§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord HYLTON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their attitude to the Social Morality Council and in particular to the need for moral education in State schools. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking in advance those noble Lords who are to speak later this evening, and also a number of noble Lords who have written to me personally regretting their inability to be present. I should like to submit that the social wellbeing of the whole community depends on the social morality of each of its members. That will, I hope, be accepted. Nevertheless, social morality is such a new idea that it may be helpful to give one or two examples. It is perhaps first of all easier to think of examples of social immorality. The following examples occurred to me: littering towns or the countryside, polluting our rivers, drunken driving, misleading commercial and political propaganda. These things happen; they are restrained in varying degrees by law.
§ Going to the other extreme, and trying to give a few examples of positive social morality, I should like to put forward the work of those who promote in any way the sacredness of human life; those who strive for racial harmony; those who, in the present circumstances, are trying to keep the social contract. These things which, for the most part, are not called for by law, depend on the voluntary good will of the individual. Your Lordships will notice that I have deliberately not chosen any examples from the field of sexual morality. I have done so because it seems to me that sexual morality is sometimes a matter of personal, private morality, and it is sometimes a matter of concern to the general body of society and the community as a whole. Therefore it is sometimes one and sometimes the other; it is seldom clear cut. I also wanted to emphasise strongly that social morality is something much wider than just sexual morality.
§ If I may come to the Social Morality Council itself, I should declare an interest because I am an ordinary Back-Bench 601 member of this Council. It was formed in 1966 in order to promote morality in all aspects of the life of the community. Its members include Christians, Humanists, Jews and Muslims. They are coming together because they want to replace sterile polemics such as have gone on down the centuries with constructive dialogue. They come together in search of fundamental values which can unite them despite their differences of religious belief or other matters which normally divide people. They are seeking the common ground between, on the one hand, authoritarianism and, on the other hand, permissiveness. The Council have promoted a number of conferences and have also published Reports. The first of these was the Report on Moral and Religious Education in County Schools.
§ This Report was produced in 1970 and it was mentioned in a debate in your Lordships' House on 31st March 1971. It was, I am glad to say, welcomed from both Front Benches by Lord Garnsworthy and my noble friend Lord Belstead. I am delighted to see that my noble friend Lord Belstead is speaking later this evening. Then came a Report on the future of broadcasting. That was published in January of this year. In January of next year there will appear a Report on education and drug dependence, and that will be followed by, as it were, the second volume on moral and religous education. This one will deal with primary and nursery schools. That is expected some time in the spring of 1975. The Council is a voluntary body, a very small one, almost a pygmy one but still, I hope, a significant pygmy.
§ I turn now to the question of moral education. This is not something new; it is something which has been on the agenda for many years. As long ago as 1843 the great Earl of Shaftesbury, when still in another place, moved a Motion on "Diffusing the benefits and blessings of a moral and religious education". I like the way he linked it because it is important to emphasise that moral education is not something to replace religious education; it is badly needed in the present climate to supplement and complement whatever goes on in the field of religious education. I should like to ask the Government whether they look on moral education as something of real importance. If they do, on what scale are they prepared to 602 see it funded? We are aware that very large sums are spent annually on road safety education, some of it in schools, some of it outside schools. We know that about £1 million a year goes to the Health Education Council. We know £90 million goes to the Arts in one form of support or another. I hope that this evening the Government will be able to give us some idea of their thinking on the relative priorities which ought to be accorded to moral education.
Next I come to the national moral education project. The aims of this were stated in a letter to The Times on 21st October 1974, signed by Bishop Butler and Mr. H. J. Blackham, who were respectively the President and Chairman of the Social Morality Council. They said:
The chief aims of the Project, given the resources, are first to create the comprehensive support and information service for teachers and parents, for which the need is felt and which has already led to the establishment of a small national centre; secondly, to promote a closer partnership in moral education between home and school, so that they do not, as too often happens, work at cross-purposes.
The small national centre referred to has, in fact, been established with premises in Goldsmiths' College, one of the component colleges of the University of London. It employs a full-time director. It has succeeded in enlisting the support of two Secretaries of State for Education in successive Governments, in the persons of Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Prentice. It has had considerable co-operation already from the BBC and the IBA. It has formed an advisory council, of which the members are 43 of the major national bodies who are concerned, either professionally or voluntarily, with education; and the chairman of this advisory council is Sir Lincoln Ralphs, the Chairman of the Schools Council.
§ So the national moral education project has made a good start. It is important that it should have done so because, in my view, no teacher can teach in any school without conveying something of his own moral values to those he teaches. He or she is being assessed all the time, whatever the subject, by the pupils in the school. They may accept the moral values they are offered; they may reject them. But it is important that teachers should be aware of this, and should 603 therefore carry out their teaching having been themselves educated as to moral values.
§ The finances of the moral education project, however, are most uncertain. It is costing at the moment something like £25,000 per year to run. The Department of Education and Science made a grant of £12,000 to cover the two years from July 1973 to July 1975. There is unfortunately at the moment, I understand, no guarantee at all that any further Government support will be available after the summer of 1975. It is quite certain, I am afraid, that the Social Morality Council as the sponsor of this venture will be quite unable from their own resources to fund the project in perpetuity. There is something of a deadlock, my Lords. The Government have said they would consider helping if other resources could be found. On the other hand, the grant-making trusts take the position that they will not carry the whole baby, but they might do something if the Government could be more forthcoming than they have been up to now.
§ So I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will be able to give some positive and favourable news this evening on the question of finance for this moral education project. I think your Lordships will agree that it is important that a project of this kind should be organised and conducted by a voluntary body. This accords with our whole tradition in the field of education. It is perhaps even more important that the sponsoring body should be one which itself is based on a moral consensus between religious people and Humanists and free thinking people. My Lords, if the subject is important, and if the sponsorship is right, then I hope it will be possible for the Government to announce that national funding will be forthcoming and that there will be continuity in what I consider to be a most important matter.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, my purpose in intervening in the Unstarred Question debate this evening is not to make an original contribution, but merely briefly to add my voice to the disquiet behind the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is asking and which many of us are grateful to him 604 for asking. I do not usually appear in your Lordships' House as one of those who are wagging their heads and complaining about the terrible immorality of modern days. But nobody in this society, or any other, can afford to be complacent about the standard of morals. I do not mean by this a number of the things which I would regard as a misplaced understanding of what is morality, and what is often meant when people speak about it in broad terms. I am certainly not prepared to say that we have any evidence to show that our present age is more immoral than any other. But I think that almost everyone in your Lordships' House would agree, unless chopping logic to the nth degree, that there is such a thing as morality, that it is an important part of the make-up of any coherent society, and that it is a good thing if it can be cultivated.
