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Richard, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Rogan, L.
Rooker, L.
Roper, L.
Rosser, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Russell-Johnston, L.
Sandberg, L.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Sheldon, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Finsbury, L.
Smith of Leigh, L.
Snape, L.
Soley, L.
Steel of Aikwood, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Temple-Morris, L.
Teverson, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Tordoff, L.
Triesman, L.
Truscott, L.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Turnberg, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Warner, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Young of Norwood Green, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.11 pm

[Amendments Nos. 99 to 101 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 not moved.]

Baroness Massey of Darwen moved Amendment No. 104:

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(a) from receiving religious education given (in the case of a maintained school) in the school in accordance with the school's basic curriculum or (in the case of city technology college or an Academy) in accordance with arrangements made by the governing body or head teacher of the college or Academy, (b) from attendance at any religious worship in (as the case may be) the school, college or Academy, or (c) both from receiving such education and from such attendance, the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn.” “(a) receives religious education or is withdrawn from receiving such education or from attendance at such religious worship as is provided in accordance with the wishes of his parent, and (b) attends assemblies.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful that the amendment has now been tabled in a separate group, and is not part of the large group on faith issues in schools that we considered last week. This will avoid the overlaps and confusions that we had when we last discussed collective worship.

Collective worship is an important issue. I do not intend to repeat the arguments advanced last week; I shall simply try to put the nub of the argument to your Lordships. Many faith organisations, teacher organisations and parent organisations support the reform of collective worship in schools. They want collective worship to be replaced by inclusive assemblies that are meaningful to pupils. I do not want to abolish assemblies with a spiritual nature—indeed, the amendment does not seek to ban religious worship—but the organisations that I have just mentioned do not agree to assemblies that are entirely about worship.

Spiritual worship in assemblies is good for the school ethos and morale, but it is quite unsuitable and impractical to insist that all schools must conduct worship in assemblies. Many are already technically breaking the law by not doing so. Will the Minister confirm that the DfES is considering collective worship? It is not a complicated issue. It is a sensible reform that would free schools to be creative and to deliver inspiring

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assemblies that are relevant to young people’s lives. They may include discussion of the teaching of many religions as well as discussion of behaviour, values and social issues. The Minister has clarified the position on pupils being excused from religious education, and we should reconsider the issue at a high level. I beg to move.

6.15 pm

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 104, in accordance with paragraph 6.54 of the Companion, because the amendment was discussed, in a way, a week ago before your Lordships. It was a casualty of what I call irrational grouping; that is, it was hidden in a grouping to which it manifestly did not belong. That is an important issue which your Lordships should consider this evening. Amendments remain the property of the noble Lords in whose names they appear. They can alter a proposed grouping, but very often—sometimes because the groupings appear rather late—that is impossible, as it appears to have been impossible for this amendment, which appeared in a vast, almost surreal, grouping with other amendments when it came before the House.

I shall use this occasion deliberately to deplore the proposals that departments sometimes advance for groupings that are manifestly irrational and unhelpful. We thought that we had seen the back of this sort of thing in the 1980s, but if 30 years’ experience in this House has taught me one thing, it is that proposals for groupings should be the basis of sensible and orderly debate. No department should try to hide an awkward issue—if that was the intention; no doubt it was not in this case—by putting it with amendments that are manifestly not on the same subject.

Amendment No. 104, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, spoke last week, at cols. 706-7 of the Official Report, addressed a duty that was created only in 1944 for schools to have an obligatory daily act of collective worship. The amendment, as the noble Baroness made clear, would replace that duty with a duty to hold a daily assembly aimed at supporting people’s,

The importance of that phrase was made clear earlier this afternoon.

The act of worship needs to be broadly Christian, but the amendment is of interest not only to humanists, atheists or agnostics, or even to religions other than those with a Christian tradition. This is a fundamental issue, which the Government so far have not addressed. The Minister addressed Amendment No. 104 in another sitting, but I hope that he will not mind my saying that I thought that his reply to its case was rather perfunctory. Having been given a little more time, he may do better tonight.

