HL Deb 12 November 1996 vol 575 cc906-26

5.42 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have for moral education in schools.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have put down this Question as a small contribution to the historic initiative which the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury launched in this House in July of this year. Since then a good deal has happened, as we all know. There have been other admirable initiatives. I have in mind the hour long speech of the Leader of the Labour Party at the party conference; the manifesto of the noble widow of the murdered headmaster; and the document produced by the Catholic Bishops. Recently, the Prime Minister explained in the most unmistakable way that he is and always has been a lifelong Christian.

Bearing in mind that last point, I hope and believe that when the noble Lord, Lord Henley, replies he will be happy to inform us that in the view of the Government Christianity must play a leading part in the attempt to improve or even maintain the moral life of this country and of our children in particular. The noble Lord will find himself in good Christian company. I notice that a number of Christians are to follow me in speaking in the debate. They are all better Christians than myself, I am sure; I should be sorry to hear that they were not. We shall hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the right reverend Prelate and what Winston Churchill would call other paradigms. On this side of the House we have the noble Lord, Lord Morris, who possesses perhaps the clearest and certainly the loudest voice in favour of Christianity in this House. I am sure that the noble Lord will be happy to lead such a concourse forward.

The noble Lord is as aware as I am that this is a country in which the vast, overwhelming majority of people when asked state that they are Christian. We have been told recently by one of our most admired humanists that 10 per cent. of the population do not believe in any religion. I have remarked previously, upon expert information, that 3.7 per cent. of the population belong to other religions. Good luck to them, of course, my Lords. But the fact is that this is an overwhelmingly Christian country. When the noble Lord, Lord Henley, replies, I am sure that he will speak in a way which expresses that most capably.

We shall all have to speak in a hurry and rather dogmatically in the few minutes allowed. I turn to the report of the moral forum. I find myself in some difficulty. I admire the purpose underlying the forum. I admire the chairman, a very good Christian as I well know; and I am sure that there are many other Christians in that forum. However, when all is said and done, the forum has failed to give any clear moral lead. It has failed to pay any attention to Christianity or even to religious values. So I am bound to say that if I were seeking to bring up children on the basis of the Gospels or of the moral forum I should not choose the moral forum. I should much prefer the Gospels.

Let us take one aspect of the forum. Out of those 150 people, only five supported an amendment which would have stressed the need for family values and successful marriage. In a rather patronising conclusion in the report, the majority states that while not necessarily dissenting it cannot see its way at the moment to come out clearly on behalf of the family and marriage.

I must speak rather more plainly than the bold spirits who supported the amendment. Even the supporters of the amendment do not refer to fidelity in marriage, although that is clearly implied in the amendment. However, I shall be even more outspoken and say that the great enemy of a successful marriage and of good family life is adultery. Adultery has become almost an obscene word. It is almost pornographic to mention adultery. It is like homosexuality—the sin that cannot give its name. But I am bound to say plainly—it is well known to all Christians present—that adultery is, and always has been, one of the cardinal sins not only in Christian but Jewish ethics. Unless our political and religious leaders denounce adultery more boldly than hitherto, we shall not make much moral progress.

I am bound to face the fact—it may have worried the majority of the forum—that if you tell children that adultery is wrong you may receive the answer, "But that is just what my parents are up to". And there it is. In this day and age it is no good pretending that that is not a great difficulty. But if one succumbs to that point of view, one has to say that one will never make the children better than their parents. In other words, the hope of a moral renewal becomes nonsensical.

I say these things easily enough as an elderly Back-Bencher. I know that it is harder for people in responsible positions—rulers and political or religious representatives. They have to consider the amount of popular support that can be obtained at any specific moment. It is tempting for them to seek a consensus which is the lowest common denominator to which everyone can agree, and then to go along with it. That is what the moral forum seemed to do. But at its best this House has risen above that consideration. At its best this House has been ready to give a moral lead to the nation—not only in finding a consensus, but in leading it. I hope and believe that this House will do that very thing tonight.

5.50 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for introducing this short debate. As he said, it is both important and topical. When he asked me quite particularly to take part, I told him how glad I was to do so. Often in recent years he and I have stood, as it were, shoulder to shoulder on some of these issues on public platforms. I have greatly admired the stand that he has taken on moral issues during the period I have known him in this House. I think back particularly to the great debates on pornography some 25 years ago. The noble Earl's courage in these matters is very great. His is a very good example of the value of the work of an hereditary Peer.

In introducing this debate we must make it quite clear that there are no short answers to the very big questions that are raised and that it will take years before we can reverse the current climate of opinion on relative values into something more substantial. However, that does not mean that we should not try to formulate a set of principles by which we should all live. That is what we are talking about. It is not that we all live up to them every minute of our lives—as Christians, we all know that we fall, and fail to live up to the standards that we should like to achieve—but we need those standards set out before us.

In this debate we have before us the SCAA consultation document. I accept immediately that it is not a statement of government policy. It is, however, a necessary subject for debate. Before turning to the document, I should like to comment on the extraordinary event of the two minutes silence yesterday. That, after all, was a moral statement. It was accepted by some 80 per cent. of the population. Particularly impressive were the numbers of young people who took part. I asked myself why that was so. I believe that the young people took the example from their elders, who told them what it was about, and also learnt what it was about through the national curriculum, which now includes teaching on the First and Second World Wars. That tells us something about how we should proceed on the issue before us.