The simplistic reaction to dislike of any feeling that there is widespread immorality in society is that we should teach our children what they should believe, that there should be more definite Christian teaching and similar prescriptions. I believe—and I speak as a practising Christian—that, although there may be some element of good in these prescriptions, unless they are produced in the right way they can easily be counter-productive. We cannot in the last resort tell a person what he must believe. A person must come to his or her own beliefs, if those beliefs are to be productive of good and not of evil. People need to be able to work out rationally their own standards of belief and standards of behaviour. Good teachers in every type of school have always done this but they have often done it, almost literally, by guess and by God. Philosophers and moral theologians have always known that it is not so easy to know how to teach people to make their own moral decisions and to help them to do it, and that the problems involved are incredibly complex, and certainly not as simple as a great many of us who speak rather glibly in public may sometimes make out.
We are lucky in this country that in the past few years the pioneer work of John Wilson and the old Farmington Trust has progressed the ability to know how one sets about this kind of education. I think we are pioneers of the world in this area, and the work that has 605 been done is tremendously exciting and can be translated into the kind of approach to teaching moral education which can relatively easily be used in the classroom. The Social Morality Council has taken up a great deal of this work and is seeing that it is broadcast and popularised and that it takes place, and I believe that its importance cannot be overestimated. It is far more important that citizens are helped to make up their minds rationally on moral judgments, than that they should know about chemistry, history or geography—even about the environment or about reading, writing and figuring.
We heard in the debate earlier this evening, when we were discussing the Committee stage of the Safety of Sports Grounds Bill, a passionate plea for sport as an important part of the formation of character. I would not underestimate that; I think it can be very useful. But it seems to me that what the noble Lord said was a real pointer to this debate—to the fact that to help people to form their own characters, and to form them well and on a true basis, is one of the most useful things that society as a whole can do. That is why, without knowing very much about the details of the Government's position apropos of the Council, I very much hope, as do a number of my colleagues, that they will give full backing to this tremendously important work.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord SOPER
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for raising this issue. Professionally I am almost irresistibly drawn towards the social morality, and I entirely concur with the last speaker, that if we are not in a terminal condition of immorality things are quite bad. I must declare an interest in the Social Morality Council. I am one of its advisers and what benefits I draw are purely spiritual and not financial. I know enough about the Council to believe that it is set upon the right lines and is doing a very good piece of social investigation, let alone the particular projects to which it has given its care and which have appeared in pamphlet form.
I should like to congratulate the Council on its President. I have the highest regard for Bishop Butler. I believe he is a very great man in many ways, and if his golden opinions, which I happen to 606 share with almost every other Methodist, are heard by an apostolic delegate—and indeed that there were certain results which flowed from it—I, for one, believe that the Christian Church—evangelical, apostolic, catholic and reformed—would be the better for it. That may be a rather impertinent intrusion, but I hope it will be taken in the right spirit.
It happens that this debate coincides with a resurgence of clamour and sometimes of appeal for moral judgments, and it should surprise no one because were we to be asked what are three of the outstanding issues with which we are confronted, I daresay we should all include in that number the social contract, free collective bargaining and a plea for unity in the community in which we live. These are essentially moral propositions if they are to be worked out to any effective result. In fact they would seem to me to demand another triumverate: faith, hope and charity—probably also in that order—if we are to proceed to the eventual success which is anticipated through the proper use of these political and economic measures.
I think that there must be an increasing number of people who recognise that we need a better spirit—and a maintenance of that spirit if these projects are to fructify into a decent and civilised society. Therefore I would beg leave to introduce into this discussion some of the issues, complex and profoundly difficult, which must confront anybody who embarks on an adventure of understanding of this social morality problem. It is not easy and simplistic; it is the more difficult because of radical changes which have taken place since the first implementation of the religious syllabus in the 'forties, indeed since people have come to reflect upon some of the emergent disasters as well as effects of the Second World War.
The first of these is that there has been a progressive decline in religious belief, so that the trunk of the tree of morality has in very large degree been separated from the roots of theology in which alone I suspect it can finally be established and can fructify. I know that my friends the Humanists would want to paraphrase that statement, if they did not want entirely to contradict it; and I for one am more than glad that this Social Morality Council is on all-fours with a great many divergent and competing reviews about 607 theology and the lack of it, the necessity of it or the necessary ambiguity of it. But I feel that, sooner or later, there must be some assertion as to the basic kind of world in which morality is to be expressed before we can embark upon what at worst can only be in those regards a hoax and at best a hazard. However, I would not press that point, but simply regard the problem of morality today as the more difficult to evaluate precisely because it falls within a category which regards itself as self-sufficient rather than a category of theological dependency.
In the second place, there is a marked change from the emphasis upon morality as being a purely personal relationship between man and his neighbour or man and his God and the social morality which is a much more complex issue. When I was a boy I was trained in the belief that I should observe a teetotal attitude towards alcohol, that I should not gamble and we, as Methodists, were not allowed to dance, though we were permitted rhythmic exercises—and it is astonishing what we were able to get in under that general category. But though I am still a teetotaller, and though I still do not gamble, and though my leg permits me very little dancing, I am certain that this emphasis upon morality, as if it has a purely personal relationship, has very properly given place to a much more complex attitude—morality as a social requirement—if society as a whole is to survive.
Here there is a paradox, that many a sinful individual has contributed majestically to the general progress of humanity, and I suppose the picaresque hero in this category would be none other than Kemal Attaturk. Therefore there is a difference between the piety which was regarded as the supreme expression of morality not so very long ago and the social content of that morality which in many cases, if not independent of the private moral behaviour of those who agitate in the interests of that social morality, nevertheless does not determine it. In other words, those who think that social morality is the finer breath and spirit of personal piety have a lot to learn about the way in which scoundrels can improve the society in which they live.
