HL Deb 15 November 1967 vol 286 cc687-838

2.40 p.m.

LORD ABERDARE rose to call attention to the teaching of religion in schools; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the terms of my Motion are: To call attention to the teaching of religion in schools". I deliberately worded it as widely as possible as, so far as my research goes, it seems that this is the first time we have had a debate of this kind in your Lordships' House, and I wished to allow your Lordships the fullest scope to range over the whole field; not, of course, that the wording of a Motion necessarily deters your Lordships from saying what you wish, but in this case I wanted the Motion particularly to cover two main aspects of religious education. The first is the so-called dual system, under which Church schools enjoy certain privileges of denominational religious instruction, and are subsidised as to 80 per cent. of their capital costs; and the second is the teaching of religion in county schools, as required by the 1944 Education Act.

So far as the dual system is concerned, I have little to say. The 1967 Education Act, which raised the contribution of the State from 75 per cent. to 80 per cent., gave your Lordships an opportunity to discuss this matter. Quite apart from that, I personally believe that the time is not ripe for any change in this system. I believe that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Churches for the contribution they have made to education in the past, and although I readily acknowledge that because we are grateful we do not necessarily need to continue with the same system, I do feel that our gratitude lays an obligation upon us to help them all we can when they themselves are as willing as they have shown themselves to be to run their schools efficiently and to develop them in tune with modern educationals trends.

Many of us, on this side of the House, at any rate, believe that variety in education and parental choice, where possible, are desirable things in education and we would be the last to wish to see Church schools abolished, unless there were overpowering reasons. What interests me far more, and where I believe there really is a problem which must be solved, and solved quickly, lies in the teaching of religion in the county schools, primary schools and secondary schools. We are all interested in this subject, whether as taxpayers or as parents, or as individuals who have firm convictions of a religious nature. The subject is highly controversial. It involves our deepest beliefs as to the whole meaning of life, and therefore it is largely a matter of personal judgment. I should like to emphasise, therefore, that nothing I say is in any way the collective view of any noble Lords on this side of the House. Certainly this, I hope, has no relationship at all to Party matters, but just to emphasise that fact I thought I would speak from a Back Bench in order to make sure that your Lordships understood that anything I said was my own personal opinion.

The present system of religious education in county schools is founded on the 1944 Education Act. That is one of the great Education Acts that has moulded our system since the State became interested in educating its citizens. The 1944 Act is recognised as a great milestone, not least for the sections dealing with religious instruction, and the Act stands on the Statute Book as a living tribute to the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, who was principally responsible for passing it into law. Therefore, I am delighted that the noble Lord is going to speak in this debate.

His great achievement in the 1944 Act was to succeed in obtaining the agreement of all the religious denominations, excluding, of course, the Catholics, to some relatively simple sections covering religious instruction in schools. If I may summarise the present system briefly, it is as follows: each school day must start with a collective act of worship; there must be at least one period of religious instruction weekly, given according to an agreed syllabus. This syllabus is the result of a conference held by local education authorities, on which are represented the religious denominations, the teachers and the education authorities. Then there is a provision for parents to opt out on behalf of their children, either of the act of worship or of religious instruction, and equally there is provision for teachers to abstain from them if they so wish. This is the system that obtains to-day, as we come to discuss it.

When I first put my Motion on the Order Paper, I had a letter from my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery, who I am pleased to see is speaking later in the debate, in which he asked, "What is worrying you?" So first of all may I give your Lordships some idea why I think the present system should be looked at. I would emphasise in particular that I am thinking of the vast majority of the children in our schools. In other words, I am thinking not so much of the grammar schools, dealing perhaps with the 35 per cent. of our more able children, but in particular of the children so aptly called by Newsom "half our future"—those in the secondary modern and comprehensive schools.

The first basic reason why I think we should review the present system is, quite simply, the poor results that are obtained by it. It has been amply proved by such research as has been carried out, and I would mention notably by Mr. Harold Loukes, Reader in Education at Oxford University, that schoolchildren emerge from the present system with an abysmal ignorance of what we mean by "religion". Odd myths from the Old Testament may have stuck in the memory of some; others may remember some geographical facts about the travels of St. Paul; others may recall some historical facts about the life of Jesus, but very few indeed will have any grasp of the meaning behind the Bible, or any understanding of its implications for their own lives.

Yet from the experience that I have had, particularly with the Y.M.C.A., I have seen the same young people who have learned nothing about religion at school discussing with great eagerness the probems of their own lives, and in the hands of people skilled in such work it is relatively easy to draw them on from a discussion of matters that interest them personally into broad general considerations of morals and religion. I cannot help feeling that a lot of the time we are teaching religion the wrong way round. We are attempting to teach facts and rules and expecting our pupils to accept them and lead their lives by them, when what we should be teaching—although "teaching" is quite the wrong word—what we should be drawing their attention to are their own problems, the problems of life around them, and from them drawing out the religious implications.

I think one of the most significant things that has happened recently has been the much publicised conversion of the Beatles to the teaching of the Maharishi. I am in no position to comment on the teachings of this gentleman, whom my right honourable friend Mr. Quintin Hogg referred to as "the giggling Guru". But what I think is significant is the fact that the Beatles, who more than any other living young people have attained the height of wordly achievement, have found that it is not enough and that they need some spiritual satisfaction.

The second reason why I consider that a review is necessary is that a considerable change has taken place in the whole climate of religion since the 1944 Act. Then it was a great achievement to get agreement among the different denominations, but in order to achieve that agreement the agreed syllabuses tended to be based on the lowest common denominator, which was Bible study. The present situation is very different. There is more talk among the Churches of unity than of denominational differences. It is certainly much easier to get agreement on a revised syllabus more in tune with modern thought and modern methods of teaching; and I am thinking in particular of the new agreed syllabus for the West Riding.

I mentioned modern methods of teaching, and this is my third reason for a new look at the present system. As your Lordships probably know, the days of a classroom with the teacher on a dais, writing on a blackboard, for the class to copy in their notebooks are rapidly disappearing. It has come to be realised that with the less able pupils three-quarters of an hour's lecturing may result in nothing being learned, but if one of those pupils asks one question it is more than likely that he or she will remember the answer. Indeed, much of the pattern of modern education is based on such principles, especially for the less able child. Those of your Lordships who are familiar with the programme of teaching in a secondary modern or comprehensive school will know that it is largely made up, for the less able pupils, of projects and topics pursued by the young people themselves. Moreover, the subjects are no longer kept in water-tight compartments but are fused together and interrelated. With such trends taking place in education, religious instruction tends to stick out like a sore thumb. It is usually treated as a separate subject, often a dull repetition of facts. How tragic, and yet how apt to happen, that we should ever hear a child say, "I am not much good at religion "!

Fourthly, and lastly, there has been since 1944 a considerable change in our society. The church-going habit has largely disappeared. People look to the Church almost as they look to The Times, for births, marriages and deaths. "The tempo of our age", writes Dr. R. J. Goldman, "is that of search and questioning", and such research evidence as is available suggests that these trends are continuing among the younger members of the population. Moreover, the considerable number of immigrant children who are now in certain of our schools has brought visibly to the attention, both of those teaching them and of those who are taught, that there is much to learn about religions other than the Christian religion.

These, my Lords, are the reasons why I feel we should think again about the teaching of religion in schools; I am extremely grateful to all those of your Lordships who have put your names down to speak in this debate, and I feel that we shall largely rely on your wisdom and experience to make this debate a worthwhile one. I certainly do not consider myself in any way an expert, but, at the same time, as an interested parent I cannot help putting forward some of my personal views on what we might be considering doing in the present circumstances; and I do so not in any spirit of criticism of what has been done hitherto, but with the sole object of suggesting ways in which it might be reshaped.

The first question I put to myself was: Should we continue to teach religion in our schools? In view of the decline in church attendance, do parents any longer want their children to receive religious education? And the answer, in so far as I have been able to discover, is a decisive, Yes. A number of opinion polls have been conducted over the last five years, and the overwhelming majority of parents consistently come out in favour of religious instruction in schools. In a sample survey conducted by National Opinion Polls, and published in New Society in May, 1965, 90 per cent. of those consulted—despite the fact that of the sample less than one quarter had attended church within the previous three months—voted for the continuance of the present arrangements for religion in schools.

A more recent research project has been carried out in the North-East by Mr. P. R. May, of Durham University, and Mr. O. R. Johnston, of Newcastle University, and this research has confirmed this evidence. In this survey 96.1 per cent. of those sampled said they wanted their children to know about and understand Christianity; 90.2 per cent. wanted State schools to continue to provide religious instruction, even if they were not required by law to do so, and 85.2 per cent. considered it important for children in State schools to have religious instruction lessons. There are many other figures from similar types of research, but they all seem to come to the same conclusion: that the great majority of parents do want their children to receive religious education at school. Mr. P. R. May has also been carrying out recently some research into teachers' attitudes to religious education, and although these results are not yet ready for publication he has kindly said that I might quote from them. He discovers that of the teachers a substantial majority—66 per cent. of those he sampled—are in favour of compulsory religious instruction in schools.

My Lords, if we accept that there is a general desire on the part of both parents and teachers for religious education to continue in schools, and if, at the same time, we accept that the present system is not satisfactory, what should we be doing to improve it? First of all, let me take the primary schools. The Plowden Committee Report supported the continuance of the present system, but with increased emphasis on the parents' right to opt out on behalf of the child. I must confess that personally I find myself strongly attracted to the Minority Report by Professor Ayer and others, who believe (if I may quote a short sentence) that religion involves theology and theology is both too recondite and too controversial a subject to be suitable for inclusion in the curriculum of primary schools".

This is not in any way to detract from the moral teaching that a child receives in a primary school. This is necessarily part of the whole atmosphere of the school, and he or she is unconsciously learning to adapt himself or herself to a moral code throughout the whole of school life. Nor is it to say that in the course of primary education a child should not hear Bible stories and sing carols at Christmas. But what it does mean, to my mind, is that for children aged 5 to 11 there should not be a specific study of religion as a separate subject. Dr. Goldman, now Principal of Didsbury College of Education, who has given a great deal of thought and written a great many wise words on this subject, has expressed his belief, in which I concur, that no child under 12 is capable of understanding a religious concept. Two dangers, therefore, are liable to arise from teaching religion as a separate subject in primary schools.

First, the child absorbs at an early age a number of impressions that may positively hinder him or her at a later stage of development. Secondly, the child may be taught a number of stories based on myths which at the time he accepts as true, but when, later, he discovers that they are not to be taken as literal truth, he is liable to reject not only them but the whole of the religious instruction that he has received. Out goes the baby with the bath water. The child who discovers that the story of Adam and Eve or the story of Noah and the Ark does not accord with modern scientific thought is liable to look back on those who taught him such stories as old-fashioned fuddy-duddies, and he will consider as old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy any of the religious concepts that that teached may have tried to put over. In any case, I believe that religion is a difficult subject for the primary school. It is normally left to the class teacher, and a great deal depends on that teacher's approach. With such a shortage of good teachers of religion, I should prefer to see them concentrated on the secondary stage, teaching it to children of an age who can think and understand the subject; and I should be tempted no longer to make religious instruction a compulsory subject in primary schools.

It is in the secondary schools that, in my view, we should be making a great effort to improve religious education—I would suggest in two ways: first, by widening the scope of the agreed syllabuses and, I hope, by reducing their number and bringing them up to the standard of the best, so that teaching is not merely a matter of imparting Bible knowledge but something that presents a challenge to young people in their own lives and explains the Christian approach to their problems. In my opinion it should go further. It should include comparative religious study and explain the principal beliefs of religions other than Christianity. The object of religious education in my view is not indoctrination. We are not trying to turn out Christians as the Russians try to turn out Communists. We should be aiming to put young people in a position to make up their own minds about the Faith for which so much is claimed and in which so many find satisfaction and inspiration.

I would mention again as an excellent example of such a syllabus the recent West Riding agreed syllabus. It covers subjects such as personal relationships, including home and family, friends, marriage and sex, class distinctions and race relations, world problems such as hunger, leisure, gambling, alcohol, drugs, war and world religions, modern artists, art in cathedrals and churches and a section on Jewish and Moslem worship. This is the kind of syllabus that I believe would stimulate young people into thinking about religion for themselves and thereby learning more than they would ever learn from a more formalised type of instruction.

Secondly, I believe it can be improved by improving the standard of teaching, for however much we revise the syllabuses we shall never get anywhere without the right teachers. In particular, what I believe is needed is more opportunity for in-service training for teachers, and also I believe that if more local education authorities were to appoint a religious education adviser in sympathy with a contemporary approach to the problem, that would help. But this is a vast subject and I have no time to go into it more deeply. I am happy to know that my noble friend Lord Sandford, who is far better qualified to speak on such subjects than I am, is going to say something later on in the debate.

Now I come to what in my view is the most difficult problem of all; namely, should the school day start with a compulsory act of worship? For most of us it was such a traditional part of school life that we are loth to consider dropping it, and, properly conducted, it can give a sense of common purpose to the school assembly. In the North-East poll that I mentioned earlier 90 per cent. of parents wanted their children to attend daily worship, even if not required to do so by law; and in Mr. May's survey of teachers some 60 per cent. of teachers wanted it to continue.

Yet there are arguments against it in certain cases, and I am thinking again particularly not so much of the grammar schools but of the less able pupils and the secondary modern and comprehensive schools. These arguments are, for example, that it is an inheritance from the past and quite apart from the normal home life of these children; that it is often meaningless to them, and insincerity is the enemy of mature religion; that it can be a mockery if it is badly conducted, and that there are cases certainly where teachers who do not believe in it frequently take part in it in the belief that if they do not their future chances of a headmastership may be adversely affected. I hope I am not too pessimistic, but I have made inquiries and I find a certain amount of gloom about this act of collective worship. It seems to me preferable that where conviction and sincerity are lacking no act of worship should be held. In other cases I should prefer to leave it to the decision of the individual school whether to hold it daily or whether, perhaps, to hold it once or twice a week. But I would stress that these are purely my personal opinions.

Finally, may I make mention of two what are, in modern jargon, I believe, called growth points—two areas where I see great possibilities of progress. The first is the religious broadcasts of the B.B.C. to schools. Two of these provide religious services, one for the primary school and one for the secondary school. These are services conceived in the modern idiom, and useful particularly in schools where a headmaster may prefer not to conduct the religious service himself. The other broadcasting services to schools are designed to provide religious education in the fullest sense rather than religious instruction. I would give as an example a series for sixth forms called "Religion in its Contemporary Context", which does not assume any general commitment of sixth formers to Christianity and which shows an awareness of the extent of current non-Christian beliefs. For example, Humanists such as Professor Ayer and Dr. Cyril Bibby express their point of view as well as Christians. And forthcoming programmes are planned on Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

The other growth I would draw to your Lordships' attention is a most interesting document entitled Religious and Moral Education, containing proposals for county schools by a group of Christians and humanists. It seems to me to express views based primarily on what is best educationally for the child. To me they would seem also to be in the best interests of Christian education. The group recognises that if their recommendations were carried out the Christian faith would remain in a privileged position in county schools, and they think this educationally desirable against the background of opinion in this country. Moreover, they believe it is right that children should have the opportunity of sharing in an experience of the Christian religion as part of their total education. They ask, however, for a more open approach to the teaching of religion, which they define as teaching in such a way as to help pupils to make as freely as possible their own personal commitment to a belief or a way of life or attitude to the problems of life and society.

In my view, we should be thinking of modernising our teaching of religion in such ways as these if we believe in the value of including religious education in the school curriculum. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, it is well for us to turn away sometimes from more immediate political debate to consider matters that have perhaps wider implications for the future of our people even than some of the legislation which comes before us. This is, I believe, the first time for many years that your Lordships have debated the subject of religious education in schools, and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for having given us the opportunity this afternoon. Young people to-day are growing up in a world of scientific marvels, of rapid change and social contrasts—a world, too, in which perhaps nothing seems very stable or very certain—and they must wonder, even more than we did in our day, what is the place and purpose of man in the Universe.

The modern generation is criticised by some, but it has perhaps a more difficult task of reconciliation than most of its predecessors, and I am not sure that we have done as much as we should have done to help them. Anyone of intelligence, and young people particularly—and if I understand rightly the evidence given by the British Medical Association to the Latey Committee on the Age of Majority, the evidence suggests that intellectual advance goes together with the earlier physical development—must sometimes wonder when they look round the world whether we have known what we were about. They are in no way incapable of discussing moral and religious issues, given the right kind of guidance and encouragement, and they are often eager to do so. What sort of help can we provide?

Of one thing there can be little doubt. They will not accept the authoritarian views on moral and religious issues which derive from 19th century biblical studies. Our parents had indeed a detailed knowledge of the Bible and its interpretation which we cannot match to-day, and for them it was a source of wisdom and strength. Perhaps that is why so much of the teaching in schools to-day is still based on this approach, yet I do not think it brings any of the security and certainty that our parents knew. Perhaps the world has changed too much, too fast.

In one sense, the religious settlement of the Education Act 1944, which did so much to end the bitter denominational strife from which education had suffered in earlier years, may have acted as something of a brake on the development of a new approach to religious education, comparable to that which has had such remarkable success in other fields of study. There are signs now that all this is changing; certainly there are many questions being asked which are of great significance for the future of religious education.

Were we right in 1944 to make this the only compulsory subject in the school curriculum? Should it be left to parents to choose, and at what stage are young people able to choose for themselves? DO we make constructive use of the idealism of our young people and of the great concern of many of them to-day for the underprivileged in our society and overseas? We have inherited a great tradition with its roots firmly based in Christianity: what do we hand on? What should we hand on?

There are moral issues, too. What is the link, if there is one, between religion and morals for our young people? From what should they derive their principles of right behaviour? If, as some will say, religion and morals are indissolubly joined, how do we maintain morality in what seems to be an increasingly materialistic society? There may or may not be more unbelief among young people to-clay, but I am fairly sure that there is more honesty, and this makes the decision about what we should teach them both more difficult and more critical.

Inevitably, we look for guidance to the religious leaders in our community and we shall, I am sure, hear later on this afternoon what steps the Church of England is taking to meet the changing situation. Nor, of course, is the Church of England alone in this. We have witnessed in the past few years a most remarkable ecumenical movement, one which has a great significance for the future of education, and indeed for the world as a whole. Approaches have been made and steps taken—not only on one side—that many of us only a few years ago would not have believed possible.

Ultimately, of course, as in all education, we must depend upon the teachers and we must think whether we do enough to help them to face and cope with this responsibility. The noble Lord was not alone in demanding more research into teaching methods, a greater understanding of how and why children react as they do to religious teaching, new and better teaching materials and equipment, a more stringent intellectual discipline so that this subject takes it proper place among others in the school curriculum, and at the same time a wider knowledge of religions and beliefs outside Christianity.

Religious education is under challenge, and that is a good thing because that which is not subject to challenge (because nobody cares) is dead. In this field, as in so many others to-day, there is a need for critical and adventurous thinking. I hope that your Lordships will suggest ways in which this might be encouraged. The work of the Schools Council for the curriculum and examinations is leading the way, with studies of the implications for the school curriculum of the raising of the school-leaving age in a few years time and the place of religious education in the sixth form. We have recently had the interesting discussion in the Plowden Report on Children and their Primary Schools; it was perhaps not to be expected that the members of the Plowden Committee, who represented a wide cross-section of opinion on this matter, could succeed in settling their differences, but they have given us all a great deal to think about.

Other hopeful signs are to be found in the recent and sudden increase in the publication of books, articles in the daily papers and in the education journals, and in the way in which this has been matched by new efforts on the part of teachers themselves, with the help of advisers, local religious leaders and the active and useful bodies such as the Christian Education Movement, to sort out the issues afresh and to develop their own ideas and teaching materials. It is encouraging that more local education authorities have been appointing religious education advisers for the first time, and many others have taken the initiative, with the support of all concerned, in reconsidering the terms of the agreed syllabus for religious education in county schools.

It is sometimes suggested that the days have gone when religion should be taught in schools at all. It would seem to me that this is not the majority view. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in saying that such research as has been made seems to show that this is not the view of parents, and that a large majority are still in favour of children being taught religious education at school. It is, I suppose, in a field of this kind primarily for Governments to do what people, and particularly the parents, want. The reasons why the parents take that view may be complex, but the feeling seems to be genuine. If this view continues to prevail, we have a duty to see that religious education is well taught so that our children can make their choice in an informed way. So for my part I am very largely in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has said—not in his support of the minority view of the Plowden Council, but substantially in every other aspect. I think that the wishes of the parents should certainly prevail in the need for religious instruction. I think that we are all aware that the quality of that instruction needs to be both questioned and approved. Primarily, perhaps, this is a matter for the Churches, but I think the Churches themselves would very largely agree with the criticisms, so far as they went, of the noble Lord, and that they are in no way complacent.

I do not know whether the noble Lord has seen—I think it was published only about three weeks ago—The Communication of the Christian Faith. That is a Report by the Church of England Board of Education, which I understand has already been partly discussed by the Church Assembly. The Report says—and it is very much what the noble Lord himself said on one point: Inadequate or misconceived teaching at either the primary or secondary stage may be a serious, and indeed an almost insuperable, obstacle to the development of an informed and mature faith in later life. Then it says: The Board of Education is presenting this Report to the Church Assembly in the belief that there is an urgent need for stocktaking in relation to the whole field of religious education, that need arises from the steadily accumulating evidence that the process of religious education, as at present conceived, meets with very imperfect success.… Finally, the Report says: The Agreed Syllabuses, which have since the 1944 Act provided the framework for religious teaching in schools, have proved to be faulty instruments. They were in the main based on the idea of systematic Bible study, which was the dominant mode of teaching in the theological colleges, and which seemed at the time to have the overriding advantage that it offered neutral ground on which the Churches could meet and sink their differences. They were far too ambitious in scope and paid too little regard to the actual capacities of children. As the Chairman of the Board has put it, the Agreed Syllabuses have been more effective in satisfying the views of the Churches, than in meeting the religious needs of the children.… The Government, I am sure, will listen with the greatest interest to every suggestion which may be made by Members of your Lordships' House. If I have not spoken for long it has primarily been because of the long list of those wishing to speak; and, of course, my noble friend Lady Phillips will be able at the end to offer the Government's comments on such suggestions as have been made.

May I conclude by again thanking the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for having given us an opportunity to discuss what to most of us is a very important subject, and by expressing my own regret that, for a reason which I mentioned during the debate on the gracious Speech from the Throne, I shall be unable to hear all the speeches. But I shall certainly read all those which I am unable to hear.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for opening this debate, and for doing so in such a helpful and constructive manner. This is the third occasion in six months on which Lord Aberdare and I have both spoken in the same debate. We seem to be making a habit of it. But I always find that he is very well informed, and is listened to with great attention. On this occasion there is much that he has said with which I agree.

A few decades ago this subject would have raised intense Party political controversy. I have no doubt that someone from the Liberal Benches would have emphasised the disabilities from which the Free Churches felt they were suffering, and in all probability a spokesman from the Conservative Benches would have put the case for the Established Church. I welcome the fact that to-day this subject can be discussed in a much calmer atmosphere. Furthermore, I think it is fortunate that the divergences between the political Parties in this country are not based on religious differences, as to a considerable extent they still are on the Continent. It is unnecessary, therefore, to say that this is not a Party political issue, and I speak for myself alone. I do not presume to commit any of my colleagues.

If I may start on a personal note, I am one who is steeped in the Nonconformist tradition. I am suspicious of any attempt to impose views on either adults or children. I do not consider it the proper or necessary function of the State to be the Defender of the Faith, and on the question of whether the Church of England should continue to be Established, I think I should almost certainly vote for disestablishment. Nevertheless, in spite of those views, I am satisfied in my own mind that religious education should be included in the curriculum of schools for which the State is responsible, although, like the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, I should like to see a more open approach. I say deliberately, "religious education", and not "religious instruction", although I am aware that "religious instruction" is the expression used in the 1944 Act. But it is significant that in all the discussions that have been taking place lately about the subject the term used is "religious education".

There is a subtle but, I think, important distinction. Religious education is education about religion. If the motive were indoctrination, as is sometimes suggested, I think it would be impossible to justify it, but I do not think that that really is so to-day. Furthermore, I do not think it would be likely to succeed, because children are very sensitive to what they call being "got at", and youth tends to react against the views which it thinks those in authority want it to accept. In the Soviet Union, where, as your Lordships know, the teaching of religion in schools is strictly forbidden and the propagation of religion is strongly disapproved of, those in authority are disturbed at the number of young people who are accepting the Christian faith. Perhaps there is some lesson to be learned from that.

But, returning to the subject of our curriculum, if the aim is education in its fullest sense, if the intention is to help to provide a background which will enable children to decide for themselves, then I think it is justified. I forget the name of the distinguished visitor who, when speaking to a gathering of boys, summed up his advice in the remark: Say your prayers and wash the back of your neck. I have no quarrel with that advice. But what really matters is that a boy to whom that advice is given should, by the time he leaves school, be in a position to decide for himself whether or not it is a good idea to wash the back of his neck or to say his prayers; and that surely involves some knowledge and understanding of the merits or demerits of washing and praying.

Of course there is more to it than that, and what has impressed me, and led me to the view that religious education should be included in the curriculum, is not only the apparent wish of the majority of parents, but also the revolution in ideas among educationists and the great amount of valuable research that is going on, the effects of which have not yet been fully felt. I agree that we are still only on the threshold of understanding the best approach to the teaching of religion, but there seems to be growing support for the view that the starting point should be what is called the "case study method".

There should be discussion about questions which children are actually asking. The Newsom Report gives a number of examples; for instance, how can God allow babies to be born deformed? It is a difficult enough question, and it leads on to others, and eventually the children will ask about the reality and nature of God; and, perhaps, some day some of them will read Honest to God. But the aim must surely be to help children to reach their own conclusions; not to determine what they should believe.

There was a small child in the 5 to 6 age group who was asked whether she liked going to school. She said that she did, and when asked "Why?" replied, "Because I like finding out things." That seems to be an extraordinary compliment to the teacher and to the method of teaching. Religious education must keep pace with the advance in educational methods.

I know that there are some who suggest that we might dispense with religious education and, instead, devote the time to teaching morals and ethics. I am not entirely persuaded that that would be an advance. I think that if you were to tell a class of children that for the next forty-five minutes they were going to be taught morals, you would be asking for failure. But I should like to join in paying a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, whom we are delighted to see here; and I am very pleased he is going to take part in this debate. The 1944 Act was a great achievement, and Sections 25 to 30, dealing with religious instruction, represented an important advance. But after over twenty years it is perhaps not surprising that they sound somewhat dated; and I think there are several reasons for this.

The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, had the task of achieving agreement between the denominations—and that was a very important task. The religious clauses in the Act represent a compromise, and I think that at that point of time it was a very important compromise. But now the whole atmosphere has changed. There is close co-operation between all the main denominations, and the problems to-day are the method of presentation, the quality of teaching and the availability of teachers who feel that they can conscientiously undertake this task. Therefore the whole climate has altered. I think another respect in which it might now be said that the 1944 Act is inappropriate is that there is no clear distinction between teaching religion and the act of worship. There are others here to-day who are much better qualified than I am to speak about that, and shall listen to what they have to say. I would make only one comment, as regards both religious education and the act of worship: I am sure that quality is very much more important than quantity.

I can see the importance of periods of worship, and if the emphasis in education is on learning by experience then there is value in the experience of the act of worship, and I can see the point of those who claim that this is an essential part of education. On the other hand, much of the value may be destroyed by the fact that it is compulsory. I think it is only fair to say that it is not always a dull formality. It is not, for instance, in the secondary modern school which I visit from time to time, when, on a Friday morning, the school orchestra takes part and the choir is conducted by one of the younger masters, and when, as far as an adult can tell, all those taking part find it a worthwhile occasion. There probably is some real value in that collective activity.

Whether the children understand the words of the hymns, I should not like to say, because the words of some hymns are very puzzling to children. I remember, as a boy, singing that hymn which begins with the lines, There is a green hill far away, Without a city wall, I never could understand why that green hill had not got a city wall, and I did not see why it should have one anyway. I am not the only one who was puzzled by that, because I saw it mentioned in a little book called Nine O'clock on a Wet Monday Morning, written by the headmaster of a primary school in Blackburn. I mention that because he is one who shows a deep insight into the mind of a child. This is a primary school; and, while I agree that there should be greater freedom, I want to encourage teachers who are doing this, and not discourage them.

My Lords, there is so much that could be said on this subject, but I know I must exercise restraint. However, I should like to offer a few suggestions which I hope will be of practical value, and the first arises out of the comments of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, to the West Riding Agreed Syllabus, which is entitled Suggestions for Religious Education. I think we should ask: how did that come about? How did it come to be written? I think the key was the appointment of a religious adviser in 1960. Of course, that is not the same thing as the Advisory Committee under the Fifth Schedule. A full-time adviser was appointed, and he had discussions with teachers throughout the whole area. He discussed with them their problems and their difficulties; and then, in 1963, a conference within the provisions of the Act was arranged. This coincided with a good deal of research; and the outcome was the new Syllabus. I find that 13,000 copies of this new Syllabus have been sold, and I was told the other day that it is out of print. Those responsible are asking for more to be printed to meet the continuing requests for it. So there seems to be a need; and I am sure it would be helpful if all education authorities were to appoint a religious adviser who was a full-time member of the advisory staff.

