House of Lords
Thursday, 20 October 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.
Police: Stop and Account
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the conclusions in paragraph 18 of the recent report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which criticise the decision by the Home Office to remove the national requirement of the police to record “stop and account” activity.
My Lords, the Government do not agree with the committee’s conclusions. Since 7 March 2011, police forces and authorities have been free to decide, in consultation with their local communities, whether to continue monitoring these encounters. These local decisions will ensure the right balance between the necessary paperwork that allows for appropriate public accountability and irrelevant bureaucracy.
While I thank the Minister for his reply, he will be aware that the decision to record the ethnic composition of people subject to stop and search powers was a key recommendation of the Macpherson report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence. As reported, the requirements for recording these incidents have changed and each police service will now decide whether or not to record stop and account activities. Is the Minister aware that this decision will damage race and community relations and do nothing for police accountability? Further, can the Minister tell the House how the Government will meet the requirements of the UN committee for accurate information when the figures are no longer uniformly collected?
My Lords, I recognise, as does the noble Lord, that we originally had recording of stop and account following the tragic circumstances relating to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, but I believe that we have moved on and it is necessary to balance accountability and bureaucracy. It is also necessary to emphasise that there are real potential savings of some 800,000 police hours in not having to record these matters. This should be a matter for each local force and community and that is why, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Met is still recording these after consultation with local communities and the local police authority, whereas other areas do not feel this is necessary. The savings made are very real, and it is a question of getting the balance right.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that all research carried out since 1981 has demonstrated the adverse impact of stop and search on the black community, particularly young blacks? They are the largest group of people stopped and searched, and only about one in 10 searches ever results in some sort of criminal justice process. What system of monitoring will be established to ensure that the law-abiding black community has confidence in the police?
My Lords, the first point to make is that both stop and search and stop and account are vital tools for the police in deterring crime and combating anti-social behaviour. It is also vital that they must be used as sensitively as possible, as the noble Lord implies in his question. With regards to monitoring, it is vital to get this right. That is why I am very keen to stress the balance between accountability and bureaucracy, given the potential savings to the police in not having to record stop and account and in allowing them to carry on their activities properly without excessive bureaucracy. The police will still record stop and search, but recording stop and account is a matter for local decision-making, and that is why the Met, for example, will continue to record stop and account.
My Lords, if the Minister looks at his notes, he will see that stop and search and the issue of ethnic monitoring goes back to at least 1981 following the Brixton riots. Does the Minister have any figures to show the proportion of young black people stopped and searched compared to white people, and if he has not got the figures, will he look them up? I suggest the ratio is between 6:1 and 8:1.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that this goes back to 1981, but the recording of stop and account came after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. This Question is directly related to the fact that we will no longer make it compulsory to record stop and account, which I have explained. I do not have at my fingertips the figures that the noble Lord seeks, but I shall write to the noble Lord and make sure that he has them.
The Minister has not answered my noble friend’s original Question, which is how the Government intend to meet the requirement for information from the UN committee. The Minister says that this is about reducing bureaucracy, but does he not agree that this is another signal of the Government seeking to abdicate from responsibility for policing? Since the number of police officers is going down and crime is going up, it is easy to see why the Government want to abdicate their responsibilities.
The noble Lord is wrong and the UN committee is wrong. There is no need to record this activity, but we have left it open to local police forces to make the decision. There is a correct balance to be struck between accountability and bureaucracy. We do not want to overburden the police, as did the party opposite when it was in power, with excessive bureaucracy that prevents them doing the job that they are supposed to be doing.
My Lords, the fleet off Cadiz some 206 years ago was completely blind to race, creed or anything like that. With the anniversary of Trafalgar coming up tomorrow, would the Minister be willing to pass the good wishes of our House to our rather battered fleet around the world and perhaps ask his colleague the Secretary of State for Defence to pass a signal to it by recognising that day?
My Lords, I think that that matter is slightly beyond the Question on the Order Paper. The noble Lord mentioned that the fleet was blind to matters of race at that time; I think that the same was true of the fleet at the time of Trafalgar. We have only to look at the pictures by Daniel Maclise next door in the Royal Gallery to see that very fact. I thank the noble Lord for his intervention, even though it is not strictly relevant to the Question on the Order Paper.
My Lords, is it not important that the Government look again at this? I was standing in Oxford Street when the police were stopping and searching young people, and every single one searched was a young black man. This is totally to be deprecated. We must keep tabs on searches of this kind and who is being searched in this way.
My Lords, there is no specific Treasury risk register, although I know that the phrase has been used in a number of newspaper articles. The Treasury works closely with colleagues in the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority to monitor the progress of major projects. The universal credit programme is on the Government’s major projects portfolio, which is a compilation of the Government’s high-risk and high-value projects. It covers approximately 200 major projects with a total value in excess of £300 billion. The Major Projects Authority has been engaged with the universal credit programme since 2010. As well as providing challenge through regular assurance reviews, it is involved at various levels of monitoring progress. The Major Projects Review Group, a body established by the previous Government in 2007, recently also considered progress with the universal credit programme.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer but I am a little surprised by it. To make universal credit work, the Government say that 80 per cent of all claims will need to be made online. At the moment, 31 per cent of the poorest families in this country have never used a computer and only 17 per cent of benefit claims are made online. On top of that, to make the IT system for the new universal credit work it will require every single employer in the United Kingdom to tell the Inland Revenue every single month how much every single employee earns in salary and pays in tax. As most government IT projects in recent times have failed, why does the Minister think that this one will succeed?
There were several questions underneath what the noble Lord has just said. Twenty per cent of those who will come under the universal credit system are currently estimated to have access to computers. It is planned that 50 per cent should have access by 2013 and 80 per cent by 2017. I myself queried those figures when I was being briefed but I am told that of those currently claiming unemployment benefit, some 80 per cent have access to online facilities and of those claiming jobseeker’s allowance, some 60 per cent have access. I did not ask what the gender breakdown was; I suspect the answer is that more men than women have it but I remind everyone that the Government’s current digital champion, Martha Lane Fox, is working on this.
My Lords, the Government are also developing telephonic and face-to-face access. It is recognised that, even under the estimate that 80 per cent will have online access by 2017, there will remain 20 per cent who will require such telephone or face-to-face help—quite possibly, some of the older generation.
My Lords, it is important that the universal credit is a success. It is an important reform but there is a very high risk attached to it in delivering the IT infrastructure, because not only do you have to deliver three separate IT projects—one within DWP and two within HMRC—but they then have to integrate. It is a very high-risk timeline. Will the Minister reassure us that the high value that the Treasury places on this does not mean that it is blind to the risk in the timescale and that, if it needs to slow it down in order to make it a success, it will do so?
