion.

I appreciate of course the points of view of noble friends who do not believe in religion in the sense in which we understand it. For example, I have always had a very high respect for my old friend—one of a number who have spoken—Lord Brockway, but in this respect I disagree with him entirely. Maybe it is because I had instilled into me in my youth the principles of Judaism and those principles mean something which is of extreme importance to me and which I believe is of importance to the world. I know, of course, that we are in a minority so far as our respective religions are concerned; I do not think we are in a minority in so far as our regard for religion itself is concerned. The fact of the matter is that we need to get our young people together and give them a challenge—which teachers can do if they are properly trained, because it is the duty of a teacher not merely to teach by the ordinary process of setting something forward, but to present a challenge to the people he is teaching to accept whatever he has to offer them in the way of information and advice. That is where it is so important, in my view, that we should do what we possibly can—and I hope the Government will keep that in mind—to provide teachers.

I know it is a difficult time at present: I know all about the economic situation. God knows, if you sit in this House for one day you hear so much about the economic position that you feel like going and drowning yourself! I hops I am not putting it in too sordid a way. As to everything we bring forward we are asked, "Can we afford this?", "Can we afford that?". But can we afford to lose our soul? That is what I want to know. Can we afford to take away from our community men and women who will be inspired not only to teach but to teach what we feel is right, and teach it in a proper and trained manner?

I strongly appeal to my noble friend to consider the position—I have come down to earth in the course of the debate—in the light of what I have tried to plead for, that every assistance possible should be given to the acknowledged religions, so that people can teach their children a religion. That, after all, is the basis of our understanding of religious teaching, that people want a child to be taught in a particular religion. It is a remarkable thing how that penetrates: we know it in the Jewish religion. We know very well today that the family spirit which prevailed years ago in consequence of the fact that people were religiously observant has been eroded. We want that spirit brought back again so that once more our children will have the benefit of being taught in a manner which will destroy the kind of thing put into their minds today, which in very many cases makes them want to be violent and to be barbaric. Those who know anything about the courts know what has happened. May I say one word further, my Lords. I hope that our own people in their homes will regard this as a message to themselves, because, after all, to a very considerable extent they are the teachers of the family.

10.33 a.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for raising this question of the supply of teachers of religious education. I take part in this debate with considerable trepidation as many speeches of great quality have made me realise what a difficult, delicate and complex subject this is. My only excuse for doing so is that, as a parent and a member of the Church of England, I have a direct interest in the subject. I should for a few moments like to add my thoughts to the aspect of the question which touches on the status of religious education, as it seems to have an important bearing on the way in which we attract young people to become teachers.

First, I would deal with two general points. One is that the word "indoctrination" is often used against those who wish to emphasise the religious side of religious education. I think it is generally agreed that indoctrination does not have a place nowadays, and that what we would rather do is to lay a foundation for future belief. I know that I left school with a foundation that was incomplete. Perhaps I might be allowed to give a rather frivolous example to illustrate this. About a week after I left school I joined the Army and the first morning the NCO came in at 6.30 am, banged rather heavily on the table and said, "Rise and shine". It was only a few weeks ago that I realised that he was, in fact, quoting from Isaiah, Chapter 60. Certainly the religious education that I received at school was of tremendous value later when the Christian faith began to mean something to me. Several noble Lords have mentioned the damage that is caused between denominations of Christians. Unless I am mistaken, denominational emphasis in training is certainly frowned upon under the 1944 Act. Perhaps the noble Lord, in replying to the debate might like to comment on that particular aspect.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in a forceful speech, said that he would like to see a shift of emphasis in religious education. My only comment on the rights and wrongs of that is that there would be difficulty if one expected people to teach the ethics of Jesus Christ without teaching the other claims that he made. However, the shift of emphasis would have important implications on the status of religious education. I believe that the tendency for religious education to be integrated with English, humanities and social studies would be increased. Shorn of its spiritual side there is a danger that religious education would be entirely absorbed, it would be difficult, therefore, to attract potential RE teachers and to assure them that their careers would have an established future. This particularly applies to those of lively faith.

In a recent booklet published by the Association of Christian Teachers it is heartening to read something which I believe puts religious education into its true perspective in the context of education as a whole. It reads: The final justification of the use of RE material is not its function in transmitting culture, cementing social morality or increasing general knowledge. Ultimately the acid test of RE is truth, not relevance. As surely few would deny that one of the aims of education as a whole is to help pupils develop a sense of understanding based on truth and sound perspectives, that statement seems to emphasise the central rather than the peripheral place that religious education should have in education as a whole. Likewise, education is often well-described as leading to personal fulfilment or helping pupils towards personal fulfilment. Throughout history man has demonstrated his need for a religion to satisfy him, to lead him to personal fulfilment.

I want to take issue with a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Platt, about the interest and general need for religion shown by people nowadays. It is interesting to note that the Good News Bible, which was published last October, has already sold one million copies throughout the world. The connection between this important aspect of education and religious education needs to be emphasised continually so that the vital importance of RE can be made clear. Therefore, although I very much welcomed the assurance given in the debate in another place last March, that the Government had at that time no plans to introduce changes in the law on religious education, I should not only like that assurance to be reiterated tonight but like to see a positive acknowledgement of the educational importance of religious education: and an undertaking that administrative steps—including, if necessary, an inquiry to establish the present position—would be taken to ensure, so far as possible, that RE would continue to be taught as part of the basic education of every pupil. I feel that this would go a long way to reassuring teachers of RE, and potential teachers, that their careers had a worthwhile and established future.

10.41 p.m.


My Lords, I shall speak as a Humanist—one of those people whom the noble Earl, Lord Long-ford, was contemplating with misgiving. Perhaps I am a Humanist because of my religious education. At school I had a headmaster who was rather rough. He happened also to be my superintendent at Sunday school. We used to go out in the darkness of the night and stand outside his house and sing, "Mr. Shepherd's a very good man; he gangs to kirk on Sunday, and prays to God to give him strength to strap his boys on Monday". Now I did not quite appreciate that strength of religious teaching. I think, however, that I arrived at my Humanism by a much wider and deeper experience. I should like to believe that it is not something about which I would argue with my noble friend Lord Soper, or indeed with the noble Lord, Lord MacLeod.