Secondly, if religious education is to be retained, it must not be treated as a poor relation. There should be more courses for teachers, many of whom are only too willing to attend; there should be what is called in-service; and there should be a link with the appropriate departments of the universities. Thirdly, there must be flexibility: as much freedom as possible for the heads of schools to interpret the law. Certainly we must not stick to the letter of the law. In some primary schools the head finds it helpful to have an act of worship at 10.30, but that is not strictly in accordance with the law because it is not at the beginning of the day. I think we must be flexible if the act is to be retained.

But, of course, we must recognise that sooner or later there will have to be a new Act of Parliament. If the Government decide in favour of bringing in a Bill, then, certainly so far as the Free Churches are concerned, and I believe as far as the other Churches are concerned, the machinery for discussing what changes should be made is available. But, personally, I am inclined to the view that it might be wiser to wait, say, five years, to see what benefits can be derived from all this new research. I do not suggest this for administrative convenience for the Government, but I think it might be beneficial. Nevertheless, some day there must be a new Act. However skilfully it is worded, and however much care is taken in drafting it, success will depend not on the wording of any Act of Parliament but on a sympathetic understanding of the subject and on the sincerity and educational ability of those who teach.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to take part in this debate for the reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare—that I had a certain part to play in bringing in the compulsory religious instruction clauses in the Act of 1944—and I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wade, who spoke from the Free Church angle. In drafting the Act of 1944, I was very much helped by one whom we might well remember to-day; namely, Chuter Ede. He was my great helper on that occasion; a Free Churchman himself, who brought along the redoubtable Dr. Scott Lidgett to help us in the religious settlement, after there had been some rather harsh words.

I should like to make it quite clear at the outset that it was not just a bright idea to bring in compulsory religious instruction in 1944. It was an essential part of the whole religious settlement introduced between the years 1941 and 1944, and negotiated for three solid years running with all the Churches, with the National Union of Teachers, with the Trades Union Congress, with the Labour Party and with the Conservative Party. I do not believe that we should have got what was described as the settlement of 1944 if we had not included these clauses on religious instruction as part of the religious settlement which was itself part of the dual system settlement, which was also included at that time.

Everybody gave a little; everybody objected to something that somebody else wanted. But, in the end, we produced an atmosphere which, as the noble Lord has just stated, is prevailing to-day, when the Churches are much closer together than they were at that date, and when I think it may be possible to go forward from our present situation in regard to religious instruction to make some modern and up-to-date improvements in it.

I do not think we should ever have settled the problem of the Church schools without the help of William Temple, and I should like to pay a tribute to-day to his memory, because I think it was largely due to his lead that we divided the Church schools into aided and county schools. We therefore divided religious instruction as between aided schools under the ægis of the Church, which the Bishop of Chichester of that day described as "schools in which worship would be allowed", and county schools. If we had not allowed for this dichotomy, we could not have got any solution at all to the Roman Catholic question. I do not propose to deal with the Roman Catholic question at all this afternoon. I would only remind Roman Catholics that I did speak to the hierarchy on one very critical occasion and I quoted the words of the hymn: Ye doubting Saints; fresh courage take, The clouds you so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break With blessings on your head. Although I had many upsets from the Roman Catholics, many complaints and many worries, I should like to say how much I admire the manner in which they have tackled their own education and have taken advantage of the settlement under the Act and the new grant of 80 per cent.

So, my Lords, my remarks to-day will be devoted largely to dealing with the Anglican position and the actual position of religious instruction. I am in some doubt, taking the Church schools first, whether the leaders of the Church are attacking the teaching of religion in the Church schools with enough determination. It is being tackled piously, and I think it is being tackled well; but I Wink that more needs to be done. And before I conclude I shall refer to a Report made by the Archdiocese of York in which the Archbishop has set up a Commission to report, under Mr. Richard Wood, M.P. I have the Report with me; it is a good one, and I recommend it strongly to all dioceses as an excellent lead in teaching the clergy, especially the new incumbents, what opportunities there are in Church schools for religious teaching. If that Report were to be followed up universally, I think that an advance would have been made in the Church school question.

But, my Lords, it is with the county schools in general that I shall be predominantly concerned. Just to remind the House of the atmosphere of the war time, I want to read one paragraph from the White Paper on Educational Reconstruction of 1943. This said—before the Bill was introduced: There has been a very general wish, not confined to representatives of the Churches, that religious education should be given a more defined place in the life and work of the schools. Springing from the desire to revive the spiritual and personal values in our society and in our national tradition, the Church, the family, the local community and the teacher all have their part to play in imparting religious instruction to the young". This followed from what was described at the time as "the Archbishop's Five Points" and it was the very beginning of the reform of the Education Bill. There were doubts at the time—and I freely acknowledge this—as to the wisdom of bringing in this compulsory instruction; but the right of withdrawal by parents was deliberately introduced. As one who was responsible for the Act over 23 years ago, I should like to say that I agree with the Plowden Committee that more attention should be drawn to the rights of parents who wish to withdraw their children. I think it would be a great mistake if this were not stressed in this debate. Although I am devoted to the cause of religious education I do not think it ought to be imposed on children whose parents do not desire them to have it. In that, I agree with the Plowden conclusions.

The general result of Section 25 of the Act (I will not read it, as it has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare) was that religious instruction was to be given in accordance with an agreed syllabus. When I submitted this to Winston Churchill he expressed some surprise—as he often did at things I put before him. He asked if I were starting a new State religion. He then asked to see the Archbishop of the day and questioned him as to whether I was trying to rival Zoroaster—which I thought was rather over-doing things. But William Temple was firm on the agreed syllabus. Although he referred to it slightly grudgingly as being a form of moral Stoicism, he said that he thought that in the county school we probably should not get much better than that from the agreed syllabuses of the day. It is remarkable that this religious instruction was the only complsory subject included in the Act. For the first time in the history of this country, religious instruction was made compulsory.

So much for the manner of introduction of religious instruction. What is the position to-day, 23 years later? The position seems to me to be that there is a considerable whirl of theological doubt succeeding Honest to God and other such publications. I think we miss the educational guidance which we were given at the time by William Temple; but I think the leaders of the Church have managed to maintain a very close and real interest in the subject. I have studied a number of sources to see what I think is the position to-day. First of all, a book called Religious Education, 1944–1984, edited by Alexander Wedderspoon. Here I find a very important fact which I think is cardinal to this debate. It is claimed in this book that only 5 per cent. of our children are really touched by the religious education provided by the Churches outside the schools in what are described as old-fashioned Sunday schools and so forth. If this be really true—and I am in some doubt whether the figure should be so low—it shows that if our children are to understand what the White Paper said about our spiritual inheritance the whole job falls absolutely squarely on the Church schools and the county schools. I would ask any representative of the Anglican Church who may be speaking to-day whether he thinks the Church themselves can control many children actually outside the schools in this subject of religious education. If they cannot—and I believe it is difficult to do—it makes the question of religious instruction in schools exceedingly important.

My doubts about the present position have been aggravated by reading Dr. Goldman's book, Religious Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. This is the best bit of research on the subject we are debating to-day. This was followed by Mrs. Dewar's book with the enchanting title of Backward Christian Soldiers, in which she seems to think we are not making very much progress in our schools at all. This was preceded by Mr. Loukes's book—again referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare—under the title, Teenage Religion which I think probably has more in it than almost any other book on this s abject—especially for the teenagers or the secondary school children. This was followed up by inquiries by the Leeds University Institute of Education and the Sheffield Institute. There was also a recent article in Learning and Living on the extent of religious instruction in the secondary schools.

On the whole, all these inquiries seem to show that religious instruction is maintained; but they also seem to show that there are some very definite difficulties. I will summarise them as four: the timetable difficulties are reducing many hours of religious instruction to nothing; staff shortage is doing the same thing; in many schools the daily act of worship or assembly is without meaning; and, lastly, the agreed syllabus is too factual and concentrates too much on Bible stories and the Old Testament.

If we look at the primary schools we have the benefit of the Plowden Report. I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who introduced this Motion, that we should stop-off religious instruction before the secondary school and omit the primary schoolchildren. I do not agree with that. I think that these children are very acute. I once had the benefit of listening to an ardent priest in a Church school attempting to indulge in a lesson. He asked these children, while I watched, "What should we do to earn forgiveness of sins?" A hand went up at the back of the class and a small girl said: "We should learn to sin first." This showed a certain acuteness of perception which I do not think is lacking in the very young generation.

Therefore I personally support the Majority Report of the Plowden Committee in its quite reasonable conclusions. I understand all their reservations, but when they say that a warning should be given to parents, that there should be more freedom in the act of worship, that there should be an examination in the nature of teaching and more in-service training to teachers, I think the majority of the Plowden Committee have presented a good conclusion. The Minority Report has been referred to by the noble Lord. It is written by non-believers in a very understanding way and is blemished, in my view, by only one extraordinary conclusion. They write this: We are aware that public opinion may not be on our side but in this instance, as in that of corporal punishment, we do not believe that this consideration should debar us from advocating what we think is right. Well, my Lords, I can find no similarity at all between condign punishment and spiritual education. The only person I can imagine who really believed in this was Arnold the Great, of Rugby School, and he, no doubt, combined the two in the same sentiment in his mind. I really do not follow this conclusion, but apart from that I sympathise with certain findings of the Minority Report, the main one being (and it has been drawn attention to already in the debate) that we should somewhat widen our religious teaching, and should, so to speak, bring in wider subjects in connection with it, as is recommended in the West Riding Agreed Syllabus; and I agree with the noble Lord that that is by far the best extant to-day.

I consider, as a result of these examinations, that religious instruction should definitely go on, with the following improvements. First, increased staffing. I would here recommend the formation of an executive body, representing the Churches, the Ministry of Education and Science and the teacher training colleges, which should have as its responsibility the recommendation of greatly increased teacher-training as we are suffering, from the lack of teachers. Secondly, I would recommend a review of the agreed syllabus in most places, not necessarily in the West Riding, but elsewhere, for it seems a great pity that in a modern age we cannot have a syllabus which is more up to date with original thought. On this, I would ask the local authorities to help, and the Churches themselves. Thirdly, I would ask for more research into this subject, as Dr. Goldman has done. Fourthly, I would widen religious instruction to follow the example which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has already shown to us; namely, a greater Ecumenical advance in Church affairs; and I would certainly agree with the Minority Report of the Plowden Committee that references to Socrates and other great figures in the history of the world could well find their place in parts of an agreed syllabus.

Lastly, my Lords, or penultimately, I should like to recommend that the local education authorities appoint full-time advisers—in that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade—and, lastly, that parents or ordinants in the Church should require more detailed training. If we follow those various recommendations, I think we shall greatly improve religious education, instruction, or whatever you like to call it, in this country.

I referred to the York Report of the Archbishop's Commission. One of their most powerful recommendations is that clergy with schools in their parishes should be well informed, and that the diocese should inform new incumbents of their duties. But they go further and attempt to define the objects of religious instruction, and they say: In the county school give the child an understanding of the Christian culture and tradition of the world he lives in. In the Church school they go further and say: Help the child forward to a personal encounter with God. I think this latter object is somewhat ambitious, but I do not think we can be too ambitious in this sphere. That was referring, of course, to the Church school.

I shall listen with respect to those who have doubts about religious instruction being compulsory, but I am convinced of the principle which animated us in the flush of war time—because, my Lords, this was put through while we were living in Church House with the bombs actually raining at the time, and the sentiments and the emotion of the day must not be forgotten now that we are in more peaceful but yet quite difficult times. I hope that we may, therefore, carry forward, perhaps in a more Ecumenical and in a more practical way in the modern world, an experience of religious instruction as one which our young people should enjoy.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, it is, from our side, a matter of great satisfaction that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has given us the opportunity of discussing this important question, on which there is a great deal—probably an increasing amount—of public interest which in itself is encouraging. But, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, the author of the 1944 settlement (in spite of what he has said about those who helped him it would not have happened, even with Scott Lidgett and Temple together, without his mollifying influence) on a subject in which he is so expert is not easy. But it gives me the opportunity of saying once again how much we still derive benefit from the noble Lord's imaginative approach to the problems of religious education which resulted in the 1944 settlement.

There is no need for me to go again over the arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, brought forward to show that there is a demand on the part of parents and teachers that religious instruction in the nations' schools should continue. The evidence is strong, and there is a further piece of evidence which was not quoted; it is that there is even evidence that the pupils wish religious education to continue. The result of a survey recently carried out by Mr. Cox and Mr. Barrett, which involved something like 1,100 boys and 1,100 girls in 96 schools, showed that 73.3 per cent. of them said that they wished religious instruction to continue as a necessary part of the education which they were receiving. And there is a good deal of evidence in the same way also in Dr. Loukes's book, Teenage Religion, to which reference has been made. There is a desire to know; there is a religious questioning. It will not be answered, necessarily, in the old traditional forms. It may never be answered in church, first of all because the seekers will not go there to get the answer. It will not be answered in the Sunday schools, because they, alas! are undoubtedly being reduced in numbers in all the churches.

New methods of religious instruction must be applied to a great extent to the Sunday schools. I believe that we shall have to stop calling them either "Sunday" or "schools", and that they will not necessarily be held on Sunday. Where there are already signs of an imaginative approach, an improved situation is being created. Nevertheless, the main burden of giving some knowledge of religion and of the Christian faith falls on the schools. The churches are not in touch and are not able to be in touch very often. The parents do not take the responsibility, because they themselves do not know where they stand; and upon the teachers and the schools falls this very great responsibility for giving some understanding of the religious part of life.

In the Church of England we have just initiated an inquiry into the whole question of religious education, and there is a very weighty Commission presided over by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. We are hoping that the Commission will give us two things, not only for the Church of England, but to all Churches: first of all, a reassessment of the theology of Christian education. We have gone on for centuries taking part in education without stopping to ask why or what we thought we were doing. I think it is clear to all of us that it has to be articulated, spelled out, that our concern for education derives from the Christian understanding of the nature of man as a unique being and of the unique importance of every single personality as being a complex of needs, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, and that education must provide for all these.

The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, enshrined that profound theological truth in Section 7 of the Education Act 1944, where it is written: … so far it shall be the duty of the local education authorities, so far as their powers extend, to contribute towards the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of the community by securing that efficient education shall be available. That order was thought to be important in 1944—that the spiritual came first. We are grateful that the emphasis was put that way and that we can still proclaim this and follow it up. We are concerned not with indoctrination but with the development of the whole man, and in that development it is not just religious instruction but religious education in which school worship takes its place.

The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack quoted from the document, The Communication of Christian Faith, recently presented to the Church Assembly over my own signature. From that quotation it will have been obvious to noble Lords, even it they have not read it, that there is certainly no complacency on the part of churches or teachers about the effectiveness of our present methods of religious education. That is why we look also to the Commission, which has been set up under my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham, to give us not only a theology of Christian education but also an application of that in a re-understanding and reappraisal of the methods appropriate to religious education. A great deal of research is going on and a great deal more is required, in which all the Churches are joining.

There is drawing to its completion an inquiry by the British Council of Churches Education Department into the various reports, including that of Dr. Goldman, which has been referred to several times in this debate, to see whether, putting all of them together, Christian soldiers are really so backward as the author of that book attributes, but also, critically, to see what insight we can gain into the mind and capacity of children. I would not go with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in following the Minority Report of the Plow-den Committee, or with Dr. Goldman, in what he said, which was followed up by the Minority Report. Very few teachers I have met who have taught in primary schools, particularly in infant junior schools, would agree with Dr. Goldman. In fact they consider him, on this point, to be totally and completely wrong and out of touch with reality. For children of 5 to 10 or 11 have a capacity for religious insight and a demand for a religious understanding which is not articulated in academic terms but which is very real, as evidenced by the quality of worship in primary schools when it is well conducted.

I have been in assemblies in primary schools in London and elsewhere and in some of the depressed educational areas, to which the Plowden Committee rightly drew attention. And I have witnessed and have been allowed to share in assemblies conducted by children of 7 and 8 using prayers which they had written themselves and which, in some ways, were a jolly sight better than the prayers that some theologians write, because they went right to the heart of the matter. It would be absolutely wrong to say that school worship should not be available in primary schools. We need a great deal more help for the teachers who are conducting school worship. There are bad assemblies undoubtedly—nobody would claim there were not. Not every act of school worship succeeds. Indeed, could we say that every service in church was alpha-plus from that point of view?

Some years ago I was taking part in a sixth-form conference organised by what was then the Student Christian Movement in Schools, which has now become the Christian Education Movement. There were about 600 boys and girls there, and the end of the proceedings took the form of a meeting at which the head teachers were allowed in and those who had been speaking were asked to answer questions from the sixth-formers who had been working in groups. One question arrived in front of me prefaced by, "Will the speaker be strictly honest in answering the question". The question was, "Should school assembly be compulsory?" I stood there, with some fourteen head teachers, used to taking their school assemblies, in front of me, and I could not resist saying—and I think that this is where I still stand on this point—"If the assembly is badly conducted, it ought not to be compulsory. If it is conducted as it should be, then no one would wish to stay away."

Here is part of our difficulty. We need more men and women in the teaching profession who have both insight and sensitivity to conduct school worship, just as we need them with the knowledge to be adequate in taking part in religious education. Here the colleges of education, to which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, referred, are playing an important, and an increasingly important, part, both in research into methods and in the training of teachers who will give us with these methods a new, a fresh and a dynamic approach.

There is no complacency, I repeat, on the part of the Churches. Nor do we think that the agreed syllabuses are anything like right for the modern age. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack quoted a remark which I made some time ago to the effect that the agreed syllabuses had been more successful in resolving differences between the Churches than in meeting the needs of the children. We have got past that stage now. The agreed syllabus, as revised by the joint Committee on which Churches, authorities and teachers are all represented, is taking on a new look and a good many revisions are in progress. The West Riding syllabus is a good one. There will shortly, I hope, emerge a London syllabus, which I have every reason to believe will be even better. And there is a constant desire to improve the methods on the part of the local education authorities.

In-service training is going on, though far more needs to be done. A great deal of help is forthcoming in new textbooks and teaching aids. The Standing Religious Advisory Council of the Inner London Authority, of which I have the privilege to be the Chairman, finds no difficulty, indeed finds a great deal of encouragement, from the Authority itself in producing a constant succession of aids and suggestions for teachers in the field of religious education, and the constant feed-back to that Committee from heads and teachers as to where we are failing and what needs to be done. The appointment of religious advisers is, of course, important, and I hope it will not be long before every authority has at least one such adviser. There is a movement quite clearly in that direction.

On the other points which have been raised, I would only refer again to the question of school worship. Obviously, there, as with school instruction, everything must be done to protect the freedom of the parent to withdraw his child if he wishes to do so; and it should be a genuine option. The Churches have always done their best to insist upon this, just as they have always tried to emphasise from their side the freedom of the teacher not to give religious instruction if he does not wish to do so, or not to be associated in taking part in school worship if he does not wish to do so. But school worship is a way in which some of the religious truths which do not go into academic terms can be expressed. This, I believe, is a very important aspect. It was realised, I think, by the Crowther Committee when they said that they can say with conviction and gratitude, after visiting a number of acts of school worship, that we have very often been impressed by the reality which has marked the service. Corporate worship is not to be thought of as an instrument of education, but as a time when pupils and teachers seek help in prayer, express awe and gratitude of joy. Worship, properly understood in that way, as I have said, can convey religious truths which do not go into the formal words of creedal statements, which sometimes the young do not understand any better than their elders. Again it should be said—and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, though I agreed with much that he said, painted us a little too gloomy a picture—that not all assemblies are bad. Personally, I should like to divorce the act of worship from an assembly. I was present once at a ghastly assembly, at which, after a small perfunctory religious exercise, the headmaster proceeded to award ripe and juicy "raspberries" to a large number of people, in no uncertain terms. That is not school worship.

But that is the sort of thing that I believe is on the decline, and there is immense care on the part of a great many teachers to make school worship more meaningful, and a desire of the Churches to help them more in doing this. Very often it is best done by the teachers themselves. Sometimes the clergy are invited in—whether it be legal for them to be there or not we had better not inquire into—to help in the school worship, and that is sometimes, but not always, the right way.

Going back to the field of religious instruction, I would say that again there are signs of encouragement. New methods are being tried out. Research is going on, and very soon we shall see more of its results being put into practice. There are signs that there are more teachers trained as specialists in religious education forthcoming, though we can do with a great deal more of them. Above all, there is this identity of purpose among all the Churches to serve the nation in education as best it may, no longer in rivalry. We have moved a long way since 1944.

If I have to leave your Lordships' House very shortly, it is in order to return to take the Chair at such an Ecumenical gathering which is in process at the present time. We can speak together. I believe that, if there is a new Education Act, it will not be necessary for the then Education Minister to negotiate with separate Churches, for the Churches, including our Roman Catholic friends, are of one mind on almost all the issues, and in constant touch with each other. In all this there is encouragement, but no cause for complacency. We shall try from the side of the Churches—and I know I can speak for all of them—to do everything we can by way of our own research, our co-operation with other researches, and our support of such interdenominational bodies as the Christian Education Movement, to help forward a work which we believe in the county schools to be of vital importance for the future of the nation.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, although I rise to take part in this debate to-day from the Opposition Front Bench I feel I must make it quite clear that what I am hoping to say is based upon no other authority than my own. With other noble Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for having started this discussion to-day. I think it is a great pleasure to a number of us that the debate has been instigated by a layman, a father, and one who was in his day—and, indeed, is even now—a very fine athlete.

I suppose the main point at issue is whether religious instruction should remain compulsory in a country with so many unconvinced people or actual non-Christians. I feel strongly that it is an integral part of education to introduce and expose children to religious ideas—such, for instance, as life after death. I well remember a small boy of 6, who had almost unconsciously absorbed this idea, saying to his mother, when she was trying to break the news to him that his much-loved grandfather had died: "How lovely for him Mummy. He will be meeting Robin Hood"—who at that time was one of the small boy's heroes.

It is significant that there is so much interest and concern in religious education in schools to-day, evidence of which we have had from one speaker after another. There is an abundance of work and inquiry going on. I find myself asking: "What do the teachers want? What do the parents want? What do the Churches want? What do the humanists want? And, most of all, what do the children need?" I will try to answer this question first. In April of this year a statement was issued by the Joint Council of Heads. This Council is made up of representatives of the Head Masters' Conference, the Head Masters' Society, the Association of Head Mistresses and the National Association of Head Teachers.

This considered statement strongly emphasised that the criticism of religious education which was being expressed in some quarters did not represent the views of the majority of teachers and parents. It was accepted that there was a need for the revision and adaptation of the agreed syllabus in those areas where such a review had not already been set on foot. The Joint Council of Heads were convinced that the teaching of religion was an essential part of education. They also believed that the majority of parents wished it to be included in the school curriculum, whether or not they themselves claimed to be Christians. They felt that moral teaching was not enough.

These, my Lords, were head masters and head mistresses who knew, and know, more about boys and girls than most people do. They believed that religious instruction was a most important part of the curriculum and school life; and I myself would add, of home life, too. They believed that Christianity, a precious part of our heritage, should be taught not only as a study of major world religion but also as a way of life; that the morning assembly, if it is intelligently and imaginatively conducted, can really mean something to children and make an impression on them that lasts. After all, we must remember that many of these children get no other experience of a service conducted on religious lines. The Joint Council recognised that the relevant sections of the 1944 Education Act needed some revision and amendment, and that religious advisers could give considerable help to teachers, and that they should be appointed in all areas. This also has been agreed by various noble Lords in their speeches this afternoon These are the considered views, opinions and beliefs of a body of men and women who speak with the authority of those who know what they are talking about.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London (and I feel most diffident in following him in this debate, for his knowledge is so much wider and more profound that mine could ever hope to be) has referred to the Report, presented only last week, by the Church of England's Board of Education, entitled The Communication of the Christian Faith; and we have heard that this Report was the result of two years' work on the problem of the purpose of the Church in the field of education. Many of us have it in our possession and have read it, and I am sure that after to-day more noble Lords will make a point of picking up a copy of it from the Printed Paper Office, if there are sufficient left. At the same time, as the right reverend Prelate also told us, a new Commission on Religious Education has been set up by the Church of England's Board of Education, under the chairmanship of the right reverened Prelate the Bishop of Durham, whom we are greatly looking forward to hearing later in this debate. We also learn that the British Council of Churches has been engaged in a study of religious education in the maintained secondary schools.

One of the most impressive developments—it has also been referred to, but I do not hesitate to repeat this—is that a group of Christians and Humanists have met together and produced a Report which they have called Religious and Moral Education. To my mind, the most significant thing about their pamphlet is that it happened at all. For over two centuries at least Christians and Humanists have been at loggerheads with each other, and now they have got together, worked together, and at the end produced a Report in order to start ideas and promote discussion.

For fifteen years religious instruction has been the only subject required by law to be taught in all schools. Some of the best of the agreed syllabuses produced as a result of the 1944 Act are probably very fine manuals indeed—if only there were sufficient teachers to use them properly. I am quite certain that even those of us who think we know the Bible fairly well could learn a great deal from them. Here I except the right reverend Prelates; I would not dream of advising them to use an agreed syllabus to improve their knowledge. But in school we must remember that it is very difficult to give useful religious teaching when it has to be so undogmatic, and when there are so many varieties even of professing Christians. My Lords, how can you get a proper view of the Old Testament if some of the class believe in literal inspiration? "That Enoch walked with God" is a poetic expression, full of meaning. But a Welsh fundamentalist, when preaching and taking that verse as his text, began his sermon with: "My friends, this mighty pedestrian …"

The teacher wants to explain progressive revelation as he or she must. Much of the difficulty and the criticism arises because there is a lack of good teachers of religious instruction. Some clearly are very good. Some are too earnest and a bit dreary, or spend too much time on Rehoboam or Jeroboam. Some are given religious instruction periods, and are either ignorant or cynical.

In addition to all this, a new problem which will have to be faced is the approaching raising of the school-leaving age. If children are to remain at school another year it is even more important than it is now that the final stages of their religious instruction in school shall be in an atmosphere of realism and relevance. The right reverend Prelate referred to the Crowther Report, and the Crowther Report is very relevant here. It says, in paragraph 268: As the leaver enters the outside world, he finds that much that would have been condemned at school or in the family is tolerated or accepted as natural. He discovers that many of the values he has been told he ought to live by seem to be reckoned no more valuable in purchasing power than the currency of Samuel Butler's Erewhonians drew from their Musical Banks. His first reaction may well be disgust, either with the apparent cynicism of the world or with what he may now regard as the unreliability of school. What will his second reality be? It is likely to be to fall into line. The answer to this is not simply more schools, if the school is indeed unreal; it is more reality in school. If the extra year is now to come it must be matched by extra urgency in meeting the true religious needs of very human children.

The Fifth Schedule to the Education Act 1944, which lays down how an agreed syllabus of religious instruction is to be drawn up and adopted by a local education authority, seems to be perfectly adequate for to-day. It is flexible and straightforward. It gives opportunity to reconsideration and revision—opportunity which has already been exercised by many local education authorities in a thoroughly enlightened way in the light of experience and for a changing world. In the aided schools, of course, the teaching has not to be confined to an agreed syllabus: the foundation governors have complete discretion to decide what form it shall take. But no parents need send their child to an aided school unless they definitely choose to do so.

We have had reference this afternoon in Lord Aberdare's speech to the survey that has been undertaken by the Newcastle University Department of Education, a survey of parents' attitudes to the religious provisions of the 1944 Act. As Lord Aberdare told us, it brought to light the fact that parents in the North-East overwhelmingly want daily school worship and religious instruction to go on in the schools. I thought that this was a significant letter that emerged as part of the survey, written by the parent of a 12-year-old child: You have to have something to believe in in times of sorrow or if things go wrong. The world can be a hard place for some who aren't so fortunate as ourselves. Also we believe in the Resurrection. Science can't give life or love. Doctors can only do their best. Our children can't be bought with money. They are lent to us by God. Some have faith, hope and love. Most of us are ordinary people, not brilliant or intellectuals. There are other qualities beside that to a person. The authors of the survey say that that simple statement would find strong backing from a great many other parents who expressed their views.

My Lords, it is not only that this country is proclaimed to be a Christian country. There is plenty of evidence that the great majority of parents wish their children to receive religious education when they go to school. Surely, so far as possible, children should have the chance of getting the kind of education their parents want for them. The onus of proof of their case is surely on those who wish to abolish it, not on those who wish to see it kept. The choice we have to make is not between giving instruction in religion and just taking a neutral attitude. Education of boys and girls must be either religious or secular. If we cut out religion from the schools we are saying that we want our main instrument for developing children's minds to give them a view of the world that is secular and without religion. This is not neutrality. This is coming down on the other side.

