HL Deb 03 May 1988 vol 496 cc377-446

3 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Hooper.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Duties with respect to the curriculum]:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

If Amendment No. 1 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 2.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 17, leave out ("them with respect") and insert ("the Secretary of State to establish and on local education authorities, governing bodies and head teachers of maintained schools to have regard").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 12, 14, 18, 20, 22, 26, 52, 85, 91, 123 and 129. The amendment stands in my name and the names of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and Lady Seear. Indeed, I believe that the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, should also be attached to the accompanying amendments.

I wish to emphasise from the beginning that we are not seeking to destroy the concept of a national curriculum; this is not a wrecking amendment. We seek to remove the detailed prescription, the straitjacket to which the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, and others have referred, and to prevent the accumulation of quite unprecedented power in the hands of the present and future Secretaries of State for Education.

The present Secretary of State has implied that there is a consensus in favour of this kind of detailed, extensive national curriculum imposed by diktat. There is not. On the contrary, deep reservations have been expressed by every shade of educational and political opinion. According to a parliamentary Answer at col. 574 of the Commons Official Report of 16th February there were 13,800 responses to the national curriculum consultation document. Mr. Julian Haviland, one of the few people actually to have waded through much of that mountain of paper, says in his book Take Care Mr. Baker: I cannot recall one response that endorsed without reservation the structure for the curriculum which the Government was proposing".

Let us be clear what the amendment achieves. It leaves intact the general aims for the whole curriculum in all maintained schools established by Clause 1 of the Bill. It also leaves intact the framework for establishing a national curriculum and setting up a National Curriculum Council and a School Examinations and Assessment Council. It leaves intact the duties to provide religious education by agreed syllabus and the additions to Clause 6 to be moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. Instead of allowing the Secretary of State to force the national curriculum in every detail upon every maintained school, upon every classroom and upon every teacher, it provides an essential flexibility. Head teachers, governing bodies and local education authorities will have to have regard to the national curriculum.

That is not, as no doubt will be suggested, a recipe for educational anarchy. The Committee will remember the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, which your Lordships passed just two years ago. That Act built on the great Butler Act and placed clear duties towards the curriculum on head teachers, governing bodies and LEAs. It added specific safeguards against abuses of the curriculum. If the amendment succeeds all parties will have to have regard to the national curriculum in carrying out those duties.

If parents are unhappy about the curriculum offered to their child or about the way the national curriculum is being implemented they will be able to complain under the procedures set up by Clause 16 of the Bill. We would wish to strengthen those rights for parents—which at present are rather narrowly drawn in the clause—and will move amendments to that effect later in Committee. In addition the Secretary of State has powers to intervene under the 1944 Act if duties are not being fulfilled or LEAs or governing bodies are acting unreasonably.

What are the effects of the detailed central prescription envisaged in the Bill? Firstly, there is an unacceptable accumulation of power in the hands of the Secretary of State, described in a leading article in The Times Education Supplement on 15th January this year as, a totally unnecessary step in the direction of over-government and totalitarian government. It is no argument to say that these powers will never be used oppressively. However much we may like Mr. Baker, there is no reason to take his word on this; he is only the temporary incumbent".

I invite the Committee to look at the effects of the Secretary of State's approach within the Bill itself. First, there are the limits on experiment and development, so strongly condemned by Miss Sheila Browne, former Her Majesty's Senior Inspector of Schools. Clause 9 imposes a detailed bureaucratic process before any maintained school can deviate from the national curriculum in any way. Any deviation has to be with the specific approval of the Secretary of State. Clause 9 would be entirely redundant if these amendments are accepted.

Look at Clauses 10, 11 and 12, and in particular at Clause 12. Here is a clause which takes almost two pages simply to set out a framework for regulations to allow head teachers to exclude individual pupils from the whole or parts of the national curriculum. Clause 12 is perhaps the best illustration of the rigidity of this whole approach and the bureaucratic absurdities to which it leads. It is time wasting and deeply insulting to those who have to try to work within it.

Of course those clauses which allow exclusions from the national curriculum are essential if it is to be prescribed in detail from the centre. The suggestion in line 3 of Clause 2 of the Bill that the national curriculum is for all pupils is bogus. Many pupils, including some with special needs, would have to be excluded, setting back the clock on integration. I am sure that we shall hear later of the deep concerns of many organisations representing children with special needs about the likely negative effects of imposing a rigid system and then inventing new exclusion procedures for those it does not fit. Here again, Clauses 10, 11 and 12 become unnecessary if these amendments are accepted.

By naming a list of subjects and prescribing attainment targets, courses of study and testing arrangements for them, the Secretary of State is relegating many other vital components of education to a lesser status and possibly forcing them out of the school timetable altogether. Again I shall not list them; I am sure that other speakers will pursue their particular concerns. However, perhaps Members of the Committee will look at the new schedule in Amendment No. 109 which shows both the number of subjects others have asked to be added to the foundation subjects and also the subjects which are being taught in some schools now. That is illustrative of the great breadth of education in our schools just now.

Organisations concerned with Catholic education and other denominational schools have expressed concern at the effects of the prescribed national curriculum on the distinctive ethos and character of their schools. I see that the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, has tabled an amendment reflecting those concerns. All those and many other express concerns about the national curriculum can be met if the amendment I am moving is passed and thus schools are allowed an essential flexibility. That was, after all, the approach which the Government themselves favoured two years ago when this Chamber debated the 1986 Act. As the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, told us then: We have certainly worked towards establishing a national curriculum policy which informs the Secretary of State in carrying out his responsibilities and to which LEAs have regard. But it is central to our policy that local authorities will have their own curricular policies in order to plan and manage the service at the local level in response to local needs and circumstances and the preferences of parents; and that schools will have their individual curricular aims. Such a fluid system is likely to be much more responsive and flexible than one which looks to the centre to impose priorities".

Increasingly, over the past few months as the crescendo of opposition to the Secretary of State's plans has mounted in the educational world and the public has begun to understand the real implications, we have heard the Secretary of State and others reassuring us that the content of the imposed national curriculum will allow the necessary flexibility; that it will be all right on the day. Let us be quite clear what this Committee is debating. It is a legal framework which, if implemented unchanged, allows incredibly detailed control over what is taught, how it is taught and how it is tested and examined. Predictions about what is in the mind of the present Secretary of State are not relevant to the debate on the framework.

We must return, as the amendment seeks to do, to a legal framework which is within the traditions of the British education system, which can command the respect of those who will have to make it work and which can genuinely be used to raise standards where they are not high enough. The Bill's present approach is that of curriculum by detailed central government diktat. One cannot build an effective national education system in that way. It must be built on partnership—partnership with parents and pupils, head teachers and teachers, governing bodies and LEAs. Of course it is right to have safeguards and we think it is right to have central curriculum guidelines but we must not be led down a path towards sterile inflexibility.

These amendments would put us back on a path that could lead through partnership to better schools and higher standards for all our children. I beg to move.

Lord Joseph

I want with great enthusiasm what the Government want in bringing forward this Bill. In fact I agree with virtually every part of the Bill except that part now criticised by the noble Baroness who has just spoken. My problem is this. If it be necessary to achieve what I and I am sure many other people want, I shall have to support the amendment of the noble Baroness. But I should far prefer to see the Government accept the group of amendments standing in my name and the names of others; that is, Nos. 16 and 17 and those amendments which come a little later in the Marshalled List.

The distinction is this. Whereas the noble Baroness by her amendment seeks to remove the statutory element from the whole of the national curriculum, I want to remove the mandatory element from the foundation subjects, leaving the core subjects subject to mandatory requirement. It may well be argued that I am being inconsistent. It will be said that I am content to have centralisation for three, or even four subjects taking into account religious education, and that I balk at the other eight foundation subjects. I wish to make the case for this apparent anomaly.

I want, as do the Government and I am sure all Members of the Committee, a broad curriculum for all children. I want to avoid the early specialisation which has been criticised over the decades and which is pervasive in this country. I want to achieve what so many of our neighbours in North-West Europe achieve: a broad curriculum that prepares children for adult life, civic life and work and which stocks them with a knowledge that will make their life anything other than boring. I want all that. For that reason I strongly support the Government's intent to make the core subjects mandatory.

It will be difficult enough to make that mandatory requirement effective in achieving better education—witness the problems that the Government are facing over the report they have requested from committees on English and on maths—and I even hear rumours that there will be a problem among the science community when the working party on science reports.

Imagine what will happen if we have to face similar dilemmas in the programmes of study recommended by the working parties that the Secretary of State proposes to set up in connection with all the other foundation subjects. Even if the Government hold in reserve a mandatory requirement for foundation subjects, it may be as well to pause to see how the programmes of study of the core subjects are implemented before taking that decision.

I must emphasise to the Committee that I am very strongly in favour of having the core subjects tested; no doubt there will be some discussion of the testing procedures. But I am hostile to what others, as well as I, have called the straitjacket imposed in this part of the Bill on the curriculum precisely because I share with so many Members of the Committee an extreme worry about the non-academic proportion of our population. There is no question of better or worse. Academic is not better than non-academic; it is different. Many people are academic in some subjects but non-academic in others. Besides, I am not only worried about the non-academic; I am also worried about the very gifted—those children who have special gifts in particular areas.

I dislike intensely the thought that for all these categories—the non-academic, the partly non-academic and the very gifted—we are to impose a straitjacket on the head teachers and the governors. Of course I accept that the Secretary of State has tried to meet our worry by the procedures for exception mentioned later in the Bill. But I have to agree with the noble Baroness that they are a very bureaucratic set of processes and they will impose upon those people who know the child's needs best—the teachers, working with the parents and the head teachers—what seems to me to be a quite intolerable burden.

The Committee will perhaps be sympathetic when I say that when I was at the department I was slightly envious of some of the achievements of countries in North-West Europe. I thought that I admired the French system, and therefore I became interested in how their so-called national curriculum worked; but I found when I went into the matter that their national curriculum was not imposed centrally. As is well known, the examinations consist of papers in a whole range of subjects which are prepared for by that large proportion of the child population that intends to sit for the baccalaureate—and very impressive the results seem to be.

The French of course say, as most countries do today, that their education is in decline, but from our point of view it seems to educate a very large proportion of the population. I am not quite sure, and I am sorry to be unsure, whether it is one-third or a half of their child population that attains nine successes in the baccalaureate. It is not as deep as our A-level but it is far broader, and we should like to have a broader test for our children.

Therefore, I am a reluctant supporter of this group of amendments. I hope that I can be told—and that the Minister will intervene in time for those of us who are interested to know—that the Government will look kindly upon the later amendments that retain a mandatory requirement for the core subjects, with tests, and convert the foundation subjects into discretionary subjects. I think that most schools, most head teachers and most governors will in fact adopt all the foundation subjects. I shall be amazed if most of them do not. There is all the difference in the world between being encouraged to adopt them and being required to adopt them.

There is one other point that needs to be made. It appears—although I am not quite sure of all my facts—that, whether by intent or by chance, English school children and English teachers are required to spend rather fewer of the hours of the week and rather fewer of the weeks of the year at school than our neighbours in North-West Europe. Let us accept at once that we compel our children for 11 years to be subject to a legal requirement to go to school. Eleven years should be enough. It should be enough to give them at least the basis that we all want. But it so happens that the French, the West Germans, the people from the Low Countries, the Scandinavians, the Swiss and the Japanese impose upon their children a requirement of longer hours at school for more weeks in the year.

I recognise the implications of any such proposal. There will be all sorts of implications. I wonder only whether the Government, in their deep concern for the non-academic, for the gifted and for those who have a different balance of requirements than is met by the national curriculum, might look kindly upon considering an extension in the working week or in the weeks of the year of required schooling.

I hope that I have made my position plain. I put down my name to this amendment. I must honour that inscription, but only if I do not get the amendment that I should prefer; namely, the tested core curriculum as mandatory and the rest as discretionary.

Baroness Seear

I support this amendment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, I am very much in favour of the objective of an improved level of education for all our children, as I am sure we all are. I also go a long way with the noble Lord when he says that he wants the core subjects imposed. However, I cannot but believe that in practically every school those core subjects are already being taught and will continue to be taught without their being imposed. I believe that this is almost a distinction without a difference between us. No one is going to say that one should let loose into the world young people who are not competent in English, maths and science. Whether there is the staff to carry out the obligations laid down in this Bill is another matter which noble Lords will discuss on another clause.

I beg the Committee to look at the rigidity that is built into the Bill as it now stands and the dangers inherent in this rigidity. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, has pointed out the needs of the non-academic child. How is such a child to be adequately taught with a laid-down curriculum which is as rigid and as detailed as this? I know that when the noble Baroness comes to reply she will say that there is plenty of time in the school week to cover the core and foundation subjects and still leave time for other subjects to be studied. Surely it is the experience of all of us from when we were school children, and also that of school children today, that if a subject is being examined one spends one's time on that subject. Not only does the child do that, but the teacher prods the child into doing so because of the results, and the parents are behind the teacher prodding the child along as well.

What is left receives a marginal degree of attention. In my day it was the subjects of cookery and religious knowledge that were not examined; and precious little attention they got in consequence. I do not accept the argument that because there is a little spare time left over the other subjects will be adequately dealt with for the non-academic child or for the gifted child; that was also a very important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph.

A second reason for supporting this amendment is the great importance of relying upon and developing the professional skill of the teacher. It all turns upon the teacher, as we all know. A good teacher will develop what is necessary for the particular children he is teaching. He will know of the needs of a child and he will place the emphasis and guidance to direct the child to study those subjects which he, the child and the parent believe are the right syllabus for that child.

There is another point arising from respect for and encouragement of the professionalism of the teacher. If these subjects are built into legislation they are there and they are fixed until they are altered by some other Act of Parliament. Like any other subject, education is a growing and a developing matter. It may be that in five years' time some subjects should be played down while others should be played up. Are we to have another Act of Parliament each time it seems that emphasis should be put in a different place?

I should also like to remind the Committee of the very impressive point made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York during the debate on the local government Bill. Noble Lords were talking about the notorious clause—is it 27, 28 or 29? I have forgotten because it has been backwards and forwards so often. The most reverend Primate said that he had the gravest doubts about the wisdom of allowing Secretaries of State to say what should be taught in schools and, by implication, what ought not to be taught in schools. I ask the Committee to reflect for a moment upon the kinds of requirements that would be laid down if we had a Secretary of State who was not a moderate, decent and (dare I say it?) liberally-minded man, but who was of the extreme Right or of the extreme Left. What kinds of subjects would appear then? Do we really want Secretaries of State saying precisely what is to be taught in our schools? I beg the Committee to support this amendment.

Viscount Eccles

This is a very important amendment because it strikes at the purpose of the first part of the Bill. At present there is no authority strong enough to see that the subjects that should be in the national curriculum are taught and well taught in all schools except for a very few. Therefore Clauses 1 to 18 are designed to fill that vacuum in authority and the full powers are shifted to the Secretary of State.

The amendment would reduce those powers to a degree where it would be possible to delay the introduction of the national curriculum and in some cases, I believe, render it quite ineffective. There is no denying that far too many boys and girls are failing to reach that level of proficiency in basic subjects like English and mathematics which they could reach were they better taught. That is the first reason for concentrating the power in the hands of somebody who is able to deal with this quite unacceptable situation.

A second reason is that the post-war advances in science and technology called for parallel advances in the teaching of those subjects and allied subjects; for example, craft and technical courses, and so on. Some schools—and all credit to them—have moved with the times, but others have not. Given our wish to bring our education up to the level of that in other countries, and to maintain it, it is very urgent that the responsibility should go to someone who can see the schools as a whole.

Under the amendment, LEAs, school governors and teachers are not to be obliged to implement the national curriculum but only "to have regard". Therefore the amendment opens the door to negotiations with authority after authority, school board after school board. We do not know how long the negotiations would take; we do not know whether they would be successful. The mover of the amendment, and I believe my noble friend Lord Joseph as well, fear that if the government powers are not limited in this manner, the national curriculum could become a straitjacket. They ask therefore for more flexibility.

There are two answers to that point. First, my honourable friend did not dream up the national curriculum in his bath. He took—and he has undertaken to go on taking—the very best professional advice. That is all in the Bill. His advisers will watch how the curriculum works and they will advise him how to modify it when those modifications appear to be necessary to the best judgment of those experts. That is the guarantee of a great deal of flexibility. Of course, teachers will be told which subjects they must teach, but there is not the slightest intention of telling them how to teach those subjects or what time they have to spend on any one of them. That is left to their professional judgment. The results of their teaching are to be monitored, and the reason for that is that without testing and assessment any national curriculum would be an exercise on paper.

The second answer to the mover of the amendment is that in practice there is bound to be much more flexibility than we can possibly envisage now. That comes out of the experience of how the other education Acts have been carried out. There is not a single section in the 1944 Act which has not been substantially modified in practice. Education is not a subject which can be set in concrete with rules, regulations and models. It never has been and it never will be. The motto for schools, I have always thought, should be "solvitar ambulando" within a framework either derived from tradition or worked out by authority. We have this Bill precisely because there is no framework today and the purpose of the Bill is to provide one.

The Committee should ask: who is objecting to the concentration of power in the hands of the Government? I think I can say. The main objectors are those local authorities and schools which most need to improve their results. Those are the schools which fear testing and assessment. The good teachers have nothing to fear. Indeed, the Bill will enhance their prestige and make their schools more popular. But the weaker schools and the weaker teachers are vulnerable. The teachers' unions know they are vulnerable. Therefore it is understandable that they should want to find ways to limit the powers of the Secretary of State to insist on changes which they view with justifiable alarm. This concession asked for—to have regard instead of having to put the curriculum into practice—is a concession which will let them off the hook. They will then be able either to put off the introduction—for a long time if they argue long enough—or at least to whittle it down.

It is important to realise that experience shows, particularly in relation to the religious sections in the 1944 Act, that local authorities and schools will not have regard to instructions of that kind if they do not want to. Any noble Lords who vote in an hour or two's time on amendments put down by the right reverend Prelate and by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, should take into consideration that if those amendments are passed, and if the local authorities and the schools only have to have regard for them, we shall have the same thing happen as happened under the 1944 Act: a minority only will do it.

I have kept the Committee for too long. Whatever the movers of the amendment may say, it is a wrecking amendment. It mutilates the power to carry out firmly and quickly the central purpose of this part of the Bill. If it comes to a vote I shall vote against the amendment, and so should any noble Lord who wants every child—I mean every child, not just the clever ones—to have the best possible start in life.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David. I have great sympathy with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, about the absolutely vital significance of the core subjects, which I differentiate, as he does, slightly from the foundation subjects for the reason of flexibility that has been called in aid by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. While I agree with him that this is a very important amendment, I feel he does less than justice to those who are putting it forward and especially to the teachers' unions. I have no connection with the teachers' unions or with anyone else, except parents and grandparents. But my experience, such as it is, from visiting schools and from the voluminous correspondence that I, like so many Members of the Committee, have received, is that this objection is shared not merely by teachers' unions which have something to fear but by a great many people who are concerned with the changing patterns of education.

