All 3 Lord Harries of Pentregarth contributions to the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23

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Mon 23rd May 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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2nd reading: Part one & Lords Hansard - Part one
Mon 20th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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Committee stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Mon 18th Jul 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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Report stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1

Schools Bill [HL]

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
2nd reading & Lords Hansard - Part one
Monday 23rd May 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to teachers. I believe teaching is one of the most challenging jobs anyone could do and today in particular they face multiple challenges, not least the mental fragility of so many pupils, as outlined so powerfully in today’s news. The Bill raises a range of concerns, and I will be listening carefully to those who address them as well, of course, as to the Government. In the limited time available I will confine myself to one issue, which is to sketch out the background to an amendment that I will be introducing in Committee on fundamental British values.

I believe that it is more important now than ever before that pupils understand the fundamental political values upon which our life together is based. They are under threat all over the world, not just from totalitarian states like China and Russia but in countries that still claim to be liberal democracies but where, in reality, there is a significant loss of those fundamental freedoms and rights that are integral to a true democracy.

The teaching of fundamental British values has its origin in the 2011 Prevent strategy. This was taken up in 2014, when schools were directed to promote the fundamental British values of

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

When these values were first announced, they met with two kinds of opposition. First, there was a worry that, because they came in as part of the Prevent strategy, their formulation had in fact been skewed in one direction—tolerance of all faiths—to the neglect of other fundamental values. The second criticism was that they claim to be British values when, it was argued, such values belong to other societies as well.

Concern about this wording and recommendations for a slightly different formulation were put forward in 2015 in Living with Difference, the report of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life—of which I was a member—set up by the Woolf Institute in Cambridge and chaired by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. It has also been taken up by two House of Lords special committees of which I have been a member, in particular in the 2018 report The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century, from a committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. So this amendment has not come out of the blue but has been marinating for 12 years.

The first question that arises is whether the phrase “fundamental British values” is still the right one. Should it not be “the values of British citizenship”? That title does not claim that these values are exclusive to our society, but it rightly and legally claims that they are the values of anyone who is a British citizen, whether by birth or by adoption.

On the values themselves, democracy, the rule of law and individual liberty—or, perhaps better, freedom—must surely remain in place. But, although the rest of the list—

“mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”—

is indeed essential, what about equal respect and concern for every person as such, able or differently abled and of whatever race or background? Would it not be better to talk about individual worth and the equal respect and concern due to everyone, whatever their beliefs? The word “tolerance” is somewhat uneasy in this context; there are some beliefs that we should not tolerate. But we should respect people and their right to hold beliefs, even if we do not respect the beliefs themselves.

I will talk in more detail about the exact wording when I move my amendment. I just emphasise that its purpose is to strengthen the statement on values by making it less lopsided and more philosophically coherent. However, in the amendment, I will include one addition to the values already there. It is clear that the one value that clearly resonates with young people more than any other at the moment is the environment. So should we not, in addition to including respect for people, take this opportunity to add respect for the environment? This would mean taking into account the systematic effect of human actions on the health and sustainability of the environment, both within the United Kingdom and on the planet as a whole, for present and future generations. I believe that such an addition would be widely welcomed as strengthening the teaching of values in our schools.

I believe that it is absolutely fundamental that pupils in our schools should be fully conversant with the political values upon which our society is founded.

Schools Bill [HL]

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Committee stage & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Monday 20th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (20 Jun 2022)
In my view, this amendment provides a solution. Its purpose is to counter what I describe as this obfuscation by enshrining in law a parental right to review curriculum materials that is presently merely alluded to in guidance. For all the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, I strongly believe that this Government should do that.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 168 on fundamental British values. The law at present requires every school to teach fundamental British values and the purpose of my amendment is simply to build on what we have at the moment to strengthen it more firmly into the structure and teaching of the school.

The law we have at the moment was introduced in 2015 in the wake of the Prevent programme. Almost inevitably, it was orientated in a particular direction; the result is that it is lopsided and strangely missing in certain fundamental matters of our society. That law says that democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs have to be taught. It may be obvious to everybody that there is one fundamental gap in that list: the equal respect to be accorded to every person in our society. We all have one vote—only one, not less and not more—and the law has to treat each of us equally, whether we are wealthy or poor. Government departments have to treat everybody equally, whether they are powerful or powerless. This is of course not a value which has suddenly been dreamt up; it goes back to Runnymede. Therefore, in the revised list before us in Amendment 168, there is included

“equal respect for every person”.

The two first values on the list, democracy and the rule of law, remain unchanged but, as we all know, democracy can mean anything or everything. Most countries in the world claim to be democratic when, in fact, more than half of them are not at all, so it needs to be spelt out in law what we mean by a liberal democracy. That can be seen in proposed new subsection (4), and I shall mention two obvious things in it: “an independent judiciary” and

“in a Parliamentary system, a Government that is accountable to Parliament”.

