HL Deb 26 February 1988 vol 493 cc1453-86
Baroness Cox

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that all state schools provide a Christian act of worship and Christian religious education for all children whose parents request them.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to open this debate, because it reflects widespread concern. Parents and teachers from as far afield as London, Bristol, Derby, Preston, Newcastle, Bradford and Manchester have expressed grave anxiety over the failure of many schools to keep the law, as embodied in the Education Act 1944, to offer pupils opportunities for religious worship or instruction in the basic tenets of the Christian faith. In a nutshell, this debate is about the concern that, as a nation, we are in danger of selling our spiritual birthright for a mess of secular pottage.

I stress that I recognise that the situation is complex and that it is important not to oversimplify the issues. Therefore, in my opening speech I will merely attempt to survey the situation, to indicate the nature and extent of the concern to which I have referred, to offer a brief analysis of some of the issues and to raise some questions for clarification and consideration; questions which I believe are particularly timely given the impending advent of the Education Reform Bill in this House.

I am extremely conscious of the fact that the subjects of this debate touch on matters of deepest conviction which transcend party political commitments. I am therefore most grateful that noble Lords from different parts of your Lordships' House will be contributing their wisdom, knowledge and experience to help us to achieve what I hope will he a constructive discussion of issues which I, declaring an interest as a Christian, believe are of the greatest importance to us as a nation.

Perhaps I may briefly explain my choice of the wording of the Question before us. Some people have criticised it, saying that the words "whose parents request them" make it too narrow because, legally, Christian education and worship should be available to all children. I agree, and I should like to see that achieved. However, I have chosen this form of words because it highlights the extent to which we have failed to fulfil the law. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that some parents who want, and even request, Christian worship and Christian-based religious education for their children are being explicitly denied them.

I will first discuss the issue of worship and then turn to religious education. The Education Act 1944 requires schools to begin the day with collective worship, attended by all pupils unless their parents request otherwise. Although it was not stated that the act of worship should be Christian, it was clearly Parliament's intention that it should be so. For example, during the debate on the 1944 Act in your Lordships' House the late Lord Selbourne, speaking for the Government, stated: It is the intention of the Government and of the Bill that the religious instruction required to he given shall he Christian instruction, and that the corporate act of worship shall he an act of Christian worship.". The extent to which this law is widely broken is illustrated in a survey by The Times Educational Supplement in December 1985, which found that only 6 per cent. of maintained secondary schools came close to obeying the Act's requirement that each day shall begin with collective worship involving all pupils.

Let me hasten to say that, as the current Education Reform Bill recognises, this failure to keep to the letter of the law may often be due to logistical difficulties—for example, the lack of a hall of sufficient size to house the entire school—but as just over 20 per cent. of schools held full assemblies at least once a week one can presume that they had sufficient space. Further, almost 10 per cent. reported never holding an act of worship and only 30 per cent. still expect their pupils to sing a hymn.

Some schools give other reasons for this failure to comply with the law; for example, that they have a majority of pupils of other faiths. However, head teachers who respect the spirit of the law have adapted to these situations by providing, for example, for worship for pupils of different faiths. There is no justification for breaking the law by denying the act of Christian worship for all pupils whose parents do not wish to exercise their right to withdraw their children from it. Repeated opinion polls have shown that an overwhelming majority of parents want their children to have a Christian-based act of worship at school.

What is happening in too many of our schools is not only a failure to comply with the law—though that is serious enough—but also a failure to provide young people with a spiritual experience of worship and with an opportunity to become familiar with some of the most precious expressions of Christian faith which are part of this country's heritage, with the scriptures and with prayers and hymns, which have been the spiritual resource of incalculable value for countless people in times past and present.

This is a dreadful betrayal—and I mean "dreadful" literally. Even if young people do not appreciate the experience of worship while they are at school, it provides them with an opportunity to become familiar with some of the deepest expressions of the human spirit and for those to enter into their minds and hearts to be available as a resource in times of need later in life. Anyone who has contact with people who are in extremis is aware of how often they find comfort in the prayers, hymns and psalms learnt, sometimes reluctantly, in childhood. To deny young people the opportunity to become familiar with these spiritual resources is to leave them bereft indeed.

It is against this background that examples of such denial need to be seen. The parents in Dewsbury, who are reluctantly keeping their children out of school, are doing so partly because that school refuses to provide a Christian act of worship. It seems the ultimate irony that this is a Church of England school. I cannot help but wonder how the Anglican Church can have allowed that situation to develop. Moving South, a parent told me that at her child's school the head refused to allow the Lord's Prayer because he claimed that it is out of date. Why should these schools be allowed to deny parents the right to Christian worship? It is not good enough to say that we are no longer a Christian society. T. S. Elliot in The Idea of a Christian Society claimed: A society has not ceased to be Christian until it has become positively something else". As a nation we have not yet declared ouselves to be something else. A survey published by the Bible Society in 1983 found that 85 per cent. of the population in England declared that they thought of themselves as Christian and only 7 per cent. declared a commitment to a non-Christian faith.

I now turn to a brief discussion of trends in religious education. With leave, I will use the abbreviation RE in the interests of brevity. Before discussing the cause for widespread concern I must stress that there have been some very good developments as exemplified in the 1987 agreed syllabus for Surrey. Parents and teachers in many other places have expressed anxiety over two issues. One is the dilution of Christian teaching in a multi-faith mish-mash. The other is secularisation by concentration on social and political issues.

For more than 20 years after the 1944 Act, RE syllabuses were Christian-based, but over the past 15 years many have been influenced by the Shap working party on world religions and have developed multi-faith syllabuses in which Christianity is treated as just one among many faiths and perhaps not even the predominant subject for study. Moreover, some multi-faith syllabuses are so worded as to allow inclusion of secular and political creeds such as humanism and the militant atheism of Marxism. Their inclusion seems, to say the least, a contradiction in terms. Of course there is a strong case—and I must emphasise this—for including some teaching about the other great world religions, especially in a society where these religions are practised. Such teaching can increase understanding and respect, which are essential values in a pluralist society. But that is very different from presenting young people with a position of extreme relativism in which all belief systems are presented in a value-free hotch-potch as exemplified in a book which I am told by teachers is widely used in RE. It is called Beginning Religion. I shall place a copy of this book in your Lordships' Library.

It shows page after page of grotesque and sometimes frightening pictures of religious rituals such as human sacrifice and a spine-chilling photograph of an Aborigine initiation ceremony. The Lord's Prayer is discussed on the same page as Shamanism. There is considerable emphasis on the occult. This edition actually suggests that children should try to find out what happens at a seance. I gather this has been omitted from a later edition. However, preoccupation with the occult and with phenomena such as witchcraft is a recurring theme in many RE courses.

Parents in York report that a class used all its RE lessons for a whole term to learn about witchcraft, including the use of videos of witches' covens. A number of RE inspectors in ILEA sent a letter to all schools warning against the traumatic psychological effects of teaching the occult in London's schools.

How has this situation deteriorated so drastically? Some of the developments are, I suggest, a result of confusion of multi-culturalism, multi-racism and multi-faith education. The fact that Britain is a society of many races and faiths is highly significant. But many who have come to live here from other countries, especially from the Caribbean, are Christian. Christianity remains the dominant religion in this country, and without an understanding of Christianity no real appreciation of our history or our culture is possible.

Moreover, this fact is recognised by many people of other faiths who are very keen to send their children to Christian schools and are not at all averse to their having what they expect to be a predominantly Christian-based education. As regards teaching their own faith, many of them would far prefer their young people to be taught this by their own religious leaders rather than to have a half-baked presentation from schoolteachers. Such instruction in school by their own religious leaders is also allowable under the 1944 Act. So it is important to put recent attempts to broaden RE into multi-faith syllabuses into context. The initial endeavours to include an understanding of other faiths were laudable. But that does not justify a transformation of the entire RE syllabus into a kaleidoscope of shallow ideas about myriad belief systems from Shamanism, ancestor worship and the occult, to a study of other faiths which leaves pupils ignorant of the basic tenets of Christianity.

Graham Turner, in the Daily Mail of 25th November 1987, describes a school in Sussex where children said that they learnt about Hinduism and Sikhism, but hardly anything about Christianity. He writes: Eleven Out of 15 youngsters said they had no idea who Pontius Pilate was. 'Wouldn't even know how to spell it'. said one. 'Not a clue who he or she is', said another". Some of the most surprising teaching material has been produced by an organisation with the word "Christian" in its name: the Christian Education Movement. Its book on Spring festivals gives graphic accounts of the Chinese New Year, of Krishna festivals, before coming to the Jewish Passover and then giving only a very cursory account of the Christian Easter, before concluding with "Making a Mobile for Chinese New Year".

As regards older pupils, the new GCSE syllabuses do not help. The previous GCE and CSE syllabuses, although multi-faith, remained predominantly Christian. But now the national criteria for GCSE state that syllabuses will he based on the study of one, two or three of the major world religions, and it will be possible to have no Christian content at all.

One of the most disturbing aspects of these developments is that some Christian teachers feel unable to teach this new-form RE because they feel it is a betrayal of their faith. Another cause for concern is the predicament of some parents. For example, in Manchester some parents wish their children to have a predominantly Christian-based RE. But Manchester's multi-faith syllabus is integrated into other subjects and consequently the authority has ruled that it is not feasible for these parents to exercise their legal right to withdraw their children from RE which they find unacceptable. This is another example of the way in which the provisions of the 1944 Act are being violated.