I have not the courage of my noble friend Lord Brockway's conviction, and I am not an Atheist. I am a scientific Humanist, which means that I am an Agnostic, because in true science you cannot say God does not exist because you cannot prove it; and, secondly, I cannot say personally that I know that God exists. As a scientific Humanist I acknowledge that there are phenomena about which we are at present ignorant, but I maintain that it is a function of science to reduce the supernatural to the natural, to remove the mystical and disprove superstition. There is a very profound saying, and that is that faith is certainty without proof—and I grudge no one their certainty, although I personally look for proof—while science is proof without certainty, because at least scientists are humble. I think that they do not assume that they have all the ultimate knowledge.

I grudge nobody their personal right and concern about religion, but I object to those who want to impose dogmatic beliefs on others, and invoke the authority of the law (as the 1944 Act does) to do so. I reject the idea that religious bodies are the only authorities on morals and ethics. That I repudiate absolutely. Indeed, I would argue that we in the Humanist movement uphold standards of behaviour, and have a respect for our fellow human beings and for the community of mankind, which is often a reproach to the shortcomings of the Churches. And to some extent, as was shown by my noble friend Lord Soper and other speakers tonight, we are trying to fill a vacuum produced by the failure of the Churches. For, my Lords, with the decline in Church membership, and even of nominal Christianity in this country, we cannot claim that this is a Christian country, as is implied in the 1954 Education Act.

We are a multi-sect, a multi-racial, multi-credal society. We are a country of many religious beliefs, and of none. In the Act it is religious instruction and I presume some people are complaining that we are not observing the 1944 Act because we have conceded now that it is not instruction but education, which is a change with quite a difference. Religious instruction is the only subject imposed on schools by Statute under the Act and, under the Act, it requires a doctrinal basis. In practice, as I say, this has shifted to religious education. I do not know whether any of your Lordships saw the programme "The Headmaster" on television the other night. I gather the series is going rather well. In the co-educational school in the programme they are having an argument because they are very sorry for the teacher of religious education because he is not getting the subject across, and they discuss, "Do you remember when there was scripture? That became religious instruction and now it is religious education." Somebody replied, "Soon it will be religious knowledge ".

If it is education, it is something to be brought out and not forced in and it must include not only explanations of Christianity but of comparative religions—there has been substantial support at least for that view—because the comparative religions exist and are facts, not of faith but of life, of the international world in which we are involved as well as in our own domestic society. In my missions for the United Nations, I once said that if I had not been a Humanist I should have had to be a polytheist because I would have had to accept all the Gods of all the religions. As a Humanist, I could be broadminded about them all and sympathetically understand their followers.

I repeat that the religious bodies do not have the monopoly and have no right to claim the monopoly of a sound ethical or moral approach. As a Humanist, I think pupils should be helped to understand the various religions, for it will help them better to understand the Jews, the Moslems, the Hindus, the Sikhs who are their neighbours and who are sitting next to them, often in their classes. But I also think they should learn about non-religious outlooks or systems of belief; their options should not be restricted or reduced by doctrines imposed on them as a captive audience in the classroom. They should be allowed to form their own judgments because when they react against imposed judgments and imposed doctrines they will be cynical and there will be disillusionment, and I say as strongly as the noble Lord, Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, said, that I do not think that the young people today are naturally cynical. Like him, my experience has been of a very idealistic, very committed, very sincere but rather bemused generation which is not finding the world conforming to what they have been taught are, if I may say so, Christian ideals.

We are 30 years removed from 1944 and these have been a phenomenal 30 years. I have said in this House before, and I repeat, that in those 30 years we have had four major revolutions as epochal as the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, all happening and all impacting on one generation at one time; the atomic age, the computer age, the space age and now the bio-engineering age. Try to fit that into a small capsule that you can call any one of your religious sects or creeds. It cannot be done. This is a world which has been changed considerably by man himself and it does not fit into any of the pre-conceptions which are accepted as blind faith or non-reason in religion.

We must recognise this changed world. We must recognise that our younger generation, for whom we are all concerned, will not be salved simply by being told. "You can pray". I have had this experience in terms of hunger throughout the world. The answer to hunger is prayer and fasting: the praying is done by the religious and the fasting by the starving. This is not the answer. We have to find the practical answer and that is what we should be explaining in our schools. I have no quarrel whatever with religion, in the sense that I accept that people need the comfort of religion. The fact that I do not is nobody's business but my own, but the fact is that, at least in our schools, we must have a widening, an opening up of the options for young people to understand better what are the essential morals and ethics in this world, as my noble friend Lord Brockway said. Everything he said, I underscore. We have our religion. Like him, I hope we would call it Love, but if others want to call it God they are welcome.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one practical question? How can comparative religion and the major ideologies of the world all be taught in one or perhaps two periods a week?


My Lords, I do not think it right to try to do so. I think that this is in the nature of our educational system. I would say categorically that we do not need—and I am speaking out of turn because I do not think that the British Humanist Association would say this as categorically as I should—or should have something called, "religious education" as a prescribed subject. It is part of a much wider, much deeper, much more significant educational system than we have today.


My Lords, when the noble Lord asks that in religion and matters of philosophy the children and young people should be entirely free to make their own decisions, is that a principle that he would apply also to scientific truth?


My Lords, if one is dealing in facts and demonstrable truths, one gives every option. I know of many disbelievers of science in science. We are at least modest in science; we do not make these arrogant assumptions that we know everything that there is to know. We form a judgment on the facts.


My Lord, that was not my impression as the noble Lord spoke. He seemed to speak with considerable dogmatism about the changing ages that we had gone through during the last years. He is fully entitled to his views, but I think that that is a kind of dogma.


My Lords, that is not dogma, it is serious historical truth.

10.52 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, so many different and sometimes conflicting results are hoped for from religious education that agreement on the ideal teacher and his training is virtually impossible. There are those whose interest lies in the study of all religions equally, seeing the way to truth and harmony of life as much in one religion as in another. For them, religious education—that is, the teaching of Christianity as the one true way of life—is an imposition and a limitation of their rights. They have the right to withdraw their children, but that does not provide an alternative.

