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Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, this is an interesting and topical issue and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on introducing it so comprehensively. The focus of my comments—appropriately, following his speech—will be about citizenship education in schools and about what it should be, not what it is.

First, I have to say that I mistrust the concept of citizenship and national identity if that consists of xenophobia, or boastful self-centredness. For me, citizenship is about living in a community and having a responsibility towards that community, as well as towards oneself. It is about relationships with others, with the community and even the global community. I shall maintain that consideration for others is the basis for citizenship, whatever one's identity is.

In preparing for this debate, I reread the final report of the Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship, which points out that citizenship has evolved from being the right of a narrow class of people to include the rights of women—although there are few women in the corridors that the noble Lord described—
 
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lowering the voting age, freedom of the press and opening up of the processes of government. My noble friend the Leader of the House, in the Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture in 2004, pointed out another dimension—that many of our black, white and Asian young people may feel marginalised from key institutions in society. We cannot pretend that racism and discrimination are not part of our society, and that there is not a requirement to challenge it.

Citizenship for what and for whom? What should education for it be about? The advisory report recommended a broad educational base for citizenship, to involve young people in learning self-confidence and social and moral responsibility, both towards those in authority and towards each other. It should be learning about becoming involved in the life and concerns of communities, and service to the community. It should be learning about how to be effective in public life through knowledge, skills and values. That is all very good.

If that happened, we would have a great opportunity to get young people participating in active and exciting opportunities. But are we? I know that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General is not from the DfES, but maybe he can pass on my question about whether citizenship education is taken seriously in schools or pushed to one side in the pressure for academic results. There are many examples of exciting and innovative programmes, but how widespread is that? Such education is too important to be left to chance. Schools are mini-communities, gatherings of citizens and young people who should, as well as learning academically, learn about discipline, relationships, values, motivation and aspiration.

Citizenship education in schools has been a foundation subject in schools for 11 to 16 year-olds since 2002. It has three strands: social and moral responsibility, community, and political literacy. For example, pupils aged five to seven should be able to take part in discussion and keep rules, appreciate that they belong to various groups and communities, and learn how to look after their environment. Pupils aged 11 to 14 should learn about legal and human rights and responsibilities, key aspects of parliamentary government, diversity of backgrounds in Britain today and the world as a global community. Again, that is all very well, but what about the practical means of delivery?

I want to refer, as a good example, to a teaching pack on citizenship for 11 to 16 year-olds produced by the Advisory Council for Alcohol and Drug Education, and I must declare an interest as a trustee. There are lesson plans with outcomes. For example, in lesson 14 the outcome is that pupils,

The key element there is about working collaboratively and expressing opinions, as well as about learning how institutions work; for citizenship is surely about being collaborative, not just about learning facts.
 
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I wish to quote a letter on that theme, in the same teaching pack, from the principal of a school in the United States. He said:

The same could be said of citizenship education. It is about learning to be a considerate human being, and overzealous notions of citizenship could be an excuse for bad behaviour.

That wise and wonderful writer E M Forster stated in an essay, Two Cheers for Democracy, in 1938 that he mistrusted causes. I hope that citizenship will not become a cause. He also reminded us that Dante placed Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of hell because they chose to betray their friend, Julius Caesar, rather than their country, Rome. So I give two cheers for citizenship and the concept of citizenship education. I would make it three cheers if I were convinced that what we want to inspire by citizenship and national identity was about enabling people to relate to others and to make the most of our common humanity, both nationally and globally.

2.28 pm

Lord Carey of Clifton: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for introducing this debate and outlining the issues so clearly. We should remind ourselves that we are not the only country that is wrestling with concerns about identity. The United States is doing so with respect to the influx of Mexicans and those from elsewhere. Nearer to home, the waves of asylum seekers to mainland Europe are opening a debate that CNN at the weekend entitled, "European identity in crisis".