What is eventually included in the SCAA document is important. It will become part of the national curriculum, and once that happens it must be taught. It would be helpful if my noble friend the Minister would tell us in his reply whether some such document is to be included in regulations.

It is quite helpful to read the background notes before turning to the document itself. The findings are that there is much good practice. It seems a pity that we have not had some examples so that we may know what is meant by good practice. Secondly, it indicates that a clear statement of values has been agreed and that the forum expects all members of the community to live by those values. How important that is in schools. Whatever is agreed should be agreed by teachers, by governors, by the local education authority and, it is to be hoped, by parents as well if we wish to achieve anything at all.

That said, I am inclined to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that the document is incredibly anodyne and, I should have thought, most unhelpful to children. I was astonished, for example, to see, at the end of the set of values relating to society: make truth and integrity priorities in public life". That may be true, but surely we make them priorities in the home and in the whole of our life. We do not decide to keep to the truth on Tuesday morning. I find that an extraordinary statement.

To explain why I believe the report is anodyne, I turn to three moral issues which confront all schoolchildren and on which I believe we would all agree. Bullying is one. Everybody believes that it is wrong and a lot of schools manage to eliminate it altogether. Cheating is another. We all agree that that is wrong. Given that so much course work for GCSE and A-levels is now internally assessed, cheating is a very serious matter. Stealing is another such issue. It is wrong to help yourself to somebody else's sweets. These are common issues faced by children. I am simply at a loss to understand why the document cannot state what we think about such matters.

Leaving all that aside, I was very pleased indeed that my right honourable friend Mrs. Shephard called for the need to rethink the point about leaving out marriage altogether. I find the omission quite astonishing at this particular time. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has set up his interdepartmental working party on marriage; he is intending to give money to support marriage or organisations that promote marriage. We have just had endless debates in this House on the Family Law Bill; everybody agreed that marriage was the most important matter. All the evidence goes to show that children require two parents, particularly fathers, who are so often absent now, and that one of the major causes of the breakdown of law and order is the fact that so many children are growing up without families and where there is not a stable two-parent relationship. I cannot see why we should not state that marriage is the right outcome; that it is not the same as cohabitation in any form. Although it is not at all politically correct to say so, I believe it is wrong for single women deliberately to have babies. To bring a baby into the world without a father is a very wrong thing to do. The child will suffer all its days. (Of course, some single mothers manage well).

There are many positive points to be stated and on which we can agree. We very much look forward to hearing the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield. I see that there were Ministers on the working party. I am bound to say that I am slightly surprised that they do not seem to have put in a minority report.

There are people who are anxious to help. I draw my noble friend's attention to the work of Sister Judith Russi, who produced a very interesting document on how moral education might be taken right across the curriculum. I am unable to describe the document in the limited time available to me. This is an important issue. I hope that the debate will be a major contribution to the discussion on the SCAA document.

5.58 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield

My Lords, those of us who live close to communities where the question of moral education is a very live issue would like to remind the House that moral education cannot be easily or completely separated from wider questions beyond the classroom. I trust that whatever plans are in hand to take serious account of moral education will not ignore those wider issues.

The Midlands diocese where I serve has over 20,000 children in its Church schools. Very many of those children live in areas where families are experiencing second or third generation unemployment. That must have a very adverse effect on the motivation of families and children to commit themselves to education. My diocese funds truancy workers to bring young people back into education as such, let alone moral education.

The question therefore of the future of employment in the large post-industrial communities of the West Midlands cannot be separated from that of moral education. When people, especially in former industrial areas, no longer go to work together, an important social glue is lost. That must have significance for the matter before us. Noble Lords should not misunderstand me. I believe that there remains on each family and on individuals living in such communities the responsibility to choose. The moral responsibility to choose is still there but regard must be paid to the context and the weekly and yearly pressure of the context.

A second point arises out of this Unstarred Question. There is a significant number of disturbed children in many of the classes of our church schools. Many classes are too large for the teachers to be able to cope with the excellent emphasis placed by the Government on higher standards in basic skills and the need to pay special attention to children to whom the question of moral education is especially applicable. I welcome the emphasis on higher standards in basic skills but I know more than one teacher who, in a too large class, is torn between trying to teach a child to read and disciplining and bringing some appropriate relational moral influence to bear on a disturbed child. I trust that those making plans for moral education are aware of those two wider factors.

I should like to mention a third point. If we are to include specific moral education in schools, I plead that the moral education lessons should be related to the other subjects in a syllabus. The Archbishop of Canterbury pleaded against the "ghetto-ising" of the subject. He pleaded that moral education should be related to the teaching of history and the sciences and not be hived off on its own.

The noble Baroness mentioned the importance of moral development being caught as well as taught. That is particularly clear in a school community—a primary school or a secondary school. I adduce as an example of good practice one of our priests who works in an area of the West Midlands where employment has fallen from 20,000 to 1,000. When he went as a new teacher to the primary school, one of the topics he had to address with staff was: is rudeness, courtesy or truth speaking? That school has improved its moral and academic performance because it has seen community as a very important agent in moral education.

Finally, I want to touch lightly but with great feeling and emphasis on the question of the relationship between moral values and religious belief. I do not wish to over-state or over-clarify this very complex relationship. All of us know people of admirable moral force who are agnostic. Let us never forget that. The other night I saw at a theatre very near to this House "Uncle Vanya", a play by Chekhov, who was a humanist agnostic of enormous nobility and courage. I noticed that the moment of greatest attention by the audience was when, in the very closing lines of the play, a heroine draws attention to such things as faith, reconciliation and rest.