We are living in a period where there are changing patterns. I confess that I was not fully aware or cognisant of the changes that were taking place until I applied myself to this subject a year or so ago. It is because there are changes of this nature that there is—I think the noble Viscount Lord Eccles, said that the subjects were not set in concrete—this difference, precisely because this country, and indeed the world, is going through a very difficult transitional period. In circumstances such as this I believe it is absolutely essential that we should not have subjects set in concrete whatever we may do about the core curriculum. It is clear that every child living in this world should leave school with a facility for English, mathematics and science.

It is not so clear that all the other subjects are necessarily subjects upon which there should be concentration. Many changes in education have taken place in the past 20 years. Most of them in my judgment are more fitting to the modern world than to the world of the 21st century into which the children who are now at school will have to grow up. We need flexibility in order to achieve this.

I put exactly the contrary view to that which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, explained to the Committee. Those of us who want, as indeed all of us do, the best education for our children should ensure that there is a degree of flexibility in the curriculum which can be used by everyone who is educating our children.

I wish to say two more words and then I shall sit down. First, I find among a number of people at the moment a belief that the education system and those who are teaching somehow are not capable of facing these issues and are looking at them only as a matter of advancing their own interests. I believe that to be profoundly wrong. I am deeply impressed by the care and the concern which those whom I meet in education are showing in relation to the education of those in their care. I believe that in this Chamber we should have regard to those who are practising education and who have more experience than most of us about what the requirements are. There is no doubt about the weight of educational opinion.

Finally—and with this I shall sit down—I begin to think that the world is turning upside down.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Hear, hear!

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

I think that that intervention comes very appropriately from the Floor of the Committee, because for 60 years I have listened to the former Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, telling me that it is the socialists who believe in bureaucracy; it is the socialists who wish to regulate everything; it is the socialists who wish to ensure that everyone operates on the same pattern, at the same time; that there shall be no departure from it; that we wish to grind the people down in equality. It is quite insufferable, he used to say.

I used to listen to him as he became more and more passionate about the subject. It was the Conservatives who did not wish to regulate anything. It was the Conservatives who wished to allow the good ordinary common sense of the average decent Englishman to prevail in the circumstances. It was the Conservatives, I always understood, who did not want the bureaucracy that was contained in Clause 12. Anybody—I address myself particularly to those on the Benches opposite, most of whom have been my colleagues in another place—who dares to vote for the clause as it stands at present will be betraying every speech he ever made in the past 40 years.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

I agree entirely with what the noble Baroness, Lady David, and other speakers have said about the need to allow flexibility in the curriculum. I shall not repeat the education arguments, except to stress that there is a real danger of promising developments being stifled through a perceived need to keep within a legal framework. The technical and vocational education initiative and the skills-based approach to learning are examples. That is to say nothing of the pressure that is bound to arise in respect of minority subjects with their new status as third-class options.

If academic freedom is right for the tertiary level, as many Members of the Committee believe, it should not be too far withdrawn at primary and secondary levels. A valid criticism of teachers—and one to which the Bill hardly addresses itself in its concentration on systems and procedures—is that sometimes their expectations of children are too low. Do not let us put our expectations of teachers so low that at every turn we try to bind what they do. That is not the way to achieve good results; expectations can be self-fulfilling.

Paramount though I believe the education arguments to be there is another aspect that I should particularly like to emphasise. It is a consequential issue that has already been touched upon but none the less it is important. Over the past eight years there has been a stream of education legislation. The 1980 Act, which gave parents the right to information and rights of appeal, produced a host of new procedures and paperwork to match. It also involved many extra man hours not all on a temporary basis. Then came the 1981 Act with its welcome impetus to the catering for the special needs of pupils with disabilities. The paperwork, meetings and formalities introduced by that Bill were nobody's business. Indeed, it would be truer to say that they were everybody's business. Time-scales became extended, adding to everyone's anxieties, and more central staff had to be appointed all over the country. Then there was the legislation of 1986 to which reference has already been made.

I say all that with feeling because during that time it was my job, as a local authority education officer, to help to work those Acts. I am not saying that their aims were bad. I am saying that, among other things, their consequences were bureaucratic. In the authority in which I worked we increasingly saw it as our job to shield our schools from the tidal wave of paperwork and routine administration. That is becoming harder and harder.

Whatever else it is, the Bill now before us is a bureaucrat's dream or nightmare. I suspect that it may also prove to be a lawyer's dream. I should like to draw attention to what must be done if the national curriculum is to be departed from. Depending on the nature of the case, the governors must meet (as provided for in Clause 9) and the local authority must meet. They must write reports to each other and they must write to the Secretary of State. They will then have to wait, and wait, while at the DES officials will meet, write reports and consult the local inspectorate. Alternatively, as provided for under Clause 12, the head, having familiarised himself with regulations of which we as yet know nothing, must report individually and in detail to his governors, to the LEA and to the parents. We shall see a great deal more of that kind of thing as we plough on through the Bill.

What worries me about the inevitable consequences of a tightly drawn curriculum—and it worries me very much indeed—is that all that is not what education is really about. We are entangling our key people in a web of administrative complexities, few of which I believe to be really necessary and we are distracting far too many people in the service from their proper focus. After all, education is largely about interaction between teacher and pupil whether inside the classroom or outside. It will seldom be tidy and it will seldom be watertight. I suggest that, as a touchstone, when looking at any new procedures of the kind with which we are here faced, the criterion should be whether the proposal will help or interfere with what is done every day in a school. If it interferes then, in the absence of any compelling reasons for change, it should be rejected. I do not believe that the educational reasons for change in this case are compelling—quite the reverse. I support the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Young

I very much agree with what has been said about this matter by my noble friend Lord Eccles. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that, perhaps regrettably, I never had the opportunity of sharing an experience with him in another place. Therefore I am speaking from my experience in this House alone. I take my starting point from what was said by my noble friend Lord Eccles. I believe that if the amendment were to be passed it would be a wrecking amendment. The national curriculum is a major part of a major reforming Bill on education in schools. Perhaps I may have the temerity to say to my noble friend Lord Joseph, whose views on so many matters I greatly admire, that I believe he is being slightly disingenuous to suggest that this is not a wrecking amendment, even though he may turn to argue his later amendments, which he undoubtedly will. To undermine and remove the provisions as regards a national curriculum is to amend the Bill in such a way that I believe it becomes a travesty of its former state. It is a wrecking amendment.

I should like to deal with the points raised by my noble friend Lord Joseph. He said that he believed in a broad curriculum; that he wanted to avoid early specialisation; and that he wanted to see a broad curriculum such as that seen in other European countries. All Members of the Committee who know about education will know that a major criticism has been of specialisation taking place too early in our schools. When I was in the DES I visited classes where all the boys were studying maths, physics and chemistry and all the girls were studying English, French and history. I correct myself because that is not absolutely true; I think that one could say it was 90 per cent. either way. I had the remarkable experience of meeting a headmaster who said to me, "Of course, girls cannot do maths". As I was being entertained at lunch by him I restrained myself from saying more than, "Clearly they cannot in your school". We may laugh but it is extremely serious to see girls so often dropping maths and the hard sciences and only studying the humanities and biology. It is equally serious to see boys dropping modern languages. If anything will be needed it will be more modern languages post-1992.

I believe that one way in which the Government have tried bravely to meet that real criticism is in putting down the foundation subjects. As soon as the foundation subjects are listed the Government are criticised for not being flexible enough. However, I believe that an enormous amount of flexibility has been written into the Bill. As an example I draw the Committee's attention to Clause 6. If one looks at the many areas in the Bill where this issue arises one will note the time to be spent on the subjects in the national curriculum; the emphasis on each individual subject; extra subjects and what must be covered by them; the different rates of progress for individual pupils (a matter which I am sure we shall debate at great length in respect of children with special educational needs); the modifications of the curriculum in different circumstances and its disapplication.

I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, said that minority subjects are likely to become third-class options. I express concern about what may happen to the classics and the other sciences, particularly physics and chemistry, and to a second modern language for those who wish to study that. We are most concerned about the last two years of school when specialisation becomes much greater. In that respect I believe that we need to look at the Bill and to the assurances made by the Government. I hope that my noble friend Lady Hooper will assure the Committee about the use of the minority time which, I believe, will amount to at least a day-and-a-half a week.

The truth of the matter is that one cannot write every subject into any kind of national curriculum. The subsequent amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady David, lists approximately 40 subjects and it is designed to make the whole issue look absurd. No school can undertake all those subjects; it is a question of the choice that one must make. When talking about what is happening in schools, particularly as regards the less able, one cannot talk only about what happens in this country. We must compare ourselves with our competitor countries such as Germany and Japan. It is the less able children who are falling well behind the standards of our competitors in such subjects as mathematics. It is very serious for them when they leave school totally unable to obtain a job because they have no qualifications at all and are not being stretched as they should be.

We have all been deluged with letters. One point which strikes me about all the letters which I have received is that teachers only compare themselves with the situation in this country and not with the situation in other countries. They do not look around the world as it is—an increasingly competitive world in which our children today will grow up and with which we need to compare ourselves.

I hope that teachers will look on the proposals of the national curriculum as being designed to help them. As my noble friend Lord Eccles said, the good teachers have nothing to fear from the testing and assessing proposals because they are doing well. Many teachers are doing well. However, sadly, too many are not doing well and two cases concerning children at school today have been brought to my attention in the last 10 days. The first example is that of a head teacher of a primary school who actually said to the parents that he thought the first year of school was a period of adjustment—whatever that may or may not mean. The other example is that of a head teacher who said that he did not believe in teaching any children to read until they were eight years old.

I hope that those are isolated cases, but the truth is that for the children in those schools it is very serious. It is exactly that kind of situation which the Government bravely have determined to tackle. I hope that we shall all support the Government and if it comes to a Division I hope that Members of the Committee will vote against this amendment which I believe wrecks a major part of this important reform.

Lord Glenamara

Perhaps I may intervene very briefly. I intervene largely because of the quite uncharacteristically outrageous remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. First, perhaps I may establish my credentials by stating that I started my working life as a teacher. Before I entered Parliament I was headmaster of a county secondary school. I am also one of the six or seven Members of the Committee who have served a term in the DES. Therefore I know a little about schools from a practical point of view.

I should like warmly to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said. These subjects are taught in schools at present. All the core subjects and most of the foundation subjects are already taught, and taught extremely well. I believe that our schools for young children up to the age of 11 are probably the best in the world. They are taught extremely well.

Imposing a national syllabus laid down by the Secretary of State will not improve the teaching. There may be four mini eleven pluses on the way but they will not improve the teaching in any way. The same teachers will be teaching. It may actually depress standards because teachers will be teaching from a syllabus with which they do not agree. Therefore, let us be quite clear and be rid of this fallacious argument that if we impose a national syllabus standards will rise. That does not follow at all.

The glory of English—and perhaps I should say English and Welsh because it is that about which we are talking—and Welsh education has been that, in content, the schools have always been able to reconcile a high degree of freedom in curricular matters with a great deal of consensus. That freedom is especially important in a country such as ours. First, in deciding its curriculum a school must take into account its teaching force and the ability of its teachers. What can they teach? What are their qualifications? Secondly, it must take into account the locality. It may be a farming area or a heavy industrial area or an area where there is much electronic industry. A school must obviously take that into account in its curriculum. If we have a standardised universal syllabus, that can no longer be done. Therefore, schools must have that freedom in curricular matters.

However, I said that they reconcile that freedom with a very high degree of consensus which the Secretary of State completely ignores. He talks about it as though it is not there and that every school in the country is doing something different. In this country we have an excellent inspectorate of schools. As I pointed out at Question Time the other day, they do not belong to the DES. Every school inspector is still appointed by the Queen in Council by name. They are independent and I know that they visit every school every year and issue a report from time to time. That report is considered by the governors of the school and by the local education authority. If, for example, the school's mathematics is deficient the report will say so in no uncertain terms. The governors will then see that that is put right. Therefore, the schools inspectorate imports a great deal of consensus into our schools: as I said before, broad guidelines for school curricula. However, they can still reconcile the freedom they have with that. Therefore, there is that consensus.

Secondly, in the secondary schools the examining bodies lay down their own syllabuses. Those syllabuses import a great deal of consensus. Therefore, it really is nonsense for the Secretary of State and the Government to argue as though all our schools are doing their own thing completely independent of everything; they are not. There is a high degree of consensus and at the same time there is a commendable and enviable degree of freedom.

This is not a wrecking amendment. As an ex-schoolmaster I am as devoted to raising standards as anybody in this Chamber. Indeed I devoted the whole of a speech to the NUT conference (in the days when it still invited me) to the raising of standards in our schools. I take second place to nobody in wishing to raise standards. This amendment is not a wrecking amendment and, if it is passed, it will be an improving amendment. I commend it to the Committee.

Lord Beloff

I find it extraordinary that once again the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, gives away his case. He says, and is probably right, that our education at the primary level is the best in the world. One then has to ask how enormously bad must education be at the secondary level when it fails to achieve, on this fine basis, the kind of results which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, seem available to children of equal ability in our neighbouring countries?

Therefore, there is a problem, whether or not the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, believes it. I believe that that problem is met by the Bill and that this is a wrecking amendment because it would tear out the heart of the Bill. I should like to appeal to my noble and perhaps I may say my old friend Lord Joseph to remove his name from both these sets of amendments for one particular reason to which I shall come. Many years ago when he was Secretary of State he rightly called the country's attention to the inability of our system to do the best by what he then called the bottom 40 per cent.—the 40 per cent. who do not achieve leaving distinctions of various kinds and so on. One could argue about it. However, it was quite clear that he thought, and presumably still thinks, that while we do fairly well for the most able, we do not do well by a very large number of children. I believe we do better for children with special education needs, and I cannot see why they have been brought into this argument since they are specifically provided for elsewhere in the Bill. I should have thought that the agreement now reached in government, not opposed on a Division in another place, to have a national curriculum was precisely intended to assist those pupils about whom the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, especially expressed concern.

If one looks at the list of subjects, including the foundation subjects, they are not the subjects one would choose if one intended to run a school for, let us say, the top 20 per cent. or 25 per cent., in terms of ability, of our children. One would want Latin, physics and chemistry rather than subjects which very able children might be expected to take up in their spare time. No; this is a curriculum containing subjects one would expect a child of average ability, or even below the mean, to be able to achieve with good teaching.

When the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, says he thinks those subjects might be outdated by developments in the way we live in science and technology, and when the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, says—as she said on Second Reading—that those are subjects she was taught as a child, I should like a suggestion, the merest suggestion, from either as to which subjects they would exclude from the foundation subjects and which subjects they would put in if occupying the post of Secretary of State and endowed with those extraordinary powers which they think he has. Or, would they suggest that in 10, 15 or 20 years' time, we shall know the world so well that geography becomes superfluous; so modern that history becomes superfluous; and so efficient in using our calculators that mathematics becomes superfluous? I find that situation imaginary.

We have here a set of subjects which on the whole—

4 p.m.

Baroness Seear

I must interrupt the noble Lord as he dragged me into his speech. The noble Lord has given away his own case. He says that the gifted children would be given different subjects. That is precisely what those of us pleading for flexibility should like to have.

Lord Beloff

The case for dealing with gifted children—if the noble Baroness wishes me to extend my remarks—can be met by flexibility in the time taken to cover the foundation subjects. If a child is able enough to reach the 16 year-old standard at the age of 14 in, for example, history, he can then study physics or Latin. That is the way to treat the able child—not by removing the foundation subjects which should be the subjects for the whole school. On the whole I believe this to be a basic concept—with perhaps bureaucratic problems arising from children with special needs, and so on—directed towards a perceived need. Both sets of amendments which seek to change it seem to run against the main aims of the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, on thinking over where his true allegiance lies educationally—that is, to those with whom he is most concerned—will see that he is not doing his best for those children by opposing the Bill.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I should like to give my fullest support to the amendment to which I have put my name. Although I should certainly support the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, should this one fail, I feel that the amendment we are now discussing is the best way of achieving a national curriculum for all children, including those with special needs.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, says that he does not see why children with special educational needs have been brought into the argument. The whole point is that Clause 2 states that the curriculum should be for all children. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said we should vote against the amendment if we want every child to have the best possible education. However, unless the national curriculum is more flexible I fear that these children—the children with special educational needs—will be the biggest losers.

There is no doubt that standards need to be raised for children with special educational needs. Under-expectation at some of the less good special schools has put the kiss of death on many a purely physically disabled but academically able child's job prospects. Indeed, it is one of the many arguments in favour of integration. I doubt very much whether the national curriculum, as outlined in the Bill, will raise standards for many children with such special educational needs. Indeed, the Bill acknowledges that fact. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, has pointed out, Clauses 10, 11 and 12 provide for the exclusion from, or modification of, the national curriculum for children with special needs.

Those organisations that should know are not happy about the situation either. They too would like a more flexible curriculum. I have with me a sheaf of comments from organisations concerned with handicapped children, maladjusted children and disadvantaged children. I shall not read them all to the Committee. I wish, however, to cite the National Deaf Children's Society which commented: The apparent inflexibility of the national curriculum is a particular cause of concern, with the accompanying emphasis on modification rather than an acknowledgement of the need for a developmental curriculum for special needs children". The National Association of Advisory Officers for Special Education, which surely should know what it is talking about, says: The suggestion that statemented children could or should be excluded from a national curriculum which is for all pupils would be tragic. It would lead to a return to the idea that a special child be likely to under-achieve. The suggestion would undermine the whole intention of the 1981 Education Act to bring the work of special education closer to the mainstream curriculum". The Centre for Studies on Integration in Education wrote to me last week stating that the effect of enabling these children to be denied mainstream curricula goes totally against the spirit of integration.

The likely outcome of that policy will be that children with physical or mental disabilities in special schools will simply be excluded from the national curriculum under Clause 11. In mainstream schools teachers will be so intent on concentrating on the national curriculum that pupils with special needs, who are excluded from it, may well become yet more marginalised than some are at present. Teachers will be more likely to feel involved and encouraged to draw the best out of pupils, including the academically able but physically disabled child, if they were required to have regard to the national curriculum rather than to have it imposed upon them.

Although I have the utmost respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I cannot agree that this is a wrecking amendment. One must have regard to the curriculum and "to have regard" means reasonably to take into account. There are safeguards for complaints, which the noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to, in Clause 16; but one also has the safeguards of the 1944 Act and Section 18 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986.