Before I begin to draw a conclusion perhaps I may briefly mention the other aspect of RE which many parents are finding unacceptable. I refer to its use for partisan political purposes. For example, the GCSE religious studies syllabus from Doncaster is heavily laced with CND material with no comparable discussion on defence and disarmament or alternative views. The syllabus from Alperton school in Brent shows how RE is to be part of an integrated humanities course with highly politicised messages. Of course there is a case for consideration of social, political and moral issues from a Christian perspective. But that is a world away from using RE to legitimate one-sided, simplistic answers to complex, controversial problems.

I conclude by raising a number of questions in an attempt to search for remedies for these widespread concerns. First, perhaps I may ask the Minister what is the response of the Government to the suggestions that I believe are being made in another place—certainly in many other places—that RE should be one of the foundation subjects in the new core curriculum and that it should be predominantly Christian. Secondly, I ask my noble friend what the Government intend to do about the current failure of so many schools to provide a Christian act of worship. I understand that some rewording in the Bill is designed to solve the logistical problems. However, is anything more substantial being envisaged to put a stop to a situation in which the law is being constantly violated?

Thirdly, perhaps I may draw my noble friend's attention to the fact that there has been a mushrooming of new religious schools established at great personal cost by parents who feel that the Government have failed them by allowing the situation to deteriorate to the extent that I have indicated. There are now more than 60 new Christian schools and others about to open. This dramatic—one might say "desperate"—growth rate reflects our failure as a nation to provide state schools which enshrine the moral and spiritual dimensions of education. I shall never forget a West Indian parent-governor at the Christian John Loughborough school in Tottenham saying that the local schools had failed so miserably that he used to have to send his children back to Jamaica to get a good old-fashioned British Christian education. But since the John Loughborough school was set up, he could send them there. But that is an expensive option and these new Christian schools run on faith and a shoestring. May I ask my noble friend whether the Government are able to suggest any ways in which they may be able to give financial help to these schools, many of them set up because we have failed to provide the Christian based education required by law.

My final questions are not for my noble friend the Minister but for all who care about the future of Christianity in this land. Perhaps they should be addressed especially to the major Churches, which are in a particularly influential position in which they could have protected, defended and enhanced the preservation of a predominantly Christian-based RE and religious worship in our schools. But judging by the developments we have witnessed and by some of their own reports, such as the Durham report. they appear to have condoned or even contributed to the dilution, and in some places the demise, of our religious heritage.

Many parents and teachers feel that they have looked in vain to the leaders of our Churches for a stand against the erosion and loss of Christian teaching and worship in our state schools. What other representatives of any world faith are so permissive about a dilution of their faith into a syncretistic relativism which implicitly or explicitly undermines its distinctiveness and its authenticity? Will the Church leaders speak out in defence of Christian education and worship, or must the people continue to protest alone, and to seek solutions at great personal cost and sacrifice? I cannot help but feel that the true guardians of the faith in our schools today are found not in the main body of the hierarchy of the Churches, or in the councils of Synod. but among the grass roots Christian communities up and down the land, among local parents, teachers and clergy. Perhaps they will prompt those in authority to take action before it is too late and before even more of our young people are denied an opportunity to study and to worship in the Christian tradition which is their spiritual birthright.

1.53 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, in beginning her remarks the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to opening a debate. This is an Unstarred Question. There is no Motion on the Order Paper. We are not asked for Papers. We are merely asking for an answer. I should have thought that it was possible to get a fairly short answer to a specific question. However, if Friday afternoon is to be the occasion for a full dress debate on a thorny subject of this kind, I think that the Procedure Committee ought to have a look at it. I am sorry to start on this reproving note. I have high regard and great respect for the noble Baroness, but I think she raises this deepy controversial and serious matter at the wrong time and on the wrong day. Why then did I put down my name?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I thought I would ask that question so that I can give a simple answer. I put down my name merely to suggest to the noble Earl who will reply to the Unstarred Question that the answer ought to be "Not at all". Mine is not a religious approach in any sense at all. My approach to this matter is humanist. I merely wanted to enter a caveat and claim a place in the debates which we shall almost certainly have when the Education Reform Bill comes to your Lordships' House.

I shall be very brief indeed. I have the privilege to follow the noble Baroness but the disadvantage of not knowing what other noble Lords will make of this occasion. She has taken full advantage of it and I do not blame her for that. I admire the way the noble Baroness goes hotfoot along the corridors of power and in and out of your Lordships' House pursuing some noble cause or some matter upon which she feels passionately. I wish there were more noble Lords and noble Baronesses to do the same. We would really be a very live body if it were so. However, I am not going to be drawn this afternoon into this deeply sensitive and controversial matter. I am content to say that when the time comes I shall be glad to have the opportunity of saying a great deal about the history—particularly the history—and in my opinion the economic and social consequences of our obsession with religion in education in our schools.

I do not believe that there is any such thing as religious education. There is religious indoctrination, which is a different matter altogether. That is really what we have. I content myself with those few remarks just to give some indication of the line I shall take when the time is appropriate for me to do so. In the meantime, I shall leave the debate to other noble Lords who have put down their names. It does not take 12 apostles to support the noble Baroness to get a simple answer out of the Minister to a simple question. Now he has an ample choice of replies: "As soon as possible" is one; "Not yet"; "In due course"; "The matter is under active consideration" are others. We could all think of the answers that the Minister might give. I suggest that whatever answer he gives it should be as brief as that and then we could all go home. That is all we want to know. As for the rest we can deal with the matter ad nauseam—that is what it will be—when we have the main debate on the Education Reform Bill.

With that I have made my contribution to the appeal to the Minister to reply to the Unstarred Question of the noble Baroness.

1.58 p.m.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, the noble Baroness is to be congratulated on the way in which she has introduced this important subject. This is not a party matter and I speak only for myself. I was tempted to say that "fools rush in where angels fear to tread", but I realise that that would hardly be courteous to the present company. At the same time I must admit that it is my heart that has led me to speak today and my head is still trying to absorb the complex details.

We are debating a Christian act of worship and Christian religious education in our state schools. The first question we have to ask is whether Christianity as a religion is worth promoting. My convinced answer is that it certainly is and I believe it to be vital to our national well-being. In his book The Heart of Healing, published in 1971, George Bennett, an Anglican parson, said this: Society does not generally realise how much it owes to the spread of Christianity. Once a country's life has become permeated by the faith which we all so easily take for granted, that country becomes healthy, prosperous and happy. But now we live in days of change, and one dreads to contemplate what might be the eventual results if our permissive society gains ground". It is no coincidence that Christianity at its best is so closely linked with beauty of architecture, of music, of language. I accept the truth of the saying that ugliness is one sign of a wrong attitude to life.

I am disturbed by the words of Christ that tell me to take up my cross; but I have rejoiced at the sound of Mozart's Ave Verum sung in the great cathedral of San Marco in Venice; at Kathleen Ferrier singing the Angel's Farewell to Gerontius in the Festival Hall in London, or merely watching cricket on the county ground at Worcester with the Anglican cathedral dominating the scene from across the river Severn. I believe Christianity offers the most profound teaching the world has ever known and at times its language is sublime.

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, wholeheartedly in her plea that Christian religious education, and, as part of it Christian worship, should be provided when parents request it for their children. I accept that that requirement raises many difficulties, not least that of staffing. However, I believe that the problem can be overcome, given the will. I shall be most interested to hear what other noble Lords have to say on this matter. It is of course essential in our society today that other faiths should be accepted, but Christians still form a clear majority. In 1944 anything else was not even considered.

In an interesting debate on religious education in February 1977 in your Lordships' House the noble Lord. Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, quoted a delightful, if disillusioned, poem by an RE teacher, Mrs. Sanderman, called "I only teach RE".The poem starts, Oh, no, I am not a Christian, a Moslem or a Jew. Involvement would unsettle my objective point of view". It ends by stating: Their spiritual development does not depend on me. No let them get their faith elsewhere, I only teach RE The whole poem is well worth reading in that it succinctly emphasises the dangers of too broad an approach to religious education by teachers who are often not genuine believers.

What can be said about demand? I understand that there is an increasing number of new Christian schools being started in this country as parents become more concerned about values prevalent in some state schools. Some parents are simply worried about declining moral standards; others find that the teaching is inconsistent with the Christian faith.

My elder daughter teaches in a small Christian school in Rochester. When the school was started about 20 years ago, it was very much on its own. Now it has contact with many other Christian schools which have since been established and others which are in the process of being started. Some, like most independent schools, are fee paying; but others have nominal fees or no fees at all, relying on gifts—the noble Baroness touched upon that point. Therefore the ability to pay is not a criteria for accepting pupils. My daughter says that they have many more applications than they can accept. Even if more independent schools were started they would not be able to meet the needs of all the parents who wish their children to receive Christian teaching, free from what has all too aptly been described, in some cases, as actual persecution.

I should like to ask the noble Earl in his reply to answer two questions of which I have given him notice. First, it has been said that there is strong evidence that the vast majority of our population desire religious education for their children. That was the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in 1977; and the noble Baroness also mentioned this. Does the noble Lord agree that that assertion is true?

Secondly, the great majority of our independent schools—those selected by parents—do have religious education and an act of collective Christian worship. Will the noble Earl say whether he knows of many independent schools that might be termed totally secular?

