HL Deb 10 May 1991 vol 528 cc1333-48

2.47 p.m.

Earl Russell rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the order (S.I. 1991/681) be annulled.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, your Lordships will observe that I am speaking from the Back-Benches on this occasion, at my own request. I think that I speak for my noble friends when I say that we do not want what are essentially academic matters to become matters of party political argument. Where that can be avoided, it is a good thing.

I must also declare a considerable variety of interests. I speak as a vice-president of the Royal Historical Society, and as a member of the society's working group on the national curriculum, as a member of the Historical Association and as a supporter of the History in Universities Defence Group.

I know that noble Lords do not speak for outside interests. They speak for themselves. I may say one or two things with which those bodies do not agree, but I do not think that one can be blamed for agreeing with one's brief, particularly if on occasion one helped to write it.

I come to praise the national curriculum, not to bury it. There is a great deal in it which I think the Government have got right. Most of it consists of matters for which the credit goes to the working group, and particularly to its chairman, Commander Michael Saunders Watson. As I do not do it very often, I should perhaps offer praise to Mr. Kenneth Baker and congratulate him on what I think has proved to be a brilliant appointment.

On the argument that so often comes up in this House and in another place—knowledge versus imagination—they have justified what a member of the working group said to me; namely, that this deserves to be regarded as yesterday's war. They followed the formula offered to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke, in her speech of 1st May last, going not for "either/or", but for "both/and". They have made a remarkably good job of it. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, will be happy with the standards of academic rigour that are demanded here. I have been over it a great many times and I certainly am. They have also done a good job with the difficult circle-squaring operation of combining flexibility and prescription. They have also succeeded in avoiding what is another yesterday's war, still being vigorously pursued by the historical profession in some other countries, between political and social history. The PESC formula that the report uses, dealing with the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of each period, is an extremely good one.

I am also pleased—here I must declare an interest in my professional capacity as an historian—that they have decided to treat British history as meaning precisely that: the history of all the separate kingdoms of Britain which, at least up to 1603, is not national history; it is international history. But even Homer nods and, in passing, I must take them to task for using the phrase "Tudor Britain". As the noble Lord, Lord Reay, would enjoy pointing out, that phrase is not only incorrect but also directly offensive on occasion north of the Border.

I shall not dwell on the subject of resources because I have done so before. However, I should like to say in passing that I am not sure whether the Government have taken on board how far British, as distinct from English, history is a new subject which, if it is to be taught as envisaged, will therefore demand a complete new stock of books, some of which are yet to be written. That will put a grave strain on schools' budgets. If that problem is not addressed, what is in principle an imaginative and good idea might easily go to waste.

Noble Lords will gather that, in general, I think that the Government almost got it right. What goes wrong becomes clear when we come to key stage 4 of the national curriculum. It is becoming increasingly clear that that should read "key stage 31/2". As a result of the time that is needed for doing GCSEs, there was not the time available to fit the fourth key stage into the framework, whereas we have a report from the working group which was specifically directed to prepare a report to fit four full key stages; yet four full key stages are not available. That has led us into two problems.

The first, raised in the Secretary of State's speech of 4th January, is about whether history comes to a full stop in the 1960s. That has caused very great offence among a number of my professional colleagues. It has also drawn attention to the problem of revision. If there a date when history comes to a full stop, that date will need to be revised and brought up to date quite frequently. Also, as the Historical Association pointed out, there are many schools which have been teaching that later period, which means that practically the whole of their stock of books has become redundant, with problems for school budgets which may be quite severe.

I shall admit—I do not speak for professional colleagues—to a sneaking sympathy with the Secretary of State's view that perhaps what happened so recently is to be separated from the type of history which exists when records are opened and living memory is not available. I should not go so far as to support my father's view; namely, that it is history up to the Battle of Waterloo and after that it is gossip. But anyone who listened on 30th April to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will appreciate just how far- back gossip can go.

But that does not mean that this subject should not be studied. If the 1960s are not conventionally "history", it does not mean that those years should be ignored. It is perfectly proper, as more and more people are doing, to study that period under the rubric of politics and not of history. But here one runs into the other problem of the national curriculum: flexibility. That is a problem which my noble friend the late Lord McNair called to the attention of this House many times. It is difficult to be flexible within the prescriptive framework laid down.