But for my part I think the form and manner in which religious education is given in schools ought to be constantly thought out afresh and related to the minds of boys and girls as they think now, and to the swiftly changing world in which we and they live, for religion must be put before them in a way which makes it livable. If the teaching of religion became the teaching of something no longer alive and meaningful then the time might come to abolish it; but I believe that that time has not come, and I do not believe that it ever will. There is a great deal of very good religious teaching here and now in the schools of England and Wales.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I take part in this debate as a Humanist, a non-Christian, I think the first so far to speak from that point of view, although I am glad to see that others will later do so. I well remember when I was a member of the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. and my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger and I were trying to persuade the Governors that more time ought to be allowed on the B.B.C. to the explanation and expression of Humanist views. We were, of course, defeated, but at the end of our discussion one of the Scottish Governors came up to me and said, "If I felt like you do, I see no reason why I should not rush out at once and rape the typing pool". I saw a lot of reasons—he was on the whole a nice man who always liked to know that he was getting agreement in anything he was doing, and he was also a very small man; but that was an attitude which did exist at one time towards those who declared themselves to be Humanists.

I am glad that there has been no suggestion in this debate that those who find the supernatural assumptions of the Christian faith unproven and in their view, improbable are thereby self-selected for a life of immorality. Certainly there was no tinge of any such view in the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. Like other noble Lords, I would thank him, both for putting down this Motion and for the spirit in which he opened the debate. Indeed, I should like to say, and I hope he will accept it as a sincere expression of view, that as he continued I found myself more and more agreeing with a great deal of what he said, not (and I am sure he would not expect it) with all his arguments but certainly with many of his conclusions. Starting from a very different standpoint from him but reaching somewhat the same conclusions, I would agree profoundly that what is necessary at this stage is that religious teaching—certainly in the sense of religious instruction—should be dropped from the primary schools and that religious education in the secondary schools should be a study of religion, and of relative religions. It should be a study which would enable those who took part in it to reach their own conclusions.

I should regard it as a greaty pity if many of the admirable stories of the Bible and the great poetic language of religious literature were dropped from school curricula and were not brought to the attention of children. No one who, even in the most modest way, deals in words, as I do, can deny their immense debt to much of that language and, if I may say so in an entirely non-supernatural sense, the great spiritual refreshment they draw from it, as they draw from other great literature.

I have described myself as a non-Christian. I would certainly not have you think that I am an anti-Christian, in the sense that many earlier rationalists were, condemned to be so, in many cases, by the difficulties and persecutions that their expression of rationalist views brought upon them. But I want to put forward, as strongly as I can, the conviction that a moral and civilised way of life should be obtainable by treating children as intelligent beings with open minds and with a capacity ultimately to reach sound decisions for themselves.

I have said that I am certainly not anti-Christian. Indeed, if I may say so, with none of the connotations that used to be associated with a somewhat similar expression, some of my best friends are Christians. But I must also say that a great many of them seem to be increasingly Christians whose theology would not have been regarded as acceptable in earlier ages. There are, as we know, immense philosophical and theological discussions going on within the Churches, which have altered substantially many of the old fundamentalist views and literal interpretations which used to be regarded in earlier ages as essential to the Christian conception. As everybody must, I welcome those philosophical discussions and re-interpretations, but they are not such as can be translated into the language of small children. And when so much discussion is going on within the Churches themselves as to the exact meaning, the exact interpretation, the exact philosophical significance of this or that, then it seems to me that to hold fast to the view that it is a State duty to present to the children in our schools an inevitably simplified, an inevitably near fundamentalist interpretation of what has ceased to be fundamentalist in the wider philosophical world of religion, is wrong.

I myself am fortunate—at least I think I am—in being a second generation Humanist. I had parents, both of whom, although born from deeply religious families, had themselves broken away from what seemed to them in those times the often harsh dogmas of religion, and who hoped their own children would be brought up within a framework in which, without withholding religion from them, they would be able to accept or reject it without any of the struggles of conscience that had afflicted their parents. I hope very much to do the same so far as my own children are concerned. They have come out as a rather equal balance; one is a Humanist and the other is a member of the Church of England. It seems to me that if that is the way their minds and beliefs go then I have no right to seek in any way to interfere with them, either in one direction or another.

A little while ago I was rung up, as I believe some other Members of your Lordships' House were, and asked by a lady on one of the illustrated magazines whether I would be prepared to have my photograph taken. I asked "Why?", and she said: "We are bringing out a Christmas number, and we want to have twelve Lords a'leaping". I replied that I did not think I was a leaping Lord. And then, as she seemed somewhat confused anyway, and I thought it might be helpful to add to her confusion, I said, "In any event I am a Humanist". She thought of this for a second, and then she said, "Well, I do not think that would matter; I do not think you would be expected to jump very high".

I do not intend to jump very high today and seek to go into long philosophical or theoretical discussions as to the reasons why it seems to me that although I fully recognise that to many a faith in Christianity is an immense support and an immense enrichment of life, it does not seem to me that it can be claimed to possess that absolute unquestionable correctitude which alone might make it right for it to be taught, not as a subject for examination, but as one carrying behind it the whole authority of the school, as something which contains a final word.

There is another aspect of this. I think of a young friend of mine in the North of England who, after a very good career at Cambridge, went into industry on the research side of a large corporation. He seemed to have in front of him the possibilities of a distinguished and well paid career. But after a time he began to feel a great desire to teach, and to teach small children. So he threw up his job and went to the much less well paid job of a teacher in a State primary school, which he enjoys greatly and at which, I am told by all who know him, he is very good. He has now reached the stage when in the normal way of things he would be regarded as ripe for promotion—and indeed he has on numerous occasions made an application for a headship.

I know, as your Lordships all know, that there is no legal religious bar in the selection of teachers, but I also know, as many of your Lordships must know, that in the general atmosphere in which education committees make their choice religion is often a factor which they feel they must take very much into account. And certainly my young friend finds himself so often short-listed, in the position, if I may slightly twist the words of an old song, of again and again being the best man but never the bridegroom. He is asked whether he is willing to take religious instruction and to hold a religious service at the beginning of school. He is not really asked it; it is assumed that he will. Being an honourable man, he feels that he should say to the education committee that he does not hold Christian beliefs, and that he would find it very difficult to do so. As I say, the end result so far has always been that he never gets an appointment.

I cannot believe that the Churches, whose sincerity in this matter I deeply respect as I hope they will respect mine, can wish that men of honour should be put in a position where they must either disguise their true feelings or make it pretty certain that their professional careers will be less successful than they should be. In my youth—if you like my non-religious youth—at school I often used to find myself singing with immense fervour, because it is a hymn that lends itself to those who have a little true musical voice, Onward Christian Soldiers. I cannot believe that it is a good thing that any of those soldiers should be conscripts, and it is certain that none ought to be child conscripts.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, in making my maiden speech I know that I can rely on your Lordships' indulgence. In return, my ambition, at any rate, is brevity. My interest in this matter arises by virtue of the fact that I have been for a number of years Chairman of the Governors of Sevenoaks School, a school famous in educational circles as having pioneered a number of new teaching experiments which have been successfully adopted by other schools. It is also a school which has gone some way towards bridging the gap between the independent and State systems. Over the last year or two we have been making an experiment in the school, in a new form of teaching endeavouring to attract boys to Christianity. It has been a failure. That failure is not in any way due to the staff, secular or spiritual: in both cases they are quite expert, enthusiastic and imaginative. In my view, the failure is due to the fact that from the very beginning they are hamstrung.

They are hamstrung for two reasons: first, that in spite of the Act religious teaching is a voluntary subject; second, that chaplains and teachers feel obliged, and are encouraged, to fight shy of teaching the fundamental tenets of their faith as they believe them. They feel obliged to avoid anything which, within the Church of England, is a subject of controversy and which might, as indeed it most certainly would, cause offence to some parents, some governors or some members of the staff. The result (I gather it is the same all too often) is that religious teaching is a mixture of comparative religion, sociology and moral philosophy directed towards inculcating into the young a social conscience: quite admirable, but not religion and not a substitute for religion.

I should say here that my criticisms and suggestions are directed solely to the Church of England, the majority at Sevenoaks, and I imagine in most other schools; but by saying "the majority of the Church of England" all I mean is that almost certainly they have been baptised, and probably their fathers in the last war had dog tags round their necks with "C. of E." on them—very little more. When boys arrive at school now, at 11 or 12, they have not the slightest idea of what it is all about. On the whole, their knowledge is limited to a few nursery messages, such as that on All Souls' Eve you cut holes in turnips to frighten people, and on Mothering Sunday you send flowers to Mum. With little exaggeration that is pretty well the sum total. In such circumstances what possible results can be expected from treating the subject as a voluntary one?

I must remind noble Lords that modern children have an empirical approach to knowledge far in advance of that of our own day. They wish, with their bias towards science—and I admire them for it—to see what works, and they are not prepared to accept any proposition from anyone unless they have had a demonstration that it really does work: admirable for the materialistic life, but the antithesis of the religious approach. I imagine that most noble Lords, in common with the majority of our generation, received either from their parents or at their schools, or from both, a compulsory denominational religious teaching. The majority of us no doubt went off as soon as we were able to worship strange gods; but we went off having learned our basic grammar, as it were. This, to my mind, is the crux of the whole matter, and the reason for making religious teaching at schools compulsory.

So many people—more, I believe, than we often imagine—develop in later life a sense of disillusionment with the purely materialistic world and would like, if they could, to return to the faith of their fathers. For those who have this "basic grammar", a return to some form of peace is a great deal easier than for these who have no idea at all how or where to begin. I think, therefore, that those who are responsible for education have a duty to equip children with this facility which they may or they may not use. An ever-growing number—and for all I know it may be the majority—never make use of this facility. Does that: really matter? I think not. Does it matter that children at school have been obliged to learn some subject, or at any rate have been taught some subject, which has not proved remunerative to them in later life. I imagine that most of your Lordships at school had to learn one or two subjects which most certainly have not proved remunerative in your lives.

I want now to turn to my second point, the current fear of denominational teaching. By that I mean a fear of introducing and developing in depth the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith—dogma, if you like. That is the actual word that I should like to use, but I know that it is a word which arouses great passions. But at present we are so afraid of anything which smacks of controversy in our religious education that we present under the heading "R.K."—"Religious knowledge": something that is dead, dull and uninspiring. If the young are to be attracted, we must surely welcome controversy and get away from this search for the lowest common denominator. I think I am right in saying that in the history of the Church there has been hardly any period, apart from one or two of complete apathy and decay, when there has not been great controversy. Consequently, I think that controversy should be welcomed, not evaded. In addition, therefore, to reintroducing religious education as a compulsory subject on a denominational level, I believe that governing bodies and authorities should have the courage and authority to appoint chaplains and teachers authorised to teach the fundamentals of Christianity as they believe them.

I realise that such a step would evoke immense controversy. One of the strengths and weaknesses in the Church of England is the wide range of interpretation within it. On the one hand you have those who are practically past Rome, and on the other, over the mountains to Geneva, Calvin. I have no doubt that if teachers and chaplains really did have a free hand, and if attendances were compulsory, there would undoubtedly be a tremendous "to-do" from a lot of quarters. But is that bad? Why should we turn over backwards to avoid controversy in our religious teaching? Current politics and economics are taught at school and are not too notable for general agreement. So, in conclusion, I advocate that religious teaching should again become a compulsory subject, and should be taught in a positive denominational manner, welcoming as opposed to avoiding, controversy.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, it is my privilege to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sackville, on his maiden speech. I feel the freer to do it because any animadversions he had and any criticisms he voiced were against the Church of England, and I am a Methodist. But your Lordships were honoured with statements which came out of the experience of the noble Lord and from an experimental attitude to a problem which can easily ride into the upper reaches of speculation and have no roots in the actual everyday occurrences of religious education. I should like at leisure to read the speech that he has just made. It was closely packed and highly stimulating, and not a little controversial. But I am sure your Lordships would want me to say, as I most heartily do, that we much appreciate what the noble Lord has said and shall, with relish, anticipate his future appearances in your Lordships' House and future speeches that I have no doubt he will make.

May I apologise to the noble Lord who introduced the debate for not being present in the Chamber when he spoke? I was trying out my speech on Tower Hill. But I did take the precaution a little earlier in the week of finding out what he was going to say, and quite unexceptionally I should like to thank him for the opportunity he has given to many of us to take part in this most interesting and important debate.

May I first indicate what seem to me to be three conditions or trends which have been in operation, and I think acceleration, since 1944? Reference has been made to them already, but they will not suffer from repetition. One of them is the immense increase in ecumenical activity, and therefore the likelihood that in any future development of education in schools the presentation of a unity in approach may be to the immense advantage alike of those who look askance at theological speculation and those who are more concerned, as I am, with the moral aspects of the case. In the second place, it is surely incontestable that there has been a vast increase in speculation, amounting to dubiety, as to the credibility of the historical and metaphysical concepts of Christianity. It would be foolish to try to underrate this situation, and it would be equally foolish to imagine that there is any sign that the tide is beginning to turn.

One of the aspects of this increasing sense of incredulity or inability to believe has been that emphasis, which I think is undue, has been given to the purely intellectual characteristics of the Christian faith at the expense of the æsthetic and moral aspects of the case. It was Lotze, the German philosopher, who said that reality is much richer than thought. I am very glad, therefore, to hear noble Lords to-day adverting to the other avenues of approach to a religious experience which are not purely intellectual. It is dangerous to assume that this increase in doubt is necessarily accompanied by a decrease in the religious faith. And I was much impressed by the religious spirit in which my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams spoke of those aspects of the Christian faith to which I think he still adheres—at any rate, I hope and strongly suspect he does.

The third aspect has been the evangelical revival in Humanism. It reminds me almost of the 18th century, and I think of one or two noble Baronesses as being rather like Susannah Wesley. I imagine that Professor Ayer looks a bit like John Wesley and has the same kind of extrovert dynamism which belonged to that hero, in my mind, of the 18th century. I hope that my noble friend Lord Willis will apply his great gifts in the field of art perhaps to the preparation of a Humanist hymn-book to rival that of Charles Wesley. But undoubtedly, whatever may be our ideas about Humanism, there is no doubt that their evangelical fervour has thrown a new cap into the ring. I welcome it. So far as I am concerned, God bless them!—if they will permit that invitation. But all these matters have produced a situation not vastly different but in trend and intensity moving away from the conditions prevalent in 1944. It is because of these conditions and not in spite of them that I believe that basically the 1944 settlement is a wise one. In substance I should not want to have it reversed.

I would offer three considerable reasons for its retention in substance. I shall come later on to one or two alterations which I think ought to be made and possibly a new Act which ought to be put on the Statute Book. First of all, I am impressed by the undoubted fact that about 80 per cent. of those who are asked whether they would like their children to receive education in religious matters as part of the curriculum of their schools have said "Yes". I am not impressed by those who say that this is merely a prejudice, and I am not impressed by reference to other matters in the Minority Report to which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, gave a quite adequate reply. I am much more impressed with a small quotation which I will venture to read to your Lordships made by Mrs. Mee, who was formerly the Chief Inspector for Primary Education at the Ministry of Education. It is a moving statement: The parent may well realise that his own belief is a vision faded into the light of common day, but many in their hearts regret that this is so and feel intuitively that to deny the possibility of a different fate for their child is the final abrogation of a hope which is kindled anew with the start of every young life. 'What I have lost he may find and keep better'. I believe that that is so, and I have evidence, which of course is not assessable in statistical form, to support it.

The majority of people may well have forgotten the name of the church they stay away from, and that is part of the difference between the situation thirty years ago and the situation to-day. Thirty years ago, particularly in the North of England, people at least knew the name of the church they stayed away from, and they always prepared for the most important event of the year, the Sunday School Anniversary, if they were Nonconformist. To-day we are living in what is the first genuinely pagan age—that is to say, there are so many people, particularly children, who never remember having heard hymns at their mother's knee, as I have, whose first tunes are from Radio One, and not from any hymn book; whose first acquaintance with their friends and relations and other people is not in the Sunday School or in the Church at all, as mine was. If we are thinking, as I am sure we must, of these children who have nothing of a religious background, then the argument is very much reinforced by the desire, almost the residuary desire, of parents that their children should have the opportunity at least of coming to grips with some of the things with which they have lost touch themselves.

I am sure that the Humanists ought to be on our side in asking for the retention of the Act. If Christianity is the grandmother of Communism, which I think is a pretty sound statement, I am also sure that it is the grandfather of Humanism. I wish that my Humanist friends, who speak with such candour and such felicity, would come to grips with what seems a powerful observation, that they begin to read their books at the second chapter rather than at the first. Unless there is a foundation of Christian understanding, I cannot see how you can arrive at a truly Humanist conception of man which is adequate to his needs and which is sufficiently lofty.

I speak frequently in a large and loud place, and when I talk of the Fatherhood of God I am reminded by hecklers that what I should be concerned about is the Brotherhood of Man. But how do you know that the other man is your brother unless you first establish the fact that you both have the same father? This is not a quip, and is not too cheap and easy a statement. Unless Humanism springs out of the Christian faith it does not seem to me to have any roots anywhere else. For that reason I should hope that our Humanist friends would welcome the perpetuation, not of religious indoctrination, which I should abhor, not even of religious instruction about which I am dubious, but the availability of that religious background which Karl Marx felt to be imperative and which I think is necessary if children later on are to cut their teeth on facts and not to reject Christianity for absurd and futile reasons.

It is a thorough waste of human faith and belief and a thoroughly bad thing that so many youngsters when they do make up their minds have practically nothing on which to make them up, and from a prejudice which is no better than a half-remembered heresy from an incompetent Sunday School teacher they reject Christianity out of hand. If you are going to reject it, you should at least know what it is you are going to disagree with, and we should let youngsters have ample and full opportunity of knowing upon what basis of fact or assumption they will have later on to make up their minds. These seem to me to be reasonable arguments not first of all rooted in evangelical fervour for Christianity, but reasonable arguments for the maintenance in substance of the 1944 Act. I think that I probably speak for the Nonconformist Church in saying in general that this would be their attitude.

Nevertheless, I am persuaded that there are changes which should be made. First of all, let me speak for a moment about the act of worship. Already in this debate mention has been made of the need to clarify the actual conditions of the act in order to preserve the freedom of those who wish to opt out. This is sacred in the sense that it is of paramount importance, but it is not so easy as that. If the general assembly is the same occasion as the act of worship, then in many cases those who opt out for religious reasons or for other reasons will be denied something of the very spirit of that unity and community of which general assembly and the act of worship are characteristic.

I can remember how important it was to come to the act of worship, not so much to sing a hymn about the city wall, or other hymns which I did not understand, like, Thou spread'st a table in my sight; Thy Unction grace bestoweth; And oh, what transport of delight From thy pure Chalice floweth!"— which completely foxed me; but I was there because after the singing of the hymn and the perfunctory prayer, the cricket team was announced for the afternoon match and I was anxious I should be in it. Other things were said at the general assembly which had nothing to do with religion, or only vicariously so, but which were of immense importance to me as a scholar. Therefore, there is a great deal to be said for the separation of the act of assembly from the act of worship, or if the act of worship is to be the general assembly then there must not be a confusion of those things which are of existential value and those things which are of immortal import. There is, I suppose, a possibility that the act of assembly could be at one time of the day and the act of worship at another. At any rate, it is a problem, and no child who opts out, or for whom option out is required by the parents, should thereby be denied something of the sense of belonging. For nothing hurts a child in school so much as to be a pariah, or to be outside—particularly when benefits are being distributed.

As regards religious instruction, I was gently chided by the noble Lord. I accept the admonition that there is a great deal of difference between what we believe to-day, and what in past ages we were required to believe. I shall not refer to many of these matters, but I should like to refer to two of them. As I understand it, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter was saying something to the Church Assembly about hymns, and I should like to suggest that it is perfectly true that in the hymnography of the Christian Church there has been an addiction to all kinds of hymns which are not particularly edifying, and some of which are not very Christian.

But in the matter of the Church syllabus, the agreed scheme, where it refers to the Bible stories, how heartily do I agree with those who say that the reiteration of Bible stories is not necessarily edifying at all. I remember when I was at school being invited, in the story of David and Goliath, to take the side of David, though my sympathies were all with Goliath. There was a wretched man, loaded up with half a ton of armour and able to move at only about four miles an hour, and an agile little boy, well out of range, throwing stones at him. Finally, he knocked the giant unconscious and, while he was unconscious, chopped his head off. That is not an edifying story. It is a disgraceful story, as a matter of fact; and there are many others like it. For instance, there is Elisha and the bears. Your Lordships will remember, "They did, and he did, and it did", which is the concise way in which a young scholar described the ultimate effect of warning Elisha about the bears.

What I am sure about is that the transfer of emphasis in religious teaching must be away from the Bible. That may sound a dangerous and almost a provocative statement, but surely it is true that the Bible is a magnificent servant, but an intolerable master. If the Bible is not interpreted as an infallible or even as a finally authoritative document, but is recognised as the indispensable library from which we cull the information we require in order to press the claims we believe, then I think that a very much wiser and better way of approaching even the agreed syllabus will be achieved.

I cannot stress too greatly how much damage it seems to me to do to Christianity that we allow our critics to spend most of their time disposing very cheerfully of references in the Bible to this and that, which we also should want to dispose of. We should not want to accept them for one moment.

I come to the last thing I want to say, which links with what I most fervently believe. It is in the spirit of Jesus Christ that I repose my faith, and it is for that that I would most strenuously argue, not as a witness for these things, but as an advocate of religious teaching in schools. For I am persuaded that we are suffering from a moral malaise which will not be repaired until morality is once again reposed in a much more secure vault of authority than either pleasure or utility. I do not believe that you can have morals without religion. I am not for one moment saying that you cannot have morals without Christianity: I am quite sure you can; and I am quite sure that our Humanist friends are more ardent in many of their attitudes to morality than some Christians are. But I am still persuaded that, unless the house of morality is built on religious faith—in other words, Except the Lord build the house, they that build it will build it in vain. This is no plea that an active propagation of dogma should be accepted simply because it is said in a loud voice by somebody wearing a particular kind of collar. It is a plea that only in so far as religion is offered as a way of life can it be an effective article of worship; car it, in fact, be correctly communicated even as a piece of education. What we need, above everything else, is that those who propagate these religious exercises in schools should themselves be committed to the faiths and propositions to which they advert. When that happens, then I, for one, believe that the City of God remaineth.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Aberdare must be well content with the debate which has arisen on his Motion. He opened our discussions in a remarkably good speech, and the speeches which we have heard since have certainly maintained that level. I should particularly like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Sackville on his maiden speech, with which I found myself very much in agreement and very much in disagreement. I shall try to show that I, too, want more courage and controversy in religious education, but I do not believe in compulsion.

Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and one or two other speakers this afternoon, I found myself reflecting upon the history of Christianity in our country. Surely, if we are honest we must admit that we have never been very good at religion. We have no natural bent for an ardent faith which rises triumphant above political and social considerations. On the other hand, we have been rather good at morals. We have tried to live honest, generous, loyal, peaceful lives, and on the whole we have done no worse than any other country in this respect.

To my mind, it lies at the heart of this debate that English religious history has not been the story of mystics, saints and martyrs, but of kindly parish priests, devoted Christian school-teachers, and, of course, the writers of hymns. Our ancestors knew what they were doing when they put so much emphasis on morals, on good works and on public service. Those who governed our country took it for granted that a sound system of morals was a national necessity, and that such a system was to be derived, explained and confirmed by adherence to the Christian religion. A Government is like a school. You cannot manage its affairs or keep it going without a system of values, and it has been of the greatest convenience, to put it no higher, to have those values supplied and supported by a generally accepted institution outside the political arena, and to have them taught by that institution through the schools.

Of course, this preoccupation with standards of conduct led, inevitably, to a confusion between faith and morals, but that has not worried us. The English have a peculiar genius for confusions of thought that work well in practice. Of this a good example has been quoted several times in your Lordships' House this afternoon, and that is the surveys which have been made among a large number of parents, asking them whether they wanted their children to be taught religion at school. As I understand it, four out of five answered "Yes". Of those affirmative replies, how many came from professing Christians? How many parents seriously wanted their child to be taught to believe in an all-powerful God? All the other statistics that we have about the state of religion—attendance in churches, and so on—must lead us to think that it was only a small minority. Is it not probable that the greater number were anxious to have their child taught to behave well, to keep out of trouble and to be a successful citizen of this world? In a vague but shrewd way they knew that their child would get this instruction through religious teaching.

Now unless I am very much mistaken, this same confused concept of religion held good for the majority of the Members of another place at the time when the 1944 Education Act was going through the House. My noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, to whose speech we listened with such attention— supported, as he reminded us, by the late Lord Chuter Ede—had brought off a remarkable deal with the Churches. In a masterly way these two outstanding Ministers had smoothed and smothered the old antagonisms, and they came to Parliament asking us to agree that a daily act of worship and at least one period of religious instruction should be written into the Bill. On the Benches where I sat, we saw this as part of a large bargain and, having made up our minds that the package deal was good politics, we went on to ask ourselves what we really thought about compulsory religious instruction.

I cannot speak for any Member of the war-time House of Commons except myself, but I have the very firm impression that we supported the religious provisions because we were greatly disturbed and not a little guilty to see all round us the moral damage caused by the total warfare in which we were engaged. To make religion stand out as the only compulsory subject in the curriculum was really an act of penitence, or, if you like, the best hope we could see of repairing the moral damage of the war. One sensed in that war-time House of Commons the kind of agreement that moves a parochial parish council to insist on a contract for the repair of the church clock which they are unable to mend themselves.

My Lords, the implied contract in the 1944 Education Act, that British morals could be kept in repair by making religion in schools compulsory, has been a failure. Why is this? Let us first note that, if the religious clauses have not worked out as we expected, nor have several other of the main provisions of the Act. The tripartite structure of secondary education, each part enjoying parity of esteem, was never a practical possibility; and that great concept of county colleges has remained a dead letter for 23 years. The teachers and the administrators should not be held responsible for these disappointments. The common cause lies in the condition of post-war society, which turned out to be very different from that which the creators of the Act had assumed. The advance in the scientific way of thinking about the origin and evolution of the world made the teaching of religion peculiarly difficult, and it called in question all the old, dogmatic, authoritarian methods of instructing children in the infallibility of the Bible and the articles of faith. Here and in other major aspects the 1944 Act is now badly in need of revision, and I hope my Party are preparing a new measure to be introduced after the next Election.

This afternoon we are considering what we can do with the existing clauses as they stand. My Lords, is it not a curiosity, a collector's piece of British legislation, that, at the moment when science was undermining belief in any supernatural authority, religion should be made the only compulsory subject in the curriculum? Reading, writing and arithmetic are not compulsory. I cannot take to law a school which neglects to teach my child one of those subjects. The parents assume that the three "Rs" will be taught. The subjects declare themselves as essential, and there is no need for compulsion.

I wonder whether it has struck your Lordships that the nearest statutory parallel to the religious provisions in the Act is milk in schools. The school must offer each child one-third of a pint of milk a day, just as the school must offer each child a daily act of worship. But then there is a difference. We know what milk is. We can test it; we can analyse its properties, its value as an article of food; and the men of science are agreed that clean milk does most children a lot of good. Consider the parallel with religion. Do we know what religion is? Can we analyse it and test its value as food for the spirit? Are the men of science or the men of letters agreed that religion, if we could define it, would do good to all children? My Lords, since there is now so much doubt about the answers to these questions, it is not right to retain religion as a compulsory subject.

I suppose that, in the days when the British thought of themselves as a homogeneous Anglo-Saxon society, Parliament would have had no difficulty in defining religion as the Ten Commandments and the articles and creeds of the Established Church. Our society is very different now. We are trying to absorb hundreds of thousands of coloured immigrants coming from non-Christian cultures. Millions of our own people do not subscribe to, are not even interested in, the articles and creeds of any Church. In such changed circumstances, the remarkable thing is how well many teachers have done in carrying out the religious provisions of the Act. I think most schools would say that if the numbers on roll do not create physical difficulties the daily assembly is a valuable means of getting the children together and helping them to learn that they are part of one enterprise in which loyalty to the school and thought for others are common objectives. I am quite sure that many of your Lordships have attended daily assemblies which were inspiring acts of worship. But, my Lords, was that because they were compulsory? Surely not. Surely it was because the teachers who took part believed in what they were doing. Unfortunately, enthusiastic believers are not to be found in every school. Therefore I join with other noble Lords who would like to see more flexibility given to head teachers in the timing and the conduct of the daily assembly; and I think there is a good deal in what the noble Lord, Lord Soper, says—that we should divide the act of worship from the assembly of the whole school. In any case, the parents' wishes must be taken into account.

