HL Deb 25 April 1983 vol 441 cc777-94

6.33 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is their policy to send unsolicited material on the disarmament debate to schools and other educational institutions.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, those of us accustomed to participate in political science in the United States are well aware of the continuous debates about the separation of powers. I believe that that phrase aptly describes an important issue which is becoming more important day by day in this country, but this separation of powers is of course very different from that of the United States. I am talking here about the separation of the powers of party and of government.

It seems to me that a party in this country has the right, indeed the duty, of publicising its propaganda, its ideology, and its specific policies. The Government, on the other hand, have a different responsibility, and that is to give an explanation of policies and of Government actions, but, particularly when these are controversial, all the alternatives should also be explained.

In the exchange which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and I had on 8th December, which no doubt the noble Lord who is to reply has looked up, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, stated at col. 174: I … believe that sensitive subjects must be presented in a balanced way for children in schools". "Balanced" is a difficult word, and I would prefer that the accent here on sensitive subjects should be on the presentation of "different" policies rather than balanced policies, because the word "balanced" itself can be used subjectively, whereas "different" is better described as objective. I suggest strongly that it is not the Government's responsibility nor indeed their right to put over propaganda on controversial subjects. Indeed, this is a right of neither the national nor local governments, using the revenues which they have collected from taxation.

I believe—and this is a philosophical point, I agree—that this is an essential distinction in our party system of parliamentary government, and, if that system is to be preserved, we must see where this distinction lies. I hope that the noble Lord will address himself to this. It is particularly important when we are dealing with sensitive subjects among schoolchildren. Your Lordships will note that, in the exchange of 8th December to which I have referred, I was asking about peace studies for senior schoolchildren, and I stress the word "senior" because, as we shall find out later on, the documents to which I refer have been sent to schools for children between 11 and 16. I do not believe that they are to be classified as senior schoolchildren.

The reason for putting down this Question very much arises from the exchange I had with the noble Baroness. Particularly I must make it clear that in her final reply to me she did, in my view, suggest that I had misled the House. Her words at col. 176 of the Official Report of 8th December 1982 were: May I say that the noble Lord"— that is me— is quite wrong about what has happened with regard to material sent from the Foreign Office. What happened was that the National Union of Teachers suggested to Foreign Office Ministers that there was a need in schools for balanced factual material about disarmaments. After giving notice to the local education authorities, the Foreign Office distributed such material, linking it to the recent Union Nations Special Session on Disarmament.

This arose out of the fact that I was somewhat irritated by the constant reference that the noble Baroness had made in this and previous questions to peace studies as "indoctrination". I suggested that if you wanted to look for indoctrination you had only to look at the pamphlets that the Government were sending out, unsolicited, to schools. The noble Baroness said that I was wrong. That suggested that I had misled the House, and I should like Government Ministers to take note that, when I put down a Question, I always make sure that the evidence is cast iron.

Let me take these issues raised by the noble Baroness in order. First of all, let us get rid of the question of the National Union of Teachers which she referred to in the answer which I have just quoted. This is the answer of the National Union of Teachers to the reply which was given to me. The senior official of Press and External Relations of the National Union write to me on 1st February 1983 as follows: When the Union's representatives met Douglas Hurd in December 1981 they stated that they would welcome the dissemination of balanced, factual teaching materials on arms control and disarmament and this next section is underlined— provided that teachers had an opportunity of making a professional input into their development". That is the end of the underlining. Then: The Union's delegation suggested using the agency of the Schools Council to develop suitable materials. When Mr. Hurd forwarded examples of the leaflets, 'The Balanced View' and 'Peace and Disarmament' in March 1982, these documents were in final form and in any event were not specifically designed as teaching aids for schools. The Union was not in a position to comment on their suitability as teaching materials before the materials began to be sent into schools. When a second meeting was arranged with Mr. Hurd in July 1982, a meeting held at Union headquarters, members of the Executive made it quite clear that they did not consider the materials suitable as teaching aids. The Union considers that there is a serious difference between letting schools know that certain Government materials are available and sending them unsolicited into schools as appears to have happened in Cleveland. It is the Union's view that organisations with vested interests, such as central government departments should not be involved in the production of curriculum materials". That answers the first part of the noble Baroness's reply; that is, the part dealing with the participation and apparent approval of the NUT. I would like the noble Lord to reply to it.

Secondly, the noble Baroness was kind enough to engage in some correspondence with me following those exchanges, and in her letter of 14th December 1982 she said: As far as the publications themselves are concerned, I cannot accept for a moment that they are, as you said in the House, pro nuclear. They are, it seems to me, balanced presentations of the need for serious and sustained efforts to bring about multilateral disarmament". That was again a quotation.