My Lords, the careful mechanisms currently being put in place and operating recognise precisely that this is an extremely important programme, which is to be rolled out starting two years from now and running until 2017. I should add, as I was also asked about the novelty of some of these IT programmes, that the DWP is working to integrate roughly 60 per cent of existing IT infrastructure, which will be transferred to this programme. It is not an entirely novel programme: only 40 per cent of its IT will be novel.
My Lords, following on from that answer, will my noble friend reassure the House that the DWP’s programme is being introduced in a gradualist way over a number of years? That will give some comfort, but what matters is getting the data into the DWP—the tube of data which comes from every company and through the HMRC. Will my noble friend also reassure the House that that tube will be open, finished and working on time, and that he will tell the House in advance if there was any danger regarding that?
My Lords, I am not entirely sure what an open tube looks like but the DWP is of course working closely with HMRC. As noble Lords are well aware, the integration of HMRC systems with those of the DWP is an important part of this programme. We are all conscious that previous programmes, particularly on tax credits, have run into a very considerable number of problems about both underpayment and overpayment, and about underclaiming. It is intended that one of the great benefits of the universal credit system will be that a much higher percentage of claimants will claim and receive their entitlements.
My Lords, many noble Lords will be aware that the MPA starting gate report was passed to the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons and placed in the House of Commons Library. It was not specifically intended to be open for full publication, but one of the Members of the PAC passed it on to the Telegraph, which, I suspect, is part of the origin of this Question.
My Lords, will my noble friend remind our noble friend the Minister in charge of the Bill, who is sitting next to him, that at Second Reading he promised four of us, two of whom have already asked questions, that he would give a presentation on the computer arrangements at some time in the reasonably near future?
My Lords, the Minister did not really answer the question from my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top. My noble friend asked whether the Committee would have access to the very important report from KPMG but the noble Lord did not answer that point.
Defra: Research and Development
My Lords, the Government continue to invest heavily in research and development in these areas through the research councils, the Technology Strategy Board, Defra and its network and other Government departments. Much of the investment is co-ordinated through large national and international partnerships and is currently supporting world-class basic and applied research to meet the challenge of increasing sustainable food production.
My Lords, my noble friend will know that the Government have taken on board the findings of the Taylor review, which is a commitment of Defra’s business plan. As the Minister responsible for science and research in the department, I can assure her that the issue is high on the department’s agenda.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most vital aspects of effective food production is the success of the honey-bee in this country? Does he agree that the honey-bee is currently under threat in a variety of ways, including from the Varroa mites, which may or may not cause colony collapse disorder, and, now we learn, from the probable arrival of the Asian hornet? Will he reassure the House that research funding into the survival of honey-bee colonies will be maintained and will he also stress, wherever possible, the importance of domestic bee-keeping—I speak as the mother and the daughter of domestic bee-keepers—particularly in cities and towns?
I assure the noble Baroness that this is high on the agenda. Indeed, as she probably knows, the Government are funding a pollinator programme—not just bees but other pollinating insects are vital for the biodiversity that we are seeking to maintain. I have seen for myself the work being done at FERA in York, where not only are the problems affecting bees being looked at, but we are very alert to the Asian hornet and the threat that that poses. I have personal acquaintance with such insects from when I occasionally visit France, so I know that they are a real threat to bee-keepers and honey production.
My Lords, my interests are already fully declared in your Lordships’ Register. Does the Minister agree that the number of farmers has declined sharply in recent years, particularly dairy producers? Is there not, therefore, a need for research on higher value crops to be made known to farmers? Perhaps some of these could replace some imports.
I thank the noble Lord for that question. I come from a horticultural background so am very much acquainted with the enormous potential for import substitution in these markets. I would like to think that the progress that is being made in yield increases from dairy cows is the sort of thing that we can see sustainably projected across the whole of agriculture. However, we need to be aware that it affects the number of viable herds in this country. That is one of the consequences of this investment in this area. However, the noble Lord is correct that giving farmers the knowledge to achieve these challenges is the most important thing.
My Lords, Defra has to make some policy decisions shortly about grass-fed dairy herds as opposed to the environmental and welfare benefits of having intensive indoor dairies. It called for tender bids for research in this area, which resulted in,
“none of the bids fully meeting the Department’s thorough evidence requirements”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/10/11; col. 1399W.]
In that case, will Defra call for bids to be retendered or will it make policy in a vacuum?
It is certainly not my intention to make policy in a vacuum. All policy decisions in Defra on the science front are based on evidence. That, indeed, is a principle which we apply to decision-making in general. I would like to reassure my noble friend on that point.
My Lords, given the Minister’s personal commitment and expertise in this area, I want to be helpful to him in pressing him on the issue. The Secretary of State Caroline Spelman signed up to the G20 communiqué on food security in Paris last June, which calls on countries to invest more in innovation in food science. On the one hand it appears that her department has plans to encourage more research and development, but at the same time she is cutting the overall research and development budget by 27 per cent. Why does Defra sign up to international commitments calling on action from other Governments which it has no intention of meeting in this country? Why is it saying one thing and doing another?
I think the noble Lord is making the mistake of taking a particular aspect of Defra’s activity and not realising that, strategically, the Government have a great focus on the whole need to raise the game. We will need to double world food production by 2050. We shall be able to do that only with science as an ally. The thrust across government, and the whole thrust of the Taylor review, was about leveraging the Government’s investment as a whole in this area. We will be spending £1 billion on R&D in the Living with Environmental Change Partnership and £440 million on global food security.
My Lords, given the desperate need for better agricultural extension in the UK, does the Minister agree that this is as much about learning the lessons of environmental best practice—I refer particularly to soil degradation in this context—as it is about agricultural invention? If we wish the growth in the nation’s agricultural productivity to continue, we must better align environmental research with technical research and not treat them as two separate entities, as is currently the case.
My Lords, in the promised development of agricultural research, especially in the field of livestock health, will the Minister pay attention to some of the more chronic diseases that are less spectacular than the ones we generally know about—such as foot rot in sheep, mastitis in dairy cattle and parasitism in all production animals?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing to the attention of the House the whole issue of animal health. My right honourable friend David Willetts is going down to Pirbright, where there has been considerable investment. These issues are indeed on the agenda.
My Lords, the Government have no current plans to change the laws of succession with regard to hereditary peerages. Changes to the law on succession to the throne can be affected without any change to the legitimate expectations of those in the line of succession. Changes to the rules governing succession to hereditary titles would be far more complicated to implement.
I am not sure that I detected a question. The Government believe that it is time to deal with the issue of succession to the Crown, and there is no simple read-across to succession to the hereditary peerage, which is infinitely more complicated and affects many more families.
My Lords, the noble Lord said that it would be difficult to implement, but will he suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that he perhaps should seek to amend the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel? On that matter, can he tell me whether tomorrow the Government intend to support the noble Lord, Lord Steel?
My Lords, we will continue what successive Governments have done in the many debates on my noble friend’s Bill. There is one very good reason for being consistent, because there is before Parliament a draft Bill that is being examined by a Joint Committee of this House.