In 1988 your Lordships' House was very concerned to bring worship into the whole area of the moral and educational development of children. The Archbishop of Canterbury has therefore invited SCAA to include in its discussions the vital relationship between worship and moral education.

I conclude with a quotation from the Psalms. The psalmist writes: Thy statutes [of morality and law] become songs in the house of my pilgrimage". In other words, worship can make moral education joyful and interesting. I wonder if the reason why people have not taken part in the forum is because we make this subject so boring. True religious belief, deeply wedded to moral behaviour, makes the subject fun. May the Lord preserve us from making the great, rich, human question of how to live boring. One way to ensure that we do not is to link it with the great mysteries of prayer and worship.

6.5 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for reminding us in his inimitable way of the responsibility we all have to give guidance and support to schools in this all-important area.

I speak as a Christian, but I hope that the noble Earl and my noble friend Lady Young will forgive me if I take a rather different line to that which they have taken. Of course the problem of how to develop young people's moral sense is not new. It has always been about older people handing on values to younger people. Centuries ago the Chinese had a saying: Handsome boy—O for a thread to haul you over to my side!". It has never been easy, but in this country it is probably more difficult now than it has ever been for teachers in our state schools—notably those that are not Church schools—to know what the nation expects of them, let alone how to meet the expectations.

In our multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society our structures of law and parliamentary thinking continue to reflect Christian assumptions. Of course they do. We have heard some of those assumptions in the speeches so far. Yet children come from families adhering to a variety of religions or no religion at all. While most parents do their best to teach their children moral values at home according to their lights, too many stand back from involvement in what the school is doing.

Given this scene, how should schools proceed in practice? Having read some of the material so far published, it seems to me that the two responsible bodies, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which speaks by way of the moral forum to which the noble Earl referred, and the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, are very much on the right lines. Their ideas are realistic and practical and do not conflict with the aspirations of those who have spoken so far. Both bodies propose to produce material to help schools—pupils, staff, parents and governing bodies, as groups and collectively—to agree a list of values which everyone in the school can share, which all, whatever their home background and religious beliefs, consider important, so that those things can be put at the heart of what the school is about. Such a list might include, for example, such things as—my noble friend Lady Young mentioned some of them—truthfulness, honesty, keeping the law, fairness, respect for others, loyalty, family life as where one receives love and support, and respect for the environment.

It is proposed that there would also be material to help the school go on from this to think through how in practice those values which everybody shares could be put into practice in the school: how people would behave towards one another—bullying, of course, is part of that; how they would treat visitors to the school; school dress; school rules; sanctions; and how teachers can link those values across the formal curriculum. My experience not just of how successful schools in practice handle these issues but also of similar work in the past in the multi-cultural and international guide movement makes me feel that the approach which is proposed is realistic and will work.

The secret is twofold. First, it lies in agreeing values which everyone understands and shares. For that purpose there is no need to find agreement on the source of those values from an individual's point of view. Some will believe that the values come from God, from the Bible or from the Koran; others that they originate in the human mind or wherever. The right reverend Prelate made the distinction that one can share values without having to share the source of those values. He made that point using other words—the linking of shared values with individuals, families and religious beliefs. Their views on marriage and on abortion or whatever it may be are extremely important. But they can be dealt with additionally. It does not mean that they have to be separate in people's minds. But they are not the shared values of schools because people are not in a position to share them.

The other part of the secret of the proposals is that a moral sense, a sense of right and wrong behaviour, is indeed caught and not taught. Everyone taking part in deciding what they want the climate of the school to be and then collectively trying to achieve that climate is far more likely to work than all the lectures, assemblies and high minded discussions that may take place in the school or in Parliament.

It has been said that the quality and training of head teachers is the most important of all. Of course it is, together with the training of staff. When last we legislated, the Association of Head Teachers warned that the somewhat airy-fairy aspirations of Parliament in that area would be very difficult to achieve in many schools.

I hope that this approach and training in this approach will be put at the disposal of those head teachers and their staff. They deserve no less, and I believe it will work for them.

6.12 p.m.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Earl for introducing this subject, which he framed as a very deliberate question to the Government; namely, what plans do they have for moral education? I hope that the Government will encourage a constant debate on morals in every part of schools and in every subject.

I took a great deal of comfort from the right reverend Prelate's remarks. There is a moral dimension to almost every subject that one can think of, certainly in the sciences, the arts and in politics; nowadays too in sport and in business. History is as much a history of moral debate on an international or national scale as it is about anything else. Nowadays, geography and natural history have a huge moral element attached to them because of our concern for the environment.

If that sounds like a list of GCSE subjects or a list of career opportunities, it is not an accident. I believe that unless the morality of our behaviour is argued in all those forums, we miss the point of moral education.

I hope the Government will not introduce an inflexible and fixed code or charter, mostly because I do not believe that it is possible but also because I believe very strongly in the famous dictum of Francis Bacon: If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.

Despite everything that the noble Earl said about marriage and what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, which is absolutely incontrovertible, about bullying, stealing and cheating, I do not believe that from any religion or any social chapter one can find a fixed and final set of precepts. It is difficult to know how to define morality in the first place but it is interesting that Jeremy Bentham, when he produced the famous phrase, "The greatest happiness of the greatest number", meant it not only as the foundation of legislation but as the foundation of morals.

