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House of Lords

Tuesday, 29th October 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

Donald Martin Thomas, Esquire, OBE, QC, having been created Baron Thomas of Gresford, of Gresford in the County Borough of Wrexham, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Hooson and the Lord Geraint.

Lord Currie of Marylebone

David Anthony Currie, Esquire, having been created Baron Currie of Marylebone, of Marylebone in the City of Westminster, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Blackstone and the Lord Peston, and made the solemn Affirmation.

Religious Education: the Gospels

2.57 p.m.

The Earl of Longford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ensure that a study of the Gospels is treated as an essential part of religious education.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's model agreed syllabuses include appropriate reference to the Gospels. But the legal requirement that religious education in most schools should be in accordance with a locally-agreed syllabus leaves the detailed content of religious education to be determined locally. Such syllabuses must "reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian while taking account of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain".

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that guarded reply which will not give widespread satisfaction but is no doubt well intended. Does the Minister agree with the following question? As Christianity is to be the main religion taught in schools, bearing in mind that members of other religions represent 3.7 per cent. of the population, to teach Christianity without the Gospels would be like teaching the history of the Napoleonic Wars without mentioning Napoleon or the history of the Lord Chancellors in this century without mentioning Lord Hailsham?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as my noble friend the Leader of the House has just said to me, "Which one?"

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I welcome the last part of the noble Lord's question. I also welcome the first part of his question implying that my standard of answer has improved since yesterday. I hope I can improve yet further in future.

I agree with the noble Lord that it is vital that the syllabus should, as I quoted, reflect the fact that we are broadly a Christian country. To attempt to do that without including the Gospels would be somewhat odd. As I made clear, this is something that ought to be agreed at local level, and it is for that reason that we leave it to locally-agreed groups to develop their own syllabuses. I can assure him that some of the model SCAA syllabuses contain appropriate references to the Gospels.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, will the Minister give an undertaking to do all that he can to support religious education as an examination subject, given that the GCSE courses, both long and short ones, provide for study of the Gospels and that they are, I believe, the most popular of the courses taken at that level?

Lord Henley: My Lords, precisely what GCSEs, or for that matter A-levels, that individuals take should be a matter for pupils on advice from those who teach them. We do what we can to encourage pupils to pursue religious education, just as other subjects should be pursued. I should add that we ensure that Ofsted monitors the teaching of religious education in schools; and, in due course having looked at what it has to say, we shall take appropriate action.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us who spent a lot of time on the agreed syllabus welcome it? I hope that most local authorities will not stray from the agreed syllabus.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I hope that if the local education authority and the schools can develop their own locally agreed syllabus--that is what I was talking about--then the schools would feel it wise to follow that locally agreed syllabus. The noble Lord makes a very valid point in that it should be up to them to follow those syllabuses.

Lord Milverton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that where religious studies are taken seriously as a disciplined academic subject, it will be found that pupils are surprisingly eager to study it? I can assure him, from the experience of my wife, who teaches the subject, that if they are given it as a disciplined subject like any other, a good number of pupils will take to it. But if it is not taken as such, they will disregard it.

Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend makes a very valid point which to some extent echoes the one made by the right reverend Prelate. I think I can accept what my noble friend said.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that opinion polls consistently show that between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. of the population

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of this country--that is to say, about 10 million people--do not have any religious beliefs? Therefore, does he agree that it is just as important that it should be noted in the RE syllabus that there are so many people who do not hold religious beliefs as, indeed, that we should teach the Gospels, to which I personally have no objection?

Lord Henley: My Lords, opinion polls show many things but they are not necessarily always correct. Having said that, I accept that a certain number of people do not hold any religious beliefs. Obviously, that is a matter which should be taken into account in developing the locally agreed syllabus. But, in the main, most of us accept that our traditions in this country are broadly Christian. For that reason, we believe that religious education should be of a broadly Christian nature and the Gospels should play a large part in that.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that there are sufficient qualified teachers of religious education to teach the agreed syllabuses throughout the country?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we accept that there is some evidence of a shortage of specialist religious education teachers. We have designated religious education as a priority subject in initial teacher training.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, does the Minister recall that the Book of Common Prayer advises us in respect of all Holy Scriptures to hear or read them, and to mark, learn and inwardly digest them? Bearing in mind that students of the Holy Koran regularly commit large parts of it to memory, can he tell the House what methods of study the Government's advisers have recommended for the Christian Gospels? Should our children learn parts of them by heart?

Lord Henley: My Lords, that is an interesting idea. I am sure it is one that those other than myself might wish to take up. As I said, we believe that the syllabus itself should be a matter agreed at a local level. It is important that it should be decided at that local level exactly what that syllabus should contain.

Apples: EU Marketing Standards

3.4 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they agreed to the recent Community regulation forbidding the marketing within the United Kingdom of dessert apples of smaller diameter than the Community prescribed minimum.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, there are no new regulations that would limit the size of apples on sale within the European Union. Quality and marketing standards have operated in the United Kingdom in various forms since 1928. The European Union marketing standards have

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been in place in the United Kingdom since 1973 and were last amended, in consultation with the industry, in 1990.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Lord is not aware of the regulation concerned. There has been a deluge of regulations over the past couple of months with which the Government have not yet caught up. Would he care to get in touch with the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Tunbridge Wells, who is also the principal director of Asda, and inquire of him what precipitated his move to dump on the market thousands of such undersized apples free of charge?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, indeed, I have been in contact with Mr. Norman. I think that he had a most amusing stunt which I am sure added greatly to the publicity for Asda and perhaps to his candidacy for another place. I do not believe that it has any relevance to the regulation.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, whatever the state of the regulations, it is appropriate that the diameter of an apple should be assessed by the retailer and the consumer and not by some bureaucratic body?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, there is a great deal to be said for setting standards. First, it enables international trade to take place and international buyers to know what they are getting. Secondly, it helps to keep the quality image of British produce up at the top where it should be. One has to face the fact that small apples tend to be immature and not to taste so good. Noble Lords may disagree but the fact of the matter is that so far as concerns the English Cox, size matters.

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