May I now simply quote a number of extracts from one of these three publications, about which I have no doubt the noble Lord knows, because he was looking at them beforehand? Obviously I can only give selections, but I do not think anybody would accuse me of being unfair in making these selections. Clause 3 of The Balanced View states: Given the Soviet Union's massive nuclear and conventional military power, the West must maintain nuclear weapons to do the job of deterrence effectively". Clause 15 states: Unilateral disarmament by Britain and its allies is clearly not a safe or sensible alternative". Clause 17 states; If a nuclear-weapon-free zone were created from the Atlantic to the Urals, as has been suggested, the effect would be one-sided". Clause 19 states: So Britain has a straightforward choice. Either we decide on unilateral disarmament and neglect our defence, as in the 1930s"— when, I might say in parenthesis, it was the Conservative Party that was supporting Hitler and Mussolini, not the Labour party— with all the resulting risks. Or we go for multilateral negotiated disarmament". Let me stress that I am not arguing the case for nuclear disarmament. I am not arguing any case for or against nuclear disarmament. I have put down this Question to find out the Government's views about their responsibilities and rights in presenting sensitive material to school children.

Let me deal with the third point of the noble Baroness when she said that I was wrong and, again to quote her: After giving notice to the local education authorities, the Foreign Office distributed such material". I would not have put this Question down, I would not have intervened in this way if that had been the case and if I had not had clear evidence, checked and re-checked and re-checked, as late as this afternoon, that what I was asking was based on the authority of the education authorities of Cleveland which I mention specifically in my Question. This arose, as noble Lords on the other side would know if they had read the Guardian at the end of November, from a letter from one of the county councillors, a member of the Cleveland authority. Let me deal with this because here is a case in which both sides cannot be right. Somebody must be right and somebody must be wrong, and I claimed on the occasion of my exchanges with the noble Baroness that I was right; she claimed that I was wrong. I was not able to challenge her view on that occasion and that is the reason for my putting down this Unstarred Question tonight.

In further examination, after sending all the documents, the original Question, Hansard, my letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her reply to me, to the Director of Education for the County of Cleveland, this was his reply on 21st December 1982—and I quote: I stressed in my September report that we did not receive the letter stated to have been sent out by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 30th April and, although we did not conduct a systematic investigation, we have been unable to trade any County Education Officer who did". He then goes on—and this is another quote: I note that it is now stated in Lady Young's letter that the Central Office of Information sent the publications to 63 Cleveland Secondary Schools and 7 colleges of further education. Further checks have confirmed that the publications were received by seven of our secondary schools only and one of our further education colleges". But another quotation towards the end of the letter states: The statement on the last page of Lady Young's letter that extra copies had been ordered by some local education authorities include- ing Cleveland may be intended to imply that there was a demand for the publications by our schools. In fact, the only reason I asked for extra copies was to distribute them to members of the Committee with my report, and, as far as I am aware, no additional copies have been ordered for use at any secondary school or further education college in Cleveland, particularly bearing in mind that the publications originally distributed were not considered by the head teachers concerned particularly suitable for classroom or any other educational use".

Again I would emphasise to noble Lords opposite—and I wish it was the noble Baroness the Leader of the House who was replying to this Question, which would be much more suitable—that I am not debating the rights and wrongs of nuclear policies; that is not the issue I am raising. I am raising the issue of how such sensitive, important matters should be introduced into our schools. I believe they should be for senior school children only and for further education students; certainly not for the 11 to 16 year-olds for whom they were sent. I believe that they should be discussed. After all, some of the senior school children are voters, and in any case it is their world that they are considering when discussing nuclear policy. But I am not discussing the rights and wrongs of nuclear policy; I am simply discussing the way in which such a matter of cataclysmic importance should be discussed and introduced into our schools and our other institutions of education.

So I want to conclude by asking the noble Lord specific questions which are based on matters of fact. First, does he agree, following the quotations I have given, and no doubt also his examination of the pamphlets concerned, that these pamphlets put a particularist policy forward?—particularist in the sense that this is the policy of the present Government and of the party that forms that Government, but totally opposed by the official Opposition. Is it therefore right that revenues which are gathered from the taxpayer should be used for putting forward a particular Government point of view, whether it be a Conservative or a Labour Government? I would be saying just the same if a Labour Government were using taxation revenues to put forward their policies on the EEC, on nuclear power or any other issue.

Secondly, was the director of education in Cleveland informed before these pamphlets were sent to the schools? Thirdly, were there seven schools and one further education college selected by the Foreign Office, where these pamphlets were distributed, as stated by the director of education, as reported to the education committee and to the full council; and, if so, why? Was it seven or was it 63, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has suggested? They cannot both be right. Fourthly, were the pamphlets sent to other districts as well as Cleveland? If so, were they unsolicited or were they asked for by the schools concerned?

Finally, why was the NUT quoted in this context when, according to the NUT officers themselves, that quotation was misplaced and their interpretation of their discussions with the Minister of State at the Foreign Office was on a totally different basis and when their proposals for the support of this material were never fulfilled by the Foreign Office?