I do not believe that the longest consultation in living memory will produce consensus. I know that the noble Earl is not fond of consensus as the only way forward, but I do not believe that trying to find consensus means that morals have to be swept under the carpet; nor do I believe that they have to be set upon it as tablets of stone. I believe that they should be daily invoked, daily discussed and daily debated. What that will do in schools is teach our schoolchildren what other people think and feel. I believe that that is a genuine moral dimension in education.

6.16 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, secured this debate this evening on a topic which is of crucial importance to the future well-being of our society. Perhaps we used to take it for granted that schools were all about moral as well as intellectual, social and physical education. But recent events where disruptive pupils have almost held schools to ransom have shown us that times have changed.

Years ago, too, I do not believe that there would have been much debate about what moral values should be taught in schools. But in our diverse society today we have had to have a national forum, drawing people from all corners of education and beyond, to draw up a statement of those values.

I have looked at the statement of values published two weeks ago by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and it is hard to disagree with what it contains. Are we not all in favour of valuing truth and human rights, valuing other people for themselves and valuing the natural world as a source of wonder and inspiration? But the questions that I should like to pose are these: does the statement go far enough and what specifically should Church schools be doing in the realm of moral education?

We have to recognise that schools will only ever be part of the jigsaw in the education of young people in moral values. Perhaps much more important is the home and the family and the message that they convey. I am therefore disappointed that the statement itself seems to me to be very weak in its comments on marriage and family life. It is as though the authors were anxious not to offend people. But surely we must give children values and ideals towards which to aspire. I therefore support the addition to the statement, proposed by five members of the forum, which is much more specific about the commitment to marriage and the dangers of sexual relationships outside marriage.

My second concern is the role of Church schools in promoting moral education. While a national statement of values may be somewhat bland because of the range of interests involved, there is no excuse for the Churches to be bland. The Lord Jesus was never vague or woolly. He was both clear and compassionate. Unfortunately, clarity and compassion are sometimes lacking today. Many Church schools are a shining light in upholding Christian values and being very specific about them, but others, sadly, are not. I urge all Church schools to maintain an unflinching but compassionate biblical approach. They do not need to be embarrassed by this; it is their role as Church schools.

There is one other topic I should like to mention: that is, the relationship between "belief" and "behaviour". In short, what we believe determines how we behave. That was mentioned effectively by the right reverend Prelate in his interesting speech. He talked about moral values and their relationship to religious beliefs. I believe that what he was trying to convey was exactly what I am talking about now.

What we believe is of the utmost importance and that is well illustrated by the Welsh revival at the beginning of this century. In the last three months of 1904, 80,000 souls were converted to Christianity. There were also astonishing results in terms of society; drunkenness was almost non-existent; crime largely ceased; debts were paid back; houses were blessed; children were clothed and fed; bitterness at work turned into praise; football matches turned into prayer meetings and the police force in one town, having no work to do because there was no crime anywhere to be found, gathered themselves together into a famous male voice choir and went wherever they were invited.

My message is simple. We should have as clear a statement of values as possible, especially on marriage and family life. And Church schools should not be afraid to go further and be specifically Christian in their approach.

6.21 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I should like to say something in relation to the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, to Church schools in the context of Christ Church, Spitalfields, in which there is not one single Christian child; it is entirely peopled by practising Bangladeshi Moslems. I suspect the Church of England may have a problem in that regard.

We have no alternative but to transmit moral values; all education transmits values. We can therefore transfer what we believe to be good values or random values. The question is what values we transfer and how we can effectively transfer them.

I was privileged to have a long talk at lunchtime today with Dr. Nicholas Tate—the poor man responsible for generating this statement of values. A number of misunderstandings have been promulgated by the popular press. First, it is only a consultation document; secondly, it is a consensus which only contains the issues unanimously agreed by the entire group of 150 people. It is now open to consultation. It will be revised and be subject to a further discussion both with the group and with others and it will then be brought back to Parliament.

The Jewish faith gave us the Ten Commandments. Those were things we should not do. Christianity gave us just two things that we should do; that is, we should love God and love one another, complemented by attitudes which again are entirely positive. It is therefore extremely encouraging that the values which Dr. Nicholas Tate and his merry men produced are expressed in positive terms. Each statement starts with the words, "We value".

Having said that, I agree that it is a pretty weak collection of objectives. It says virtually nothing about love, beauty, courage, self-discipline and self-sacrifice. I hope that those values will be included at a later stage and it may interest the House if I mention three or four amendments which I intend to propose. I was not discouraged from proposing them during my lunchtime meeting today.

I shall suggest that we learn to show courage in adversity; to be thankful for all that is good and beautiful; to try to recognise and appreciate beauty in all its forms and create beauty so far as we are able; and to learn to give and receive unselfish love appropriate to each relationship. In another area I shall suggest that forgiveness should be brought in. Any code of values which does not include the possibility of forgiveness is a terrible and frightening thing.

I turn now to how we should deliver those values in the classroom. Again, I must defend the School Curriculum Assessment Authority. It is my understanding that it is not the authority's intention that there should be lessons in morality and it is certainly not the intention that children should learn those values by heart. That was one of the dotty ideas proposed in some of the tabloids. If they were presented as just chalk and talk, it would be a total disaster. It would lead to yawning all the way home or a mobbing of the teacher.

Those values can permeate through every subject in the curriculum if teachers are encouraged and shown how to do it, even maths and football. Sister Judith, to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred, told us how a football coach said to her, "It's nothing to do with me". She said, "Wait a minute, what are you there for?". "I am there to teach them how to win football games", said the teacher. Sister Janet said, "Are you sure that's all you're there for?". Then he began to think about all the tremendously important lessons that could be taught in competitive team games.