I agree with the view that education which excludes religion altogether is not proper education. We need fully developed people, not merely brilliant scientists or mathematicians and so forth. On the 18th May 1977 in this House the noble Lord, Lord Blake, sought to call attention to the lack of an adequate Christian content in religious education in local education authority schools. He closed his speech with such wise and telling words that I hope your Lordships will bear with me if I repeat them. He said: 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 an 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 be 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".—[Official Report, 18/5/77; col. 713]. I can myself only end by humbly saying that I wish that I had written those words myself. They remain all too relevant.

2.5 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Truro

My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me, should this debate continue after 3.30 p.m., if I leave before the end for distant parts.

No one with a concern for the contribution for the continuation of the Christian tradition in our schools will be other than sympathetic to the matters raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in her Question. Because the Church shares with the Government the belief that the spiritual dimension is such an important element of education it is watching with great care the way in which the Education Reform Bill treats school worship and religious education in our country. When the Bill comes to your Lordships' House, the bishops will want to contribute in a major way to the debate on that aspect of the matter. Meanwhile, I am sure they will welcome the opportunity provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for views to be aired at this stage; those views will be studied with special interest in the Church.

I have no wish to make excuses for failures in the field of school worship and religious education. National attitudes have changed, especially since 1944; fewer people go to church and there are fewer teachers to conduct the act of worship or to teach the religious subject. Of course, many more people in these islands represent other faiths or none at all.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, was not prescribing—nor would I wish to do so; nor indeed would I want to—just to defend Christian leadership. I should just like to say with respect to the noble Baroness that all of us who claim to be Christian have some degree of responsibility in the matter. All of us in this House will be eager to see how the Government handle those two matters when the draft Bill is presented, together with any amendments which the Government, or others, put forward.

Like one or two other noble Lords, I should like to ask several further questions which are implied by the original one.

The first concerns the act of worship. How frequent, I wonder, is that intended to be, according to the terms of the Question? There is nothing in it to suggest that specifically Christian worship is to be provided daily or even regularly. Is it to be in addition to multi-faith acts of worship or as an alternative? I believe that the Secretary of State has said that he would welcome invitations to be given to local clergy and ministers for that purpose. I wonder whether that is so.

Christianity is described, and has been described in the debate, as the dominant religion or, perhaps, as was put in another place a little more modestly, as the lead religion in this country.

I ask myself, and your Lordships, whether that implies that other faiths are seen as anti-Christian. Or could it be, as I believe, that all faiths, like all human beings, have a touch of the divine about them, and that in consequence all of them point in some way to Him who claims to be the fulfiller of all truths'? I know that many Asian parents, for example, are happy that their children should receive that Christian religious education in some Church schools. Religious education, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is not the same as indoctrination. I should be glad to engage in a modest conversation with him at some future time about semantics if that is how he sees it.

Those Asian parents of whom I speak are happy and eager that their children should experience that Christian worship. To experience worship of any sort is not the same as to find oneself required to make an act of personal commitment. Those parents believe that it is at least a vital part of this country's history, the country to which they have come, and where, of course, many of them have now been living for several generations. They admire the Christian ideal for life: to love the Lord your God; to love your neighbour as yourself. They want for their children Christian standards—honesty, self-control, compassion, forgiveness, humility, self-sacrifice and service to others. Those of course are not exclusively Christian, but they have been taught, practised and lived for many generations. They are Christianity's great contribution to our national life, to say nothing of the faith from which they spring. We cannot wholly separate faith from morality. How we see the universe largely determines how we live and what our attitudes are.

So, I ask those questions and how the matters which we are debating are to be enforced in the schools. It must be said that the great and, to many of us, wonderful Act of 1944 has not been wholly successful because it has been found so difficult to insist upon the daily act of worship whether or not it be Christian. Of course, how difficult it has been to enforce the teaching of religion throughout our schools.

Some serious questions arise on that score as well. There has been mention of the agreed syllabi. They are said to be unsatisfactory in many places. I know that that is true. Are there to be, I wonder, in the course of the presentation of the Education Reform Bill, some new guidelines or even stipulations about the composition of those agreed syllabi? How will they be enforced when qualified teachers in that subject are, alas, so scared—I should have said scarce? Perhaps that was a Freudian slip. Will the Government give more encouragement, and perhaps better status, to teachers of religious education in our schools? I could become anecdotal about that.

There is also the sensitive issue of whether or not religious education should be part of the core curriculum. I should not wish at this stage to rehearse the arguments. They are many, and it will he a very sophisticated debate that we shall have later on. Those are probably not matters for today. I look forward, however, to hearing or reading the Minister's reply and still more to following the debate on the Education Reform Bill when it reaches your Lordships' House. Let it just be said from this quarter of the House that I, for one, am delighted that this question has been put to us and that we have been able to spend at least a short time on it. I can assure the House that I for one should want to answer the question very simply. Indeed we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that it is basically a very simple question. He had a very different answer from the one I would want to offer. My answer would be simply, yes.

2.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend Lady Cox for posing what I believe is a very fundamental Question and one which I hope will be given a great deal more thought. This is despite the words and probably the right advice from the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that now is perhaps not the time to enter into the debate. Nevertheless I shall take advantage of the opportunity presented to me.

As I mentioned briefly in my maiden speech in your Lordships' House, education is very much about the academic, the moral and spiritual welfare of our children. Religious education in our schools is not necessarily about making little Christians of our children. If that were the objective, then one could say that we had signally failed. But, as has been suggested, it is their birthright to know of the history, the culture and the tenets of the religion in order that we may lay down foundations and in order that they may later make choices.

However, I must express surprise and, I think, disappointment at some of what has been said by the right reverend Prelate and his colleagues in the Church. I support them in being concerned about the Education Reform Bill and the place of religious education within it. But my question to them is: where have they been over these past years as this subject in our schools has been very much in demise? Where were they as I sat around the table with my colleagues on the Standing Conference for Religious Education, fighting like a tiger to retain an element of Christianity as a predominant part of religious education in the curriculum? I went to see a bishop, putting a heartfelt plea for his support in the work we are trying to do. A quarter of the conference, like a quarter of the conferences in many counties, is made up of Church of England appointees. They were not the people to whom I could look for support. That was a great disappointment to me.

In answer to the right reverend Prelate who asked whether we see other religions as anti-Christian, my reply would be a resounding, no. I do not see other religions as anti-Christian but I believe the teachings of Christianity about tolerance of other people and other religions is a very real part of learning about Christianity.

Next, I wish to mention the Bishop of Durham—not, I hasten to add, the present Bishop of Durham but a predecessor, the late Ian Ramsey, who, I believe, was responsible in part for much of the nature and the way in which religion is taught in our schools. It has certainly given rise to much of our present concern. Two particular aspects were advocated, an open pedagogy approach to religious education and the setting up of standing conferences, one of which I have just described, where a flexible approach to the 1944 Education Act was advocated. Unfortunately, this is where world religions, humanism even communism, and various nonreligious stances were seen to be treated as alternatives and equal to Christianity. Much of what the World Council of Churches was saying was supportive of this and the discovery approach—the quest for meaning and the search for values required of our children, very often too young to cope.

I refer to Education and Indoctrination by Roger Scruton, Angela Ellis-Jones and Dennis O'Keeffe. I quote from their chapter on morality and religion: A teacher who sought to induce moral principles in his pupils by asking them to explore the various 'alternatives' would be engaged in a self-defeating task. We do not discover the moral reality of murder by giving it a try, nor do we come to a better understanding of the evil of rape or torture by experimenting with a variety of points of view upon them, or by trial and error …The issues here are immensely difficult. But two thines ought to be made clear. The first is that finite creatures have need of morality if they are to survive. They also…have need of religion…Children. as Aristotle put it, enter the palace of reason through the courtyard of habit, and in morality and religion it is the habit, not the reason, which counts. No parent. anxious for his child's welfare, could wish him to be deprived of morality; and most parents would wish their children to have a basic familiarity with the tenets of religion, and the kind of meaning that it imparts to our experience". BBC "Panorama" on 17th December 1984 reported that, currently eight out of ten parents favour the presentation of religious education in schools. Furthermore, Christianity is part of our cultural inheritance. Without it, much of the literature, and philosophy that we have inherited, and the basic forms of our law and institutions, would be unintelligible. Its language, its melodies, and its moral presence arc revealed to us in all our surrounding world, and a child who was not brought into contact with it would be a stranger in the society to which he is destined…The exposure to alternatives may defeat the purpose of religious education as much as it defeats the purpose of morality: it offers to place idle curiosity where there should be certainty and trust. The crucial feature of religious belief is that. unlike political belief, it is essentially addressed to the individual, his conscience and his salvation. It is a guide to life and a source of confidence". What we have heard by educationists, and sadly sometimes supported by our Church leaders, is a kind of intellectual indulgence. We have had the advocacy of Ronald Goldman in 1964 and of course that of Piaget, who argued that children at a young age were not able to grasp the tenets of religion. Therefore they indulged in the thematic approach and learnt more about the wool of the sheep and the goings-on of the shepherd and very little about the teaching of the Bible.

I have already hinted at my own experience as a member of a standing conference in Cambridgeshire. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for making one more quote. I had to fight particularly hard after having to concede defeat on very much of what the syllabus had to say to put in the following sentence: This Conference, while recognising that pupils' cultural and religious backgrounds will vary, believes that we have an educational responsibility to see that Christianity is the religion which is studied in the greatest detail". It took many months to have that put into the syllabus.