I leave aside what has now developed into Mr. Heseltine's personal campaign against CND and those who believe in nuclear disarmament or those who believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament and the activities of such organisations as Secretariats 19 and 17. Of course, they come into this debate and I hope that other noble Lords will raise them, but my specific point was to get the record straight, and I believe it was my responsibility, after being in touch with the Cleveland authorities and with the National Union of Teachers.

Is it the policy of the Government to send propaganda supporting their policies, their Conservative policies, their controversial policies, into the schools in this country? If it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to do this, does not the noble Lord agree that this is really indoctrination and quite different from the many alternative viewpoints that are put forward in branches of universities, polytechnics and further education colleges, such as the School of Peace Studies in Bradford University, which I have already mentioned?

6.54 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I should like to begin by saying that I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, in that I, too, am worried about unsolicited material in the form of political propaganda of any kind being sent to schools and other educational institutions. This is because I, like him, am deeply averse to schools and colleges being used as bases for political indoctrination. Again, this is because I believe it is antithetical to the principle of pluralism which underpins the traditional concept of education in a free society. By "pluralism" I mean that on controversial issues pupils and students should be provided with the evidence and arguments associated with different positions, and should be encouraged to make up their own minds.

However, in considering the Question asked by the noble Lord, my main worry is somewhat different from his. It is whether, in some schools and colleges, pupils and students may be being given such a one-sided and prejudiced case in favour of unilateral disarmament that it is difficult for them to gain enough information to form a balanced opinion of the alternative arguments. My concern is based on two kinds of evidence. They are indicative, not conclusive, but they reinforce each other. The first is inevitably anecdotal, and consists of examples from schools and colleges. I will offer just three such illustrative examples. I will not name the schools because the pupils might suffer, but I have every confidence in the integrity of the informants.

In one school three well-known CND speakers were invited to address a meeting. No one was invited to put any alternative view, and it was up to one of the pupils to find the courage to go to the microphone to challenge the experienced speakers on the platform. In another school, a week was devoted to what were called "Peace studies", which involved various activities of a very one-sided nature, supporting the unilateralist position and including a visit to Greenham Common. There were no comparable activities supporting the multilateralist case. The third example refers to a school where the school assembly repeatedly promoted a CND line, and it was again up to some pupils to ask for an alternative view to be put.

I readily admit that these instances, and others like them which I could quote, are only straws in the wind. We do not know how typical they are, and I am naturally ready to acknowledge that in many schools teachers are doubtless presenting the complex issue of disarmament in ways which are beyond reproach. However, I am worried because although we do not know the details of what is happening we do know that many teachers are not impartial on these issues. Many are committed CND members, and much of the material being made available to teachers has a unilateralist bias. For example, Teachers for Peace is an organisation which started out at a CND conference. It now claims around 1,000 members; it offers a "starter pack" to teachers; and, according to a report in The Times Educational Supplement of 4th April this year, it has a unilateralist bias. About 50 teachers a week write for advice to this organisation, and they are sent this pack of allegedly biased information.

I suggest that this one-sidedness cannot be excused by the claim that there is a shortage of material putting an alternative viewpoint. For example, the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies publication, Protest and Perish, provides a well-documented and readable critique of unilateralism.

Another indication of possible developments with a unilateralist bias in our schools can be found in plans to develop a CSE examination on the threat of nuclear war. According to another report in The Times Educational Supplement of 11th March this year, this proposal is the result of collaboration between Teachers for Peace and an organisation called Scientists against Nuclear Arms—a 300-strong group which advises the Greater London Council. Although this latter group has no formal links with CND, its chairman is a vice-chairman of CND; and one of the people involved said that the syllabus of the proposed CSE examination would be questioning the reliabililty of Government statistics about the balance of nuclear weapons in Europe and would challenge official claims about the effectiveness of civil defence plans for nuclear war.

While I am very happy to see young people being encouraged to think critically, I wonder whether this course will give pupils working at CSE level the information and the opportunity necessary to weigh up the complex issues involved, and thus a genuine freedom to make up their own minds. I was particularly interested in the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, when he suggested that these are very complex issues for young people to discuss and to decide, and I remind the House that the CSE examination is certainly for younger pupils.

I suggest that the combination of anecdotal evidence, known facts about the commitment of many teachers to CND, and proposals such as this planned CSE examination, all add up to a possibly very disturbing picture which suggests that, in some—and we have no idea how many—of our schools and other educational institutions, pupils and students may be receiving political propaganda rather than the balanced information which is the prerequisite of "education" as we are privileged to understand that word in free democratic societies.

