HL Deb 18 May 1977 vol 383 cc702-21

2.47 p.m.

Lord BLAKE rose to call attention to the lack of an adequate Christian content in religious education in Local Education Authority schools; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I begin the main theme of my argument on the Motion which is down on the Order Paper, I would make two points clear. The first is this. Although the Motion refers to the maintained sector of education it is in no way intended as an attack in general upon county schools, nor is it intended to imply that everything in the garden is perfect so far as independent schools or direct grant schools are concerned. I have confined my Motion to the inadequate Christian content of religious education in the maintained schools simply because Parliament and the Secretary of State have a responsibility in that field which they do not have in the other sectors of education in this country. That, and that alone, is my reason for limiting the Motion in these terms.

My second point is that this is not in any sense a Party political Motion. The decline of Christian content in religious education which alarms me and many other noble Lords is not connected with the political colour of successive Governments. If my noble friend Lord Elton or my noble friend Lord Belstead had been on the Government Front Bench answering for the Department of Education and Science, I would have been pressing on one of them just the same questions, arguments and pleas for action which I propose to press on the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, today.

The reason for this Motion is the worry and perturbation felt by some teachers and a great many parents about the nature and adequacy of the Christian element in religious education at every age level in the maintained schools. Something of this worry was expressed on 19th March last year in another place when my honourable friend the Member for Barkston Ash, Mr. Michael Alison, moved that the House: recognises the need to maintain and improve the opportunities for religious education and an act of worship in schools". A very helpful and important debate ensued. The same anxieties were stated by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in your Lordships' House on 16th February this year, when he raised the question of the supply of qualified teachers of religious education, and a similarly useful and valuable debate followed.

I ought at this stage to say what I believe the problem to be. I am convinced that there has been a grave reduction over the last 20 years in the Christian element in religious education, or religious instruction as it is called—not in all schools, of course, but in quite enough to give serious cause for worry.

Religious education is a subject which is laid down as obligatory in the Education Act 1944, along with the act of daily collective worship. The only other compulsory subject is physical education. It is a strange irony of events that one of the few subjects decreed by an Act of Parliament to be a part of every school curriculum is in so many school weakest, least well taught and most perfunctorily observed of all.

We must look back for a moment at the history of the present situation. As an historian I certainly do not want to lecture your Lordships on the past. It can be a terrible bore to follow everything back to its beginnings. It was once said of Sir Robert Peel that he could not mention the steam engine without tracing it back to the tea-kettle. However, the history of the Education Act 1944 is none the less relevant in this debate. Perhaps I could remind your Lordships that until 1870 there was no State education in England at all. Education was provided in one form or another by various religious bodies which were heavily grant-aided by the State but not subject to any rules about content of curriculum.

The Act of 1870 decided that the school boards—which for our purposes are the forerunners of the county education authorities today—should have one of three choices as regards religious education: none at all, Bible reading without comment, or Bible reading with suitable explanation as long as it did not involve any catechism or formulary distinctive of any particular sect. In practice, nearly every school board or successor authority took the last of those three alternatives—Bible readings with non-denomination explanations. These are what have developed into the "agreed syllabuses" of today. In effect, the 1944 Act codified and made obligatory what had long been general practice—the formulation of agreed syllabuses in each local education authority to be produced by co-operation between the teachers, the Churches and the local authorities. "Religious instruction", as it is called in the Act, thus became a part of the core curriculum, to use a current phrase, of every county school.

This decision, historically, was a compromise between those who wanted no religious education at all and those who wanted it to be taught according to particular denominations. It was involved with the whole complicated question of church schools. The passage of the Act was in this, as in many other respects, a triumph for the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. His immense powers of diplomacy have seldom been shown to greater advantage in the whole of his long and distinguished career.

The 1944 Act thus imposes a statutory obligation on county schools to impart religious instruction and to begin the day with collective worship by all pupils in attendance at the school, exception being made in both cases, of course, for parents who withdraw their children on grounds of conscience. The Act has never been amended and I for one do not want to suggest that it should be. I should not at all go along with those who wish to repeal these sections entirely or those who would like to amend certain words—for example, to substitute "education" for "instruction". It seems to me that the difference there is merely semantic.