We can all be anecdotal but there is not time to go on and on and I shall give noble Lords just two examples of incidents that made their mark on me. One such incident was the child who died just before his fifteenth birthday. Throughout that child's secondary school life the closest he came to Christianity in his religious education was during the term in which he died when he was studying the Turin Shroud as a detective story. He had of course covered witchcraft and a number of "isms" including Marxism.

I also refer to a personal experience gained when visiting a school one day at harvest festival time when the children were taught to believe that planting the seeds in the ground and seeing them grow was magic. I am also reminded of Birmingham in 1974, when, after its syllabus had been produced, objectors complained about the inclusion of communism as one of the "isms" in that syllabus.

I have to put on record my admiration for Peter Shepherd and the work of West Sussex County Council in the way it set about preparing its religious education agreed syllabus. It really is a model and I recommend that your Lordships read it. That council also went out of its way in the preparation for that document to survey the people whom it served. It found what the "Panorama" programme also found —that the majority of people in our community want a Christian-based religious education syllabus in our schools and that the people who were opposed to it were many of the people who formed the standing conference on education and some of the Church leaders.

We must be concerned not only about the children with supportive backgrounds whose parents have a positive view in wanting their children to have religious education in school. It must also include those children from families who are not supportive or who are inadequate for one reason or another. I believe that we owe it to those children to give them a framework. After all, school will be the only anchor in their lives. Therefore, we have a duty.

Perhaps I may be presumptuous enough to suggest some ways forward. First, we must get away from the mixing-bowl approach to this great subject. Secondly, we need a clearer statement of aims for the subject. Thirdly, we need closer scrutiny of some of the agreed syllabi. I believe that they have been scrutinised only cursorily in the past. Fourthly, we need enhanced status for the subject and the teachers who teach it.

Returning to the words of the Motion, it asks for a Christian act of worship for all those children whose parents request that. I have made a plea for those who take no view in the matter. However, we need to remind ourselves that such matters are not compulsory. For children whose parents do not wish them to have such acts of worship, there is no compulsion. They have the power and ability to opt out.

I wish to end, again presumptuously, with a quotation from the Bible: If we have no vision then the children perish".

Baroness Seear

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps she can confirm, on reflection, that she did not intend an attack on the late Ian Ramsey, who was, to many of us, a guiding theologian and guide.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I was not attacking that gentleman; I was attacking some of the things that he advocated.

2.20 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I should like to say at the outset how grateful I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for putting down the Motion and thus permitting the exchange of views on this important topic. I find myself largely in agreement with the noble Baroness, although my knowledge of religious education is clearly much less extensive than hers.

Nevertheless, we have only to look at the state of the nation to see how crucial and timely today's debate is. It always surprises me that whenever the Government are defending their record concerning the health of the nation, they invariably do it in economic terms. We hear that the economy is vibrant and growing at X per cent. per annum. We are told that inflation is low and shows no signs of increasing. We hear that the money supply is under control, that unemployment is falling and that unit labour costs are very competitive. That is encouraging and I should not wish to belittle the achievements of the Government in that regard. In fact, giving credit where credit is due, I take the view that the British economy is now in better shape than at any time since 1945.

However, is that really what we are talking about when we look at the health of the nation? Surely a much truer indication would be given by examining the divorce rate, which is now the highest in Europe; by examining the abortion rate, which is up from 6,000 in 1968 to 275,000 in 1987; and by assessing the increase or decrease of violent crime, muggings, rape and child abuse. Surely those figures indicate far more accurately the moral state of play in this country. If I may say so, they portray a pretty dismal picture. The sort of adjectives one might use to describe the overall health of Britain would be "pitiful", "depraved" or "appalling".

Perhaps I may turn to the cause of that unhappy state of affairs. Noble Lords will judge for themselves in that matter, but it seems to me that there are three principal reasons for the collapse of moral standards in this country. First, there is the failure of the Government to support the family in any meaningful way. After their nine years in office, it is still cheaper in some circumstances to live in sin than to live within marriage, which is a ludicrous state of affairs. We can only hope that the Chancellor will put this right on 15th March when he presents his Budget. Indeed, the right honourable Member for Finchley is herself frequently making statements which are supportive of the family, though regrettably her actions do not always match her words in this regard.

Secondly—and I hope I shall not offend the right reverend Prelate who sits in front of me when I say this, because I do not wish to be offensive in any way and I enjoyed his earlier intervention —there has been a complete failure on the part of the established Church in this country to communicate the gospel in a manner which is both relevant and meaningful to ordinary people in today's terms. There are of course happy exceptions, but in general our churches are pathetically empty because they fail to meet the needs of ordinary people in 1988.

Thirdly, there is the failure of parents to devote enough time and energy to bring up their children effectively and in a manner which will meet their needs in body, mind and spirit. Generally, their bodily needs are fairly well met; their mental needs are met in some degree, depending on circumstances; and their spiritual needs are met scarcely at all. Thus at the end of his formative years the child is quite unbalanced, and the result can be seen by scanning the headlines of almost any newspaper you choose to pick up.

This is a Christian country and at one stage in the Coronation service the Archbishop hands a Bible to the Monarch with these words: This is the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom. This is the Royal Law. These are the lively oracles of God. Are these not weighty words, and are they not just as relevant to her subjects as to the Monarch herself? As the Coronation service is essentially a State occasion, surely we ignore these words at our peril. Perhaps I might also add that in 1987 the Bible was easily the best selling book in this country, which clearly demonstrates people's hunger for spiritual food.

Your Lordships will be glad to hear that I am finally, and by a somewhat circuitous route, coming to the point. That is of course the relevance of a Christian act of worship and Christian religious education in state schools. Following a recent Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, in this House on 4th February, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, showing his usual wit and charm which is so much appreciated by your Lordships, in pressing the Minister (the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper) had this to say at col. 1188: Does she further agree that trying to teach RE and leaving out the act of worship is like trying to teach astronomy and leaving out the stars? Noble Lords will judge for themselves, but it seems to me that we are slipping at a disturbing rate into a slough of despond so far as the moral health of the nation is concerned. Observing the failure of the Government to support the family, the failure of the established Church to faithfully proclaim the gospel and the failure of parents to prepare their offspring for the rigours of this life, let alone for the next, it seems to me that the only chink of light is that our schools should offer a Christian act of worship and Christian religious education, so that our children should have at least some sure Christian grounding in their formative years. I therefore wish to make clear my wholeheared support for the noble Baroness and to thank her for letting us have this opportunity to air this important subject.

2.35 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I should like to begin where the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, left off by thanking the noble Baroness on behalf of your Lordships' House, and on behalf of the laity of this country, for taking a lead in ensuring that this matter is properly discussed.

Before I come to the point, I should like to tilt a lance—not for the first time—against my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He calls himself a humanist. He is nothing of the kind. I do not think that he knows what humanism is. I wonder whether he has ever read Pico de la Mirandola's dialogue between God and Adam which was the foundation of Renaissance humanism. Has he read the Cambridge Platonists of the late 17th and early 18th century'? I doubt it. What he is is an old-fashioned 19th century rationalist born out of his time. But we shall splinter another lance together when the education Bill is discussed. In case noble Lords think that there is anything personal between myself and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, we have been old friends and colleagues for many years. It is nothing new if we sometimes fundamentally disagree with one another.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. Will he allow me then to call myself a dissenter? I think that that is fairly understood.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, a universal dissenter. Perhaps I may start with a couplet from Hilaire Belloc. What is it that, Surrounds the horizon of my memories Like large and comfortable trees? It is family prayers before breakfast in my grandfather's large Victorian household. At Edward VII's coronation my grandfather was the same age as I am now; that is, 80 next birthday. Having lived through the reigns of George V, William IV and Victoria he was getting set in his ways, as indeed I am now. The whole household met before breakfast, servants and all, and my grandfather read the prayers and the blessing at the end. On Sundays, there were evening prayers as well. I went there very frequently because my grandfather's home was used as a quarantine station when either I, or my sister, had one of our usual childhood infections: measles, mumps, whooping cough, chickenpox, German measles, colds, coughs and sneezes, and all the rest of them. When one of us had one of these infections the other was exported to my grandparents. I was therefore accustomed to living in their household.

At my prep school we had prayers before breakfast every morning, and of course evening prayers on Sundays. When I went to public school I found the same regime as I would have found had I gone to Oxbridge, which I did not. Finally, I joined your Lordships' House where we begin our proceedings every day with prayers as an act of corporate worship. It therefore seems to me very natural and proper that we should have an act of corporate worship to begin our proceedings every day, although this happens after lunch while in my grandfather's household it was before breakfast.

However, there came a very significant pair of events. Thirty years ago there came into existence the permissive society, which eroded our morals, and a sort of petty Fabian Butskellism, which eroded our economy. I am now concerned with those who are maturing into middle age and who were brought up under those two regimes. If we take a professional career as running roughly from 25 to 65 years of age, with a midpoint of one's career at about 45, those who are now 45 were those who matured during the beginning of the permissive society. Are we surprised at the result? Those supporting the noble Baroness are the survivors of a shipwreck to whose navigation the episcopate contributed very little. It is the laity who are fighting like Christian soldiers and who have no illusions about how hard they have to fight in order to set the episcopate a good example.