The other problem of key stage 4 which has emerged is the problem of the relationship between history and geography. Paragraph 8 of circular 491 states that: subject to consultation … all pupils at Key Stage 4 will study a full course of history or a full course of geography or a short course in both of these subjects". It says that draft regulations to that effect, will be issued for consultation". I believe that that indicates a mind open to the point of vacuity.

I am not at all happy about the attempts to blend history and geography into a single subject. I gather from today's Daily Telegraph that HM Inspectors are not happy either. I regret to say that I cannot quote the original document because, although it is published today it has not yet reached the Printed Paper Office. But according to the Daily Telegraph the inspectorate says that this is leading to: 'fragmented and partial"' learning for pupils". It is done: partly t 3 conceal shortages of specialist teachers … [and] … integrated subject lessons were often incoherent, leaving pupils with little clear idea of their purpose". That is something with which my professional colleagues will be in full agreement. They are not happy about attempts to combine history and geography. They want history to retain its place as a single subject.

I do not blame the Secretary of State for what he said in his speech of 4th January. There was an urgent problem to which he had to find a solution. I blame the Department of Education and Science for the length of time it took to discover that key stage 4 and GCSE were incompatible. It would have been easy enough for the working group to compile a syllabus to fit three and a half key stages. In fact it was directed to compile it to fit four full ones.

The matter has been raised in this House before —in 1988 when the Education Reform Bill was discussed. It was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on 5th May and 22nd June and by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and my noble friend Lord Ritchie of Dundee, who divided the House without getting any response. On that occasion the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, was convinced that there was no problem. She said that: there can be no question of the GCSE being incompatible with the requirements of the national curriculum … there will be ample opportunity for GCSE syllabuses to adapt before the formal requirements are introduced for the fourth key stage in any subject".—[Official Report,' 22/6/88, col. 818.] It has not happened. She also advised the House to wait for the regulations. That is what the House has done. The regulations have arrived and it is too late to do anything. That is why I believe that the House should be wary in general of taking such advice from Ministers.

On 5th May the noble Baroness also stated that working parties would continue to consider what she called the subject interface between GCSE and the national curriculum. In the event, they were told not to do so. We therefore have a problem that was known and visible to the naked eye of the ordinary observer for three years before the Department of Education and Science woke up to it. No wonder it had to take emergency action. No wonder that emergency action is rather a mess. We cannot blame the department for making a mess at the last moment. We can blame it for not seeing the problem a great deal earlier.

What should be done now is the problem. I do not believe that the matter can be put right by amendment. We have a careful scheme which is designed with four key stages. I, and others who know more about the subject than I do, cannot envisage any way in which that scheme can be amended to fit tidily into three and a half key stages. It seems to be academic opinion that it is not a good idea to defer the start of the national curriculum in history. There is fairly strong feeling against that. Historians feel that their subject should not be left behind at the starting gate of the national curriculum. I therefore do not recommend deferment.

I believe that the only way to tackle the confusion over key stage 4 is by regular revision of the national curriculum. That is necessary anyway. History is a fast-moving subject. Any history syllabus will need regular revision. It is important that such revision should be on a regular and automatic schedule, partly because, in departments where something urgent is always happening, revision is easily put on to a back-burner and partly because we do not wish the demand for revision to be politicised.

I believe—and there is general agreement on this view—that the proper interval for regular revision ought to be five years. There should be automatic machinery to do that. I do not see such machinery at present. Having recently read the first report of your Lordships' Procedure Committee, I envisage a way to supply one. According to paragraphs 9 to 11 of the report, it is perfectly in order for any Member of this House to put down a Motion asking the Government to withdraw regulations and to bring them back amended. I believe that the Government themselves should do that after five years. I shall give them a period of grace. However, after seven years—that is, at the end of the Easter Recess 1998—if I am alive, in good health and in this country, I shall put down a Motion asking the Government to withdraw the regulations and to refer them to the National Curriculum Council for revision. If that Motion is not accepted, I shall put it to the vote. That may be the longest notice of a Division which has ever been given in this House. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the order (S.I 1991/752) be annulled.—(Earl Russell.)

3.4 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, it is interesting even at this late hour on a Friday to be summoned to consider a matter of such vast national importance. I only regret that the three distinguished professional historians who normally sit on these Benches have for different reasons been unable to take part. However, as the noble Earl said, it is not a Party matter.