As a budding officer in the Royal Artillery 37 years ago, I was taught by a gunnery instructor, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. However, I always felt that he educated me just as much as he instructed me and I also felt—and feel today—that instruction, whatever it means, does not entail indoctrination. I should prefer the Act to stay as it is. I know that certain noble Lords, whose sincerity I respect, would like it to be amended in the sense of abolishing any requirement at all for religious education. On the contrary, my view is that the Act should not be changed but that it should actually be carried out and implemented in the spirit in which it was intended to be implemented, though of course, with some reasonable regard for the changes which have occurred in attitudes during the last 30 years.

My Lords, there is disturbing evidence that religious education is becoming a Cinderella subject and also—and this is perhaps a separate point—that its nature is changing in one very important respect. The Christian content in many schools has over the years become less and less. Either it is being crowded out by the study of other faiths or, in the atrocious jargon of modern educationalists, it is being crowded out by what are called "stances for living"—a very misleading metaphor if it comes from cricket or golf. Why not creeds or beliefs? I need not remind your Lordships of the Birmingham agreed syllabus about which—rightly—there was such a row a few years ago.

Alternatively, where the Christian content of religious education lessons is not being diminished because so much time is devoted to a "mish-mash" of comparative religions, it is being diminished for another and, I think, even worse reason—that is, that periods nominally meant for religious instruction have ceased to have any religious content at all, becoming merely a vague sort of uplift or, in some cases, a form of teaching that is almost indistinguishable from teaching civics.

I say at once that I do not regard the study of other religions as wrong or as undesirable. Without a knowledge of Judaism, for example, a Christian could hardly understand his own faith, and some knowledge of the other great world religions is an indispensable part of culture. Nor do I regard it as wrong that at the appropriate age school boys and girls should learn what Humanism or Marxism are about and the presuppositions which lie behind those creeds. However, I would ask that they should be taught those subjects as a part of the study of social and political theory, not as a part of religious education, where they have no place at all. Nor, again, am I opposed to civics as a subject, but it is not in any sense religious education. Periods laid down by law to he devoted to religious education should not be occupied by a subject or subjects which have nothing to do with it at all.

Although the 1944 Act refers to religious—not Christian—instruction, there can be no doubt what the Parliament which passed it meant. It meant Christianity. The background is clear enough. That was 1944. Britain was or regarded herself as a Christian country. After a terrible struggle at that time—and it is still not finished—at least there seemed to be the clear promise of defeating what Mr. Patrick Cosgrave, in a recent article published in the Spectator on this topic, called a: …pagan tyranny of unparallelled cruelty. The light was beginning to appear at the end of the tunnel. As people reflected on the nature of Nazism, they perceived that at least one element in its cruelty and barbarism was that its leaders had deliberately and avowedly turned their backs on the whole Western Christian tradition.

It is perhaps worth emphasising just what part of that tradition they had turned their backs on. They had denied the individual personality and asserted the supremacy of collective personality. In the end Hitler was saying that, just as nature, red in tooth and claw, is ruthlessly prodigal with lives in order to preserve the species, so a nation, a race or a social class must be equally ruthless towards individuals in order to preserve and advance its collective purpose.

As one of the wisest of living historians, Sir Herbert Butterfield, wrote in his book Christianity and History: I am not sure that there exists a firm barrier against this error save for those who hold the Christian view that each individual soul is of eternal moment and has a value incommensurate with the value of anything else in the created universe. Human souls are in this view the purpose and end of the whole story, so far as the world is concerned—not merely the servants of the species and not ever mere means to some other mundane end". These words were written in 1949, but they reflect, I would surmise, one reason—one of the more thoughtful arguments—behind the religious clauses of the 1944 Act. Even if I am right on this and also on the other argument behind the Act; namely, that Britain was a Christian country, it is fair to ask whether these arguments are valid today over 30 years later. I am convinced that they are.

Nazism and Fascism may be dead (except as terms of abuse used by Left-Wing fanatics of anything they happen to dislike) but the principles enshrined in these doctrines are not dead at all. If half of what has been reported about the happenings in Cambodia is true, we have there a régime every bit as cruel, vile and indifferent to the individual soul as Nazi Germany. If it is the case that Christianity was needed as a defence in the 1940s against the exaltation of the collective over the individual, it is not less needed in the 1970s or in the foreseeable future.