I turn to Ronald Butt in The Times of the day before yesterday. With your Lordships' permission, perhaps I may quote his last paragraph. He was exploiting the theme that appetite grows by what it feeds on: As people lose their ability to be shocked, those predisposed to violence are encouraged by the moral climate to assume that society thinks that violence is all in a day's living. The pretence that it is required for the 'integrity' of the programme is largely bogus. Until the age of film, books and plays addressed the realities of violence and sex, without being invited to use the voyeur's peephole. The truth of the matter is that if the cultural climates were healthy, television producers and programme Commissioners would know what was right to transmit without guidelines, watersheds or arguments about censorship. The fact that these loom so large in the argument indicates that something is gravely wrong in the state of mind with which they approach their responsibility". What was gravely wrong was the upbringing that they had in the foundations of the permissive society.

I should like to pass to a quotation from Paul Johnson in the Daily Mail of 8th February. He was blunt and almost unkind about what he called the "chattering classes". He describes the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York as the "establishment made flesh". He insisted on the truly more representative views of the noble Lord, Lord Mason, on the other side of the House in the context of Clause 28 of the Local Government Bill. He wrote: So mixed-up were the bishops that, when it came to a vote, three. including the Archbishop of York, voted against the clause, two voted for it, and all the rest abstained". For the sake of intellectual honesty I should like to point out that, so far as I know, "all the rest" consisted of one member of the Bishops' Bench. During the course of the debate on Clause 28, I at one time counted six bishops. Five are accounted for, so I assume that one abstained. Therefore, to say "all the rest" is something of an exaggeration. Paul Johnson continued: Why are the bishops so confused'? Because so many of them have abandoned their traditional role as custodians of the moral law and joined the Chattering Classes. As such, they have drifted apart from the real nation". Those are harsh words. I do not know whether I should be justified in applying them to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro. I shall read what he said with care in Hansard tomorrow. His speech was highly texturised and needs careful examination. However, I hope that he will draw the attention of his right reverend colleagues to this debate and to the fervent wish of the laity that they give more militant leadership as they would be giving in the Christian Hindu population in India and not drift with the permissive tide.

2.42 p.m.

The Earl of Cork and Orrery

My Lords, as a result of my fascination with the early life story of my noble friend Lord Halsbury, I should like to give a brief word of explanation as regards my standing in this connection. I claim and profess to call myself a Christian, having been baptised into the Church of England in infancy. As the years went by I served the Church in various capacities: as a sidesman; a server; a churchwarden; a member of the parochial Church Council and Diocesan Council; and as captain of the tower. Some noble Lords may not know that that is a resounding title belonging to the leader of a band of bellringers.

Approximately 15 years ago I asked for and received permission to transfer my obedience—if that is not too strong a word—to the Orthodox Church, to which I still belong. I mention that in the hope that it may convey the idea—not that I am being impertinent in talking about a Church from which I have no apostacy—that I can speak as a former Anglican looking out from the inside and as a present Orthodox looking in from the outside. That may convey the idea that I have given some thought to the questions I wish to ask, however sketchy may be my ideas of the answers.

I should like to ask, first, why the Lords Spiritual are represented only by the duty bishop. The original Question seems to have been partly forgotten by some speakers. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that he might offer the answer, no. The right reverend Prelate said that he would certainly offer the answer, yes. The Question asks what steps the Government are taking? I hardly think that either of those previous answers is relevant.

The question is: what are the Government up to? No more than the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, do I want to enter into a dissertation on various academic subjects, but what is not an academic subject is the question of what is religious instruction or religious education. I enter a plea at this moment for the total abandonment of the expression "RE". To my way of thinking, that is a rubber stamp that has no meaning whatever and comes down with devastating effect, blotting out any Christian or religious content that the expression may be intended to have. It is like PT; something which is taught. You cannot teach education and you cannot learn education unless you happen to be a student in a teachers training college. Something else should take its place.

What is the function of the Church? To my way of thinking, it is to mediate from God to man—I do not know whether I should be contradicted on this, but if the right reverend Prelate or anybody else cares to contradict me I should be happy to hear it—and to understand and expound for the benefit of the faithful, or hopefully faithful, the words of the 11th and 12th verses of the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John, which states: As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even them that believe on his name: which were born. not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh. nor of the will of man. but of God". What does that mean? If I want to know what it means I should be able to ask a bishop. I am not being personal. I believe that is what the Church exists for and that must be the foundation of all religious education, which must begin with small children. How does one begin with small children? You cannot teach them that sort of advanced doctrine. The teacher should know from the very outset that that explanation of what it means to become the sons of God should lie at the far end of the path on which he is setting the first trembling footsteps of his pupils.

They may not go very far. Where will they start? I suppose they will start with the idea of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, and God as a benign father sitting up in the sky. Many people do not reach any further than that. I have one particular friend I can think of—and I probably have many—who never reached any further than that. One friend I am thinking of is a man of about 60 who does not believe in God at all and once said to me that he did not understand how I could either. I then discovered on talking to him that the God in which he did not believe was a god in which I could not believe any more than he could. It was simply the old man in the sky, with which he became stuck at school and never progressed any further. I feel that something must have been wrong with the instruction that that man received. I did not offer him any instruction because it is a little late now.

The first part of the Question deals with the daily act of worship. I am not quite sure what that is intended to signify, but I think it means morning assembly, which could be conducted by anybody who is competent enough to think of a prayer and a couple of hymns. Is that what worship really is? I found a definition in a dictionary which said what worship really means. It states: To show profound religious devotion and respect to, adore or venerate God or any person or thing considered divine". Is that what one gets in morning assembly? I dare say that it does not particularly matter. The psychological benefit can well be achieved, as it may well be achieved, by our prayers at the opening of the day's Sitting in the morning or the afternoon.

However, is it possible that this is too frequent an occasion for a "devoteness" (if there is such a word) to remain in the minds of those who experience it? Should it be less frequent? I do not know, but they are important questions. It is easy to say that morning assembly is sacred and that we must cling to it, but I have a feeling and a fear that perhaps people may grow up to think for the rest of their lives that worship—a profound, deep and important word in anyone's life—is simply a couple of prayers and a hymn in an atmosphere of chalk dust and floor polish.

This is slightly symptomatic, to me, of much that has gone on in the Church over a number of years. I have seen the great and glorious, divine liturgy of St. John Chrysotom reduced through the Mass, through the Holy Communion, down to strange distortions and changes that have been brought about, until it has become known in its shortened form by a number. I wonder what St. John of the Golden Mouth would think now of what it has become. With that have gone changes in the language, in the liturgy itself, until we have a departure from the old uniqueness of the English language in using for the divine a particular pronoun. God alone was addressed as "Thou". Now he is addressed at times, I understand, as "You" and his son is—the second person in the Trinity—referred to as "Your Son". I confess to a feeling, which perhaps will not endear me to some people, that the God depicted by Michaelangelo on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, or by Blake as a figure of enormous majesty, has been reduced to something not really distinguishable from a child's own father or grandfather, perhaps even wearing a collar and a tie. It seems to me that somehow the whole idea of religious education or instruction has gone. Mysticism has gone; the magic has gone, and mostly the poetry has gone.

The Government are being asked in this Question what they are going to do to ensure that it should be restored; at least, that is my understanding of the Question. What do the Government propose to do to cause the Church—it must be the Church; the Government cannot do it themselves—to set up a proper organisation to establish syllabi for instruction in matters of the divine? The matter is urgent and vitally important, and I greatly applaud the Question tabled by my noble friend.

2.53 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I should like to turn the Question on the Order Paper round. We have already heard that some 87 per cent. of the population in the country is Christian or professes to be Christian. The vast majority will only attend church on three occasions in their lives or in other people's lives: at their own or someone else's baptism; their own or someone else's wedding; and their own or someone else's funeral.

That does not mean to say that they are not Christian. They live by the standards that they understand to be Christian. They would be horrified if anyone said that they were not Christians. I do not believe that one must go to church regularly to be a good Christian. In fact, often those who go to church regularly, perhaps two or three times on a Sunday, arc appalling Christians for the rest of the week, not living by the tenets of their faith at all.

I am sure that the vast majority of those who call themselves Christians and have children do not themselves feel capable of teaching their children properly about Christianity and how to be good Christians. They very much hope that this will be done for them at school by someone whom they think is better qualified than they. Therefore can my noble friend assure the House that Christian clergymen will be invited into schools to teach Christianity? The schools should also invite the clergymen of other religions, particularly those religions which are popular in the area, to teach about their religions. Can the noble Lord please confirm or assure me that a Christian act of worship and Christian education will be provided for all children whose parents specifically do not wish them to be withdrawn from such worship and education?

Over the past 30 years or so we have had a terrific influx of people into this country of religions which are other than Christian. Yet this country has been basically Christian for something like 1,400 years. Our way of life, our toleration of the ideas of other people, is experienced frequently in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who very often finds himself the only person speaking from his point of view. In some other societies he would have disappeared a long time ago. I hope that we are going to continue to be tolerant. I do not always agree with the noble Lord; but I very much enjoy his speeches, and I respect his point of view. That tolerance arises from my Christian upbringing. Our law, toleration, customs, culture and the way we organise ourselves in society, are all based upon Christianity.