The teachers need help and training. Can the Minister say whether the Teacher Training Agency will ensure that there is sufficient training in these areas of competence, both in terms of initial training and in-service training? There are elements in the moral curriculum which will have to be delivered in a more specific way rather than being part of the normal curriculum. I refer, for example, to sex and drugs education, education in relationships and communication, preparation for parenthood and the needs of children, citizenship and other knowledge and skills that young people need to prepare them for adult life.

The moral code will need the kind of interactive delivery to be found in discussion groups, videos, groups of specialists going into schools—perhaps in some cases medical professionals—and sometimes young people one or two years older than the pupils in the class going in to tell them of their experiences as single mothers or whatever it may be. Can the Minister say whether the Teacher Training Agency is gearing itself up to ensure that specialist teachers who deliver that kind of interactive teaching will be available in the future?

6.27 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I too, congratulate the noble Earl on allowing us to debate this important topic. Most of us who have taught in schools believe that we have a duty to impart moral values; but we need considerable help. The reason is that the roots of our present moral problems lie deep in the past. Since the turn of the century—some would say before that—it has increasingly been felt that individualism combined with the removal of restrictions on an individual's self-realisation should govern the thinking of all society. So far as possible each person should be judged by his own values and not be restricted by objective standards. That has been the philosophy of the past 100 years.

Many areas of creativity in art, music, literature and other fields flourished in this climate; a climate which emphasised individual self-expression rather than subordination to the accepted patterns of the past. But we are debating this matter tonight because the picture is much less happy in the sphere of morality. Traditional morality—that is, the morality followed for centuries in the past—required that for the best working of society restrictions should be placed on people's freedom to express themselves as they wished. Hence the traditional emphasis on stable marriages, restrictions on divorce and much more. Many of these restrictions were relaxed as the move for individual freedom grew ever stronger. Paradoxically, we demanded and received more freedom just as more effective methods of contraception demanded more responsibility than had ever been demanded of our ancestors. The ideal now was that self-discipline rather than fear should govern human behaviour.

The problem is that most of us are neither naturally good nor very responsible. I would dare to suggest that even those of us who are debating moral values so enthusiastically are often reluctant to restrict ourselves when we desire some end. We human beings have a fatal faculty that we can always convince ourselves that what we want is best for everyone else. Hence the expansion of divorce and the break-up of the family.

It is in this atmosphere that schools and teachers have to do their work. Their capacity to do this is further reduced by the weakening of religion and the fact that there has never been in English schools a tradition of civic morality, apart from religion, such as existed in America and France and still has some roots there today. This is the dilemma that faced those people in the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community. I share the view of the noble Earl and of my noble friend Lady Young that what is proposed is rather bland and vague—a tonic but lacking much gin. It represents a start but has a long way to go.

The real issue is what we can do to help. Let me first say as a Christian priest what role I think the Churches can play, even though only a minority attend their services. While I accept that the essence of the gospel is concerned with compassion and forgiveness, I feel it is crucial that the Churches place stronger emphasis on the traditional morality put forward in scripture and tradition, a point eloquently expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne. This can be of great assistance to teachers trying to support moral values in the classroom.

I speak as a person who was a teacher for 40 years. Sometimes I feel that compassion for the sinner has taken precedence over traditional moral teaching. Jesus forgave the woman taken in adultery but told her to sin no more. The Churches must remember that they are not just the leaven in the lump but the light on the hill. I say with some trepidation to the right reverend Prelate—we were at the same college, so we learnt the same creed—that, while I share his deep hatred of poverty and unemployment and think that they are evils which should be eliminated from our society, we tread on very dangerous ground when we emphasise the sociological grounds for the collapse of morality. My experience on the Parole Board for five years showed me that it was not poverty—though the people I saw were often very poor—but most definitely the break-up of the family that caused the situation in which they found themselves.

Finally, we as legislators have a duty when we make laws. We have to draw the balance between the award of greater freedom and the needs of social cohesion. That is particularly true of any laws concerning the family. Over the past two or three decades the aim for greater freedom has tended to prevail. Morality and social structures are very easily broken and very hard to rebuild. We have a lot of rebuilding to do. This document is a start, but much more needs to be done.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, in the four minutes which convention allows me there is no time for courtesies and only sufficient to pursue one point. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in a notable contribution, urged the Teacher Training Agency to expedite the production of specialist teachers. I would ask that that urgency be extended wider, because morality is not taught by specialists; it is given in example by generalists.

The way of inculcating good behaviour in schools is to get a good behaviour policy adopted by the whole school. That means not only the academic staff but the domestic staff, the janitor and so on; and not only the teachers but the pupils. I shall not bore the House on a subject on which I wrote a report for the Government in 1988 but I would point out that such a policy works dramatically. However, it depends on being done by people who know how to do it and know what they believe. That brings me to the teacher training colleges and their recruitment and training policies.

If one is to ask teachers to teach something that requires moral fibre, one has to recruit to the teaching profession people who have moral fibre. One has to inquire what they believe and what they stand for and ensure that this shows through in every lesson, in the playground and in the bus queue; indeed, in the pub, talking to the children's parents. That calls not merely for dedication but vocation. The framework which one gives to the school must be good. Goodness consists of love. Everything we have said focuses down onto the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you, which is very close to loving your neighbour as yourself. There is not a great gap between the Christian and the Moslem faiths in this. I believe that dedicated Christian teachers will infect Moslems as good Moslems will infect Christians—with a recognition that love is central to the proper conduct of human life on this troubled planet.