Freedom, of course, is also fundamental to our society and it is a word whose meaning is very well established in law and international law. It is actually to be preferred to the present wording of “individual liberty”, because it goes much wider. That is spelt out in proposed new subsection (5), which says that

“‘freedom’ includes … freedom of thought, conscience and religion … freedom of expression, and … freedom of assembly and association.”

At the moment, fundamental British values are hardly being taught in schools at all. I was speaking to somebody at lunch today who is trying their best to get something taught and was telling me that it meets a great deal of opposition from teachers and pupils because of the phrase “British values”. That was part of the original unease when this was introduced in 2015. It is a great pity to be distracted on that kind of debate, and there is an easy solution to it in this amendment. The values are to be called “values of British citizenship”, and are legally clear. It claims not that the values are unique to society or that they are better or worse than others but that if you are a British citizen by adoption or birth, these are the values of our society. I do not see how anybody could possibly object to that. It would help to avoid a debate that at the moment is distracting and stops this matter being properly taught in schools.

Although the law states at the moment that these values have to be taught in schools, it does not say who is responsible for teaching them. That is why proposed new subsection (3) says that these values

“must be taught as part of citizenship, at the first to fourth key stages.”

Teaching them does not have to be confined to that—it may be that a head will want to talk about British values in assembly—but at least there would be a clear place in the curriculum where the values have to be taught. This would strengthen citizenship education in schools, which at the moment is very patchy. In some schools it is hardly done at all, while in others it is elided into PSHE. There would therefore be something much more substantial to grasp and to teach children.

There is one further addition that is not there at the moment, “respect for the environment.” From talking to people, there is no doubt that including this in the list has very widespread support, particularly among young people. Seeing that in the legislation would help to arouse their interest in the list as a whole. It is not just a personal value but a political one, which is why proposed new subsection (6) says that

“‘respect for the environment’ means taking into account the systemic effect of human actions on the health and sustainability of the environment both within the United Kingdom and over the planet as a whole, for present and future generations.”

That is a widely agreed definition of what is meant by respect for the environment.

I am a passionate believer in the teaching of British political values in our schools. At the moment it is not being done properly, if at all. This proposal is a real way in which to strengthen the teaching of those values, and I am glad that it has such substantial support, including from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, from the Labour Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, from the Conservative Benches, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, from the Liberal Democrats. I very much hope that this will continue to gain support from all around the House.

Schools Bill [HL]

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Moved by
101: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—
“British values(1) In any statement relating to British values for education purposes at primary and secondary level in England and Wales, the Secretary of State, OFSTED and any other public authority must include—(a) democracy,(b) the rule of law,(c) freedom,(d) equal respect for every person, and(e) respect for the environment.(2) Any statement under subsection (1) must refer to British values as “values of British citizenship”.(3) The values listed under subsection (1)(a) to (e) must be taught as part of citizenship, at the first to fourth key stages. (4) In subsection (1)(a) “democracy” includes—(a) an independent judiciary,(b) in a Parliamentary system, a Government that is accountable to Parliament,(c) regular elections, and(d) decentralised decision-making, accountable at an appropriate level to the electorate.(5) In subsection (1)(c) “freedom” includes—(a) freedom of thought, conscience and religion,(b) freedom of expression, and(c) freedom of assembly and association.(6) In subsection (1)(e) “respect for the environment” means taking into account the systemic effect of human actions on the health and sustainability of the environment both within the United Kingdom and over the planet as a whole, for present and future generations.”
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I beg to move Amendment 101 on British standards, which stands in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Norton of Louth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

The Ofsted chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, has said:

“When it comes to British values, we often see an oddly piecemeal approach, which too seldom builds the teaching into a strong context … we see a lot of wall displays and motivational assemblies, but not much coherent thinking about how a real depth of understanding can be built through the academic curriculum”.


British values have to be taught in schools, but there is a fundamental problem at the moment about them being taught.

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With that, I ask the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, to withdraw his amendment, and other noble Lords not to move theirs.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank all those who spoke in support of my amendment, and I listened with great interest to those who spoke so powerfully on a whole range of amendments. I thank the Minister for what she said, and for the offer to meet her to talk about guidance, but the problems are more deep-seated than just changing the guidance. One point that I want to correct is that I do not believe that my amendment involves a change of the curriculum; after all, fundamental British values have to be taught at the moment. This is not changing the curriculum; it is just exactly listing the values, to gain greater support from teachers and pupils.

I do not intend to divide the House tonight, although I know that there is very strong support all around it from all parties and I have not lost confidence in this amendment. A new Government are coming in in September, we have the Third Reading in September, the Bill still has to go to the Commons after us, and I believe that the reasons in favour of this small but significant change are so compelling that it eventually will be picked up by one Government sooner or later. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 101 withdrawn.