All the syllabuses are based on Bible study and the history of the Christian Church. The Christian interest in religious education might be as a form of recruitment and the belief that, even when that fails, it is the best possible influence on society. But those whose greatest interest religious education serves—the Christians—present the case for Christianity in the worst possible light. Each branch of the Christian Church, believing its way to be the right way and that it alone holds and teaches the truth and has authority, presents to our youth the babble of a market place of claims, a witness to the truth and merits of Christianity that is contradictory and unconvincing. I firmly believe that with- out unity the next generation will break the inherited link with St. Augustine and the Early Fathers of the Church, a bond that has played such an important role in the formation of the English nation and our national character.

Next, we have those who are opposed to religious education and who see it as a superstition, something left over from the Dark Ages. They are just as concerned with the upbringing of good citizens as any other group, but all they are offered are the guidelines to Christianity. This seems to be blatantly unfair. The Christians in many schools form only a minority, and in some are barely evident. If an alternative were offered the teachers of Christianity need not fear the competition. The fruits of Christianity are abundant and self-evident. On this I stand with Jeremiah: Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord…For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters and that spreadeth out her roots by the river. Jeremiah 17.

Then we have the hopes and expectations of Government and the Ministers. What do they seek from religious education?—quite clearly the stable, decent, hardworking, law-abiding citizen of tomorrow. But Christianity was not made to serve the State nor solve its problems: The last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right deed for the wrong reason, says St. Thomas in Murder in the Cathedral.

In no way can we expect all these conflicting interests to agree on the best means to guide the youth of the nation. The Roman Catholic Church has made great sacrifices to control the education of young Catholics. Religious education in a Catholic school is not simply confined to the prescribed assembly and periods of Bible study and the study of comparative religions and philosophy. This could be, and is, arranged within the State system. It is rather the attempt to lead a Christian life, to show theory in practice, in a Christian community, where virtue is respected and vice is neither amusing nor entertaining. All the attributes of the good citizen are approved and encouraged in such schools.

Since the war, the Catholic population has contributed vast sums of money to support the Catholic schools, over and above its contribution through taxes, like all other citizens, to the State schools. Even the wealth and power of the State could hardly equal the effort that has been made to influence young people in the Catholic schools, to grow up in the way Catholics consider to be right; that is, good Christians, good citizens. This can be something of a yardstick. I do not think a greater effort could be made, and yet the results appear disappointing.

So far as standards of good citizenship are concerned, Catholics are as well represented in criminal and anti-social activities as any other section of the community, and so far as recruitment to Christianity is concerned, the school leavers do not all become regular attenders at church. This is not the only test, but the Judgment Book is not available to us yet!

There is no teacher to suit this variety of interests—suit all, suit none. To continue with the present syllabus we need a teacher qualified in this subject, someone preferably with experience of the world outside schools, someone who is stable in life and stable in occupation. The 70 per cent. turnover of previous years is self-destructive. Does he need to be a practising and active Christian, a member of one of the Churches? A teacher can have qualifications without belief, but this is hardly the ideal.

In Hastings a most interesting situation has developed. Local ministers of religion and Anglican priests, who are qualified teachers, are teaching religious education in the county schools. This is surely a situation to be commended, with the one exception that no Roman Catholic priests are involved in the town, perhaps not in the county. Can the Minister tell me how many Roman Catholic priests are teaching religious education in State schools—that is, secondary, grammar, and comprehensive schools without religious affiliations—and whether there is any regional pattern?

As I was saying, ministers and priests, sometimes the local parson, are teaching religious education in State schools in East Sussex. But from 1st April this year, due to the need for economies, all the part-time teachers of religion in East Sussex are to be dismissed, including several, perhaps many, of these dedicated men. The good citizen is of more importance to our country today than paper certificates, but economies are being made in this vital training. For example, where the head of the religious education department leaves his graded post, his extra salary is often used to attract a well qualified teacher for another subject. I would suggest that promotion prospects are not so good in this field.

The Press and public are so geared to exam results that even the most enlightened headmaster can be coerced into judging results by certificates. Of course, certificates can be obtained in religious education, but many children do not persevere in this subject. It may be that a certificate in religious education is not so valued by further education or by prospective employers as are other certificates. As a sixth-form boy said recently in a letter to a newspaper: Learning facts became imperative, so that the same people who came top in English or maths came top in religious studies, too. What should have been an interesting and relaxed lesson became just another academic subject to be passed or failed". We are only paying lip-service to the importance of religious education.

I had a talk with the Anglican priest, a qualified teacher, who is head of the religious education department at Prior Road School in Hastings. How fortunate we are to have such men! He is a graduate of the Church of England Theological College, Edinburgh, which prepares candidates for ordination in the Anglican Church but where they also acquire a Diploma of Education, the qualification needed to teach in State schools, thus supplying a bridge between Church and young people, the old relationship between priest and flock re-established. No priest should be ordained without this qualification, and every priest with this qualification should be encouraged to act in this capacity.

Let us keep open the school doors to men who have consecrated their lives to Christ. Let us set aside the penny-wise economies that bring short-term relief but increase the long-term problems. Let us give religious education and social training in schools their rightful priority. Let institutions of further education and employers give full credit to the academic value of the certificates in religious education; and, finally, let Christians drop the scandal of denominational barriers and unite round the banner of Christ. We legislators must also play our part.

11.2 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Longford for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject. I must apologise for inflicting myself on your Lordships twice in one day. So great is the interest that I take in education, perhaps naturally as a professor, albeit of the dismal science, that I listen to these debates with even more attention than I give to other debates in your Lordships' House. I can also assure your Lordships who were here for the earlier and vital debate on the Court Report that this time I shall speak more slowly.

May I say that it is a rare occurrence indeed when both the Secretary of State and the Opposition shadow spokesman on education are deeply committed Roman Catholics. I think it is without precedent. Like some of the other noble Lords who have spoken, I speak as a pratiquant—if it were not a contradiction in terms, I should describe myself as a fanatical Anglican—and therefore I speak with some feeling. I would say to my noble friend Lord Ritchie Calder, whom I respect and like very much, that I do not need the comfort of religion; it is merely that I believe it to be true. As a matter of fact, I do not think it is a very comforting thing. But it is not directly about religion that I want to speak to your Lordships tonight. The debate is actually about a very difficult and technical question—the supply of teachers of religious education—and I feel even sorrier than usual for my noble friend Lord Donaldson in having to reply to this deeply interesting but wide-ranging debate, when actually the subject is rather a specific one.