But I would submit to your Lordships that the greatest change that has taken 608 place is that we now live a multi-racial society, and there has come to all kinds of people who hitherto were ignorant of the facts, the awareness of the competitive social claims of other religions. For many years I have been addicted to a practice which was very much the work of my spiritual forefather, John Wesley. So far as I know, though he got into all sorts of trouble in the open air, and on one occasion was assailed by a gentleman with a meat chopper in Nottingham, he was never confronted by Buddhist priests. I have been so confronted. Your Lordships may or may not know that not so long ago the Buddhist community in Asia decided to send a number of missionaries in order to prevent the final catastrophe of a violent Western Christiandom. They started, very properly, in the North of Scotland, but they worked their way South and I found them in Hyde Park. You will not be surprised to learn that these particular advocates of Buddhism knew rather more about Buddhism than I did. In a multi-racial society where there is the Hindu, the Brahmin, the Buddhist and the Islamic believer, the Humanist and the Communist—after all, Communism is one of the last of the heresies of the Christian faith—it is not surprising that to "railroad" people into an assumption that they can automatically see morality in terms of a Christian ethic is no longer tolerable and is an insult to other religions, since we do not hold in Christianity a monopoly of truth, let alone a monopoly of goodness. Here again is a problem for social morality which is comparatively new.
But, my Lords, there is one overarching problem in the field of social morality. If I were not to impinge upon the debate which will take place in your Lordships' House in two days' time, I should beg to remind myself and to offer to you as a proposition which is beyond dispute that we live in a society in which the social morality of the necessity for the abhorrence of violence is as yet an unsolved problem. To put it crudely, a bomber who, in the midst of war, kills indiscriminately hundreds of children as well as adults in Dresden may well be decorated. A bomber who the other week threw his bomb into a public house in Birmingham is very properly execrated. There is a double standard in the field of violence to which we give our assent or withdraw our assent, and one of the 609 greatest difficulties that confronts anybody who endeavours to teach the practice of moral values is that he is confronted with this double standard.
I know that there are many things which can be said on both sides, and I have no wish in any way to be included among those who seek to palliate the crimes to which I have made reference. What I have said is that in the kind of multi-racial society in which we now live, with Bishop Muzorewa the other day signing again his own agreement to continued violent opposition to the apartheid proposals included in the programmes of Southern Africa, and with the World Council of Churches, through one of its committees, contributing to organisations which do not in fact prohibit violence but in some cases encourage it, there is a cruel dilemma; and if such a body as the Social Morality Council can do something to clear the minds of people who will be growing up in the world, dangerous as it is now and more dangerous as it is likely to be, then it will be rendering an incomparable service to people who are at one and the same time recognising in their very bones that a new moral spirit is required and yet are bewildered and become cynical, precisely because they can find no answer to the pressing problems and the urgencies of their daily life.
My Lords, I could have wished that the last thing I have to say had been said by a layman; I think that it would come more effectively from one who did not wear the kind of collar that I wear. I am completely and utterly convinced that although we may be no worse than our fathers, we are certainly not morally adequate to stand up to the stresses which are greater than those which they had to confront. Nothing seems to me to be more obvious than that we need neither a recrudescence of metaphysical theology—. I think we could give that a moratorium for quite a long time—nor the profession of denominational extravagances or peculiarities; but we desperately need a recognition of the fundamental moral issues which belong to any society which can claim to be civilised. I remember that on one occasion this question was asked of Dr. Eden. He was asked whether there are in the world, among all kinds of people, any absolute moral 610 attitudes. After pondering for a moment he said this: "There are two things which are utterly wrong. One is cruelty. The other is mocking the insane". There may be many other things which are utterly and absolutely wrong and there may be other things which are utterly and absolutely right. Christians cannot pretend that they have a monopoly of intelligence to find out what they are—Humanists or atheists. Of course the Jews and all kinds of other people from East and West are required in this adventure.
If the last part of what I have had to say sounds rather like a sermon, then it is your fault, my Lords, because your Lordships have introduced a matter upon which ultimately religion and morals are not taught. They are caught, and they are caught by the infusion of a new spirit and by a new light. I, for one, am very glad to have taken part in this debate, and I hope that the Social Morality Council will be supported in the imperative work by which alone it seems to me that we still stand a chance of surviving our present dolours and entering into a Promised Land.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Hylton for asking this Question of the Government this evening, for already the speeches which have been made in this debate—not least the speech which has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Soper—have provided some answers to the question, why moral education? If my noble friend will forgive me, I will assume that the last part of his Question refers to all schools, because surely the pressures of society and the demands of life make it clear that each of us needs support and guidance, and I think it is interesting that this need is clearly understood by young people.
The Schools Council's project on moral education, Lifeline, which was made a publication in 1972, found that at least 70 per cent. of 15-year-olds wanted their school to help them in two ways—first by increasing their understanding of what makes an action good or bad, and secondly by assisting with solutions to their interpersonal difficulties. Guidance to choose what is right, support to withstand what is wrong and sympathy to help with personal problems lie, I suppose, at the core of 611 moral education. To the layman it may seem that here there is a conflict, or at least an overlapping with religious education. It is for this reason that I personally am most grateful for the guidance which has been given in the speeches which have just been made and also for the fact that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol is taking part in this debate.
I think it is worth recalling that in 1970 the Social Morality Council published its report Religious and Moral Education in County Schools and that the Durham Commission published its Report on religious education only a few months later, which was entitled The Fourth R. Both of these Reports refer to the aims of religious education in similar terms. The Social Morality Council said that religious education shouldenable a boy or girl to have a proper understanding of what is meant by a religious approach to life.The Durham Report defined the aim of religious education asto explore the place and significance of religion in human life and so to make a distinctive contribution to each pupil's search for a faith by which to live.Noble Lords will correct me if I am wrong, and the right reverend Prelate will certainly do so in a moment if that is the case, but it would appear that there is therefore no difference of opinion about the value of religious education for educational purposes and that there is every reason for religious and moral education to exist together in the school curriculum.
Perhaps one of the most compelling arguments in support of moral education as it has been propounded by my noble friend Lord Hylton today is that delinquency and crime and all that is destructive for young people are threats which are surely never solved solely by repression. The rule of law must surely also be supported by positive reasoning. So far as the teaching profession is concerned, this is something which can entail a long and uphill struggle, often in very unpromising circumstances. But, my Lords, although I realise that teachers are faced with formidable doubts about the double standards to which the noble Lord, Lord Soper, referred, I feel that the struggle involved in trying to offer positive reasoning is something which the 612 teacher simply cannot avoid. The Schools Council's Lifeline Report, in a striking phrase, declared that teachers must care for pupils if they expect their pupils to care for others, and it inevitably follows that the personal example of the individual schoolmaster and individual schoolmistress is crucial in this field.