The other question is whether Britain is still a Christian country. This is not entirely easy to answer. Were we a Christian country, and in what sense, in 1944? If we were then, in what respects have we ceased to be today? I should like to suggest that there has been no fundamental or obvious change. It is often said—and I am sure that it will be said this afternoon—that we live in a pluralistic or a secularist society, or in both. Pluralist, or pluralistic, I presume means in this context a society containing a multiplicity of creeds, and those who use the adjective have in mind largely the immigrants from the Commonwealth whose entry has, as we all know, created social problems.

What tends to be forgotten by those who use this argument is that a very high proportion of those immigrants are Christians and want their children to be brought up as Christians. In many ways they are more fervent Christians than a great many of those in the land to which they have come. Of course a substantial number adhere to other creeds, but in terms of the whole population this is a very small minority. We can and should try to cater for them. But perhaps we forget sometimes that majorities have rights as well as minorities. If most parents wish their children to receive a religious education in which knowledge of Christianity is the chief priority, it would be very unfair to refuse them on the ground that there are non-Christian minorities.

This leads me to the other adjective so often used as a description of society by opponents of Christian education—the word "secularist". By that, I take it, people mean that religious groups of all sorts are dwindling into insignificance and that such public religious observances as survive are vestigial relics of a by-gone era kept alive only by a combination of habit, sentiment and nostalgia. Basically, so this argument runs, the great majority of the British public are agnostic or indifferent.

It is very difficult to make provable generalisations about the public attitude to these matters. It may be true that only 10 per cent. of the population are committed and practising members of one of the Christian Churches. On the other hand, it also seems to be true that 80 to 90 per cent. identify themselves as Christians in however vague or shadowy a manner. These are figures based on public opinion surveys in the mid-1960s, but there is no obvious reason to suggest any startling subsequent change.

It is also true—or was 10 years ago—that a survey in North-East England showed that 90 per cent. of parents wanted local education authority schools to continue to provide religious education even if the law was changed so that it ceased to be obligatory, and 77 per cent. wished the law to be left as it was. Very similar figures apply to the daily act of worship, which I hope will perhaps be dealt with by other noble Lords. I do not propose to deal myself with that particular topic.

It would be a very good thing if further surveys of a more up-to-date and more professional nature could be carried out, covering the whole country. But unless these produce a marked reversal of the previous trends, there seems no reason to regard Britain as having become anything like as secularist as some people maintain. The Durham Report of 1970, entitled The Fourth R, which is by far the most illuminating analysis of the problem, makes the point that Britain may have become a post-ecclesiastical society, but this is not necessarily the same thing as being a post-Christian society.

The real danger today is not indoctrination. It is widely understood that the actual process of evangelising for the Christian cause is not something appropriate to the classroom of county schools. It is something for the Churches themselves to do. The real danger is that knowledge of what the Christian religion is will gradually disappear either because religious education is interpreted as a study of comparative religions—a study which, in the time available, could only be utterly superficial—or because religious education is simply ignored. A sample survey of secondary schools in the London area carried out recently by the inter-denominational Order of Christian Unity showed many cases where this had happened and religious education had become a non-subject.

It is my view, and I believe it is widely shared, that education which excludes religion altogether is simply not education. If children are taught nothing about one of the greatest forces which has shaped the world they live in, and one of the aspects of human culture which has affected people in one form or another for thousands of years, they are missing something profoundly important.

And I would go on to say that in the Western society to which we belong it is entirely right that Christianity should take priority, if only because a child simply cannot understand the cultural heritage of the Western past if he or she does not even know what Christianity is about. Religious education is justified as an educational subject in its own right, as of course are most other subjects which are taught in schools. It is not or should not be a sort of extra, only taught, if at all, because an Act of Parliament says it must be. And a predominently Christian content in that education is also justified in this country and others of our particular tradition and history.

Over 132 years ago Disraeli published Sybil, the most famous of all his political novels. It is based very closely on the Blue Books of the day, Governmental inquiries and so on which revealed among other things the ignorance of whole classes of society about the elementary facts concerning the Bible and Christianity. Disraeli makes one of his characters in a barbarous industrial slum, when quizzed about his faith, say: I believe in Pontius Pilate who was crucified to save our sins and in Moses, Goliath and the rest of the Apostles".

