THE PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES
(HANSARD) in the fourth session of the fifty-third parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the fiftieth year of the reign of
HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II
FIFTH SERIES
VOLUME DCLXIX THIRD VOLUME OF SESSION 2004—05 House of Lords



 
31 Jan 2005 : Column 1
 

Monday, 31 January 2005.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Lord Kinnock

The right honourable Neil Gordon Kinnock, having been created Baron Kinnock, of Bedwellty in the County of Gwent, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Amos and the Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, and made the solemn Affirmation.

European Council: Luxembourg Presidency

2.42 p.m.

Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions they have had with the government of Luxembourg about financial and economic issues arising during that government's presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, the Chancellor of the Exchequer regularly meets Jean-Claude Juncker at ECOFIN meetings in Luxembourg and Brussels. Officials also have bilateral discussions with Luxembourg, as with all member states, and this is the case with all presidencies.

{**5**} Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that brief reply. There are two thorny questions among many facing the Luxembourg presidency: first, the elaboration of the policy reforms under the Wim Kok phase 2 Lisbon agenda; and secondly, getting effective financial
 
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perspective for 2007–13 on funding and spending and agreement in the enlarged Community. How will Her Majesty's Government deal with these priorities reporting to ECOFIN on 8 March and subsequently to the European Council on 22 and 23 March? What will the priorities be?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I knew that I needed my noble friend Lord Kinnock to sit beside me for this Answer, but I will do my best in his absence. First, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, asked me about the Lisbon agenda for the competitive and dynamic economy. As he knows, Wim Kok produced his mid-term review in November last year, and I understand that the outcome of the review will be discussed at the spring ECOFIN council. We hope for a relaunch of the 10-year programme. The noble Lord's second question was about finances. He will be aware that the UK Government wish to retain the budget at 1 per cent of GDP, which is a 6.5 per cent increase and is certainly enough for the incorporation of the 10 accession states.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, would it be fair to say that the British Government are planning on future expenditures under the ceiling of 1.00 per cent of European incomes, whereas many of the Commission documents are predicated on perhaps a 1.14 per cent ceiling? The longer this goes on, the more difficult it will be to draw up sensible plans on overseas development and other matters. The sooner this future perspective is agreed, the better.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I entirely agree, but my noble friend will know that five other member states have written in support of our view that the budget should be restricted to 1 per cent. I know that the Luxembourg presidency is looking for a resolution of this issue by June. Failing that, we will pursue the matter vigorously during our subsequent presidency.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the European Court of Justice will today
 
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start hearing one of the many large tax cases that will, if decided against the Government, blow a hole in the UK's budgetary arithmetic. Will the Government include in their discussions with the Luxembourg presidency the need to remove the European Court of Justice from the tax affairs of the UK, or have the Government now given up and accepted the primacy of the ECJ?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords, we will not move to remove the European Court of Justice from its statutory responsibilities; and nor would the Opposition expect us to. Of course, we take its views seriously, but some of the objections that have been raised on tax matters before the European Court of Justice are extremely self-interested.

Creationism: Teaching in Schools

2.45 p.m.

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the national curriculum will exclude the teaching of creationism in schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin): My Lords, creationism is not part of the national curriculum for science. In the programme of study for 14 to 16 year-olds, pupils learn about evolution and how variation and selection may lead to evolution and extinction. They also consider different theories on the origin of the universe. In all aspects of the national curriculum, we encourage pupils to consider different ideas and beliefs and how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting evidence.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, as the Government are in favour of allowing choice between sense and nonsense, will they also allow children to be taught that the earth is flat, and that the sun goes round the earth? Since there is a crisis in maths teaching in schools, and some university chemistry departments are closing down, will the Government offer as an alternative the teaching of astrology and alchemy? It is extraordinary that a Government and a Prime Minister who say that they are in favour of science have allowed the introduction into our schools of the worst features of American fundamentalist, anti-science, pseudo-science nonsense. Is this not disgraceful?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I apologise to the House for not having spoken clearly enough, because the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, could not have heard my response, in which it was explicitly clear that creationism is not part of the national curriculum. We are clear and we are proud that pupils should be taught to look at argumentation and evidence and come to conclusions as a product of rational debate based on evidence. That is the core of scientific inquiry, and it is the core of a proper process of education. As to his two or three other questions, we are making substantial progress on
 
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increasing the number of science teachers in schools, and we are clear that scientific study must be part of the core offering of all pupils as part of their secondary education.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, is it not the case that a better understanding of the place of myth and story in religion needs promotion in the curriculum? A critical understanding of the first two chapters of Genesis, with their two stories of the creation of the world, might undermine the literalism that so worries my noble friend Lord Taverne.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I strongly agree with the right reverend Prelate for two reasons: first, it always pays to agree with the Bishops' Bench; and, secondly, it seems absolutely to capture the position of most people in Britain, whether they have faith or not. Not having a literal belief in Genesis does not deny the existence of God.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that creationism is being taught in our schools? Is he further aware that creationists insist on Biblical texts being taken literally? A child I know who, having seen the film "The Day After Tomorrow" asked if it could happen here, was told by his teacher that God had promised that there would never be another flood. If that seems a small matter, does my noble friend agree that it would not be a small matter if the text in question was that from Leviticus that insists on homosexuality as a sin punishable by death?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, this is one of those Questions that Ministers fear, because they can lead in almost any direction imaginable. We are not aware that creationism is being taught in schools. One of the clearest allegations—I think that it was in 2002—was that one of the Vardy CTCs was so doing. When that was investigated by the former chief inspector of education, he could find no evidence to support it. The subsequent chief inspector—the issue spanned both of them—was happy to accept the undertaking given that it was not happening. If my noble friend has evidence of what she thinks is inappropriate behaviour, she should let me or Ofsted have it.


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