Some time ago I visited a borstal which has been developed from an agricultural college. Many of the boys there spend much of their time working on the farm or in the extensive gardens which are attached to the institution and I was told that it is remarkable what an influence the agricultural and horticultural staff have, and that in several cases it is they who hear from boys after borstal release. The reason for this link remained unexplained. Perhaps it is due to a feeling of permanence or an example of consistency which, after all, are characteristics of many countrymen; possibly the bond was created by a sense of humour. Almost certainly I think it has been formed through the influence of an older man who is seen to be really competent at his job. At any rate, here is an example of young men, unusually resistant to authority, accepting guidance from the way of life and the outlook of other people.
This evidence rejects the notion that the teacher, like the chairman of a meeting, should preserve an air of fine impartiality. Of course I would accept that sometimes a non-committal attitude may be tactful or desirable, but in practice I do not believe that a teacher can or should avoid giving a lead on value judgments. At least that is my view, and I think I still hold to it despite what the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said, although I may very well be wrong. I say that provided that the lead on value judgments is given with fairness and is given with consistency, and if this seems to place a very heavy responsibility upon the teaching profession, at the same time it carries with it its own reward, for let us remember that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery".
The Unstarred Question opens wide fields for education which other noble Lords may care to pursue. I will just mention four others. For some boys and girls perhaps boarding education, or at least a brief spell living and learning away from home, may help to promote the self- 613 which is needed in any young person's development. Similarly, adventure training or remedial education may fulfil particular needs, perhaps at a critical moment in a young person's life. And for all concerned the community life of a school is bound to be a tremendous influence, provided that compassion, cooperation, the ability to accept responsibility and offer sympathy, the courage to face difficulties and reach decisions, can be developed naturally yet consciously within the school from day to day.
I hope your Lordships will not consider that I am steeped in immorality if just for a moment I criticise the name "moral education". It sounds just a bit too good to be true, but I must confess that I have no suitable alternative to offer except to point out that moral education can surely never be a single entity; it must be composed of a diversity of ways for developing social and moral responsibilities, whether at school or at home. However, so far as the schools are concerned there is, I believe, one common factor in moral education; namely, the need, in the teaching profession, for more in-service training. It was of course the most widely endorsed recommendation of the Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, that opportunities for in-service training should be expanded, and this aim was provided for in the education White Paper of 1972.
I should like to ask the Government what progress has been possible in these difficult times towards implementing the White Paper target of a 3 per cent. release to be achieved by 1981, and I would also hope that the Government still support, as a matter of policy, the intention that teachers in their first employment should be released and should receive the support of professional teachers within their own school. All these things result from the work done by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, and his colleagues. Increased opportunities for in-service training will surely assist the work of the Social Morality Council which, as my noble friend Lord Hylton has told us, is about to publish not one but two more reports, and of the Schools Council which has produced some interesting teaching materials as part of its Lifeline project. In addition to this, many people would argue that the relevance of subject disciplines to the lives of pupils can be 614 explained and developed best by the discussion and study which in-service training can provide.
If in-service training is vital for the effective dissemination of research and ideas on moral education, for initial training there remains the responsibility for the colleges and departments of education to impart to their students the understanding that pupils must be helped to choose and to care. In this process, the voluntary colleges obviously have their part to play, and I should like to take the opportunity of this debate also to ask the Government whether they can give the House any information about the effect which the adjustment of teacher training numbers will have upon these valuable institutions; namely, the voluntary colleges of education. I ask this particularly because I understand that the Farmington Trust is currently undertaking work on this subject at Culham College.
My noble friend Lord Hylton has given the House an opportunity to discuss a subject which, on any calculation, must be of immense importance. In all of this the Social Morality Council has played, and is playing, a significant part and I hope that the Government will be able to help to ensure the continuation of the Council's work.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of BRISTOL
My Lords, I cannot claim to speak with the intimate knowledge of some other contributors to this debate, either of the Social Morality Council or of the operations of the educational profession. But I welcome the opportunity of intervening, first because this project of the Social Morality Council seems to me characteristically to have the integrity and the competence which those of us who know anything about its work have learned to expect. I am not a member of the Council, but I was a remarkably ineffectual member of the Working Party which produced the report on the future of broadcasting, in which I was invited to participate on the strength of six years as chairman of the Religious Advisory Committee of the BBC and the ITA. There I caught a glimpse of the high standards of competence of the projects which the Social Morality Council undertakes, which therefore made me approach this project 615 with expectations which are the more fulfilled as I look into it.
Secondly, I find myself speaking in some sense in tribute to the late Ian Ramsey, one time Bishop of Durham and a beloved as well as respected Member of your Lordships' House, because that report The Fourth R to which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has already referred, revealed a comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the contemporary educational scene, which I would agree is fully consonant with the kind of thing which this project of the Social Morality Council espouses.
There are just two points which I wish to make from that background. First, I want to emphasise from a particular angle a point which has already been made by my noble friend Lord Soper; that is to say, the significance of moral education in an increasingly pluralist society. Obviously, those who have religious convictions will continue to set extremely high store upon the opportunity for those convictions to be built into the educational structure of society in all possible ways. This was one of the cardinal points of the 1944 Act. There have always been those whose religious convictions remain dissatisfied with an educational pattern which seems to them to give less than complete expression to the convictions which they would convey.
If I might produce another quotation about religious teaching in board school in the 1870s, Lord Shaftesbury said:Such a meagre, washy pointless thing, that when thinking people might complain of what was left out no living soul could make a grievance of what was left in".Even if religious education, to the more enthusiastic supporters of a particular approach, seems hopelessly watered down, there is still an important task to be done in that area. Religious education still has a part to play in the educational pattern of our times, and it is not incompatible with what is here meant by moral education. In a pluralist society of this kind, there is an even stronger case for saying that both should go on simultaneously.
My Lords, I am reinforced in this conviction by experience of the type of invita 616 tation which I sometimes receive and which I find the most refreshing among the often tedious roles that a Bishop has to perform—that is, an invitation to take part in an open forum of fifth- and sixth-formers on the wider issues of social morality—for here is revealed a width of consensus which is not available in any single religious approach. Following the 1944 Education Act, one of the unhappy experiences was the discovery that the paucity of sufficiently committed Christian teachers means that if religious education is left in the hands of those who quite patently do not believe it (and who quite often say that they do not believe it) this does the cause of religion more harm than good. But I am convinced there is a possibility of a consensus in the area of what we are describing as moral education which is far wider, and which could be the subject of most searching and exciting teaching and learning relationships.
