HL Deb 26 March 1984 vol 450 cc5-6

2.46 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, before asking my Question, may I point out that there is a slight mistake in the wording as printed on the Order Paper? The Question should read:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what action parents may take when they are concerned at the content of teaching of peace studies in schools".

I beg leave to ask this Question.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said in his recent speech about peace studies, parents who believe that they have grounds for complaint about a school's or a teacher's treatment of the issues of peace and war should not hesitate to take the matter up with the school and, if they do not receive satisfaction from the school, with the local education authority and ultimately with my right honourable friend himself. This advice applies equally to anxieties which may be felt by parents about biased teaching in other areas of the school curriculum. All such complaints are always taken seriously and are raised with the local education authority concerned.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that Answer, is he aware that I and many others who have served as governors of schools warmly congratulate the Government on grasping this nettle and on the advice that is being given, that as regards war and peace studies and the issues of war and peace, they must be taught without emotion in a balanced and dispassionate way? Finally, in asking this question, how is the Secretary of State to be sure that when the advice he has given to local authorities and schools is not followed and parents are worried about peace studies and in the present-day existence of intimidation—

Noble Lords


Lord Gridley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, with the existence of intimidation, if they do report this to the Secretary of State they may become the object of victimisation?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for drawing attention to the speech of my right honourable friend about the teaching of peace studies, and to endorse all that he has said about that. As regards the possible victimisation of parents, all I can say is that I hope parents will not be afraid of complaining to my right honourable friend if they feel strongly about this. As my right honourable friend suggested in another speech, and indeed in this speech, if they do feel they are likely to be victimised they should get together with other parents who have the same fears and go ahead with a joint approach.

Baroness David

My Lords, may I ask the Minister how many specific complaints the Secretary of State had received, and from how many areas of local education authorities, before he made his speech to the National Council of Women on 3rd March?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I do not know the areas they came from but between 1st January 1983 and 2nd March 1984 complaints about peace studies were received from six correspondents.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, as somebody who is interested in dichotomy, are there not certain difficulties in teaching history and peace studies, since the two so manifestly contradict each other?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, we believe that pupils should be able to discuss important issues like peace, war and disarmament. Indeed, as the noble Lord said, such issues can hardly be avoided in the teaching of such subjects as history, religious education, physics, English and so on. But when such interests are being discussed it is important that the teacher should deal with them in a fair and impartial way, encouraging pupils to weigh the evidence and to arrive at their own conclusions.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, in view of the fact that all of us declare ourselves to be in favour of peace, including the Government, is it not reasonable that children, whose future life will be involved, should be allowed to make studies of this problem?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, yes, this is one of the matters which should be taken into consideration, but what is worrying my right honourable friend is when a teacher, perhaps inadvisedly, tries to stamp his own feelings on peace studies rather than having a balanced and fair discussion.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, if the noble Earl the Minister thanks a noble Member of this House who reads a very long question, ought he not to accord the same courtesy to Members of this House, whatever side they sit on? Is it the Government's intention to say that it is perfectly all right to preach war to children but not to preach peace?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord opposite for his question. No, the Government say that it is equally wrong to preach war as to preach peace. The point my right honourable friend and I are making is that it is not right for a teacher to preach anything, unless he is a reverend teacher.