It is also relevant to emphasise that children and young people are being exposed to unsolicited and unilateralist propaganda in other ways, too. I refer very briefly to my own borough of Brent, which recently allowed a CND library exhibition. However, I understand that, when the British Atlantic Committee asked permission to put on an exhibition showing the alternative position, this was refused. The council allowd the CND exhibition because that was in line with their unilateralist views, but they would not permit any other viewpoint to be shown to visitors to the libraries. That, I suggest, smacks of totalitarianism.

I should like now to turn very briefly to the important general point raised in the noble Lord's Question—the wider problem of any unsolicited political material being sent to educational institutions. There are at least two issues at stake here. The first relates specifically to politicisation; the second to the use of public money. On the first point, distribution of unsolicited material by our own Government is a matter which I agree may be open to question, although I understand that a policy has now been agreed with the National Union of Teachers and with others concerned. However, I am even more concerned about the unsolicited distribution of Russian books to our schools.

I understand that over 50 different books, all highly propagandist and produced in the Soviet Union, have been distributed to British schools. At least one of these discusses disarmament, and I hope that the noble Lord may be concerned about the distribution of this unsolicited material, as well as that to which he refers in his Question.

On the issue of the use of public money, as someone whose family is regularly inflicted with unsolicited copies from the GLC of The Londoner, which I find contemptible in its blatant propaganda, I should be happy to see some wider discussion of the whole question of the use of public money for the printing and dissemination of unsolicited political propaganda.

In conclusion, I have been at pains to emphasise that I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, has drawn our attention to an issue which is of great importance, both in principle and in practice. I am conscious of the fact that the concerns which I have expressed are not as well substantiated by hard evidence as I should wish. I should, therefore, like to suggest that the whole question of politicisation of education, especially on this complex subject of disarmament, is so important that it should become a priority for research. Let me stress that I am not suggesting that this research should be intended to pave the way for the forcible introduction of political education in our schools, as some people understandably fear may follow from the ILEA proposals which were reported in this morning's Daily Telegraph. Rather, I suggest the reverse.

The reverse would be to establish just what is happening in our schools and colleges in terms of the material available on the whole topic of disarmament, and what is being taught, both formally in CSE and other syllabuses—especially those entitled Peace Studies—and informally, in general studies, assemblies and other activities. The situation could then be assessed and parents and the public could judge whether our educational institutions are being used as bases of political indoctrination, and, if so, discuss on an informed basis what should be done. The whole issue is far too important for our young people, and for us as a nation, to be left in the present haphazard state.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I should like to express my regrets to my noble friend Lord Hatch that I missed the first few sentences of his Question, owing to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, was so brief in replying to the previous debate that he took me by surprise. But I think I gathered the whole substance of my noble friend's Question, and I hope that I shall be able to contribute something to it.

I am not proposing to follow in any detail the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mainly because she did not spell out chapter and verse as to what precisely are her accusations. She felt that she had to leave out the names of the schools in case of doing some harm to them. I do not think it would. I think that it will give greater strength to any examples that she has to give on another occasion if she feels able to spell out exactly what it is she is talking about.

For myself—and this, again, is only anecdotal evidence—I have spent some 30 years in the peace movement, in one form or another, and during the whole of that time I have spoken in many educational establishments. But I cannot recall any single occasion on which I have ever spoken there without being opposed. I have been opposed by Members of this House, by Members of the other House and by Ministers, but I cannot recall any occasion on which I have spoken to pupils, scholars, graduates or undergraduates at any level, without the discussion taking some form of debate in which the issues were fairly—at any rate, I hope it was so—examined on both sides.

On the Question, I would, however, agree with the noble Baroness to this extent—and it is a very big extent—that these issues are of tremendous importance, and that they should be discussed, and can be discussed, at all educational levels. Perhaps I am exaggerating. I do not think one would want to go down to primary schools, but they can be discussed at most educational levels.

In that respect, I should like to commend the publications of Longman's. These are hardly Left-Wing publishers. The Longman's resource unit does a very balanced examination and a series of publications is put out. They seem to me to be rather biased against the arguments in which I believe, but I rather suspect that this may merely go to show that they are impartial. So I would commend these publications of Longman's to noble Lords and also to the Government, if they really wish to let our pupils and our educational people at all levels have documents which do their best to set out these issues on an absolute "pro" and "con" basis.

I think that I can anticipate something of what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will reply to this Question. I suspect that he will say that this is not party political propaganda; this is just spreading Government information and, surely, there can be no objection to that. That, I take it from previous replies to Questions which the noble Lord has made, is likely to be his response to my noble friend.

The noble Lord will recall that, in a recent Question, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked the noble Lord, Lord Elton, whether he was pretending to be obtuse. He received the rather stunning reply that Lord Elton did not find it necessary to pretend; it came naturally to him. This was obviously untrue. Lord Elton is a bright spark on a Government Front Bench which is not notably quick on its feet—so much so that his quip was received with laughter. Lord Elton emerged from the question and answer procedure well in charge of the situation on that occasion, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would agree.

