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Ilea Teaching Pack

Volume 477: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1986

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2.43 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government what response they have received from the Inner London Education Authority to the letter from the Department of Education and Science concerning the teaching pack Auschwitz: Yesterday's Racism.

My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hooper said in a Written Reply to the noble Lord on 3rd June 1986, the authority accepts that parts of the teachers' guide to the pack are inappropriate and has undertaken to revise them.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. Given the deplorable nature of this particular piece of propaganda, relating, as it did, to the death of many millions of Jew in concentration camps, to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the dispute over GCHQ, may I ask him whether the Inner London Eucation Authority has now agreed to withdraw this teaching pack from schools pending the revisions which I understand are now being made to it?

My Lords, I understand that ILEA has said that it will not issue any more copies of the pack until the text has been revised. The department has written to the authority suggesting that the pack be withdrawn meanwhile if the necessary amendments cannot be made quickly, and the reply to that has yet to be received.

My Lords, can my noble friend go a little further and say that this pack is so monstrous that it should be withdrawn? It is not a question of not issuing any more. If you have sinned and been found out, you should be redeemed by withdrawing all the copies which now exists in our schools.

Yes, my Lords; I agree entirely with my noble friend that this pack is monstrous, and that is why the department has written to the authority suggesting that the pack be withdrawn.

My Lords, if the noble Earl or the department do not receive a reply very soon indeed from the Inner London Education Authority, can we take it that the Secretary of State will make it clear that he expects this guide to be withdrawn forthwith, and that if it is not he will consider what other steps to take?

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord would have me answer a hypothetical question. It would not be right to do so because matters are not helped by conjecture, and the Government in fact decide their actions on the basis of the circumstances of an actual case. They would need to know, for example, if matters fell out as the noble Lord's question implies, why it was that ILEA has decided to act in that way. What I can say, though, is that in such an event we would scrutinise very carefully indeed the circumstances of the case and the authority's reasons. I can also add that if we do not receive a reply in the very near future we shall be taking up the matter again with ILEA.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this is not the same authority to which the letter originally went? Since the original letter was sent there has been an election and a new authority has been elected. Will the noble Earl give it time to settle in first?

My Lords, the letter went on 29th May. As I understand it, even if elections take place it is still the same authority, though the personalities may have changed. We have given it a lot of time. By the same expression, we do not expect it to take very much longer to answer.

My Lords, my noble friend has answered the question I was going to ask, which was the date at which the department had written to the Inner London Education Authority. In view of the fact that no reply has been received, how much longer is my noble friend going to wait before taking further action? Would he not agree that his last but one answer was worthy of the very best of Sir Humphrey Appleby?

My Lords, I should be delighted to be compared with Sir Humphrey. The answer to my noble friend's question is: not very much longer.

My Lords, would it be possible for a copy to be put in the Library of the House? The word "Auschwitz" has terrible memories for so many of us.

My Lords, I am not quite sure what the noble and learned Lord is asking for a copy of.

My Lords, a copy of the document which has now been the subject of question-ing for the past 10 minutes.

My Lords, I shall undertake to the noble and learned Lord and other noble Lords to have that placed in the Library forthwith, but I think it may horrify some of your Lordships.

My Lords, I did not mean to be discourteous to the noble Earl. We are old friends.

My Lords, without intervening on the merits of this case may I ask the noble Earl the Minister to at least bear in mind the limited powers that the Secretary of State has in all these matters? When I was involved in a dispute with a local authority which six weeks after an election had not met to elect its chairman, I was turned down by the House of Lords for wrongfully interfering with that local authority.

My Lords, the noble Lord is not the first person to have had trouble with this noble House.

My Lords, would the noble Earl agree that as well as putting the original document in the Library he will also put the revised text into the Library at the same time?

My Lords, I undertake that when it is produced, that will be done.