I do not share altogether the enthusiasm which the noble Earl has expressed regarding the working group whose labours eventually produced the document that we have before us. It began with a preference for an abstract notion of what children might be expected to learn in their history lessons. The working group considerably amended the original draft and improved it a great deal as a result of pressure from critics within the historical profession and the Secretary of State. I now agree that we have a method that can be looked at in operation to see how we fare. In particular the accent on British history and to a limited extent—I believe an insufficient extent—on the continuity of English and subsequently British history is where it ought to be.

The noble Earl somewhat misled the House by saying that the debate which resulted in the improvements to which I have alluded was between facts and imagination. That is not how it was presented. The question was whether facts or the skills of the historian should be in the forefront. How far were children to be taught that Alfred burned the cakes? How far were they to be taught to assess the evidence that we have for believing that Alfred burned the cakes? How far should we consider the consequences to the national history of this country of his burning of the cakes? The difference between the idea that one should teach subjects because children should know what happened and the idea that one should teach them in a way that would help to explain how historians operate is a problem, and I am not happy that it has been solved.

I do not believe that the writers of the curriculum, its critics or supporters, have sufficiently understood the grave difficulty that the modern child has in assessing the fact that he lives in an historical continuum. Some of their beliefs can be gauged from the illustration that they suggest what might usefully be taught. The writers talk as though a large part of our population lives in villages or market towns where the evidence for past communities is all around. However, in the great cities children live in an environment that has changed within our own lifetime perhaps more considerably and emphatically than in any previous period. They are cut off by bricks and mortar—perhaps one should now say by concrete—from the historical past. The effort to implant the notion that things were different is now harder than it was a generation, let alone a century, ago.

Furthermore, the writers do not face what I believe is one of the most important aspects of historical teaching at any level in schools—they do not distinguish between fact and fiction. Fiction is presented to children, through television, to a greater extent than it was presented to previous generations. How does one get children to distinguish between, for example, an old news film on television showing Hitler or Churchill and a factitious presentation in dramatic form of something which may or may not have happened and, if it did happen, may not have happened in the way shown? There is a constant danger of confusion. I believe that the makers of this curriculum have not faced that altogether satisfactorily.

What I find much more difficult to decide, having had no experience of teaching small children and taking the illustrations given, is whether a great deal too much is being expected of them. Some of the subjects which are suggested as illustrations are matters upon which the historical profession is still divided. To ask children to explore the causes of the French Revolution or the fall of the Roman Empire seems to me to be asking them to understand matters which may be appropriate for undergraduates but which are not appropriate for seven or even 14 year-olds. I believe that if people study the document they will hope that while teachers are obviously bound by the national curriculum to pay attention to its overall concepts, they will not believe to be binding suggestions for particular topics, which are non-statutory. We must wait to see how it works out in practice.

Although there were teachers on the group which devised the curriculum, it was always more likely that teachers at any level would be carried away by their own enthusiasms. They do not pause to think whether their enthusiasms can easily be shared with younger children. It is all rather too difficult, too professional and too remote from the experience of many of the pupils or the experience which they bring to it.

Again, I am not sure to what extent the problem of continuity is addressed. It is not addressed for young children because it is proposed that there should be a jump from the 11th century to the 15th century—a period in which they are. supposed to believe that nothing happened. It is part of the reluctance to be interested in learning matters by heart. I believe that the memorising of the names and dates of the kings and queens of England should figure in the early stage of the national curriculum. Slightly older pupils should not have to worry about whether they resemble Mrs. Disraeli who, as noble Lords will remember, could never remember who came first: the Greeks or the Romans.

As far as I remember—and I am now trying to think back over 70 years—I was taught to make time charts on rolls. I still think of history in terms of unrolling a chart and coming to this century or that century, this civilisation or that civilisation. Somehow the notion that it all took a very long time and happened a long time ago was implanted in my mind. Instead of that, children should now know how to use an IT database. I would not know an IT database if it came riding on a bicycle round Old Palace Yard. I do not sec why children learning history should be bothered at such an early stage with that sort of modern technology.

Another difficulty is that explored by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. While one would hope, and was led to expect, that one of the merits of the curriculum was that history would be a compulsory subject up to the age Of 16, the inability to work out a timetable, and in particular the conflict with the interests of geographers, has led to the possibility that many children might cease studying history at the age of 14. That is exactly the age at which some of the more interesting questions often come alive for them. For that reason I agree entirely with the noble Earl that it is essential that the system should be examined from time to time to see how it is working out.