But I am not so sure about the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. For some time the noble Lord has been pretending—or let us hope he has been pretending—that he does not understand that Government propaganda and information is a sensitive area. He has been pretending that he does not grasp the difference between Government information which is obviously a proper subject of public expenditure—for example, reminders to people to apply for benefits due to them or to renew a licence—and Government material, spending on which is obviously an improper use of public funds for party political advantage. An example would be if Mr. Heseltine were to use Government funds for an attack on CND and were to put anti-CND propaganda on to the defence Vote.

Between these two extremes, the one being proper and the other being, I would suggest, improper, there is a grey area. This grey area is one of party political contention. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, does not understand that, he says. To him there are no greys; everything is clear black or clear white. But I have a suspicion that Lord Belstead's perception of black and white is not constant and that what is to him white now that he is in office would go all black if Labour came to power. For example, I expect that he would tell my noble friend that it is entirely proper to send Government information to schools, whether they want it or not, and at public expense, providing it is Government information—that is, whiter than white. However, if it became Labour Government information, I suspect that it might become as black as pitch. I think the noble Lord might be the first to accuse a Labour Government which did that. I do not think a Labour Government would. I believe they are more scrupulous on the point than the present Government. But if they did, the noble Lord would, I believe, be among the first to accuse a Labour Government of using public funds for party political purposes.

This mobility of perception, deliberate or assumed, is a serious matter, for it means that, when the noble Lord replies to questions, we must ask whether he is speaking as a Minister of the Crown or as the spokesman of the Conservative Central Office. Therefore we are entitled to ask the noble Lord whether or not he is doing it deliberately. Is his role that of the intelligent person's Heseltine? Is that his position? Or is he just another party spokesman?

Before I sit down let me give one more example. In a Written Answer, at col. 392 on 14th April, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said: I do not accept that it is difficult to distinguish between … "party political propaganda" and the proper explanation of the policies of Her Majesty's Government". Civil servants are engaged every day, as every noble Lord who has had any experience of office will know, in drawing precisely that difficult distinction to the attention of Ministers, whichever Government are in power. I venture to suggest that hardly a day passes without a civil servant saying to a Minister, "I feel, Minister, that on reflection it will be your decision to leave those striking phrases out of the ministerial statement and reserve them for some more political occasion".

This goes on all the time. But perhaps it does not occur at the Foreign Office or at the Ministry of Defence. It certainly does occur in other departments. Perhaps there, if we are to believe what the noble Lord seems to be telling us, anything goes and civil servants are employed on party political propaganda. We know that it occurs at Defence. They, I am told, have a small department which is concerned most of the time in seeking to suggest that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament consists of a lot of unpatriotic persons who are, I will not say in the pay of the Soviet Union (although even that has been suggested) but who at least are warmly and strongly sympathetic towards the Soviet Union and who are therefore on the other side rather than on the side of this country, instead of saying—which would be the honest thing to say—that they have a different perception of what constitutes the interest of this country. That is the true difference which lies between us. It is not which of us is on the side of a foreign power, which of us is in the pocket of America, which of us takes the Soviet view of matters. This sort of thing, as I say, does occur at Defence and perhaps the Foreign Office has fallen for it, too.

Let us suppose that Labour were to win the next general election—not such an impossibility as certain noble Lords may feel—that we immediately put civil servants on to writing leaflets for distribution in schools, advocating our policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament and that we told the Central Office of Information to distribute the film "The War Game" and a new film now going into production, for the Peace Film Fund, of which I am treasurer. I suspect that then the scales would immediately fall from the noble Lord's eyes and that he would soon discover that one man's Government information is another's party political propaganda. That, my Lords, is the truth of the matter.

Indeed, if he really does not understand now, the question must arise as to whether the noble Lord is—I find this hard to believe—incapable of understanding these differences, or whether he takes the view that in Government anything goes. I do not believe that he does. I look forward to what the noble Lord is going to say in reply to my noble friend's Question. As has been said generally, it is an important issue. I believe we have to be careful that when in Government we do not assume that what we say is our policy and therefore is generally acceptable and must be acceptable to all and sundry. I readily agree that this is a temptation on both sides, but it is one which ought to be resisted. I hope that the noble Lord is going to tell us that in future the Government intend to resist this temptation.

7.18 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, in considering what I should say about the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, I have asked myself what really is the motive which lies behind his asking it. I was entirely confused by his speech, which for many minutes described various letters which had been written by him to my noble friend the Leader of the House, and her replies. I understood him to complain about documents which allegedly had been sent by her Majesty's Government to certain educational establishments in Cleveland. I was not aware of that.