I greatly enjoy the sort of open forum in which—with all the images that one supposes that fifth- and sixth-formers have in their minds when confronted with a Bishop, alongside a whole lot of other people from different faiths and backgrounds—we enter into really lively, two-way conversation in the school conference about such things as why truth is better than lie, why kindness is better than cruelty, what race is, what pollution is, and, inevitably, though I share with others gratitude on finding the word "moral" being used for something else as well as sex, all the questions which the young wish to raise in that area as well.
In this concept of moral education, I believe it would be possible for the whole range of conviction which the Social Morality Council covers—Christians, Humanists and all those who take seriously the human personality and its sacredness, who take seriously the kind of moral laws of the eggshell thin civilisation which is so easily cracked—to be understood by a really honest sharing between pupil and teacher of the things that really matter. Here is a project which would find a very wide welcome and which opens up the possibility for in-service training, for the introduction into colleges of education, as part of the preparation for a teaching career, a concept of the whole approach to caring about truth.
617 My Lords, my second concern is the wish to endorse that part of the social morality education project which sees it essentially as a partnership between the school and the home. I believe there are literally millions of parents who are unhappy with the moral bewilderment of their children. They feel sadly incompetent to give the children the sure morality they can see they need, because the parents themselves have had it shot from underneath them. So there are parents who, having their own clear standards of morality, find themselves unable somehow to communicate with their own young about those moral standards; and there are parents who, having their own standards, find that what is being taught in school is tugging in the opposite direction from what is taught at home.
There is no more disheartening experience for either the conscientious parent or the conscientious teacher than to become aware of a serious conflict between the values expressed at home and those expressed in schools. Therefore, it seems to me that any project of this kind to try to create a new seriousness of partnership between school and home in things of fundamental importance is one that ought to be greatly encouraged. My Lords, I join in the expression of hope which the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, brings before us, that a project of such value will certainly not fail for lack of financial support.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Baroness MASHAM of ILTON
My Lords, first I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for asking this Question. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord on doing so, because when asking some noble Lords in your Lordship's House about their views on this subject, they told me that this is the subject from which they often shy away. Also, I have asked the noble Earl my husband, who is chairman of the schools committee of his local authority, about this, and he said, "They do not discuss the subject". The matter of morality, especially in our maintained schools, is of the utmost importance, as other noble Lords have said.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, like myself, has young children growing up. 618 As parents, we are only too aware of the pressures on young people today. Many mothers must ask themselves the question, "Are we putting our children at risk in sending them to school?" But we have no option. The State tells us that our children must go to school. Many teachers and parents are disturbed by the increase in juvenile delinquency, often of a violent and vicious nature, by young teenagers resorting to drugs and alcohol, by the permissiveness which leads to the spread of VD and the procuring of abortions. We learn of increasing indiscipline in our schools and colleges of education; we learn of the alarming number of illiterate school-leavers, and the high number of truancies. I ask the noble Lord the Minister: Is moral education in our schools being sadly neglected? If so, what are the Government going to do about it?
My Lords, I really think that schools differ tremendously in their effect on children, and it is the example of the teachers which seems to be the main factor, especially the heads. To give a small example, our boy went to a school for two years. I found he was making little progress with his lessons, and I detected he was dyslectic. He had, however, learned and when he came home was using extremely bad language. With the support of an educational psychologist, we removed him from the school and sent him to another school which used more modern methods of teaching. He still finds learning extremely difficult, but within a few days he had stopped swearing and has not sworn since, and altogether he is a happier personality. The children at the two schools are of the same age group, but the attitudes and the results of the schools seem quite different.
I should like to ask the Minister whether he thinks that teachers and parents should together be aiming for the results of moral education to be the emotional stability of our children. It is difficult to teach children to understand their own and other people's feelings without giving them the chance to make moral decisions. Should not the development of sensitivity, understanding and conscience be brought into all school subjects, including sport? Does the 619 Minister agree with what a Cardinal once said:The greatest good we can do to others is not to give them our wealth, but to show them their own"?My Lords, the raising of this Question today in your Lordships' House will at least give encouragement to some teachers, parents and interested people who feel that there is an urgent need for more moral teaching. If the Government cannot give a hopeful answer today, these people who are striving for good will feel that they are fighting a losing battle, which in some schools is already evident. Also, I hope that the Government can give continued support to the Social Morality Council, so that its members can carry on working together for the betterment of our society and so that their work can become more widely known throughout the country.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, this is the second speech I have delivered today, and I am only intervening tonight because I am a supporter of the Social Morality Council. That Council unites Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Free Churchmen and Humanists. I am speaking tonight as a Humanist, and probably all those who have taken part in the debate earlier are Christians. I reject the theology of the Churches; I do not claim to be a Christian.
Nevertheless, my Lords, those of us who are Humanists are just as concerned about the need for a moral and ethical code as any Christian can probably be. Other speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, have referred to the fact that in our society today the impulses and inspirations of the past are disappearing, and no new moral and ethical code has taken their place, no inspiration. I am old enough to have lived through that experience, the experience when at the beginning of this century religion in the home, the influence of parents upon their children, the ethic which that involved, was a determining factor in conduct. That influence has decreased, and we are now passing through a transitional stage; the moral imperatives which prevailed when religion was dominant in the home have no longer that wide authority; yet we have not reached a moral and ethical code which can take their place.
620 My Lords, I am very sensitive to the deeper convictions and feelings of people, and therefore I speak with some hesitation, but we have to face the fact that today the Christian religion and Christian theology is losing its hold upon a large section of the population. I do not believe very much in opinion polls, but there was recently an opinion poll, conducted by one of the recognised associations which devise these referenda, on the question of the acceptance of religion. I can hardly believe its return myself, probably greatly exaggerated, but still expressing something which is occurring today and which we must all face. In a poll of 1,093 persons, it showed that those who believed in God were 29 per cent., those who believed in a creative life force, which expresses my own philosophy, were 35 per cent., atheists were only 6 per cent., and the "don't-knows" were a large proportion, 39 per cent. It is in that situation that we now have to work out a moral and ethical code and an inspiration which will make for a better life.