On Second Reading when the Minister introduced the Bill she said: We want to ensure that schools and teachers are able to exercise to the full their professional responsibility within and supported by a framework of agreed national objectives. That means removing unnecessary shackles wherever we can while maintaining a framework with national currency, so that parents may be confident that, wherever they live, their children are being given a broad and balanced education and stretched to the maximum of their ability." [Official Report, 18/4/88; col. 1212.] I do not recognise the national curriculum as spelt out in the Bill. However, I think it is a good description of what the amendment would enable us to achieve for all children. I hope all Members of the Committee will give it their support.

The Earl of Gowrie

Everything the noble Baroness has just said—we always listen to her on these matters with such attention—could be applied to the core subjects of the national curriculum. Yet, as I understand it, the purpose of the amendment to which she has lent her name is worry about the apparent lack of flexibility in respect of what are called "the foundation subjects". For just a minute, I wish to address the mind of the Committee to this rather worrying but pervasive feeling about the Bill: that it is rigid and in some way not flexible, and that such rigidity and lack of flexibility militates against children of special and exceptional ability—I think my noble friend Lord Beloff admirably dealt with that point—or the children who were the concern of my noble friend Lord Joseph. These children, while in no sense being educationally subnormal, were likely to find themselves at the lower levels of attainment.

My point is simply this. We should remind ourselves what these foundation subjects in fact are. They are within the grasp of children even of very low educational prospects and attainments. We are talking about history, geography, technology, a modern language, art, music and physical education. It has been said, not least by my noble friend Lord Eccles, that the real flexibility is at the coal face, so to speak. It is the sensitivity and professionalism of the teacher who is able to judge how his or her pupils are able to perform as they move towards the attainment levels required by the legislation. Surely one can teach history, geography, music, art and physical education in a non-academic way and so provide for the less academic child.

Speaking as one who is a long way from being a child, I can assure the Committee that if it were able to spy on my own early morning exercises it would find me of subnormal attainment in physical education. However, at least I try and from time to time I consult admirable teachers of physical education who tell me how I can improve my pathetic levels. To be serious, it is casting the less academic children of our country into a wilderness of undisciplined and inter-disciplinary subjects, a kind of lowest common denominating educational mishmash, to deny them involvement in the proposed curriculum. The subjects proposed are obvious ones and there is no reason why they should not be thoroughly interesting and involving to children of all levels of ability.

If we accept my noble friend's amendments and restrict ourselves to the core, the national curriculum will effectively not come into being because, as has been said, every school deals with the core subjects now, whether adequately or inadequately. We have to deal with the three core subjects and get the right levels of testing for them. We also need the foundation subjects, without which the word "curriculum" has no meaning. It sounds simple, but it is something of a revolution in education reform. There is no way we can achieve this without defining the basic subjects by statute. I beg my noble friend to think again.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I take issue with two points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. He said that it was only the bad, inadequate or inefficient local authorities and only the poor schools which resisted the idea of a national curriculum and of testing. I consider that to be a grave injustice. I have been in touch with many local authorities, with professional bodies from the highest to the humblest and with parents and teachers. In no case have I received any impression that it was the inadequate schools which were resisting the national curriculum. If anything, I would say that the situation is to the contrary and that they are the most concerned to give the best education to their children.

I should like to speak in particular on the subject of testing. My credentials on this subject are that I was for many years concerned with the teaching of children who had educational difficulties and whose attainment could not be expected to be high. I know that for them an overall standardised test was the worst experience they could have. They would be compared with their peers to their disadvantage, and that results in nothing more than further discouragement. It is most important that there should be testing but it is important that the testing should be diagnostic.

The object of such testing should be to discover why a child is not doing as well as expected. That is done by testing. I suggest that that is one very good way towards a solution of the problem which has been mentioned several times this afternoon—that of the lower 40 per cent. of our children who are failures. If one can discover at an early age why such children fail, one is half way to a cure. To say that they all have to take this test and all must achieve marks of over 50 per cent., or whatever it is, is no solution to the low achievers. It merely discourages them.

No one is suggesting that the foundation subjects should not be taught; but they need not necessarily be taught from the age of five to the age of 16 without exception. That is what seems so extraordinary to those of us who are worried about this curriculum. Of course all children should learn some history, some geography, some music, some art and so on. It is the fact that they must do so throughout their entire careers that is the mistake. It might be that at a certain age it becomes much more important for a particular child to study dance rather than to study art, to study drama rather than music or to do any one of the 81 subjects (I have counted them) referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady David, instead of those subjects which are laid down. It is the overall blanket requirement that all children should study all subjects throughout their entire careers that is the mistake.

Finally, I should like to say a few words about motivation. One cannot motivate children to do their best by having tests and standards which they must all meet. The two strongest motivations for children—and I speak as an ex-teacher—are first, the rapport with the teacher and, secondly, success. Children will want to learn if they feel that the teacher understands them and their needs and if there is an understanding and a rapport between them. If children succeed they will want to go on and succeed again. Success breeds success. However, if one gives them failure or the danger of failure—again, I refer particularly to the less able children—one will get failure.

I urge the Committee to consider these matters deeply before voting on this amendment, which I strongly support.

Lord Kilmarnock

Before the noble Lord replies from the official Opposition Front Bench, may I make this point? The noble Baroness, Lady David, moved this series of amendments with no reservations; she is fully in favour of them and clearly hopes to carry them. Conversely, the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, has put the Committee in something of a difficulty. He told us that he really prefers another batch of amendments which we are not at the moment discussing but which, if we reach them, we shall listen to with great interest.

However, the point we must all bear in mind is that if this amendment were to be carried all the subsequent amendments which tend towards some kind of greater flexibility in the national curriculum would fall. We would not have the opportunity of discussing those further amendments. In my view, there are a number of amendments which have considerable merit. There is an amendment led by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, which proposes a menu of foundation subjects so that instead of having to take six or seven subjects there is an obligatory minimum of four subjects and the schools can have a mix thereafter. That is an interesting and helpful formula. As one who is interested in health education, I should like to see health education put into that margin.

Therefore, there are a number of alternatives before the Committee which we have not yet been able to discuss and in making up our minds on how to vote on this series of amendments we should be clear that if they are carried we shall not have that opportunity later.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I must deal first with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. My understanding of the procedure, from what the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees said, is that it is only Amendment No. 2 that falls. My understanding—and the understanding of my noble friend Lady David—was that this amendment made the national curriculum advisory or a guideline rather than mandatory. It did not abolish the national curriculum or the foundation or core subjects.

I wish to raise the issue of why this is regarded as a wrecking amendment. Speaking as one who comes from Scotland where, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, reminded us at Second Reading, we have in effect a national curriculum, I am puzzled as to why it is wrecking to make the curriculum a guideline. If it is wrecking to make it only a guideline why is the Secretary of State for Scotland proposing to have the curriculum only as a guideline? Why does a guideline work for Scotland but there must be something mandatory for England? It appears that a guideline works in Scotland because those who are guided co-operate far better than those who are ordered. I refer to the teachers. Such a proposal would have much more hope of success.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

If the noble Lord will give way, he is, with the greatest respect, misleading the Committee somewhat about the position in Scotland. We do not call it the national curriculum. The common curriculum in Scotland covers areas of study just as the present proposals do. It is not an identical list. However, I went into this in some detail to make a comparison. What is intended here is precisely the same although it is expressed in different terms. The misleading part comes from the suggestion—as his noble friend Lord Glenamara suggested—that this was an imposed curriculum. It identifies areas of study in the way that the Scottish common curriculum does. It is not so very different.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The areas for secondary education, in respect of which the guidelines were endorsed by the Secretary of State last year, are language and communication; mathematical studies and application; scientific studies and application; creative and aesthetic activities; technological activities and application; social and environmental studies; religious and moral education; and physical education. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, may be interested in those.

I realise that I may have suggested to Members of the Committee on several occasions that Scotland is sometimes better than England. It seems to me that this proposal is a more modern approach to study. I have heard frequently from people in business and industry that what is wrong is that the people leaving education do not know how to apply the maths or the English. This is where education has fallen down. At school we have continually studied such questions as this. If two taps run water in and one plug lets it out, what is the result? When will it fill? I can remember at school being totally baffled as to why there was any purpose in that.

It is the application that is very necessary. This is where the Scottish guidelines—and I repeat that they are guidelines—are perhaps better than a mandatory "down" on subjects that I suggest are perhaps by name rather out of date.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

I was fascinated by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I was quite sure that he was not the man whom I knew as a very successful Secretary of State for Education, and who helped to carry the 1944 Act to its great success between 1945 and 1970. Since then there has been a disaster which as we all know has been largely due to two matters: the introduction of party politics for the first time; and the reduction of financial support from central government from 60 per cent. to 46 per cent., as it is this year.

However, there was one thing that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said that fascinated me. He could not think of anybody who was opposed to a rigid national curriculum except the people in a limited number of authorities who acted unreasonably. I thought that he cannot be so young that he does not remember Rab Butler and Chuter Ede—

Viscount Eccles

Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I said that the main objectors were those who were weakest. I never said that they were the only objectors.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

I can tell the noble Lord that the main objectors were Rab Butler and Chuter Ede. They had a very good reason for objecting. They were helping us to recover from a war which to a very large extent was the result of a rigid national curriculum.

Noble Lords


Lord Alexander of Potterhill

The national curriculum of Germany in 1935 required every child in every school in Germany to say every morning, "To live we must eat. To eat we must fight. Heil Hitler!" In four years Nazism was firmly established.

This Bill does not only lay down the national curriculum. It gives the power not only to the present Secretary of State to change the curriculum by order, but to all future Secretaries of State. I refer to the words that introduced the 1944 Act: on the future of the education service the future of the nation depends. If this Bill goes through without very major amendment I feel for the future of the nation.

Baroness Blatch

There are two issues at stake this afternoon. We have those Members of the Committee who want no prescription, and who say that if there is to be any prescription it should be confined to the three core subjects: English, maths and science. The other issue—and this is the genuine concern of the category of Members of the Committee to which I belong—is about flexibility. At Second Reading I joined with the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, on this issue. There are those of us who are concerned about a degree of flexibility in the application of these proposals especially at the top end of the secondary schools and in particular for the less academic child.

Since that time I have spent a considerable amount of time—I am a pragmatic person—looking at how this will work in practice. I find that the way in which the school organises itself is very much a matter for the school, the head teachers and the staff. The way in which an individual child's programme is designed is also very much a matter for the school, the head teachers and the staff.

I have looked with some interest through the list given by the noble Baroness, Lady David. I find, for example, that the study of science does not preclude the study of botany, chemical technology, environmental science, food and nutrition; the list could go on. The study of history does not preclude the study of British government and constitution, American studies, and European studies;—I could go on. The study of art does not preclude graphical communication, dance, drama, theatre, fashion design and so on. The study of technology will not preclude engineering, office and secretarial studies, jewellery, electronics and so on. Therefore the degree of flexibility, even within the core subjects, is considerable. It is possible to consider every single subject named by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and within the core curriculum it could be studied by a school. It could be designed innovatively by staff for both the most able and less able.

Concern has been expressed about special needs children. Clauses 11 and 12 deal with exemption for children with special needs. I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said earlier. She expressed concern as to why special needs children should be precluded from something that was meant for all children. I see the exemptions associated with those cases rather differently. There is provision for exemption or partial exemption, if that is appropriate, for the particular child. There is no reason why a child who may be subject to a statement for one reason or another should not be capable of following the curriculum and should not do so. The provision does not mean that they cannot follow the curriculum; it means that if it is appropriate that the child should be exempt the powers of exemption exist.

Clause 4 contains powers to modify the curriculum for those children for whom it is not appropriate for one reason or another.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Joseph

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I apologise for interrupting her, especially as we are to some extent in sympathy. Is she not unconsciously misleading the Committee? While it is true that in theory many of the subjects listed by the noble Baroness, Lady David, could be taught, the Secretary of State is taking power to lay down programmes of study for each of the foundation subjects. It is extremely doubtful whether he will, by a by-wind, allow in all the subjects mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady David, under the heading of "history" or something else.

Baroness Blatch

I take the point about prescription. I had intended to mention it. There is no doubt that there will be a high degree of prescription for the three core subjects. There will of course be a degree of prescription for technology, history, geography and so forth. There will be much less prescription for music, art, PE and religious education. Each time the degree of prescription is lowered more flexibility is allowed. That, taken with the time in school that is not taken up by the core curriculum, I am convinced, at least at this stage, will ensure that there will be enough time in the week to study basically a balanced core of subjects consistent with the core curriculum and tested to see that the children are achieving. That is an important part of the proposal.

I wish to finish by expressing my concern, as did the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, for the 40 per cent. of non-academic children. We shall best serve the children with the core curriculum and the foundation subjects. We know that they have a right to study those subjects. We know that they are aiming to achieve real objectives which will equip them for the world outside.

I wish to mention the two subjects that concern me. One is home economics (home making or life after school) which has to do with growing up as a responsible citizen and managing a family. I believe that that subject can be taken on board even within the core curriculum. It will be discussed in more detail later. The second subject is religious education. I shall of course support my noble friend Lady Cox in her requirement that Christianity should predominate as part of the core subject of religious education.

I am reminded of an organisation which I believe still exists—Education for Capability. The present proposals go a long way towards equipping our children for life after school. They have my support. I am satisfied at this stage that the degree of flexibility for which I showed a concern on Second Reading exists.

The Earl of Swinton

I hope that I can convince the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, by what I am about to say—I hope my noble friend Lady Blatch did—because I saw a miserable look on the face of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, and when I see her looking unhappy like that my heart bleeds. I share the concern that children with special needs should not suffer under the Bill but not from the same point of view as that put forward by the noble Baroness: that children with special needs would be unable to benefit from the national curriculum. I start from the other end of the scale. Children with severe handicaps—we must remember that under our present education system no child is regarded as ineducable—should not be made to struggle through the national curriculum without being able to comprehend it.

I was therefore delighted when I read Clause 11. If I read it slowly, it may convince the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy. It provides: A statement under section 7 of the 1981 Act of a pupil's special educational needs may direct as respects the pupil that the provisions of the National Curriculum—

  1. (a) shall not apply; or
  2. (b) shall apply with such modifications as may be specified in the statement".
One could interpret that clause as meaning that if there were no modifications specified in the statement the child could go through the entire national curriculum. On the other hand, if there are some bits of the national curriculum that it is thought the child could not do, they can be left out. That provision is admirable and in no way needs amending.

Baroness Blackstone

I support the amendment, but in doing so I want to assure the Committee that I do not oppose the idea of a national curriculum. There is a strong case for trying to develop a common curriculum and for ensuring that all children have access to it.

I should like to pick out something said by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander. What worries many of us is the degree not only to which the proposals are prescribed but the degree to which the powers are concentrated on one person—the Secretary of State. With all the discussions that have taken place about the amendments we are in danger of forgetting just how extensive are the powers that he is taking. Without going through them all, I should like to remind the Committee of a few of the powers.

The Secretary of State can define cases in which aspects of the curriculum must be modified in various ways. He will have the power to change the core and foundation subjects, the arrangements of schools in Wales and the starting ages for particular subjects. He will have the power to specify the modern language to be taught in schools and to appoint all the members, chairmen and deputy chairmen of the National Curriculum Council and of the Schools Examination and Assessment Council. Those councils will have to comply with any directions given by the Secretary of State. They may carry out research only if requested by the Secretary of State. He will have the power to vet and veto any external qualification offered in maintained schools. He will have the power to extend that control to 16 to 19 year-olds and so on. I could go on much further. Should we be writing all those provisions into our law so that this Secretary of State, however much we may like and trust him, and any of his successors can exert that degree of detailed control over what goes on in our schools?

It is with some hesitation that I describe this measure as Stalinist. That is a harsh judgment, and I want to be fair. Giving so much power to the Secretary of State and the small group of bureaucrats who serve and advise him may well be dangerous. As many noble Lords have said, the measure smacks of a bureaucratic approach. It is controlling the timetable rather than improving the quality of teaching and the learning experience on which dedicated professionals would wish to focus.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, everything hangs on our teachers. It would be wrong to turn them into routine workers—ciphers to transmit a curriculum that had been developed wholly by other people—rather than to create genuine partners in our teaching professions. I do not believe that these proposals will motivate our good, professional teachers; I do not believe that they will increase their sense of responsibility—and we need both those features.

A number of Members of the Committee, including the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, referred to what happens in other countries. I was interested in what he said about the French system. It is important for us to look at what happens in other countries. We should not be parochial and imagine that we always do things better than others. The interesting paradox is that the French have been moving fast away from a centralised system. They have come to us to find out how we operate in a more decentralised way—empowering our good professionals to play a part in deciding what children should be taught. They have done that because they believe that allowing more flexibility and responsiveness will improve standards in French schools. No other country has both a centralised national curriculum and a centralised system of national assessment. The Germans and the Japanese have elements of one or the other; they do not have both. What both those countries have done, and what I believe we should do, is to focus much more on improving the pay, the status and qualifications of our teachers. This is what has helped to raise standards in those countries. It is simply a matter of common sense, not of a rigid and complicated central structure.

A number of speakers on the Benches opposite have suggested that this is a wrecking amendment. I should like to repeat what has already been said. I do not believe that it is a wrecking amendment. It will actually leave the apparatus for the national curriculum intact. It will influence what happens in all our schools and that is highly desirable. The Committee would be failing in its duty if it did not ask the Government to think again. I do not believe that the Government had a mandate for such a centralised and inflexible straitjacket of a national curriculum as the one proposed here.

It is also the case, as a number of speakers have already commented, that parts of this Bill and other legislation will allow central government to intervene when a particular local authority, or a particular school, is not performing in the way it should. I believe that we should leave it to the operation of that legislation to ensure that the standards of the curriculum are met.

Finally, I should like to say something about the issue of special needs which has been raised on a number of occasions. What is proposed will be so detailed and so prescriptive that many young people with special needs at the lower end of the ability range will be excluded. Indeed, I remind the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, that the Government have already added clauses to the Bill so that they can be excluded.

Of course, these children can learn history, geography and many other subjects. But they will not be able to benefit from the programmes of study laid down to meet the needs of the average child, the slightly above average child and the slightly below average child. I hope that we can all support these amendments.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I had not intended to detain the Committee. There is only one point I wish to make. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, have driven me to my feet. There is one argument so disreputable that I hope both sides will reject it. The noble Baroness talked about Stalinism; the noble Lord talked about Hitler's Germany. Let us get absolutely plain, beyond any fragment of doubt: whether we insert this amendment into the Bill or not, it makes not the slightest difference to what would have happened and what would happen in the future if the electorate of this country were to elect either a Hitler government or a Stalin government. That is absolute hysterical nonsense.