I conclude by thanking my noble friend Lady Young for pointing out that good behaviour is simple. It is about easy things. The choice may be difficult but the distinction is easy. Stealing is wrong; lying is wrong; telling the truth is right. One can build off these little blocks—which all start with the simple block: love your neighbour as yourself—into a great cloud of sophistry. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, was thinking of the sixth form and how it might be developed there. But throughout a school career children should be taught the difference between right and wrong by people who act it out in their lives and believe in it. That is what I would address to the Teacher Training Agency.

6.38 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, when we discuss a subject such as morality I am always astounded by the fact that we manage to be so close together but still have such fundamental differences in the way we approach it. Often it is the case that what I would regard as the smaller personifications of a moral code are what we find ourselves arguing about. Indeed, the emphasis that has been placed on marriage is something by which I am always a little frightened, for the simple reason that it seems to imply that a marriage ceremony makes a person better at raising children.

In the past women often stayed with men because they were financially tied to them. They endured domestic violence and other forms of abuse inside the home because of an economic restriction. That is a fact. It often took place within marriage. Indeed, it was the norm. If we take that kind of activity into account, we should look twice at bringing down any one part of our social code as an iron rule. We must always look at what went with it.

The ideal of two parents in a loving relationship, giving support to a child, is probably as good as it is going to be for bringing up a child. But it does not always work. When one emphasizes this approach in a society where large numbers of the population do not go in for that kind of relationship, one is immediately alienating the audience. If someone is told, "This is the way you should live" and they do not, one has immediately said to that person, "You are wrong". If someone said that in this Chamber, we would immediately feel our hackles rise. We would want to know why we were being challenged and criticised in that manner. If a child is placed in the kind of situation where its home environment is being attacked fundamentally one is creating a position of resistance, not just to that message but to all messages within schools. In all education one must try to open up the child's mind. Indeed, to learn anything everybody's mind must be open to receive information and ideas. I do not believe that many people disagree with that. I hope that there are none. Unless one can attract people to listen, one is not going to succeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made one of the most practical and sensible contributions I have heard in this Chamber for a good while in saying that one has to make things relevant to the people involved and to address the problems which have to be faced. It is also true that moral choice colours virtually every type of lesson. The historical process is probably the best example. Every time a decision is made, a war fought or social change introduced in our system, it is generally justified in moral terms. Often, according to my standpoint, it has been necessary to dig very hard to find a moral standpoint to justify the decisions taken. People morally justified slavery for thousands of years. Very few of us would do that now.

The SCAA document was almost bound to deal with such situations in general terms because if one does not want to alienate people by giving them absolutes, which may conflict with their views, one is bound to deal in general terms. It is virtually impossible to suggest otherwise. Recently, one society did go in for preaching moral absolutes. In the Soviet Union and its satellite states everyone at school and university was taught and examined in various works of Marx. The universities regarded it as a fudged exam. One was taught certain things and asked certain questions to which certain answers were given. A pass mark was then given. That extreme example is still a long way off. However, we should remember it because the moment one writes down something that has to be there it is written in stone. It will either be ignored or got round because it does not move with you. It is just left behind. Beliefs put in a moral context through examinations are not taken on and will always be left behind.

This is a subject where one needs either a couple of weeks to talk about it properly or a few minutes to make a couple of points. I hope that we can agree that we have far more ground for agreement than we have for disagreement on this subject. We must try to avoid building up disagreement leading to insurmountable obstacles because if we do we merely create a great deal of noise and achieve absolutely nothing.

6.44 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, your Lordships may recall the actress Joyce Grenfell and her cabaret sketch in which she played an infant schoolteacher with an imaginary class of schoolchildren in front of her. In the middle of talking to them she would suddenly stop and say, "George, … don't do that". We never learnt what it was that George was doing, but we could make a pretty educated guess.

Teachers, every day, in every school, are teaching moral behaviour just like that. They make clear what is acceptable to them and what is not; children learn how far they can go; the teacher establishes control. So I am glad we have heard no nonsense tonight about "the nationwide breakdown of discipline in our schools" and we have had no rabid slavering about bringing back the cane and the taws. All over the civilised world those days are gone.

In a small percentage of British schools there are serious problems of discipline. Flogging will not solve them; nor does the perpetual presence of cameras at the school gates do very much good. The one thing you can say for the cameramen is that they are never late for school.

I will admit one exception to that. Your Lordships may have seen on television last week a film surreptitiously shot of one class at The Ridings School, Halifax, when the teacher and children had no idea they were being filmed. The class was utterly out of control and the teacher powerless. Things should never have been allowed to get like that, of course. But once they have, there is nothing you can do. Exclusions of children, changes of staff and a new start are the only solution possible and that is probably true for Lincoln Cathedral as well.

One thing I believe we may confidently say and we have said it: morality cannot be taught as a school subject. It must be the acceptable, pervasive ethos of a school and not a discrete part of any syllabus. If that be so, it seems logical that if the Christian moral code, based on the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and Christ's command that thou shalt love the Lord thy God and thy neighbour as thyself, is unfortunately no longer universally conceded in this country as the rock on which moral behaviour in school should be founded, then an attempt should be made to find what moral values command the greatest consensus and could act as some sort of alternative.