In the years that followed, an immense effort was made by the Churches to remove this kind of ignorance—and Disraeli's words were not a parody at all, they were not an exaggeration of the evidence existing at the time. It would be very sad if, in spite of all this effort, which resulted in people at least knowing what Christianity was about, we were to be moving by default back into an era of comparable ignorance. I fear that we may be.

Some of your Lordships may have read an article in the Daily Telegraph of 25th October last year by an anonymous A-level examiner: Many candidates"— he wrote— remarked confidently that the religion of 14th century England was the worship of Mars and Venus. In several essays on Paradise Lost I encountered the remark that 'it was clever of Milton to think of having Eve tempted by a serpent'". Of course it is easy to seize on examples which may be isolated or eccentric, but one of the difficulties in the whole of this field is to find out what the facts actually are.

This leads me to the first of the specific proposals which I should like to urge for the consideration of the noble Lord who will be replying for the Government. I have given him notice of these proposals. The first is to set up an independent inquiry into religious education in the maintained schools and the place of Christianity within it. The whole subject is one which is fraught with difficulty because the facts are so hard to come by. It is most important that we should know where we are in this respect, and it seems to me clear that only the Department can provide the information. It is most important we should know just where we are in this respect, and it seems to me clear that only the Department can provide the information. Such an inquiry might well include a survey of parental feelings about religious education and the place which Christianity should take in it.

The second proposal which I would urge the Minister to consider is that religious education should be a part of any common core curriculum, if such a curriculum comes into being. I understand that a Green Paper on education is being formulated at present and will probably be published during the summer. There has not been much about religious education in the Great Debate, at any rate not as reported. Perhaps it is taken for granted because of the 1944 Act that religious education would be part of such a curriculum any way. If so, I hope the Minister will be able to confirm the fact and reassert it.

My third proposal arises from the second and is that the Department of Education and Science should issue a circular to all local education authorities declaring that the centrality of Christianity in religious education, together with a study of the Bible, is in its view a clear requirement of the 1944 Act in the spirit, if not in the letter, of the law. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, himself said on the question on the supply of teachers of religious education when the matter was raised in the House by the noble Earl, Lord Longford: 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".—(Official Report, 16/2/77; col. 1726.)

My fourth proposal is that positive steps should be taken to make the career of a specialised teacher in religious education more attractive. I do not want to go again over the ground covered by the debate on Lord Longford's Question in February. Among these might be the creation of a more attractive career structure; the provision of more time and more examination opportunities—it is particularly important that examinations in religious education should have the same status as other subjects in a pupil's career prospects. I would also suggest that religious education should be clearly established as a specialist subject; that head teachers should employ at least one religious education specialist; that every county authority should have a specialist religious education adviser or inspector; and that there should be proper opportunity for in-service courses in religious education.

My fifth and last proposal is that the training of religious education teachers should be improved. The shortage of religious education teachers is recognised, but the number of places available for training in religious education teaching is actually falling because of the closures of so many teacher training institutions with religious education departments. This was all discussed in the previous debate and I will not repeat what was said then. It is most important that the particular role any college plays in training religious education teachers should be taken into account when considering further closures, and I hope it will be.

I have spoken quite long enough. I know that there are many noble Lords who are much more expert in these matters than I am who will wish to give your Lordships' House the benefit of their knowledge and advice. I wish to thank in advance all those who have been kind enough to promise to speak on this very important matter. Perhaps I could particularly emphasise how pleased and grateful I am that the noble Viscount, Lord Alanbrooke, is to make his maiden speech this afternoon on this subject, with the particular experience of his own which he can contribute.

My Lords, I would end by simply saying that the danger is not so much positive hostility to Christianity, though this does not exist in some quarters. The danger is, rather, that a generation will grow up which has, not forgotten, but which has never even known, what Christianity is about and has never had the opportunity to know. I am not pressing for evangelism or for indoctrination; I am pressing for knowledge. I hope of course that knowledge will lead to belief, but it may not in every case or in quite a number of cases. What in my view would be a real tragedy would he an education which, by apathy, omission or neglect, deprived the coming generation of a whole dimension of their Western cultural heritage and left them ignorant of one of the most important aspects of human existence. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.15 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

My Lords, we are all in great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, both for the words he has given to us now and for the enthusiasm which has obviously gone into the preparation for this debate; the size of numbers both in the Chamber and in the Gallery shows that today this is perhaps one of the most important matters to which we can be addressing ourselves, and in a very all-Party way. At the same time it is interesting to note that Lord Blake laid responsibility on Government and not only on the good will of each one of us in this noble House.