The Minister claimed that this obligatory act of daily worship represented,

I beg leave to doubt whether that is now the case and suggest that it is out of date. No doubt polls will be quoted, but I refer those who cite polling evidence to

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an article in the Times only yesterday, in which an expert on the matter said that polling is increasingly,

The expert is a chief executive of a very important polling organisation.

The Minister did not address the substantive case, made by the British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society and many other organisations, that the time for this obligation in all schools has passed. I will not quote those organisations, because noble Lords will think that they are parti pris; I will quote what the Government’s inspectorate wrote in a document that was separately published, so important was it, a year later, under the heading Secondary Education. In 1998, Ofsted said that the whole question of daily collective worship,

In my submission, nothing has changed to make that decisive judgment inapplicable today.

Of course, the Government may refer to Amendments Nos. 79 and 151, which were passed in your Lordships’ House on 17 October. Those government amendments allow sixth formers to have a special right to escape from collective worship in which they do not believe. That right is for sixth formers, but what about the rights of fifth or fourth formers—or third formers, given that I have grandchildren who have reached that elevated level? Do the Government think that those students do not discuss such matters and that they do not have incipient and, in some cases, firm beliefs, and that sixth formers alone should be granted this inalienable right to get out of collective worship?

In order to clarify the point, I asked a very close friend, who is a devoted and devout Christian and a very honest person, what it was all about. He laughed and chided me, and said, “Come on, you must be joking. You know perfectly well what it is all about. We want to get at them early on. Give us a few years of prayer and worship and you can do what you like with them and, what’s more, the Jesuits can do what they like with them”. The noble Lord shakes his head. I am sorry to offer that to him, but that is what my friend said. It may be wrong, but if it is not the case, what on earth is the point of making these boys and girls go to a religious occasion in which they may already not believe or, more important, in which they may have begun not to believe?

Professor Richard Dawkins addressed this issue on page 185 of his recently published book, The God Delusion. He wrote:

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which he names in the footnote—I did not know it—as “Gerin Oil”. That is not an oil company; it is the name apparently of an addictive drug. He went on to quote the neuropsychiatrist, John Smythies, who said:

Your Lordships will forgive my reading, which has recently suffered an attack of something no doubt from beyond the hills.

In the face of the question that we are addressing, the point of the quotation is: what on earth is the point of getting together boys and girls from third, fourth and even fifth forms to obey an order that they must express warmth and loving hopes for help coming to them from beyond the hills? It seems a very strange thing to do, except perhaps in very unorganised and not advanced societies. Dawkins concludes his argument on such matters with words that I suggest the Government should gather together daily to read—aloud, if possible—on their sofas in an assembly devoted to collective inquiry. He wrote:

no doubt he would have added other religions had he time—

That is important because this amendment does not seek to make anyone do anything except attend an assembly, which, as I have understood today’s debate, is a matter of common ground in the whole House, on all Benches, to advance the,

of all pupils. There lies the nub of the amendment, which I am happy to support.

6.30 pm

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment and I support my noble friends who have spoken. It is desirable for school communities to have ways in which they can come together to build a common ethos and to explore and celebrate shared human values. This can be in assemblies, which is what our amendment is about, but it does not necessarily have to be under a system that requires religious worship, which, by definition, can never be common to all children, with their variety of beliefs and the wide diversity that we have in our society. The law needs to change to provide for inclusive assemblies instead—and that is what the amendment is about.

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As my noble friends have indicated, there is widespread support for a reform of this law, not only from religious, humanist and secularist groups and the teaching unions but, as my noble friend has indicated, from Ofsted. It stated in its 1998 report on the matter:

It is not surprising therefore that it was found in the same year that most secondary schools were not complying with the law. Teachers favour good inclusive school assemblies of a moral and reflective nature, which can bring the school community together to celebrate shared values, news and achievements. Many schools are holding such assemblies, and doing it very well, but they are technically breaking the law and so can attract criticism. It is a pity that a practice that is workable, honest and educationally and socially valuable does not remain legal.