We live in a democracy in which Ministers are subject to Parliament and parliamentary scrutiny. We shall not be saved on the basis of whether or not we insert subordinate legislation and ministerial powers. We shall be saved by remaining as we are, with Ministers responsible to Parliament and Parliament elected by the majority of the electorate.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

Perhaps I may remind the noble and learned Lord, the former Lord Chancellor, that Mr. Ken Livingstone came fourth in the election for the national executive of the Labour Party. Mrs. Margaret Thatcher was at about the same level in the Conservative Party when she was appointed Secretary of State for Education. I should not put too much money on the future when two out of five electors voted for the present Government. That is not a majority. It is a minority government.

Lord Glenamara

Although the noble and learned Lord has already sat down, perhaps I may ask him: what about the elected dictatorship?

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Perhaps the noble Lord will repeat his remarks since I could not hear him.

Lord Glenamara

I asked the noble and learned Lord: what about the elected dictatorship?

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

That is exactly what I was saying. Parliament in this country is legally omnipotent; Ministers are not.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

Perhaps I may briefly reply to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. He appeared most unhappy that I should be looking miserable. He said that I had nothing to fear from Clause 11. I am afraid, my notes having been removed from me, I was pretty slow coming back to him. I think that Clause 11 needs a fair amount of amendment, even if the amendments before us fail. I am worried not only about the child with special needs who can never achieve much but also about the academically able yet disabled child who needs stretching.

If parents feel that their child could cope but the school proposes to modify the curriculum in the statement, that is, I believe, at the moment equivalent to amendment of a statement under the 1981 Act. As the noble Earl will remember, under that Act parents cannot appeal against the ruling. They have to go through the whole process of applying for reassessment and then appealing against that. I have an amendment later to achieve that for the parents, if necessary.

The Earl of Swinton

I shall leave my reply to that until we come to Clause 11.

Lord Annan

We are taking part in a debate which has been going on since 1880 when Thomas Henry Huxley drew attention to the fact that science was not taught in our schools and hardly taught at Oxford and Cambridge. Huxley called for a more balanced curriculum. Being the sensible man he was, although an agnostic, he said that it should be made compulsory for students to read the Bible in state schools. The debate took place because for years we had a prejudice against vocational teaching. Many people have attributed the decline of British industry to the fact that we have the wrong curriculum in our schools. I do not believe that that is the only reason for the decline but it could be a factor. Here at last we have a chance to redress the matter.

Even when Mr. Butler as he then was passed his famous Act he had to spend his time in brilliant negotiation between the Church of England and the non-conformist communions. In the Act the structure of secondary education was left to the civil servants in the Ministry. The civil servant responsible for secondary education was extremely powerful and persuasive. The civil servant responsible for primary education was also very eloquent, but the civil servant responsible for technical education was neither powerful, persuasive nor eloquent. As a result, technical education lost out and the technical schools virtually disappeared from the structure of education in this country. I think that this distorted the curriculum, not so much for the high flyers but for the mass of the population who would benefit much more from technical education than from the subjects they are sometimes asked to learn in the secondary modern schools.

Here is a chance to redress the balance and to get a national curriculum which ensures that our children learn the basic subjects which nearly everyone would agree they ought to learn. It redresses one great imbalance. There are children today still dropping mathematics at the age of 14. That is due to a multitude of causes; the universities and the whole A-level structure are mainly responsible. However, in this curriculum at any rate, they will be asked to go on until the age of 16.

This curriculum will therefore leave children of school-leaving age literate and we hope numerate in these foundation subjects. I share the worries of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, about the position of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, on this matter. I may well be persuaded by what he has to say about preferring a core curriculum to a national curriculum but I find it difficult to understand why he has put his name down to this amendment. But no doubt that is because he is a distinguished fellow of All Souls and naturally as a Cambridge man I am way below the subtlety of a mind such as that.

As I say, I have much sympathy with the noble Lord's view about core curriculums. Therefore I do not feel that I could possibly support this amendment as at present moved. I cannot share the fear that the Secretary of State will now become a dictator in our education system, dictating what book will be read at what hour in a particular classroom all over the Kingdom. That is really a fantasy.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, that he is entirely right. The rot set in when education in schools and within local authorities became highly politicised. That is the reason why we are in these dilemmas today. The main part of our schools, however, have no need for a national curriculum. It is there already and they are carrying it out but there are some schools where it is very badly needed. It is needed because the education of teachers has been so distorted by educational theory and sometimes by politics that one cannot guarantee that in some schools these basis subjects will be taught in the way that they should be taught. That is why I shall vote against the amendment.

Lord Somers

We have spent nearly one and three-quarter hours on this amendment so I hesitate to speak. But I should like to suggest that we have rather wandered away from the amendment itself. I cannot see what difference this amendment will make to the Bill because that part of the Bill as it stands states that the carrying out of functions as regards the national curriculum shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, the local education authority and every governing body or head teacher.

The amendment will mean that those same three groups shall exercise the same functions. What is the difference?

Baroness Hooper

This particular debate may not have been going on quite since 1880 but it has been going on for a very long time. Nevertheless it has been long and stimulating, and quite rightly so, because the national curriculum stands at the heart of the Government's proposals and has indeed been widely welcomed, not least in this Chamber during Second Reading, as the means by which standards can be improved overall, low expectations raised, good teachers confirmed in their practices and parents more easily involved in what their children are doing in school every day.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, says, many of the points which we have debated in this opening debate will come up in later amendments. But to say that I was surprised by the terminal nature of these amendments is an understatement, most of all perhaps as some of them came from my noble friend Lord Joseph, who was the instigator of the White Paper Better Schools.

But the fact that the Opposition opened the Committee stage on this negative note was also a surprise. Perhaps the good sense of the Opposition in another place who chose not to vote against any one of the main elements, not one clause of Chapter 1 of the Bill, has not yet quite permeated through. As has been said, the amendments remove all obligation on LEAs, schools and teachers to put into effect the broad, balanced and relevant curriculum for all pupils which we believe is so badly needed. Successive governments of both parties have sought for many years to encourage schools and LEAs to offer such a curriculum to all pupils on a basis which recognises their different needs but also their common entitlements. We now need this Bill because what was achieved by exhortation did not go far enough. Still less did it go fast enough to keep pace with the needs of tomorrow's adults.

We have been at pains to make our proposals as flexible as possible. It is clear from the debate that there is still confusion and misapprehension about the Government's proposals, which is hardly surprising as a number of opponents of the Bill and people with their own special interests have sought deliberately to cause alarm and despondency in this way. But I should like to confirm that my right honourable friend did not dream up the national curriculum in the bath, as my noble friend Lord Eccles also said. These proposals have been considered, consulted upon and fully agreed by the whole Government as an important plank of government policy.

Perhaps I can start at the beginning with the White Paper Better Schools. It is a document which goes as far as, and in some cases further than, this Bill in setting out the curriculum for all pupils. For example, Better Schools said of pupils in years four and five of secondary school: The Government believes that every pupil needs to continue in these years with English, mathematics, science and, save in exceptional circumstances, with physical education or games; should study elements drawn from both the humanities and the arts; and should take part in practical and technological work in a number of subjects, for example in CDT … Most pupils should also continue with a foreign language". Subjects chosen to meet this prescription should, the White Paper said, take up some 80 to 85 per cent. of pupils' time. We are not going nearly as far as that. My noble friend Lady Young asked for some assurances on this point. I can confirm that we suggest that 70 per cent. of the time for years four and five will be adequate to take in the national curriculum. We are firmly convinced of the need for this kind of flexibility.

We shall be discussing different types and degrees of flexibility more fully on later amendments. But what these amendments give to schools and local education authorities is not flexibility; it is laxity—laxity for the curriculum for individual pupils to be lopsided and unbalanced, narrow, filled with the clutter of spurious choice, geared to low expectations of pupils' abilities, and detached from the needs of the real world. Is this the kind of flexibility and choice which those who have argued in favour of the amendments wish to see? Where is the accountability when there are no clear objectives? Where is the stimulus to excellence which surely we all want to see in our schools?

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, among others, said that in effect many schools already deliver the national curriculum and so we do not need to have it imposed. But we all know that in some schools freedom and choice mean licence and irresponsibility. We know that in many schools far too many boys abandon the study of languages at an early stage and that girls drop science in large numbers and never even start technology. We know from HMI that too much teaching is directed at the middle of the ability range and does not meet anyone's needs very well—the tyranny of mediocrity. We know that the standards achieved by our pupils are poor in international terms, particularly those of middling and lower ability, and the range of subjects studied is much narrower than those expected of and attained by all pupils on the Continent and elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, says that we want the best for our children. Hear, hear! but which children? What we recognise is that most of all we need to do better by our lower attainers, by the bottom half of the ability range whose needs are not now being met in the way that they are in other European countries.

The former vision of my noble friend Lord Joseph, to which he himself referred and which was set out in Better Schools, offered them the hope of a full curriculum designed to stimulate their abilities and aspirations and to accord them the respect of presuming that they could pursue the same worthwhile studies as abler children and indeed as their European counterparts. My noble friend Lord Joseph knows all those facts well. It was those facts which proved to him the need for Better Schools. That they remain facts, with no evidence of rapid progress since 1985 in response to the noble Lord's universally acclaimed policy, is what has convinced this Government of the need for legislation.

A good curriculum for all pupils is too important to be put as the end product of our education reforms. It is at the heart of them. Demonstrably, it is taking too much time for the crucial messages of, for example, the science policy statement, also issued by the Department of Education and Science during the period in office of my noble friend Lord Joseph, to make a real impact in schools. Such central exhortation, even when expressed in detail and widely promulgated, is simply not enough. It has not in the past ensured delivery of a good curriculum to all pupils throughout the maintained sector of education. I have not heard today any argument which convinces me that that will change.

If it does not change, those pupils for whom noble Lords express the greatest concern—the less able pupils—will continue to receive the worst deal from our education service. They present the greatest challenge to their teachers. It is easier sometimes not to find ways of presenting them with real but also realistic targets and assessing and recognising their achievements. But we must not leave teachers and schools that option.

That does not apply to all teachers or all schools by any means. However, it applies to enough to cause us real concern. It is no coincidence that such pupils do so much better in countries which have a national curriculum. When it is demanded by law, and therefore expected by all concerned, pupils of all abilities can and do study a full range of subjects at a worthwhile level at least to age 16.

I trust that the noble Baroness, Lady David, and others who have put their names to the amendments, have tabled them in order to find out more about the Government's intentions on how the national curriculum will work in practice. I shall say more on that subject when we discuss a subsequent group of amendments. However, I believe that it is in order for me to deal with the issue of flexibility of the national curriculum as it is expected to operate in practice.

Some of the main areas of discussion centre on the fact that the national curriculum is not a pupil's whole curriculum. There will be up to 30 per cent. of the average school week available for other subjects in years four and five and more time in schools which work longer hours. The idea of a longer school week is an interesting one, upon which we must reflect.

The national curriculum will not prescribe in great detail what schools and teachers do, as some speakers today have suggested. It will set out a framework and key objectives. However, it will not prevent considerable variation in what is offered, classroom by classroom, and school by school. Is that a straitjacket?

The national curriculum is not a series of 10 watertight compartments. Each foundation subject will contribute towards a number of cross-curricular themes, which will be capable of inclusion with other subjects in a variety of examination courses or of fitting into the sort of modular programme which TVEI schemes, for example, have adopted. That is hardly an inflexible approach.

On implementation, the national curriculum will not descend fully fledged upon the education service in September 1989. We are starting, quite rightly, with the core subjects and technology, and phasing those in, starting with the primary phase, over a number of years. Some subjects—art, music and physical education—will have guidelines only and there will be no compulsory studies or assessment arrangements, which may relieve my noble friend Lord Gowrie but which would otherwise dictate that pupils would spend longer on those subjects than fits with their chosen curriculum.

Programmes of study and attainment targets will allow for considerable differentiation by ability in each subject and I draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), in particular to the report of the Task Group on Testing and Assessment. They will cater explicitly for the below-average pupil and will have the objectives defined positively and not by reduction from an unrealistic goal. They will also allow the brighter pupils to progress as quickly as they are able.

For groups of pupils of particular types and in particular circumstances, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to define exceptions in any general orders or indeed exceptions from studying a particular foundation subject where necessary. That has been touched on previously. Therefore, the needs of pupils with particular problems of mobility or language development can be fully met. So can the needs of pupils who progress so rapidily that they have met the highest national curriculum targets before age 16 and need to move on to different challenges.

For individual pupils with severe problems, the Bill allows permanent modifications to the national curriculum through the statement of special needs or allows for temporary modifications by the head teacher. There are checks and balances built into the Bill to provide safeguards against any over-centralisation by any future Secretary of State.

Therefore, if the tabling of the amendments was not designed to ascertain those facts and if the proposers of the amendments truly wish to eviscerate provisions which have been so thoroughly discussed in another place without major dissent on basic principles, then I must invoke in aid my noble friends Lord Eccles and Lady Young, who in plain words said to the House that the amendments are wrecking amendments. I must ask your Lordships to join me in rejecting them.

Lord Joseph

I shall keep your Lordships only very briefly. I repeat that I support the aim of the Bill and nearly every part of it. I am amazed that the important subject of the national curriculum was not discussed in another place. To my noble friend Lord Beloff and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I say that the national curriculum will not meet the needs of the non-academic. There is not enough flexibility for that unless the school week and year are substantially and significantly extended. I believe that dilute academic subjects do not work except to bore some of the non-academic. The French offer their non-academic pupils a totally different curriculum, from which they appear to benefit.

I accept the Government's emphasis on core subjects. They are the gateway to every other subject. I accept that testing is the crux of the matter. Unfortunately, I have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that this part of the Bill is the very obverse of the freedom, the spontaneity and the decentralisation which the Government have made their watchword in all their other policies within the framework of the law. I accept that if the amendments are passed some schools will be lax and will not adopt the core and foundation subjects as we should like. Better that than the near-token inflexibility imposed on the curriculum—uniquely, I believe, in a free society—in this part of the Bill.

Since I have not been given any hope by the Minister as regards the group of amendments numbered 16 onwards, which we shall discuss in due course, I regret that I shall have to vote for the amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Perhaps I may ask the Minister—

Baroness David

I think that the time has come to answer the debate and I shall therefore remain standing. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, for making many of the points which I might have made and which I shall not now have to make.

Perhaps I may clear up one point regarding what my honourable friend Jack Straw said in another place about the national curriculum. At col. 781 of the Official Report of 1st December 1987 he attacked the plans to impose a centralised state syllabus. At col. 788 he said: What we seek is flexibility, a framework; what the Government have been prescribing … is some kind of straitjacket". It seems that the chief argument against the amendment is that it is a wrecking amendment. I repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech earlier this afternoon; it is not intended as a wrecking amendment. It keeps intact the whole apparatus for establishing the national curriculum. There are many safeguards. There are the safeguards which I mentioned in the 1986 Act, the safeguards for dealing with complaints in Clause 16 of the Bill and the safeguards for complaints which can be made under the 1944 Act. We have also Her Majesty's inspectors, who can keep an eye on what is going on. The framework remains.

The powers of the Secretary of State—whatever has been said from the other side—are very great. Some of them were listed by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. As it stands the Bill is very bureaucratic, and I was very interested to hear the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, who has had extremely recent experience of working in a local authority.

I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, that it is correct that only Amendment No. 2 falls if this amendment is passed. There can still be discussion on all the other amendments which have been tabled.

There has been much talk of flexibility and inflexibility. I have been rather puzzled by some of the speeches in which Members of the Committee seemed to say that there is flexibility in the Bill as it stands and that that is desirable. If that is so, I cannot think why they cannot support the amendment. I hope that many will support me as I shall press the amendment.

5.11 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided; Contents, 144; Not-Contents, 218.

Adrian, L. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Airedale, L. Irving of Dartford, L.
Alexander of Potterhill, L. Jacques, L.
Alport, L. Jay, L.
Amherst, E. Jeger, B.
Ardwick, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Bancroft, L. John-Mackie, L.
Banks, L. Joseph, L.
Basnett, L. Kagan, L.
Birk, B. Kearton, L.
Blackstone, B. Kilbracken, L.
Blease, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Bonham-Carter, L. Kirkhill, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kirkwood, L.
Bottomley, L. Leatherland, L.
Bramall, L. Listowel, E.
Briginshaw, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Broadbridge, L. Lockwood, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Longford, E.
Bruce of Donington, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Buckmaster, V. McCarthy, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Campbell of Eskan, L. McNair, L. [Teller.]
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mais, L.
Carter, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Chitnis, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Mayhew, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Meston, L.
Cudlipp, L. Milford, L.
Dainton, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Monkswell, L.
David, B. Morton of Shuna, L.
Davies, L. Mulley, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Nicol, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Oram, L.
Denington, B. Paget of Northampton, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Peston, L.
Donoughue, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Elwyn-Jones, L.
Ennals, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Esher, V. Rathcreedan, L.
Ezra, L. Rea, L.
Falkender, B. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Falkland, V. Rochester, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Russell, E.
Fitt, L. Scanlon, L.
Foot, L. Seear, B.
Gallacher, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Galpern, L. Serota, B.
Glenamara, L. Shackleton, L.
Goodman, L. Shepherd, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Soper, L.
Greenhill of Harrow, L. Stallard, L.
Grey, E. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Grimond, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hampton, L. Swann, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hayter, L. Thurlow, L.
Hooson, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Tweeddale, M.
Howie of Troon, L. Underhill, L.
Hughes, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Hunt, L. Warnock, B.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Hylton, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Whaddon, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
White, B.
Wigoder, L. Winstanley, L.
Williams of Elvel, L. Winterbottom, L.
Wilson of Rievaulx, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Abercorn, D. Glenarthur, L.
Abinger, L. Gowrie, E.
Ailesbury, M. Greenway, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Gridley, L.
Aldington, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Hankey, L.
Allerton, L. Hanson, L.
Ampthill, L. Hanworth, V.
Annan, L. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Arran, E. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Attlee, E. Harvington, L.
Auckland, L. Hastings, L.
Aylestone, L. Havers, L.
Bauer, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Hesketh, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hives, L.
Beloff, L. Holderness, L.
Belstead, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Blatch, B. Hood, V.
Blyth, L. Hooper, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Ilchester, E.
Braye, B. Ironside, L.
Brookes, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Broxbourne, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Killearn, L.
Butterworth, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Caccia, L. Kimball, L.
Caithness, E. King of Wartnaby, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Lauderdale, E.
Canterbury, Abp. Layton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Carnock, L. Lloyd George of Dwyfor, E.
Cathcart, E. London, Bp.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Long, V.
Chelwood, L. Lothian, M.
Chichester, Bp. Luke, L.
Chorley, L. Lyell, L.
Coleraine, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Colnbrook, L. McFadzean, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Cottesloe, L. Malmesbury, E.
Cowley, E. Mancroft, L.
Cox, B. Manton, L.
Craigavon, V. Margadale, L.
Craigmyle, L. Marley, L.
Craigton, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Cranbrook, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Crathorne, L. Merrivale, L.
Croft, L. Mersey, V.
Croham, L. Middleton, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Milne, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Milverton, L.
De Freyne, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Montague of Beaulieu, L.
Derwent, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Dundee, E. Moran, L.
Eccles, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Moyne, L.
Elibank, L. Munster, E.
Ellenborough, L. Nathan, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Nelson, E.
Elton, L. Norfolk, D.
Erroll, E. Norrie, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Northesk, E.
Faithfull, B. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Orkney, E.
Ferrers, E. Oxfuird, V.
Flowers, L. Pender, L.
Forester, L. Pennock, L.
Fortescue, E. Penrhyn, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Perry of Walton, L.
Gibson, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. Stockton, E.
Stodart of Leaston, L.
Porritt, L. Strange, B.
Pym, L. Strathcarron, L.
Quinton, L. Strathspey, L.
Radnor, E. Sudeley, L.
Raglan, L. Suffield, L.
Reay, L. Swinfen, L.
Rees, L. Swinton, E.
Reigate, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Reilly, L. Terrington, L.
Renton, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Renwick, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Rochdale, V. Trafford, L.
Romney, E. Tranmire, L.
Roskill, L. Trefgarne, L.
Rugby, L. Trumpington, B.
Sainsbury, L. Truro, Bp.
Saint Brides, L. Ullswater, V.
St. Davids, V. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
St. John of Fawsley, L. Vernon, L.
Saint Levan, L. Walston, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Ward of Witley, V.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. Watkinson, V.
Sandford, L. Westbury, L.
Sandys, L. Wilberforce, L.
Seebohm, L. Winchester, Bp.
Shannon, E. Windlesham, L.
Sharples, B. Wise, L.
Shaughnessy, L. Wolfson, L.
Sidmouth, V. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Wynford, L.
Somers, L. Young, B.
Somerset, D. Young of Graffham, L.
Stedman, B. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.22 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of London moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 17, leave out from ("them") to ("with") in line 18 and insert ("by this Chapter with respect to religious education and the National Curriculum)").