However, to return to the terms of the Question, it asks Her Majesty's Government, whether it is their policy to send unsolicited material on the disarmament debate to schools and other educational institutions". If the purpose behind the Question is political and has to do with nuclear disarmament and with the different policies between the party of which I am a member and that of which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, is a member in respect of nuclear disarmament, then that is a serious matter. Allegations have been made—and the noble Lord says that certain documents have been sent to educational establishments in the North of England—that this was propaganda emanating from her Majesty's Government. I cannot pass any opinion on that particular allegation, but I am sure my noble friend the Minister of State will do so when he winds up in reply to the noble Lord's Question.

I should like to give my personal opinion on the issues before us and the reasons why I consider that it would be an unmitigated disaster if the policy of Her Majesty's Government or of the Opposition was to send unsolicited material on the disarmament debate to schools and other educational establishments—which, so far as I am concerned, is the Question posed to my noble friend. In saying that, I have no idea what my noble friend the Minister will say in reply to this Question because I have not discussed with him the questions which this issue poses.

I am not against the interplay of ideas. I am for free speech. I believe in democracy, and I would go to great lengths to defend it. This is an important point and one that is, I believe, understood by noble Lords on all sides of the House. But the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, does not say, if schools were to receive material on disarmament, how our schools would deal with the issues which were then laid before them. What is the noble Lord's idea on this? Presumably the issues have been debated on the differences between the Government's policy on disarmament and that of the Opposition, and could probably form part of that section of the school curriculum known as social studies. Would this issue, whether in the form of social studies or in debate in our schools, be considered constructively and objectively? I doubt it, for these reasons.

It was in 1981, on information I had and which I received about certain teachers in our schools—and which was substantiated in documents which I laid before the House—that, on 22nd October, I asked an Unstarred Question. This Question was debated (Hansard, cols. 878–892) in your Lordships' House. I believe it was generally accepted that in regard to social studies (and I will quote an example from one of the many documents I produced in that debate in 1981) the teaching of social studies was such and is such as to be orientated by certain teachers in a way such as not to invite their pupils to consider local, political and international problems in a constructive sense, but to blame our society for the situation which was operating in our country at that particular time.

I will now produce the document which I mentioned a few moments ago—only one of many similar documents which I received some months ago. At the top of this document, which teachers had in their schools and which their pupils were considering, there are drawings of four television sets on which four different pictures appear. Above those television sets are these words: It's easy to share problems. Our TV screens are full of them". The television screens show pictures of vandalism, national disasters, war with bombs falling, and poverty. Below those pictures are the words; It's easy to find people to blame". There are then shown drawings of eight people in the dock of a court. These are supposed to be those people accused, and to be blamed. They are a boss, a trade unionist, a churchman, a politician, a terrorist, a teacher, an ad-man, and a parent. It is stated in writing that they are responsible for the problems which exist and for being obstructive with regard to change. Moreover, each of them is said to be guilty for the dropping of bombs in war.

If that is a typical example of the way in which our youth are being invited to come to their own conclusions with regard to the local, political and international problems which face us, I do not believe that any benefit can be obtained for them or for us if material of this sort is disseminated to our schools, to be considered as part of social studies. The people who are considered as being suitable to consider these issues of great complexity are, I believe, students and school children of 16 or 17 years of age. They have not yet had experience of life. I am not in any sense suggesting that in a superior way, but I can only say in conclusion that it would be wrong to take the great issues of this international debate for consideration in schools as part of their social studies or in any other way.

7.28 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby for raising this important matter and for the opportunity it provides, not for more confusion but, I hope, for clarification. I want to endorse as my view the view he expressed at the beginning of his remarks: that this is not a matter of considering whether a unilateral, multilateral or any other point of view should be put forward in the literature concerned, but it is a matter of considering the merits of how the views should be expressed. We are indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and to other noble Lords who have spoken for putting a view, because this should warn the Government—indeed, any Government—that once a view is put on matters about which people of any opinion feel deeply, there is a danger of opposing views being encouraged and generated so that controversy and not clarification results.

Defence is a matter of life and death, and one concerned with great dangers. This is what impels people to do something about it. It is not surprising that there is concern. Of late, the Government have shown a lack of sensitivity—to put it mildly—in dealing with important defence matters which are the cause of real concern to millions of people of all parties—including Conservatives. The Government should recognise—and I have made this point many times—that we are all searching our consciences and challenging long-held assumptions, and are desperately seeking a way and a policy which, at the end of the day, will save mankind. The Government should be pleased that a debate is going on, encouraging people to look at this matter in a balanced way.