Frankly, before I come on to this subject, in which I hope I may make some remarks which will help my noble friend Lord Longford about the numbers, I should like to make some general remarks. I can conceive of no more difficult a task than directly to seek to inculcate a morality in the young. It can be done, I think, by blazing example. I think, for example, of Kurt Hahn, and his extraordinary influence; and I can think of schoolteachers today of equal power. I will not name them, but I know them. I can instance the example of the philosopher G. E. Moore, who influenced Lord Keynes and a whole generation of brilliant young Cambridge men and women—a great moralist! It is said that one is lucky to come across one great teacher in a lifetime. I have been extremely fortunate; I was taught by two such.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, will my noble friend name them?


One, my Lords, you would not know; the other is a Humanist named Lady Robinson.

My Lords, I do not think that we can legislate for moral example. It seems to me that moral example is a gift, in the literal sense of the word, and, I would venture to say, from God. What we can do is to see that the appropriately qualified teachers are available in the right numbers, at the right places and at the right times. The noble Lord, Lord Boyle, years ago, put me on the National Advisory Council for the Supply and Training of Teachers. I like to think that I have been a little influential in getting the statistics of teacher requirements improved and in getting the adequate number of teachers that we now have today available for our schools. I do not speak of quality but of quantity. I was chucked off that Council when I got the figures right and the civil servants got them wrong. But since 1965, parents, as I mentioned in the debate on the Court Report, have become less and less inclined to have children. I know that my noble friend Lord Longford, as the father of immensely distinguished children, might regret this; nevertheless, it is true.

We are now in the happy position of seeing the number of children for whom my noble friend Lord Donaldson has to produce schools, teachers, buildings and so on, fall. At last, we are not chasing numbers, we are chasing quality in education. This is the first time in my adult lifetime, in my political lifetime, that we can say that that is true. Previously, we have had to finds roofs for heads; now we have enough roofs for heads and must begin improving quality.

In effect—and this is the point at which I may help my noble friend—this means that, at most, only about 3 per cent, of the people working as teachers in the schools in any year will be newly-qualified in that year. To put it another way, if we take a school with 10 teachers, one newly-qualified teacher would turn up every three years; or, if we take a big comprehensive with 100 teachers, there would be only three newly-qualified teachers arriving at that school in that year.

Let me add that in conditions of unemployment—which we have at the moment, unfortunately, and which we all regret—teacher turnover drops dramatically. People are unwilling to give up their jobs because they quarrel with the headmaster; and they do not leave the schools. In most places, for the first time for years, we have stable staffs. We have reverted to the "Mr. Chips" situation. Until now teachers have been going through revolving doors in the schools; no child was ever taught by the same teacher for more than about one term. This is no longer true. Often, the same people will be there when they leave. I think that this is probably for the good.

But, my Lords, it is quite unrealistic to suppose that more than a handful of those newly-trained teachers will be specialists in any one subject, however important that subject may be, whether mathematics, craft or religion. We are short of mathematics specialists, short of music specialists—as I happen to know because I am chairman of the Committee on the Training of Music Specialists—and we are short of craft specialists. Even if, as many of your Lordships have asked, special priority were given to religion, new religious education teachers can only be a drop in the ocean.

I hope that I carry your Lordships with me in this rather disagreeable arithmetical, but I hope logical, argument. Your Lordships' arguments about particular colleges in particular places are most moving. I have been weeping buckets. Unfortunately, they are arithmetically preposterous. Frankly, they butter no parsnips. What is the point of training teachers for unemployment? The conclusion is inescapable: if anything is to be done, it is to be done by the in-service training of existing teachers. That is where we start. How do we improve the quality of existing teaching? That is the question which has been raised by my noble friend Lord Longford, and that is the question to which we shall have to address ourselves.

Here I wish to address myself—and hope in this respect I am helping my noble friend the Minister; I do not usually help Ministers, but I will help him for once—to a number of practical problems. I am glad to see that the Department of Education and Science is coming round to the view which I have been expressing for the past 20 years, that there is a basic curriculum, a core curriculum, which should be available for most children. I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robbins (who I regret is not here tonight) that the English have committed a crime of outrageous dimensions in requiring academically gifted children to specialise so early. I see no reason why every boy and girl should not take five big subjects until they are 18: English, French, mathematics, science and a liberal subject. I have argued that for 20 years and I am pleased to say that, at last, educational opinion seems to be swinging in my direction.

Besides these five fundamental subjects for the continuation of the academic civilisation, and indeed the functioning of industry in this country, there are three other subjects which form the basis of civilised life. One is sport and physical recreation. We can assume that the core curriculum by implication includes that. Another is music and art. The noble Lord who is to reply is deeply committed to the arts and has done an enormous amount for the arts. I should like to pay public tribute to the enormously increased grants that the Arts Council and other bodies have obtained from his absolutely terrific efforts. I think he will agree with me that the current passion for engineering is, however, making the case for the arts and music more difficult than it might otherwise be.

But there is a third subject, and that is religion. I will state a prejudice which some of us have expressed tonight and others have not. I believe that it is axiomatic that religious questions are of the highest importance. I have a deep suspicion of watered-down common-core syllabuses showing that at heart Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, Voo-Doo and Karl Marx are all getting at the same thing by different routes. For one thing it is quite clear that they are not. They are not getting at the same thing at all. For another thing, everybody—however dim they may be—can see that this is intellectually and morally threadbare.

What, then, do we want? In my own humble opinion, the opportunity to discuss moral and ethical questions arises in every subject. The first year lectures that I give in my own university are mainly about when we can rationally say that one economic state is better or worse than another; that one man is better off or worse off than another; that an East German is better off than an Englishman, or something like that. That seems a central moral dilemma which one can discuss perfectly properly in the context of an academic course on economics.

It seems to me that these moral questions can arise on any subject, whether mathematics, French, economics, physical education, or whatever. These need to be buttressed by a firm teaching of religious doctrines. I must honestly say that nowadays nobody knows anything. They have not read the Bible, so they cannot understand most of our literature—not to mention a great many of the swear words which they currently use. They know no history, so they have no idea whatsoever of what past ages have thought about God and man. And they certainly do not know the great works of Christian apologetics, which explain Christian moral attitudes to sex, war and civil society. My noble friend Lord Longford will know exactly what I mean, since we are both connected with a movement for peace in Ireland, when I say that never was it more important that Christian teaching should be brought home to people who allegedly are taught Christianity.