The right reverend Prelate said: With the agreement of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 11 and 93, and to Amendment No. 285, which refers to Schedule 11.

I hope that I have the general support of the Committee for the amendments, which have the good will of the Government. They are the result of very profitable and constructive discussions which we have had with the Secretary of State. The amendments also arise from agreement between the Churches. They originated in the Churches' Joint Education Policy Committee, of which I am chairman. The committee was of one mind and put its views to the Secretary of State. I also hope that I may have support for the amendments from those who would be disposed to support the later amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. Her amendments take for granted, as it were, a good deal of what I propose now.

We welcome Clause 1 of the Bill with its specific reference to the spiritual and moral element in education. However, reading further, we were disappointed because it was very difficult to find any subsequent reference to religious education or indeed to worship in the Bill as originally drafted. The provision for the implementation of that phrase in Clause 2 was very inadequte indeed. The legal provision for the implementation of that phrase depended entirely on unrepealed parts of the 1944 Act. In our judgment it was essential to reaffirm positively the provisions of the 1944 Act with regard to religious education, both because of its intrinsic importance and because if left where it was, religious education would have become virtually neglected in the provision of resources with regard to the supply and training of teachers and for doing the work.

The amendment which I am proposing seeks to remedy that situation. Amendment No. 2 has the effect of including religious education in the basic curriculum by referring to both religious education and the national curriculum. I must confess that we hoped that religious education might have been included among the foundation subjects but we were content to have it in this place as part of the basic curriculum.

Amendment No. 11 also places religious education firmly in the basic curriculum; that is simply to ensure that it is part of the curriculum for every maintained school. I do not think I need to refer further to that.

Amendment No. 93 provides for the retention of the procedures which were produced under the 1944 Act. But they are not merely reaffirmed. As I shall indicate, they are much strengthened. No one would deny that what the agreed syllabuses have produced has not been without blemish and needs a good deal of attention. Nevertheless, I still stand by the agreed syllabus procedure as a good and sound way of determining the content of religious education for the agreed syllabus in county and voluntary controlled schools. If I may say so, I much regretted the suggestion in a letter in the newspaper this morning that what Christian element there was in the agreed syllabuses had been included somehow by a nod and a wink. That is very unfair to the many people who have worked hard and long to try and ensure that the content of the agreed syllabuses is as good as possible. However, I agree that the agreed syllabuses are not always satisfactory.

I have some difficulty in not straying into what I want to say concerning the later amendment, Amendment No. 28, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I shall try to stick to my brief, though I give notice that I shall want to say something about the agreed syllabuses and their content and the ways in which they can be improved, as I have a good deal of sympathy with her position.

For the moment let me confine myself to the way in which this amendment not only reaffirms but strengthens the agreed syllabus procedure. Perhaps I may remind the Committee that the agreed syllabus procedure required an authority to set up a conference composed of four committees, each of which had to consult about the nature of the agreed syllabus. The conference then had to meet and to agree on a syllabus which was then put to the local education authority. One of the committees represented the Church of England and one represented other denominations.

The weakness of that provision was that when the agreed syllabus was produced the authority was under no obligation to use it and in some cases the authority did not use it. That was not exactly encouraging to those who had laboured long and hard to produce it. Further, if that agreed syllabus was found subsequently to be deficient, inadequate or unsatisfactory in some way, it was open to the local education authority to have it re-examined, reviewed and also to convene the conference. However, it was under no obligation to do so even if representations had been made to the conference.

The effect of my Amendment No. 93 is, first, to make it mandatory to require the local authority to use an agreed syllabus which has been produced by the standing conference. Secondly, there is a requirement that it shall be reviewed. I believe that those two provisions are a great improvement upon the provisions for agreed syllabuses. Further, because Amendment No. 93 comes after Clause 6, it will bring religious education under the provisions for the complaints procedure. I believe that to be to the good.

I believe that this measure provides an adequate framework in which we can now move ahead not only to preserve what has been achieved in the past but actually to improve upon it quite considerably. However, that depends upon certain matters. I do not take such a melancholy view of the weaknesses of the agreed syllabuses as has been suggested recently. There are some that I regard as most unsatisfactory but they are in a very small minority. I believe that the great majority of them are good.

The reasons for there being some unsatisfactory syllabuses and the reasons for some not being better, are not wholly to be found in one party or another. Sometimes, as I have indicated, it is the fault of the local education authority. I must confess that sometimes it has been the fault of the Churches. I make no apology for saying that. Not all the Churches and not all the dioceses in the Church of England have taken as active and as vigorous a part as they should have done over the years—I particularly have in mind the 1960s—in taking advantage of the very great opportunity which was given to us by the agreed syllabus machinery. Neither do I believe that we have done enough in encouraging good Christian young men and women, and older people as well, to train as teachers in RE. I believe that whatever the mechanism that is set up and whatever provisions are made in legislation about religious education, ultimately it depends upon the commitment of those who are teaching it.

If my amendments are carried I accept that a very considerable obligation and a greater burden will be laid upon the Churches. I can assure the Committee that that is something that we shall accept. Some bishops have already started to anticipate the changes in a proper kind of way. They have written to their dioceses encouraging them to seek out and encourage suitable people to teach. They are taking steps to ensure that a more active and vigorous part is played in the production of the agreed syllabuses.

I feel very strongly that we in the Churches cannot expect the state to do our work for us. I believe that the duty of the Government is to provide the framework in which we are able to respond. I believe that the amendments which I now propose provide a workable and constructive way of dealing with religious education. As I have said, first, it is necessary to put it firmly within the basic curriculum. It comes before the national curriculum is mentioned. That is reaffirmed in my Amendment No. 11. The agreed syllabus machinery is reaffirmed in Amendment No. 93 and I believe it is greatly strengthened in a way which can only be constructive and helpful. The last Amendment No. 285 deals with the relationship to the Education Act 1944.

As I said at the beginning, the amendments which I am proposing have the goodwill of the Government. They are agreed with the Churches and with education bodies. We have taken great pains to consult very widely over these provisions. I hope that whatever some may feel about the content of the agreed syllabuses—and they may wish to press those matters further, and I shall respond—I believe that no-one, whatever his feeling, provided he is committed to seeing religious education in our schools, need have any hesitation in supporting these amendments.

Perhaps I may make one final point. While dealing with the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, I wish to say how much I welcome her inclusion of worship and the ways in which she suggests that can best be brought within the scope. However, at the moment the Committee is not concerned with that, it is concerned with religious education and the agreed syllabuses. I beg to move.

Lord Morton of Shuna

We do not oppose these amendments but we should like some clarification as regards Amendment No. 93 which proposes the setting up of a standing advisory council on religious education. That is wholly acceptable. However it changes Section 29(3) of the Education Act 1944 which allowed the local education authority to decide on the method of appointment of the standing advisory council for its area. Is it necessarily a good thing to have a rigid method of appointment and set-up for all the different local education authorities? We on this side of the Committee rather doubt that it is. As the right reverend Prelate is well aware, there are areas where there are different situations and different kinds of society. Would such a provision fit an area such as Bradford, for example, which has a large non-Christian population which has its own religious beliefs? On that point subsection 4(a) of Amendment No. 93 refers to "religious denominations". As a Presbyterian I am quite prepared to be described as a "denomination", but whether a Buddhist, a Mohammedan or even a Jew would like to be regarded as a "religious denomination" I do not know. I suggest that "such religions and denominations" would be a happier frame of words.

Baroness Cox

I very warmly welcome the amendment tabled in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, especially those that refer to the inclusion of religious education as first among equals in the basic curriculum. That should at least help to remedy what is at the moment a very unsatisfactory situation whereby many schools breach the requirements of the Education Act 1944. For example, the religious education statistics' bulletin showed that 62 per cent. of fourth year children and 58 per cent. of fifth year children at the moment are not taught any religious education at all.

Therefore this enshrining of religious education is a significant and a very valuable measure. But I believe it is not enough to ensure that religious education is taught without any reference to the content and particularly to the safeguarding of the teaching of Christianity as the major spiritual tradition of this land. Hence there is an amendment, Amendment No. 28, in my name and that of other noble Lords, which we shall be discussing later. I have no wish to pre-empt the discussion or the debate on that amendment.

Therefore I briefly mention one or two minor reservations I have concerning the amendments before us in the name of the right reverend Prelate. I am particularly concerned that these provisions lay great store on the local arrangements for implementing agreed syllabuses for religious education and the role of Churches on those committees. But the Churches have already been closely involved, or have had the opportunity to be closely involved, in these committees which have drawn up the syllabuses ever since the 1944 Act. Many of them have been party to the developments which have caused considerable concerns; for example those illustrated in the article in The Times yesterday by Clifford Longley and in the letter by the nine bishops in The Times this morning. It is difficult to see why some of these bodies should feel inclined to change their approach. Specifically I wonder whether the new standing advisory committees or councils that will be constituted may make it more difficult to revise some of the unsatisfactory locally agreed syllabuses. I note that the right reverend Prelate agreed that some of the syllabuses are indeed unsatisfactory.

I am particularly concerned about the requirements in Amendments Nos. 93 and 94, which I believe, if I read them correctly, specify that a unanimous decision will be needed. That I would interpret as giving a power of veto to secular organisations such as the local education authorities or teachers' union representatives. I wonder whether I may ask the right reverend Prelate if he considers that to be a problem and whether he could give any assurance or reassurance on that matter. But, given such reassurances and in the hope of a satisfactory conclusion to the debate on Amendment No. 28 later, I am happy indeed to welcome and strongly support these amendments.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

It is very agreeable to be able to listen to a speech from the Episcopal Bench with which one wholly agrees. I am indebted to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for giving me that agreeable experience which I hope will often be repeated in the coming months.

I rise to say how fully I support the amendment. It is right that religious education should be put in its proper place in the Bill and in the Act, as it will be, and it is extremely important that this should be so. The Bill, as it started, appeared on the face of it to go back a little on the 1944 Act in this respect and it is therefore very right indeed—I hope my noble friend the Minister will accept this—that the amendment should be accepted.

I want to add only one further matter, again without anticipating debate on a later amendment. This is a good amendment. It is an improvement to the Bill, but it does not go far enough in as much as it does not lay down that religious education so given should be Christian. It is perfectly true that the 1944 Act did not so provide, but I believe the reason is quite simple. In 1944 it was taken for granted that religion and religious education meant Christian and Christianity. Now in our different circumstances today that is no longer so. Therefore it seems important that this should be spelt out. I do not wish to waste the time of the Committee in anticipating a later amendment.

Finally I very much agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, when he referred to the use of the word "denomination". It might give offence in certain quarters and perhaps the right reverend Prelate will look at that.

5.45 p.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

I rise to join in the support which has been given to the right reverend Prelate in moving this extremely valuable and important amendment. Religious education is given a primacy in this Bill by this amendment which I certainly welcome. While one welcomes a primacy, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury will recognise, a primacy is not without its ambiguities. One wonders what exactly the relationship is between the basic curriculum, the core curriculum and the foundation subjects. What are the sanctions and consequences of each? It would perhaps require a mind of Jesuitical complexity fully to fathom these relationships. One would welcome some clarification from the right reverend Prelate when he speaks at the end of this short debate.

I welcome the fact that he has used the term "religious education" precisely because it is so comprehensive. Like my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I do not wish to anticipate debates on later clauses. But the religious tradition in this country on which our morality is based cannot be described as an exclusively Christian tradition. It is a Judaeo-Christian tradition of morality. That must be recognised. The Old Testament is essential to an understanding of the New. Our Christian morality is not understandable or comprehensible without the Judaeo morality which preceded it and indeed on which in so many respects it is founded.

This was brought to my mind very vividly when I opened recently an exhibition of Jewish art. At the end I was presented with a mezuzah, which it is customary in Jewish homes to put beside the doorpost. I wished to erect this in my own home, but I had some doubts as to the propriety of so doing. On consulting a noble friend, a Member of the Committee, he did not hesitate. He said, "A very great co-religionist of yours touched a similar object every day of his life". I said, "Who was that?" He replied, "Jesus". That brought home to my mind in a way that nothing else could the connection between the two dispensations. What is important is that the religious foundation of morality should be maintained.

It was the 17th century which coined an aphorism, "No Bishop, no King". Our own could coin another. "No religion, no morality", and certainly history affords no example of a society which has permanently maintained morality without a religious basis.

I entirely agreed with the right reverend Prelate that whatever may be provided on the face of the Bill, however strict the legal phraseology is, they will serve as nothing unless they are clothed with a living reality in schools. That must mean an adequate supply of teachers of religion. I should like to hear from the noble Baroness how the Government intend to tackle the undoubted shortage of teachers of religious education which exists at the present time and which will be worse if the amendment of the right reverend Prelate is accepted, because more teachers will be needed. I agree entirely with his view that the Churches must take the initiative in that respect.

I should like to raise one query and it is this. What is the examination status of religious education under this proposition? Is it to be tested in the same way as subjects in the national curriculum? Unless provision is made for tests and examination I do not believe that the subject will be able to hold its own academically with other subjects and that it will be in danger of failing and withering away.

Having raised that question I should like to return to where I began. Although I am not a member of the Church of England, I am grateful for the initiative taken by the right reverend Prelate and for the skill which he has shown in advancing his views. He has done so in such a manner as to show that they are tenaciously held and shared by others but which has given offence to no one.

Lord Jakobovits

The last speech, which was for me the most heartwarming, has made it easier for me to say a few words in the debate, despite the fact that I rise with considerable diffidence because I face a double dilemma. One is purely pragmatic in that my public and communal commitments are such that, unfortunately, I was unable to attend the entire debate on Second Reading. However, I made up for that by reading through the massive proceedings—the 80-odd speeches recorded in Hansard. Because of another urgent engagement which was set many months ago, I shall be unable to stay for the whole of the debate this evening.

My second predicament is that we are touching on delicate ground. It is obviously thin ice on which Christian angels fear to tread and Jewish rabbis may sink and drown if they are not careful. Therefore I crave the Committee's indulgence in taking advantage of these precious minutes to address myself in wholehearted support of the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate and perhaps to anticipate debates which will follow in respect of other amendments, as other speakers have so anticipated.

I should like also to share a few general reflections on the place of religious education in the raising of tomorrow's citizens. Earlier in the debate the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, told those on the Benches opposite that they should not betray what they have been saying for the past 40 years. I must be careful not to betray what has been said for the past 4,000 years. It will not be easy to compress my comments into the few minutes at my disposal.

I am the product and the spokesman of a tradition which has cultivated a passion for education. It is a tradition which places the precept of parents teaching their children, as we have been reminded, and teaching them religion, in a scroll called a mezuzah which is placed at every doorpost of a Jewish home before you enter. It states: And thou shall teach these words diligently to your children". It is a tradition which ranks the sanctity of a house of religious learning higher than a house of worship. We believe that a house of learning is holier than a house of worship. It is a religion which some 2,000 years ago made provision for communal schools for religious instruction mandatory.

As heir to that tradition I welcome with enormous delight the new Bill's striving for educational excellence in general and its enhanced emphasis on the paramount importance of religious education in particular. I am sure that Members of the Committee will not expect me to mediate or to take sides in an internal argument concerning the role of teaching a faith other than my own. However, some observations may be relevant both to the national scene and to the effect on my community and other religious minorities.

Obviously I particularly welcome a provision which would require non-denominational maintained schools to provide religious education for minority groups at the request of parents and where the number would warrant it. Also particularly welcome for the burgeoning network of Jewish-maintained schools would be the requirement for the state or the local authority to assume responsibility for providing for religious education to be included in the school curriculum.

However, as regards the main thrust of the amendment I should like to say this. The principal enemy of all religion is no longer heresy or apostasy; it is simple paganism. It is the refusal to believe in any faith or in any accountability before our Creator. That leads to the moral anarchy which is now so rampant and pernicious. Therefore religious education must be the transmission of a commitment even more than of mere knowledge. A religiously-indifferent teacher can hardly instil religious convictions and sensitivities.

Moreover, if we consider religious faith and precept as the spiritual lifeblood of the nation and all its citizens, then effective religious instruction can no more be administered by and to persons of a different faith than can a blood transfusion be safely given without first ensuring blood-group compatibility. Indiscriminate mixing of blood can prove dangerous and so can the mixing of faiths in education.