My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that while undoubtedly Parliament has the authority to legislate in respect of succession to the throne, according to the learned editor of the fourth edition of volume 8 of Halsbury's Laws of England—which I checked an hour ago—at paragraph 35 and the footnotes thereto, two other powers are germane to the issue? One is the power of Parliament to elect a monarch—a power that has never been withdrawn. Secondly, of course, there are the common law principles of hereditary succession. When the Prime Minister wrote, under the Statute of Westminster 1931, to Commonwealth countries, consulting them on changes in relation to succession to the throne, did he point out this fascinating constitutional conundrum?
My Lords, I rather wish I had checked, because if I had done so I would have had a far clearer answer to the noble Lord’s question. The noble Lord is of course entirely correct about the Statute of Westminster. As to the other parts of his research, perhaps I might have the opportunity of examining that outside the House.
My Lords, odd as it may sound, I congratulate the Government on their proposals to alter the arrangements for the succession to the Crown. The Leader of the House said there was no urgency in the matter, yet if a member of the Royal Family, such as Prince William, were to have a child in the near future, the issue would be affected by this. Will the noble Lord comment on this and accept that there is an urgency to get on with it?
No, My Lords, I did not say there was no urgency in this particular matter; but in the matter of hereditary Peers, which is entirely different. We accept that there is an opportunity here and, as the previous question demonstrated, any amendment to the line of succession involves consulting those member states of the Commonwealth in which the Queen is head of state under the Statute of Westminster. There would also need to be legislation. Next week, there is a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government and in the margins of that we hope to make progress on this issue.
My Lords, I revert to the question of the succession of peerages. Will the Government please keep it in mind that, where there is already a male heir who has older sisters, a change in the law of succession to the eldest daughter could be damaging to relationships in the family?
My Lords, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is of course the only example in this House of a hereditary Peer who has inherited as a female. Many of us regard it as a good thing that the noble Lady is here. She is right in saying that if there were a more general change to the peerage, this would affect very many families and other people. The Monarchy is the highest office in the land in which we all have a major interest.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Second Agreement amending the Cotonou Agreement) Order 2011
Motion to Approve
Incidental Flooding and Coastal Erosion (England) Order 2011
Motion to Approve
Crime: Home Protection
My Lords, in introducing this debate I am conscious that there are many deeply held views on these subjects and a great deal of misinformation in the media but nevertheless I believe that the balance of our laws is wrong because the law is, in my opinion, built on a nonsense. It is built on the concept that a person awoken from sleep at 3 o’clock in the morning and fearing for his or her life will be able to exercise a judgment on using reasonable force in a moment of sheer panic, when lawyers in a cosy courtroom many months later have difficulty in ascertaining, with all the time in the world, what is “reasonable”. To expect a householder at that moment to be awake and lucid enough and in complete command of his or her faculties, in my opinion, is wrong and unjust.
The CPS guidelines state:
“Anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an arrest or to prevent crime. You are not expected to make fine judgments over the level of force you use in the heat of the moment”.
This year the CPS in Manchester, in the north-west, decided not to prosecute three householders who killed burglars while struggling with them and fighting to protect their homes and family. That was the right decision, but it was taken a month after the householders had been arrested. People who thought that they were going to be murdered in their own homes and fought back should not then be put in fear of being prosecuted, and left hanging for such a long time.
We should not have to decide whether the force was reasonable, but assume as a starting point, in my judgment, that any force used by a householder against an intruder is legal and appropriate. The message must go out to the police and public that householders have an absolute right to protect themselves, their family and home from intruders and that intruders leave all their rights behind the moment they climb through the window.
If the concept of “reasonable” cannot be removed, we must have a completely different understanding of what “reasonable” is at three o'clock in the morning. Envisage the situation where a person, believing that he or she is safe and secure at home, wakes up to find an intruder in the room. It must be one of the most terrifying things imaginable. I suggest that their reactions in all cases will be instinctive. It will be Pavlovian. It will not be reasoned. It may be to lie quivering in terror, to scream the place down or to retaliate and attack. I suggest that one of those reactions will come automatically; not as a process of reasoned thought. The innocent householder who instinctively lashes out at the intruder will be judged on the amount of force he used and whether it was reasonable in the circumstances. That puts an unfair burden on the innocent householder.
A few weeks ago, 140 service men and women received awards, among them 16 Military Crosses. When you read the citations you see that we still produce young men and women of mind-boggling selflessness and courage, but in all cases, what they did was illogical, irrational, and clearly not what a reasonable person would do if they thought about it. They did not think about it, they just reacted instantly, spontaneously, to save the lives of their comrades. That sheer selfless courage has been rightly recognised. Nor were they doing what they were trained to do. The infantry manual does not state that when you come under heavy machine-gun fire, you single-handedly charge the enemy, firing your weapon, lobbing every hand grenade you can get your hand on and take out the enemy position while receiving wounds in your legs and gut, but that is what those lads who won the Military Cross a few weeks ago did—instinctively, when surprised and taken by shock by the enemy.
I therefore suggest that a householder similarly suddenly confronted by a potentially life-threatening situation should be permitted to use all the force he is capable of to deal with that situation and should not be at risk of prosecution afterwards. I would also like assurances from my noble friend that a householder will have a complete defence even if he could have locked himself in a safe part of the building. The fact that one could theoretically retreat to a safe room must not be used as an excuse by the CPS to prosecute the householder who decides to stand and fight. I appeal to my noble friend to demand of the CPS that it comes to decisions in these matters much more speedily. Where there is a clear-cut case of genuine defence in one's home, the householder must be cleared with all possible speed. It is unjust to leave them waiting.
The most fraught area is when to stop defending oneself and one's property, especially if one chases the intruders from the home. I say “property” because the defence of oneself and one's home should extend to the defence of one's property in one's home. On when to stop defending oneself, the CPS guidelines state:
“The situation is different as you are no longer acting in self-defence and so the same degree of force may not be reasonable”.
The trouble is that the CPS often does not follow its own guidelines. The scandalous treatment last year of Omari Roberts is a case in point. He was a young apprentice builder with a perfectly clean record who came to his mother's house for lunch and found it being ransacked by two teenage thugs. In the struggle which followed, one burglar was stabbed and died. Omari was charged with murder based on a pack of lies told by the other burglar, who survived, who claimed that Omari chased him down the street. However, on the day that the case came to trial, the CPS dropped the charges as its key witness had by now forgotten his original pack of lies and had invented a completely new set. The CPS dropped the case not because it realised that it was acting entirely contrary to its own guidelines, not because it realised that Omari acted lawfully, but because it thought that it just might not win and that a jury would be 12 times more sensible than it was.