When the matter of peace studies and related disciplines was last raised in your Lordships' House, there was general acceptance of the need for a balanced view being put. But, as my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney asked: who is to determine what is factual and acceptable and what is doctrinaire and unacceptable? These matters were once known as "international affairs", but they have much greater relevance and importance today because of the escalating dangers facing mankind. There is need for clarification as to whether the material referred to by my noble friend Lord Hatch was unsolicited. If so, it seems very unwise to send out such material, which could at the very least be counter-productive, and it is discourteous, to say the least, if local authorities and education officers are not consulted first. But apart from that, if education officers and other educational authorities do not know what material is being sent out direct by the FCO and the COI, how can they ensure that a balance is kept?—and I think we would expect them to do that.

Can it be that the Government will not trust some local councils and education authorities, with democratically elected members, to pass on Government literature and so they seek to send it direct to schools? We come back to the problem raised by the noble Baroness: once this kind of lack of confidence and trust is engendered, then, of course, we run into real problems. The Government too often show a lack of wisdom and indeed sensitivity in this matter, as they have on several other matters of late which I will not detail on this occasion, when their view is not accepted without question.

My noble friend has shown great persistence in this matter, and well he may in seeking the facts, not least because educational authorities, parents and other wish to have these matters of defence considered in a calm and balanced way. So the need is not only to inform students of the issues but also to inculcate in them the ability to weigh the merits of things put to them. And not only on the matters before the House at the present time. This surely is a vital part of education and preparation also for responsible citizenship.

I would like, if I may, to put one or two questions to the Minister. May I ask him whether it is usual for the Government to send out material of any kind direct to schools rather than through education authorities? Secondly, if so, how do education officers and committees and those concerned with the education of students know what material is sent, what is received, and what more, if anything, is required to ensure a balanced point of view? Does the Minister recall the policy of a former Labour Government on the issue of the EEC, when the case to be in or out was issued officially by the Government—but at least the two points of view were clearly put? Some may say that this matter of defence and the future of mankind is no less important than the debate on that occasion.

Finally, I believe the Government have little to fear, if they accept that defence policy is a life or death matter of grave concern to millions of parents, albeit with differing views held quite sincerely by members of all parties. I am sure Britain does not want a Conservative Government here to follow the example of some other Governments whose practices Conservatives so often quite naturally deplore. If the Government believe in democracy—and I am sure they do—I believe they will also encourage responsible debate on this very important matter; indeed, not only encourage debate, but also do all they can to help those who have another point of view to be able to put it.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think it best to begin my reply to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, by referring to the resolution on the education service and disarmament which was carried at the Annual Conference of the National Union of Teachers at Easter 1981. That resolution, among other things, called on Her Majesty's Government: to pursue in international relations a policy which seeks positive agreements, however limited, that can lead to continuing negotiations in order to halt the arms race and bring about phased disarmament". Representatives of the NUT met my right honourable friend Mr. Douglas Hurd, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for disarmament matters, in December 1981 to discuss that conference resolution. The union stressed the need in schools for balanced factual material on disarmament negotiations which could be used by teachers and read by older pupils, and they criticised some of the material being circulated in schools, particularly that which aroused exaggerated fears of nuclear war in the minds of students. In the light of the evidence given in the speech of my noble friend Lady Cox, I must say I am not surprised that this cause for concern was voiced at that meeting in December 1981.

Then, following consultations between Government departments, it was concluded that the apparent gap in the material available to the teaching profession could be filled by distributing to schools copies of some of the material already produced for general use, on multilateral disarmament efforts and current negotiations. So in March 1982 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sent specimen copies of three publications, the leaflet entitled The Balanced View, the booklet Peace and Disarmament and the wall-sheet Arms Control and Disarmament, to the National Union of Teachers and to other professional organisations. I must tell your Lordships that no objection was raised by the NUT to the suggestion that these documents should be made available to schools and colleges.

At the end of April 1982, copies of the three documents were sent to each of the Directors of Education in England and Wales, under cover of a letter from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which listed the documents and went on to say: Following discussions with the Department of Education and Science and the Standing Conference on Education for International Understanding, we have decided to make these publications available to schools. We propose to ask the Central Office of Information to distribute copies to schools and colleges. We hope that they may be of value as an aid to teachers of current affairs, civics, modern history, and related subjects". I think that approach answers the question which the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, put to me as to whether the Government would think it right to give out information without doing so through the channel of Directors of Education. The answer to that question is, of course, that I agree with the noble Lord that it is correct to go to the Directors of Education first, and this is what we did.

At that stage, no local education authority offered any objection to the distribution of the documents to schools and colleges, and they were sent out in May 1982 to 9,600 secondary institutions in England and Wales. The procedure and the timing were determined by the nearness of the second United Nations Special Session on Disarmament, which opened on 7th June last year, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has since received complaints from only three local educational authorities of the 105 in England and Wales about the way in which the documents were handled, and a substantial number of additional copies have been ordered by schools.