My Lords, I have been rather self-indulgent in going rather beyond the terms of my noble friend's Question, but I see the problem of the supply of teachers in terms not of the supply of new teachers but in terms of raising the intellectual level of the teaching force as a whole. I see it in terms of a shift to a core curriculum, in which explicit teaching of the facts of religious doctrine is not replaced by vague "uplift", which manifestly does not and cannot work. In my view, this requires in-service training and, above all, in-service discussion, especially with parents and clergy.

The problem of in-service training, which my noble friend Lord Parry has argued we are constantly facing, is incredibly difficult and it raises central and very difficult questions about the organisation of the schools and of the way in which teachers are released for full-time in-service training. In my view, it will require a totally changed attitude on the part of everybody in education and teacher training. I am very glad indeed that with the present Secretary of State and the newly revived and enthused Department of Education and Science, we can at last look forward to a period of substantial progress in this field.

11.18 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of CHELMSFORD

My Lords, this is the second time that I have had the misfortune to bat immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, who steals my clothes! I brought one speech into the Chamber, but I shall make a different one because I want to try briefly—though not as briefly as last time, when I took three minutes—to return to the subject of religious education, which the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, admitted to be a good tiling so far as it went. The noble Lord went on to say that we impose dogmatic beliefs—which is not religious education, or anything like it. He said we know everything which is to be known. But that is not our claim, and it certainly would not be part of religious education. He talked about "captive audiences", whereas all the schools that I go to have audiences which, although captive, are always distinctively active and rather aggressive.

We are talking not about dogmatism, but about growth and the quest for truth. There are certain questions which everybody asks: about life and death, about purpose (if there is one), about suffering in the world and about right and wrong. Those, I think, are either basically religious or philosophical questions: I believe they are both. Nearly all religions have within them the endeavour to find answers to some of those questions, or to find partial answers. Religious education seems to me to try to create a critical understanding of what religion means; to try to define the nature of religious experience and what that means, and how it comes—in what modes. Unless these words mean nothing, I believe that its purpose is to show boys and girls that there is a moral and spiritual dimension to life, which, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, said, can be found in any subject. But there must be a place where these things are put together and discussed, and where understanding is sought.

The point has already been made that it is not possible to give all the options in religion and philosophy to answer all these questions. I have found that it is not possible to know all there is to be known about the Christian faith; I learn daily, as indeed I am promised in the New Testament. So you have to get into a faith to understand it and be educated in it. Is it possible, therefore, to have a tremendous kaleidoscope of views? You must start somewhere. You must have a standard judgment whereby you can judge other things, which we do in almost every other subject, and as Christians we do it in our faith. We see in our Christian education that the point of departure, the point where you start, is the Christian faith. You understand this, you come to terms with it and then you must make up your own mind about what you believe: we will give you the tools, but you must decide for yourselves.

It may be said: why start with the Christian faith? If we were in Saudi Arabia, we should have to start with the Moslem faith; and, indeed, we should not be allowed to start with or consider any other. Why, then, start with the Christian faith? The point has been made that the Christian faith has entered the very structure of the life of this nation—our traditions, our literature, our law, our culture. Nothing can be understood, in terms of these and many other things, without the knowledge and the sense that they have emerged through the faith of times past. This Palace of Westminster is saturated with the insights of the Old Testament and the New Testament—mostly concerned with the law, but there it is. Wherever we go here we are surrounded by this.

So why start with the Christian faith? It has been said, and I think it is true, that most parents want it to be so. We gather that around 5 per cent, of the population are committed Church people. I believe—and I have evidence from my own peregrinations—that a fair number of people who are attracted to the Christian faith cannot abide the Christian Church, and I have some sympathies with them. I think that many young people are attracted to the person of Jesus Christ, and the Jesus people—which was a passing phase—have had a continuing effect on many young people. They provide a focus for their lives. They provide the kind of fulcrum by which they can move things. They provide a person at the heart of things, which they need.

We have talked a good deal about morality, and it is argued—it may be coincidental—that the decay of Church-going, the decay of belief, if you like, has coincided with a general decline in morals. Are the two things connected? I suppose that they are. But the Christian faith is not basically about a moral law. It is about love, as we have heard; about God who is love, about love who is God. The Commandment is, as we were reminded, "Love God and love your neighbour". I believe that a satisfactory morality can derive from any strong faith, whether it be faith in humanity, faith in Mao Tse-tung or faith in God. The advantage of God, according to my understanding, goes on for ever. It is this which is the keystone of the morality which emerges from our attempt—a fairly awful attempt for a good deal of the time, as we have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I should not like to be offensive to him, but he seems to me probably to be a saintly character. This is no new phenomenon. We discuss constantly in our schools those people who manage to live lives of greater unselfishness than do some of us Christians.

As Christians, we believe that religious education starts with God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and that the morality follows from it. That is why we start with Christianity and why we need committed Christian people who are able to present it as a collection of Truths, constantly growing and deepening—Truth based on tradition and revelation from the past, yet constantly being added to; Truth which can be added to as we meet men and women of other religions, faiths, non-faiths and other ideals.

My experience is that I can meet no man without learning from him something of the nature of God, life, love and humanity—which I pray that he learns from me. We cannot have any experience without learning, unless we are completely bogged down in our imposed dogmatic beliefs, which I do not believe that we are. However, we need to be committed to ourselves and to know where we are going so that we have criteria of judgment. This is why our teachers have to be real professionals with academic drive, men of integrity, men who are prepared to follow the Truth where it leads. One of my best friends is an atheist who followed the Truth where it led. I must not say what I believe about that and about what is going to happen to him ultimately, but I believe that ultimately he will see the Truth and recognise it.

What we do for our young people is to present Truth to them in the ways in which we have learned it so that they can make their own decisions in life. They are soon going to be attacked by other faiths and meet them. In fact, my teacher would introduce them to men and women of other faiths in order thay they should meet them first hand. No longer can we go back to the days of my youth, when I gave courses of lectures on the Moslem and Hindu faiths out of a little book, saying how good they were but where they went wrong. That is no longer any good. These people are living among us and we must meet and learn from them, because God speaks in many ways and His Truth is variously shown.