The surviving burglar’s original statement said that Omari chased him down the street, and this is the bit that the CPS used to bring a charge of murder against Omari. The CPS said that the time spent chasing the boy could have been used to summon the police. But hang on. The boy he allegedly chased and attacked lived. The boy Omari killed never left the house. So how can the chasing of the second boy result in a murder charge?
The biggest problem with this case is that the CPS’s entire argument revolved round a teenage burglar’s testimony, a teenage burglar with an ASBO and a number of previous convictions. Why is a burglar’s testimony given more consideration by the CPS than the victim’s statement? So although the guidelines are okay as they stand, it is sometimes, and often, the wrong-headed, misguided prosecution by the CPS of people like Omari which does tremendous damage not just to this innocent victim, but it sends a signal that the law is on the side of the thug and the burglar. That is where the damage rests.
This idea that there is a fine cut-off point when there is a threat and force is permissible, and then the second the threat is over force is not permissible, is also wrong. For some householders who instinctively fight back that adrenaline rush may last 30 seconds, for some it may last two minutes, for others it may last 20 minutes. It will be different for everybody and reason just does not come into it. If a householder continues his retaliation on the intruder even after the threat is theoretically over, he should not be prosecuted provided it was all part of that same psyched-up adrenaline rush that gave him the courage to fight back in the first place. I suggest that that is entirely different from a scenario where the householder has calmed down and half an hour later or the next day he decides to get revenge and go and beat up the burglar. That is not acceptable.
Let me quote one very sensitive example. Six years ago a highly trained, armed police officer was told that a person was wired up with a bomb and that innocent civilians were at risk and he could use lethal force. Leaving aside the incompetence of the command and control procedures of that operation, I have every sympathy for the officer who had to execute that order. Time was critical. He had to act fast. If the bomb was detonated, dozens would die. That officer psyched himself up to neutralise the problem and when he pounced on Mr de Menezes, he shot him in the head and again and again and again and again and again and again. Rightly he was not charged with any offence or disciplined because there was recognition that at times of severe stress a person taking action, even a highly trained officer, will go on taking that action long after the threat may be over because there is no rational or reasoned cut-off point when one is acting under extreme stress. I believe that the law must recognise that householders should not be expected to make rational judgments about when they should stop defending themselves by attacking the intruder when they are caught up in what is an entirely irrational situation in the first place.
I turn now to the protection of one’s home from theft. The time is long overdue when this should be made a criminal offence enforced by vigorous police action. Why is this most serious of thefts still a civil matter? If I steal the smallest item from a shop, it is a crime. I might not be prosecuted and I may get a slap on the wrist but it is a crime. If I think the restaurant meal was appalling, why should my dispute with the chef not just be a civil matter? It is not; it is a crime if I make off without paying for it. But if I come home from holiday and find that my house has been stolen from me, the criminal law does not care. The police do not want to know and I will have to spend months in the civil court system trying to get my property back. The people illegally occupying my house, of course, will get legal aid because they have no assets or property except my house. I will not get legal aid since I own a home which I cannot occupy and it will be a wrecked mess when I do get it back. The most valuable physical possession one has, apart from one’s health, is one’s home and it must be a criminal offence for anyone to misappropriate it.
It should apply to council housing and business property, too. If a council is failing to rent property quickly enough, the solution is for the Government to penalise the council. Occupation by squatters inevitably delays the day when that home is available for someone to legitimately rent. Of course, the police must not go around looking for people to evict. They should act only on a complaint from a property owner or tenant. If a person goes to the police and says that their property has been taken over, and produces prima facie evidence of their ownership—their name on the electoral roll or on a council tax demand—the police must be under an obligation to take recovery action immediately. That means evicting and arresting the squatters that day, with no right of appeal or judicial review at that time to delay the process.
If the Government go down this route—I hope that they do—and make this a criminal offence, I hope that the message will be clearly understood by chief constables that the main remedy Parliament wants is the immediate return of property to the lawful owner. In order to safeguard against suggestions that an unscrupulous landlord would lie to the police to get them to evict a tenant he did not like, we could build in a safeguard procedure: for example, that everyone calling for police assistance should sign a declaration stating that they are the legal owner or occupier. The penalty for a wrongful claim could be a £10,000 fine and two years’ imprisonment; or, for a landlord trying to get rid of a tenant, a £50,000 fine and five years’ imprisonment. That would stop any abuse of the system and reassure the civil liberties lobby.
The law should apply also to all commercial property, where legitimate owners at the moment are losing millions to illegal squatting. However, if noble Lords think that this is a bridge too far today, let us change the law as soon as possible on domestic premises being squatted and review the situation after a year. If we find that there is no abuse of the system, I suggest that the Government should push on with extending the criminal law to commercial property. The principle is the same: illegal occupiers of commercial property are no more moral than those who steal domestic property.
In both these situations, I have described how we need to change the law not just to correct injustices but to send a clear signal that it is instantly on the side of the law-abiding, the innocent, the decent, the righteous and those who fight back. I mean instantly—not months later when the CPS drops the charges; not years later when the Court of Appeal reduces the sentence; and not months later when a civil court might give you your property back.
In this, as in many things, perception is everything. There are lawyers who will say, understandably, that the law of self-defence is reasonable when applied by an intelligent court; but that is not the perception in the minds of innocent householders. That perception can be radically changed by small changes in the law, and I look forward to my noble friend telling me that he will bring in some of those changes instantly, and others in due course.
My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for introducing this important subject. It was considered by the Law Commission in 2005, which stated in paragraph 4.19 of its report, headed “The threatened householder”, that,
“there is a strongly held view among many members of the public that the law is wrongly balanced as between householders and intruders. We think that much of that public anxiety is based on a misunderstanding of the present state of the law, contributed to by incomplete understanding of certain notorious cases”.
That is where we start in a consideration of this important question.
What is the law? I went back to the common law as enunciated by Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England in 1761. On self-defence, he stated:
“The defence of one’s self, or the mutual and reciprocal defence of such as stand in the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant. In these cases, if the party himself, or any of these his relations, be forcibly attacked in his person or property, it is lawful for him to repel force by force; and the breach of the peace which happens, is chargeable upon him only who began the affray. For the law, in this case, respects the passions of the human mind; and, when external violence is offered to a man himself, or those to whom he bears a near connection, makes it lawful in him to do himself that immediate justice, to which he is prompted by nature, and which no prudential motives are strong enough to restrain. It considers that the future process of law is by no means an adequate remedy for injuries accompanied with force”—
that is the future process, the point made by the noble Lord a moment ago—
“since it is impossible to say to what wanton lengths of rapine or cruelty outrages of this sort might be carried unless it were permitted a man immediately to oppose one violence with another. Self-defence therefore as it is justly called the primary law of nature, so it is not, neither can it be in fact, taken away by the law of society. In the English law particularly it is held an excuse for breaches of the peace, nay, even for homicide itself: but care must be taken that the resistance does not exceed the bounds of mere defence and prevention; for then the defender would himself become an aggressor”.