I turn to instructing children in the classroom in religion. Here, obviously, we have to distinguish between teaching religion and teaching about religion. Teaching about religion is fairly plain sailing. It is a mixture of history and literature based on a uniquely great book; and taught in that manner religion does not greatly differ in kind from Greek drama or Shakespeare. We can assume, I hope, that all the schools would go on making use of the Book which has had the greatest influence on our heritage, but there does not seem to be a case for a statutory provision to teach religion in this manner.

The Act, however, requires something more than special history lessons. In 1944, Parliament—and I can speak only for the other place—was completely in the dark as to what that something more was going to be. When I tried to find out I was told that it meant teaching the Christian way of life, a phrase which conveys the British confusion between faith and morals. Remembering the parallel with milk in schools, is it possible to arrive at an agreed and teachable definition of the Christian way of life? A way of life is something more than a set of propositions; it should be something which influences all the activities in the school. In other words, it implies that at least, say, half of the staff are practising Christians—and that is not at all easy to find in some schools.

Apart from this pervading influence, which is certainly not suitable for a statutory provision, what is the child to be taught about the Bible? How is the child to be introduced to Christian doctrine? As other noble Lords have said, nowadays children learn the other subjects in the curriculum by the method of inquiry and participation. They will not understand if the Bible is treated any differently. The Bible is, after all, the most question-provoking book which will ever be put into their hands. Young readers will think it silly, or worse, if the teacher describes Christian life as something quite different from what the. New Testament says. Or, if the teacher's description sticks faithfully to the New Testament, then I think they will believe that the Christian way of life is a sort of make-believe with precious little reference to the life they live at home and about which they are learning in their other lessons. The modern child does not have to be very old before he sees that what the Bible says about such subjects as money and usury makes no sense in his own world. How can he square a contempt for riches with his parents' passion to win on the pools, his teachers' campaign to raise their salaries?

Again, supposing the young pupil says to the teacher, "Sir, this Book talks about a Day of Judgment. When I die, I shall have to go to Heaven or Hell. Sir, do you believe that?" We place men and women in a very difficult position if we command them by Statute to teach propositions about life and death in which they do not themselves wholly believe. I should like to give your Lordships one example. Quite recently, the headmaster of an excellent primary school—a school at which a large number of pupils arrived, as has already been described, knowing absolutely nothing about religion, never having been inside a church—said to me that he was much perplexed in his mind whether he should introduce Christ to these children as the greatest of all human beings or as the Son of God. In his perplexity, he had consulted his superiors, the local authority and the diocese. I was interested and asked, "What help did you get?" "None," he replied. "None at all." We cannot leave teachers in mental difficulties of that kind.

We cannot return to the old methods of teaching; we want the children to ask questions and to explore their own minds. So, faced with a widening gap between what the New Testament says and the kind of life they seem destined to live, the idea is beginning to get about that we should give up altogether trying to teach religion in schools and confine ourselves to morals. That would be a very dangerous break with tradition. It would raise most difficult problems. For example, if you tell a boy or a man that he must work hard and he asks, "Why should I?", I suppose a secular answer might be, "Because efficiency and rising output is the basis of all the policies of your Government." And the Christian answer would be, "Because by doing your best you will become a whole man: you will be learning how to serve God and your neighbour."

These are two different systems of morals. Which ought we to teach in the schools? For my own part, I am deeply opposed to any secular authority taking on the job of writing the new Commandments. Yet if there is a vacuum left by the decline in religion, someone has to fill it—as the Communists are very well aware. Those of us who do still want the religious view of life to prevail have to discover how a child can be persuaded to think about the meaning of life for himself and others. We must open the door to faith, let him look through, and give him all the time he needs to decide whether to cross the threshold.

Of course, the modern child is captivated by the marvellous inventions of scientists and engineers which he sees on television and reads about in papers; but these scientists and engineers, unlike the God of religion, have faces to see and voices to hear, and the child begins to think that science can explain everything. That is not true. We have to try to find out how to make the child inquisitive, not about who invented the machines and who made the products (the advertisers are going to tell him that quickly enough), but what the machines and the products should be used for; and what their purpose is; and what is the purpose of anything, dead or alive.

It is in this task of stimulating curiosity that Dr. Goldman—to whom reference has been made several times this afternoon—has done such remarkably good work. I hope that the schools and the Churches will pay the closest attention to his ideas. Dr. Goldman points out that the school can put the big questions into the child's mind; and so put them there that these questions continue to worry him when he is grown up and can accept or reject adult answers. It is not going to be easy for children to find faith in the world in which we are living because we have not much faith to-day in anything except economic growth.

In my view—and I think it was the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Soper—it is impossible to build a sound moral system on such narrow foundations. I do not think our present trouble is primarily one of behaviour, or indiscipline and selfishness. All those things are outbreaks of something deeper; they all spring from this lack of faith in anything—political, ethical or Divine. It is a vacuum we cannot fill by compulsion. We cannot compel people to believe again in the institution of Parliament; we cannot compel them to believe in chastity; and we cannot compel them to believe in a Church. It seems to me that we have to go back to the beginning and ask ourselves whether or not there are questions which men cannot answer for themselves.

In his first Reith Lecture on Sunday, Dr. Leach said that men are now like gods, they can change nature, add a cubit to their stature and, presumably, can hope in time to answer all questions. This is the dividing line between the religious and the secular view of life; and since the battle is now well and truly joined, I think we do great harm by trying to establish the religious position by Act of Parliament. If the 1944 Act were amended and the compulsion were removed, many parents and teachers would have to think out their own beliefs. The law would no longer serve them as an alibi. They could not go on lazily content with whatever the school and the education authorities thought adequate to carry out the provisions of the Act.

Therefore, my Lords, I come to the conclusion that to dis-establish religion in the schools would be a healthy challenge to the laity. Those who cared about their Church would have to come forward and work out with the clergy new ways of introducing children to the questions which I believe men cannot answer by themselves. I recognise, with gratitude, that this is happening already. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said, very good work has been done on the agreed syllabuses. In my own County of Wiltshire within the last two or three days both the Diocese of Salisbury and the local education authority have published new agreed syllabuses, and both are excellent in their way. But, my Lords, what really matters is how these agreed syllabuses are going to be taught and how much interest the parents are going to take in their teaching. I am convinced that on both counts it would be better if the element of compulsion were removed. That, my Lords, is the one point I wish to make in your Lordships' debate, and before I sit down I should like again to thank my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to raise this big question in our own minds.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, with many noble Lords I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for initiating this debate, and not least because, as your Lordships heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, I happen to be Chairman of a Commission on Religious Education, which has been recently set up by the Church of England. In this sense, in being present in your Lordships' House to-day, I am doing my "prep". We are certainly hoping to survey and assess the aims and the principles and the methods of religious education, and to grapple critically and constructively with the very kind of problems and possibilities which are being aired in this debate, not least those which have been aired, and no doubt will be aired, by Humanists (with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, I do not want to call them non-Christians) like the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, and by all those who have brought forward points critical of the present position.

But who would not be critical in some regard or other, perhaps in many regards, of the present position? Certainly, for the Commission I am chairing, our conclusions are in no sense prescribed. Perhaps I may say again how grateful I am for all the points, especially critical ones, which have been and will be aired in this debate. But having said that our conclusions are not prescribed I hope that it will not be thought to be prejudging in any way the work of my Commission if I try to comment on one central issue around which a number of points cluster. By chance, it is the issue which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has just raised, the issue of compulsion.

It seems to me that, in itself, this breaks down into two main issues. First, should religious knowledge, or Divinity, if we so wish to call it, be made a compulsory subject? The answer must surely—yes, entirely—depend on the centrality and importance which religion is considered to have; not, I may add, religion supposed to be a subject without doubt, but religion taken to be a subject of great significance. Subjects of great significance are not those without doubt: they are those which thrive on it. We must ask ourselves how far do we think people can be educated in the whole range of human experience without being educated in religion; and, if they cannot, how far must some kind of compulsory provision be justified on educational grounds—just as certain university faculties, as your Lordships will know, compel prospective students to have a background on relevant subjects as a condition of adequate preparation for doing this, that or the other study. Further, in a pluralist society, whether or not religious knowledge is compulsory will have to depend on how many people want it so. It is here, of course, that the statistical considerations become relevant, those which have been collected by Mr. P. R. May, of the University of Durham, and Mr. Johnson, of the University of Newcastle, as your Lordships heard earlier. Here, then, are one set of issues clustering round this topic of compulsion, and I am well aware that all I have tried to do here and on principle, has been simply to elucidate some questions.

But there is another compulsion issue and this is when religious education is criticised for involving compulsion as a method. This is the issue of indoctrination. To many people's minds, I fear, religious education consists of imposing prescribed conclusions in an authoritarian way, authoritarianism which can be expressed with or without the familiar "dog-collar"—"pushing opinions down people's throats" it would be said, though I have always thought that the more appropriate metaphor would be, "forcing them into people's ears". No doubt this is a misunderstanding; and, equally, no doubt there is justification for it. But there are two points not always distinguished. There is the alleged authoritarian character of the method and then the additional point, that this, as a method, is made even worse by the content being false—for instance, when it concerns assertions about Hell, to take up the example mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.

Here is a picture which, if it were true, would obviously be quite foreign to respectable education, let alone to religion. But on this matter of the content being allegedly false—say about Hell—let us recognise, to come back to the point I made at the start about doubt, that for anything whatever which is important, truth has very rarely a black and white quality. That belongs only to the purest of pure mathematics, which gains its certainty and effectiveness from being virtually useless. It belongs also to pointer readings which themselves are useless without scientific theorising to incorporate them. Nothing genuinely important has its truth as a black and white quality about it, and the odd thing is, my Lords, that no one protests; at least, I have never heard a protest, about this feature in science. Newton's Laws are still being taught in our schools, certainly up to the fifth form, though by reference to Einstein they are comparatively false, and have been known for many decades to be so. They need larger illustration and textual interpretation. So does Hell—if Newton would pardon the similarity.

But it would be said that of course the great difference between Newtonian physics and Hell is that Newtonian physics is part of a method which has built into it the possibility of its own revision; that the method in science is an exploratory one. Which brings me back to this question of falsity, to the question of method and alleged indoctrination. I would say that there is no reason whatever why the method of religious education should not be of this exploratory kind, and there is every reason why it should be. To me the irony is that those who speak most about indoctrination, to condemn it, are often those who declare themselves, as the noble Viscount. Lord Eccles, rightly implied, to be by contrast quite content to have teaching about religion which allows for no exploration whatever, content to have nothing but instruction in the facts. But, as we have already heard, instruction about facts can be, of all ways of teaching, that which does least justice to any story, especially to that of David, on the one hand, or Elisha and the bears, on the other. Even worse than that, mere instruction about the facts does least justice to the personalities of those who receive it. If they receive nothing but instruction about facts, they are mere learning machines, and have nothing of that intelligence and lively mind and human spirit to which the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, so rightly referred.

Here let me mention, in passing, Dr. Goldman, for whose researches, by and large, I have a great respect and appreciation. To take one point of controversy, as it has been raised in your Lordships' House by Lord Aberdare and Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, Dr. Goldman has said that no child under 12 can understand religious concepts. The problem is, how do we ever get evidence for that assertion? How do we know whether a child in his own mind at that age understands religious concepts, whether it be sin or forgiveness or God or anything else? It is perfectly true that no child under 12 can discuss or talk about religious concepts in a highly informed fashion. There are very few infant theological prodigies, thank goodness! That is not being argued. But it does not follow that because a child under 12 cannot discuss or talk about religious concepts, he does not in some way understand them. The child may nevertheless in some way or another understand that which these concepts talk about. He may have what has been earlier spoken of as religious insight, and these words in their context might well provoke and stimulate that insight, though the child, at 12, has not the theological aptitude to argue about them.

Again, there was that remark in the Plowden Report, with which my friend Professor Ayer was associated, that theology was recondite. Of course it is, especially the kind of theology which Professor Ayer has heard his colleagues speak about at Oxford. But religion is not instruction in theology, otherwise there would be no point in Wilton's famous remark about the speculative theologians in Hell. Here is the kind of idea that somehow religious education is instruction in recondite theology. It is this kind of idea that has become so popular, and ironically it is the very people who protest about indoctrination in teaching about religion who seem to be committing this education fallacy; namely, to equate religion and instruction in theology. For instruction is precisely that kind of teaching that is hardly ever adequate for any subject.

We do not teach poetry, as the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, will be the first to agree, by mere instruction in fact. We do not even teach about the French Revolution by instruction in facts; or if we do we have not caught hold of the spirit of the French Revolution—and the word "spirit" is here very significant, a theological term if any is. Again if we try to teach modern languages by instruction in the facts we all know what happens. You find yourself on the quay at Boulogne and you are tongue-tied. We cannot teach any subject adequately until it has been made part of the lives of the people who are sharing in it. If religious education were religious instruction, it could rightly be criticised as neither religious nor educational.

To what conclusion am I moving? It is this: never let us suppose that indoctrination, on the one hand, and instruction about religion, on the other, are the only two alternatives. Let me put a third possibility like this. Whatever anybody teaches has to be taught in a context. Words have their meaning, only in use; and I do not just mean a verbal context: I mean the whole context of the school, the environment, the teacher, his and her experience, and so on. Education in this way always emerges from and out of a context, to be a living experience, whatever it is.

Religious education, as I see it, best emerges in a context of questions about man, about the universe, about problems of their own lives which children, even at the earliest age, have to be encouraged to ask. As noble Lords with children know, they need no encouragement at all. Some of my best Sunday lunches have been enlivened by questions of a sceptical and challenging kind hurled at me by a younger son. Children need no encouragement. It comes early enough and we can welcome it. Children are always asking questions about man and the universe. If we teach our history and English literature and science in the right way, we recreate in and from these subjects, though they be not technically religious, situations in which even in the secondary modern school, let alone a comprehensive school where there is a greater mixture of ideas, children will find themselves asking limiting questions.

It seems to me that religious education must be concerned to lead us all, children or anybody else, through these questions and problems to a point of vision and wonder and insight, and must always then present itself as a continuing exploration of what is there revealed. If I may say so, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, there is no question, or ought not to be, of "absolute unquestioning correctitude." Religious education is committed to a vision which emerges around questions and for which the logical conclusion is exploration. It is in this context that the philosopher, Whitehead, one of our few contemporary philosophers, who discussed education, remarked of religion that it gives man a habitual vision of his greatness. That is a vision which I venture to say none of us, whether Christian or Humanist, or even Communist, can do without.

It is because religion, if properly taught, gives man this habitual sense of his greatness, that there will always be a final defence for religious education. In other words, religion stands for a depth, a new dimension, in human existence and also for a spirit of inquiry or, as the noble Lord, Lord Sackville, said in his admirable maiden speech (and perhaps I may join other noble Lords in congratulating him), a spirit of genuine controversy which that sense of depth generates and encourages. Religious education does not argue for a supernatural which is vacuous and meaningless; or, if it might, it should not and never reasonably does.

In conclusion, the important point is this. When we discuss the pros and cons of religious education, let us not think or talk of religious education in terms of outworn ideas or methods or conclusions, but in a way which sets religious education in the context of contemporary developments and ideas, involved both in education and in religion. I hope that no-one will ever measure the value and significance of religious education by discussing it at its most primitive and objectionable levels, or by giving a place to religious education which is already educationally decades out of date. Do not let us suppose that in religious education everybody marks time, while other people are pioneering onwards. I am aware that some noble Lord may say—if it has not been said already—that I am talking somewhat differently from what my predecessors a century ago might have talked. My Lords, so are we all, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, implied: and what a wretched day it would be if we were not!

To come at the end back to the beginning, what I am hoping is that this Commission on Religious Education which the Church of England has set up will face squarely the challenges which this debate is elucidating. We certainly need to think again about present practices and about present ideas. We need to take account of new trends in education, new understanding of child psychology, new understandings of approaches to religion, Christian and other. We need to be more adequate to the insights and problems and the varying beliefs of society; to think again about method and content and aims and, above all, to be, in the words of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in everything "critical and adventurous".

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I was so engrossed in the right reverend Prelate's speech that I almost forgot my turn. I was called away from the Chamber during the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sackville, but I shall look forward to hearing him in the future, especially as he chose this subject for his maiden speech. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for initiating this debate. It is a subject which lies very close to his heart and to that of every sociologist concerned with the welfare of our people. The long list of speakers is additional evidence of that truth, and the interest which the subject has aroused. I hope that one fact will emerge from this debate, that is, the need for religious education to continue throughout school life, as it is now too often the only form of ethical training that the child is likely to get.

When we consider the importance of basic ethical training, we also realise at once that considerable rethinking is needed to approach and to new methods. Active and understanding participation is needed rather than passive acceptance of the subject as the least important of the curriculum. Infants from the age of 5 to 7 are only just beginning to emerge from a state of almost complete egoism into the still confined experience of human relationship as found in the family circle among classmates and with the teacher. To them the dogmas of the Church are absolutely meaningless. But in the course of their own daily lives they can experience and practise the truth which is the foundation of Christianity; that is, the power of love. So much depends on the quality of the teacher in this stage to inspire the very young with the desire to comfort new arrivals to school—it sounds trivial, but it is important—picking up the fallen in the playground, learning to share games and equipment with other children, refusing to start a quarrel and to tell tales except in an emergency, when it is necessary to know how it happened, such as in the case of injuries.

The dedicated teacher of infants knows how to develop a community spirit in the very young. They are far more experienced than anybody else; they are at it every day. They consider the classroom as a community. The children are encouraged to keep the place tidy and to exercise self-discipline. Gradually they learn that it is in the spirit of their community to ask the friendless to play with them, and to try to find something nice to say about someone they do not like. This is where great care is needed to choose Bible stories which show particularly the love which Christ had towards men, and not the mythical stories about Adam and Eve as the only progenitors of the human race. Children learn behaviour by example. Above all else, the teacher has the enormous obligation to be a living example and to illustrate the examples found in the Bible. It is not so much to teach or preach as to nurture.

The choosing of hymns is another task requiring tremendous care. Of all the hundreds of hymns contained in the various hymn books, most of them should be expunged. I do not claim to be an authority on hymn writing, but one of my ancestors was William Williams of Pantycelyn, and I think he wrote one English hymn, "Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah"; although he wrote many Welsh hymns. If we use the modern term, that only those in the "Top Twenty" should be considered, we are getting somewhere into their language, and for children this means the hymns which ask for help in being loving and cheerful. Those praising God for the sun, flowers, friends, et cetera, are not so well understood, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, illustrated in his recollection of the green hill.

Not enough county councils take sufficient care to prepare an agreed syllabus of religious education, such as the West Riding Education Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, referred. One of the few is the Cornwall County Council. The Education Committee took nearly two years to prepare its syllabus, after rejecting a number of other syllabuses, in part, or as a whole. The preparation of their own syllabus excited the whole Committee to produce something different, and the result has been rewarding. This syllabus is also worth examining by other education committees, and it is an attitude which we must encourage throughout the whole country.

On the first page of this syllabus to which I am referring there is an article on the place of religious education in schools by the headmaster of Truro School, Mr. D. W. Burrell, and I should like to quote a few sentences. He says: Theology was once regarded as the queen of sciences. Religious education, on the other hand, has long been regarded as the Cinderella of the curriculum, this in spite of its being placed on a kind of protected list by the State. We all have our theories about this. The subject has been taught by the untrained, the uninterested and even the unfriendly. These instructors have reluctantly at times given up the struggle, and collected the dinner money or the outstanding impositions instead. The children have known what was going on, and the teachers have known that they have known. My Lords, those words were written by a very experienced, dedicated teacher, and they cannot be ignored; they were not ignored by the Cornwall Education Committee. It is to be hoped that the example of the few enlightened county councils will be followed.

The progression from simple Bible stories and vigorous singing of "Top Twenty" hymns, by the 5 to 7 year olds, to the sophisticated discussions in the upper sixth, can be programmed if the subject is treated as one much greater than just instruction about things religious. This is where active participation could take a broader form, as suggested in the Plowden Report, paragraph 568, when schools could take part in such projects as "adopting" children from underprivileged countries, becoming associated with local old people's clubs, or any service according to the particular needs of the community. This is the extension of the first community, the 5 to 7 year olds classroom.

Study of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, in the 7 to 11 stage, and even the 11 to 15 stage, must form an important part, if not the greater part, of any religious education syllabus. But in matters specifically related to church teaching, such as baptism, the Creed, communion service, et cetera, teachers should adhere to the advice in paragraph 575 of the Plowden Report, and be sensitive to the feelings of the children of parents who are non-Christian, agnostic or humanist as well as those of Christian parentage. My Lords, having emphasised the importance of the very early form of ethical training within a revised syllabus of religious education, it is necessary to examine what in perhaps the majority of cases is the critical period; and here we come up against strong personal views, when we attempt to decide the age when the study of comparative religions can be introduced, and to educate children out of the narrow outlook which in the past resulted in the slaughters of wars of religion. Whether it is towards the end of the school leaving age of between 15 and 18, or earlier, is not a matter to be discussed in general terms; there are so many special factors, even local religious prejudices. One thing is, however, certain. Young adults must go into the world with some workable philosophy of living, some strength of moral fibre, if they are to keep their heads above the sewer of drugs, drink and distorted sexuatily, which seem to be running muckier, and more so every day.

Children of 13 are at present being bored stiff by Scripture lessons, so many of which are just interminable and inconclusive dissections of the Bible, with no opportunity for discussion. My Lords, a good school and dedicated teachers are an extension of the very best family home life. But in these days of pressurised living, the home, however good in comparison with the average, cannot any longer be expected to provide that essential background of knowledge which a school can provide as a basis of ethical training.

In the preparation of this speech I have drawn much on the experiences of my eldest daughter, who is a teacher in an infants' school. We are mostly a teaching family. It is a subject of continual interest in our family. And, while I am not a teacher, I am much concerned as an industrialist with the effects of the slapdash methods and total disinterest in moral values which so often encourage the development of selfish behaviour. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I also come from a strong Nonconformist background. When I was very young the Sunday school teacher in a Welsh chapel was chosen very carefully. He or she had a dual role. One duty was to teach Welsh from the alphabet up to fluent reading, for there was no teaching of Welsh in the schools in those days. Another duty was to teach us to sing Welsh hymns; and the last was to tell us a Bible story, very often amusing. We were progressed finally as we grew older to Bible classes, where one met miners who could read the Bible in Greek. Those days are gone, except perhaps on a smaller scale in very rural Wales. My noble friend here would probably know more about it.

The duty of nurturing the teaching of ethical codes and behaviour now depends on the schools. For a multitude of reasons, the Churches are too handicapped. If we are to revive the moral fibre of our country—and it requires a tremendous revival, as your Lordships will agree—we cannot afford to blame the Churches or education committees, if we do not give this problem a priority equal to that of any now occupying our minds. Almost a generation has passed since the 1944 Act was introduced. It is the hope of everyone here, I am sure, that this priority will be given. And I am sure that this debate will awaken all parties to this urgent need for a new look at the present-day problems of adequate moral, religious education.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in the praise and thanks to my noble friend Lord Aberdare for promoting the very interesting and worthwhile debate that we have had to-day. I should like also to congratulate my noble friend Lord Sackville on his excellent maiden speech. I am bound to say that I agree more with the ends that he was trying to achieve than with the means he recommended, but I much enjoyed listening to him nevertheless.

I should like to say that I share the anxiety that has been so generally expressed, and particularly vividly expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, about what he called the pagan age, with empty churches and so few people now practising Christianity. But we have a paradox, which perhaps gives us some comfort, in that it would be true to say that in this country to-day in the life of our people we have a higher standard of what, for want of a better word, I would call decency than we have ever had before, and I would think any other nation has ever had. That is perhaps of some comfort to us. This is the general standard that our people feel is right. Perhaps in Christian terms it is expression of the second Commandment, while the first has been lost sight of. But I think that, alongside it—and this point has been mentioned by a number of speakers—we are very conscious of the high failure rate which we see among the community in falling below the standard that most people would undoubtedly like to achieve. We see this, of course, in the crime rate, in the avalanches of sleeping pills that people swallow every night, in the fact that half the cases on the National Health are psychiatric or go to full mental hospitals, and so on. So all signs are there of our community trying to live to a decent standard which they know is right, but not being able to do it.

I thought it was particularly valuable in this debate that we had the benefit of the humanist point of view put so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, because this can work for the exceptional person. But I am bound to say that I do not think it works for the average person. It needs a person of exceptional will-power to be able to maintain a high standard of moral code and ethics by will-power alone. It can be done, and I salute anyone who can do it, but I speak, I must confess, as a failed Humanist. I tried it at one phase of my life and found it was impossible to live by this means according to the standard that I felt was right, and so I found my way to Christianity.

Here is the method where the help is given, here is the spiritual answer where the way has been taught by Christ, and this way makes the individual human being conscious of the Holy Spirit in his own conscience, which gives him strength to hold his course or, when he has fallen from his course, as he often will, to return to it. This is why I think Christianity is the best answer we have to give, certainly in the Western world, and why we should do what we can to see that all the young people who are growing up have the chance to take it up, if they want to.

I thought the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, put his case extremely well, and I hope that I have put mine as liberally. All the evidence is—and it has, been said many times to-day—that the present system of teaching religion in the schools is not being successful. It is like an inoculation which simply is not taking. My noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden quoted a figure of not more than 5 per cent. of children who come out of school actually wanting to pursue a Christian life, and yet alongside that we have evidence all round that most parents would like their children to have a knowledge of Christianity; they would like it to be taught.

I will say straight away that I think it should continue to be a compulsory subject. I listened with great interest to my noble friend Lord Eccles, who always has a most interesting contribution to make, but on this point I think he is wrong. However, I consider the teaching of it should be as liberal and as optional as possible; compulsory indoctrination would be a complete mistake. Here I was most interested to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and I entirely agreed with much that he said: the only place for indoctrination is at your mother's knee. If you are lucky enough to have had it from there then indeed you are very fortunate, but nowadays the mother's knee is pressed up against the "telly" and there is not much chance for the child. So our problem is, how are we going to do it?

I have two suggestions to make as to how we might improve the present system. The first concerns the actual teaching of religious education by taking the traditional system of Bible study. I feel that that is out; it really does not "take" More particularly the direct teaching of the Old Testament certainly does not, and the fact that to be a Christian you must read the Bible—in fact you want to read the Bible—does not mean that children who have not made up their minds to be Christians should be made to read it.

I was interested in the Church of England Board of Education's draft Report for 1967, which has some extremely helpful thoughts on this particular subject. I would suggest that a different approach should be made. The Church and the education authorities should no longer try to give a comprehensive teaching of the Bible, either the New Testament or the Old. In this particular context I was interested in a book written by my noble friend Lord Eccles called Half-way to Faith. I may say that I do not agree with all the book but with this particular thought: that one might regard the Bible as art. My thought here is that one might use the techniques of teaching art and music for the teaching of religion. We are trying to teach something which is a mystery; we can only give certain clues to it. If this were done by the technique of teaching art or music to children, might it not be a more successful approach? One can enjoy listening to music or looking at a lovely picture without knowing anything about the technique of composing music or of painting a picture, or indeed anything about the history of either of them.

We should not attempt to give a comprehensive knowledge of all that is in the Bible, except of course to Divinity students, but in a much more indirect method to try to catch the imagination of the children and stimulate them to ask questions. I much appreciated what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said about his thoughts in this direction. Everything must be done to stimulate the children's interest so that they will ask questions, and perchance this may just catch their imagination. If it does they will jolly soon read the Bible afterwards, because they will find it is worth reading. This is my first thought.

My second thought concerns the compulsory daily act of worship. I should be the first person to salute the heroic efforts of headmasters and headmistresses up and down the country who struggle to make this something worth while. The difficulty of combining it with the functions of the general assembly have been stressed by former speakers, and in addition there is what I regard as the even greater difficulty, especially in the secondary schools, that there are many boys and girls in the sixth form, say in grammar schools, who are really young men and young women of about 17 or 18 years of age. They have made up their minds, and some of them actively oppose Christianity. This is an impossible atmosphere for the head teacher to get an act of worship "off the ground" and to make an atmosphere where children who would like to join in will really feel the sense of worship and praise that is necessary if it is to be meaningful.

I suggest that this act of worship should be made optional. Let the head teacher who wants to go on with it do so, but I suggest that in all schools, primary and secondary, there should be one day a week when a parson of any denomination should take the period. It should be a service lasting, say, half-anhour—that would be quite long enough—and with a ten-minute address, and as much participation by the children as possible. I make this suggestion in the belief that the ecumenical movement which has been spoken of to-day on all sides (and I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Soper, saying the same) has made tremendous progress in the last twenty years, and I should have thought we had reached a stage where it would be possible for the Churches to draw together and agree upon a simple service to be taken in the schools. It may be necessary to alter the law in order to do this, but let us hope that Ministers of Education will be sympathetic to the idea.

Leaving that aside, what I want is a weekly service for the children who wish to attend and whose parents wish them to attend. It will be in school-time and the rest of the children will not just be out playing they will have some other subject. We must keep the balance. Those who want to be there will have this service, which will be taken by a professional who is a man of faith and who is able to make an atmosphere in which that act of worship will become something really worth while. I am absolutely certain that the right reverend Prelates opposite will agree that an act of worship is basic, and somehow we must get that into the schools for the children who want it.