The illustrations are not exhaustive. It is a little worrying to find that a document which has been examined by so many distinguished people—the Historical Association and all the bodies to which the noble Earl referred—contained at least two errors. First, among the subjects suggested as topics for non-British history are Mesopotamia and Assyria. To the best of my knowledge Assyria is in Mesopotamia, at least that is what Saddam Hussein believes and on that I a n prepared to take his word.

Secondly, it is suggested that Indian history, in which I have a particular interest, should be taught from the arrival of the Moguls to the arrival of the British. But the British and the Moguls arrived very close together in time; indeed, the history of Britain's relation; with India, up to the middle of the last century, is a history of its relations with, first, an expanding and then a declining Mogul raj. Once again, it may be that they did not want to include dates and instead included an inaccurate description. I do not wish to make too much of that. However, intellectual rigour was mentioned by the noble Earl and than is a piece of rigour for the people who wrote the document.

Noble Lords would not wish me to prolong the discussion. I could take them page by page through the document but we are not supposed to sit late on a Friday. I imagine people will begin to be impatient, if they are not so already. I say only that, should I be around in 1998—although it is unlikely—I shall be in the Division Lobby with the noble Earl, Lord Russell.

3.18 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, having put my name down to speak in the gap I find myself in an embarrassing situation, most of what I wished to say having been covered already by speakers far more eloquent than myself. However, I should like to say that the debate on history is one that will continue because the subject will continue. We must examine the need for a continual flow in history for the simple reason that, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff—and I say this as someone who has just finished history at university level—it is virtually impossible to jump between two blocks of history several centuries apart in relation to the same country. We need to ask, "How did these objects get here?" or "Why in Britain did the Church change in those two periods?". There must be a flow and the subject must be approached as a continuum.

When we consider the cross-referencing of subjects and whether two subjects overlap we should look at the way they fit together. The conflict on this occasion appears to be between geography and history. However, ultimately at various points history overlaps virtually all other subjects. For instance, when we discuss the 19th century the Romantic movement comes into it, which is probably something that owes more to the literary movement and its initiation than to history. I could go on and on. The further we enter the realms of economic history and its relationship to the political sphere—a debate which, as the noble Lord said, we hope is over—the more we realise that the two are connected. In my experience it is virtually impossible to disconnect them. How on earth can the subject be removed from economics or the study of mathematics?

I admit that the IT database left me cold, as it did others. I came across it when I studied economic history. It was suggested that I should work out my own statistics. Needless to say that particular brand of history I gave up very rapidly after I was forced to study it. But ultimately a degree of mathematical knowledge will be essential to that kind of approach. I support my noble friend purely on the ground that I agree that the issue has nothing to do with party politics. We should at least review on a regular basis this subject, if not all others.

3.20 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I contribute briefly to this matter. I am slightly perturbed because I am extremely keen on the document History in the National Curriculum. I hope that the Minister does not let me down and that he also agrees with it. Then it can be the Front Benches against the remainder so far as I am concerned. I have been through the document and I can only say that I wish I had been taught history in this way. I should have benefited enormously and I expect that other noble Lords would have done so too. That is not to say that one cannot find criticisms, but, if this is what history is to be in our schools, then I very much approve. One can disagree with some of the details but on the whole I think this is really rather good. I very rarely find any words to support the present Secretary of State, but I hope that he does not back down from this because it is a very good document.

The order itself defines the material in History in the National Curriculum as "the document". Once the order is carried I take it that the document will become statutory. In other words, it will become what must happen and after today history in our schools will be based on this document until another order is carried. That is important, because my experience of schools and school teachers is that many of them do not appreciate what the national curriculum means in terms of what has to be done once orders of this kind have been carried.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised an important related matter; namely the GCSE. The history taught in key stage 4 will be the history that was taught in schools for the GCSE. I am interested to know whether in some sense this document now defines what the GCSE has to be and in particular determines the examination, or whether the procedure is the other way round. I want to know whether within the provision there is a system for accommodating what the GCSE examiners want.

In terms of content, the three-method logical section of attainment targets 1, 2 and 3 are excellent. We are preparing our young people for the world of the future and for history which has not yet happened, so to speak. Of course they will have to learn to use databases and all the factors that go hand in hand with that. It may be that our great country is in permanent decline, but I still strive mightily to make sure that it is not. The future for them will become the future of databases and that kind of thing. We cannot have our young people not knowing about such matters even if we do not.