I should like to apply that in practice from a Jewish perspective. I shall do so by quoting from a "Thought for the Day" talk on Radio 4 given last Thursday by my learned colleague, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, principal of Jews' College. He described how he was raised at a primary school which was devoutly C of E and where Jewish boys had their separate Jewish asemblies. He said: The effect of this schooling on our Jewish identity was curious. It made us, of course, acutely aware that we were different. But because those around us were taking their religion seriously, it made us consider our Judaism seriously too". Then he added: So it isn't so strange that all this produced a rabbi. From living with those who valued their traditions I learnt to cherish my own". Continuing, he said: What brought this to mind was the report … called Crisis in Religious Education, in which two Newcastle teachers complained that children in today's schools are losing the chance to grow up as practising Christians. They might, I think, have gone further still; for if Christianity suffers, so, in a curious way, does every other faith as well". He continued: It happens with the best of intentions. How else, in a multicultural society, should we promote tolerance than by teaching children something about every religious group with which they are likely to come into contact; a touch of Christianity; a dash of Judaism; a slice of Islam; and so on through a fruit cocktail of world faiths. But the whole that emerges can be less than the sum of its parts. For it misses out on the most crucial element of all: the fact that for each of us, there is usually only one faith that resonates with personal meaning; the faith of our community, our culture, our family, our past. In trying to teach all faiths, it's possible that we succeed in teaching none". Finally, he concluded: From schools that had confidence in their Christianity, I learned an answering pride in my Jewishness; and I discovered that those who best appreciate other faiths are those who treasure their own. Might not teaching children their own traditions do more for tolerance, and for faith than teaching them everyone else's? Of course, I want to see included in religious instruction not only what distinguishes us, what separates one faith from another, reflecting the dominant ethos for the majority and the particular beliefs and observances for the minorities, but also what we have in common. I believe that particular attention should be given to the moral dimension in preparing the rising generation for responsible marriage and responsible citizenship. For example, these days youngsters receive little if any guidance on dating, courtship, the choice of a partner and the expectations within marriage. Instead they simply rely on momentary infatuation and snap decisions with the result that so many unions contracted in this casual manner soon founder with catastrophic results for the stability of society. Broken homes cost the nation far more, socially and economically, than AIDS.

Altogether, because formal education has become largely a system of career training rather than the nurture of the total personality and its harmonious interplay with the rest of society, we develop and exploit only a small fraction of the child's mind with much of the brain remaining unused, going to waste and often to mischief. To me, religious education in the widest sense should embrace efforts to excite the intellect with the wonders of nature; to inspire the awe of the human genius as expressed in art and literature. It should cultivate an insatiable appetite for learning and a thrill in the pursuit of knowledge through reading and study for its own sake until killing time becomes as reprehensible as killing life because time is our most precious commodity next to life itself.

In such a philosophy of education, moulding the parent is just as important as teaching the child, never forgetting that the true education of a child begins 20 years before it is born. Likewise decisions made now at this late end of the 20th century will determine the quality of life and the moral fibre of our citizens in the 21st century. In this spirit I commend the advice of the Preacher in the 22nd chapter of the biblical book of Proverbs: Educate a youth in the way he should go, so that even in his old age he will not depart from it".

6 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

If possible I want to bring the debate back to the issue which is before the Committee. But after listening to the moving and exciting speech of the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi, it is very difficult to come back to what we really should be talking about. We are not talking about religion and we are not talking about whether religion should be taught to children. We are talking about what should be taught about religion in state schools. The denominational schools are clearly recognised as having the duty as well as the mandate to promote their own religious beliefs and practices in the schools to which they claim a special relationship. However, I deeply regret the way in which whenever education reform comes before Parliament, the preoccupation of Parliament, and a good deal of public opinion, is with education in religion.

The Education Act 1902 was about religion. The Education Act 1917 was also about religion. The 1944 Act is much lauded by Members of the Committee as a landmark in our educational development but it was a great sadness and, to some extent, a defeat for its architect R. A. Butler. Another curious matter is that in this century the first Education Bill of 1902 was just after the Boer War. The second one was in 1917 when we were in the middle of a war. The third was in 1944 when again we were in the middle of a war. This is the first time that education has been comprehensively debated in what we might describe as a time of peace.

That is remarkable because the emotions surrounding earlier Acts were related to the conditions in which they were discussed. Let us think of 1944 and 1917. People had feelings of deep anxiety. There was soul searching as to whether they had been true to themselves and true to their God; whether in some way they had failed the Almighty and that retribution was at hand. There were deep feelings affecting the consciences of people during the debates on the Education Bills of 1917 and 1944. However, religion has come to the fore again today. It is the second subject we are debating in this long Committee stage.

This Bill was not designed to deal with religion. As far as I am aware, it was never thought that a Bill had to be promoted to deal with religion. I am also unaware that any examination results or any votes of censure upon the system by employers related to the teaching of religion. The standards of education that have been strongly criticised have been secular; namely, maths, English, understanding of the language and the mental abilities which were necessary for young people to take their place in life and industry today. Yet, when we set about the reform of the education system to meet the demand for higher standards, we find ourselves in the middle of a debate on more education in religion.

When there is anything conceded as regards the claims of religion upon the state education system, we are always urged to go a little further. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, "This is all right but it does not go far enough". We have further amendments on the Marshalled List which suggest that when we have made the teaching of religion virtually a core subject, we must turn it into education in religion with a predominantly Christian approach. Thus it becomes denominational. Therefore it is not so much the teaching of children about religion—which everyone should know something about, because it is an important factor in the lives of people and has been throughout history—it is the fact that we are now coming very close to the teaching of a political denominational approach.

There is another point I should like to make in this connection. Under the amendment, and the Bill, it is proposed that the state system shall deal with the education of young people on the subject of religion before the churches are able to do so. I was taught no religion at a day school; I went to Sunday school. That is the system that denominations outside the Church of England, and the Roman Catholic Church, devised for themselves. There were no Methodist denominational schools. The Church of England had its own as did the Roman Catholic Church. The radical Methodists also wanted their own system which they achieved by setting up their own Sunday schools attached to their own chapels and not in the state system, or in a denominational school. That is what education in religion should be. Why are the Churches asking the state to do this for them? Why should they?

Another question is this: what will be the standard of religious teaching? The teaching of religion to adults requires clergy and institutional form. There is a great deal connected with religious observance and religious organisation for adults which it is not possible to give to children. It will not be easy for school teachers without any special training, aptitude, or possibly even belief, to teach the mystical explanation of life or the Christian interpretation of life. Children do not see religion in those terms. They see it probably in terms of some supernatural authority or some form of direction and authority which is higher than that of the parents and the teachers.

However, the earlier teaching of children—I do not know what it may be today—was not that God was a loving god: he was a god to be feared. Indeed, it was regarded as a qualification in society if one was a good man and feared God. Now it is quite different and a different approach must be taught to children which is not one of discipline and fear but one of love. Surely parents should be giving their children that teaching. It seems to me that Churches and parents are shifting their duties and responsibilities to the state education system. It appears that everyone must pay for it whether or not they are in sympathy with what is being done.

Why are the Churches not taking children into their care and doing their own thing among the young people? What do they expect teachers to do? What kind of garbled version of Christianity or of religion do they expect to come out of the state schools as the apprenticeship to better understanding and, possibly, membership of the Churches themselves? What is the aim? Is the aim morality, which is so frequently mentioned, or is it belief? Do we not want better behaviour from our children rather than belief in an almightly being? Must we teach them religion in order to achieve some concept of morality, human relationship, affection and understanding?

Noble Lords


Lord Houghton of Sowerby

The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, the Chief Rabbi, said that what is lacking today among young people is the recognition of accountability to something on high to which they must pay reverence and from which they might conceivably—I do not know—receive rewards or punishment according to their degree of accountability. That argument is extremely complex for children who are looking at life in primitive and juvenile terms.

If we are looking for morality—I am sure we are—let us acknowledge that although human conduct, behaviour and morality have been entrenched in the teachings of religion from the early centuries, a great deal of that has become so acceptable to secular society that it is embodied in the statute law, either criminal or civil. Therefore, why not teach children to have respect for the law by explaining to them what it is and why it was put there?

I am mystified about the approach of so many Members of the Committee to this subject. Surely what we want is not a transient belief in some mystical concept of a god from children who cannot comprehend it and who leave school with no more sense of what their behaviour or accountability to parents and society should be than they knew before.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, asked from where the teachers would be coming. From where are they coming? Further, what standard of qualifications shall we require of teachers? We assure them in the Bill that if they are not involved in it, or do not wish to be in it, they shall not suffer; they shall be open to promotion in the normal way. Therefore it is not to be a condition of appointment and presumably it is not to be the basis for extra remuneration or higher grading. They are not becoming vocational Christian teachers. They are not members of the clergy and not part of the institutional Christian or religious life of the country: they are part of the education system.

I leave those thoughts with the Committee. Perhaps I should ask myself, who am I among so many? However, I think that that point of view must be put. We cannot accept the amendment as if it were the most desirable proposition in the world; that is, to put this subject pari passu with the core subjects, although not of them. Again, the noble Lord opposite asked whether the teachers will be tested and whether they will be put through the intellectual testing system which applies to all other subjects in the core curriculum. But, of course, the amendment does not say that they are in the core. It identifies religious education along with the core and therefore they receive equal priority, but not equal treatment. After all, what would the test be and who would apply it and mark the papers? We do not reach that point with religious instruction.

What then can be said of the multi-racial society of which we hear so much? The conditions of 1944 are not represented here today. Such conditions were very different indeed. We must take account of that fact. We must also take account of the feelings of resentment of young people against a good deal of the conventional life of society which they find alien to their ambitions and tastes. They wish to break away from it and create some form of morality—their own specal kind of permissiveness—for the young. All those concepts are innate in young people, but they must be given the scope, the money and the licence to develop them. How will that factor be taken care of in religious education?

I said earlier that I thought that there was no such thing as religious education, but that there was religious indoctrination. That is not an offensive description. If we are to have compulsory teaching of young people with a message that they cannot comprehend, understand or retain, how can we say that we are educating the young? It is a form of indoctrination. If you have facts to support a theory or philosophy, at least you can ask for acceptance on the basis of known evidence. But religion does not rest upon that firm basis. It is the spirituality of it and the religious experience that you have. It is not factual and cannot be taught. In many cases it can only be conveyed with difficulty.

That is all I have to say, and it was quite a lot. However, I have said it on behalf of noble Lords on both sides of the Committee who know they ought to be making this speech for me.

Lord Elton

I think it is my turn now and I should like to use it, first, to help the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, by explaining why so many education Acts have concentrated on religious issues. It is because so many people in this country regard those issues as of very great importance for young people at the beginning of life. They believe, in contradistinction to the noble Lord, that their understanding of life will be impaired if they do not receive some instruction in the religion of their country.

My noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley and the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits—for whom I understand there is no proper honorific prefix and to whom I shall therefore subsequently refer as the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi—together made a commentary on the need for a religious dimension to education which was of very great value indeed. They went far beyond—I say this not in a critical sense—the terms of the amendment we are now debating. I will restrict myself to very few words, first, by excluding any reference to the content of what is to be taught in the syllabus because that is to be the subject of debate on Amendment No. 28.

I therefore turn to the amendment before the Committee. I sympathise with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for being the victim of a now very normal circumstance in this Chamber; namely, that the first day of a Committee stage is always conducted as if it were the last day of a Third Reading. Instead of chopping up our questions into small pieces so that he can bob up and down and answer them one by one, as we both would wish, he is being asked to reply to a lengthy debate. As that is the style, and as Members of the Committee are becoming impatient, I shall not do what I had intended to do before the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, spoke. I wanted to ask the right reverend Prelate a second question after he had answered my first question, but I will not do so as I would not be permitted to rise again. Therefore I have one observation to make and one question to ask.

The observation is an endorsement of the almost universal gratitude and thanksgiving with which the appearance of these amendments on the Marshalled List has been greeted by the Committee. Like my noble friend Lady Cox, I am anxious about the actual content of what is to be taught. There is one aspect which cannot be left until after consideration of the amendment because the enforceability of what is to be taught turns on the machinery which allows what I term an aggrieved parent of a child who is not getting the agreed syllabus within a lesson, or series of lessons, to complain.

The right reverend Prelate said that coming within Clause 6 means that this topic could be a subject of complaint. I believe the Committee would be greatly obliged if he could point out the sequence of, first, the requirements and then the events which will result in a successful complaint by the parent of a child who is receiving throughout his course of religious education what proves to be only a fragment of the agreed syllabus—the agreed syllabus being balanced and the lessons therefore not being balanced. I should like that question answered as well as the wider question of where the syllabus is not taught at all.

I conclude by thanking the right reverend Prelate for the extensive conversations he has had, the considerable work that has gone into the drafting of this amendment, no doubt by many hands, and the admirable intentions. I for one support them with enthusiasm with the reservation that I should like to come back to the content later.

Lord Sefton of Garston

I had not intended to speak at length in this debate but to oppose the amendment and then resume my seat to see whether that would spark off opposition to the amendment. However, having heard some of the arguments put forward for the amendment, I am prompted to speak a little longer.

In 1940 I held a candle to nobody in my belief in the Christian religion and conforming to that religion. However, in 1940 I listened to a religious broadcast by a respected member of the Church, following which I wrote a letter. I asked some fundamental questions. I did not receive a reply. That was the first time I questioned the religion in which I had been raised.

Therefore, I looked further. I read The Age of Reason. I do not know how many Members of the Committee have read it but if one wants to seek for a unifying religion that also gives credence to the concept of a divine Creator I recommend it. In particular, I recommend a poem which in three verses describes the Divinity of our creation. It refers to the planets, the stars and the illimitable space surrounding them. It produces the thesis that this must be the act of a Creator, and because it is so massive and beyond the comprehension of most people, that that Creator must be divine.

I do not not entirely share the view of Paine. However, it is a thesis which if adopted as a universal religion would remove the two major blots that I see upon the face of religion worldwide: first, that it is man-made and, secondly, that in regard to the history of man it has perhaps been one of the most divisive forces that could have been created.

I have listened to all the speeches. I listened to all the assumptions that the right reverend Prelate said were accepted by the majority of people in this country. I dispute that. If one measures church attendance in this country against that of some of the so-called heathen countries one finds that much greater attention is given to their religion than is given by people to our religion.

I listened to the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi who said that we are treading on thin ice. He gave an example. To me it was a telling example. He referred to the experience of some Jewish children who attended a school where the Christian religion was taught. They were unable to leave and do what they wanted in regard to their own religion. He said that seeing how seriously the Christians took their religion prompted the Jewish children to take their religion much more seriously.

I was amazed in looking round this Chamber to see that some of those people who had spoken in support of the amendment seemed to welcome that statement. On closer examination, and if they are in fact Christians, I wonder whether they should be welcoming that statement. If they are, what does it mean? If the Jewish people take seriously their religion and compare it with the Christian religion, we are heading for a clash if both sides believe that their religion is the best. Is that not the fault in all our religions? We are certainly on thin ice.

The same noble Lord mentioned the question of 4,000 years as though they were a millenium: that it was so long ago that we must be talking about the Creation. In the lifetime of humanity it is such a short period that we should not even consider it. My belief is that the Government were right: they should have left religion completely and utterly out of this Bill. This present debate is beginning to prove the kinds of division that can be created in society.

If one wants a further example of the divisions in society that have their bases in religion, do I have to draw the parallel and ask Members to look at the problems in Ireland? Is it necessary for me to talk about the problems in the Middle East? Is it necessary for me to talk about the social problems that have been caused by a belief in religion?

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

It is not necessary.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My noble friend Lord Taylor of Blackburn tells me that he already knows. Paganism leads to the moral anarchy of today. If that means anything it is that paganism is prevalent and the moral anarchy of today is the result.

Let us go back one-eighth of the 4,000 years and consider Joan of Arc, and witches burnt at the stake in the name of religion. Worse still, there was the philosophy that if one did not follow a certain religious belief then one had no chance of getting to a more desirable place; one went down to hell, and before reaching hell one went to perdition. This was the Christian faith. Yet we are told that in this modern time we have moral anarchy, whereas, for the first time in the history of mankind, we are at last creating a united Europe in which the elected members are looking very carefully at the question of social welfare.

This country turned its mind to social welfare in the real sense for the first time in 1945. I dispute completely that we are looking at moral anarchy; and I dispute utterly that the responsibility for it is paganism. It was not paganism that believed that if she did a certain thing, one put a woman in a barrel and rolled her down a hill. Members may dismiss that by saying that it occurred 500 or 600 years ago. But for Christians their faith is built on such issues.

I should like to ask for a reply to a few questions in this debate. Where do we stand in relation to the issues about which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham was so concerned? Where is this wonderful birth that took place? Does the Church still believe it? What is Genesis? If we are to have someting taught in our schools, is Genesis really true? Is that how mankind really was created?

The Lord Bishop of London

With respect, I suggest that if the noble Lord is going to ask questions that I assume he wishes to be taken seriously, he must realise that they are incapable of being given a simple yes or no answer, or one of a few words. I ask him to show some respect to those who have a religious belief and not to try to rubbish it. I shall be perfectly prepared to answer many of the observations that he has made. However, to subject us to a series of questions of this kind that he knows are impossible to answer I believe is showing disrespect to this Committee.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Sefton of Garston

These are fair questions. There is no need to say "hear, hear!" There is a simple answer. I have not posed a series of questions. I have asked only two.

The Lord Bishop of London

I am sorry, but the noble Lord has asked a great many questions already. I do not refer to the last two or three but many before that. I suggest that the discussion of an amendment at the Committee stage of a Bill is not the time to have a philosophical discussion.

Lord Sefton of Garston

With all due respect to the right reverend Prelate, I posed some questions about the role of religion in the history of mankind. I did not ask him any questions. However, I am asking him—

The Lord Bishop of London

The point of a Committee stage of a Bill is precisely so that people may ask questions to which they expect answers. That is precisely what I expect to have to do. But these are not the questions which it is either reasonable or necessary to expect to be answered in a debate on this amendment.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

On a point of order, is it not time that the noble Lord opposite started taking about the amendment instead of asking questions about fundamental philosophy and history? Is it not time that we got on with the debate?

Lord Sefton of Garston

I suppose it is time for me not to give way any more and then I can get on with the debate. Let me deal directly with the amendment. This amendment introduces into the Bill a new element. Am I wrong? Of course I am not. It introduces the element of teaching religion.

The Lord Bishop of London

Perhaps I may draw the attention of the noble Lord to Clause 1(2), which states that the purpose of the Bill is to promote: the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils". That introduces the element. We are not introducing it in this amendment. It is there already. We are asking that the intention expressed in the Bill should be more capable of being implemented.

Lord Sefton of Garston

That is by a body which in effect will be controlled by the Churches. The word "spiritual" can mean anything. It need not necessarily mean the teaching of religion. The teaching of morality could be expressed as spirituality.