In this context I remember a delightful story of Evelyn Underhill. She was taking a Sunday school class of tinies, and asked the children, "Why do we praise God?". There was a long silence in the little row of faces around her, and then one of them said, "Please Miss, to cheer Him up". Not a bad answer, and I think a very good reason for going on teaching religion in the primary schools. There is no doubt that the act of worship is essential, and I have equally no doubt that in the present circumstances the act of worship compulsorily, as in the general assembly, is really not succeeding in what we want it to do. I should hope that this idea could be looked at. I hope the Ecumenical movement has gone far enough for the Churches to come together to agree on this, and that it can be tried, with the co-operation of the local education authority, in this area or that, wherever the local leaders felt they would like to have a go. I believe that it could give very valuable results for all concerned.

I conclude with this. I am quite sure that the leadership in these matters must be with the Churches. I am delighted to hear that there is so much common ground and so much getting together in all the Churches in this country. I hope there will be a response from the education authorities, and I hope that, if it is necessary to make a change in the law when the Churches are decided on what to advise, the Minister will make the changes they want. I am absolutely sure that this would be doing the greatest possible service to the community.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, I would begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for putting down this Motion. May I apologise to him and the noble Baroness who is to reply for the fact that I shall, in view of the time, have to rush off immediately after I have spoken. I would also apologise to the noble Lord who is to follow. I have an appointment with the police, which I made a long time ago, and I cannot break it.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on his courage, because while during the course of the Parliamentary Session we debate many formidable and interesting subjects, there can be few which have as many implications and complications as the issue which the noble Lord has asked us to discuss to-day. Hiding behind these very simple words on the Order Paper are really basic questions of politics, principle, morality and faith. Arising out of it, for example, you could ask the age-old questions: What is truth? What is faith? What is belief? These are hares which have been chased down the centuries ever since Socrates, and more words have been spoken on this theme and more books written than almost any other. I shudder to think what would happen to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, if he forgot to withdraw the Motion and that load of written words descends upon him.

I would state my own position very clearly from the beginning. I speak, as my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams did, as an atheist, or, as we call ourselves, Humanists. I should like to make it clear that I am not opposed to the teaching of religion in schools. On the contrary, religion has played, and still plays, a central part in man's life and thought, and any system of education which ignores it would be both inefficient and inadequate. What I am opposed to, and with some passion, is the way in which religion is presented in our schools to-day. I envy many of the noble Lords who have spoken their certainty that they know what is true, that they know what is right and that they know what our children should be taught in the field of belief. I envy them that security and that certainty. But I cannot help thinking that it is also a little brash, and even impertiment.

We do not, except in very rare instances, teach our children about religion. We tell them about one religion and we teach them about it in a one-sided, untruthful, dogmatic and prejudiced way. I have never heard of education in the Christian religion which tells, for example, of the massacres that were carried out in the name of Christianity in the past. The children, especially the young children, are taught to accept Christianity as being a faith which deals in love, which deals in human understanding, and I should have thought that the Christian Church to-day was strong enough to be able also to tell the children that many mistakes have been made in the name of our Church and religion, that we are sorry for these mistakes and that no Christian is perfect.

In most areas of education the general purpose would seem to me to be to present a whole picture to a child; but in religion we lift only one corner of the curtain. In education the object is to open the doors of the mind: in religion it seems to me that we spend our time slamming doors on the mind. You cannot learn to play the piano if you learn only how to manipulate a few black keys in the centre of the keyboard, and a child cannot learn about religion and morality, and its influence on mankind, if the teaching is limited to the outlook and opinions of one particular religious grouping. Above all, a child can never learn if something is put to him as a dogma which he must accept without doubt.

Let me give one example, sent to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, who cannot be here to-day, which is a pity because she would have illumined our debate. The Surrey Education Committee issue Bibles to children who have reached a certain stage in their schooling. I believe, with the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, that the Bible is one of the most beautiful books ever written, and I have often astounded my Christian friends because I seem to be able to quote it more fluently than they. But few people to-day would re- gard it as literal truth. Yet the Surrey Education Committee inscribe, in these presentation Bibles, given as a result of some bequest many years ago, the following words, I am sure with the utmost sincerity: Herein is wisdom which will lead you to all truth, which will provide comfort and guidance and teach you the whole duty of man". That inscription just is not true, and few people would believe it to-day. And the noble Baronesss in her note, added a comment: Is it not shocking that Surrey should identify itself with such nonsense. I agree.

The fact is—and we have to face this—that the professed aim of religious education is to produce active Christians. I do not mind active Christians attempting to produce active Christians, but they have a place for doing that within the churches. We have not special places for the teaching of arithmetic or French, but we have for the teaching of religion, and it is my view that teaching should be confined to there, if the object is just to advocate one set or one series of opinions. This may seem to many to be a worthy aim, but it is not education; if you confine it to one sect, it is indoctrination, and we should not blanch away from the word. It leads to what someone once described, in a delicate phrase, as "innocent corruption".

If modernisation of the syllabus of religious education merely means that the Church is going to change its clothes, in order more effectively to drive home the demand for more active Christians, I think that is wrong. What we need, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, is education in all religions. Why should not a child learn as much about the Buddhist religion as he does about the Christian religion? Will any Christian stand up and say that a Buddhist is necessarily worse than a Christian? Why should not our children be given a free choice between Buddhism and Christianity—one could extend that analogy right across the spectrum of beliefs.

If the situation does not work out quite so badly as it sounds, it is because too many of our teachers have too much respect for themselves and their profession to carry out their obligations under this Act in too rigid a way, and, secondly, because so much religious education is so badly handled that it produces either a vigorous protest from radical intelligent young people or a paralysing boredom—the sort of boredom my own daughter had when she brought home, as part of her religious instruction homework, the learning by heart of the names of all the Kings of Israel. This boredom was expressed in an open letter which I am not going to bother your Lordships with, but which was sent three years ago from a group of Christians and educationists. I think that if your Lordships saw that open letter you would say that it is a pretty fair summing up of the situation.

The present system has failed, both from the point of view of the Church and from the point of view of any radical thinking. It is not a matter which brings any pleasure to me, as a Humanist, nor can it be one which gives any particular satisfaction, I think, to the Church. The trouble springs not from some old Mediæval laws which have been left on the Statute Book and forgotten but from this comparatively modern Education Act 1944. As many noble Lords have said, this was a remarkable Act of Parliament, human and wise in many respects. One of its great achievements was to prise open the door of our great universities and make them accessible to thousands of young people who had never before had the opportunity of higher education.

But the most stunning and incredible of the achievements of the 1944 Act was in the field of theology. Parliament there brought off a feat unparalleled in the history of human thought and, with one bold stroke, ended an argument which has divided mankind since we first began to think. For generations we have argued about the existence of God. We have wondered whether God is one of man's blunders, or whether man is one of God's blunders. We have argued whether a divine person or a divine force exists. All that was officially ended in 1944; there is a God, and there is an Act of Parliament to prove it!

Parliament then decided that all children should take part in a daily act of worship in school, and thereby gave God, if he wants it, the official recognition of the law. I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, but I am not sure that he, as the Minister at the time, or Parliament really had the authority to decide such an issue. The existence of God is not a matter that can be decided at a Cabinet meeting or by a Parliamentary Division; and from the point of view of the Churches it sets a most dangerous precedent, because it is possible that at some future date Parliament may vote that there is no God. Then where would the Churches be?

But seriously, the decision to impose a daily act of worship on our children was a shameful one. Someone once said that Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed"; and education and religion become a mockery when the one is used to provide a captive audience for the other. What is more, this Act imposes on our schools an obligation which is not imposed even upon the Churches, who are in the business of religious education. There is no effective law which requires a church to open for worship every day or even every week. There is no effective law which requires a church to organise a Sunday school for children. They can do as they please; they can stay shut for a year if they wish. But a school is bound by the law and cannot escape. The daily act of worship must go on. The whole staff could be agnostics, but the act of worship must go on. Every child in the school could conceivably opt out of the act of worship; but it must go on. And it will still have to go on.

This legal insistence on a daily act of worship is in direct contradiction to all the ethics of education, and is a seven-league stride backwards to the bad old days when the State decreed that its citizens should believe and what they should believe, and persecuted those who did not fall into line. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, I think, referred to these clauses as a milestone; I prefer to think of them as a millstone.

As I said earlier, I want to see a proper system of religious education in schools. I want to see our children presented with the history and facts about all religions. I want them to know about the beauty and the mystery, the majesty and the magic that is in the Bible and in all religions. I want to see them presented with the objections to those religions. I want them to be free, as they grow older, to find their own way and to form their own beliefs. But you cannot do this if you insist on a compulsory daily act of worship, because it is a contradiction. You cannot tell a child on the one hand to make up his own mind about whether he believes in God, and then require him to stand in an assembly and worship God as though there is no question about it; because the truth is that there can be no belief and no truth without doubt.

I should like to say one word about opting out. Under the Act, parents have the right to contract their children out of the act of worship. This is often put forward as a safeguard. People say to me, "You do not have to send your children to the act of worship; you have this safeguard." In fact, it is a paper right which has little or no existence outside of the law. I have two children, and I tell your Lordships quite frankly that never have I sought to exercise the right of opting out of the compulsory daily act of worship at school, or of religious education. Why? First, I think I was partly influenced by my own Army experience. When I was called up I went before the sergeant and declared myself to be an atheist. To my amazement, the sergeant smiled with pleasure and said, "Good! Marvellous! Very good!" So I said, "Are there many atheists in this unit?" He said "No; you are the first. But I was getting worried about who was going to do the cookhouse fatigue on Sunday mornings when the rest of the lads were at church parade."

I did not invoke my right to opt my children out of the daily service for several reasons: first, because Humanists, unlike many others, do not believe in forcing their ideas down other peoples' throats, least of all those of children. I have never attempted in any way whatsoever to influence my children's thinking so far as the religions of the world are concerned. Secondly, and almost more important, I did not want to make my child the odd one out, to expose him to curiosity and to that unthinking cruelty that young children impose upon those among them who appear to be different.

Do not let us underestimate this factor. There was a class of 14-year-old children who were asked to write an essay. The subject was this: "Imagine that you are the victim of discrimination, persecution or oppression, and describe an episode in your life." As your Lordships will imagine, the majority of essays were well varied; they covered subjects from the U.S.A., Rhodesia, Imperial Rome, Nazi Germany, and so on. But one boy—I can quote to you the actual essay—wrote a true account of his own experience as a boy who had been opted out. Briefly it went like this: The sound of the opening bars of the hymn followed us along the corridor as we left the hall. The singing was cut off as the door of the classroom closed behind us. The essay went on to describe his embarrassment as the new deputy head publicly questioned each boy and girl as to why they had withdrawn from the public assembly. He described his feelings of humiliation as, again in public, the teacher replied to his statement that he was an agnostic with the remark, "Nonsense! A boy of your age is not old enough to know what he is talking about." That was a boy of 14 years old.

I think it is high time that we had a look at this opting-out business, because in fact it is cutting across many of the things that we are working for in other fields. If you have schools where you have a large number of immigrant children from India and Pakistan you are in fact re-creating the colour bar that you are trying to break down in other areas. Our teachers, most of whom work hard and do their job as well as they can, are told that the opting out is as sacred as anything else. I think they should be told that to mock doubt is as dangerous as it is to mock faith.

This question of older children is very important. They do mature earlier. They tend to become cynical. And no wonder. If you look through the London Service Book at some of the hymns, and you read words like: Could my tears forever flow All for sin could not atone. Foul, I to the Fountain fly, Wash me, Saviour, or I die what healthy-minded youngster is going to sing that? Or, Visit then this soul of mine, Pierce the gloom of sin and grief". That sort of stuff is as sick in its own way as some of the modern drama that has been criticised in the past in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, and it should never be allowed. Whatever happens to the opting-out provision, it ought to be amended to give freedom of conscience to young people over the age of 14 so that they can opt out on their own account and cannot be compelled by their parents against their own opinions.

I turn now to the issue of sectarian schools. On the surface it looks reasonable to propose that parents should be free to give financial support and to send their children to a school which is run by members of their own religion or sect. I have had the argument put to me, which again sounds a reasonable argument, that humanists are perfectly free to run their schools if they wish, and so why object to Christians, Roman Catholics and others doing it? I did not mean to make that division. The answer is that we do not wish. First, because we do not believe—and most reasonable people do not believe—in brainwashing in any form, and we are as opposed to the indoctrination of children with humanist ideas as we are with any other. But we suffer a great deal in this field from some of the examples of the prejudice that has been put up against humanists.

I could quote—but I will not do so in view of the lateness of the hour—a whole number of examples of the kind of prejudice which affects humanists in this field, but in spite of this we do not believe that there should be special instruction in humanism as a separate thing for children. We believe that it should be part of the general religious instruction. More important, we believe that it is wrong that children should be segregated in this way and kept apart from children who come from different homes and have different religious backgrounds. It is quite wrong that two out of three Catholic children should go to Roman Catholic schools and mix with nobody but Roman Catholics and not rub their brains and their intelligences against other ideas and other religions. Furthermore, if the State pays 80 per cent. of the building and maintenance, plus 100 per cent. towards the actual running costs of schools, then I do not think we should leave them in the hands of a particular sect. I think the State ought to run them. For all these reasons, I am against sectarian schools.

But there is one other reason, perhaps the most important reason of all, and that is that the existence of only sectarian schools robs parents of a free choice. There are one or two examples of this. At Cuckfield in Sussex, for instance, parents are presented with the choice either of sending their little children five miles to the nearest State primary school or of sending them to the local school which is Anglican-controlled. At Wheat-hampstead in Hertfordshire, where there is one Anglican school, the only school, the parents voted to make it non-sectarian, but the Church overruled this particular wish of the parents. I think it is wrong that in areas where there is only one school, that school should be run by a particular sect and that parents should be forced, against their will sometimes, to send children to these schools.

I acknowledge the debt that education owes to the Church, though frankly this has been somewhat exaggerated. In the past the Church often acted out of self-interest as well as from unselfish motives, but I do not agree that a glorious yesterday should entitle them to control of schools to-day and to-morrow—especially at our expense. We owe a great deal to the trade unions, but nobody would suggest that the union organisation of yesterday is right for to-day.

It is not for me to advise the Church, but it seems to me that they would have everything to gain and nothing to lose if they got out of the business of of education and relied on the force and truth of their teachings in their own churches, and their propaganda, to win converts. I believe that we should all profit, and above all our children would profit, if we created a free trade area in ideas and opinions and religions; if we allowed each school of thought to compete on free and equal terms, without one having a built-in advantage provided by the support of Parliament. I realise that this means that the Church must make a great act of abdication; it must give up its vested interest in education; it must render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's. But in the long run I believe it would win greater respect and attract less cynicism than it does now.

I began with Socrates, and I should like to finish by quoting him, for it seems to me that in the following words he sums up the essence of the matter: It is our duty to do one of two things: either to ascertain the facts, whether by seeking instruction or by personal discovery: or, if this is impossible, to select the best and most dependable theory which human intelligence can supply, and use it as a raft to ride the seas of life. The key word here is "select". I want to see religious instruction in schools revised, I want to see the daily act of worship abolished, and I want our children to be given the opportunity to select—to select what they shall believe in as a result of a fair appraisal of all the religions and of all the outlooks. Our task, the task of Parliament, is not to declare officially for one or the other, but to see that all creeds, all outlooks and all ideas are put before young people, without prejudice or favour, and leave them to make up their own minds.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not think that he was being a little hard on the Surrey Education Committee who were extolling the great truths to be found in the Bible? The great truths are all there, but you have to search to find them. It is like the gold on the South African Rand: you have to search to find it, but it is there.


My Lords, I would have no objection if they would inscribe that at the beginning.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, in the thirteenth century there was a Roman Catholic philosopher who had his own characteristic and powerful method of discussing a question. If that philosopher were faced with the question, "Should Lord Iddesleigh, a Roman Catholic, participate in this debate?", St. Thomas would begin: "Et in primum videtur quia non" which means, "In the first place and at first sight it would seem that he should not". It will be argued that Roman Catholics have in fact contracted out of the State system, that the State behaves very properly towards them, and that they have no special interest in discussing the religious teaching in State schools, since they are free to give their own version of religious truth in their schools. To that, however, I would reply that I do not sit in Parlia- ment as the representative of one particular denomination but have the same duty incumbent on me as is incumbent on anyone else to discuss religion, syllabus religion, assemblies, anything that goes on in State schools. I must not shirk that responsibility. Moreover, there are a few things that I want to say in response to previous speakers in this debate, and there is one contribution that I want to make on my own.

In the first place I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for introducing the subject. I will begin by coming to his assistance and giving one more proof that something should be done in the matter of religious education. I have already given notice to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, of what I intend to raise. Last year I understand that about 350,000 school children took "O" level in English, whereas only 65,000 took "O" level examinations in religious knowledge. That is rather curious and worth remarking on, for the number of children who are withdrawn from religious instruction is very small, and would not affect statistics like that.

Moreover, when I was concerned with these matters as a parent of schoolchildren, it was always understood that the religious knowledge "O" level was a very easy exam to pass. If you were wanting to get 9 "O" levels to your credit you ought to take religious knowledge, because that was an easy one and you were almost certain to get it. So why is it that only 65,000, as opposed to 350,000, take the subject? Also, may I say that nearly two-thirds of that 65,000 belonged to the devout sex. I think that what I have said reinforces the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that there is a need to consider this subject and a need for some action. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, agreeing very strongly with that contention.

I am, however, going to disagree in one respect with the noble Lord who introduced the Motion. He wished to see comparative religion taught in the secondary schools. The same point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and by other noble Lords who have spoken. I happen to be very much interested in comparative religion. When I was an undergraduate at Oxford I joined an Indian club, the Lotus Club, and I spent many hours listening to Hindus telling me what a wonderful religion Hinduism was. I made very sincere efforts, and I think with some degree of success, to understand the fundamental concepts of Hinduism; and I came to admire many of those concepts very much indeed. There is a great deal to be said for Hinduism as a religion, and I suggest that its study in depth is most valuable. But I believe that that should come at the undergraduate stage, at the earliest, and preferably later still as a postgraduate study. For what would you teach schoolboys about Hinduism? You would teach them trifles. You would teach them that there was a God with a blue throat, that there was another God who danced, and that there was another God with a monkey's head. But you could not expect to get over to the schoolboys such profound concepts as the relation between Kharma and Dharma. That would be quite hopeless.

The best preparation for understanding other religions is to know your own religion and to practise that. There is a very deep sense—and I have said this before in this House—where all religions help each other. A man who admires the Christian mystics will have a very deep feeling of love for the Mohammedan mystics. I shall come later to the question of religion in primary schools, and I shall want to say something practical about that.

I listened to the Humanists with very great respect, very great interest and great sympathy, because we are both minorities. They are a minority which believes too little, and they would say to me that I believe too much. But we are both minorities, and we are both sincere and earnest minorities, and the toad beneath the harrow knows exactly where each pinpoint goes. I was very much moved by the story told by the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, of the Humanist teacher; that honest, decent man with, I should say, a real vocation (although he would not like the word "vocation") for teaching, but who could not in practice get a headmastership. How I sympathise with him! Sympathising means suffering together.

Only last night I was told a very similar story of a co-religionist of mine. He was deeply interested in gynæcology and had specialised in it. He loved the sub- ject and had worked hard at it, and hoped one day to get a post in the gynæcological department of a great hospital. But, of course, he knows now that the committee would say to him, "Would you have any objections to doing abortions on social grounds?" To which he would reply, "Oh! But the Act protects me. I do not have to do abortions on social grounds. There is a 'conscience clause'." That is true enough, but he would not get the job; and he certainly would not get the head job later on. There is a problem here, and the problems of one minority are reflected a little in the problems of another.

I shall not go into detailed criticism of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willis. He is going to settle all minority problems by giving minorities the majority rights, and putting them in charge of everything. I do not think his speech will be taken very seriously.

But now I want to come to the question of ecumenism, which was mentioned first by the noble and learned Lord who was then sitting upon the Woolsack, and then by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of London, and by many other speakers. Ecumenism is a matter of faith, hope and charity. My Church is committed to it; I am committed to it, and I am hopeful that one day the ecumenical situation will be reflected in the educational situation. It is a wonderful thought. But, so far as I can see, we are a very long way from that to-day. It is not only that we disagree about doctrine: that might be put right. What is also serious and difficult to overcome is that we disagree about children.

In 1907 an event occurred which has not been mentioned, and which has not been discussed in your Lordships' House, but which I think is worth mentioning and which should be discussed. Sixty years ago the Pope issued an encyclical, saying that children ought to be admitted to Holy Communion at the age of 7. That was a practice which had passed out of existence in the West. In the Eastern Churches children, even little babies, are to-day given Holy Communion, but in the West it had ceased to be. It was revoked in 1907. I want your Lordships, and especially any right reverend Prelate who may read this speech, to envisage our schools as a sacramental and worshipping community. The children are all baptised and they are reminded of their baptism. They are all sufficiently acquainted with our problem of good and evil to realise the need that they have to keep that baptismal whiteness in their souls, and if they become spotted to seek the remedy of the confessional. Our children probably have nothing very much to confess at that age, but they start going to Confession at the age of about 6. Then, at 7, with immense joy, they receive the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

I have heard learned professors quoted to the effect that no primary school child can understand a religious concept. I am not sure that I understand what the professors mean by "a religious concept", but I have known my daughter come to me and say, "Dadda, I was so happy yesterday at my first Communion that I thought I was going to die". I have known my grand-daughter come to me and say, "Dadda, I love the baby Jesus so much that I long to go to Heaven to see Him". I do not know if that is a religious concept, but it is something of which I would not rob a little child; and I do not think Our Saviour, either, would rob a little child of that happiness. I say to those who have other faiths that they really ought to ask us—and we should be very willing to tell them—what 60 years of experience of children's Communion has been.

I would go on, if you like, and say that we give Confirmation very much earlier than is the custom in the Anglican Church. A Roman Catholic child is commonly Confirmed at about the age of 12, or even younger than that. Therefore, at the primary school level we are receiving at least four of our seven Sacraments. We are a sacramental community. That we want to be; that we want to keep; that we give as our contribution to any ecumenical discussion about religious education

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, I had thought of making what I hoped would be quite a good speech. I read a great deal, and I got copies of a good many books, not to speak of the syllabus that we have all referred to, the West Riding Agreed Syllabus. But then I came to the conclusion that so much had been said that there was very little for me to say without repetition. I shall therefore be very short, and speak, if I may, in almost tabloid form.

I wish the noble Lord, Lord Willis, had not left us. He threw out a great many very provocative points. I wrote them down with interest, hoping to be able to answer them; but now he has gone. When I asked somebody why he had gone, I was told that he had an engagement at half-past seven. I am very sorry, because they were very provocative points which he put forward to us. He asked us, as churchpeople, as Christians, how it was we could say we knew this, that or the next thing. He said we could not be sure. He asked: What about truth? Were we ever certain what truth was? Of course we do not know; but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has not heard of another word, and that word is "faith". He said that we had never said, and the Church had never said, anything about mistakes in the past. I am sure he is a very intelligent person, but I think his reading must have been very restricted. I think a good many of us have read a good deal of the evil deeds of the Crusaders, of all sorts of tortures, of inquisitions and of other things of which we absolutely disapprove. We are quite aware of them, and we say that they are wrong.

The noble Lord also spoke (I am saying this because, after all, there is the offchance of his reading it tomorrow—just the offchance) about the act of worship, and the arrangements for any parents to withdraw their children. He was very angry about that withdrawal. He said that that was all wrong; it was only on paper: that it could not be done; it was very unkind; the children would feel different. Of course! But surely we have to face the fact—and it would be better that we did face it—that if a thing is right a person must feel different. To-day, with immigrant children and other types of children coming into our schools, of course there are withdrawals. But, rather like the trade unions, perhaps we feel it better to keep the act of worship and to let others withdraw, rather than that we do not have it and people have to ask for it. I have put that in rather different words from those which might be used by the trade unions because I thought perhaps it sounded better.

The noble Lord then told us—and here I have a great deal of sympathy with him—about a school area in which there was only one school, a Church of England school, and that children would have had to go five miles to find one that was not a Church of England school. The noble Lord did not tell us, of course, whether it was an aided school or a controlled school. But, at the same time, I sympathise with the parents of children in such one-school areas (as we call them) who have not a school to which to send their children where there is more non-denominational teaching, as there is in the county schools. There, I am with the noble Lord. It is a good thing to end up with something on which I agree with him.

During this debate I think there has been a tremendous amount of gloom. Is it necessary? It seems to me, thinking it over—and, of course, perhaps I shall have another idea when I read it to-morrow—that the only person who was in the least bit optimistic was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, to whom we are all so grateful for introducing this debate, had not got much gloom, but it seemed to increase as the debate went on. Speakers seemed to think that there was no faith nowadays; that the Christian faith was almost something of the past. Certainly, we were told, parents had shown—and we have the figures both from the Plowden Committee and in other ways—that they wanted their children given a Christian education, but that this was perhaps only because they wanted them (and I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who mentioned this) to be taught how to behave well.

My Lords, I do not believe it is that. I believe that behind all this there is a longing among many people for greater faith and for a greater spiritual outlook; a feeling that it is there if only they could find out about it and reach it. Many parents, I believe, feel that, though they may have missed it themselves, they may be able to help their children to find it. I am not despondent. Noble Lords will perhaps remember seeing a leading article in The Times on November 9 which said: In all the debate about religious education in schools one fact stands out: surveys have shown that the overwhelming majority of parents want it for their children. If parental choice means anything, it should count here". But then it goes on to say that the Christian faith is one of the basic influences upon British life". I feel that during the last few years there has been a growing interest in trying to find out more about religion. We are now getting the reports of several surveys, but many of them started two years ago; and that is why we are particularly grateful, I feel, to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for introducing this debate to-day.

Now, what about this subject, if I may speak on it very shortly, of religious education in schools? I will speak only of the primary schools and junior schools. I know that it has been said by some that there should not be religious education for the small children. We are not thinking of theological doctrine; I do not think any of us are. But most people will agree that if a child asks a question you must answer frankly. Of course! If the child asks, "What is that building?", you answer, "It is a church." But if the child asks. "What is a church for?", are you to say, "It is to worship a God: but I do not know if there is a real God or not. Wait until you are 16 and then make up your own mind."?

It seems to me that we ought to come down to much more practical terms. What we teach at the moment in the county schools are what are called the agreed syllabuses. Any amount of them might be improved. Practically every noble Lord has spoken of the West Riding syllabus which we consider very good. It has been revised and was last published in 1966, and I am sure that there are other good ones. I have had letters from people telling me of bad ones, but I cannot say that I have seen them myself. I had one letter from a friend who told me that the syllabus emphasised, as it were, the duty towards the neighbour but left out entirely the duty towards God. He thought that the word "God" was never mentioned throughout. Nor was there any instruction or information on the subject of prayer. Let us then revise the syllabus. If the syllabus is wrong, then let us get it better. If the act of worship is not what we should like it to be, then let us think it out again. Let us think out the best way to do it and at what time it should be done every day. But do not let us be so defeatist as to say that because it is not all that we should like it to be then it must go altogether.

Then there is the matter of how we teach. There have been a great many experiments in teaching, and to-day there are new techniques in teaching; for example, reading, mathematics and foreign languages. What we want to examine very carefully now are the techniques of teaching in the schools the religious faith which we are trying to give our children. Of course, it depends on the skill of the teacher; but not only that. It depends also on the conviction and enthusiasm of the teacher. We all agree about that. I have been somewhat heartened to hear that there are now more teachers in the training colleges specialising in the training of religious subjects—and we want still more of them. I grant, of course, that the Church schools take the largest proportion. But instead of being defeatist and saying that because this or that is not perfect we must give it up, I would urge that from to-day onwards, let us see how it can be improved.

My Lords, there is one last thing that I wish to say. It brings to mind what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said about the withdrawal of children from religious education, or from the act of worship (which is a right) and the feeling that these children have of being, as it were, singled out from their schoolfellows. It is the question of the teacher who, because he does not feel convinced that what he is being asked to teach is what he really believes, does not want to teach it. Quite right! The percentage, so far as we can get the figures, is very low; but of course those people are right. But, having said that, and having heard the case that the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, told us of to-day, I would say that if people have convictions, that means having the courage to stand by them. There is no use having the conviction and then complaining: "I am having a bad time because I believe this, that or the other."

A long time ago—and it is a very long time ago; for I was a small child—I remember hearing the nursery maid singing a hymn in which were the words, Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone. I used to think that this meant that I had to deal with lions—which I would not have to deal with now, unless I go to Longleat one day. But I know the courage, mental and spiritual, needed to take a stand against something because one believes it is wrong, or to take a stand for something because one believes it right and feels one must work for it. I am dealing with small children because I want to start with the small children. Of course it is not the doctrine we want to teach at that age. Let us tell them the story of Christmas; let them act a Nativity play. Many of us who have seen them do this have seen the awe and reverence with which they do it. We do not say that at the same time you must teach, or try to teach, the whole of the doctrine of incarnation. You begin with the actual facts and you build up. But unless you begin by having teachers in our schools who have the conviction and the skill, and who keep in touch with the homes, you are not going to get that real religious revival and spiritual knowledge which I believe we could get in this country now.