What we want of our young people is maturity—the ability to decide. I am struck by the fact that Jesus in His teaching never imposed dogmatic beliefs. When people asked Him a question, He asked them another question or told them a pregnant story and said, "Think about it and go and do likewise". When they asked Him to make their decisions He said, "No, you make your own decisions. I am not going to tell you how to split up your father's money, but beware of envy". This is His way, the way of enabling growth, leading into Truth. This is my understanding of Christian education.

All I would say, then, is that if it is important, as I believe it is all important, that we should have such men, one comes back to the Unstarred Question of the noble Earl, Lord Longford. We, the Church, have to arouse in our young men and women the zeal and the desire to enter into Christian education and to go and get on with it. The State cannot do it for us; nobody can do it for us, and if we cannot ourselves produce men of such faith and resilience then it is a poor thing. But I believe we can.

11.30 p.m.


My Lords, I rise with rather more humility than usual this evening because I am speaking after 16 speakers, all of whom know exactly what they think, whereas I am, and have been for many years, in a state of some confusion. I am a stumbling Anglican with many doubts but modest convictions, and I find it perfectly simple to state what I should like to see. I should like to see every child made to think about the non-material, about the numinous, about the possibility of God, about the teaching of Jesus Christ, about the Bible—Old Testament and New Testament—about the Koran at a later stage, and about Buddhism at a later stage still. But how to do this without being almost counterproductive I do not know at all.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, who benefited very much from his religious education at school—and I suspect that we may have been in the same place, but whether so or not it is the same principle—I became an Atheist sharp at 16½ and remained one until I was about 35. Since then, as I have said, I have been a stumbling Anglican. It was always perfectly obvious to me that, with the best will in the world, we should not spend this evening talking about my noble friend's Question, but about the realities of religious education, because it is so very much more interesting. If I were a private citizen I should like very much to make quite a long speech about this. I have many ideas about it, but at the moment I am not speaking as a private citizen; I am speaking for the Government.

My noble friend has made a pretty definite statement and I think I must deal with his statement rather than with the generalities of a fascinating kind in which we would all rather indulge. However I must make one or two comments on the evening's debate. The right reverend Prelate who spoke last interested me by saying that Christianity was concerned with faith rather than morals. I think I agree, and I suppose the next step is to say that it is concerned, like St. James, with Grace rather than works. Once you say that half the world has not the slightest idea what you mean, so we get into difficulties straight away. My noble friend Lord Vaizey gave figures which were extremely interesting; rather disturbing, but in so far as they were facts they were facts which we have to face. It was an extremely helpful speech. In particular he emphasised something which I shall mention later; namely, in-service training, which I think is very important, and he said something which I agreed with; namely, that he is hostile to vague uplift. I suppose we should all say we are, but many of us indulge in it pretty freely.

The noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, made a fascinating speech. I particularly liked the sentiment that Christianity is not made to serve the State. I see the noble Countess is not here so I will not go on with that point, but it was an interesting statement. My noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder astonished me by calling scientists "humble". They may be humble in relation to God or the facts of life, but they certainly are not humble to non-scientists. It was very refreshing to have the Jewish point of view put by my old friend Lord Janner, and in so far as there is a risk of something that he and his people want not being done, perhaps he can tell me more about it and I will see whether I can help.

I have answered one or two of Lord Harvington's questions already; others will be answered in the course of my speech, and at the end we will add it up and I will write to him about anything that is left over. Of course, I was very interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Parry, particularly his contention that ethics are more important than mechanics, and particularly that the totalitarians can teach us how to teach religion; this may or may not be true, but I think it is what he said and I thought it very interesting. I shall answer Lady Masham's question in the course of what I have to say. I must say to my noble friend Lord Brockway that, however he may wish teaching of religious education in this country to be secular, I think it must include intensive study of the Bible. I think that to teach religion of any kind in the United Kingdom without intensive study of the Bible is not to be teaching religion at all. I do not think we need make people think they ought to believe in it, but at least they must have read it and know what is in it.

The noble Lord, Lord MacLeod, gave me great pleasure by saying that the approach to religious teaching must be non-authoritarian and must be amicable discussion. I think this is absolutely right. My noble friend Lord Soper, with whom I so often differ—and who, I think, from what he was saying, may be wasting his time on Tower Hill—said one very interesting thing, which is that he thinks that religious education is for the churches. If that were to be the view this would change a good many things. The right reverent Prelate, the Bishop of Blackburn, pleased me again by saying it was the Church's job to persuade people towards religion. I entirely agree with this. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, made a speech with which, to my great surprise, I almost entirely agreed; so I will say nothing more about that.

I am not going to let your Lordships off tonight. If we have a debate as serious as this, with as many people speaking, starting at eight o'clock, I must reply fully to it. Normally on these occasions I rather rush through, but I am not going to tonight; it is too important. I am going to try to deal with my noble friend's Question, and I should like to begin by confirming, as he asked me to, in no uncertain terms, that the Government have no present intention of modifying the religious education provisions of the 1944 Education Act.

One cannot discuss any failure to recruit without wondering why there is such a failure and asking oneself whether the subject is itself attractive enough to bring in would-be students; and this inevitably involves a brief look at what the subject has become. In the old days, and in the thinking behind the 1944 Act, religious education was regarded as giving children a thorough grounding in the beliefs and tenets of Christianity. Non-believing parents were allowed to opt out for their children, but it was assumed—and I think rightly—that nearly all other parents wanted this thorough grounding for their children. Arrangements were made through the voluntary schools for this thorough grounding to have its denominational variations, and the type of person who taught this thorough grounding was generally someone who believed he was dealing in eternal truths and that the imparting of such truths to his pupils was the most important lesson in their whole education.

There is no doubt that there have been some changes in people's views of religious education. It is no longer always regarded as the inculcating of sound Christian belief; rather, as a look at some recently revised Agreed Syllabuses makes clear, it is coming to be seen more as a study of the non-material things of life, with special emphasis on the Christian tradition which has done so much to make us what we are. Proselytism and evangelism are now thought of as being primarily the province of the family and the Church. The sort of person who is interested in learning and then teaching spiritual thinking of different kinds is not necessarily the same as the man who has been brought up as a church-goer or a chapel-goer and who thinks that everyone else should be one, too. He will tend to be intellectually more sophisticated—and, therefore, probably less numerous. I throw that out as one of the reasons why recruiting has become difficult.