I revert to what I said previously. Of course if the right reverend Prelate does not wish to answer, he is perfectly entitled not to do so. However, if somebody moves an amendment which refers to religion, then another Member is perfectly entitled to ask some questions. There are two. Do we believe in the Virgin Birth?

Noble Lords


Baroness Seear

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but this is the third Second Reading speech that we have had this afternoon. We have a great number of amendments to get through. Many of us have our names down to amendments to be taken later. Perhaps I may move that the noble Lord be no longer heard.

Moved, That the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, be no longer heard.—(Baroness Seear.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Duke of Norfolk

After that, may I assure the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, that I have received an enormous number of letters from priests, parents and teachers regretting the lack of importance given to religion in this Bill. I can now say that the right reverend Prelate has dealt with that problem admirably. I have no hesitation in thanking him for putting forward the amendments.

Secondly, it is a regrettable fact that the Catholic bishops are not represented in this place, something to which I have often drawn attention. I should like to see five or six Catholic bishops among the Lords Spiritual. It therefore falls to some Roman Catholic to speak for them. I have been informed that the Roman Catholic bishops and the cardinals support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London in these amendments.

Lord Sandford

I support the amendment, but I wish to make a short Committee point. Although "subjects" are the matter of Clause 3, because of its unique nature religious education is being discussed now on Clause 1. The amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate reintroduces advisory councils. Will he say whether teachers of religious education are nevertheless free to engage in all the discussions on curriculum development, especially cross-curriculum development? We debate those matters on Clause 3.

I am aware, as no doubt is the right reverend Prelate, that the Professional Council for Religious Education is currently engaged in seeing how religious education can be introduced into TVEI. We all want to feel that religious education will not be put into a straitjacket by the reintroduction of those councils in a way that precludes the teachers being involved in curriculum development across the board.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

In a sentence, so it will not be lost, perhaps I may repeat the point made by my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley. When we pass the amendment, as I hope we will, how do the Government envisage that people who have had the instruction will be tested? The multi-racial nature of schools will make that difficult. That difficulty should not mean that those who are Christian in their approach and who have that teaching cannot be tested in some way. What thought have the Government given to that point? It will help in future amendments if we can have some indication.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

I support the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate. As a nonconformist, I cannot speak for the nonconformist Church. A number of nonconformists who have written to me support the amendment. Perhaps I may ask for an interpretation. One of the Opposition Front Bench speakers asked a question about the meaning of the word "religion". I have always understood that my religion is Christian; my denomination is that of the United Reformed Church.

Lord Soper

The Methodist Church agrees entirely with the amendments proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Goodman

I shall detain the Committee only for a few minutes. I hope that it will not be regarded as an irrelevant self-indulgence if I say with what enormous pride I heard for the first time the titular head of my faith giving such a distinguished address. It is a self-indulgence, but it would have been wrong not to say it.

It is of considerable importance to bear in mind that if people have—I will not say a faith—a belief in some force that has brought about this marvellous creation, otherwise than by accident, they are likely to be more virtuous and easier people with whom to live. There is an anecdote well known among Jews but not I think especially well known among the non-Jews of a distinguished Jewish writer who sought an interview with the Tsarina of Russia when she was here to plead with her to moderate the pogroms that were going on. She replied to him rather frivolously, The problem is easy. Let the Jews become Christians". His answer was a memorable and historical one: Let the Christians become Christians". Perhaps I may venture to say that there is a great deal to be said for that adage. I believe that the minority faiths—my own and every other minority faith—are safer in a country where the majority of the people have a religion. It is for that reason that I warmly support the amendment.

Much that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, needed to be said. The introduction of religion into schools requires careful arrangement so as not to be counterproductive. I can give two illustrations. One comes from the college at Oxford from which I recently retired as head. There it was disappointing to me to see the small number of undergraduates who attended Sunday chapel. Most of them had been educated in schools where there was compulsory religion and where services took place each day. It is clear that unless religion is carefully organised the result can be counterproductive.

I went to a day school. As can be judged from the excellence of my education, it was a very good day school. About one-third of the pupils were Jewish. Each day there was a religious service when we vacated the formroom or the hall and went out into the grounds. I had an enormous advantage. I became a very adept fives player because the fives courts were open to everyone during that period. I practised fives when others of a less secular disposition were busy praying on their own account. I saw that the procedure could be divisive.

I could not share the views cited by the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi that that division was necessarily one which would fortify the faith of the minorities. Religion requires to be carefully introduced. It requires some ecumenical function as well. It should not be a single faith only that is taught. Every so often there should be instruction for the entire school, of whatever faith it may be. Having made those points, I wish to say no more.

Baroness Hooper

This subject is important, and it merits our attention. It is of course a relatively easy matter for the Government of the day to testify to the importance they attach to religious education. Successive governments, of both political parties, have made such commitments since the 1944 Act came into effect. But we have also seen over those years a steady decline of the subject in schools with relatively little done from the centre to correct matters. We are now seeing in this Bill a turning of the tide with a practical demonstration of the Government's commitment to the effective provision of religious education for all young people in all maintained schools.

As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said, the Bill was not introduced to deal primarily with the subject of religious education which was already a compulsory subject. It was the only compulsory subject. The Government included a number of provisions in the Bill intended to strengthen the position of religious education because of the relative decline in the subject.

In the very first clause we have spelt out the requirement that the curriculum in all maintained schools should promote the spiritual and moral development of young people. Clause 6 places a duty on local authorities, governors, and head teachers to ensure that the statutory requirement to provide RE is upheld. Clause 16 provides for the first time a formal procedure whereby parents and others have a local avenue of complaint if they believe that the law on religious education is being flouted.

Despite those provisions, however, some people, particularly representatives of the Churches, remain concerned. The result of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's discussions with Church leaders, including the right reverend Prelate and leaders of the Catholic and Methodist Churches, was an agreement between the Churches and the Government which was announced by my right honourable friend on Report in another place. That agreement led to the amendments put forward by the right reverend Prelate. As he said, the Government have been closely involved in their preparation, and I am glad to be able to say that they have our wholehearted support. I know also that they have the full support of the leaders of the Catholic and Methodist Churches. Today we have heard that they have the support of the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi. I am sure that the Committee will agree that this ecumenical unanimity is a most welcome development.

The amendment proposed by the right reverend Prelate to Clauses 1 and 2 signal to all involved in the education service the clear message that religous education is to be provided for all pupils in all maintained schools and is in no way subsidiary to the requirements of the national curriculum.

The proposal that standing advisory councils on religious education will in future be compulsory in all local education authorities will strengthen the position of religious education still further. There is no doubt that where such councils already exist the subject is in a much healthier position than elsewhere. The requirement that such councils should automatically be able to require the reconvening of conferences to examine agreed syllabuses is also seen by the Government as a particularly important development. Far too often in the past agreed syllabuses have been allowed to become out of date. As a result, what has been provided in schools has either borne little resemblance to the agreed syllabus for the area, or in some instances religious education has disappeared from the curriculum altogether. The existence of the standing advisory councils and the authority given to them, can only serve to benefit the subject in schools in the long term.

A further significant feature of the amendments put forward by the right reverend Prelate is that they refer to the provision of "religious education" rather than the terminology of the 1944 Act of "religious instruction". I am sure the Committee will agree that "religious instruction" is today a somewhat outdated term. It is no longer in common parlance, either in schools or elsewhere, and the Government accept entirely that legislation should not be so obviously and needlessly at odds with the language of the day. As Members will recognise however, assuming the acceptance of this wording by the Committee, the Government will need to make further amendments to the provisions of the 1944 Act and to other statutory provisions, in order bring them into line. We propose to bring forward amendments to this effect at a later stage.

My noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley, and indeed others, asked what we were doing to train teachers in religious education. We are of course currently reviewing initial teacher training courses and in-service training in all subjects. But we are also positively trying to improve the position under the LEA grant training scheme. The problem however, as we see it, is one of quality and commitment and not just one of quantity. We are putting our efforts in that direction.

As the Committee will recognise, none of the amendments put forward by the right reverend Prelate affects in any way the existing arrrangements for local determination of what is taught within religious education, either by the agreed syllabus procedure or by the governors of aided schools. The Government have continually emphasised that they have no wish to remove this local discretion. Indeed, we believe that any attempt by the Government or Parliament to prescribe in detail the content of religious education could do irreparable damage to the subject. That schools in this country are able to provide religious education at all is due in no small part to the local arrangements which have existed for determining the content. That is why the Government have resisted pressure to make religious education a foundation subject, with centrally determined assessment arrangements, attainment targets and programmes of study.

However there is no reason why testing and assessment should not be agreed in a locally agreed syllabus. Indeed, some syllabuses already include testing arrangements and that is much to be encouraged. This is perhaps something upon which the new standing advisory councils can advise. I am glad to be able to say that the churches themselves are equally convinced of the need to retain local arrangements for determining what is provided, which reflect the circumstances of the authority or school involved.

In the circumstances therefore I am happy to be able to welcome these amendments, and I can recommend them without reservation to your Lordships.

The Lord Bishop of London

I am very grateful to those who have taken part in the debate on the amendment. I very much appreciate the support that the Committee has given to it. In view of the time, I should like to confine my answers to the four or five specific points which were asked in the course of the debate and which were strictly relevant to the amendment.

First, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for drawing attention to the fact that this amendment does not introduce religion into the debate. It is there already. We are trying to make it more effective and to see that it meets the situation of today. However, I cannot resist pointing out that if it were not for religion in the past in this country there would be no education system. Frankly, the education system grew out of the concern of Christians for the community in which they lived and for the preservation of those qualities in the ancient civilisations which they felt should be preserved. That matter must not be forgotten if there is any implication that our education would be so much better if the Churches had not pioneered it.

I should say in reply to the question by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, yes, that matter is being taken account of and we are in touch with the Religious Education Council on that very point. My answer to the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, is that "religious denomination" is a loosely worded phrase these days. We find it used also to refer to other faiths. Some people seem to mind it; some do not. However I think attention ought to be given to that. The question of other faiths will arise when we come to the debate on Clause 28 and perhaps I may leave further comment until then or even until the Report stage.

On local arrangements, being a great believer in the local education authority, I feel that there is a local responsibility to see that the content of a syllabus reflects the education needs of the area. I said that on Second Reading and I welcome such a proposal. The need for the four committees to be unanimous was mentioned. That has always been the case and frankly it has not prevented some extremely good agreed syllabus being produced. If I may say so, it is an incentive to come to a solution and the four committees of the standing committee are retained in the present Bill.

As regards the complaints procedure, I should like to glance at what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said. Clause 16 refers to complaints and the duties imposed on the authority under Clause 6 of the Bill. When we come to my next amendment it will arise under Clause 6 and we shall deal with it then.

In conclusion, perhaps I may express my gratitude to the Committee. I put this forward basically for two reasons: one is that I believe profoundly that in a Christian world to be truly human must involve being faithful to the religious element in our nature as simple human beings. The religious dimension of life does not make us human, it enables us to be fully human. That is why I see it as an integral part of any education process.

Perhaps I may end with these words. Not many months ago we had a debate on children in our General Synod in the Church of England. A great deal of material for that debate was obtained from the children themselves, some very young. Far from simply repeating what they had been indoctrinated with, as some would say, what was most moving and remarkable was the religious insight and understanding which were shown by very small children. That understanding is a basic human instinct and I believe that we have a duty to respond to that instinct and enable it to grow. If the Committee could have read the comments of children of very young ages particularly their comments on what happened to their parents later on, Members would have said that they would have no doubt at all that in making these additions to religious education we are being faithful to the needs of our children. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 19, at end insert— ("( ) In relation to any independent school (including the City Technology College) or non-maintained special school, it shall be the duty of the proprietor and headteacher to secure that the National Curriculum as subsisting at the beginning of that year is implemented and to secure that the curriculum of the school satisfies the requirements of this section.").

The noble Lord said: Since the Bill was published I have been at a loss to understand why the proposed curriculum for schools is called a national curriculum when it is manifestly nothing of the kind. The national curriculum is to be fully applied only in the public sector. Private schools will continue to be able to provide a curriculum which their authorities feel matches the needs of their pupils. That without the slightest doubt will include the requirements of higher education. One is tempted to dwell on this aspect for a while. Certainly if one thinks of the better known public schools I doubt whether any Member of the Committee would dispute the contention that much of the curriculum is guided towards Oxbridge and indeed some of the other universities.

A national curriculum should be truly national—that is, it should be for the whole nation and it should promote a whole nation. The Secretary of State and the Government have poured out millions of words in their documents, in newspapers, on television and on radio telling everybody including parents—one hears so much about parents in this debate—why a certain curriculum structured in a certain way is not only best for pupils but also for the good of the nation as a whole. They tell us that it has been devised only after the most careful thought, consultation and research, but then we are suddenly told that after all this thought and preparation it is not really suitable for some of our schools. There are some institutions, they say, in our society which are not really part of our one nation.

There is supposed to be healthy competition between the public and private sectors. Indeed this Government are constantly preaching the virtues of competition, yet here we have one sector offering any curriculum it chooses and the other being compelled to provide only that which is laid down by the Government. We need to consider another aspect of this matter. At present 8 per cent. of the school population is in independent schools. But in discussing this amendment it is relevant to point out that a large proportion of those children are helped by the assisted places scheme. That scheme was introduced by the present Government some years ago and it was very strongly opposed by many of us in another place. There are no fewer than 35,000 pupils in the scheme and in 1986 the average fee paid under it was £1,776. The average net expenditure for secondary school pupils was £1,202. So we have the interesting situation that the Government spend almost 50 per cent. more on children in places in independent schools than local authorities are allowed to spend on places in their schools.

When so much public money is spent on so many pupils in independent schools is this not one more reason why the national curriculum should apply to all schools? Of course the brutal fact is that there are two nations. I make no apologies for saying that. Nowhere in our society is that more vividly demonstrated than in the education system. The proposals on the curriculum are simply yet one more confirmation of that fact.

The tragedy, as I see it and as I am sure my noble friends see it, is that the Government, instead of grasping this splendid opportunity for breaking down the barriers, choose to consolidate the division in our society. I have to say that the Government's logic in this matter baffles me. If they have after so much work and deliberation come to the conclusion that this form and content of curriculum are the best that can be devised, surely it is wise, prudent and proper that that curriculum should apply to all pupils.

One is driven to the inescapable conclusion that it is a deliberate action in an attempt, which I have to say will probably succeed, to perpetuate the divide between our two kinds of education. An eminent professor of education, Ted Wragg, who I am sure is well known to many Members of the Committee, has written of it: Another piece of political ideology was revealed when it was announced that independent schools would not have to implement the national curriculum".

I am afraid that that is exactly what it is—political ideology wrapped up in the name of progressive educational practice.

The proposal is based on the assumption that the pupils in private schools are somehow different from those in state schools. That must be the logic of it. Will the Minister therefore say why the law will apply to the finest comprehensive schools in the land but not to the worst private schools? Presumably she would agree that there are such things? What are these differences which compel the Government to take such a drastic step? We are entitled to know the basis on which such an important and far-reaching decision has been taken.

We are also entitled to call into question the conviction of the Secretary of State himself on this issue. He sends his children to private school, as he is perfectly entitled to do. But if he chooses the freedom of curriculum for his children, I submit that I am entitled to choose freedom of curriculum for my grandchildren. They should enjoy that freedom too.

If the curriculum is good enough to impose on other people's children, why is it not good enough to impose on fee paying schools? That is the basic question and one which has not been answered. If I had been able to discover even the slightest educational justification for this part of the Bill I might at least have been able to understand what was in the Government's mind. But for the reasons I have given I find the proposal not only educationally unwise but repugnant and offensive, and I look forward to the Minister's response. I beg to move.

Lord McNair

I wish to ask a factual question about the amendment which is puzzling me. In the fourth line as printed it refers to the "beginning of that year". Will the noble Lord explain to me to which year that refers?

Lord Dormand of Easington

That is a question for the Minister as my amendment has been adopted. However, speaking as a former education administrator, my short answer would be the beginning of the school year or as soon as possible—I think that is the normal phrase used in legislation—after the implementation of the Act.

Lord Beloff

If I had been trying to keep out, as the noble Lord suggests, any form of ideology from a discussion on this point I would hardly have quoted Professor Ted Wragg, who is a notable exponent of a perfectly legitimate Left-wing ideology as regards education. That does not fortify in any way the noble Lord's case.

I am also a little surprised that the noble Lord, who I believe went into the Lobby in favour of Amendment No. 1 and therefore disapproves in principle of the imposition of a national curriculum, should lend his name to an amendment which seems to—

Lord Dormand of Easington

I think that the noble Lord has misunderstood the situation completely. That is not my view.

Lord Beloff

Then the noble Lord is in favour of imposing a national curriculum. If I have been mistaken perhaps he will explain where he stands on the national curriculum; otherwise it is very hard to deal with his amendment.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I answered the question quite clearly. Perhaps the noble Lord will get on with his speech and we shall see how it compares with mine.

Lord Beloff

In that case let me confine myself to the amendment as it is put down. I find it difficult to reconcile the speech made in its favour with the text of the amendment, since the speech indicated that the noble Lord believes that the national curriculum should be imposed on all schools outside as well as within the maintained sector. However, he talks about the duty of the proprietor.

Most independent schools—all the good ones—have no proprietor. It is difficult to see on whom the obligation is to be laid. It is possible that the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, thinks of himself as the proprietor of Eton. But I think that that would be much contested. Therefore, it is not clear whether only the proprietary schools, which exist but which are in a minority and largely confined to the primary sector, are affected or whether it affects all independent schools. In the latter case, something should be said about the trustees, the governing bodies or the legatees of the wills of past benefactors in that respect.

Secondly, the amendment states: including the City Technology College". So far as I know—the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—there is no City Technology College. There is a proposal for the creation of a series of city technology colleges, none of which has so far opened its doors and only a few of which are in active preparation. Therefore, the words relate to a nonexistent institution.

I further point out that the whole purpose of the city technology colleges is to make it possible, within the maintained system, to try out a highly technologically directed form of education. That is, or may be, a perfectly legitimate exception to an exact conformity with what other schools, lacking technological or industrial bias, would be supposed to do.

The most important point—I leave out the flaws in the drafting and concentrate on the speech made in moving the amendment—is the suggestion that some kind of privilege is being conferred on independent schools by a government which in some way prefers them to the maintained system. That seems to me to be trying to make a point where none exists.

I think that even the noble Lord will agree that the national curriculum is covered normally in the independent sector as it is covered normally in the maintained system. No doubt it is true, as the noble Lord has said, that there are bad schools in the independent sector which do not live up to that objective, just as it is agreed that there are bad schools in the maintained sector. That is the reason why the national curriculum is being imposed.