7.27 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness who has just resumed her seat, and who made a very feeling speech (and I am sure we all agree with her in saying that one should have the courage of one's convictions) was not suggesting that in this modern age in this country the man who has the courage of his convictions should be punished in the way that Lord Francis-Williams described. It is men of moral courage of that kind whom we want as leaders in our schools, not that they should be kept down. I hope that the noble Baroness was not encouraging these education committees to take this attitude towards candidates for promotion who have shown their moral courage by acting in the way that this gentleman did.

I think that almost everybody who has spoken this afternoon has expressed his gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for giving us the opportunity for debating this subject. But very few have noticed that he made a convincing case, as I thought, for a revision—or, at any rate, a very careful inquiry into the need for revision—of the 1944 Education Act. That seemed to me much the most important part of his speech. Very few people have expressed approval of that part of his speech which personally I found quite convincing. And then when the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles—who has the advantage of having been an outstanding Minister of Education for a number of years—came in even more strongly to advocate that at any rate the compulsory part of the 1944 Act in relation to these matters stood in need of repeal, I thought that quite an overwhelming case had been made out.

I always listen with great interest to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and I must say that I thought this afternoon he treated us to one of the most thoughtful of the very thoughtful speeches that he makes in this House. Both his speech and that of Lord Aberdare were humanist to the core. I do not know that either noble Lord claims to be a Humanist. I join myself with my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams in this respect. But these speeches, I think, show how close together in many ways we Humanists are with what one might describe, perhaps, as the more liberal-minded of the other side.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brooke (I hope she will excuse me if I do not try to pronounce the Welsh part of her Title), said that it was rather an extraordinary thing that Christians and Humanists were joining together in various researches into these difficult problems. I do not think it is an extraordinary thing at all. It would be extraordinary only on the basis of there not being a real core of religion in the Humanist movement, which there very much is. That is why we are in it. The fact that we do not accept the creed in which other religious people believe does not mean that we do not have these religious emotions, or that our lives are not to a large extent directed by religious emotions just as are those of Christians, Moslems, Buddhists and other deeply religious people.

My Lords, I think that these sections of the 1944 Act which impose two different compulsions on the schools in religious matters are in fact the main flaws—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Willis, demonstrated convincingly—in this otherwise very great Statute; an all-Party Statute, as I was very glad the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, emphasised in his speech. He explained, in a speech which was very intelligible to any politician, the tactical motives which led to the inclusion of these two sections in the Act, and it was very understandable. If the noble Lord could not get his settlement without them, I think that few of us would blame him for including them. But surely the innuendo of his speech was that this situation having disappeared meanwhile, the case for retaining in the Act at any rate the compulsory side of this settlement has gone, and the sooner we redress this matter—as indeed the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was arguing—the better.

The noble Viscount movingly described the mood of penitence, and indeed of trust, with which Parliament looked forward into a future in which it hoped that these two religious sections would help us to surmount the difficulties which were obviously before us. I can quite understand that feeling, and I have a great deal of sympathy with it. The noble Viscount then remarked, rather drily, that of course this trust had failed completely. I must say I thought he might have dotted the i's and crossed the t's a little more in respect of that, because this compulsory establishment of religion in the schools was actually a prelude to twenty of the worst years we have ever had in the history of our country, from the point of view of the growth of crime, and from the point of view of selfishness extending itself to all parts of society and with an enormous increase in immorality.

Religion was made compulsory in schools, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, himself pointed out, for the first time in the history of education in this country, and that was followed by those twenty years. I am not saying it was due to the compulsory establishment of religious teaching and religious worship in the schools set up by that Act; it obviously was not. But surely it does show how futile it is to try to improve people and to train them in the right ways by legislation of this kind. It just does not work.

My Lords, before I make my own small contribution in rather more detail to this question of compulsory worship and compulsory religious training in the schools, I should like to add a suggestion to the proposals which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, made and which has, in fact, been hinted at by my noble friend Lord Willis. It was, I think, the only part of what the noble Lord said with which the noble Baroness opposite found herself in agreement. It is the problem of the single school area, which is one of the worst blemishes on this settlement which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, described, because it has meant that Church of England schools in rural areas of the country are the only schools which are available. Some of them are controlled and some are aided; I do not think it really matters into which group they fall. But it is giving rise undoubtedly to a great deal of difficulty, and it is a matter which I think could be put right very simply and quickly in advance of the wider inquiry for which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is asking; and it ought to be part of the next Education Bill which comes before Parliament.

It has been emphasised by almost every speaker this afternoon that these two compulsory elements, religious instruction and acts of worship, are really two quite different things, and I think they need to be considered separately from each other. Of them I think that the act of worship is the one which is quite indefensible. Religious instruction is not the same thing as religious education, and while we Humanists are quite happy with religious education we object to religious instruction, particularly when it is in fact instruction in the Christian religion, which is not religious education at all. It is certainly one of the least satisfactory features of the situation, especially at the present time, because we are still the centre of a Commonwealth in which the vast majority of the citizens are not Christians at all.

Over the past years we have, as has been mentioned more than once this afternoon, seen a very large number of fellow subjects coming here, particularly from Pakistan, India and other parts of the Commonwealth, and becoming a substantial portion of the population of quite large areas of some of our biggest towns. As the noble Baroness said, there are many of the children who are not Christians at all, and it is only right that they should be withdrawn from religious instruction; but it really destroys the community life of a school if you withdraw half the children in this way. I must say that I did not agree with the noble Baroness in her approach to this difficult part of the subject.

As the debate went on, it was interesting to note how many of your Lordships were opposed to the compulsory act of worship. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London himself went a very long way in that direction when he said that when the act of worship was objected to compulsion was wrong, and if everybody wanted it there was no need for compulsion. I think that makes the case against compulsion. Those who want to have an act of worship of this kind can have it—there is no reason at all why they should not. It could be divorced, as more than one speaker has pointed out, from the school assembly, in which all the children in the school certainly ought to take part because that is an example of the community spirit showing itself. But it seems to me quite wrong to link this assembly very closely with an act of worship which many of them do not want and which in fact repels them, or which they do not bother about and consider a thing of no particular value or interest.

There is no difficulty. At the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges there are chapels, and those who feel compelled make use of them for their devotions. The great majority no longer go, except possibly on special occasions, and then not in a religious spirit but in a community spirit, which is a different thing. I remember that at the London School of Economics, which is not notorious for being a home of religion, the late Director, Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, made provision of a small sort of chapel, so that those students who were religiously inclined might have somewhere to go where they could be alone with themselves, with their consciences and with their religious thoughts.

Compulsion really defeats itself. This has been evidenced in the United States of recent years. There have been a number of decisions in the Supreme Court in which compulsory religious worship in the schools has been declared contrary to the Constitution. But nobody would say that religion was not active and strong in the United States. My own impression is that Christianity is a good deal stronger there than it is in this country. Christianity is strengthened by working in a free community rather than under a system of compulsion such as exists here under the Education Act 1944.

With regard to withdrawing children, I find myself entirely with my noble friend Lord Willis on this matter. It is an act of cruelty for a parent to withdraw a child in this way and take it out of the community life of the school, even for a comparatively short time. The noble Lady, when she condemned my noble friend's view, must have forgotten her own childhood and how extraordinarily sensitive children are about being separated like this. It is the time when they are most completely members of the community. If it is the parents, on whom they rely for the love on which they depend for so much of their lives, who withdraw them in this way, then there is a terrible division between their love of their parents and the respect which they have for their teachers and the community life which is built up for them in the school. That is something to which they ought not to be subjected. The only way of stopping it is to remove the compulsory element and let those who wish to worship do so separately from the other children.

One of the worst sides of all this to me is that it subjects children to what is no more nor less than a living lie. They know quite well that their parents never go to church and do not believe in this worship, yet these children hear at school these truths, so-called, set out by the authorities at the school, and may even be told that they will go to hell if they do not accept. They are being asked, in effect, to believe that the fathers and mothers whom they love are in danger of going to hell if this is true. This establishes a conflict to which no child ought to be subjected. One of the reasons why our public life at the moment is in such a state from many points of view is because there is so much falsity about of this kind, and the sooner we get rid of it the better.

On the question of religious education, I hope that this afternoon Humanists have made it clear beyond doubt that there is no objection in the Humanist movement to a proper system of religious education. What we dislike is the concentration of this upon the propaganda for Christianity—because that is what it comes to. As my noble friend Lord Willis has pointed out, religion is one of the greatest of all spiritual manifestations in human history, and he is a poor Humanist—he is not a Humanist at all—who does not understand that and appreciate it. I sometimes think that the Humanists are just as religious as Christians and are often a good deal more aware of the importance of Christianity and a great deal more interested in the subject of religion than many Christians. I remember Beatrice Webb once saying that what she was most interested in when she met anybody was what he thought about religion. That comes from a great woman who was well known not to be a believer. I should say that she was not in any way unusual in that outlook.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord has read the recent life of Mrs. Webb, but if he has, I think he will realise that it would be false to talk about her as a woman without belief and, by implication, a woman not concerned with religion.


My Lords, I have just been trying to explain that Humanists are as religious as anybody else. I heard Beatrice Webb say this myself. She was a Humanist, and she had no belief in orthodox religion. I have not seen this recent book, but I saw a lot of Beatrice Webb, and if the author of this book says that she believed in orthodox religion he does not know what he is talking about. She always said her prayers, and there are Humanists who pray, because you do not necessarily have to pray to God. It is a way of communing with yourself, of searching out your spiritual life and trying to make it better. It is not at all uncommon among Humanists; and Beatrice Webb was a very great Humanist.

It is not surprising that many children wish that religious education should go on in schools. Childhood is the period when one is most susceptible to the emotion of religion. I can remember that in my own case. The noble Lady was talking about the Crusades. There were two great Crusades of children in the 12th century, in which 30,00 children, led by a boy of 12, marched across France to take ship to the Holy Land, that they might win Jerusalem back; and another large number went from Germany. They were imbued with the tremendous religious emotion which swept over Europe at that time. There is no question that children are more susceptible to religious emotion than adults, and it is not unusual that they should feel in this way. But it is wrong to use this emotional stage in order to propagand Christianity by not giving them a wide and deep view of what religion has meant in history.

After all, Socrates, to whom my noble friend Lord Willis referred, was just as great a religious figure as Buddha or Christ. He was one of the beings whom every Humanist, and every really religious person, should venerate in his heart. This is, I think, common to us all. My noble friend Lord Soper says that Humanism stems from Christianity. Of course, part of it does; but a great deal of Christianity also stems from the Greek philosophers and from the religions which were endemic in the Mediterranean. What we have to realise is that these things are all part of the great human build-up. That is why we call ourselves Humanists. We do not want to confine it to something like Christianity, which, however splendid and far-reaching it may be, does not spell out the whole of the matter for us.

7.51 p.m.


My Lords, I have always been sorry for the atheists. Every half-naked savage in an African rain forest has his god and his hereafter. The atheists, particularly as they get on in years, must feel a great lack of something when they realise that soon they are going to disappear from this earth and they have not a Maker to meet. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, fired off the most controversial speech that I have ever heard in this House, and then promptly bolted. Quite frankly, I think that this is treating the House with contempt. He talked an awful lot of "bosh" about the Bible. If he cared to study things a little more, he would know that there is a background of truth to all the most unlikely fables in the Bible. We even know now how the very cunning Israelites got down the walls of Jericho. As for this long diatribe about the imposition put on any people who wish to opt out of religious service, I wondered whether noble Lords on that side were considering the appalling handicaps that a Conservative workman labours under if he wishes to opt out of political levies.

I am going on to a slightly more mundane theme and raising the subject of filthy lucre. Nobody has denied that an enormous number of parents would like their children to be educated in and, if possible, to follow, the Christian beliefs, but if not that, then at least to be educated in Christian ethics. What the best means of arriving at that end is, I do not pretend to know—and great experts have been making speeches on this the whole afternoon. But I do know that in Sussex, at all events, a large number of parents—and I should say the majority—whether or not they believe themselves, want their children to go to a Church of England school. But they cannot always do so because there are not enough Church of England schools. For instance, it is difficult to get a place at a Church of England primary school in Horsham, which is my nearest largest town.

Speaking in very round figures, in Sussex we have 1 million people, and one-tenth of them are communicants of the Church of England. I think some of the speakers in this debate might be reminded that Christianity, owing to the highness of its ideals and the difficulty of living up to them, has always been a minority religion; and it always will be. In Sussex, we have about 150,000 school children, 90,000 in primary schools and 60,000 in secondary schools. Of these, the Church of England provide places for 20,000 primary, and a little under 4,000 secondary. Our proportion of primary pupils is not bad; but on the secondary we are not doing very much in Church schools, though, of course, we have good friends in the State schools. But the population of Sussex is increasing. Why, therefore, do we not meet the need for new school places by more Church schools, particularly at the secondary level?

The agreement with the State is a generous one. The Church's share has decreased from 25 per cent. of the capital for a new school to 20 per cent. But unfortunately, owing to the rise in the cost of building, that 20 per cent. in many cases represents more than 25 per cent. did some years ago in actual hard cash. As Chairman of the Chichester Diocesan Dilapidations Boards, naturally I should like to be able to produce many more secondary school places; but one is up against the money factor the whole time. The fact is that a secondary school of 1,000 pupils runs away with something of the order of £500,000, and the church's share of that is £100,000. The only way of getting it is either by a general appeal, or by borrowing on 30-year annuity terms, which means about £8,000 a year for 30 years. If one scrapes up capital and spends diocesan capital it merely means that one is foregoing the interest on that capital.

I speak of schools of 1,000 pupils, as that is the number for which we provided in the last school that we built, which was at Crawley New Town. But will this be large enough next time? Comprehensive education is all the rage, and in the big towns along the coast, when they get down to finalising their educational plans, is it not likely that the secondary level will be schools of 2,000 pupils, which would cost the Church £200,000, or £16,000 a year? We are endeavouring to finance the school in Crawley as part of a general appeal for mending the Cathedral, building churches in new housing areas, and so on. I am sorry to say that this particular element of the appeal has not proved at all popular; in fact, it is something of a financial Cinderella at the moment. If you cannot raise the capital, it means that you have to borrow; and if you add a 2,000 pupil comprehensive school to your existing commitments to a diocesan budget you end up with an educational commitment of something like one-third of the present annual levy on the parishes. And that would serve only one area; other areas would come along with an equal claim.

The reaction of people in general is: "We pay huge sums to the State for education. Why should we pay more to educate other people's children in other parts of the diocese? "This may be a bit selfish, but it is quite understandable when you consider that the parents want to send their children to a Church of England school; and I have not the slightest doubt that the vast majority of them would pay a few pounds a year for the privilege of doing so. But in modern thinking that is out. Any parents who want to spend a little more money in order to give their child what might be called an educational advantage are frowned upon; the poor child may be getting a slight start over the child of the parents who waste all their money on beer, "baccy" and bingo. That is a method by which I am quite convinced schools could be financed. I hope that the obstacles and difficulties will eventually be resolved, and that parents will be able to get the education they want for their children.

It is, of course, greatly to the interest of the State that we should be able to provide more places. After all, not only is the element of money provided by the Church not to be sneezed at, but I think one can say that if what we claim, and what people believe—that the pupils in a Church school have a better chance of learning about Christian religion, becoming Christian, and so on—is true, they may well find that they do not clutter up the queue for all the sedatives and tranquillisers and the like which the State is pouring out at enormous cost. And that is an argument which should appeal to the Treasury.

8.1 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that nobody has stayed to this very late hour solely in the hope of hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, because she has unfortunately been unable to stay. So what you are going to get instead is me. I shall try to compensate for that by making my speech short. I should like, before I say the few things I want to say, to repeat what everybody has said: how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for introducing a subject which nobody can say has not produced a pretty wide and pretty stimulating debate, in which most things have been said that are really relevant to the subject, and could be said within a few minutes.

The other thing I should like to join with other speakers in doing is in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Sackville, on his maiden speech. I do not know whether, if he reads this and if it is printed right, he will believe me when I say it was the best maiden speech I have had the privilege of hearing in this House. That may be partly because I agreed with a great deal more of what he said than perhaps with certain others of your Lordships. But I do not think anybody could deny that he said it quite admirably, and we all look forward to hearing what he will say on future occasions, when he will be, I hope, even more controversial.

The subject of this debate is the teaching of religion in schools, and there has been a little tendency to get away from that. I should like to take as a text what I believe I am right in saying the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said at the beginning of his excellent introduction to this debate. If I got the words wrong I think nevertheless that the meaning is right. He said, talking of the object of religious education, that we are not trying to turn out Christians as the Russians turn out Communists; we are trying to turn out people who can make up their own minds. I, like everybody else in your Lordships' House, certainly agree with that, to the extent that we are not trying to turn out Christians as one turns out blancmanges in a mould, for, I think, the simple reason that you cannot turn out Christians like that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, said, a Christian is not a blancmange but someone who has to stand alone, on his own, and if he fails to do that he is not a Christian. A Communist, on the other hand, is someone who has to change his mind with bewildering rapidity, and a blancmange, I think, would make to some extent very satisfactory fodder for that.

It raises a very difficult question of what one means by teaching. If I may put it in the form of an analogy, supposing by some nightmare I had to teach tennis at any form of boys' or girls' school, I would not, I think, undertake a job which implied that I was a good tennis player, although I like tennis. I would not teach it in the sense of getting on to a court and saying, "Watch me, and do this". I should be more tempted to get on to a court and say. "Watch me and do almost everything I do not do". But there is another way in which tennis could be taught. It may sound terribly elementary, but I think I would undertake, with a little thought, to teach it in this way—by telling the pupils what the game is about. I would explain that it was played with a racquet and with balls, and in a rather negative way the object of the game was not to collect all the balls on one side of the net and keep them there; it was not to hit the ball into the net, but over it, but not to hit it so far over that it went over the pavilion and into the far landscape, and so on. This would be teaching them that there were limits, obstacles and certain rules.

That is also one way of teaching religion—a religion; and at the moment we are talking about the Christian religion. There may be arguments as to what particular form of tennis one is teaching, whether it is lawn tennis or court tennis. If one is teaching in that way, it is not quite such a bewilderingly high standard of teaching as the teaching involved if one is doing it in the way that I think the Humanists feel religion should be taught, or in showing what is a perfect Christian. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, but at any rate one of the eloquent speakers for Humanitarianism, who implied that every teacher in the schools is not a perfect Christian. I do not think that any Christian would quarrel with that. In fact, I think that is one of the few fundamental tenets of the Christian religion. It is because they are imperfect that Christianity is wanted and needed. I very much sympathised with the noble Lord, Lord Sackville, who wished to introduce the word "dogma" into this debate. Dogma, as I understand, is a Greek word for something agreed. An agreed syllabus is dogma, if anything is; and it is not, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, as I think he implied, saying something in a loud voice, dressed in a "dog collar".

I think there is the same difficulty with the word "indoctrinate", which evidently is a dirty word, because each of your Lordships who has spoken about it has made it clear that he does not want to indoctrinate people, but only to teach them. I think there is a philological distinction. I am not quite clear about where indoctrination begins and teaching stops, or what are the implications of indoctrinating; but I imagine it means teaching something with which you do not yourself agree, or relates to something you do not agree with which is taught by other people. That is indoctrination. Whether it is indoctrinating a child to tell it that it is better to speak the truth than to lie is a question which arises in the whole teaching of morals. I think that whether one is teaching Humanism or teaching any religion, children of a certain age have to be told those things. Later on, as has been pointed out, they can make up their minds whether they agree.

That brings me to the second point I want to raise, which is about the different forms of teaching for different ages. It has been suggested, and a good case has been made out for saying, that religion ought not to be taught in primary schools at all, because children at that age are too young to understand religious concepts. They are, of course, too young to understand other concepts. In the Plowden Report, the Minority section at the end dealing with a Minority view, Professor Ayer and others said that you could not teach children theology, and religion without theology was really rather pointless; therefore, that should come later. I am not entirely convinced that one cannot teach small children theology, if it is done with imagination. I know of many quite small children who enjoy the books of C. S. Lewis, which are in the form of fairy stories but which are in fact theology, although the children do not know it. Certainly, the stories are put across in a sympathetic form and present theological doctrines. That may be right or wrong, but I know it works.

Clearly, in teaching small children at a primary school one has to appeal to their imagination, and I very much agree with those noble Lords who have said that it does not matter if they do not understand it at the time. It is like planting a seed. I was delighted when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London pointed out that the soil represented by children taking that sort of seed is enormously more fertile than that of adults. In the very little experience I have had of—I do not think one could call it religious teaching, but producing Nativity plays in primary schools in a country village where I lived, I was amazed how quickly the children entered into the spirit of the thing. Although their parents were not churchgoing people, the children enjoyed it and were able to put in touches which few adults would have been able to do, both artistically and, I can only say, doctrinally. They seemed to realise instinctively what it was all about.

May I return to the tennis analogy in connection with teaching religion? Simply teaching the rules and saying, "This is Christianity; believe this but do not believe that", is arguable; and it would be quite useless to teach tennis in that way if the children you were teaching had no prospect of playing tennis later on. If they had such a prospect then I quite agree with what has been said; but if they do not choose to play it afterwards no great harm is done—they know what it is. I think there is a danger in saying that tennis is not the only game; after all, there are netball and polo; let us teach them all these games, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Willis, wanted to do. In the first place that would be a highly expensive operation—getting away from the analogy. The number of different sects and creeds, even in the encyclopædia of religious history, is enormous, and I think it would be pointless to cover more than a very few, and those at a later stage.

One has either to have no religious teaching or to implant some ideas early. The real problems come at the secondary stage, and it seems to me that the importance of teaching the meaning of Christianity is shown by at least two things, and they are the only things that I will mention. One is the excellent answer which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, gave us of a small girl, about 6 or 7 years old, who when asked, "How can we learn about the redemption of sin?" said, "We first have to learn how to sin". I think it was pretty clear that her idea of sin came from television and meant a very specialised form of sinning. If sinning merely meant doing the wrong thing, I am afraid that one of the reasons for Christianity is that none of us ever has to learn how to sin: it comes naturally to us. And I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that this is one reason why any religion worthy of the name will really be a minority religion, because it is a resistance movement against something we all want very much to do. The best Christians and Humanists and Mohammedans—the best people of every religion—feel it is very difficult not to do it, and they need some help in not doing it.

I think there is a great misunderstanding in the minds of some Humanists, one at least of whom, the noble Lord, Lord Willis, made some startling remarks about the object of Christianity. I think it is put quite clearly in one of the Gospels by Christ, who is reputed to have said, "I am come to heal not those who are well but those who are sick". And when the noble Lord, Lord Willis, asked whether any of your Lordships would get up and say that a Christian was a better man than a Buddhist, of course I do not think any noble Lord would do so. On the contrary, it is the worst people who, rightly or wrongly, believe that they need Christianity more, because one of the articles of the faith is that it gives one outside help. That may be right or it may be wrong. One cannot teach it on any other basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, spoke about praying, but not praying to God. That did not leave me very much wiser. I know that people have prayed to everything, from crocodiles to sacred trees, to themselves—which I think is the worst form. It seems to me to be awfully difficult to justify the teaching of all these religions together at an early age and then allowing children to pick from them. If we hunt for one religion which is traditional to this country it is Christianity. Teach that and allow children later on to make up their own minds. I believe that is what education is for. When I say that it is a resistance movement, it is resisting a great many things and will have to resist a great many more. But there is no difficulty in people learning what they have to resist, because it is plugged at them every day in every civilisation, and particularly in our own.

I shall say only one more thing, because I realise how late it is. There is the saying in one of the Books of the Prophets, "Where there is no vision the people perish". That does not apply to television, but it means that you have to see things which are not easy to see if a country is going to survive and keep its soul. I think St. Paul put it into words: The things that are seen are temporal; the things that are not seen are eternal". Teaching religion means teaching about eternal things, and the reason that it needs teaching is because people do not see it unless they are shown the way to look. I apologise to your Lordships for having spoken so long and I will not detain your Lordships further.

8.19 p.m.


My Lords, I trust the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, will forgive me if I am unable to follow him along his line of philological intricacy. However, I would agree with him that one can have religion without theology. I would go all the way with him in that regard, and indeed I would go a little further and say that pure theology is a somewhat fertile ground for the growth of Humanism.

We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and I should like to express a personal gratitude to him for having raised this debate. As a Scot, at the start of this debate I had but a slender knowledge of how you order these things in England. However, one lives and learns, and I am now much better informed than I was. It certainly seems to be a little bit of a state of chaos, and perhaps I might be forgiven if I were to tell you something about how we do these things in Scotland. It is a most curious fact that Scotland, with so turbulent a history of religious intolerance, appears to-day to have no major problem of religious education. Not only did John Knox (one cannot start anything in Scotland on education except with John Knox, so your Lordships must forgive me) and his reformers aim at a church and minister in every parish, but they also aimed at having a school and a schoolmaster. Knox's own words were, "Order their schools in Christ". Here was the guide-line of Scottish religious education.

They were considered a century later, in the year 1696, which was the first Scottish Parliament of King William and it was laid down that the minister and heritors were responsible for the parochial schools, and these were inter alia to give instruction in religion to children whose parents did not object. That was before the Act of Union. Two hundred years later, in 1872, the Scottish Education Act confirmed the liberty of parents to elect that their children should not receive religious education. The system worked well and it was said that "the religious difficulty in education has been solved". That was said in Scotland, and accepted one hundred years ago.

The principles were reaffirmed in the 1918 Act and again in 1929 when the education authorities, as we know them now, were put under the local authority. It was then made illegal for a council to discontinue the provision of religious education in a school. It could not force the abandonment of religious education. At the same time, the Secretary of State for Scotland was prohibited by Statute from inspecting religious instruction in the schools and from making grants in aid. The responsibility for religious education devolved on the parish minister and on the head teacher.

I have not the exact figures, but roughly speaking one-tenth of the schools in Scotland are sectarian; that is, Episcopal or Roman Catholic. The rest of the schools have a Presbyterian, usually a parish minister, nominated as the school chaplain. His work is not defined. It is a matter for adjustment between him and the head master. In some cases, ordained ministers are giving religious education, but this is now regarded as most undesirable unless the minister has qualifications to teach, as indeed most of the full-time school chaplains have. In these schools religious instruction is given by teachers who are desirous of giving it, and it is now regarded as almost essential that these teachers should have qualified in a course in religious education. This is a point the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, made, and it is one which is being stressed very strongly by the Education Institute in Scotland. For this qualification, I would add, no extra payment is made. In other words, the schoolteachers who are Christians, and feel they have a vocation for it and an urge to do it, are the ones who do the religious instruction.

For many years there has been quietly and efficiently working in Scotland a Joint Committee on Religious Education which includes representatives of the Churches other than the Roman Catholic, together with representatives of the Education Institute of Scotland and representatives of the county councils. The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, brought up the question that I was waiting for: the question of the "O" level examination for the G.C.E. This is another piece of good fortune which we have in Scotland, that we have a basic freedom from examinations in Divinity. Teacher opinion in Scotland is strongly opposed to this, and I think it is felt that if we were to introduce examinations we should be trying to establish a standard of measurement for something which cannot be measured. We in Scotland are reluctant to think that religion can be a sub- ject in which good honest children could fail and in which clever little rascals could pass.


My Lords, I quite agree there is a great deal in that point of view.


My Lords, I do not want to sound complacent or self-righteous, but religious education in Scotland has been gradually evolved without any particularly marked step forward at any particular period. At the educational level the Churches have been adjusting their shibboleths and their prejudices, and for three centuries there has been remarkably little conflict. With the drawing together of the Churches in Scotland, there is, I am glad to say, a very much better understanding, and in achieving this I think the tolerance displayed at the educational level has been of significant importance.

I have just one little postscript that I am going to add. I am a little hesitant about it, but I should like to make it. The principles of religious education, as we have them to-day in Scotland, were established, as I said, before the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. This poses the question whether, if this had not been done, our arrangements for religious education to-day would have been so far ahead, as I think they are, of the condition in England and Wales. For 400 years religion has not been a compulsory subject in Scotland. We have had complete flexibility for many years. The matter rests with the head teachers and the ministers of the parish. There is nothing imposed from above, nothing imposed by directors of education, no inspectors any more. When, to-morrow afternoon, the trumpets sound in another place—perhaps I should say the bagpipes—it cannot be because Scotland has at any time or in any way since the Act of Union been hindered by Westminster in developing, in her own way, her own peculiar genius in education.

8.29 p.m.