In order that those of other religions can be fully assimilated into this great nation of ours while they do not have to be made Christians, I feel that they should be taught the tenets of the Christian religion so that they can understand why this nation works as it does. We have in this House quite a high proportion of members of the Jewish faith. I am sure that the vast majority of them understand the differences between their faith and Christianity and that they were taught those differences at school. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, calls himself a humanist. I do not see the difference between humanists, Mohammedans, Hindus and Buddhists because they all need to understand the society in which they live. Can the noble Lord therefore assure the House that all children will be given this basic instruction in the religion that is the majority religion and the state religion of the country?

2.59 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. If I may say so, she is a modern St. George attacking the dragon of ignorance and unbelief that is undermining our society. But I wonder whether her lance is the most effective weapon to kill the dragon in the 1980s. Is it appropriate to the condition of our schools and society to prescribe that the act of worship in school assemblies and the form of religious education should be explicitly Christian? The values which we have inherited have come to us through centuries of Christian teaching. Like the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, I had the advantage of going to family prayers every morning as a child, with the family on one side and the servants all filing in on the other side of the dining room table. Would it not be more effective in transmitting the values that we cherish and respect to leave it to the discretion of teachers and school governors to decide the form which the transmission should take? It is no good trying to push Christian forms down unreceptive throats.

One thing is clear. It is the teachers conducting the assembly in schools who discharge the practical responsibility of getting the message across. To carry conviction, they must do it in the way they judge to be best for the particular conditions of the school. An attempt to force them into a prescribed mould would probably be counter-productive or at least ineffectual. It is unlikely that public opinion would support efforts at enforcement against the judgment of head teachers and governors any more than has been the case in the past 20 years under the 1944 Act. Rules from the centre would become dead letters.

Clifford Longley observed in The Times earlier this week that the schools operate against a background culture of agnosticism. We may not like it but this is where we are. Most parents have no commitment to any Christian denomination or belief. Children are being reared in a largely pagan or non-Christian atmosphere of worship of Mammon. What after all is the main object of religious education? Is it not for teachers to transmit to children a respect for truth, compassion, a sense of service, the other Christian values and to develop the capacity for free inquiry that enables them to form independent judgments? The task, delicate, difficult and more important, as other noble Lords have said, than any other part of education, is to ignite and cherish the flame of true values in the heart and mind.

Sometimes as in Church schools with committed Christian teachers the Christian framework of worship and instruction will be effective. Sometimes perhaps a reality of worship may be achieved and transmitted—rare I think. But the general object is to transmit the values, not the framework. Teachers and governors must be free to decide what methods should be employed. If they are helped by the increased support of parents and communities, we may again begin to move upwards to a stronger positive acceptance of what all the main faiths have seen as the necessary principles of a humane society.

In conclusion, I should like to pay tribute to the right reverend Prelates who have come under a certain attack in this debate. They, I think better than anybody else, can appreciate the difficulties that confront all those who are engaged in this immensely important task of trying to transmit the values.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may put a point to him. He questioned the efficacy of teaching RE to unreceptive children. On that basis, we would not teach maths and probably would not even send our children to school.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords I can only say to the noble Baroness that I think it is a different sphere in teaching. To impart forms of knowledge is a much simpler task than seeking to transmit values.

3.5 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I warmly welcome and congratulate the noble Baroness on her brilliant speech to the House. It was, if I may say so, typically brilliant, especially at this pertinent time: just before we embark on discussions in the Education Reform Bill.

We are asking the Government to ensure that there is a Christian act of worship and Christian education in all state schools. An act is doing something; it is not just a lesson by a teacher who might not be a Christian and who therefore may not believe in what he or she is saying. An act of worship means prayer and perhaps a hymn. Perhaps "Onward Christian Soldiers" would sometimes be appropriate.

We all know that there are far too many children becoming adults in our schools who have no faith and no Christian or any other religion. The Christian religion is part of our country, part of our heritage, with the Queen as head of the Church and the nation. For that reason, if for no other, religion must be taught and an act of worship made part of the curriculum in each and every school.

We are aware that many parents are without a religion and therefore without a faith. That fact is a sad off-shoot of the permissive society, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has already said. But that fact does not excuse parents from abrogating their responsibilities and asking the schools for tuition for their children. It is the children's right, as the noble Baroness has so eloquently said.

However, we have a dilemma. In my view teachers cannot be expected to teach something in which they do not themselves believe. It would carry little conviction with the young minds of today. It is quite possible that those who appoint school staff and boards of governors will be unable to find suitable staff in certain areas. As my noble friend, Lord Swinfen, said: In these circumstances I think that the parish priest should be invited and, indeed, welcomed into the schools to take the act of worship and give religious tuition". I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister can tell us whether his and my noble friend the Secretary of State would welcome that idea. In my view this issue is most important for future generations. A sound grounding in religion is one of the most precious bequests that we can leave to our children.

I conclude, because time is running on, with a short story that actually happened in your Lordships' House. I gave tea to a barely two-year old little girl the other day in your Lordships' dining room. She looked at the ceiling and said "Church, church!" But, after a very large ice cream, she said, "Church, where is Jesus?"

My Lords, there is hope for future generations.

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Cox, in her inspiring and rousing speech, has given us all an opportunity to stand up and be counted. All of your Lordships, with one noble exception (whom I should like to congratulate on his unusual and deliciously short speech, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, when he decided to jump off his episcopal fence and speak his own mind) have done just that.

Great Britain is supposed to be a Christian country. We have an established Christian religion. It is down in our statute books that that religion should be taught in our state schools. It is our duty to see that there is an act of Christian worship in our schools. We cannot all sit around with our heads in our hands, listening to the cocks crowing and saying, like St. Peter: It is nothing to do with us. We cannot do anything about it". Our Christian faith is dear to us. It gives us courage and support when we cannot go on any more. The basis of that faith is laid in childhood.

Among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found is part of the Collect for the fourth Sunday after Easter.

The world will continue to change. Do we not want those same joys of the spirit to go on into the next generation? The words of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and our hymns have been a great comfort to many people in times of deep stress. I remember during the war that two of my aunts (my noble relatives) were air raid wardens in Lambeth. They were in the post at Kennington Road when it was hit by a bomb. That bomb buried 19 people alive. They were sitting knee-deep in water, in the dark, for nearly three days before they were dug out. During that time, my aunts kept up everyone's spirits by repeating aloud all the hymns, psalms and passages from the Bible that they could remember. Of those 19 people, five came out of the hole alive. Two of them were my noble relatives. Last night on looking through their Bible, I found the 40th Psalm marked: He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock". Their friend, the late Bishop of Kingston, F.O.T. Hawkes, who christened me, once wrote: You must realise that you are in God's loving keeping, and in his loving arms no evil can come to you". We in your Lordships' House are blessed with the spiritual benefit of daily prayers. Let us see that that blessing and comfort can be shared also with the children of our nation.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for putting her case so well, and so movingly, if I may say so. I should like to concentrate on the Christian act of worship rather than on Christian religious education. I go further than the noble Baroness. although I quite understand the reasons for her wording, and should like to enlarge the question to ask whether at least a brief act of traditional Christian worship should not automatically be provided for all children, unless their parents specifically request otherwise. I say brief because it is counter-productive to bore children, and I say traditional for reasons which I shall come to. This has nothing to do with fervent religious zeal, something which I totally lack myself and tend to be suspicious of in others. It has everything to do with what, at the risk of sounding sententious or melodramatic, might be described as first our English heritage and secondly what sociologists would term social cohesion. That is not a phrase one particularly cares for, but at least everybody can understand broadly what it means.

More than 25 years ago some Moslem friends of mine from the Indian sub-continent sent their son to a well-known English public school, and asked if I could possibly pay him a visit from time to time. When I took him out for the first and, I fear, the only time, since the school was rather a long way from London, I was extremely surprised when he asked me to be sure that I got him back in time for evening chapel. He then revealed that notwithstanding his Moslem background, he attended school chapel as a matter of course, though not necessarily participating in every prayer. I found this highly praiseworthy.

So far as I could establish, the motivations of his parents were threefold. First was the commendable feeling that when in Rome it is only polite to do as the Romans do, provided it does not clash with your own deeply held convictions. If only more people felt that way nowadays! Of course, this was helped by the fact that in Islam Jesus is a highly revered Moslem saint. The second motivation was, I suppose, a natural desire that their son should not stand out too much from the crowd at a time when conformity was prized, particularly in English boarding schools. The third was the desire that, without abandoning in any way his Indian Moslem background, their son should have a proper English education. For this to be successful it was necessary not only to be acquainted with secular literature and poetry from Shakespeare onwards but with the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, and with at least parts of the Book of Common Prayer.

Several years earlier I myself spent more than a year at a boarding school in the United States. Every conceivable Christian denomination was represented there from Christian Scientist to Greek Orthodox. In addition, about 30 out of the 500 boys were Jewish by religion; but to the best of my memory every single boy attended the short morning assembly at which we said together the Lord's Prayer—the traditional version, it goes without saying—and nobody objected. After all, as one of the Jewish boys said to me, "Let's face it, the Lord's Prayer is a Jewish prayer", and of course he is absolutely correct so far as its origin is concerned. Whether saying this prayer every day made us any more virtuous, I cannot be sure, but at least it helped in some sense to bind us all together.