That is almost the speech that the noble Lord has made this morning. It also happens to be the law of this country, dating back 250 years.
Of course, the matter has not been left there. It was considered again in 1879 under the chairmanship of Lord Blackburn. I will not weary your Lordships with a quote from that but it was to the same effect. Most recently, in the Court of Appeal in October last year, Lord Justice Hughes set out the very long established law, which has two or sometimes three stages into any inquiry into self-defence. First:
“If there is a dispute about what happened to cause the defendant to use the violence that he did, and there usually is such a dispute, then the jury must decide it, attending of course to the onus and standard of proof”.
“If the defendant claims that he thought that something was happening which the jury may find was not happening, then the second question which arises is what did the defendant genuinely believe was happening to cause him to use the violence that he did? That question does not arise in every case”.
In other words, the court will look at the honest belief of the defendant as to what he thought was happening. Thirdly:
“Once it has thus been decided on what factual basis the defendant's actions are to be judged, either because they are the things that actually happened and he knew them or because he genuinely believed in them even if they did not occur, then the remaining and critical question for the jury is: was his response reasonable, or proportionate?”.
That is a statement of the law made very recently.
Let me give your Lordships some examples from my own experience to indicate how the law has operated. I can go back to the 1970s, to a case where the defendant was a former military man in his 40s, who had retired from the Army—he was a warrant officer—to look after his sick father. In those days people wore their hair long—perhaps some of your Lordships wore your hair long in those days—but he of course had a short back and sides and he became a butt of the community. One day when he was looking after his father in the bedroom of a council house, a youth came up the path and threw a brick through the fanlight above the door, whereupon the defendant took a .22 rifle and from the bedroom window shot him through the head and killed him. The defence was defence of property—he was in no personal danger in the bedroom with his sick father. The jury considered all the circumstances, as the jury is bound to do, and acquitted him. He was not guilty of murder, he was not guilty of manslaughter; he walked free.
Another case I recall from the Midlands was when a person, again in his home, heard a noise outside and discovered that some drunken passing youths had turned his car upside down on the drive. He went outside and remonstrated with them. They started to shout and hurl abuse at him. He went back inside and picked up a knife. When he came out, the youths were picking fence staves up in order to attack him. They attacked him and he stabbed one of them with the knife. The jury heard all the circumstances. He was defending himself and his home. Again, the jury acquitted him. All together he was found not guilty of murder.
These cases are from my own experience but they are happening all the time. A third, more recent, case is from Trinidad. A police officer, surrounded by a crowd of youths at a music festival, felt that he was being attacked. It was his defence that one of the people attacking him had produced a knife. He produced his revolver and shot two people, one of whom he killed. In that case, a trained officer used a gun against someone whom he believed to have a knife in those circumstances. Unhappily, his counsel in Trinidad decided not to run the defence of provocation but to rely entirely on self-defence. The jury convicted the police officer of murder. In the Privy Council, it was pointed out that certainly the crowd around him and shouting at him were provoking. The case went back to Trinidad and, on a retrial, he was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation.
My point is that the facts can be completely different and the surrounding circumstances are completely different in every case. If, for example, a burglar is in the bedroom and my wife is on her own, and she uses excessive force by, let us say, shooting—not that she has a revolver, I have to say—and kills the person concerned, that is a very different situation than if I were there and in a position to deal with someone of a reasonable size in order to defend myself and my property in that way. The circumstances cannot be categorised in any particular way.
In 2005, there was an attempt to introduce a Bill—the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Household Protection) Bill—to amend the law. It was introduced by Mr Patrick Mercer, supported by Mr David Davis and various others, in the House of Commons. It wished to replace the term “reasonable force”, whether the jury were considering the force used in defence was reasonable, with the term “grossly disproportionate”. The Bill did not get very far and one only has to stop and think: a jury is considering a whole series of facts around a killing; it considers that the defendant has acted unreasonably, but has he acted “grossly disproportionately”? You can imagine a debate taking place in a jury room to decide on the difference between being unreasonable, acting beyond reason, and acting with gross disproportionality. That sort of debate should not be left to juries, which approach these matters in a completely common-sense way, having regard to all the facts and circumstances put before them. While I sympathise to a certain extent with those concerned with some cases that come before the courts which seem to be grossly unfair, the law covers the situation and has done so since 1761 and before that time.
What concerns me is the concept that the decision as to what was reasonable should be taken by the police—that a householder should never be arrested and questioned if he has killed someone who has been an intruder. That cannot be right. The death of a person is extremely important and, whatever he may or may not have done, it is right that he should be arrested and that he should be questioned. If he has genuinely been acting in fear and in self-defence, undoubtedly he will give his view and his account of what happened at that point, a circumstance which the jury will no doubt take into account.
A person who has killed somebody, whatever the circumstances, is liable to arrest and questioning and, if necessary, detention until the whole matter can be sorted out. It is right that the decision should not be taken by the police and not even by the Director of Public Prosecutions, to whom the file is sent. It is for 12 people drawn from all parts of the community who should have put before them on the evidence all the circumstances and who should decide, using their common sense, which they undoubtedly have, whether that person was acting unreasonably when he killed the deceased.
The problem is that Parliament has sometimes, and certainly over the past 13 years, failed to recognise the absolute value of having people from the community decide issues like this and has tried in various ways to put boundaries around the thinking of a jury, which is entirely inappropriate. Self-defence, that firm principle embedded in our common law going back centuries, is a matter for the jury to determine. Do not let us ever get away from that.
My Lords, one of the great privileges of being in your Lordships’ House is the free advice you get from time to time. I am most grateful to my noble friends Lord Blencathra and—I can now call him my noble friend—Lord Thomas of Gresford, because it makes me feel as if I am some form of pacifist. I suffer from a temper which very seldom rises but, if anyone did come into my house and threaten me, being in the agricultural sector I naturally have a pickaxe handle and a very large knife for pruning the vines; I can throw it into a dart board and get a double top. I also did a bit of unarmed combat; I spent time sharpening the back of my hand so that I could slash it across someone’s throat.
My intervention today, however, is entirely one of pacifism. I am going to concentrate on intrusion—“an Englishman’s home is his castle”, or matters of that sort. I will refer to a Private Member’s Bill that I got through the House some years ago. To begin with, I would like to take as my text the words of Patricia Hewitt when she was head of Liberty. She pointed out that people should not be allowed to go into a person’s home without permission.
When I was in the banking world we became very concerned about fraud. I was in the Midland Bank, which was the largest bank in the world—and the world’s largest bureaucracy. It was the same size as the British Navy. We had a rule of duty of care to our customers—although I was on the merchant banking side and we called them clients. We had a duty of care to look after their money. We were therefore concerned when it became apparent that officials could go into people’s homes without permission and without a court order and search and seize papers, including financial papers. I am not just speaking about the dreaded Revenue or the receiver of rates or the bee inspector.