My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, on putting down this Motion. It has been an extraordinarily interesting debate to listen to, and I hope it will produce some useful results. I speak as a rationalist and a humanist. I had hoped that all the points I had in mind would be made by the preceeding speakers on that side, but they have not been and I hope that what I have to say will add to and reinforce something of what they said. I would go a little further than my noble friend Lord Francis-Williams and say that the first thing I would observe about religious teaching is that it does not necessarily teach people to be good.

Honourable, upright, generous behaviour is so often termed "Christian behaviour", and a compassionate act is called a "Christian act", and so on. I am glad that that is so. But it is far from being the truth that Christians have a monopoly of such behaviour. Indeed, some of the most admirable men throughout the ages, and many of the goodest and kindest men that I have known, among them my own father, have been atheists or agnostics. Have they, as my noble friend Lord Soper suggested, been taught these virtues by Christianity, or are these virtues, as my noble friend Lord Chorley suggested, the older values?

As my noble friend Lord Willis said, when one thinks of some things which have been done in the name of Christianity, it seems that it is the way that it is interpreted and taught, and how it is understood which matters greatly, for it is not a code of conduct. Theologians and preachers have always interpreted and re-interpreted Christianity in the light of contemporary thought and behaviour, sometimes leading and sometimes being led. Though it would be quite wrong, and I would not agree, to say, as some people say, that religion should not be taught at all, I am sure that every Christian in your Lordships' House would agree that the approach to the subject is most important.

I think I should say this: that although there are large numbers of sectarian and denominational schools, and many of our older schools had a religious foundation, the Church was not always so indentified with learning. When some monks stormed the great library in Alexandria in the year A.D. 405 and burned the books, they dealt a fearful blow to the development of science and technology, medicine and philosophy. And other similar contemporary acts of mistaken zeal nearly destroyed the study of these subjects in the Western world for many hundreds of years until the influence of Arab Spain set things going again—which, of course, is why our doctors still write in Arabic. We do not know what would have happened if things had been left to jog along as they were, nor how they would have developed.

This is a most complex matter on which to make a simple judgment, but I think it is true to say that the light of scientific knowledge from the Moors, the revival of Greek and Latin literature, combined together to burst out from under the stifling dogmatism of the contemporary Church to produce what is now called the Renaissance, although it was not exactly a rebirth but was something entirely new in the history of the world.

Looking back on the progress of mankind in the Christian era, I think there is one lesson in particular to be learned. It is that dogma—and by "dogma" I mean inviolable truth—in Christian teaching has appeared to the Church at or of the time to be its greatest strength; but it has so often turned out to be its greatest weakness, because dogma cannot alter, whereas ideas can. It must be the most agonising thing to find oneself having to abandon a dogma which has been left high and dry when the course of the river of life has changed. But I am one of those who favour the teaching of Christianity if it stimulates the mind and encourages acceptable social behaviour. Perhaps it is a useful means of putting across ideas of ethical behaviour in a country where traditionally "religion" means Christianity. But if it is to be alleged that religious instruction—that is, Christian instruction—should be given because it is bound to make a child a better person, then, as I have said, I do not agree.

As I believe in freedom of thought and, where possible, freedom of choice, I am with those like the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who say that something should be taught about all religions, and that the compulsion should be abandoned. As my noble friend Lord Willis said, it is quite wrong to teach as undisputed truth something which is not undisputed truth. By abandoning compulsion we shall move towards a more healthy situation where the churches will be filled with converts and not indoctrinates, and an atmosphere will be created, not of anti-religion—I am not anti-religious—but of free thought where children will be encouraged, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said, to find out things, and to learn to think for themselves.

8.37 p.m.


My Lords, there exists to my knowledge a series of four books on religious knowledge widely used in secondary schools and accompanied by a teachers' book. In the teachers' book the very first note of all begins with this unexceptionable sentence: The object of the religious knowledge lesson is to teach children to know, love and serve God. Ten pages later, no more, there appears a kind of diagram explaining the relationship between the Hebrews, the Israelites and the Jews. Surely something has slipped. Does this ethnological note really come as early as this in the process of teaching children "to know, love and serve God"? It is as though in teaching someone to drive a car one were to begin with a dissertation on the difference between Rolls and Royce. I think it is somewhat like that, and that it will induce probably much the same reaction, which, alas! is boredom. Religious education has come to mean almost anything, from the tribes of Israel and Judah to sexual morality, from the doctrine of Atonement to Jonah and the Whale. In short, the whole subject of religious education is shot through with muddle and confusion.

Noble Lords who have studied both the Plowden and the Newsom Reports may perhaps have noticed that neither of them mentions in so many words the teaching of religion. Plowden speaks of "giving religious education." Newsom speaks of "giving religious instruction", as in the Act, and includes it under the general heading of "Spiritual and moral development". But—and here I quote from the Spells Report on Secondary Education of 1938: If religious instruction is to have a place of any kind in the curriculum, it should be as well taught and as effectively planned as any other branch of study. On which Harold Loukes comments in his book New Ground in Christian Education. And it must be taught as religion, and not as either literature or ethics. We do not "give historical education" or "give arithmetical instruction". We teach history and arithmetic; and those words, and not "H.E." or "A.I.", are the words that we write in our timetables. I suggest that we might similarly try writing "religion" in the timetable where we now write the more or less meaningless "R.E.". But what will happen if we do? Immediately we shall find that the subject that we formerly called "R.E." has been split into two parts. The first part is religion as such, and the second part is spiritual and moral development.

I propose to consider for a moment the former part, religion, alone; and, since it is necessary to be selective, to consider it only in connection with secondary schools. It would be a helpful exercise if noble Lords would agree to imagine with me that at present religion is not taught in secondary schools at all and that we are considering how to go about it. The first thing we have to decide is what it is that we mean to teach. I see no need, at this stage, for any precise definition of "religion", beyond the fact that it has to do with God and eternity—or, in the words of Newsom, "with the relationship between Man and his Maker". In other words, to put the matter bluntly, we are proposing to try to teach children about God. At once we are confronted with difficulties of a kind and a magnitude that bedevil no other subject. For how are we to teach children about God in a world that seems largely to have turned its back on Him?

This is a point to which everyone must come. The question is, what do we do next? My Lords, I submit that there is very little doubt about what almost everyone has done so far. He has seen the difficulties, tried to assess and recognise them for what they are, accepted them as unavoidable and taken them into greater or less account in formulating his educational schemes only to find that before long the House of Lords is de-bating the reasons for his failure. But there may be another way. Will any of your Lordships, faced with a tree blown down across his drive, laboriously make gaps in his hedge so that he may drive his car through a field to reach the main road? I doubt it. I think he will send for men with axes and saws to remove the tree. So with teaching religion to children. There are obstacles in the way. Very well, let us inspect the obstacles and see whether they can be removed before we start. The chief of them can be reduced in number, I believe, to only three, of which the first two are: the nature of the children themselves, and the materialism of the age. I hope to convince your Lordships that it is necessary to place them in that order.

First, then, the children—that is to say, the children of secondary school age. We come at once to what I take to be question one: why is it so much more difficult to teach religion to children now than it was two or three generations ago? The perhaps remarkable answer is that there exists a singular barrier of communication between us and them. We cannot talk to them as our parents and teachers talked to us. Why not? Because the children have changed, and changed in a way and to an extent that we have not fully understood—perhaps not even noticed. For by "change" in the case of the children, I do not mean simply modification, so that what we have now is a more up-to-date model, so to speak, of what we had before: I mean that what we had before has disappeared, vanished never to return, and in its place we have something quite different and altogether new. I believe that we have actually witnessed the end of an epoch of human evolution and the beginning of a new one. Of course the process has been gradual, but the point is that it has happened and it has only just happened. The secondary school child of to-day is not simply his immediate ancestors brought up to date. He is a stage farther along the evolutionary path, and his mind works in a different way.

Perhaps the most striking manifestation of this difference, and certainly the most relevant, is that he takes nothing on trust. His mind is analytical: not sceptical or cynical, but analytical. He wants to know why, and he requires a rational answer. An irrational answer, or an answer only partially thought out, will call forth nothing but derision and contempt. These are the first children of the true Age of Reason who will not accept ideas ready-made but have to be convinced. If we accept this development in the nature of the children as the fact that I believe it to be, it follows that, as an obstacle, it immediately disappears. It becomes instead simply something that we have to take into account—something, moreover, which, as I hope to show, we can turn to exceedingly good account.

This brings me to my second major obstacle, the materialism of the age. This is altogether a tougher nut to crack. We can neither abolish it nor turn it into an ally. Can we remove it as an obstacle in our own particular path? I do not know, for the attempt seems never to have been made. It is the one thing the modern educator seems to meet with nothing more effective than an anguished wringing of the hands. But I believe that it could be done, and that the process by which it could be done is itself a process of education. We must show the children that the material world in fact is only half the world. And we must use logic. This is why I put "the nature of the children" first. I believe that, for reasons I have tried to explain, they are quite able to accept such logic, whereas their parents and grandparents were not.

But first, we must accept the logic ourselves and then pass it on. So what is it? I submit that it is this. People in general have a somewhat vague idea that science "knows all the answers." Man appears to have become the master of his own environment and therefore to have no longer any need of religion or of the idea of God. The scientist not only has supplanted the priest as the public mentor, but has also been responsible—though not deliberately, and certainly not culpably—for the obscuring of God in the public consciousness. What has happened is that science has revealed to us the whole of creation as one vast interdependent organisation of cause and effect. We gather that all is governed by what we call laws of Nature, so that every observable effect has a cause that science already knows or is capable of finding out sooner or later. Under such a system any particular cause will always produce the same effect and any particular effect can arise only from the same unvarying cause. Thus there is no room for miracles, since a miracle is an effect produced by some means other than the known necessary cause.

But, my Lords, this argument is fallacious and ought to be exposed, first, if necessary, to teachers, and then by them to the children. True, its exposure will not lead automatically to belief in God, but it will show that there is nothing in science, and therefore nothing in the materialistic world that springs from science, that conflicts with the idea of God; and to that extent the ground will have been cleared and the way ahead made more plain.

We might begin worse than by going back 120 years. If Bishop Wilberforce and others in the 1840s had not been so eager to attack in public the followers of Darwin—inviting, by so doing, their own resounding and inevitable defeat—not only might the clash between science and religion never have arisen, but our own eyes might not have been quite so completely blinded to the fact that we live in the era of the fulfilment of a phophecy: Ask, and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Successful asking, seeking and knocking are, by a sad paradox, precisely the things that have turned the minds of millions away from the Christ who made the prophecy and gave us the promise.

But what in fact have we found? We have found the causes of many things and how to put the knowledge to our own use—but we have found the reason for nothing. Scientists have not found, and do not claim to have found, the first cause of anything at all. They do not even know what electricity is. It amounts to this: that science can tell us a great many of the whats and hows, but never any of the wherefores or the whys. Nor do scientists claim to be able to do so. It is the generality of laymen that has credited them with powers that they neither possess nor claim. And to that extent man's admiration of his own cleverness is based on a misapprehension and is grossly exaggerated.

That being so, it is high time that we, laymen and scientists alike, realised that we are entitled to say this: if one does not know the first cause of anything at all, one is in no position to deny the existence of some unknown first cause that might produce a familiar effect by unfamiliar means, and not only produce it but produce it without in any way upsetting or contradicting the so-called natural laws. In other words, science is in no position to deny the possibility of miracles, or to deny the possibility of obtaining knowledge through Divine revelation, through intuition or any form of extra-sensory perception, by thought-processes alone, by experience obtained in mystical states, or by the aid of prayer. Science simply does not know whether these possibilities exist or not, and is therefore in no position to contradict those who believe that they do.

So let us, and let the children, render unto science the things that are science's, and admit that there is still plenty of room for a world of first causes, of events and processes not observable by technology; for a world entirely outside the time-space continuum within which alone we are able to make observations through the five bodily senses. To argue that the mass of knowledge that we have of the phenomenal world in any way precludes the existence of a noumenal world, is a logical absurdity. There is no logical reason for supposing that the scientist, qua scientist, enjoys a monopoly of wisdom or speaks with greater authority than the visionary, the mystic, the theologian or the priest.

I hope I have indicated a possible treatment of two of the great obstacles confronting the educator in this field. I said that there was a third, and that is one which seriously troubles the children themselves. Now I quote: Unless I am badly mistaken the 'average' R.E. teacher blandly soldiers on without one reference to this staggering fact ever crossing his lips. He never refers to the fact that a good many of the adolescents' mothers, aunts and older sisters, and an absolutely overwhelming majority of their fathers, do not display the smallest concern for religion from end to end of the normal week. Surely, this majestic fact cannot be simply ignored by anyone who talks to adolescents about religion? Does it not need to be explained? The words are from Sir Richard Acland's revolutionary and quite remarkable book We Teach Them Wrong: Religion and the Young.

I have no time to follow either the author's ideas or mine into the solving of this particular problem. I must content myself with a pious hope that the quotation may be taken from Hansard or from the book itself, and posted up in front of every religious teacher in the land. For the problem of convincing a child of the importance of religion, knowing that he is returning immediately to a home that "couldn't care less" is one that the educator at any level has to face.

That brings me to the end of the exercise that I proposed: that of imagining that we were setting out ab initio and trying to remove certain obstacles before planning the way ahead. If I have performed the exercise with any agility at all, we ought now to feel in a position to decide exactly what it is that we mean to do, with some understanding of the kind of child for whom we mean to do it. With a great deal of the muddle and confusion and chaos swept away, we can now, and only now, address ourselves to the task of agreeing on a syllabus that will allow us to say something about the uprising of religious beliefs in general, leading to Divine revelation, and finally to the Incarnation and all that flows therefrom.

Four sentences of summing up, a brief remark and then I have done. We have first to understand that we are dealing with new, analytically-minded children in a new world—a world dominated by science and misapprehensions concerning science. The next necessary step is to understand the nature of this world, in which there seems to be little room for the idea of God; and then to comprehend—and teach—that the power and scope of science are a great deal less than people commonly suppose.

Having thus cleared the ground, we can show not only that there is no contradiction between science and religion, but also that there are vast areas of truth that are not accessible to science at all; and concerning which, furthermore, there exist authorities worthy of no less respectful attention than the scientists. Having done this, having established the possibility of a noumenal world alongside the phenomenal world—a spiritual alongside the physical—we shall be in a position, with all the muddle and confusion swept away, to tackle the working-out of a new technique for the teaching of religion.

My final brief remark is this. The object of teaching religion, as I see it, need not be to turn children into Christians (or Mohammedans or Hindus), any more than the object of teaching, say, history, need be to turn them into historians; that is to say, the teacher who finds himself unable to say, "This is the true faith", should none the less be able to say, "This is what religion is: what many people, Christians particularly, believe." For even if, for one reason or another, we are inhibited from the implanting of belief, shall we not do ill by the children if we do not at least reveal to them that, throughout the whole fabric of the world, there exists a belief in the existence of a personal God and that this belief is at once the origin and driving power of the strongest and deepest tides that ebb and flow within the hearts of men?

8.55 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I hope you will excuse a third speech from these Benches, if only because, in part, the Bishops have always been regarded as the villains of the piece on the question of religious education; and, also, because the Churches, in their organised capacity, have been thought to be concerned primarily with their own aspect of education, or that part of the national system to which they are making, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, and others reminded us, a very costly contribution at the present time.

We are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for the initiation of this debate, and for the constructive way it has been carried on, which I hope will encourage the pursuit of this subject far more widely. From these Benches I must continue to support the retention in some form of the religious sections in the Act, as a compulsory, or, as I should prefer to say, universal element, because I believe that a full and complete education must have a religious element in it.

But I am aware—and it has been made clear to-day—that there are always two particular approaches in criticism to this point of view. One, of course, is the propriety of specific religious teaching, universally, as a kind of indoctrination; and the other is the ineffectiveness of the process when it has been carried out. Obviously, the two arguments are mutually exclusive. There can be no fear of indoctrination if the process is ineffective; and, equally, if it is ineffective then there is no indoctrination. We must, however, look at these arguments again as they have been raised.

I think it is understood by us all that indoctrination is a process of invading by unfair pressures the private choice of individuals, using our resources for their acceptance of a specific viewpoint of life which at that stage they are not mature enough to resist or to make up their own minds upon. This is, I believe, a bogey. I do not say that it has not existed. I do not say that in the days when denominational differences produced acute controversy in the Church it was not in some ways present. I do not say it has not happened in days when authoritarianism regarded this as a normal process. I believe it is said of the great headmaster of Eton, Keate, that on occasion he offered one of his pupils the choice between belief in the Holy Ghost and the cane.

The painful inculcation of any belief is something which we would not support; and, indeed, indoctrination is not something which is possible except within a closed community in which other forces are not at work. In the kind of pluralist modern society in which we live, it would be quite impossible, I believe, even if it was thought by any to be desirable. To-day we would say it is unthinkable that young people should be precluded from making, up their own minds; and, indeed, that is what we all want them to do. But we should like them to make their choice on the most important attitudes they will take in life on the basis of at least some religious knowledge and experience such as they can grasp. We would say to our teachers that their concern in religious subjects is an educational concern, not an evangelistic one. They are there for the exposition of beliefs, but not for the imposition of them.

They would of course say, like any teacher, that in any subject you are taking it must be your desire to win the appreciation and the interest, and even the sympathy, of your pupils if you are going to get anywhere at all in that subject. And they would quite inevitably lay bare their enthusiasm, if they have it, or their own convictions, but only in such a way as preserves the integrity of those with whom they are dealing. The kind of give and take or play of modern methods of education precludes the kind of imposition of doctrines which some people have in mind.

It has been asked: if there is to be the presentation of religious beliefs or ideas, why should they be Christian? Why should they not be those of all religions? I would indeed support the pica that the element of comparative religion should come in, but this is, in a sense, an educational problem. At what stage should it come in? Religion is not something you can view superficially. You cannot begin to understand it at all until you have experienced it a little in depth. The spectacle of young people or children being presented ab initio with a number of different faiths and of having to choose between them without any knowledge or experience of one of them is to me quite unrealistic. This is a later, more mature stage in the process, which certainly we should not wish to discourage in any way.

But, my Lords, the more weighty arguments, I believe, stem from the other aspect of this matter—the opinion, so much expressed and with a good deal of authority behind it, that the processes embodied in these clauses are, in fact, ineffective. We cannot dispute much of the evidence, although I should hope we would make no snap judgments about this, because for each instance of ineffectiveness we could obviously, by any search, find many other instances where the initiative and the inspiration of teachers has produced an interest in the subject such as we should desire. The purpose of making the religious clauses universal is precisely to provide the opportunity for such initiative to operate, and not to make it something more difficult because it has to break through what is normal custom.

But if we were to ask ourselves whether an immediate test as to how much a pupil had learnt is an automatic estimate of the value of that subject, we should be on very weak ground. I have seen a report statistically bearing out the fact that in a certain experimental study of a large number of young students between 16 and 18 the retention of religious knowledge was far higher than the retention of historical knowledge in that particular area. From that, one would not deduce that history is a subject which is not worth teaching We would still claim that it is a subject which ought to be presented to them, for those of them who can avail themselves of it or draw profit from it, although we should not expect all to be equally successful.

The fact that the teaching of any subject is difficult is an educational problem, and we ought not to discard that subject purely for that reason. We should not be deterred from teaching English or mathematics (which are, if not compulsory, just as universal in our education) just because they are difficult, because we believe they are important. We would rather say that if we are not being successful in these fields, the problem ought to be tackled at a greater depth—in the better equipping of teachers, in the provision of the right environment, in a new study of methods, and all that kind of thing. It is an educational process; and this is precisely the way in which we should like to see this issue approached.


My Lords, would the right reverend Prelate excuse me a moment? Would he agree to pupils being taught that the religion they are being taught is not necessarily true?


My Lords, I have not the slightest doubt that, whatever a teacher would say to a pupil, the pupil would reserve the right to ask that question, and would be welcomed in that right, in my judgment, to ask that question; and, indeed, any teacher who tried to brush it off and not meet the questions, the queries and the doubts of the individual—and I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that doubt is, in a sense, an ingredient in faith—would not be worth his place as a teacher.

In this question of the efficiency or more effective methods of religious education, I hope that what has been said from these Benches by the two noble Prelates who have spoken already will be enough for me not to underline further the fact that the Churches are very much alive to this subject and have set in motion a considerable amount of study and research, both centrally and locally in dioceses—study between ministers and teachers, adult education and the like—in order to discover what is our right approach to-day. We are in a ferment (shall we say?) of discussion about it; about the communication of faith in a day when the language and the image of the past has no longer much significance; on the question of the authority, and the basis of the authority, on which one is speaking; on how authority speaks to freedom; and still more the study of the child in the new insights we have into the right approach and method.

All this is going on, and I hope that if we were to say from these Benches that we have not got answers for your Lordships to have now, this might sound more respectable to you than otherwise. If we thought that we had no need to find an answer, that we had it all there already, in the kind of age in which we are living I think you would accuse us of insincerity. We recognise that the modern world opens up deep and significant questions in which we ourselves are involved; and we would say that not only are we ourselves involved in them but we believe that in many ways the State should be involved; that the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, should be taken up more seriously; that here is an educational problem, and that it is one, therefore, which we can tackle only by promoting, if you like, further study, further chances for teachers—a number of the things which have already been referred to by other speakers in this debate.

Within this, may I mention, my Lords, since it has been so very much challenged, the question of worship? It is the Cinderella. It is challenged as being rather more irrelevant. Facts and ideas of religion seem to be of educational propriety, but worship seems to be in quite a different category. We have been reminded in all the major Reports on education that worship has its own particular place. And I noted that Newsom quoted Adam Bede, an author by no means an orthodox Christian, in saying: Religion is something else besides notions. It is not notions that set people doing the right things, it is feelings". I could have quoted from the very impressive survey in the 1950s of religious education in the country which bore out again and again, from the experience of teachers, their sense of the importance of worship, of the opportunities of special co-operation between staff and pupils, and of the fact that it is an integral part of learning. And the Plowden Report said the same. It said that the act of worship should illuminate personal relationships and introduce children to æsthetic and spiritual experience.

Clearly, the approach to this is a very multiform process and so much has been said which was endorsed in the Plowden Report of the importance of the way it is done and where it is done, of the elasticity in applying this principle of worship in such way (whether in small or bigger groups, whether by head teachers or other teachers or by the pupils themselves) that the act becomes a meaningful one. We ought to take note, I believe, of this impressive array from educationists that worship in some form is bound up with religious understanding which otherwise would be purely an intellectual or a factual pursuit.

I suppose it is related more in this way to the art than to the sciences. No one would suppose that a child could be introduced to the wealth of art or the appreciation of beauty simply by having before him the history of art or the technical rulings by which artists have operated. He would want to be presented with works of art themselves and be able to admire them and wonder at them, and also to express in his own way, by some kind of expression, his own artistic responses to them. It is true of the arts and true of religion that there must be a chance of expressing your own responses to an idea (shall we call it?) in order to understand it at all. Therefore, in some way worship is integrated, as in art, with religious understanding. I could have hoped (although it was not mentioned here) that we had not based this idea of religious education so baldly upon instruction, on the one hand, and on acts of worship, on the other; because it covers a greater field.

A television programme last week described the reactions of children at school, as well as adults, to that famous poem of William Blake's, Tyger! tyger! burning bright, and the children's moving reaction to the emotive quality of this little poem. They might have taken that poem through to its end to see how the poet, having studied the "Tyger burning in the night" asked the question: Did He who made the Lamb make thee? and: Did He smile His work to see? Here is a theological question on which we stumble through the aid of the poet. It is a theological question, this whole mystery of suffering and creation. For instance, your Lordships may recall the rather moving little phrase which Shakespeare, in one of his plays, puts into the mouth of Benedict, who is listening to a viol or guitar playing in the background. He says, Is it not strange that cheeps' guts should hale souls out of men's bodies? It is a strange thing. It cannot be answered in purely material terms. We are dealing again with a kind of theological question of the relationship of body and spirit, of matter around us and something behind it. Again and again in the artistic world, the poet's world (and one does not wish to deprive the children of that realm of imagery) they stumble upon questions about life—theological questions. The arts and religion are in a sense partners in this, opening the doors to imagination and our kind of world, mechanical and scientific, which would be poor if we were not trying to make the imaginative windows as wide open as possible. I believe that here worship and the use of arts come closely together.

In conclusion, I suppose that behind these arguments there is the basic one of whether education, to be fully satisfac-factory, should have as its basis any particular view of living at all. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to us as a nation more concerned with morals than with religion. I think he is right, although when it comes to a crisis we turn to religion, not I think for the reason he gave, but because we turn back to our roots at that particular moment and we look back behind the morals to the things that are behind them. We can make a very good case for showing how morals can spring from religion and cite instances where religion has led wrongly—or, shall I say, where the wrong religion has led to certain wrong moral actions. There are also many instances where religion has led to right actions. Perhaps the greatest protest in this century against the Jewish discrimination under Hitler and the apartheid discrimination in South Africa in fact came from people whose motives were not highly moral, but religious in inspiration.

It is a question in the end of what kind of religion, whether good or bad. It can be a kind of Communist faith. Communist education would be like that. It might be a kind of belief in the democratic man, a man who is free to choose anything, for whom all subjects are equally free and all views are equally right—or for that matter equally wrong—but a man of such an open mind that he has no mind to make up at all in the end. There is a danger in this concept of the democratic man which Plato pointed out a long time ago, but I believe that fundamentally, though they may not know how to express it, the bulk of the people in this country have as their basic conception of life what I call the Christian man. They would not always express it dogmatically. Some of them would go the whole way and accept the full faith of the Church. Some would see Christ as a great human pattern, and some of them would simply say (and this is important) that human life is, whatever else it may be, open-ended. It is not just merely what you see by your human relationships and human things. However we put it, there is more to it than that; there is another dimension, and many people would hold on to that.

It is for that reason that we can claim that there should be this basic foundation, however small and inadequate it is, of understanding what is the Christian conception of the dimensions of life. Many agnostics are agnostics from Christian faith and not agnostics generally. Many who doubt or question the Christian faith question it on Christian principles. It is a good thing to have something to rebel against or to question, but without a positive basis so much of the healthy Humanism, the healthy Communism, in the country would, I believe, find itself left high and dry in the air and lose all its power; and therefore there can be a proper debate between us which I hope we can carry on further.

May I say from these Benches that from this debate, which has opened up so many things, I hope we can feel assured that the importance of this subject, which is important in the sense of life itself, is one which we can all take up, and which we shall want to pursue further before, it may be, any question of legislation comes on, as come on it will in time. We may have been optimistic about the immediate results of the 1944 Act, but we have a genius for experiment and for adapting and moving on; and I hope that in this process of searching we shall not be held back, either by the defeatists who say that this cannot be done, or by the open critics who say that it ought not to be done, but that this debate will be pursued very much further.

9.18 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for this intervention, but I feel it rather necessary to pick up two points. One was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, to whose speech I give my full approval, with certain deletions (in fact it could have been made from the Agnostic Benches, if I may say so), and the other point was made by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery.

Lord Eccles pointed out that the compulsory sections of the Act of 1944 were, in fact, introduced under the pressures and compulsions of war; that there was an attitude at that time—I paraphrase the noble Viscount—in which they felt that, somehow or other, the structures of faith and religion should be maintained. The second point was made by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, that we are in fact, without any question whatever, dealing with a completely new generation—I entirely accept the noble Earl's definition—a new evolutionary result. And in fact, the two things are consistent. During the war we went through the powers of hell. We had to reinforce each other, and in the end we had to find some reinforcement which, somehow or other, got written into an Act. The fact is that it has failed, because the compulsory teaching of religion has not met the requirements of the post-war generation. Therefore we have to ask ourselves in this House, in absolute honesty, why it has failed.

The answer is that we have written into an Act and written out of education the whole spirit of inquiry and of analysis which is the demand of a modern generation. As an agnostic, as a scientific humanist, I say sincerely that I have no quarrel with faith. Science is proof without certainty—that is the humility of science. Faith is certainty without proof. And these are not contradictions. People may need faith, but at the same time they have a right to question. We have failed in the post-war world and a great deal of the troubles of our time are due to the fact that we have not got on to the "wavelength" of the younger generation. We have imposed on them a definition beyond the spirit of inquiry which is inherent in the modern generation. Religious teaching in schools has not provided the answers that the modern generation demands.

9.22 p.m.


My Lords, my first duty tonight is to put in something which my noble friend Lord Aberdare left out. He was too modest to give us his credentials. His insight into this subject goes back to his days at Winchester, when he was one of the distinguished winners of the Holgate Prize for Divinity, a distinction which he may share with the right reverend Prelate and with my noble friend Lord Eccles and others who were equally well brought up. What perhaps our Humanists who have spoken to-day do not know is that the book on which he won that prize was by none other than Aldous Huxley. I think that my noble friend really does know what he is talking about when he speaks on the subject, and I am sure we are all grateful to him for introducing it, because it has led to a stimulating debate.