I agree with the document on that point. I have emphasised to noble Lords in the past that I am particularly keen for our young people to be taught that different events are interpreted differently by different people. I have on occasion strongly recommended to noble Lords that they read a French history text book about the battle of Waterloo or an American history text book on the American war of independence. To say the least, that is a mind-opening exercise and a very worthwhile one. I believe that it is that kind of approach that this document wants our young people to take. I favour the British-centred view of history, but that is no great limitation. Throughout most of our history Britain has been an outward-going country connected with the rest of the world, so in choosing Britain as an initial focus one is not in any way neglecting the history of the rest of the world. Therefore, I do not think that there is a major problem in that respect.

I turn now to the question which seems to have exercised almost everyone's mind —where does history end and current affairs or politics begin? This is not a matter which I regard as being the essence of the subject. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and others pointed out, it is an interesting question. However, I would not die in the last ditch for this or any other line.

Nevertheless, I must confess that I am a little concerned about one aspect. I can remember my youngest child telling me that he was studying the Korean War. I cannot remember whether it was in connection with an 0-level or an A-level course. I said,"I didn't know you were doing current affairs". He replied, "I'm not, I'm doing history". I then said, "Well, it may be history to you but it was certainly current affairs to me". However, it is interesting to note that the key question of who invaded first seemed to remain an argument just as it had been when I was a student at LSE arguing left, right and centre on that very issue.

Therefore, there is a sense in which the dividing line is irrelevant. Indeed, only a few weeks ago noble Lords realised how up to date the Parliament Act 1911 really is, what it meant and what its intention was. We discussed it last week as a matter of current affairs, yet it is also considered to be part of history. So I am not as exercised about that line as others.

I should like to draw attention to the wording of the document History in the National Curriculum (England). I assume that other speakers have studied it. On page 51, which deals with key stage 4, the expression "circa 20 years ago" occurs twice. Assuming that it becomes a statutory document, "20 years ago" is a moving period; in other words, it increases by one year every year. In that sense the problem outlined by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, will not occur. I say that because it will automatically be brought up to date. For example, in seven years' time, "20 years ago" will take us back into the 1970s, verging on the 1980s. Therefore, that is another reason why I am less worried—unless I have totally misinterpreted the meaning of the words "circa 20 years ago".

I am totally in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I wish that this debate had taken place at a more convenient time when we could have discussed the subject in more detail. There are many fascinating issues involved. Indeed, if more time had been available I should have intruded more of my layman's ignorant views, at least to keep myself amused. However, my main contribution today is to say that, although we could argue on detail, broadly speaking this is quite a good start and not one that I wish to oppose.

3.28 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, this is the first time that I have been involved in a Prayer to annul. I must say that I was daunted by the thought of such a very negative term. However, it has been a most positive debate. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I especially thank the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for the positive aspects of the national curriculum which he highlighted. Like him, I acknowledge the work of the working groups. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for his support.

History is one of the key subjects among the 10 in England and 11 in Wales which make up the national curriculum. None of us will be in any doubt of its importance in the education of young people in helping them to make sense of the world in which we live. It is also a splendid discipline for developing the mind. I believe that this Government can take credit for including history in the national curriculum and for making the orders which we are debating today.

I am sure that we can all agree on the need for action to raise standards in the teaching of history. The evidence about what happens now is not encouraging. Her Majesty's Inspectors have found standards of work in primary school history generally weak. Moreover, in secondary schools, HMI has found that the humanities approach adopted by some schools fails to recognise or deliver the distinctive nature and discipline of each of the contributory subjects such as history or geography.

The orders for history in England and Wales should remedy this as they provide a proper basis for the historical knowledge, understanding and skills which all children ought to have. The national curriculum will ensure that all pupils will follow a thorough and rigorous course of study in the subject. They will of course be tested on what they have learnt at each of the four key stages.

Up to the age of 14 all pupils will study both subjects. For 14 to 16 year-olds the Government believe that it is right to allow more choice. Many anxieties have been expressed to us by head teachers and others about the difficulty of fitting everything into the school day if older pupils have to take every one of the national curriculum subjects. Many are concerned about the squeeze this would put on other valuable studies—a second modern foreign language or a vocational subject, to give just two examples.