There is the second difficulty to which my noble, and, if I may say so, revered friend Lord Soper spoke. We are now living in a community where there are not only those who have Christian traditions, but Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, many races, and I think that most Christians today will recognise that those religions have contributed to good life as much as the Christian religion has done. This is a second reason why we must find a moral and an ethical code which will embody and combine the religious faiths and which will also be acceptable to those of us who do not accept the theologies of the religions. There is a third reason and it is that it is difficult today to know what the theology of the Christian religion is. In my young days it was the new theology of the Rev. R. J. Campbell. More recently it has been the theology of the late Bishop of Woolwich. To seek that teachers shall reflect that theology, and that theology only, has now become impossible.
For these three reasons we have to find a moral and ethical code deeper than all the separate theologies and acceptable to those who are religious and those who are not. We must have an inspiration of a society for which they would work, and which will be as compelling as religious motives in the past. For these reasons, I regard the efforts of the Social Morality 621 Council, representing Christians of all the Churches and those of us who are Humanists as well, in trying to find a solution of this problem which is so deep in our society, as so important. I hope that they will enable us to go through this transitional period of disbelief into a more glorious belief, which will be an inspiration for the generations to follow to build the better human society which we are seeking.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Lord VERNON
My Lords, as the last speaker before the Government spokesman in what has been an extraordinarily interesting debate, I wish to concentrate on an aspect of the subject which has not yet been covered, although it has been touched on. Most of us would agree that there is a need for greater moral education both at parent and at school level, but we perhaps differ on how far that education should go, and especially on the part which should be played by sex education. My noble friend Lord Hylton said that he was specifically excluding sex education.
§ Lord HYLTON
My Lords, if my noble friend will give way, may I say that I did not by any means exclude it. I simply did not draw my examples of morality and immorality from that field, because, if he recalls, sometimes it is a private and personal matter and sometimes it is a public matter.
§ Lord VERNON
My Lords, I am sorry if I misrepresented my noble friend, but I do want to touch a little further on this aspect. I am one of those who believe that the State should assume a much greater responsibility for sex education than it does at the present time. This is partly because parents so often fail to fulfil their responsibilities in this field—or, if they do fulfil them, they do so very badly—and partly it is because of the very serious situation which we now face over unwanted pregnancies. Of course it is possible to argue that any sexual relations outside marriage are immoral and that moral education should never, in any circumstances, encourage such relations. I am afraid that I believe that one has to be realistic in these matters, and one has to take account of prevailing sexual habits and seek to mitigate their worst effects, 622 and in doing so one also has to strike a balance.
Consider some of the facts. According to the Registrar General's quarterly return, in 1972 about 70,000 (or nearly 10 per cent.) of the total number of live births were illegitimate, and in that year there were 116,000 legal abortions and perhaps 25,000 illegal abortions. Also in 1972—and this is a rather terrifying fact—74 per cent. of all recorded conceptions to girls aged 16 to 19 took place outside marriage. That is a mixture of terminations to single girls, pre-marital conceptions, and illegitimate births.
The Lane Committee, in paragraph 527 of its Report on the Working of the Abortion Act, stated that the problem of induced abortion, and many other problems as well, would disappear if unwanted pregnancies ceased to occur. The Committee also expressed its belief that a greater knowledge of unwanted pregnancies, and how they might be avoided, would lead to a considerable reduction in their numbers, and expressed the importance of information and education activities. I am sure we all wish to see a reduction in the number of unwanted pregnancies, and especially a reduction in the number of abortions. One of the most effective ways of achieving this, I submit, is that there should be given to children at school in their early teens a thorough grounding in responsible parenthood and in methods of contraception, and such guidance should form part of a general education in morality and civic responsibility. It is only a part, but it is a very important part. The Government may not be able to instruct local authorities on how they carry out their educational responsibilities, but they are in a position to give advice; and Government advice is seldom ignored.
The Government also have an opportunity to increase the use of contraception, and thus to decrease the number of abortions, by encouraging some of the public undertakings, such as London Transport, to withdraw their opposition to advertisement of contraception which so many of them practise at the present time. Such advertisements would in any case be less offensive to good taste than some of the thoroughly pornographic advertisements on clothing that 623 one so often sees. This whole question of moral education was referred to in the Ross Panel Population Report—a Report which, as I understand it, the Government have generally accepted—and I should like to refer to paragraphs 42 and 44. Paragraph 42 deals with population size, and I make no apology for saying that I regard this as part of moral education. It says:—We think that facts about population size and growth should be widely known, so that the public at large can see population problems in better perspective and so that people can make decisions about family size knowing the implications of their decisions not only for themselves, but also for the country as a whole.Paragraph 44 refers specifically to education:We have considered the role of education in establishing attitudes to family planning and we consider that sex education and family planning ought to be part of an overall approach to moral education.The Panel goes on to say that these measures on family planning should go some way to eliminate unwanted pregnancy. I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, when he comes to reply—I have given him notice that I would ask this question—whether the Government accept these very important recommendations. If they do, what action are they taking to implement them?
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord SOMERS
My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for intervening when I have heard only the last two speeches of the debate but I feel that I cannot contain myself. This is a subject which is of greater importance, I think, than any with which we have to deal at the present time. In my opinion, sex education is totally unnecessary, except in one respect—and that is abstention; how to abstain from it. There was no sex education for our forefathers, but they did not seem to find difficulty in producing children. I believe most definitely that any form of sex relationship outside marriage is absolutely wrong. I say that not merely as a Christian, but also from the point of view of the medical results. Any doctor—and I see the noble Lord, Lord Platt, in his place—will confirm that promiscuity in sex relationship leads to an increase in venereal disease. The figures show that.
624 As to unwanted births, I consider abortions to be equally wrong. Birth is not merely an accident; it is a deliberate act on the part of two parents. If we cannot teach them by ordinary practical standards to abstain, when it is not necessary or desirable, then there is only one means by which we can do so; and that is Christianity. It is on that basis, in spite of all that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said, that I claim that Christianity is the only key to the solution of this problem.