The noble Lord is suggesting that the Secretary of State should assume additional powers and administrative burdens in order to make sure of something which is likely to be enforced, not by those methods, but by parents. What differentiates independent schools from maintained schools is the fact that parents have to pay to send their children there. The noble Lord has referred to the cost. Therefore, if they are dissatisfied and they say: "Look, we are not even getting anything like what we could get for free in the maintained sector", they will take their children away. That is probably a more powerful sanction than the Secretary of State could contrive.

The noble Lord is making a general point but, when one thinks of it in terms of the schools themselves, there is less in it than he gave your Lordships to believe.

7.15 p.m

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will have nothing to do with this abominable amendment. The noble Lord who proposed it said that he could only assume that the Government's exclusion of independent schools was a deliberate choice. I hope that it was. He went on to say that he supposed that it was an ideological rag-bag masquerading as liberal or democratic or progressive—I cannot remember the word which he used—education theory.

If ever there was an ideological lecture on education, it came from the noble Lord who has proposed the amendment. His observations reminded me of nothing so much as the man who, rather late in the evening, said to his friend: "You must be drunk, you've got two noses." He was guilty of the grossest ideological interference with the right to independence.

I sent all five of my children to independent schools. First, I did not want to educate them at the expense of the rates and taxes of people poorer than myself. And I did not. I paid for them myself. I also had views about education which are not identical with those of the table d'hôte of the maintained system. I have religious views and I sent my children to religious schools with a particular denominational bias. I think that the curriculum practised in all the schools to which I sent my children was, if anything, superior and certainly the equal of anything in the proposed national curriculum. I chose it for myself and my dear wife.

The idea that even my noble friend on the Front Bench should dictate to me how I should educate my children within those parameters is absolutely revolting to me. The Minister has all my admiration and my fullest support. However, as an educator of my children she does not compete with me.

The noble Lord who proposed the amendment was something less than candid with the Committee in two respects. First, he compared the cost of a place at an independent school with the cost of a place at a maintained school. He omitted to tell the Committee—perhaps he assumed that we already knew—that much of the cost of keeping a boy at Eton is due to the fact that he wears special clothes and eats and sleeps in the college. He therefore has to spend money on things which are not included in the cost of a place in a maintained school.

The noble Lord also failed to tell the Committee—perhaps again he assumed that we all knew—that in order to be approved as efficient the independent school has to undergo examination by inspection. If that is so, I cannot understand why I should not continue to send my children to Eton, St. Paul's and other schools of my choice. The truth is that this is a class warrior's amendment and it ought to be rejected out of hand and with contempt as an invasion of liberty.

Lord Aldington

Perhaps I may intervene for a moment. As I disclosed to the House at Second Reading, I am chairman of the Independent Schools Joint Council. I regret the ideological bitterness in the speech of the noble Lord who moved the amendment. I shall not follow him in that. He seems to me to have been properly chastised from a number of quarters already.

I ask the Committee: if a school is to be independent how can it be responsible to the direction of the Secretary of State? It is either independent or it is not independent. Once we begin with the thin end of the wedge to direct independent schools through the orders of the Secretary of State—because that would be the result of the amendment—it seems to me that we are moving towards the end of independence.

The Committee has to make up its mind whether it wishes to continue with independence of education as part of the national system of education. As my noble friend Lady Young said in 1984—and I quoted her the other day—there is one national system of education in this country and two sectors. The independent sector is free from direction from the Department of Education and Science or the Secretary of State. It is, as my noble and learned friend has just said, subject to registration and to inspection. That has been going on for decades, but it does not mean that it has lost its independence. My objection to the amendment is that it invades the independence of schools.

As to what the independent sector will do with the national curriculum, I do not know whether the noble Lord who moved the amendment was present when I spoke in the Second Reading debate. I said then that, subject to being satisfied as to flexibility—on which we are satisfied and have been again this afternoon—I would expect most of the independent schools to adhere to the national curriculum in a broad sense. Many of them would wish to take advantage of the flexibility provided by various clauses in the Bill from Clause 9 onwards. How difficult it would be for them to do so if the amendment were adopted. They would have to wait for the Secretary of State to give directions to them in the way prescribed in the Bill.

Subject to that proviso, it would be my expectation that the independent schools would adhere to the national curriculum. That is broadly what the parents would want. As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, reminded the Committee, it is the parents who are the masters of the independent sector. The parents will want the national curriculum because the national examination system will be based on it. They will want it because the national curriculum has been devised as the best practice, and that is the practice that most independent schools follow. I cannot speak for all independent schools because independent schools by definition are independent of the Government and also of each other. I hope that the Committee will resist the amendment.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I should like to make three very brief points from these Benches. I am not sure whether I speak on behalf of my noble friends, but I speak on my own behalf and possibly on theirs as well. I think that brevity is important at this moment.

I do not support the amendment, for three reasons. The first is because, as the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, said, schools must either be under the control of the Secretary of State or independent. If they are independent they are independent and must not be interfered with in that respect. Secondly, I believe that the national curriculum as it stands is a straitjacket and I would not wish to impose that straitjacket on schools which do not need it. Thirdly, very important pioneering work sometimes comes out of the independent schools. That may apply to only a small proportion but we can very often see the seeds of the future in what is done in independent schools. I think that the imposition on them of a national curriculum would inhibit their most important work. For those reasons I shall not vote for the amendment.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

I do not think that my noble friend Lord Beloff was at all remiss in asking the mover of the amendment to give us his view of the Bill as a whole and the national curriculum in particular. At the Committee stage of a Bill one ought not to look merely at the words on the Marshalled List. One has to try to take into account the motive behind the words. I believe that it is essential that the noble Lord should answer my noble friend's question.

For example, does he think that this is a very good Bill indeed and that the national curriculum as set out is so excellent that for the independent schools to risk not having it because they are not required to by statute is robbing them of something that they ought to have? Does he think that they are being robbed of something that he believes is good and worthwhile, as I do? Or does he think that the Bill is so awful that it ought to extend beyond the maintained schools only because he wants to spread the misery? If he thinks that it is awful, he is advocating with his amendment that the misery is passed on. If he thinks it is a good Bill he is saying that the independent schools are being robbed of something that they ought to be made to have.

My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has answered that point. The independent schools are quite capable of taking what they think is good, and the national curriculum is something that they would take. Because motive is important when we make up our minds, can the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, tell the Committee whether it is a good Bill that is worth extending or a bad Bill and that the misery ought to spread to everyone for the sake of equality?

Lord Peston

I thought that this was a serious subject but one or two of the interventions did not suggest to me that it was serious. However, we shall now try to deal with the matter.

The crux of it is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington. Indeed, earlier in the debate today we argued that schools ought to have regard to the national curriculum. Those are the exact words. We favour a national curriculum and schools ought to have regard to it. The noble Lord, Lord Aldington, said that that is what he wants for the independent schools. I have to tell the Committee that that is exactly what we want for the maintained schools. This nonsense that you can have what you want if you pay for it seems to me an abysmal principle to apply to education and it is certainly not one that I should follow.

Let me tell the noble Lord who raised the subject that my children went to maintained schools. I pay taxes and rates; as far as I am concerned I paid for my children's education. The fact that I did not pay at the point of payment is neither here nor there. Those noble Lords who have used the tax system to finance their children's private education also ought to ask who finances that.

Our point in discussing this matter is very much to clarify the logic behind the national curriculum. We want to know—and we shall pursue this point later after dinner—why it is mandatory for the schools to which we send our children but only optional for other schools. What is there that makes it mandatory? Will those who will reply on behalf of the Government answer the noble Lord's point about the large number of excellent schools in the maintained sector? Why is it mandatory for them?

I hope that my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, was not implying that experiment in this area comes largely from the fee-paying sector, because it certainly does not. Experiment in this area has come overwhelmingly from the maintained schools in the country.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I was by no means implying that. I am well aware that it also comes from the independent sector to an extent.

Lord Peston

It is more than also; it is almost entirely.

While I am in this mood perhaps I may also make another point. I take exception to the suggestion that on that side of the Committee Members have an educational philosophy, while on this side we have an ideology. I assure Members opposite that we have an education philosophy and we are trying again to make it clear in regard to this Bill. Essentially we are trying to get into the Government's mind. We are trying to find out the basis of the national curriculum—not why there should be such a thing because my noble friend Lady David made it very clear that we strongly favour it. We are concerned with why it should be mandatory. What is there about the maintained schools that should make it mandatory? Let me take the other point, since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, raised it. Why should freedom of choice on curriculum be restricted to the independent schools? Why should that be the case?

I am no longer a parent who has children at school, but supposing I were and had views on the kind of curriculum that I should like for my children, why should there not be any response to that in the state system? Let us take a view which I do not hold. Let us assume I have a very narrow view of the curriculum that I should like to have. Why should I not be allowed to have that within the state sector if I as a rational parent wished to choose it? Let me add—and I shall come back to the noble Baroness in due course—that the noble Baroness used two expressions in her winding-up speech earlier which, I must admit, I hoped would horrify Members opposite. She referred to "the clutter of spurious choice" and she said "freedom and choice mean licence and irresponsibility". I find that an odd view to come from that side on the subject of choice and when we come to the core curriculum I shall be pressing those points. I favour choice; I also favour a national curriculum. The problem is how to bring those things together. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, will understand at least that we also are wrestling with these matters.

Finally, I do not want to impose anything on the independent sector in this sense and the amendment is not for that purpose. I repeat that this amendment is to clarify the Bill. But I ought to warn noble Lords opposite—the warning was given earlier—that if the Secretary of State starts to operate in this way there will come a day when another Secretary of State will say, "I have a perfectly logical base for what I want to do in interfering with the independent sector. It was given to me by a Conservative government who laid down (a) the right of the Secretary of State to interfere directly in schools and (b) the right to lay down a mandatory national curriculum". It is too late to affect the earlier Divisions that we have had but when noble Lords opposite come to consider how they will vote on other occasions later tonight they may think again about these matters. Therefore, speaking for this Front Bench, I believe that this is a worthwhile amendment. I am glad we have had a debate on it because it has brought out very clearly where we differ on some of these matters.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

Before the noble Lord sits down, it may help the debate on the following amendment if he advises his noble friend that when he puts down an amendment with the idea of it being a probing amendment—which is healthy and good—he ought to say so. This was presented as a formal amendment intended to be part of the statute.

Lord Peston

I cannot speak for my noble friend but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, will bear with at least one or two of us who are still relatively new at this game—certainly I am. Sometimes one does not remember to make the appropriate remarks. Having said that, it is certainly my view that what we are trying to do here—and just to anticipate there will be many other attempts late into the night—is to understand what is happening.

Lord Walston

I came into this debate with complete ignorance of education. I do not pose in any way as an expert in this matter. I came to this particular amendment with a very open mind, and no idea of how I would vote if there were a Division. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, my mind was still undecided. He was persuasive but did not convince me. However, the two noble Lords who followed him—the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham—were completely persuasive. They made up my mind to come down entirely in favour of this amendment. I think they made absolutely clear that they were advocating—and presumably they speak with a great deal of authority for their own colleagues—in very blunt words one law for the rich and one for the poor. The rich are those who can afford to send their children to what we call public schools, to the independent schools, and who will be exempt from the Secretary of State's dictate. The poor are the rest of the people who do not understand about education, do not have any views worth holding and do not have any money with which to pay for their children's education. They must be subjected to this autocratic rule from the authorities.

That made me feel that this amendment, whether or not it has the right form at the moment, has in it the germs of something which is fundamental and very important indeed. Obviously, in whatever form it is presented at whatever time, those who believe that wealth confers privileges which are denied to those who do not have wealth, and that those who have wealth have the right to decide how their children should be educated whereas those without wealth and the intelligence which goes with it should not have that right, will vote against any amendment of this kind. But for those who do not agree with that point of view, it will be very hard not to support an amendment of this kind whenever one comes up.

The Earl of Arran

The point of the amendment that lies before us is now fairly obvious. It seeks to apply the provisions of the national curriculum to independent schools as well as to maintained. In fact, since the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, has not tabled a consequential amendment to Clauses 9 and 12—the clauses that allow the national curriculum to be disapplied in certain circumstances—the effect of the amendment before us would be to apply the national curriculum to independent schools with a rigidity that we have sought to avoid imposing upon the maintained sector. However, we shall assume that the proposal of so draconian a measure was not intentional.

This issue has been raised many times during the Bill's passage through Parliament. I shall spell out again our reasons for limiting this legislation to local authority and grant-maintained schools.

Let me deal first and briefly with the position of city technology colleges. We have already made it quite clear that as a condition of grant, these schools will be obliged to meet the substance of the national curriculum, within their own distinctive ethos. As they will be working longer hours than most schools, they will find no difficulty in meeting national curriculum requirements alongside their own more particular objectives.

The purpose of the national curriculum is to lever up standards in maintained schools. It is to pupils in these schools, educated at the expense of the state and whose parents may at present have very little choice as to how their children may be educated, that we owe the prime duty to guarantee high standards and a good curriculum for all. We are improving competition in the state sector, but there will not be the sort of free market to which those offering independent schooling must respond if they are to survive. We therefore need to establish in law the entitlement to the best possible curriculum in maintained schools.

I reject any idea that the national curriculum is somehow an infliction or imposition on pupils in maintained schools. Its purpose is positive, not negative. Its objective is to guarantee all pupils in maintained schools a broadly based and balanced curriculum which prepares them for adult life. That is something that is not on offer to all pupils in those schools now. Furthermore, its objective is also to raise the attainment of those pupils to the best they are capable of, and to lever up the standards of all maintained schools—to make the best, better, and to radically improve the performance of our weaker schools.

I had believed that noble Lords opposite shared these objectives for the national curriculum with us. Do they not want pupils in schools to reach the highest attainments they are capable of? Do they not want the standards of those schools to improve? Do they not want pupils in maintained schools to be guaranteed a balanced and broadly based curriculum to equip them for the immense variety of opportunities and challenges they will face in adult life?

We are offering benefits to pupils in maintained schools; not imposing penalties. We are guaranteeing them the freedom, which comes from a broadly based education which makes the most of their abilities, to have real choices about the pattern of their adult lives. And we are offering parents the information they need about the performance of the schools in their area, so that when it comes to choosing a school for their child they can know how well each of those schools is doing by its pupils.

There are good reasons why the Bill's provision for the national curriculum should not extend to independent schools. We know that the pressure of parental choice has already led the best independent schools to offer something very like the national curriculum. But the point about independent schools is that they are independent.

The Government's responsibility is to ensure that schools maintained by public money offer the education which pupils need. But the discipline of independent schools is largely that of market forces. Parents are free to send their children to them if they wish—that is a fundamental freedom—but they will only do so if the education an independent school offers is that which they require for their children; and if it is better than what is on offer in other schools. That discipline of market forces is a real one. As the benefits of the national curriculum are increasingly achieved in maintained schools the less good schools in the independent sector will have to make changes if the competition from the maintained sector is not to drive them out of business. The best independent schools have been quick to spot this already, and we have heard from them how they wish to offer the national curriculum, and demonstrate success in it, in order to attract and maintain parental support.

Of course I do not deny that there are some less good independent schools. These will be most vulnerable to competition from the state sector as parents begin to see the improvements brought about by our reforms. I agree that not everything should be left to market forces. The parents, and the children themselves, should have some form of guarantee. But we already have a safety net for independent school pupils. We already have the basic safeguard in the provisions of the 1944 Butler Act that provision being made is acceptable in all the circumstances of the school and the pupils. The Secretary of State is allowed to take action against any independent school which is not offering an efficient and suitable education, and ultimately to remove it from the register.

We are not leaving independent schools free to ignore the national curriculum. We know that the majority will be obliged, if they do not already offer such a curriculum, to do so or to lose pupils to those who do. But where the free market does not achieve that end, and where pupils are seen to suffer as a result, then the Secretary of State's powers, over registration, exercised with Her Majesty's Inspectorate's advice will come into play.

The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, raised a question about the assisted places scheme. Schools in the assisted places scheme are independent and therefore will not be required to follow the national curriculum. However, all schools participating in the scheme are required to satisfy a rigorous set of criteria covering curriculum breadth, examination success and general academic merit. This ensures that only the very best independent schools are able to offer assisted places. To illustrate the point, last Summer APS pupils achieved a 91 per cent. pass rate at A-level and an 87 per cent. pass rate at O-level. Most people would regard that as outstanding, not least the parents of the pupils who are benefiting from this excellent scheme. It is a scheme which is widely welcomed. In view of that point and the arguments that I have deployed before, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw this amendment.

Lord Annan

Before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps he can confirm not only that logic is on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, but that the law of the European Community would make this amendment null and void? If that is not so, perhaps I may add that the exhibition of bourgeois triumphalism from the Benches opposite will make many on this side of the Committee agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walston.

The Earl of Arran

I am not absolutely certain about the point that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, raises as regards the European situation, but it is a point that we shall certainly look at.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I am very conscious of the fact that we are now in the most important hour of the evening. I shall therefore be very brief. At least three noble Lords opposite used the word "ideological" and applied it to my speech. I make no apology for that. It was put very succinctly by my noble friend Lord Peston. I happen to be a Member of this House and I was a Member of the other House because I am a socialist. I make no apologies for that. In the same way noble Lords opposite should not make any apologies for their conservatism. That is what I thought parliamentary democracy in this country was all about.

The politics of this country can apply to nothing more than to education. As I mentioned previously, I speak as a former chief education officer. I have seen it at work on the ground, if I may use that phrase. I should also like to support very strongly what the noble Lord said to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie: that experimentation certainly has sprung from the public sector. I am a little surprised that he should make that an important point in his submission.

Perhaps I may say that the speech from my old friend—if I may call him that—the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, I did not take very seriously. If he wants a straight answer to the question whether I am here to cause misery, the obvious answer to that is, no, I am not here to do that. My aim is the same as that of noble Lords opposite. We want to raise the standard of education in this country, whether in the private or the public sector. This debate is about how best we can do it. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for whom I have a very high regard, should get down in his contributions to rather unimportant details, for instance when he talked about a proprietor. Perhaps I may concede that a better word should have been used. It is not really related to the principle which we are discussing tonight.

I end by calling in aid the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, who said that he does not want the Secretary of State to dictate to him about his children. That is what we are debating. I do not want the Secretary of State to dictate to me about my children, either. In view of what has been said—I am sure that the Government will have taken some note of the contributions which have been made from all sides of the Committee—I am convinced that at some point in time there will be a change. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Arran

This might be a suitable and convenient moment at which to break for dinner. Perhaps I may suggest that we do not return to the Committee stage of the Bill until 8.45 p.m. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.