Furthermore, if those boys without a strong Christian background had not been given the opportunity of learning it, they might well have found themselves isolated from their fellow citizens at various times later on in life. Surely every schoolchild in this country, whatever their parents' beliefs, should have some minimal knowledge of' those prayers, psalms and hymns which to some extent transcend religious boundaries and which have for generations been loved throughout the English-speaking world. One thinks of the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, Christmas carols and all those hymns with the best tunes which are not excessively sectarian in character.

Naturally, we are not only concerned with traditions or with aesthetics. As the right reverend Prelate suggested, one would hope that much of the moral and ethical message would sink home in a way which would please even wholly non-religious parents. In this context, I well remember my first visit to Turkey in 1953, when I met a number of anticlerical intellectuals and professional people, heirs of Atatürk, one might say, who were busy nonetheless in trying to promote a revival of Islam, a religion in which they themselves scarcely believed, in order to curb the growth of crime and juvenile delinquency.

If a childhood acquaintance with the best known prayers, hymns, psalms and Bible passages happens to be of use and comfort later on in life, at times of personal crisis, war, national emergency and so on, so much the better. But even if this teaching does no more than ensure historical continuity together with imparting a reasonable degree of cultural and social unity to our society, it would still be entirely worthwhile.

3.21 p.m.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I apologise for inserting myself at this point, but I promise to be extremely brief. I hope that a parent's request for an act of worship and a parent's request for Christian religious education will be treated quite separately and distinctly, as I believe that in this country we have many non-Christian parents who would be perfectly satisfied that their children should be brought up in their own religious beliefs and who indeed would be deeply unhappy if it were to be otherwise.

What they earnestly want for their children is the ability really to appreciate and understand Western art and culture which draws so very strongly upon Christianity for its inspiration. I suppose that a non-Christian person looking (shall we say?) at the Adoration of the Magi by Rubens or hearing a performance of Handel's Messiah would say, "Here undoubtedly is a stupendous work of art. How I wish I could really understand what it is all about".

If we can fill that gap in the knowledge of our children in the course of educating them, enabling them, if they choose to take advantage of it, to understand Christianity and fully appreciate Western art and culture, we shall be doing them a good service. Perhaps some of them will take advantage of it.

3.22 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I must confess that I was somewhat surprised to see the Question of the noble Baroness on the Order Paper, considering that the Education Reform Bill is being discussed in another place at this moment and that we shall be discussing these very questions when the rather controversial Bill reaches us after Easter. Nonetheless, I always admire the way the noble Baroness speaks, and her eloquence.

The right honourable Kenneth Baker constantly compares his Bill with the 1944 Act of Mr. Butler. That Act was a real reforming Bill and its genesis was very different from that of the present Bill. Several years of genuine consultation with all parties and particularly with the Churches had contributed to the wisdom and long life of that Act. The consultation was not, as now, a few months of consultation during the summer months when a lot of people connected with education were on holiday and when not a vast deal of notice was taken of the responses to the consultation documents.

However, unusually, some notice was taken of the responses to the questions on revision of Sections 25 and 26 of the 1944 Act which concerned the clauses dealing with collective worship. The noble Baroness quoted them.

The 1944 Act was concerned to provide a legal basis for what was then the norm in most schools. It was probably expected that the collective worship would be Christian but it was not so stated in the Act and it is not the law.

Section 26 specifically states: the collective worship … shall not, in any county school, be distinctive of any particular religious denomination". But 40 years on, with the structure of our multi-faith, multi-cultural and multi-racial society so changed. the situation is very different. I have read that in one Church school in Blackburn 96 per cent. of children are Moslems. It is the neighbourhood school.

There has been a good deal of writing on the subject of education in our multi-cultural society. The Swann Report on the education of children from ethnic minority groups in 1985 said: Given the miltiplicity of beliefs now present in society, it is not surprising that we have received much evidence about the difficulties generated by the requirement in the 1944 Act for the daily act of collective worship and the provision of a particular form of religious education. We therefore believe that the government, in consultation with religious and education bodies, should look afresh at the relevant provisions of the Act to see whether alterations are called for after an interval of forty years". The National Association of Head Teachers set up a working party to consider possible revisions of Section 25. Recommendations were made calling for changes in the wording of the Act to provide a legal basis for school worship to be held less frequently, delegating responsibility to governors in consultation with the head, to determine the nature and frequency of acts of worship". The Select Committee on Education in another place also made recommendations proposing amendment of the law.

The reality is that a collective act of worship for all pupils is a physical impossibility for many schools, and it has not been happening. That is recognised in Clause 79 of the Baker Bill. We are glad that the Government have listened, at least partially, on that subject. The clause gives choice and flexibility and the schools can respond to local circumstances. That is very important as local circumstances are so different.

The act of corporate worship can take place at any time during the day and in groups rather than in a single body. That has been generally welcomed by the Churches. I am surprised that it is left that all pupils on each school day shall take part. I do not believe that that is practicable or that it is likely to happen. However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, who has been persistent in asking questions on the subject, is satisfied with Clause 79. On one of his questions on the subject in July 1986, I noted the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. He said: Is he further aware that both the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London … have spoken of their wish for greater flexibility in the approach to the law—not with regard to the flexibility of their conviction that religion should be part of the total education experience, but with regard to the fact that the whole education scene has changed greatly over these last 40 years and that many people, including the Churches, hope that this matter can be approached with greater flexibility than it is now?".—[Official Report, 17/7/86; col. 1015.] The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, speaking for the Government, agreed. With some reservations there seems to be general agreement on what will happen, even if the noble Baroness and noble Lords who support her are not totally satisfied.

As regards the request by the noble Baroness for all schools to provide Christian religious education for those children whose parents request it, it is asking too much and again it is hardly practical. Indeed, would all children (some of' them post-16) want it? The 1944 Act made RI a legal requirement in all schools, with an opportunity for parents to withdraw their children. Clause 6 of the new Bill ensures that that is complied with. Nowhere is it specified what religion is to be taught. Again, 40 years on, there is a need for a new look.

The changes that have happened in our society have forced local education authorities to change, and that is reflected in the agreed syllabus that each authority has to produce. I shall quote from Birmingham's syllabus: A generation ago the purpose of religious education in county schools was to nurture pupils into Christian faith … In the present circumstances religious education is seen as an educationally valid component of the school curriculum, subject to the same disciplines as any other area of study. It is thus directed towards developing a critical understanding of the religious and moral dimensions of human experience and away from attempting to foster the claims of particular religious standpoints". A comparative study of Church and county schools entitled Faith, Culture and the Dual System, by Bernadine O'Keefe, in 1986 has a very interesting chapter on RE. What it shows is a vast diversity in the amount, methods and aims of the schools in the survey. There is diversity even within Church schools. Some teachers were concerned to promote a religious response, but the comments of other teachers show that while their aim is still pupil-centred, the personal beliefs of the pupils are not the teachers' concern. One said: The main aim is to understand the significance that religion can make to human life and experience. How religion can affect the whole of someone's life. I am not trying to turn Out good Anglicans, but to show them that a religious outlook on life is still a viable option in the 20th century. I want them to think about ultimate questions". The report comments; These replies support much of the current thinking on religious education, which sees the main aims of exploring the nature of religion in terms of beliefs, practices and interpretation, rather than one of establishing or even nurturing faith". In a non-Church school, that seems a reasonable aim to pursue. Another teacher said: The main aim is to acquire a reasonable knowledge about world religions, including Christianity". These extracts focus attention on RE and the impact it can have in playing an important role in bringing about changes in attitudes, countering misunderstanding and challenging prejudices and stereotypes. It is very wise, in my view, not to demand Christian religious instruction in a socity such as ours at the end of the 20th century. A greater understanding of other people's beliefs and way of life is essential for harmony in society. What I would plead for is a wide discretion to be given to LEAs and heads, and not for central direction. I was glad to see in an article written by Mr. Baker in The Times on 1st February these words: I want to hold to the principle established in the 1944 Act that the nature and content of RE should be locally determined. I am against central prescription in this sensitive area". I hope he holds to that: flexibility is essential. It is there now and should not be discouraged. If parents want specifically Christian religious education, most have the opportunity to choose a Church school for their children. The Schools Council's view was that the tradition of our national life has been largely shaped and sustained by behavour and ideas closely associated with the practice of religion, and particuarly of Christian religion. Since education involves a thorough exploration of' the environment and the received culture, this source of our national heritage should be studied and appreciated. An investigation of religion and its claims is thus an important part of our education in Britain, whether the pupils have any religious affiliation or not. I would add that they should have a knowledge of the Bible and also of the faiths and cultures of other races who now form part of our very diverse society.

That society presents challenges for all schools. many RE teachers have not yet equipped themselves fully to cope with the change. There are many implications for the training of our teachers and for in-service training. This is something that the Swann report stresses, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will have something to say on this last point.

3.34 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government welcome this opportunity to debate an important subject and are grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox for raising it for discussion. The serious contributions made by your Lordships have served to emphasise the importance with which we regard this matter.

Many countries find it impossible to contemplate providing for either religious education or worship in schools, regarding such matters as separate from the education process and more the preserve of the family and the Churches. That schools in this country have successfully provided religious education and worship for many years is, I think, a testimony not only to the success of the 1944 Education Act but also to the tolerance and understanding of the British people in overcoming the barriers of different faiths and denominations.

The Government have consistently made clear the importance they attach to both religious education and to worship in our schools. Both are required by statute. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that we have no intention of changing this. The response from parents and others to the national curriculum proposals demonstrates continued support for the subject. My noble friend Lady Blatch also mentioned recent evidence of eight out of 10 parents supporting the place of religious education in our schools.