I am tempted to quote the words from the Bible when God is saying that he is a jealous God visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Well, my Lords, we all know what that means. Immorality was considered one of the deadliest of sins—adultery in those days—and I still consider it so. That Biblical passage refers to what happens when one indulges in promiscuity. Venereal disease has effect upon not only the children who are born but upon their children as well. It is a very serious disease which ruins the lives of any children who are born and who suffer from it. I do not think this is a matter to be taken lightly. The advertisers of contraceptives place their goods on to the market and tempt young people to indulge in sexual promiscuity. They should be stopped. Contraceptives should not be available except on a doctor's prescription. I am absolutely certain of that and I shall remain certain of it until my dying day.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I hope to be able to show tonight that the Government do think that moral education is important and that it has not been neglected in our schools. Before I attempt to answer some of the more specific questions about the Social Morality Council and about moral education in schools which have been raised in this interesting debate, I should like briefly to look at the more fundamental question of what relationship there ought to be between the Government and the prevailing moral ethos of the country. In particular, I will examine to what extent the Government themselves ought to be involved in establishing and promoting moral values and standards. I believe that the Government can influence 625 the moral climate of the country through their legislative programme and through the expression of their broad political philosophies. But it is fundamental to this country's approach to moral, as to political, questions, that people must make up their own minds. Governments, of whatever political complexion, have always felt that there would be very grave dangers for individual freedom if this were not the case. This approach is embodied in our laws and in the form of many of our institutions.
This fundamental regard for the freedom of individual thought finds practical expression in the way in which responsibility for education is decentralised in this country. In England and Wales the Education Act 1944 provides that legal responsibility for the curriculum in maintained schools should rest with local education authorities and with school managing and governing bodies. In practice, of course, these responsibilities are largely devolved on school heads and school teachers themselves. We do not seek to ensure that all schools teach the same things or that all teachers teach in the same way. There may be arguments about the need for more or less consistency in what is taught, but in considering the way in which schools handle moral education we must realise that it is very largely for them to decide what to undertake and how to do it. The autonomy is a fundamental safeguard for our schools against political and bureaucratic interference, and it is also fundamental to our consideration today of what ought to be attempted by the schools in the field of moral education.
It is perhaps appropriate at this point that I should say something about the Social Morality Council. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has already told us, the Social Morality Council has a wide range of support which it has secured from individuals of various religious beliefs and those with other reasons for being interested in moral issues. I am sure that it is most valuable for those concerned and the bodies they represent that there should be this opportunity for mutual consideration of moral issues. It is also very interesting for the rest of us to hear their collective views and the various reports which have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.
626 The Council's stated objective is:To promote morality in all aspects of the life of the community".But I understand the Council have decided that for the next few years their work should be forcused on moral education in schools.
I sense one major concern is with the way in which moral issues are handled in our schools. One proposal is that there should be a greater investment of resources in helping the young to consider issues of personal choice and responsibility towards others. Let me say immediately that the Government value the work which the Council is doing in this field. The Council already knows that the Government have continued the present grant which the previous Government offered towards the cost of launching the Council's national and moral education project. The primary aim of this project is to assemble and collate existing material on moral education and to make it more widely available to teachers by conferences, courses and other means. The grant was a contribution towards this specific purpose, and it may be that this work will indicate ways, either within the education service itself or by other means, in which further work might be developed. But I cannot say now what resources might be available for this in the future.
The grant towards the Social Morality Council was offered in the expectation that the project would become self-supporting. It appears from what has been said today that the Council is not being as successful as it had hoped in obtaining other funds. If this is so and the project cannot, as a result, be completed, this is obviously a matter which the Council will have to discuss with the Department of Education and Science, but at this stage I cannot give any commitment about what the result of that discussion might be. I can however assure your Lordships that, valuable although the Social Morality Council project is, it is far from being the only work which is going on in connection with moral education in schools. I think it would be fair to say that to some extent a very great part of what is done in schools is concerned with moral issues, either to do with the welfare of individual pupils or in many of the different teaching subject areas.
627 So far as the actual curriculum is concerned, I doubt whether it is possible to study, say, English or history, without being involved in the consideration of ideas and of social and moral questions. Schools also provide opportunity for deliberate discussion of moral issues. One would be unlikely to find "moral education" as such featuring on the timetable, as schools nowadays often use descriptions such as "learning for life" or "education in personal relationships." Many schools also enable their pupils to participate in community service, in which young people give a wide variety of practical help to their communities and are helped thereby to obtain a wider understanding of other people's needs and problems. It is vital that there should be adequate support for teachers in this field through curriculum.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but has the Minister, or any of his advisers for that matter, read any of the literature on moral education as a separate subject, which is totally different from all these things which he is putting forward as something on a par? He is talking as if the people who prepared the brief, which he is reading very charmingly and very nicely, have not read any of the literature, have not read any of the research which has been done in the last two or three years. This has got nothing to do with the work which the Social Morality Council is doing.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that this literature has been read by the advisers, and indeed I have studied the recommendations myself. Just before the noble Lord intervened I was talking about moral education itself, and I was merely saying that nowadays it is not likely to feature on the timetable in most schools under that label. I was not saying that it did not exist or that it was not a separate subject which was considered and taught in schools. I was going on to say that it was vital that there should be adequate support for teachers in this field through curriculum developments and the supply of teaching materials. I am afraid lack of time prevents me going into details, but I should like to remind your Lordships of the wide range of work which is 628 being done of direct or indirect relevance to moral education. More has been done in the past decade or so than in any previous period. The Schools Council has two projects specifically on moral education, one of which is completed, and I gather that valuable teaching aids are already being widely used in schools as a result of that project.
§ Lord HYLTON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I should like to ask him whether he is aware that the Schools Council curriculum development project will end in 1976. If the Social Morality Council project ends in 1975 and the Schools Council one in 1976, there will be no national body trying to do something in this field.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I am sure that that is something which will be taken into consideration if the discussions between the Social Morality Council and the Government take place, as I suggested earlier. The Schools Council is also carrying out about 13 other projects in subjects relevant to moral education. The Health Education Council are also co-operating closely with the Schools Council in this area. Local education authorities are also doing a great deal of work, particularly in the 500-odd teachers' centres. Then there is the work of private trusts—I think the Farmington Trust was mentioned by one noble Lord in the debate—and the influence on curriculum development exerted by the BBC and the IBA through their educational programmes for schools.
Naturally, besides formal teaching and the more general work that I have mentioned schools do all they can to help individual children. They realise the importance of organising themselves so that there are knowledgeable staff to whom pupils can turn for advice, and who have responsibility for pupils' welfare and for liaison with their families. Also of enormous importance is the quality of the relationships between the teachers themselves, and between the teachers and pupils, parents and society generally. These relationships reinforce and give practical expression to the moral values that are expressed to pupils through the curriculum.