It is worth saying that when the word "religion" was used in the 1944 Act, predominantly Christianity was understood alongside the other great traditional religion in England, of the Jewish faith, from which, with the Old Testament and the New Testament, there are such continuing links in the Judeo-Christian tradition of our country; but the fact that agreed syllabuses automatically had to be discussed with the representative of the Christian Churches in every LEA is, in my view, enough historically to show that, by "religion", Government then and, I believe, Government now must reckon that it is Christianity basically of which we are speaking.

As a matter of precedent, I quote from the Handbook of Health Education, which the Department first produced in 1968 and then revised and put out in 1973, and I speak from the later edition. In the interesting introduction to the booklet—some noble Lords quoted from this publication in debates in the House a year or so ago—it said: Our task is, rather, to make sure that bodily health plays its proper part in the whole education of responsible citizens, and to discharge it successfully we need a clear understanding of the nature of our civilisation and its principles. We must also have regard to realities which go beyond the merely physical. Our roots lie deep in the Christian background of our civilisation, and the things of the spirit cannot be passed over". The introduction finished with a call for— …a pattern of health education in which we never lose sight of our main objective; a serene people moving from strength to strength in body, mind and spirit". That was on the health side, but it was relating to the spiritual—again, a precedent concerning our Christian responsibility.

I suppose that historically for this major debate to take place in Jubilee Year is a reminder not that we are to wring our hands and speak of the good old days, which most of us cannot remember very well anyway, but are to speak positively of the present opportunity of making our country an even more positively Christian, caring and loving society than ever before. I notice that in his autobiography, the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, who I am delighted to see will be speaking later, speaks of the Coronation in terms of this situation: Every now and again we are taken out of ourselves, as for example when the Queen was crowned and was seen to pay homage to the King of Kings. …I do not despair for, if Christianity is the truth, it will once more in due time command the allegiance of men". I believe that it is at the right moment that we are turning our thoughts to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, to call attention to the lack of an adequate Christian content in religious education and therefore positively to the importance of a deeper, fuller and more vibrant element of Christianity in our schools. I believe that it is the best of all bipartisan policies to present the historic faith and facts of Christianity and to allow the freedom to worship God while there are countries which deny that freedom. We still have it; let us use it gladly and encourage our school teachers to teach the Christian faith to the maximum of our ability.

We come at once to the human element and the problem that every teacher will experience when he reads the account of this debate: does he or she feel adequate for it? Let me illustrate. A crowd of boys was standing round the shrine of Saint Alban in St. Alban's Abbey. A middle-aged, gruff schoolmaster was showing it to them. He turned to the boys and asked, standing there at the shrine of the first martyr for the Christian faith in England, "What is a martyr?" A boy replied, "Sir, someone who is brave enough to die for his faith." The schoolmaster said, with, I thought, sorrow in his voice, "Yes, I don't think I'd have that courage but, you see, I'm not sure I've got that faith." He was honest enough to recognise his lack of faith and yet to be willing to challenge the youngsters whom he cared for with the fact of the Christian faith. I believe that it is not in any sense intellectually dishonest to hope that teachers of all outlooks—and how few of us can say that we have a total grasp of the fullness and the wonder of the Christian faith?—will both share what faith they have and to turn people to the great facts of Christianity.

I asked the advice of my own director of education who is both director of education in our diocese and has also been a senior lecturer and, before that, a schoolmaster. He wrote to me: Pupils and students are often bored by endless discussions of recurring themes like apartheid, parent/child relationships, sex, marriage, leisure, money and so on, which often amount to little more than the group concerned being encouraged to pool their ignorance and air their prejudices". Such a problem-centred approach is useful in small doses, but it cannot take the place of the careful proclamation of the great historic facts of basic Christianity found in the Bible.

Immediately, we come to our next problem: yes, but, with the quality of our theologians today and what they say on the "box", how can we be sure quite what we all do believe? Your Lordships will remember the story of the university professor, young and philosophical, who was asked to take part in a broadcast on a philosophical subject and, when it was fixed up, the BBC said, in its polite way, "Would 25 guineas be suitable?" The philosophy don replied, "Yes, indeed. To whom do I make it out?" He had been looking forward to getting a chance of saying a few things on the "box".