This was a fear, so we set out to ask Government, as any good bureaucracy would, whether they could do something about it. We did a lot of research and found out in those days that there were innumerable Acts of Parliament and secondary legislation that enabled people to invade someone’s property without permission or without a court order. The answer was to turn to Parliament. I was a relatively young Peer—I came here in 1963—and in 1976 we started to ask the Government questions. Which department had what authority to do what, when and where? The answers did not come back. We asked again and again. Finally, many years later, I asked a Parliamentary Question about which powers a Minister’s department had to enter a property and search and seize. Each ministry wrote back to say that the information was not centrally available. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who was pretty important, wrote to say that the information would be too expensive to obtain.
As noble Lords know, in your Lordships’ House a Question is deemed too expensive to answer if doing so would cost more than £800. However, into the breach came the noble Lord, Lord Bach. As he will remember well, on 9 December 2005 I asked him a Question about what powers Defra had to go on to land to search and seize. He wrote back an extremely nice letter, which said that the main source of information was very difficult to find but that there was a book in the Library called The Law of Entry, Search and Seizure by a professor from Lincoln University. What the noble Lord did not know was that I had arranged for that book to be placed in the Library; we told his officials that this was the answer that should be given.
Over several years I introduced a Bill to say that people should not be allowed to go into people’s houses or search their property without permission or a court order. I got the support of the officials. The noble Lord, Lord West—I call him the noble and gallant Lord but Hansard strikes that out because “gallant” is not strictly correct—went slightly against the grain so we agreed to co-operate with his officials and formed a joint public-private sector Bill team. After a period of considerable research with the Home Office, which was very helpful, we found 1,200 powers of entry, which are now drawn up into the freedoms Bill.
At first, I managed to get my Bill half way through the House. It went through on the second attempt. It should have done a lot of work for the Government but, of course, the Government are never grateful in these areas of activity. Some of the stories that we heard were fascinating. Stuck in the back of my mind is who is allowed to do what, when and where. The important thing about the Bill was that it said that you cannot go into property or a house without permission or a court order. That was exactly what Patricia Hewitt had originally said in her paper in the 1970s. The question is: how do we proceed from here? I hope that the Government will be prepared to introduce these rules and regulations and make them clear to people.
There are other areas in this matter. What is reasonable force and what is intrusion? The noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out in his reply to me that you could use reasonable force to enter or search a property. To me, intrusion—if I may take the word from the title of my noble friend’s debate—is the invasion of privacy, but it can be all sorts of things. It can be surveillance. Therefore, I added questions about television cameras. We got the answer that there were 42,000 CCTV cameras in the United Kingdom. I wanted to know whether it was an invasion of privacy if people had a private camera, maybe for security purposes, that could survey someone else’s property. It was pointed out that a gentleman could be seen leaving a property where there was a lady to whom he was not married. In that case, could the pictures suitably be used if there were to be some form of divorce case or matters of that sort?
We all know that there are many such cameras. I asked the noble and learned Baroness who authorised the private cameras. She said that they must be registered with the Information Commissioner. Therefore, we asked the Information Commissioner a private question about how many privately-owned CCTV cameras there were. He said that there were none at that time. In replying to this debate, could the Minister tell us how many surveillance mechanisms there are? That is one form of intrusion.
Another form of intrusion takes me back to my youth. As a small boy I always went to welcome the postman and undo the catch on the gate, and on the gate was written, “No Hawkers or Circulars”. To me, a circular which is shoved through one’s letterbox is an invasion of privacy or is intrusive. Direct selling is similar. If you have an ex-directory telephone line to protect yourself, before you know it you will be receiving phone calls from call centres that dial one number after another. Or, if you wish to make a transfer of money from a bank account, before you know it someone will ring you and say, “Who are you? We wish to test you”. The transfer might be for small amounts, and you say, “Why should I tell you who I am? Who are you?”. You then find that the call centre is located in Calcutta—where I have been on many occasions—so you ask the young girl at the end of the line, “Could you please tell me the name of the club that plays rugby and cricket?”. She replies, “Oh, the Ballygunge Cricket Club”. You then ask, “What is the name of the Writers’ Building, where the head man lives?”, and then you ask for her name. You find that the name she gives is not her real name; it is Elspeth, or whatever. In order that girls should not be courted on the telephone, I suppose, they have odd names. To me, it is an intrusive matter when your financial details are raised and mentioned overseas. I am concerned about the term “intrusion.”
When one comes to other issues, people can become violent. We now have 120,000 Acts of Parliament, published and available on the net. We need, perhaps with various local advice bodies, to provide some advice for people as to who they can stop coming into their houses. When certain clever fraudsters pretend they are from a particular ministry or department, people may open the door. Once the foot is in the door and where a woman is on her own, the quick ransacking of odd equipment, often televisions, is possible. I have a certain anxiety about this and would like to know what the Government plan to do with the freedoms Bill. All this brings with it other international things under EU law.
In our peasant farm in France where we were for the fin des vendanges two weeks ago we experienced a real invasion of privacy. It was very frightening and extraordinarily aggressive, but at two o’clock in the morning, with two shots, it was put down. It was a 136-kilogram wild boar. That is twice the weight of my noble friend who introduced this debate. So in some rural areas it is apparent that people may often defend themselves against certain predators with weapons. To me, an intruder is also a predator.
In my deliverance today I am saying that it would be extremely helpful if citizens knew who could enter their property without either permission or a court order. That would provide a certain degree of security. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford has given me tremendous comfort, because I shall have no problem at all putting my defence weapons on the wall rather than under the bed. Sometimes the weapon was deemed to be a baseball bat, because that was considered not be an aggressive weapon. Having played baseball, I know that it can be. I sit down with great gratitude to my noble friend Lord Blencathra for what he has done today. I had not realised it was going to be such an aggressive Motion; I was on the peaceful side of wanting to know who could enter one’s home, when, where and how.
My Lords, I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, on initiating this debate. He was much admired as a Member of another place for many years and is likewise already much admired in this House; not least, his speech is good evidence as to why. He spoke with great passion and clarity. I look forward very much to the Minister’s reply and will listen carefully to see what he will reveal about the Government’s intentions in this area. Those intentions have been, if I may say so, skilfully kept under wraps since the speech of his right honourable and learned friend the Lord Chancellor at the Second Reading of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill last June in another place. So we look forward to hearing what the Government propose when the Bill is considered on Report in another place in the next few days.
I want to thank the other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, gave us a masterly overview of the state of the law as it has been and still is today, and the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, reminded us of the hard work he has done in order to gain information about entry into property. Both noble Lords are among the finest storytellers in the House. We enjoyed the stories of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, about his earlier cases, and the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, as always, about his experiences.