I am a humanist and a member of the British Humanist Association. It is not only humanists who feel this way—as has already been indicated, Sikhs, Hindus and of course the teaching unions support our amendment—but all those who would like schools to be able to share their values and ethos without hypocrisy or fear of non-compliance with an outdated law.

At the moment, many parents do not wish to withdraw their children from religious assemblies; on the other hand, perhaps they do not want to withdraw their children and make them feel different, because that is often a rather harmful situation. I can remember what happened when I was very young. My mother was a Roman Catholic and I went to a state school. My mother indicated on the form that she had to complete that I was Roman Catholic and it was decided that when there were prayers I should sit outside the door. So, when all the other children went in for the religious assembly, I sat outside the door. When I went home, I said to my mother, “They don’t like me at school because I’m a Roman Catholic”. I immediately felt different. That is not a good idea for any child—it certainly was not as far as I was concerned. I support the amendment and I commend it to your Lordships.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, because of the uncoupling of these amendments we are revisiting issues that we discussed last week. I therefore do not intend to rehearse arguments that I have already put to your Lordships’ House and to extend this debate unduly. I should like, however, to make one or two comments about the contributions today.

The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, was particularly critical of what he suggested was the style of education offered by the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits. He said that those who went through such an education came out indoctrinated. I smiled at the noble Lord, Lord Patten, because I think he and I are the only Members in your Lordships’ House this evening who were educated by Jesuits. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, that, quite the reverse from being indoctrinated, most of my friends and contemporaries—and I dare say

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those of the noble Lord, Lord Patten—ended up with no belief whatever. Therefore, in that sense, that education failed because at the heart of their approach to education lay the principle that you should learn to think for yourself and reject those things that you cannot embrace. Therefore, far from being indoctrination, that education encourages a development of sensibilities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, also touched on this issue when she said that she had gone through a personal experience of feeling excluded. What about those children at a school who believe in God and want to take part in an act of worship? If we are not careful, we could turn the tables on them and leave them feeling excluded if we remove something so central to their lives as the daily act of worship. When your Lordships gather for worship, as we do in this House each day, there are noble Lords on our Benches who have no Christian or other faith, yet they come here because it is a moment of pause, a time for reflection, when we can come to terms with ourselves and with God. Even if someone does not believe in God, they can at least clear their minds and perhaps think sometimes about the words that the right reverend Prelates leave before your Lordships’ House during those prayers. After all, it was a Member of this House, Alfred Lord Tennyson, who in the 19th century—in answer, perhaps, to the point being made today by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn—said that more things are wrought by prayer than this world ever dreams of. Sometimes we in public and political life place our own material interests and our own personal aspirations and expectations too much at the heart of the equation and squeeze out the spiritual.

We should tread with care. The right of conscience is there, but if someone wishes to be excluded from daily acts of worship their parents can do that. Let us not exclude parents from the equation, which is precisely what the amendments would do. They would remove the role of parents in discussing with their own children their beliefs and where they are in their own spiritual development. It would be a tragedy if we did that.

More than 80 per cent of the people of this country still say that they believe in God. There are some things that bind us together as a nation. I think it would be a huge error to unravel those things without carefully thinking about the consequences. Syncretism, practised perhaps by the art teacher with the aid of some bean bags during an assembly that tells us about everything but teaches us nothing, is not a substitute for the daily act of worship. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will not go in the direction that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, invites us to go.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him a question. I preface it by saying that I have always admired him as one of the most broadminded members of the Roman Catholic community that I have had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of. But when he talks about the effect of prayer, has he read all the documents on the great prayer experiment? If he has not, they are described in Richard Dawkins’s book

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and are wide and scientific in nature. But perhaps the noble Lord has not looked at that in his broadminded education.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I do not think your Lordships will want me to go into great detail about The God Delusion but I have read Dawkins’s book. I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, that although Professor Dawkins is unable to believe in God, I am glad that God still believes in him.

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, I, too, will be brief. It will not surprise the noble Baroness that I do not feel able to support her amendment. I fully endorse the arguments made in support of collective worship on the first day of Report by my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. At column 699 of the Official Report he argued in support of collective worship and said it provided an important grammar and language for later life and is still part of our common culture.

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