It is easy for us to say that the Church does not always speak with a united voice. It speaks with a remarkably united voice at grass roots where my brothers the right reverend Prelates, and I are moving day by day. I shall be in four schools the day after tomorrow and shall be going right through meeting the children. Again, I was in schools last week. When one talks to schoolteachers and to children, one finds that the basic simplicities, which are also profondities, of the Christian faith make sense to a very wide proportion of people. The Order for Christian Unity has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, and I am delighted to mention it again. It is doing great work here. Your Lordships will remember that it recently did a survey and that, when asked whether the Bible was to be more solidly the core of the curriculum of religious education, 3,000 head teachers said, Yes. I feel that we owe much to the Order for Christian Unity for the work that they do beavering away behind the scenes in producing material to help us along these lines.

The figures that the noble Lord, Lord Blake, has given us concerning parental choice as regards religous education mean that it is very seldom that parents do not want their children to receive not just vaguely religious but Christian teaching for their children. Therefore, I believe that the Government will have no difficulty with this matter, because they will find, if they seek to follow through the five suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, that they will receive a great warmth of support.

The third problem is the idea that we may be trying to push things down the throats of gullible children when they are too young to use their abilities. We seem to expect our children to face up to a tremendous barrage and pressure of facts in every other way, in literature, on the radio, on television, yet we appear to be afraid to let them know the great facts centring in the person of Jesus Christ and outlined in the Bible. Yet, when millions watched the "box" on Palm Sunday, I met a woman who was rather out of touch with religion and did not know I was a Bishop. We met in the hydrotherapy pool at my hospital, so it was not easy to see quite what I was. I was being attended for a knee which is now very well indeed. She asked me quite simply, "Did you see Jesus last Sunday?" I found that she was speaking of the programme in question. "I can't wait till Easter Day because I had never really realised the depth of the Christian faith before." Her Majesty has just received the millionth copy of the Bible Society's Good News Bible. The Bible is news and is being read again today in a new way. I see no difficulty in a positive approach to the reintroduction in a loving, sensible, balanced way of the Christian faith much more clearly in our schools. I believe that it is a freedom that our children need.

Noble Lords will know that when we Bishops get on our feet we find it very hard to sit down. I notice that I have been on for 12 minutes and my brothers here are either suggesting that I should sit down or else just having a rest for a moment till I have finished. Having said that, however, I try to ask my family about these matters because they are a great help to me, so I talked to my 20 year old daughter, who is a nurse, and told her, "I am hoping to say something next week". "Don't go on too long, Daddy," she said. I am nearly through now.

I asked whether we ought to tell children the heart of the Christian truth and open the Bible and really let them know all about the Christian faith. Her words were, "If you don't give the children the great facts of the Christian faith, then you don't give them the freedom to choose". This is not indoctrination, it is instruction and allowing the next generation of boys and girls of our country to know so many of the wonderful and glorious things about the Christian faith that they can make a responsible choice early in their lives to follow it all their days. For that reason, I particularly underline the third point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, when he said that he hoped the Government might issue a circular to local education authorities concerning what I believe he called, …the centrality of Christianity with the study of the Bible in the heart of religious instruction".

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blake, was of course perfectly right when he said that this was no Party matter. Long ago have gone the days when, if I may swap with him quotations from Disraeli's novels, Taper said: I am all for a religious cry. It means nothing, and if successful it does not interfere with business when we are in". But if there is no Party division on this matter, I think it is fair to say—and I think that it would be recognised above all by historians—that there are Party traditions on this matter. Members of the Liberal Party will of course differ enormously in their reaction to the problems raised by the question at the heart of today's debate. But traditionally in our Party there is a distrust of the Church and the State getting together; there is a distrust of State schools teaching Church religion. That runs the whole way through our history, and in its own way I do not think—and I speak as a regular communicant Christian—it is at all a had thing, because it is too easy to muddle the effects of the two, to try to get the State to enforce morality, as we still do, or to try to use the Church for the purposes of the State.