So we have the first report of the national forum. It fell on pretty stony ground when the Secretary of State found it wanting on the matter of marriage and the media in general gave it a pretty hostile reception. Even such a serious and distinguished journalist as Simon Jenkins found much of it meaningless and preferred the light on our path to be provided by the Ten Commandments, the Boy Scout's Honour and the Highway Code. Children, he said, need practical guidance: they want to be told what to do.

The national forum report fails because it does not even attempt to tell anyone what to do. You cannot learn it; you cannot teach it; and you cannot apply it in any meaningful way. It is not relevant to school life. It is easy and sad to say that and difficult to suggest better solutions. There are no easy answers, but there is much good practice available.

For example, in one primary school it is the practice to declare from time to time that this is one pupil's special day. Every child gets one. The teacher writes on the board, "Today is Clare's day, Mohammed's day or Charlie's day. "We like Clare because … " Then the children write down one reason why they like Clare. "She knows good games" or "She doesn't bully me" or whatever. These are collected up and given to Clare as a positive contribution to her self-esteem and an assertion of her value to others. That is a practical application of what the national forum says on page 3 of its report: Tell others they are valued". But that is a special way of doing it. It has been going on all over the place for ages and ages.

Similarly, the same school has made a significant alteration to conventional school sports. There is a team race in which the children are divided into teams, but each team includes some children who are physically or mentally handicapped or otherwise likely to come in last, if at all, in any ordinary race. The winner of the new race is the team which gets all its members over the winning line first. So you have to work together, with the strongest helping the weakest, if your group is to succeed and win. Again, that is no isolated example.

I want to propose to Her Majesty's Government that they should take two simple initiatives. First, the DfEE should ask schools to submit examples of just how they instil moral values and commendable behaviour along the lines of the two examples I have just given. These could be collated in the department and a code of best practice created from them to be distributed to all schools with the instruction, "Go and do thou likewise". Secondly, the DfEE could suggest that schools should appoint, wherever possible, some unpaid person to be called "the visitor", "the patron", "the president" or "the chancellor" whose sole concern shall be to promote the moral health of the school. In a church school he or she might be called the chaplain but in a "sink" school one might prefer the title "visitor" and invite an appropriately qualified footballer or manager to take the job, although Mr. Glenn Hoddle might be felt to be a better role model than, say, Mr. Vinnie Jones. Similarly, since morality spans religious divisions, I see no reason why an Imam or Rabbi should not act in this capacity for any state school. After all, the nation listens to Rabbi Lionel Blue and Indarjit Singh on Radio 4 week by week. They seem to have no difficulty in establishing morality there.

Finally, moral education depends upon morally motivated teachers. I began with one George and I end with another. Your Lordships will be aware that George Thomas, the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, was my teacher when I was eight. A morally motivated man if ever there was one. Once in the playground I saw the school bully beating up my friend who was half his size. Very stupidly, in blind fury I pitched in and was hitting hell out of that bully when Mr. Thomas stepped in and prised us apart. "Sir", I explained tearfully, "he was hitting my friend—and he's bigger than him". "Who do you think you are, boy", said Mr. Thomas sternly to me, "the British Empire?" Suddenly, I felt very proud. I have never forgotten it. That was moral education.

6.52 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, in the presence of the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, we on this side of the House feel that he did a very good job some years ago on his pupil, the noble Lord, Lord Morris.

I also start in the spirit of consensus—a spirit which has gone through much of this debate—by saying how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on two points that he made at the beginning of his speech. First, it is only a minority of schools that have the problems which have been highlighted at The Ridings school in Yorkshire and at Manton junior school in Nottingham. It is important to remember that most schools do a good job both educationally and morally and do well for their pupils. Secondly, I echo the noble Lord's words about the problems caused by unwarranted press and media intrusions, particularly in the case of The Ridings. I do not believe that they have assisted one iota in resolving the problems. Obviously, I shall look at the two ideas that the noble Lord put to me at the end of his speech. They are certainly worth some thought.

I begin by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for initiating the debate. It is one which, as he himself said, follows on from the debate introduced by the right reverend Prelate in the summer which was wound up by my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal. I also thank the noble Earl for giving me notice in advance of the kind of ideas that he would be putting before us this evening.

I believe that there is broad consensus on a number of key points. First, we all believe that the health of society depends crucially on its moral well-being. We share that view despite very different convictions and beliefs in what is broadly a Christian country, as we must all remember. Secondly, it is clear that parents have prime responsibility for bringing up their children. We recognise that many parents feel ill-equipped to take on that task. Thirdly, we acknowledge the importance of education and the education system in that role. But schools can do only so much to help parents, as I believe the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Ashbourne made clear. However, schools and governments have a clear role to play, but governments themselves cannot do everything. We must never believe that governments can do everything. My noble friend referred to the Temperance Movement some 50 years ago. I believe that that probably did far more to rid society of some of the worst evils of drink than any action by government either here or anywhere else.

Schools can help to ensure that children develop the moral and spiritual knowledge, the skills, understanding and attitudes that they will need, whether as adults, members of families or members of the wider community. In taking forward this work, schools should be able to bank on the support of parents and the wider community. That consensus was and remains the context for the work recently undertaken by SCAA's National Forum on Values for Education and the Community which has been referred to a good deal this evening. I stress to my noble friend Lady Carnegy that a similar review was conducted by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum. That is a matter which the Scottish Office will address.

However, tonight I speak in part as an English Minister on behalf of the Department for Education but in a wider role as a member of Her Majesty's Government. The publication of the forum's recommendations last month could not have been more timely, following on from the debate initiated by the most reverend Primate and chiming with the launch of Mrs. Lawrence's manifesto. I should make clear that the work began under Dr. Tate's initiative as early as last January.