That is why the Government announced in January a number of steps to help ensure that 14 to 16 year-olds are able to choose a curriculum that allows for the development of their individual aptitudes, interests and career aspirations, while still pursuing a broad and balanced course of studies.

One measure which is particularly relevant today, and on which the Government will shortly be making the statutory proposals, is to allow a pupil taking a full geography course—the GCSE course—to drop history after 14 and vice versa. As an alternative to doing either GCSE history or GCSE geography, pupils would also be able to satisfy national curriculum requirements by doing shorter courses in both subjects.

I emphasise that these are minimum requirements. Many pupils will choose to do more than the minimum and we shall expect the great majority of schools to provide for that. We also believe that the degree of choice to be offered will encourage more pupils than would otherwise be able to do so to study history or geography in the depth required by GCSE. And of course every pupil will have followed a full and rigorous course in both subjects from five to 14: a great improvement on what happens now.

Of all the national curriculum subjects, history has proved the most controversial. This was only to be expected, since it is a subject that arouses strong feelings and disagreements. The debate has been lively, open and prolonged. There has been extensive consultation—more than for any other national curriculum subject.

This has been a healthy process which has shown the value of the consultative safeguards in the Act and given the lie to the charge that governments will misuse their powers to impose a politically determined curriculum. No one in your Lordships' House has attempted to raise that matter, but it has happened elsewhere. Of course the outcome will not satisfy everybody: no outcome could. The History Working Group recognised this in its final report, which concluded that it was neither desirable nor possible to search for a formula which would please everyone. But I believe that we have at last reached a broad consensus on what school history should be like, which is reflected in both the history orders.

The programmes of study in each order cover what has been generally agreed to be a balanced and sensible selection of historical periods and themes. The selection is quite properly different in the separate orders, to allow pupils in Wales and England to learn about the particular developments that helped to shape the societies in which they live. They are also the product of different preparatory and consultation processes.

I am glad that the history orders have been generally very well received. Only one aspect has attracted criticism; the decision that the final stage of the course should make some distinctions between history and current affairs. Let me make it clear that it is not and never has been the Government's intention to prevent teachers from dealing with contemporary issues in the classroom if and when they feel it is appropriate to do so.

I have no doubt that many will continue to illustrate their subject by highlighting the parallels and distinctions between past and present times. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to that point. To allow teachers the discretion to do this is one matter; to require them by law to do so is quite another. Moreover, to require them to test their pupils' understanding of contemporary events and personalities, however topical or controversial, as part of the national curriculum assessment arrangements is wholly inappropriate.

For the purpose of defining the legal requirements to be imposed on schools by the national curriculum, we therefore believe it is essential to draw some distinction between history and current affairs. Teachers will face a considerable challenge in covering the wide range of topics already set out in key stage 4 of the history orders for 14 to 16 year-olds. A requirement to be fully up-to-date on world history, let alone British history, to the present day could prove the last straw.

But a more important objection to bringing history up to the present day is one of principle. History is a valuable training for the future citizens of a democracy. The essence of this training is respect for evidence and commitment to objectivity. The study of the shifting sands of contemporary events cannot instil these qualities, because those events cannot be coolly and calmly observed through an historical perspective. That obviously requires detachment in time. Of course history did not end 20 years ago but we cannot hope to consider and describe events of more recent vintage with a realistic claim to historical objectivity. That may well be said of many events before 1970, but there must be a reasonable rule of thumb. The Government are prepared to defend the one on which the history orders are based.

I am quite sure that we misjudge our children and young people if we assume that we can engage their attention only with the contemporary. It is our job and the responsibility of education to lead them to understand and appreciate our great cultural inheritance. We shall not succeed in this if we are coy, defensive and oblique about it or if we allow their perceptions of history to be distorted by the preoccupation with events of the past few years.

I believe that I have answered at least one or two of the points raised. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, spoke of three and a half key stages. The order provides expressly for pupils to study history in key stage 4 but not to GCSE. That is a reduced course, the model 1 course in key stage 4, the core study unit on 20th century history. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the document is statutory.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, will the Minister answer one question on that? Is the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to understand that the effect would be that in GCSE it will not be possible to ask questions about what happened in the past 20 years? Is that the force of the rolling 20-year requirement, that it will affect what can and cannot be set in an examination?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am not sure that I know the answer. The document is statutory. It becomes law on 1st August. It is effectively for pupils starting key stages 1, 2 and 3 this autumn; 14 year-olds will not start on key stage 4, however, until 1994, when GCSE syllabuses must be in line with the order.