Of course, this started from the reaction of the nonconformist churches to the Established Church at a time when the nonconformist churches were so strongly represented in the Liberal Party. But I think that it goes on to a day when, instead of having many Churches, which we still do—but luckily the breaches between them are on their way to being healed—we have a situation where there are many faiths in the country. If our philosophy was right then about the relationship between the Established Church and schools, it is I think possibly right now about the relationship between Christianity and schools. That is why I, for one, would not be in favour of a continuation of a compulsory act of worship in the county schools.

Of course, voluntary schools are an entirely different matter, as I wholly grant. Nor am I happy to see religious education as the one subject which is compulsory—statutorily to be taught. I think that it should be taught; not only do I think it should be taught, but I think that it should be taught better and better. But this privileged position is one of which members of my Party and my tradition have been traditionally wary. I said that I think that religion must be taught, and I think that Christianity must be taught. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Blake, said, that Christianity must take precedence because it is part of our heritage, part of our European Christian heritage. Here one of the things which, as a European, I see as most hopeful is a bringing together of Christendom once more. One cannot understand our tradition, our literature, our ethics, our civics, or anything, without understanding the Christian religion. So of course it must have primacy.

One reason why it must have primacy is that, of all the great religions, it is the most complicated. I know that in some ways it is a simple religion—and I am sure that this will be said again and again this afternoon. In some ways it strikes to the heart with a simple message. None the less, the theology which arises out of Christianity is a much more complex matter from that which arises out of the other great religions. I think that that is one of the reasons why it needs more time devoted to it, and why it needs ever increasingly skilled and dedicated teachers. With great respect to the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken, I am not certain that it can be taught properly except by those who really understand it from within.

The noble Lord, Lord Blake, gave an example, again from Disraeli, of the results of the lack of teaching of his time. I should like, very briefly, to quote to your Lordships from a catechism compiled by Dr. Dorothy L. Sayers. She said that if you put together what people actually believe about Christianity—the average man in the streeet—it would come to something like this; and she was writing in the 'forties: What does the Church think of God the Father? He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfilment; He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favouritism. He likes to be truckled to and is always ready to pounce on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary. What does the Church think of God the Son? He is in some way to be identified with Jesus of Nazareth. It was not His fault that the world was made like this, and, unlike God the Father, He is friendly to man and did His best to reconcile man to God. He has a good deal of influence with God, and if you want anything done, it is best to apply to Him. What does the Church think of God the Holy Ghost? I don't know exactly. He was never seen or heard of till Whit-Sunday. There is a sin against Him which damns you for ever, but nobody knows what it is". I entirely accept that no one would actually say that he believed that, but the muddled thoughts which go on in the brains of a great many people about the Church result in various feelings which are rather like that. I do not think that Dorothy Sayers was exaggerating.

It is therefore extremely important that Christianity, if it is taught, is taught well; because if it is taught in such a way that it merely turns up answers like that it fulfils the remark made by Dean Inge: that we treat Christian education as if it was inoculation. We give children a small dose early on in life to make certain that they never catch it when they grow up. Therefore what the noble Lord. Lord Blake, is pressing for is extremely important, and I am highly impressed by the papers with which we have been circulated by the Christian Education Movement, and with what it is trying to do and achieve in raising the standards of Christian education and religious education.

I should like to add one more thing. In addition to religious education, I am quite certain that we must pay more attention to moral education. By "moral education" I do not mean the moral action which stems from religion, because that will come from the religion if a person has it. Nor do I mean—as on a previous occasion when the unfortunate noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was put up to answer about the Social Morality Council and moral education—such things as being of general good will and going out to do community work. It is much more than that, thanks very largely to the pioneer work of John Wilson and the old Farmington Trust; thanks very much to the work of the Social Morality Council—and it is a great pity that the Government, as I understand it, are not supporting them any longer. But it is thanks to that very largely pioneering work that there have now been developed in this country serious tools for teaching children how to make moral judgments, for teaching them about the machinery, and giving them the equipment to make moral judgments for themselves. That is a little beyond the scope of this debate; nevertheless, I think it is a point worth putting forward.

My Lords, as I said at the beginning, I and the tradition of my Party have a slight distrust of too much mixture between Church and State, and between State schools and organised religion. But I think there is one thing on which we can all be absolutely clear; which is that it is desperately important that what is taught must be taught well. I think, therefore, that the proposals which the noble Lord, Lord Blake, has put forward are, by and large, very worthy of pursuit, and I hope the Government will pay attention to them.