Our position as the Opposition remains very much what our position was in government, and I shall refer, if I may, to an Oral Question in this House on 25 February 2010. I was sitting in exactly the position that the Minister is sitting in today and I was asked by my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate whether we planned to change the law following recent cases. We said then that we,
“strongly support the rights of members of the public to defend themselves, others and their property with reasonable force. Under the law as it stands, a person is entitled to use reasonable force in self-defence to protect another person or property, to prevent crime or to assist in the lawful arrest of a criminal. The Government—
the Labour Government—
“have no plans to change the law on self-defence. The law is already in the right place and is working well”.—[Official Report, 25/2/10; col. 1086.]
We stand by that position because the law in the field of self-defence does work. As the Minister’s noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, said in the same exchange:
“Does he agree that the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and the good sense of the jury is a real protection for individuals in these cases?—[Official Report, 25/2/10; col. 1087.]
Of course the answer to that is: yes, it is. I would argue that prosecutorial discretion is widely and sensibly used in these cases. In our view, the CPS guidelines referred to by the noble Lord who introduced the debate are clear, straightforward and, following the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, full of common sense.
According to the excellent House of Commons note that has been produced on this issue entitled, Householders and the Law of Self Defence:
“An informal trawl by the CPS suggested that between 1990 and 2005 there were only 11 prosecutions of people who had used force against intruders into houses, commercial premises or private land. Only seven of those … resulted from domestic burglaries”.
It is not claimed that that is the exact figure, but that is what the trawl found, and indeed I suspect that the figure is actually a bit larger because I do not think it includes a case in which I appeared for the defence, which I promise noble Lords I am not going to tell them about now—I saw the Minister worrying about that. But I do not think it is included because it was not a homicide case—it concerned causing grievous bodily harm. Surely this proves how seriously the Crown Prosecution has taken its responsibility over the years in not prosecuting when it would be wrong to do so. There is a second safeguard—the double lock that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, pressed on us—that the juries who hear these cases use their common sense, which is at the very heart of the reasonableness test, and invariably get their decisions right in these cases.
There is a very strong consensus—and noble Lords will have their own opinion whether it is a right consensus or a wrong one—that all those concerned with the administration of justice, be they judges, advocates, barristers or solicitors, or those who study these matters in detail, believe in essence that the law as it stands works and should not be tampered with. The Judicial Studies Board document of March 2010 sets out the law in order to assist judges in self-defence cases, both generally and in burglar-type cases in particular.
What are the Government going to do to change the present position? Are they going to do anything? The House will know that the Conservative Party manifesto of 2010 included a pledge,
“to give householders greater protection if they have to defend themselves against intruders in their homes.”
This seemed to fit in and imply that a grossly disproportionate test would replace the reasonableness test. The right honourable Chris Grayling, when he was shadow Home Secretary, said in December 2009:
“At the moment the law allows a defendant to use ‘reasonable force’ to protect him or herself, their family or their property. Conservatives argue that the defence that the law offers a householder should be much clearer and that prosecutions and convictions should only happen in cases where courts judge the actions involved to be ‘grossly disproportionate’”.
In December of that year, the present Prime Minister made an equivalent comment. Is that what the Government intend to introduce in the LASPO Bill? I invite the Minister to tell the House today.
In the Oral Question that I referred to earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, then speaking from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, said that,
“we on these Benches entirely agree with the way that the Minister”—
that was me at the time—
“has expressed the position, namely that there is a fair balance in the criminal law as it stands and no need for reform. Has the Minister noticed that so far in this short debate, the Official Opposition have not made clear their position? Does he agree”—
these are important words, I think—
“that if the Official Opposition were in government and sought to change the law in the way suggested, they would run up squarely against the European Convention on Human Rights and would find themselves in grave danger of violating the rights of the individual?”.—[Official Report, 25/2/10; col. 1087.]
Does the Minister agree with that statement?
I remind the House of some of the comments that have been made in regard to the “grossly disproportionate” test. Peter Mendelle QC, who was chair of the Criminal Bar Association in January 2010, argued that those who proposed that test should:
“Leave it alone and stop playing politics with the law … This is not law and order. This is no law—and disorder”.
Quite tellingly, Michael Wolkind QC, who represented the defence in the both the Martin and the Munir Hussain case—I think that he did so in the Martin case at appeal only—gave telling expression to why “grossly disproportionate” is the wrong test. He said that permitting householders to use any force which was not grossly disproportionate would amount to “state-sponsored revenge”. He said that there was no need for the law to be changed. He went on:
“The law already recognises that people react in a certain way in the heat of the moment … If I manage to tackle a criminal and get him to the ground, I kick him once and that’s reasonable, I kick him twice and that's understandable, three times, forgivable; four times, debatable; five times, disproportionate; six times, it's very disproportionate; seven times, extremely disproportionate — in comes the Tory test”—
he was talking in early 2010. He continued—
“Eight times, and it's grossly disproportionate. It is a horrible test. It sounds like state-sponsored revenge. I don't understand why sentencing should take place in the home. Why can't it go through the courts? Why can't the jury, as they always do, decide what is reasonable?”
We on this side think that the “grossly disproportionate” test is the wrong test. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to bring in such a test and, if they do not, what they intend to change in the existing law, which we argue works very well?
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. Although it has been a short debate, it has been extremely informative and worth while. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in introducing it. I have told him before that one of my very dear friends, now no longer with us, was Lord Gray of Contin. I remember Hamish telling me that he had found a bright, new young star for the Conservative Party for whom he predicted great things. I am sure that it would have given Hamish great pleasure to have been here today to hear the noble Lord introduce these matters with such authority and passion.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, ended with some interesting quotes, including “state-sponsored revenge” and “sentencing … in the home”. It is worth while stating from the beginning that this is not the Government’s intention or the direction of travel. I hope that my reply to the contributions that have been made in the debate will make that quite clear.
I am not a lawyer, so, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, or the noble Lord, Lord Bach, I cannot unfortunately call on experience from various cases. My only experience is that I once chased a burglar down the street in my pyjamas in my bare feet. I was 21 at the time but I could not catch him even then, so I cannot tell what I would have done if I had caught up with him.
By the time I had reached the end of a rather long road near Archway, I was so exhausted that I doubt that I would have inflicted much damage on him.
However, I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. Someone breaking into your own home is a terrifying experience. A noble Baroness in this House—I will not name her because I did not get her permission—told me about a burglary and what a trauma it was for her. Interestingly enough, the healing for her came when the burglar was arrested later and she was asked whether she would like to meet him. Her reason for telling me the story was to advocate the benefits of restorative justice. She said that whereas what she had confronted in her flat was a terrifying situation and someone she was very frightened of, when she met a rather pathetic drug addict who had broken in in the hope of getting something to feed his drug addiction the terror somehow drained away. Her story was a little bit of anecdotal evidence of restorative justice in action and benefiting the victim.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked about the Human Rights Act and the ECHR. As he well knows, any proposals that we would have to make—
My point on that is that, as with any legislation, the Minister in the sponsoring department would have to give the assurances on compatibility. I am absolutely convinced that when it comes to my turn to put these matters at the Dispatch Box my noble friend Lord Lester will show the same unswerving support to me as the Minister as he showed to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, those couple of years ago, but we will see.