I should like to question one statement that has been made by my noble friend Lord Longford—I believe that another noble Lord questioned it during the debate. He said that religious education is an indispensable element in moral education. Surely that is wrong. The reverse is, or ought to be, true. But moral education as carried on by many Humanist and other organisations is quite independent of religious education, unless the word is used in the Pickwickian sense. It is tempting to pursue these philosophical questions and to discuss the minority religions and how those children should be treated in school, but my noble friend has shown great restraint and so must I.

I turn to the nub of the Question; namely, the supply of teachers of religious education. For a number of reasons the practice of appointing specialist teachers for the subject was slower to develop in religious education than in some other areas of the curriculum. The general assumption in the immediate post-war period was that religious education would be taught by those with a personal interest in the subject who numbered this as one of their teaching subjects. The trend towards appointing specialist teachers in secondary schools gathered momentum from the late 1950s, and the number of specialists has grown very much since then. However, the problem has been that of keeping pace with the rising demand due to the growing desire to appoint specialist teachers, and the shortage in this field is long-standing rather than something new.

This increasing demand has gone along with the widening of the scope and content of religious education which is reflected in revised Agreed Syllabuses for religious education, such as the recent ones of the Cheshire and Avon authorities. Both give a central place to Christianity, but they also take the view that if the pupil is to be prepared for life in contemporary society, he must at least be aware that there are other major world faiths by which men live. This puts a new demand on the teacher's knowledge, while other developments have increased demand upon his professional skill. These syllabuses are the result of very thorough, reflective and careful work. I was reading the syllabus of the Cheshire authority this afternoon and it is the result of years of hard work and very hard thinking. In so far as there has been a development in the idea of what religious education is, it is the result of serious people taking time and thinking hard. This probably is about as good a way as there is in which to have such a development.

My Lords, I was sorry to hear the allegation by my noble friend that there have been wide-spread flagrant breaches of the law. The 1944 Act lays down that each day, in each institution, should begin with a collective act of worship. I note in passing that the same custom prevails in your Lordships' House, and very meagrely is it attended. The Act recognises that there may be circumstances where a single collective act of worship is not possible and head teachers can then consult with their local authorities about alternative arrangements. Such arrangements do not constitute a breach of the law. The Act also provides that there should be reasonable provision of religious education; but this is not defined so there is no legal minimum. I must confess that this means that if there is indifference to the idea of religious education, the letter of the law can be kept without much attention being paid to the spirit.

The prime responsibility for ensuring that the statutory requirements in this subject are met lies with the local authority. It is right that this principle of local responsibility should be retained. Her Majesty's Inspectorate are very willing to advise schools and authorities on these matters, and where it appears that the provision for religious education in a school is seriously inadequate, they will certainly draw the attention of those concerned to that state of affairs.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, do I gather that the noble Lord says that all is impeccable? He says he is sorry to hear me making allegations. I am much sorrier to hear that there are all these breaches of the law. Is he saying that breaches of the law are not occurring and, if so, what is the basis of his knowledge?


My Lords, if the noble Earl had listened rather more carefully, what I did was to explain that the situations he alluded to were not breaches of the law, though they might well be breaches of the spirit of the law.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I did not say any such thing. The noble Lord must be a little patient. He said that he is sorry about something that I have said, and gives the impression that he knows what is going on. I do not think he has any idea of what is going on.


My Lords, the noble Earl is entitled to his views. That is all I can say about that. It is impossible to prove a breach of the law by suggesting that too little time is given to religious education. I thought I was giving my noble friend what he wanted when I said that if very little time is given to religious education this is a breach of the spirit of the law, but it is not a breach of the letter of the law.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I did not refer to the letter of the law; I just said the law, so we seem to agree.


My Lords, that is a relief anyway. The Schools Council has a responsibility for advising the schools on curricula matters, and is certainly discharging this responsibility in the field of religious education. The Council has funded three major research projects; two in primary education and one in secondary. One of the primary school projects is still going on; for the other two, reports have been published, and other teaching materials for use in the schools have been, and indeed are still being, produced. Two further projects sponsored by the Council, both on moral education and covering between them almost the whole school age range, are also relevant.

I have already acknowledged that there is a shortage of teachers of religious education, and the Government share the concern of noble Lords about this. There have been many suggestions for action from the centre, and we will do what we properly can within our highly decentralised education system. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to the difficulty of getting full and up-to-date facts. He is right; it is very difficult. One can understand why when one realises that there are 4,500 secondary schools alone containing over 200,000 teachers of all subjects. To accumulate and keep up to date a body of useful statistics about them is no easy task.

First, however, the Government can take the lead in improving information about the size of the teacher shortage. A 10 per cent, sample of teacher shortages and surpluses in secondary schools has in fact been carried out by the Department for each subject in the curriculum in each autumn since 1969. These surveys indicate that over the last three years the shortage of religious education teachers has tended to diminish—I think the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to this figure—from some 250 in 1973 to a small credit balance in 1976. But this is no basis for complacency. The present type of survey is subject to a number of limitations, not least that it does not reveal the level of specialist training among those already in post.

However, noble Lords will be interested to know that my right honourable friend, following an initiative by her Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers, will this autumn be seeking, from a sample of secondary schools, information in much greater detail about the composition and characteristics of the teaching force; about the way the teaching force is deployed in the schools, and about school curricula and organisation. My right honourable friend is at the moment in consultation with the local authorities and teachers to this end. My noble friend has asked me specifically, and so have other noble Lords, whether we cannot set up an inquiry into the provision of qualified teachers of religious education. I hope that they will be satisfied that the survey to which I have just referred is a proper answer to their request. It will, in my opinion, produce the information we are seeking.

The Government are doing what they can to ensure that opportunities for specialist studies in religious education are available and that the subject has a significant place in the training of intending primary school teachers and others who are not taking it as one of their major academic subjects. There is, as my noble friend suggested, a chicken and egg situation here; the courses exist but not enough students come forward for them. I have yet to hear of a student wishing to train in religious education who has been turned away because he could not find a place on a course. They do not come forward, for one reason, because the teaching they received failed to catch their imagination, and that was surely because it was not imaginatively done; but imaginative teaching needs training, so we are back to the training courses.