At this point I think I should say something about some of the background fac- 629 tors that can affect schools and teachers when they are handling moral and behavioural questions. Teachers have to reconcile what they consider pupils ought to know, what the pupils themselves are asking to be taught and what society feels they ought to be taught. This is not always an easy matter when there are a wide variety of opinions and attitudes; and I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, about the need for mutual respect in this area between teachers and pupils. Teachers and young people alike are also very conscious of having to consider moral questions within a climate of powerful countervailing pressures; for example, the tendency to glamourise sex, which generally means that women are being presented as objects to be used by men simply for sexual gratification.
The young sometimes sense an element of hypocrisy in public attitudes towards their education about contemporary moral and behavioural issues. Adult wisdom can sometimes look very like an apology or justification for the failure of society to take logical and comprehensive steps to deal with the many appalling problems that there still are in our society. Young people often feel very strongly about the rights and wrongs of moral questions, without needing any prompting from their teachers. Even if teachers want to indoctrinate their pupils with a particular point of view, they are unlikely to succeed in the sort of society in which we live today. I have already mentioned the countervailing pressures exerted by society as a whole. On top of this, most teachers are all too conscious that the ideas and the behaviour of young people may be as much or more influenced by their perception of adult attitudes and behaviour, particularly of their parents, as by the assimilation of information provided at school.
There are certain problems which your Lordships have raised tonight. One was sex education, which was mentioned towards the end of the debate. Nowhere are the pressures and difficulties more clearly highlighted. There are wide and sincerely held differences of belief, as I think is clear from the debate this evening. There are those who feel that children should always be given straightforward and accurate information about this subject, just as they are about any other. There are those who are disturbed by the current incidence of teenage preg- 630 nancies abortions and venereal disease, and who in consequence feel that explicit and accurate sex education should be provided to counter this.
There are those, on the other hand, who feel that its provision, especially in its more explicit forms, amounts to a form of provocation of young people towards promiscuity; and there are those who wish to see sex education given, but want it to be combined with education which reinforces the attitude that there should be no sexual intercourse except within marriage. The majority of schools now regard it as part of their function to provide the biological information, together with opportunities to consider behaviour, in the feeling that this should form part of a positive approach to education for happy and healthy living. Our evidence is that most schools would want to ensure that parents were consulted and kept informed about the progress of such education.
I think we can all agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and with the noble Lords, Lord Belstead and Lord Hylton, that religious education is not synonymous with moral education, but complementary to it. The scope of what is attempted in this subject has widened significantly over the last decade or so. While study of the traditional Christian scriptures and beliefs is more selective than formerly, there is now a greater tendency to link religious studies with those of contemporary social problems and with comparative studies of other faiths. Many of the syllabuses of religious instruction which have recently been agreed or adopted by local education authorities take account of developments of this kind.
The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred to the need for better in-service training for teachers. The rate at which expanded programmes of in-service training can be developed appears to depend essentially upon the staffing and other resources which local education authorities are able to devote to this purpose. In the particular field of moral and religious education, the Social Morality Council moral education project and the religious education resources centres to which I have referred are new initiatives which can make a valuable contribution. One year diploma courses in moral and religious education are available at a number of 631 universities and colleges of education and a wide variety of shorter in-service courses is offered by local education authorities, area training organisations, Her Majesty's Inspectorate and other agencies.
The Government recognise the very valuable contribution which the voluntary colleges of education have made over the years to the education and training of teachers, and are concerned to maintain an effective voluntary presence in this field. The noble Lord will be aware, however, that the national requirement for national teacher training places is expected to fall substantially over the next few years. The voluntary providing bodies have accepted in principle that they should bear their fair share of the consequential reduction in provision. We are still discussing with them how this could best be done. The Catholic authorities for their part have already agreed that it is in the best long-term interest of the Catholic teacher training system as a whole that two of their colleges should close.
The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, asked about the implementation of the recommendations of the Ross Report that sex education and family planning ought to be part of an overall approach to moral education. I hope in what I have already said about sex education that I have made it clear that it would be usual for schools to approach these topics within this broader context, but I ought also to remind your Lordships of the statement about the Report of the Population Panel which my noble friend Lord Shepherd made to your Lordships on 22nd July. The position remains, as he said then, that…it is for the education authorities and schools themselves to decide what subjects shall be taught, but the Government hope that teachers will be encouraged to refer to family planning as an important issue in courses designed to help pupils to grow up into mature and responsible citizens.My Lords, I started this evening by saying that it was fundamental to this country's approach to moral, as to political, questions, that people must be allowed to make up their own minds. Whether our present educational system succeeds in giving children the best opportunity to make up their own minds is possibly a matter for argument. What I hope I have stressed is the importance 632 of diversity in tackling moral education in schools, a diversity fostered by lack of direct Government interference. While many of us may be able to agree on many matters, I do not believe that we should ever attempt to impose a rigid view of morality on anyone. People do not always agree on what is "moral" or "immoral".
I should like to say, if I may, on an entirely personal note, that I am quite convinced that people will look back on our society today, and see as utterly immoral our system of educating women. The system is, I know, slowly changing and the Government's White Paper Equal Opportunities for Women is a major step forward. But, on the whole, society still demands that women be educated to expect that at some stage in their lives they will stop working and become full-time housewives and mothers. So women are still being educated to believe, and educated as if, their intellectual development and career prospects matter less than those of men.
My Lords, may I say in conclusion that morals are not just, or even primarily, about sex. Morals are about whether or not people exploit each other; whether people have enough to eat; whether they have houses to live in. Morals are about whether wealth and privilege are distributed fairly in our society: about whether our society is concerned about, and protects, the lower paid, the needy, the pensioner and the handicapped; whether women and men are treated as equals. And morals are about equal opportunities and access to education, health care, and other social services.
Schools can try to help the young understand the issues. But, ultimately, what is important is the social fabric and attitudes of society as a whole; whether or not we are seen to be striving towards a just and compassionate society. It is my conviction that this Government, through the expression of our basic political philosophy, and in particular through our legislative programme, will make it easier for many young people to identify their moral aspirations with those of society as a whole.
§ Lord SOMERS
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him 633 this question? He said that it is for people to make up their own minds as to what is moral and what is immoral. Would he say the same about honesty?
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I had sat down and I think that having sat down I will not be drawn into a debate on a particular subject.