2 Lord Harries of Pentregarth debates involving the Wales Office

Citizenship and Civic Engagement (Select Committee Report)

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Monday 19th November 2018

(5 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, it was a great pleasure to work on this committee with so many experienced colleagues and under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I thank all those who supported us in any way.

First, I draw your Lordships’ attention to recommendation 35 in our report, which concerns Part 2 of the lobbying Act. This was a concern of our committee because one expression of civic engagement is involvement in the charitable sector, and one expression of citizenship is the freedom of charities and other campaigning groups to campaign on the causes they care about at election time. Part 2 of the lobbying Act was an ill-thought-out and hurried piece of legislation and, in light of its operation at the last election, it was reviewed by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. He made a number of recommendations which went a long way to meet the concerns of the third sector. Our committee recommended:

“The Government should implement the recommendations of the Hodgson Review … as soon as Parliamentary time permits”.

Unfortunately, the present Government are unwilling to do this but I cannot believe that such unsatisfactory legislation can stay on the statute book indefinitely.

On the second point—citizenship education—again, I will not take long because other members of the committee have spoken about this very powerfully, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. All I will say is that I was deeply shocked by the state of citizenship education in the country, as revealed by the evidence put to us. It appears not to be taught at all in a lot of schools and in many others is simply swallowed up in PSHE. If we are to remain a healthy democracy and a vibrant society, with citizens aware of their responsibilities and engaged so far as they can, then citizenship education is a vital element in our education system. At the moment it is, along with religious education, a Cinderella subject.

People need to leave school with some sense of why democracy matters: the long, hard journey to achieve what we have now and some inkling of how they might engage in the political process, even if it is just contacting the local council about the state of the pavements. They need to have a sense that to be a citizen carries certain responsibilities as well as bringing certain fundamental rights. The evidence we collected shows that this is simply not happening and, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, again put it so powerfully, in their response the Government have shown the most appalling complacency.

I want to spend a little more time on my third area, “Values”. These are covered by paragraphs 2 to 8 in the “Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations”. I know that we will totally agree, both in our House and more widely in the country, that values are essential to any civilised country and need to be taught in schools. There is an agreed objective—to teach the fundamental values which underline and hold together our life in the UK—but to achieve this, we have to face up honestly to the fact that there is a problem in the way this is presently done. The problem has to do with the wording of what has to be taught now and the way it was introduced.

Schools now have a duty to “promote fundamental British values” actively. These are defined as,

“democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

When originally introduced, this duty was met with considerable hostility by significant sectors of the Muslim community and sharp criticism from other quarters. This was because, first, it was introduced as part of the Government’s counterextremist proposals; secondly, it focused on tolerance of other faiths to the exclusion of all other forms of respect and tolerance; and, thirdly, it had a heavy emphasis on “British” rather than “shared” values. As a result of this wording the Muslim community felt particularly singled out and “othered”, and the Government did not get the wholehearted support they needed for their important objective. All this may be regrettable but to achieve their objective, which we all share, the Government simply have to face up to this.

The way in which the agreed objective of teaching values can be achieved is set out in the recommendations of our report. We would need amendments to the next education Bill or other appropriate Bill. This would change the original clause in a way that would safeguard the objective, while disarming the hostility of those who felt targeted by its original wording. The Select Committee report recommends, first, that:

“The Government should stop using the term Fundamental British Values and instead use the term Shared Values of British Citizenship”.

Many values might be said to characterise British life, such as good neighbourliness, a sense of humour and patience; but what the Government are concerned with, rightly, are the values which belong specifically with being a British citizen. This should be made clear by use of this term. These values will be shared and ought to be shared by all who claim British citizenship. The present phrase “fundamental British values” has, whether people like it or not, alienated many and stopped them being fully supportive of the values that we all agree ought to be taught. The suggested phrase,

“Shared Values of British Citizenship”,

can, I believe, unite all communities in what are trying to achieve.

Secondly, our report recommends a change in the wording of what is taught. It says:

“The Government should initially change the existing list of values from ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’ to ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for the inherent worth’”,

and dignity “of every person”. The two fundamental values of British citizenship are in fact democracy and the rule of law; the other values are a logical consequence of these two. For example, individual liberty is simply freedom under the law, and respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person is simply equality before the law. This of course includes the different faiths and beliefs which people hold, but does not single them out to the exclusion of equally important forms of respect, such as for disabled people or people of different ethnicity or sexuality.

Although we can understand why the Government introduced the phrase,

“mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs,”

it is philosophically incoherent to have it here and misleading in what it says, rather than what it intended to say. What we should all have is respect for people and their right to express their beliefs, whether we respect those beliefs or not. There are a number of beliefs it would be quite wrong to respect: the most extreme beliefs that advocate the murder of those who disagree with them, for example. Provided a belief does not contravene the law, we should continue to respect the person and their right to hold such a belief, even if we do not respect the belief itself.

Our wording refers to,

“the inherent worth and dignity of every person”.

Surely this is what should be taught. This is what matters. It includes people whose religion or belief we may not share, but also people who may have many other differences from ourselves in terms of gender, sexuality or colour, for example.

Finally, we recommend that the teaching of these values be uncoupled from the counterterrorism strategy. They are so important, so fundamental to our life together that they need to be taught in themselves for themselves. In their response, the Government argued that the present wording is now so embedded in the system that it would be unsettling to change it now, but it can easily be recognised that the intention is the same and the wording only slightly different. The great advantage is that the revised wording would make a presently alienated group more fully supported and would be widely welcomed as being more philosophically coherent and consistent with the definition of the values of British citizenship.


Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Thursday 13th September 2018

(5 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I was privileged to chair the 1994 Runnymede Commission on Antisemitism. The title of our report was a phrase from Conor Cruise O’Brien—A Very Light Sleeper—and that, I am afraid, is all too apparent at the moment. The light sleeper has started to stir and wake up, as we have heard very powerfully in this debate, for which I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Popat.

For nine years, I chaired the Council of Christians and Jews, which encourages Jews and Christians to work together against anti-Semitism. We found of course that the subject that we had to discuss with sensitivity and care was always the State of Israel. I have always found some words of an American scholar helpful. He studied all the statements of Christian churches since World War II and summarised the minimum consensus as follows:

“Because the state of Israel is in part the product of the ancient and living hope of the Jewish people and is of deep concern to almost all Jews, disregard for its safety and welfare is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people”.

I repeat: disregard for the safety and welfare of Israel is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people. But of course that concern for its safety may very well go with a critique of the policies of a particular Israeli Government, as we have seen quite dramatically recently in the statement of Dame Margaret Hodge.

There are some other words that I have always found extremely salutary, and it may be that other of your Lordships will also find them helpful:

“Pray not for Arab or Jew,

for Palestinian or Israeli,

but pray rather for ourselves,

that we might not

divide them in our prayers

but keep them both together

in our hearts”.