It is therefore understandable that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, recently called for a deepening of British identity, with a national day set aside to celebrate values and aspirations that are central to our idea of nationhood. As the Chancellor did not articulate in any great depth the parameters of national identity, my contribution to this debate is to offer some reflections on what I regard as major signposts where particular elements of our identity are located. I shall leave to one side the issue of citizenship to which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred.

First, I offer a cherishing of parliamentary democracy and rule of law under the symbolic and constitutional headship of the monarchy. It must concern us all here that so many people do not value their democratic rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has already mentioned. Those rights were so hardly won for us by our forebears that greater efforts must be made to encourage participation in citizenship and public life. That so many people question Parliament today, and regard politicians as being in politics merely for their own good, must alarm us all—however unjustified we find such conclusions.
 
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Another reference point for British identity must be our culture, under which I subsume language and history. It is so easy to forget that our rich language is not the creation of the British people alone. We need to avoid the danger of believing that there is such a notion as pure, unadulterated culture or racial purity. The nationalist party in Britain—mercifully small—claims that this country should be protected from the invasion of minority-ethnic cultures, faiths and creeds, and that non-white people should be run out of town. However, that fascist creed flies in the face of history. Britain has been the recipient of many invasions of peoples over the centuries, most of them unfriendly; as a result, our national language and character have changed. Multiculturalism is not to be feared, but is inadequate on its own. It is merely a stepping stone to its goal of common unity in shared values and a commitment to democracy.

I believe that many of your Lordships would share my concern that history seems to be a marginal subject in quite a few schools these days. Yet few other subjects, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has said, are as vital in informing our knowledge of where we have come from and who we are today. History draws us into a national family. It makes us aware of our heritage and the painful yet enriching way that we have learned to tolerate differences, to speak openly and freely and to enjoy argument and debate at every level of human intercourse. A thorough grasp of history is a sound antidote to the increasing relativism and secularism of our day.

It is not my intention, in this short contribution, to make the case for the Christian faith being at the heart of our nation. None the less, it has clearly made a huge contribution and nourished the nation in so many ways that I, personally, would find it incredible if we tried to define our nation without mentioning the place of the Church. Yet, in mentioning faith, there is a particular challenge facing British Muslims. That concerns the tension between the demands of faith on the one hand and those of the secular communities in which religious communities reside on the other. In his fine book The West and The Rest, Roger Scruton makes the point that unlike Christianity, where the claims of faith and secular life are clearly separated, as expressed in the words of Jesus:

in Islam the concept of umma gives priority to religious duties over all other sources of authority. That is, Islamic jurisprudence does not recognise secular jurisdiction as a valid source of law.

My many conversations with Muslim leaders around the world reassure me that that difference between the West and the Muslim world can be resolved. However, for that to happen, this subject must also be brought out into the open and made part of our debate on identity. That returns us, then, to recent debates on freedom of speech; most recently, to that on religious hatred. The decision of the House of Commons on Tuesday was—from my perspective—a timely recognition that freedom of speech under the rule of law is a great good, and that we should never
 
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attempt to throttle it. Because religion is so important to people's lives, it must also be open to inspection, debate and argument.

I shall close with a story. There was once a rich Jewish gentleman called Finkelstein. He was rushed to the finest hospital, Massachusetts General. Then, without explanation, he checked himself out and went to a small, run-down Jewish hospital in New York's East Side. An official from the first hospital asked him, "Was there something wrong with Massachusetts General Hospital? Was it the doctors?". "No", he said, "they were outstanding—the very best. I can't complain". "Well, was it the nurses, then? Weren't they attentive enough?". "No", he said, "they were wonderful, like angels. I can't complain". "So was it the food? Was that insufficient, or too boring?". "No", he said, "the food was delicious—just heavenly. I can't complain". So the official said, "Mr Finkelstein, why then did you leave one of the finest hospitals in the world for this run-down hospital in the East Side?". Finkelstein gave a big smile and said, "Because here, here I can complain".

Perhaps that comes close to what British society is all about. It is an open society where we all mingle freely as equals, without fear of oppression—proud to be British.

2.36 pm


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