Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, when are the Government going to include the fact that some 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of the people in this country do not hold any religious beliefs of any kind? Surely the proper teaching of religious education would include at least the basis of humanism, agnosticism, atheism and related views. If the Minister is about to tell me yet again that these views are not religions, will he say in which curriculum they should be included?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I believe I made clear, we are a broadly Christian country and our traditions are broadly Christian. For that reason we feel it is important that children are educated in that tradition.

As regards humanism, I am sure that the noble Lord will recognise that it is not a religion and should not be taught as if it were. I can, however, say that a syllabus might, in the context of religious education, were it to be necessary, deal with non-theistic ways of life such as humanism.

Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the law as it stands on schools worship is extremely flexible, and that, in spite of the fact that it is often said that we are a multi-faith society, the fact is that less than 4 per cent. of the population adhere to non-Christian faiths?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can neither confirm nor deny the figure that my noble friend gave. I can, however, confirm, as I said earlier, that we are a broadly Christian country and our traditions are broadly in the Judaeo-Christian mould. For that reason we believe it important that the children in our schools are taught about that Christian background.

Lord Stallard: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the SCAA's current syllabus for GCSE excludes thematic multi-faith teaching and encourages teaching that respects the coherence and integrity of each faith?

19 Jul 1995 : Column 288

Lord Henley: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord an assurance that I am satisfied that that is the case. Obviously, this is a matter that staff can keep under permanent review. If the noble Lord wished to write to them and make any suggestions, I am sure that they would be grateful to receive his responses.

The Lord Bishop of St. Albans: My Lords, I feel that a question from these Benches might be appropriate. Will the Minister accept that on these Benches we are very grateful for the way in which a move was achieved through the Education Reform Act for the improvement of religious education in schools and the encouragement of worship? Will he also agree with me that the best way in which this can be achieved and furthered is not so much by heavy-handedness in applying the regulations, but by using carrots rather than sticks; and that one of the best carrots would be the provision of more, and better trained, religious education teachers?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I believe that I express the feeling of the House in saying that it is quite appropriate that we should have an intervention from the Benches of the right reverend Prelate. As regards the question as to whether there should be more RE teachers, statistics show that at the moment there is no shortage of such teachers. The problem is that only about half the teachers who have an RE specialism are teaching the subject. We believe that steps to raise the status of the subject are therefore very important. I assure the right reverend Prelate that the Teacher Training Agency has taken this on board. It envisages that secondary target intakes for RE students will increase by nearly 10 per cent. between 1995-96 and 1996-97, and by a further 15 per cent. in 1997-98.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, may I return for a moment to the figures quoted by the noble Baroness who asked the initial Question? Forty-nine per cent. of the age range 16 to 24 do not know what Good Friday commemorates; 71 per cent. in my estimation do not know what happened on Palm Sunday; and 48 per cent. do not know what Lent is. Does that not indicate the total failure of this Government's policy for religious education over the past 15 years? Does the Minister believe that the pathetic proposal of a new half-course at GCSE level will do anything to redeem the disaster?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I think the noble Lord takes a rather heavy hand to these matters. Obviously, I accept that those figures are somewhat depressing. As regards the new exam that the noble Lord mentioned, it has been something of a success and has encouraged a great many of the 14 to 16 year-olds in Key Stage 4 to take up RE because they see the chance of getting a qualification at the end, and children of that age are very minded along the line of getting qualifications. It has been a success. We shall continue to pursue the various initiatives that we have introduced. I hope that even the noble Lord will moderate his tone in future when he recognises just how successful we are being.

Lord Elton: My Lords, cannot the very substantial drain of RE teachers to which my noble friend the Minister referred be countered urgently? Is not one way

19 Jul 1995 : Column 289

to declare religious education a shortage subject? Have any conversations taken place between the Government and the Teacher Training Agency in this respect?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I made clear to the right reverend Prelate, and make clear again to my noble friend, the Teacher Training Agency is very well aware of the particular problem. As I said earlier, there is overall no shortage of trained RE teachers: I believe that the recent survey showed that there were only 16 vacancies in the entire country. The real problem is that over half the teachers with an RE specialism are not teaching the subject. We shall certainly continue to press the TTA to do what it can in this field. I thought that the targets I mentioned to the right reverend Prelate were really quite challenging: increases of 10 per cent. and a further 15 per cent. in 1997-98. They should go a considerable way towards meeting this problem.

Lord Addington: My Lords, will the Minister agree that, when discussing religion the most important thing is not the remembering of certain events but the basic message behind them. Will he assure the House that when teaching religion it should be borne in mind what happens when doctrine is too strongly adhered to—as instanced in Ulster and Bosnia? Does the Minister accept that we should not simply rely on learning facts, since facts taken out of context are totally useless?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord quite understood the message that I was trying to get over. I was seeking to make the important point that religious education is not a matter of "spreading the faith" as he seemed to imply, but rather to educate our children in the broadly Judaeo-Christian tradition in which they live.

Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that 70 per cent. of the population are anxious that teaching on religious subjects should take place in schools? Is he also aware that there is no room for complacency, since 80 per cent. of schools with sixth forms teach absolutely no religion whatsoever? Does he agree that it really is time that something was done about this decay in our moral background?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will recognise that neither I, nor the department, is complacent. I hope that I have spelt out in some detail some of the various initiatives that the department is pursuing, although I can certainly write to my noble friend in greater detail. There is no room for complacency. Some of the figures quoted in relation to ignorance about religion and our background are very depressing indeed.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I agree that young people in this country are growing up in a broadly Christian tradition, but will the Minister agree that any revision of the religious education curriculum or the way in which religious education is taught ought to have regard to the growing scourge of xenophobia and racism; one example being anti-Semitism? Does he accept the importance of teaching all young people in this country to respect the values of those who hold other faiths, in whatever part of the United Kingdom they may live?

19 Jul 1995 : Column 290

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to stress that we need a knowledge of other faiths. My point is that we are a largely Christian country. It is the Christian faith that, in the main, we feel should be taught in schools and should predominate in the acts of collective worship in which, under the 1944 Act, all schools are required to take part each day.

Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure

3.10 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of St. Albans rose to move, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The Short Title of the Measure indicates that it contains a miscellaneous collection of provisions relating to the Church of England. Their effect is described in the comments and explanations of the Legislative Committee of the General Synod which are annexed to the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee.

It is a convention that miscellaneous provisions Measures contain only non-controversial material. That is borne out by the voting in the General Synod last November. There were 229 votes in favour and one vote against. There is always one vote against. It may help the House if I briefly draw attention to two provisions of the Measure which were the subject of scrutiny by the Ecclesiastical Committee.

First, Clause 2 permits Christ Church, Oxford, which is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford, through its constitution and statutes, to appoint two lay canons. Subsection (3) of the clause permits in future the Regius Professorship of Ecclesiastical History to be held either by a residentiary canon or by a lay canon, appointed pursuant to subsection (1) of the clause.

In 1840, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act annexed the Regius Professorship of Ecclesiastical History in the University of Oxford to a canonry in the Cathedral. Therefore, the holder of the professorship must be a clerk in Holy Orders of the Church of England. For some time, the university has expressed concern about the narrowness of the field of candidates who are eligible to take up that chair of ecclesiastical history. There is no suggestion that the professor should not any longer be a clergyman. Indeed, that will be encouraged because the relationship between college and cathedral is strong and the person appointed will be expected to play a day-to-day role in cathedral life.

But both the university and the diocese recognise that academic talent for that post could be found among the laity or outside the Church of England—perhaps an ordained person of another Church or perhaps a lay person. The Ecumenical Relations Measure 1988 now makes it possible for such a person to take a major part in the daily life of the cathedral.

Clause 2 is included in the Measure at the request of the university, the diocese of Oxford and the cathedral authorities. The Crown appoints the Regius Professor. It

19 Jul 1995 : Column 291

has been consulted about the clause and is content with it. I thought that noble Lords would be interested in that provision.

The second provision to which I wish to refer is Clause 6. That amends the Church Commissioners Measure 1947 concerning the composition of the Church Commissioners' Assets Committee to allow the appointment of not less than one and not more than three additional members chosen from the commissioners and elected by and from the General Synod.

When the Measure was considered by the Ecclesiastical Committee, it became clear that the provision was regarded as premature by a majority of the committee, in view of the recent report on the Church Commissioners and Church Pensions of the Social Security Select Committee of another place and the impending report of the Archbishops' Commission on the Organisation of the Church of England, which is known as the Turnbull Commission. In view of the misgivings expressed in the committee, the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have indicated that they do not intend to exercise their power under Clause 15 of the Measure to bring Clause 6 into effect pending consideration of those reports.

The Ecclesiastical Committee has reported that the Measure is expedient. In view of the overwhelming support expressed in the General Synod, I trust that it will find acceptance in your Lordships' eyes as well.

Before I sit down, perhaps I may say on a personal note that this week is my final week in your Lordships' House, as I retire next month. Let me simply say to your Lordships, as I want an excuse to do so, how grateful I have been for the kindness and courtesy shown to me by so many Members of the House and also by the staff of the House. I wish the House Godspeed in its continuing deliberations. I commend the Motion to the House.

Moved, That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.—(The Lord Bishop of St. Albans.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page