Lord Peston

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord on the point which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised. GCSE, as I understand it, is separate. That is the whole problem. I am not pressing the noble Lord to answer the complicated matter which has been with us for some time as to how GCSE, which stands on its own two feet, relates to the national curriculum. I hope he agrees with what has been said, that this ought to be clarified not just for history but for other subjects in due time. That is my point.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

Yes, my Lords, I have had advice that GCSE will not cover events of the past 20 years.

Lord Peston

I find that interesting. I do not say that I have a view on it yet. It is a new piece of information for me.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I also find it rather interesting. I shall leave the speech of my noble friend Lord Beloff unchallenged. It will remain on the record as part of the endless debate about history, together with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, since he did not ask any questions.

The great point that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, made concerned review. It is certainly our intention that the orders will be reviewed at intervals and if amendments seem desirable they will be made. Since the orders allow a good measure of flexibility and choice, it will be possible for teachers to tailor programmes of study to the changing needs of their pupils.

I do not believe that frequent changes to the order would do much to promote the successful implementation of the national curriculum for history or the objective of raising standards in the subject. I make a distinction between keeping something under review and a commitment to revise. The noble Earl may pick me up on this. We will revise regularly, within a stated period, and will review certainly. The National Curriculum Council and the Curriculum Council for Wales have a duty to do so and to advise the Secretaries of State. We reject the suggestion of regular revision. We must let the proposals bed down. To judge by the light of experience, it would not inspire confidence if the national curriculum for history started life under a sentence of being replaced within a certain number of years.

The Secretary of State has demonstrated his willingness to make changes. Earlier this week he published revised proposals for maths and science. However, I take note that the noble Earl has issued quite an alarming moratorium on this matter with a parliamentary device. I am sure that my right honourable friend will wish to take note of that threat.

I again thank noble Lords for taking part in the debate. Even if complete agreement cannot be reached among us this afternoon, these orders should be generally welcomed by your Lordships in so far as the subject of history will once more be prominent, as it deserves to be, in the classrooms of Wales and of England.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I wish to thank the Minister for that reply. I also wish to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. If it has proved nothing else, it has proved that history is a subject which generates a lively and very general interest.

I think I would have been justified in initiating the debate for no other reason than that it provoked the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. It is a speech about which I shall be thinking for a good many years to come. I am not sure how many of the noble Lord's points I agreed with and how many I did not agree with, but I shall certainly continue to think about his speech. If he will forgive me, I wish to take up one small point that he made about the lack of continuity. I agree with the noble Lord on that point.

Where I think the noble Lord does not quite have the matter right is the motive he imputed to the working group—a reluctance to be involved in learning by heart. It so happens that I know a little about this matter because some of the members of the working group discussed the difficulty with me. They feel about continuity as the noble Lord and I feel. However, they were faced with pressure to include a great many things without overloading the system. Somewhere one has to say that one cannot have everything. It was the simple difficulty of getting a quart into a pint pot that produced that effect. As regards the working group having a reluctance to ask people to learn things by heart, I must say that one of the original members of that group was my undergraduate tutor. From my own certain memory he had no reluctance about that whatsoever.

The key point is clearly the question of review. The Minister dwelt on that. I agree with him that we do not want frequent changes. On the other hand we do not want to have a situation where in order to trigger a review it is necessary to build up a great body of dissatisfaction with the curriculum as it exists and to complain in all directions. That is the advantage of an automatic procedure. It was not my intention that that automatic procedure should necessarily result in change. However, I believe there should be an automatic time at which the thing gets looked at without controversy, fuss or complaint just to see whether change is needed.

I was also a little uncomfortable about what the noble Lord said about ceasing to do history after the age of 14. If that had been envisaged when the working party commenced its work, it would have produced a syllabus in a very different pattern. There are a lot of things in key stage 4 which we do not wish to have left out. If that were to become the norm, we would again receive a body of complaints that no one is doing X or Y in school. That would refuel some of the discontent which has led to the setting up of the national curriculum in the first place, which would be a pity. I am certain these points will continue to be considered.

There is nothing more that can usefully be said tonight. This has been a good debate. I am grateful for it. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at fifteen minutes before four o'clock.