The noble Lord asked in particular in this context whether a worsening situation must arise as the result of closing down colleges of education and amalgamations of others with polytechnics and other more broadly-based institutions. I think this need not happen. In formulating her proposals, the Secretary of State has taken account of the provision made for religious education in the various colleges and has tried to maintain a sufficient provision and proper distribution of facilities around the country. Where, because of other considerations, she is having to propose the end of teacher training at a college with known strength in religious education, she has looked carefully at the alternative provision in the region to satisfy herself that the loss in one place can be adequately compensated elsewhere. My noble friend Lord Vaizey was very helpful in pointing out how this kind of thing has to be done, and it is not really any good thinking that one can escape it. These proposals are to be the subject of consultations with the local education authorities and voluntary bodies concerned. Final decisions will not be taken on individual colleges without this consultation.

The contribution of the Church colleges is very relevant, though they have of course no monopoly in this training. For example, the Roman Catholic Digby Stuart College at Roehampton, referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, is already in process of joining with a Church of England, a Methodist and a non-denominational college in London to form an ecumenical federation under the title and administration of the Roehampton Institute of Higher Education. In such a federation, each college surrenders a measure of control to the central Institute in order to achieve the most efficient use of total resources in the joint promotion of teacher and more general higher education courses, while retaining its individual identity and community ethos.

This represents a new and exciting venture in co-operation by the Churches and the new proposals envisage the establishment of a similar federation of the Catholic Colleges of Christ's and Notre Dame and the Church of England College of St. Katherine's at Woolton in Liverpool. The Secretary of State's proposals take full account of the place of the Churches and would preserve the historic shares of the Church of England, I think one-sixth, and the Roman Catholic Church, about one-eleventh, in total provision. Naturally, one must talk in terms of proportions and not in absolute numerical terms. The pattern of pro-vision within a training system of 115,000 places, as it was three years ago, cannot be precisely reproduced in one of 45,000 places and still be educationally viable.

There will have to be some reworking of the forward plans which training institutions were asked to make last year for their contributions to initial training in the early 1980s in the light of the outcome of my right honourable friend's proposals for further contraction of the system to 45,000 places instead of the 60,000 places on which the plans were based. I can assure the House that the Secretary of State will be much concerned to ensure the best practical alternative provision for that which may disappear as a result of proposed college closures. As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, pointed out, St. Mary's Roman Catholic College at Fenham, near Newcastle, with its strong provision for religious education, is a case very much in point. I will not give a detailed explanation of what is going on there to the noble Baroness, because the Secretary of State will be going to Newcastle in the course of this coming week. She will be receiving deputations on behalf of the college and the whole matter will be the subject of further discussion, so I think we will have to leave the subject till then.

With the inevitable reduction in initial training, in-service teacher training becomes increasingly important in improving the teaching of this and other subjects. The Government's proposals for teacher training in the 1980s envisage that the equivalent of some 10,000 places in teacher-training institutions will be devoted to in-service training generally. It is too early to talk about proportions for particular subjects, but clearly religious education will share in the benefits. Despite financial constraints, a great deal of local in-service training and curriculum development in religious education has been initiated by LEA advisers for the subject, whose numbers have significantly increased in recent years. The Department is currently providing direct financial support towards specialist centres concerned with the provision of resources and in-service training for religious education, as has already been mentioned, at West Hill College, Birmingham, and Borough Road College, Isleworth. These centres which are now in full operation were established in response to an initiative from the Christian Education Movement which is itself active in in-service training, as are other professional associations. In addition, the National Society for Promoting Religious Education has established a centre at St. Gabriel's College, London, and an associated one at the College of Ripon and York, St. John.

The noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, asked me a question. She is not here, but I shall answer it all the same. She asked about the number of Roman Catholic priests teaching religious education in county maintained secondary schools. The Department has no information, nor has the Catholic Education Council, so I am unable to answer. I feel that though it may be bad that I am not able to do so, it is probably worse that the Catholic Education Council cannot.

There were two points which my noble friend Lord Longford raised, to which I must refer. One was, roughly speaking, the behaviour of headmasters. The other was the status of religious education. As regards the first, this seems not to be a thing which, unless it is in some way reprehensible, can possibly concern the Department. It must be dealt with locally. The important thing is that the right people should be appointed and should then be fully supported, and I do not feel that we can pursue this subject at all. I do not feel that it would be right to do so.

As regards status, if it is possible, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Elton, suggested, to arrange certain grade changes, I shall certainly get my right honourable friend to look at this. There may be something to be done on that, but my own view is that a debate like this helps the status of religious education and that more could be done locally by taking an interest in the Agreed Syllabus and in the running of the school than can possibly be done from the centre. I think that these are both important points, but not points that I can deal with.

In conclusion, I should like to repeat the assurance which I gave at the beginning of my speech, that the Government have no present intention of modifying the relevant sections of the 1944 Act. I should also like to say that my Secretary of State is fully aware, not only that there are shortages of teachers in religious education, but that there are considerable difficulties in remedying the shortages. I have described what she is doing and she is determined that the remedy shall be effective. I hope that those who are in touch with young people who are going on to higher education and whose interest in this important field of human experience has already been awakened will encourage them to consider qualifying themselves to share in the religious education task of the schools.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for having raised this question and having raised it in such an interesting way, and for having helped us to have such a very interesting debate. I hope that he will have noticed that my reply has not been a complacent one.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I ask him whether he will accept the thanks of all those who have taken part in this debate?


My Lords, this is most unusual and very gratifying. I am delighted to do so.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, that is without prejudice to any policy statement. I was simply referring to the attitude of my noble friend.

England and Wales: 1972 to 1976
Number of dwellings
1972 1973 1974 1975 1976
Local authorities
1 bedroom 29,569 26,751 34,260 38,842 39,564
2 bedrooms 26,456 21,599 26,232 32,303 31,877
3 bedrooms 33,367 27,500 34,474 46,905 47,717
4 or more bedrooms 4,243 3,439 4,457 4,807 4,994
All houses and flats 93,635 79,289 99,423 122,857 124,152
Housing associations
1 bedroom 3,508 3,864 4,153 6,429 6,429
2 bedrooms 2,334 3,091 3,463 4,986 4,962
3 bedrooms 1,287 1,583 1,716 2,355 3,039
4 or more bedrooms 123 69 108 157 188
All houses and flats 7,252 8,607 9,440 13,927 14,618