I believe that the initial focus on pupils' moral development has been lost in some of the coverage in the press. A whole range of issues has been swept up into the media debate. We are in danger of losing sight of the wood for the trees. I should like to go back to the beginning and the role of the schools themselves. Essentially, there are three ways—I give them in no particular order—in which schools can engage in the moral development of their pupils: first, through the individual school ethos; secondly, through its curriculum; and, thirdly, through collective worship which, according to the statutory requirements, should be of a broadly Christian nature.

All schools are required to include in their prospectus a clear statement of their ethos and values. Parents can use this to help to decide which schools they wish their children to attend. They can also hold schools accountable if they do not live up to those statements. There is evidence that the most effective schools are characterised by a positive and purposeful ethos, built upon clear, shared values. The development of a statement of shared values within the school can be a valuable learning experience for that school. I believe that the discussion of those values helps children to understand them and give their own commitment to them.

SCAA's forum has proposed a draft framework of core values that schools may use as a basis for developing their own values statement. The framework is intended to give schools a starting point. I make clear that it is not a moral code as set out by SCAA. Too many commentators have wrongly assumed that the framework is an attempt to define the content of moral education and have proceeded to criticise it, as some have done this evening, as being woolly and insubstantial. I do not believe that a more prescriptive framework would meet the intended purpose.

Incidentally, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State did not insist on the changes to the consultation document, as some in the press have alleged, to give greater prominence to family values. A small number of forum members called for a stronger statement than that which appeared in the draft framework. The consultation document referred to both statements, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State was content with that.

On behalf of both Her Majesty's Government and myself, I stress the great commitment to the importance of married life. I speak as one who has been married for only 12 years. I am aware that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, can outdo me by a factor of five or more.


Lord Henley

My Lords, mathematics was never my strong point. Let us agree upon four-and-a-half. I agree very much with what the noble Earl and my noble friend Lady Young said about the importance of the family in society.

I turn now to the curriculum. The 1988 Act set out as the central aim for the school curriculum that it should promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and of society and prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life. All schools should ensure that the moral dimension is clearly mapped out across the curriculum. I am grateful to all noble Lords who stressed that that should go the whole way across the curriculum and it was not just a matter for subjects such as science, geography or history. It should cover all matters, even sport—a subject which I spent most of my time attempting to avoid.

Like my noble friend Lord Elton, I believe that all teachers have a responsibility regardless of specialism, in the same way as all teachers should be concerned with children's reading and writing, for example. The two major vehicles for moral education within the curriculum are religious education and the range of topics embraced by personal, social and health education.

The Government remain committed to the statutory requirement for RE and the statutory provisions governing its content, which give due emphasis to Christianity while offering—this was something with which most noble Lords agreed—the flexibility to meet local circumstances. That matter has been debated frequently in this House, and was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, at Question Time as recently as last week.

The 1994 circular on RE and collective worship says that, in its view, locally agreed syllabuses should extend in a religious context to wider areas of morality. Those would include the way in which people's religious beliefs and practices affect their understanding of moral issues and the consequences that their behaviour has on family and society.

There is personal, social and health education, of which there are two particular elements—sex education and drugs education. They have an important focus on the moral debate. I can give an assurance that we have issued guidance on both matters, emphasising in the case of sex education the requirement that schools must have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life.

The Government have also supported work under the badge of citizenship, designed to promote personal and social responsibility. That means respect for oneself, for others and for the law. It means playing a constructive role in the various groups and communities to which parents belong.

SCAA is not consulting just on the draft framework of core values; it is also seeking views on a range of other work intended to bring greater coherence to the moral, spiritual and cultural dimensions of the curriculum. That includes a full audit of existing provision and practice, and the preparation of guidance, including a programme of study setting out the essential elements which schools should teach. I must stress that in the end it will be Ministers who will take the final decisions in the light of SCAA's recommendations, taking full account of the outcome of that consultation.

We will not pursue consensus merely for the sake of consensus. I have always believed that a false consensus leading to some form of moral relativism is not always the right approach. The mere fact that only one soldier is in step does not necessarily always mean that he is the one who is out of step. It might be the others who are wrong. Whatever the outcome of that consultation and process, SCAA will ensure that it builds on existing best practice in our schools. I say again to my noble friend Lord Elton and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that that is a matter that we believe the Teacher Training Agency must address, although not particularly for the specialist teacher, but, as I believe my noble friend Lord Elton said, for all teachers teaching across the curriculum. As I said earlier, many schools already do excellent work both within the curriculum and through their wider ethos and values. In the very best schools, each reinforces the other.

The daily act of collective worship—the third element I mentioned earlier—can often provide the occasion when curriculum and ethos are wedded most closely together. I give the assurance to the noble Earl, because I know of his concern following his Question last week, that the Government remain committed to that daily collective act of worship in our schools.

For the Government at least this is most certainly not a knee-jerk reaction. The consultation exercise launched earlier this year by Dr. Tate is a first step, but we should remember that the former National Curriculum Council issued guidance on moral and spiritual development as long ago as 1993. We look forward to receiving SCAA's considered advice in February. I know that many of your Lordships will wish to seize your own opportunities to register your views not only through this debate but through other means as part of that process. I hope that the debate initiated this evening by the noble Earl can be seen as part of that process, and for that I thank him.

House adjourned at four minutes past seven o'clock.