Clauses 6 and 15 of the Education Reform Bill will serve to strengthen the existing requirement for religious education in schools making clear the duty to provide instruction and establishing a complaints procedure to ensure that the law is upheld. Clause 79 of the Bill, while giving schools greater flexibility in mounting collective worship, at the same time reaffirms the requirement for daily worship in all maintained schools for all pupils unless withdrawn by their parents.

I shall come in a moment to the central theme of this debate; that is, the place of Christianity within religious education and worship in schools. But first I should like to say a little more about religious education in relation to the Government's proposals for a national curriculum.

There are very good reasons why religious education should not be a foundation subject in the terms proposed for legislation on the national curriculum. That was one of the points raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro. At present, what religious education is given in schools is determined locally. This local discretion would be threatened if religious education were a foundation subject, as would the present right of parents to withdraw their children from the subject. It could mean that the content of religious education in Church of England, Roman Catholic, and Jewish voluntary schools would be taken away from governors and instead determined centrally and inscribed in tablets of stone. I would therefore agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, on the undesirablity of this.

It is suggested by some that religious education could be a special case retaining the local discretion and right of withdrawal while still calling itself a foundation subject. This would be the worst of all worlds; a foundation subject without an automatic requirement to teach it to all pupils. It is far better surely to rely on the existing provisions of the 1944 Act, suitably strengthened by the provisions of the Education Reform Bill. I can assure your Lordships that, despite what many appear to believe, the Government's decision not to include religious education within the national curriculum is intended to protect the subject rather than devalue it.

In moving to the main purpose of the debate, I should like first to comment on the place of Christianity within religious education. Those responsible for drafting the 1944 Act would certainly have envisaged that the religious education in our schools would be predominantly Christian in character. However, nowhere in the Act is there any requirement that religious education should be Christian. The Act simply requires that religious education should he provided in all county and voluntary schools; that in county schools it should be non-denominational; and that it should be given in accordance with the agreed syllabus.

Ever since the Act came into force there have been debates similar to ours today on the meaning of the 1944 religious education provisions. This continuing debate has both witnessed and contributed to a change in the way religious education is perceived in its aims and the way it is taught and in the content of the subject. Initially, the agreed syllabuses concentrated on study of the Bible, reflecting not only the predominance of Christianity and Judaism but also a particular view of the "instructional" nature of the subject to be taught in schools.

Over a period of time both the Churches and those directly concerned with teaching religious education, particularly in county schools, have come to see the subject more as a means of exploring beliefs and values rather than that of instructing pupils in the tenets of a particular faith. Furthermore, with the gradual development of what is now a multi-faith society there has been a growing recognition that religious education must provide an opportunity to examine and understand faiths other than Christianity.

However, we should not exaggerate the shift of emphasis that has occurred in religious education. Evidence from Her Majesty's Inspectors shows very clearly that, generally, Christianity is still at the core of religious education in our schools. The central place of Christianity is ensured by the agreed syllabus procedure, which automatically involves the Church of England in the preparation of agreed syllabuses and gives the established Church the right of veto. But the Church of England and the other churches have quite rightly recognised the important part religious education must play in establishing greater understanding and cohesion within society.

The question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is to ask what steps the Government are taking to ensure that all state schools provide a Christian religious education for all children whose parents request it. As I have already pointed out, contrary to the overall impression given by my noble friend Lady Cox, the evidence available shows that a study of Christianity remains central to the religious education provided in all our schools. The Government accept that there are some parents who would wish their children to have exclusively Christian religious education. Such preference is already provided for by the 1944 Act partly by the right of parental withrawal, but also by the option available to parents to send their children to aided denominational schools.

It can of course be argued that not all parents have access to aided schools where they can be guaranteed religious education wholly in accordance with a particular faith. But where they do not, there is no reason why pupils withdrawn from religious education in maintained schools should not receive tuition in accordance with their parental preference. The 1944 Act specifically provides for such circumstances, and allows alternative religious instruction to be given during school hours either on the school premises or elsewhere. There should be no question therefore of children being obliged either to participate in religious education with which their parents do not agree, or to receive no religious education at all.

As the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, have said, there have been a number of instances in recent years of local communities opening independent schools where there is a particular religious emphasis. This is not an exclusively Christian phenomenon and there are also Jewish and Moslem schools on the Register of Independent Schools. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, I understand that there are schools catering for almost all philosophies and faiths, as well as some which pursue an entirely secular curriculum.

I am afraid however that there is no possibility of the Government providing financial assistance to independent schools in the way that the noble Baroness would clearly like. Were we to do so, the very independence which is enjoyed by such schools would inevitably be eroded. The taxpayer would rightly expect controls to be imposed on how his money was being spent and there would be constraints which independent schools would find unacceptable.

My noble friend Lady Cox has also raised the question of the provision of Christian worship in schools. I have already mentioned Clause 79 of the Education Reform Bill. I can answer the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro by saying that this preserves the requirement for daily collective worship in all maintained schools.

The content of worship is I think more problematical than the content of religious education. There is no statutory procedure for collective worship analogous to the agreed syllabus procedure for religious education. Furthermore, the 1944 Act is entirely silent on the form collective worship should take, other than the requirement that for county schools, worship should be nondenominational in character. There is certainly no requirement in the 1944 provisions that worship should be Christian, although in practice the Christian tradition has been and still is at the core of the worship provided in most maintained schools. It is therefore for the schools themselves to determine content, although it is clear that what is provided must be a genuine act of worship and not just a secular assembly merely providing a means for school announcements and serving an entirely administrative purpose.

I suggest that a debate on the precise meaning of worship would occupy your Lordships for many hours, without reaching any clear conclusions, with respect to my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery. In many schools, particularly those where Christianity is the accepted religion of the vast majority of pupils, worship should, we believe, be seen in the terms described in the Newson Report. The report argued: Corporate worship is not to be thought of as an instrument of education—though it is that—but as a time in which pupils and teachers seek help in prayer, express awe and gratitude and joy, and pause to recollect the presence of God". Clearly the mounting of worship for pupils of different faiths is a more difficult matter, requiring great sensitivity by the teaching staff. However, many schools have found ways appropriate to the setting to hold acts of worship which celebrate and reflect shared values, common to all communities. To some extent the lack of prescription in the Education Acts has allowed collective worship to develop to take account of the changing nature of society. In the Government's view, this change is inevitable if collective worship is to retain one of its prime purposes, that of an occasion which brings pupils together in collective contemplation of matters spiritual.

This was spelt out very clearly in a number of responses to last year's consultation exercise. For example, the response from the Christian Education Movement stated: It is important that any worship by sections of the school enshrines the principles of present collective worship and does not separate pupils by Christian denomination or by faith. Where there is a wide range of faith communities represented among pupils worship must acknowledge this plurality". This I think serves to emphasise what the Government see as the unifying purpose of worship in schools. We would not wish to see a situation where children in maintained schools are divided into separate acts of worship for different religious groups. This would in the Government's view run contrary to the aims of collective worship that I have already described.

The question raised by my noble friend Lady Cox is to ask what the Government are doing to ensure that all state schools provide a Christian act of worship for parents who request it. As with religious education, so it is with collective worship. For parents who specifically want their children to participate in an entirely Christian act of worship, without any reference to other faiths, the option exists to send their children to denominational voluntary schools. If such schools are not conveniently available, parents have the option to withdraw their children from collective worship and schools may allow parents to organise separate acts of worship on the school premises should they so wish, be they Christian, Moslem or Jew. I sincerely hope, however, that most parents would recognise the value of a truly collective act of worship in schools, which while not necessarily exclusively Christian is nevertheless a meaningful act with spiritual content. Such spiritual content might help to lessen the anxieties of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, concerning the decline in moral standards.

I hope that what I have had to say provides your Lordships with reassurance that the Government fully support the place of both religious education and collective worship in maintained schools and that practice in the vast majority of schools still reflects the dominant place of the Christian faith within our society. In the Government's view, it is of the utmost importance that all children, whatever their ethnic and religious background, should be introduced at school to those Christian beliefs and values which permeate our traditions and culture. I hope that reassures my noble friends Lord Swinfen, Lady Macleod and Lady Strange. It is entirely appropriate for Christian and other clergy to be involved in religious education and collective worship in schools.

The Government also believe that religious education in maintained schools should provide all children with some understanding of faiths other than their own. Similarly, where there are pupils of more than one religious background, schools should devise forms of collective worship which have meaning for all pupils.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, that we must recognise the nature of the society in which we now live. We are no longer a predominantly Christian nation and our schools reflect the multi-faith nature of Britain in 1988.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble Earl said that we are no longer predominantly a Christian nation. There may be a sense in which that is true although I hope it is not, but so far as the other faiths are concerned, the proportion in this country is still very small.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I accept and understand the point that the noble Earl makes.

The part played by schools in ensuring religious tolerance and understanding is an important one and is successfully achieved in many maintained schools through religious education and collective worship. At the same time we must continue to take account, so far as possible, of strongly held religious convictions, allowing parents a clear choice. The Government believe that the present statutory provisions concerning religious education and worship preserve that choice. We also believe that the enforcement provisions contained in the Education Reform Bill will in turn ensure that the law is properly enforced and that all children are able to benefit from religious education and collective worship in our schools.

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