When my noble friend first consulted me about this, I expressed certain misgivings. I was conscious that as a House we are richly furnished with proconsuls, captains of industry and ex-Ministers (we have had three ex-Ministers of Education speaking in this debate alone) but I felt that we were not so richly furnished in up-to-date experience in the classroom. But I think it is true to say that we have been able to make good that lack, because the great ferment which has been going on in religious education—and my noble friend Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte has shown us clearly in her speech what a ferment it is—is well documented. Teachers, researchers and surveyors have been at it for some time now and have set down their findings in considerable detail.

I believe that when teachers come to look at our work to-morrow, they will award your Lordships quite good marks for having done your homework. However well we have done our homework, it is not easy—and my noble friend Lord Eccles put his finger on some of the reasons why—to find the aims of religious education clearly stated in terms that are generally agreed. This doubtfulness about aims has laid teachers of religious education open to attack from all sides from those who think that the teachers have got their objectives wrong. Teachers of religion are attacked—we have heard it this afternoon—by the Humanists for trying to fill the pews in the churches. Teachers of religion are attacked by some of the clergy for failing to fill the pews in the churches. They are attacked for failing to make the children good, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, pointed out, by some parents who think that their only job is to make the children happy. And they are attacked by other teachers who think that their only job is to make them clever.

So I think it is worth examining before we go any further what is the task that has been set to the teachers of religion. The 1944 Act seemed to set them the task of seeing that the schools contributed—and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has already drawn our attention to this—to the moral and spiritual development of the community. But others have taken a very different view, and Dr. Basil Yeaxlee, writing in the 1951 Year Book of Education, defined the aims of religious education in these terms—and these are definitions of the sort which I think the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, would have described as far too ambitious, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham would have described as far too factual, and my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford would have described as far too detailed. Anyway, this is how they were set out some seven years after the Act came into force. The aims should be: To help children to gain during the period of their school life, taken as a whole, an understanding of the whole Bible in outline with, of course, a more detailed knowledge of the Gospels and of the life and teaching of Jesus: an understanding of those truths which all Christian Churches regard as the vital elements of the Christian faith proclaimed in the New Testament and affirmed in the historic Apostles' and Nicene Creeds: some knowledge of the Church, the Christian Ministry and the Sacraments as these are described in the New Testament, and the growth of the Church in the world from the First Century to the Twentieth: the application of Christian teaching to daily person conduct and social relationships: and (for the sixth form) discussion of such questions as religion and science, Christianity and non-Christian religions, Christian ethics and social problems and the like. Above all, the syllabuses provide help not only in the conduct of the daily act of worship required in all schools, but in the teaching of children at every stage in their development what worship means, and how they may practise it, personally and corporately. That at one stage, at any rate, was one definition of the aims of religious education, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is entitled to object if that is so. But I do not think he is entitled on top of that to ask that we should teach about Hinduism, Buddhism and everything else as well. I think we have to look somewhere else for something which is at one time more realistic and more profound than that. I find it in the Crowther Report of 1959, which has been quoted already extensively by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. In this Report, to which he wrote the foreword, called The Communication of the Christian Faith, which the Church Assembly was discussing last week, the Crowther Committee had this to say: The teenagers with whom we are concerned need perhaps before all else a faith to live by. They will not all find precisely the same faith, and some will not find any. Education can and should play some part in their search. It can assure them that there is something to search for; it can show them where to look and what other men have found. I hope that on that definition people with views as different as those of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, could find common ground.

But whatever are the aims of religious education, there are three main factors which bear upon their fulfilment: the children, the syllabus and the teachers. I should just like to take the teachers first, for a moment. As many of your Lordships have said, there are nothing like enough of them. Looking back, we can see—and a survey of secondary schools that has just been completed, but not yet published, by the British Council of Churches certainly confirms this—that all authorities, central, local, Church and State, have been mistaken in thinking that any teacher, or even any clergyman, who was willing to teach religious education has in fact been able to teach it. This has been one of the great big mistakes. Good will, general willingness, has proved not to be enough. Theological qualifications without teaching qualifications have proved not to be enough. And it has resulted in a grave shortage of mature, experienced teachers of religion.

That, in its turn, has had two further bad effects. First of all, it has lead to a very uneven situation in the primary schools, where a few good, experienced teachers are isolated in a few fortunate classes, and some of the work done in the other classes has, in the worst cases, I agree, been almost worse than if none had been done at all. But I do not follow my noble friend Lord Aberdare in saying that, because of that, we have to abandon the teaching of religion in primary schools. The second bad effect is ineffectiveness in the secondary schools and particularly the larger ones, large comprehensive schools, where we have reached the absurd stage of one specialist in "R.E", on his own, trying to teach 300, 400, 500, even 800 children in a week. This state of affairs merely ensures failure right across the board. So much for the teachers.

I should now like to turn for a moment to the children. I think the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who sits on the Woolsack set the problem before us here. Before you can teach anyone, certainly before you can teach children, you must understand the environment from which they come; and the environment to-day is quite different from that of 1944. One is tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, into thinking that it is so different that we can consider these children as being almost different beings. I am not sure that I follow them that far, but I see what they are driving at and I think it a tremendously important factor. I do not believe religious education is going to be effective until much more consideration and thought and care, and more research, are given to this particular factor: the environment in which these children live, the sort of society they come from, what their homes are like and what their parents are like, how they live, and so on. Of all the intractable factors that limit effectiveness of religious education, the children's environment, I believe, is one of the most important.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, pointed out, we have this most confusing paradox. One of the characteristics of this society is that grown-ups in it, by and large, do not go to church, but in their role as parents they all want their children to be taught religion. Why this should be so, and what lies behind it, I do not think we understand.

The second point about the children is: What are they interested in?—because it is only by starting with what they are interested in that we can hope to teach them religion effectively. What they are interested in cannot be ascertained by lecturing to them about facts—and here I believe that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham is absolutely right. It cannot be ascertained by trying to teach them and using outworn authority. I am sure that the Lord Chancellor is right about that. But it can be ascertained by listening to them as they talk and discuss topics of real life. Three or four years ago I very much enjoyed the opportunity of doing this, using Mr. Harold Loukes' book Teenage Religion. I left this experience, feeling that children at the top of the secondary schools are interested in far more worthwhile things at a far more worthwhile level than we often give them credit for, but that, generally speaking, they are not interested in past historical facts. They are not able to handle abstract concepts, but they are intensely interested in the meaning and purpose of life, especially when this can be seen in relation to their own concrete everyday personal experience. Therefore I am sure that effective religious education must start from that. In saying this I am not saying anything new. This is something which we ought to have been able to realise from Our Lord's own use of parables drawn from everyday life in His own day.

But if this is so, what can be said about syllabuses? It has been said in this debate, and many times before elsewhere, that it is the agreed syllabus that is the trouble in religious education to-day. I do not personally believe it, but it is as well to remember (and the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, reminded us of this from his own close experience) that the agreed syllabuses came into being to mark out, as it were, in a particularly skilful way the armistice lines between the denominations and between Church and State as they could be drawn in 1944.

However, a great deal has changed since then. I never thought to hear a Free Church Minister like the noble Lord, Lord Soper, get up and say in public, as he did this afternoon, that in our religious education we must move away from the Bible. This is an extraordinary development since the days of 1944. It is true that the agreed syllabuses have served the denominations better than they have served the children in the classrooms, but I believe that the agreed syllabus still has a role to play in its present form. It can be—indeed, in many cases it has been, notably in the West Riding of Yorkshire—modified to make possible project-centred teaching in primary schools and the lower forms of comprehensive schools, and to make problem-centred teaching feasible and permissible in the fifth and sixth forms. I doubt, however, whether this is a timely moment to rewrite any more agreed syllabuses. I think it is rather the time to encourage the maximum flexibility in their use as they stand, and in applying and using more widely the products of the research that is going on at this moment.

There is another point. Any attempt now to alter the 1944 Act with the agreed syllabuses and morning worship, and so on, would tend to divert attention from the staffroom and the classroom and the colleges of education, which is where the reforms that are most urgently needed have to be handled. It would tend to divert attention from there to the politicians and to the ecclesiastical statesmen, who I would submit are better out of the ring at the moment. Nor do I regard this as the moment to abandon worship at morning assembly, which was another provision of the 1944 Act. Alas! it is indeed sometimes badly done, and the discredit spreads to the whole system. But I would submit that we have had convincing evidence to-day that support for it generally is still strong; certainly from the parents, from the great majority of the teachers, and from the children. In any case, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said, the option to withdraw is there and can be used, and perhaps we ought to look into it to see whether it can be used more sympathetically.

But the fact of the matter is that the British Council of Churches survey into secondary schools, sampling in this particular case schools containing 46,375 children, reported only a total of 909 children, or 2 per cent. being withdrawn. The great majority of those were withdrawn for religious reasons; that is to say, they were Roman Catholics, Buddhists, Moslems or other people withdrawing from assembly in order to conduct their own form of worship. Out of the 46,375, there were only 12 humanists, agnostics and atheists. I sympathise with their point of view. I am anxious that they should not be humiliated or put to any of the inconvenience that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, was talking, about; but I think we really must see a much weightier demand than 12 out of 46,000 before changing our ground on the matter of school worship.

This, of course, is not at all to ignore or disregard the criticism of worship at assembly that is badly done. Rather it is to say that if in a particular school a proper act of worship cannot be made because of the scruples of the teachers or the layout of the place, or overcrowding or something of that kind, let permission be given for it to be dispensed with in that school for a period, but do not let us give it up everywhere because of some isolated local trouble. So I would say that for the time being, at any rate, let us keep the 1944 Act, let the compulsory clause in it remain in so far as it prescribes that religion is to be taught, but at the same time let the way in which religion is taught become more open, more free and more competently done. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, made a powerful case for tackling the 1944 Act at the roots and removing the compulsory elements eventually, but I venture to say "not just yet."

I should like to end by making a few practical suggestions of things that can be done, and in my view ought to be done within the existing framework. If the aim stated in 1944 stands at all, the aim that requires the schools to contribute to the spiritual and moral welfare of the community, then I say let the children at school become more involved in the service of their own community, and let those who are staying on to a school leaving age of 16 be those who become particularly involved with their local community.

This point, which I do not think has so far been made to-day, is made over and over again in the Newsom Report. In paragraph 162 we find the phrase: Encourage the children to undertake active personal service in the community. A little later in the same sentence we find the rather nice phrase: All of us have found that boys and girls of less than average intelligence may well be of more than average helpfulness". Yes, helpful to the community, but helpful in this context in providing a real life background for discussion in the classroom; some real personal knowledge which they can talk about, of love, service, sacrifice and suffering, all of which is going on in every community, and some encounter which they can also discuss with their teachers; of the conflicting standards between life in school and life in the world outside, a conflict which my noble friend Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte drew to our attention, and which certainly confronts the children in a stark form when they leave school. For, after all, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham has pointed out, religious education is not primarily a matter of how to impart knowledge but a matter of how to treat people. That is my first suggestion, then: that we should make more of this recommendation from the Newsom Report to involve children at the top of the secondary schools in the community as a background to some of our teaching about religion.

Secondly—here I repeat a recommendation already made by many noble Lords—there should be more full-time advisers in religious education appointed by local education authorities. I think that, so far, only four local education authorities have appointed them. If I am wrong, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, will correct me. I am sure that more should be appointed, and that the dioceses that have appointed advisers in religious education should try to find ways and means of making their services as widely available as possible, in State schools as well as in Church schools. Their job is the simple but strenuous one of getting the many average teachers of religious education up to the level of the few best, and of spreading the good ideas that are already being practised in only a few places to many more.

Finally, I come to my third proposal and practical suggestion, without which I think these advisers in religious education will expire from exhaustion. The third suggestion is the expansion at every level of the movement which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, mentioned to us; namely, the Christian Education Movement. This Movement is at one and the same time an arm of the British Council of Churches, and it could be the arm of any local council of churches. It is an arm of the education service, and it could be the religious education arm of any local education authority or of the schools in any town or city. It is the product of a merger between the Student Christian Movement in Schools, the Institute of Christian Education, the Y.W.C.A. and the Y.M.C.A.

I should hope that any teachers who feel that some sort of banding together in association is necessary, as I am sure it is, in order to promote the aims of religious education, would get into this Movement and make it better, rather than starting up anything else on its own. In my view, this Movement provides just the right framework, at national and local level, for the changes that now need to be made within the existing framework by the profession in the profession. The first change needed is better deployment within the schools of the present teachers of religion. The second is better and more in-service training; the third, more sensible co-operation between the Church and school at local level—for instance, in phasing out the Sunday school, as recommended by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, or of the arrangements for worship, such as those outlined to us by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. The fourth need is the stimulation and supervision of local experiments in religious education and national research in religious education; and finally, and really the most important of all, the recruitment of more teachers of religion. My Lords, no one can say that religious education has had any clear success in these past 23 years, but I venture to predict that the signs for the future are very much more full of promise.

9.50 p.m.


My Lords, there are many occasions in your Lordships' House when I wish I were not tied by speaking from this place but were speaking from the Back Benches. This is one of those occasions. I feel that I may present to some of you a rather curious specimen of human being, judged by some of the comments made in the debate to-day. In my Faith not only were we asked to have a prayer at the beginning of the school day, but we were given the opportunity to have a prayer before we started each lesson and when we concluded each lesson. It seems to me that if this was a failure, then I stand before you as a very indoctrinated blancmange.

This has been a remarkable debate, remarkable because it has enabled so many distinguished Members of your Lordships' House to offer the benefit of their wisdom and experience. Because I ant a Christian, I say in all humility that I feel it is very curious that some of our Humanist friends seem to have overlooked the fact that as well as love, the Christian is bound to practise humility. I should like to express thanks on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for providing the opportunity to discuss this question. We can take comfort in the fact that once again this has provided your Lordships' House with the reason for being very much "on the ball" in discussing something which is certainly in the air, quite literally, since the B.B.C. recently dealt with this matter, as did the independent channels. The newspapers and magazines are also full of discussion on the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, presented this subject in his usual splendidly helpful and constructive fashion.

I should like to say how much I enjoyed hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, speaking for the first time from the Front Bench. It is a great joy to me that I should have the opportunity of congratulating her. I should like also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sackville, on his thoughtful and, very concise maiden speech. It was also a personal joy to hear the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. As an ex-teacher, I have of course on many occasions blessed his very inspiring piece of legislation, under which so much progress was made. It was typical of the noble Lord that he should give such generous appreciation to his colleagues, and provide us with a brilliant retrospective survey of events of that time.

I would echo the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, when he said that this debate involves our deepest beliefs and has no reference to Party matters. It is quite significant that, as the debate has gone on, this has been greatly emphasised. Many noble Lords have expressed the opinion that there is a change in the climate at the moment in relation to the drawing together of the Churches. This is true, and it is one of the most wonderful movements of our time.

It seems to me that one central theme has run through the speeches to-day and that there is a real need for critical and adventurous thinking in relation to religious education. There is, as we have heard, a real abundance of work, inquiry, research and investigation going on. The right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Durham, in his very inspiring speech, drew attention to the Commission which is at present surveying and assessing methods of religious education; and, as he so rightly emphasised, the central issue of a great deal of this survey is the element of compulsion.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, drew attention to some of the facts which show that the time does not appear to be right for any change in the method of presenting the act of worship, though obviously the teaching of religion will be subject to some criticism in a different way. I felt that the point of the Joint Heads Conference was one which should not have been overlooked, and I am grateful that the noble Lady reminded us of this. All too often we quote the figures of the parents views. We do not often enough quote the figures of the teachers, and it is extremely significant that it was shown that the teachers did not feel that the criticisms which were levelled represented the views of very many parents. I particularly liked the comment of the noble Baroness when she quoted from the letter—a very simple and very moving letter—that science cannot give love or life. In many ways this seems to me to be the whole essence of the debate which we have been having to-day.

The right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of London, referred to the population survey, and pointed out that 73 per cent. wished to have religious instruction continued. Equally, he reminded your Lordships that the main burden of education in religion at this point of time falls on the schools. I think one noble Lord put it even more succinctly, and said that many children have no other knowledge of religion than that which is presented to them at the moment in their schoolroom. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, reminded us of the survey conducted by the National Opinion Poll on the attitude towards religious instruction. He reminded us that 79 per cent. thought that Britain was a Christian country. It is interesting that the Northerners tended to say "Yes" more than the Southerners. I am not quite sure what that implies, but it is an interesting statistic. It is interesting, too, and very comforting, that 90 per cent. said that the present arrangements for religion in schools should continue, though one is bound to note that 93 per cent. of those were women, as opposed to 80 per cent. who were men. The article concluded that there is an overwhelming support in Britain for the continuation of religious education within the State school system, as the educationists' expression of a society which regards itself, however vaguely, as a Christian country.

The live issue is not whether there should be religious instruction, but how it should be taught, and this seems to have been the burden of our debate this afternoon. I would not make any attempt to reply to the noble Lords who are Humanists, other than to say that I believe they expressed their views with all sincerity and, particularly in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, with great eloquence. He quoted Socrates, and pointed out that Socrates said, "We must ascertain the facts." I am not quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has ascertained all the facts quite correctly, particularly in relation to the Catholic schools. He suggested that it was compulsory for those children to take religious instruction, which, as the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, will bear out, is not true. Remembering my own education as a Catholic in a Catholic school, I may say that we had three times as much religious instruction as the non-Catholics, in order to prove that there was a distinct discrimination. I should have thought at that time, in favour of the non-Catholics.

I would merely suggest to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who in a very powerful speech presented to me, at any rate, a rather unusual proposition that by excluding the teaching of religion he would strengthen the hand of the Churches, that it seems to me rather like the argument of the father who applies corporal punishment and tells his son that it hurts him far more than it hurts the son.

I should like to support very much the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, in his brilliant analysis, on which I should not dream of commenting other than to say that I think he would agree with the words of Professor Niblett of London University, when he said: If we leave religion out of education altogether, we may find ourselves teaching the more efficiently, though without meaning to do so, that the world is chiefly a place for colonisation by technology. Again, if I may paraphrase him, he said that unless periods are set apart when religious education is the prime subject of concern, the danger will be considerably greater that it will be one's business to foster the consciousness that certain experiences have more meaning than others.

To the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, who always brings great sincerity and a very warm faith to his speeches, I would say that it is possible to teach something that you cannot do yourself. I remember teaching children to swim by dry land drill, when in fact I would have been terrified to go into the water myself. The point is that the children did not know. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams—and I must say that I enjoyed the idea of him as a leaping Lord—will accept that the onus of proof is on those who wish to abolish religious education, rather than being on the State system to prove that religious education has failed.

I was a little disturbed by those noble Lords who seemed to use the word "failure" in relation to both the Act and religious education, and I should be interested to know their measuring stick. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, suggested that many children left school abysmally ignorant of religious doctrine. If that were the measuring stick, then I am afraid that we should have to say that, equally, many subjects we attempt to teach are failures—and I hope that this is not completely true. Things we do not understand as teenagers often come back into perspective at a later sage in our lives, and we then realise the fact that we know far more than we thought at that particular moment.

To the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, I can merely extend sympathy—sympathy as one who is also a member of a faith which has the same problem as his own. I should like to be able to say that the necessary funds that he mentioned will forthcoming, but he knows as well as I that I should be doing him an injustice if I were to say that at this point of time.

My Lords, I will try to deal with some of the objections that have been raised, though your Lordships will be happy to know that I shall do this briefly. I made a small calculation which showed that if I replied to 25 speakers and gave them two minutes each, this would keep your Lordships here for 50 minutes, and I have no intention of doing that. Although the 1944 Act does not mention Christianity, I think we must realise that the Act is framed in terms which suggest that the religion which is normally taught is based on Christian principles. Whether this necessarily implies indoctrination is a moot point, but it is a legitimate corn-merit that the increasing number of non-Christian immigrant children in the county schools may lead in the future to complications, and may make the wording of the Act appear inappropriate. Up to the present time, immigrant children of all communities and faiths appear to join in the normal worship of their schools, and no major difficulty is experienced. When I left home this morning, my mother said to me, "Why must they call it an act of worship rather than prayers?"—and I feel that she bas something there. Perhaps the right reverend Prelate will agree that if we had described it more simply we might have run into fewer complications.

My Lords, I think it is desirable at this stage to give some thought to the needs of these children and to the rights of their parents. In the meantime, the presence of these immigrant children lays emphasis on the fact that there are other religions in the world besides Christianity, and encourages the study among other pupils of comparative religion—something from which most of your Lordships can draw comfort. There is also substance in the claim, I should have thought, that parents may be in a dilemma over withdrawing their children, and that if the Plowden recommendation were carried into effect—that the parents should be made more aware of their rights—then more children would probably be withdrawn and the feeling of isolation and segregation would be lessened.

There must, however, be some doubt about this in view of the various opinion polls which have shown, as has been mentioned in the discussion, that the majority of parents still want their children to receive religious instruction in school, although they themselves have long ceased to be active members of any church. I think it is fair to suggest that in relation to teachers and promotion that a criticism is justifiable. Although direct evidence is lacking, there is certainly a possibility, not to be overlooked, that teachers would not risk their chances of promotion and therefore might be forced into hypocrisy. To meet this criticism would necessitate legislation of some sort. The Government are unwilling to take the initiative until there is evidence of a firm desire to change and some indication of particular reforms that are being given general support.

Now I come, briefly, to some of the other criticisms. It appears to me that the content of the curriculum came under some fire. In this connection, we must look again at the work of the Schools Council. The question of the curriculum, I think we all agree, is purely fundamental. The Religious Education Committee of the Schools Council has been considering the particular aspects of religious education for the past two years or so. The original terms of reference of this Committee were, to consider the subject of religious education in relation to the raising of the school-leaving age, which has been touched on to-day, and the work of the sixth form, to which many speakers referred. The Committee also set up a third sub-committee to consider the reli- gious education of the primary school child.

What are the results of the first two years of work? First, there has been the production of a statement of aims and objectives which is intended in the first place to be used in connection with the work of the sub-committee concerned with the raising of the school-leaving age; and, secondly, suggestions for the research into religious education at the primary stage; thirdly, a survey in three areas into the way religious education is organised in sixth forms. What is the time allocated to it? What is the staffing situation? What examinations are taken?—in other words the relative questions that we have been asking. Fourthly, the sub-committee concerned with the school-leaving age has devised experimental schemes of work which are at present being tried out in specific schools. Fifthly, an experimental syllabus has been drafted for "A" level religious education, and this is at present under examination. Finally, an "A" level sub-committee, which includes representatives of the G.C.E. examining boards, has begun to consider examining at this level. This is something which I feel would interest the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh.

My Lords, on the question of teachers' training, there is without doubt a shortage of specialist teachers of religious education, for reasons which are presumably related in part to the general lack of importance attached to religious education as a subject in the curriculum and the consequent absence of head of department or similar posts. Moreover, some of the specialist teachers who are in posts are ordained ministers or lay theological graduates who may have had no training in teaching. The specialist teachers are for the most part employed in secondary schools, where, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, pointed out, they may find themselves teaching large numbers of children whom they have little opportunity of getting to know well. In the primary schools, religious education is normally taken by the class teacher; there is some evidence that most teachers do this willingly, although on the basis of quite insufficient background knowledge.

These facts point to the need for additional training for teachers of religious education. So far as in-service training is concerned, the Department's programme of one-year courses and one-term courses for qualified teachers provides opportunities for those who wish to become better qualified as specialists in religious education. Three one-year special advanced courses are provided during the current academic year and are to be repeated in 1968–69. These courses lead to the award of university diplomas in religious education. One-year supplementary courses for specialists in religious education, designed for teachers whose initial training was limited to two years, are also provided, but in view of a decline in the demand for supplementary courses generally their number is to decrease from eight in the current year to five next year. However, there is to be another increase in the number of one-term courses offered, from four in the current year to eight in 1968–69. I think it is heartening to see that in 1966–67, 2,500 students, out of a total of 33,000 new entrants to the colleges of education, took religious education as the main subject of study; others took it as a subsidiary subject, and most students training to become primary school teachers do study religious education as a curriculum subject.

I think, my Lords, that we have not mentioned the work of the teacher centres. The development in a number of areas of teacher centres on the lines suggested by the Schools Council working paper is stimulating local discussions on many aspects of the curriculum, including religious education. This takes the form of teachers meeting, formally or informally, for talks and conferences; and they form working groups to develop new teaching materials. This work is assisted by the L.E.A.s advisers and organisers, and by lectures in colleges and departments of education. Where voluntary schools are concerned the diocesan directors of education may also be invited. The advisers on religious education were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. My figure, I am happy to say, is eight, though one would at once agree that the number of such advisers is very small, and we hope that more L.E.A.s will appoint them. Several have been appointed very recently, and it is understood that other authorities are considering such appointments. There is certainly no question that this is one of the most valuable ways of encouraging local discussions and conferences for teachers.

The revision of the agreed syllabus is taking place in many areas. It has already, of course, undergone a great change in the West Riding, where there has been produced a syllabus which has had so much comment and commendation even in your Lordships' House to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, mentioned the agreed syllabus and perhaps it is right that we should remember that an authority has power to convene another conference, constituted in the same way as the earlier conference set up immediately after the passing of the Act; and one would hope that many more authorities will do this.

The noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, mentioned involvement in the community. There can be no question that this is not only a practical expression of Christian teaching but one of the most certain ways of getting over to the children the fact that the Christian is indeed concerned with all mankind. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, would have agreed with the writing which I discovered quite recently when re-reading Man in Revolt, by Emil Brunner, which was written 30 years ago. He said: To-day, as in pre-Christian days, there is once again a religion of blood, of power and of sex. It seemed to me, as I feel it did to the noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, that this indeed describes some of the forms of popular entertainment which present themselves to-day.

The noble Lord, Lord Wade, put forward some excellent suggestions, and I hope he will appreciate, from the comments I have made, that some of these are already being put into practice. The flexibility for heads to interpret the law, as I think we have learned from the right reverend Prelate, is a matter which will be discussed even more in the future. I would not attempt to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, other than to say that note will be taken of all of his suggestions. He suggested that the stories in the Bible (the Bible has come under some criticism to-day) do not always accord with modern scientific thought. I would not entirely agree with this. I found on Sunday, when I was offering up a prayer for the editor of the Sunday Express (I should not think the Almighty would receive it, as it was not offered in quite the right spirit) that the parable given on that day seemed singularly appropriate to our times. It was the parable of the wheat and the tares, and just as I so frequently think that the Shakespearean plays could have been written yesterday, I am more and more certain that almost everything we read in the Bible is as true of our present time as it was true of the times in which it was set down. So I hope that we shall continue to use the Bible, even though I agree with those noble Lords who have suggested that it could be used more imaginatively.

Some people seem to think that children need everything put in words of two syllables. I can remember reading to my juniors The Queen of the Golden River, which can hardly be described as a piece of religious education. I said to them that perhaps they would like me to leave the first part because the language was rather difficult. They had heard it before many times. But one little boy said, "Please don't do that". I asked, "Why? Do you know what it means?" He replied, "No, but I like listening to it". This may be a question of the beauty of language, but I think that if we assume that one must always immediately understand everything one hears, we are going to limit our appreciation of music and our understanding of art.

The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, will be pleased to know that I was given a note of what he might have been saying. I am happy to know that what he felt was a pattern that the English authorities might work to, so there is no need for me to reply to this, except to say that he gave us great food for thought, particularly in this suggestion that Scotland has a basic freedom from examinations in Divinity and that there was tolerance and co-operation between all denominations.

It has been suggested that to-day we live in a different society. It is true that societies change and environments change, but I would suggest that human nature does not. If society is to provide a clear pattern of behaviour to its members, it needs to be based on some religion. Surely, there must be an agreed basis of values. There is little doubt that hard work and fresh thinking need to be undertaken if religious education is to be re-established as a school subject that can be seen to be relevant to the problems of modern living. What is encouraging is the evidence of concern in your Lordships' House and in all parts of the educational world. The ultimate answer may not be foreseen at this stage, but the Government objective is to encourage debate and discussion at all levels. My Lords, the debate continues.

10.17 p.m.


My Lords, it is late and I shall be brief. We have had plenty of spiritual bread this afternoon and evening, and I think the time has come to seek some bodily sustenance. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has been a most interesting one. Some noble Lords have not been able to stay to the end, and I have been asked by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford to present his apologies. He had an excellent excuse: he has to go to a meeting of his parochial church council.

I expected an excellent debate on such a challenging subject when I saw the list of speakers, which included the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, to whom I am most grateful; three former Ministers of Education; three right reverend Prelates; one outstanding Nonconformist, and a wide range of talent from all quarters of the House and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who always winds up our debates with such charm and skill. It would be presumptuous of me to comment on any one speech, but may I add my sincere congratulations to my noble friend Lord Sackville on an excellent maiden speech, not entirely non-controversial, but at least stimulating and based on first-hand experience, which is something we in this House always appreciate. I should also like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte on speaking so well for the first time from the Front Bench.

The debate has ranged widely over every aspect of religious education. The only agreement that I have discerned is that the subject requires deep re-thinking. The Churches have already begun the process, and I hope that this debate will contribute to it. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past ten o'clock.