HL Deb 08 July 1996 vol 574 cc9-11

3 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend that the teaching of British political history should be reduced in schools in Scotland also, if a change of this kind is made in England and Wales.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, the great majority of schools in Scotland follow courses leading to qualifications offered by the Scottish Examination Board. There are no plans to alter the content of the Standard Grade History course in Scotland.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply which is welcome. However, if press reports are correct about the GCSE and the national curriculum—neither of which applies in Scotland—will a child have to be at school in Scotland to learn about the Battle of Hastings, kings and queens, Wellington and Nelson? That, of course, would be in addition to Bannockburn and Prestonpans.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I am confident that the noble Lord will understand why I excuse myself from commenting on the veracity of press reports. However, I can confirm that within the Scottish curriculum as it stands at present, it is possible to study the Battle of Hastings. With the curriculum reforms which are proposed at present by the Government, the Battle of Hastings can be studied at four different levels in secondary schools. That also applies to the Battle of Bannockburn which my noble friend mentioned.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does the Minister agree that he is suggesting that Scottish children should be educated much better than English children? There is a move on the part of persons responsible for the national curriculum in history to minimise the teaching of proper political and institutional history in favour of vague nonsense.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, as I understand the situation in England and Wales, a mandatory list of events and peoples is not entirely necessary on its own. The teaching of mandatory subjects such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars will include such famous people as Nelson and Wellington. In addition, the subject of the Crown and Parliament in the 16th and 17th centuries will mention the Gunpowder Plot.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, history is a subject on which everyone has his own opinion as to whether it is correct or incorrect. When I saw the Question, I did not know what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, was seeking. I spoke to some people in Scotland who are involved with history and they were just as puzzled. However, it came to me that the thread between social and political Scottish and English history is very tangled in our country. Many Members here will remember with affection Lady Elliot of Harwood who encapsulated a great deal of history. She once told me how proud she was that her father had been carried on the shoulders of his father to the first Chartist demonstration in Britain held in Glasgow Green in 1832. That showed the generations, the movement of people and the public expression of a point of view by someone whom most people in the House will remember with great affection.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for giving me a history lesson. What he said was important: as well as learning about individuals and events of significance, it is also necessary for young people to be aware of important changes within society and consider them across a wide timescale.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, if we are to insist that children learn about battles, will the Minister ensure that Scottish and English children learn as much about the Battle of Stirling Bridge as Bannockburn, bearing in mind that William Wallace was an extremely good commander for the Scots? In teaching about the Battle of Waterloo, perhaps it could be pointed out that two-thirds of Wellington's army consisted of German and Dutch troops and only one-third of English, Scots and Irish.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who has also helped me today.

Lord Monson

My Lords, since we are discussing the teaching of British history, does the noble Earl agree that this might be an opportune moment to congratulate the BBC on an excellent radio series which has just finished? It was called "This sceptr'd isle", and was loosely based on Sir Winston Churchill's A History of the English-speaking Peoples. This superb production must have reawakened the interest of an enormous number of people in our history.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I gather that it was an excellent piece of radio journalism from the BBC.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, about a week ago a senior judge on the Bench asked me whether Estonia, the northern Baltic state where I live and work, is still governed from Moscow. I replied in the negative. Estonia is a free and independent state. Does the Minister agree that British history should be taught in schools in a European context rather than a narrow parochial one?

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his information relating to Estonia. It is always useful for such points to be made.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, in relation to the previous question, does the Minister agree that European history is the history of the member states of Europe?

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Pearson always brings up interesting points in relation to Europe. Returning to the Question on the Order Paper, I confirm that in the Scottish syllabus, particularly relating to the Higher Grades, European history is an important part of the syllabus.