My right honourable friend Mr. Hurd had a further meeting with the International Relations Committee of the National Union of Teachers in July 1982, at their request, to discuss the progress of the current disarmament negotiations, a meeting mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, in his speech. At that meeting, my right honourable friend explained the procedure adopted for the distribution of an information pack, and he welcomed the suggestion that there should be a continuing dialogue on the preparation of material for disarmament education, if I may call it that. If I may say so, that disposes of the quotations from correspondence which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, was using to try to show that my right honourable friend Mr. Hurd was in some way disregarding the views of the National Union of Teachers; unless, of course, the noble Lord is seriously suggesting that no one should be allowed to offer any written material to educational establishments at all.

That, in brief, is the sequence of events at issue. But I should say something more about the material distributed. Since 1979 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has produced a range of publications on the international arms control and disarmament negotiations for distribution to the many non-governmental organisations and individuals who take a special interest in this subject. We were the first country to introduce a regular disarmament newsletter, in August 1979. This was supplemented in 1982 by the information pack to which I have referred, as part of the Government's preparations for the second United Nations Special Session on Disarmament.

By making this information widely available, we are complying with a recommendation in the Final Document of the first United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in 1978, that Governments and non-govermental organisations should give priority to publicising international disarmament efforts.

The recommendation was not to parade a series of different policies, as the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, apparently would wish us to do. Therefore, I do not accept that the pamphlets distributed represent a particularist policy. That, I think, answers the first on the list of questions which the noble Lord put to me at the end of his speech.

This material is balanced and factual—a prerequisite of education, as my noble friend Lady Cox remarked. It is intended as an official contribution to public discussion of the issues. It presents the need for serious and sustained efforts to bring about balanced arms reductions by agreement, under the auspices of the United Nations, and it describes the progress of the various negotiations. To describe the search for multilateral disarmament as being either propaganda or indoctrination—both words which have been used by noble Lords opposite—is absurd.

Perhaps I should break off here for a moment and answer the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, who suggested that if a future Labour Government distributed information about their policies I would consider, on behalf of the Conservative Party, that it would be improper. If the policies of the Labour Party in this matter remain as they are at present then indeed the answer to that point is: yes, I would consider it improper. The policy of the Labour Party as we know it now would lead to no negotiations at all in that the Labour Party would indulge in disarmament on one side alone—our side—and so would create a situation in which the Soviet Union would have no need to come to the disarmament negotiating table. If the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, believes that information about a policy like that would be balanced, let alone face the true facts of the world, then the noble Lord is further out of touch with reality than I have so far thought possible.

There is another point to which I should refer and which arises to some extent from the noble Lord's speech. Since there has been some confusion on this issue, I should point out that Foreign and Commonwealth Office material is not concerned with defence policy, including nuclear deterrence, which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. The publications and films of the latter department are made available to the general public, but are not sent to schools except at the specific request of a teacher.

I have gone over the ground in some detail because it seemed to me to be important to place the facts on record. It is, of course, for individual schools and individual teachers to decide what use, if any, to make of the material they receive, from all sources. But I believe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents are of value to teachers who wish to raise these issues in discussion. The demand for additional copies indicates that a considerable number of teachers have indeed found them useful.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, asked wehether it is our policy to send material about disarmament to schools unsolicited. Indeed, the noble Lord repeated the same point in the fourth of his list of questions. Perhaps I may draw the threads together. The answer is that on this occasion the Government had available for public distribution some information material relevant to concerns about disarmament, especially those raised by representatives of the National Union of Teachers. It seemed eminently sensible to make this material available to the teaching profession at the time of the United Nations Special Session. There was no intention on the part of the Foreign and Commonwealth office to go behind the backs of the local education authorities, and that is why they were sent copies of the material first.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has referred in the past, and again today, to reports that some local education authorities did not receive the material at that stage. I have had inquiries made and I understand that all authorities were on the list of addressees. However, I accept the statement which the noble Lord made and placed as second on his list of questions at the end of his speech, that the Director of Education for Cleveland clearly did not receive a copy. I regret that fact. However, there is no readily apparent cause for directors of education not receiving the material personally. The general way in which the exercise was conducted seems to me to have been perfectly proper.

The third of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, was about the schools, I think in Cleveland, which were selected. My advice is that the secondary schools and colleges were selected by the Central Office of Information from a standard reference work—The Education Authorities' Year Book. This volume lists 63 schools and seven colleges of further education in Cleveland. The records show that the material and letters were despatched in cardboard tubes, and it is thus not wholly impossible that schools searching for a letter may not have been looking for the right missive which came through the post.

I have one more point to make. We have no plans to produce disarmament material specifically for schools. If we did wish to do so we would naturally want to consult the local education authorities first. We are aware of the need for a more informed public debate on the real issues of arms control and disarmament, and I must tell the House that we intend to ensure that the British people are kept informed of the true facts. I hope that the noble Lord and I can at least agree that a better understanding of those issues is something which all of us would want to see.

House adjourned at twelve minutes before eight o'clock.