There is no intention to sweep away the reasonable force test, but we think that there is a case for clarification. The current law on self-defence was last reviewed, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. That Act clarified the operation of these defences. The court must consider whether the degree of force used by the defendant acting in defence of themselves or others, or to prevent crime, was reasonable in the circumstances.
I know that the Opposition trawl back into past speeches by various individuals—they are entitled to do that; I have done it myself—but the coalition agreement states:
“We will give people greater legal protection to prevent crime and apprehend criminals. We will ensure that people have the protection … they need when they defend themselves against intruders”.
It is on that basis that we have started this process, as the previous Government did in 2008. As my noble friend Lord Thomas pointed out, this is a piece of law that has developed over 250 years. He went back to quoting Blackstone, and it is amazing listening to Blackstone just how contemporary it is in the issues that it addresses.
There is one thing that worries me about “reasonable and proportionate” and about the vigour of my noble friend’s approach. My noble friend Lord Thomas referred to a man who shot a trespasser and even the pacific noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, extolled the virtues of a shotgun—in that case it was for a 136-kilo boar—but there is a worry that we have to get the balance right on this. We do not want a vigilante society or one where people, in the pursuit of protection, start thinking that the gun in the bedside table is the best protection that they could get. It just so happened that my copy of New Scientist fell through the door as I was about to leave this morning. I had better come clean; it does not come for me but for my two sons, who are regular readers. However, I was looking at it today and my eyes fell on an article which shows that in the United States around 20,000 children are injured by firearms each year; a further 900 incidents are fatal; and some 30 million American children live in homes where there is at least one firearm. I know that the United States has very much more of a gun culture but I worry that unless we get the messages clear on this, we could slip towards the idea that firearms are a legitimate way of protecting your home. That is certainly not the way that we want to go.
Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, pointed out that he was a former baseball player, hence the fact that he has a baseball bat, but I saw again in one of those statistics that there are far more baseball bats sold in this country than people who play baseball. It is probably worth a PhD being done somewhere to find what other uses there are for them. One of the things that came through in the contributions is that the facts are different in every case. Like my noble friend Lord Thomas, I put great faith and trust in a jury and a judge who hear all the facts and can balance the arguments. Again, we must therefore not retreat too far from those principles.
The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, produced an interesting speech, as he always does. The early theme of it was, “I am a pacifist but I will knock the block off anyone who says that I’m not”, but he also got on to the issue of an Englishman’s home being his castle and where we have got to on things such as search and seize powers. He pointed out that the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which will be coming before this House, will address some of the issues that he has been campaigning on, including the scale of coverage by CCTV cameras. There is always an interesting kind of clash with CCTV; anybody who has been canvassing on the doorstep knows that people like CCTV and the security it gives, yet they feel a little uneasy about a surveillance society. We will be having opportunities to discuss those matters. On the delivery of leaflets, I have had debates on the doorstep with householders who believe that I am intruding by pushing through their letterbox a Liberal Democrat leaflet, whereas I have argued that I am exercising my right in a participating democracy. To date, none of those exchanges has ended in violence on either side.
I share some of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, about intrusive telephone calling and the way in which these bodies now seem to be able to ring through for sales purposes. You can get them blocked but the noble Lord identifies a very real problem. There was also his concern about officialdom calling. One can say time and time again never let anybody into your house unless you are absolutely sure who they are and sure about the validity of the person calling. Yet I know from reading my local newspaper that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to calls from bogus officials, who use that opportunity to commit crime. So some of the issues raised by the noble Lord about intrusion and related matters are very pertinent.
I should like to respond to the challenge from the mover, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, by stating exactly where we as the Government are. The two main issues that were raised were self-defence and squatting. I can assure noble Lords that both issues are high on the Government’s priority list. They form part of a range of policies to fight crime and to give people greater confidence that the law will protect them when they go about their business in a reasonable and law-abiding way. I will outline the Government’s plans for clarifying and, where necessary, strengthening the law in both areas in the order that the noble Lord raised them.
First, let us be clear that there are a number of simple precautions that homeowners can take to reduce the risk of burglary such as installing alarms, planting prickly shrubs or other things along the perimeter fence, not leaving valuable items on display and leaving lights on when the property is empty at night. But even if every precaution is taken, there will be instances where an intruder is not deterred from breaking into somebody’s home. As I have said, it can be a very frightening prospect indeed to be confronted by an intruder in your own home. The Government believe that the law should be as clear as possible about what a homeowner can do to defend themselves, other people or property.
As noble Lords have heard, the current law on self-defence allows a person to use reasonable force to protect him or herself or other people, and to prevent crime. The current law makes clear that a person in this situation may use all force that is reasonable in the circumstances as he or she perceived them to be at the time. That last bit is important: the law rightly recognises—my noble friend emphasised this—that a person acting in the heat of the moment cannot be expected to weigh to a nicety precisely what level of force was required in the circumstances. Having said that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that the public may still be doubtful about what “reasonable force” means in practice and that further clarification in this area would be beneficial.
Noble Lords may recall that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced recently that he wanted to put beyond doubt that homeowners and small shopkeepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will have the law on their side. We have been working on new legislative measures to achieve that and are still finalising the details of the policy. The provisions will be designed to give people greater certainty about what it means to use reasonable force in self-defence. We are not planning to sweep away the principle altogether, or to give householders the right to use all the force that they are capable of mustering, which appears in some ways to be what the noble Lord is suggesting. Giving householders carte blanche to do whatever they like to an intruder would be a very dangerous strategy. A press release by the CPS in January 2005 provides some examples of where householders have and have not been prosecuted. In one extreme case, a defendant caught an intruder, tied him up, beat him up, threw him into a pit and set fire to him. I do not think that anybody would agree that that sort of behaviour should be condoned, even if the defendant was extremely frightened. If we abolish the concept of reasonable force and say that householders can do whatever they want to an intruder, we could effectively end up sanctioning this type of conduct, or other forms of vigilantism.
The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, referred to recent cases in Manchester where homeowners had been arrested for killing intruders, only for the CPS to decide to take no action. In my view, these cases show that the law is broadly in the right place and that the majority of homeowners who act honestly and instinctively in self-defence will not be prosecuted, but I accept the noble Lord’s point that defendants in these cases may be on tenterhooks following such an intrusion and I think it is important that in these cases the CPS tries to act with some speed. I will draw his remarks to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who I am sure is aware of the need to be as expeditious as possible in deciding whether or not a charge should be brought, but I do not think it is right to say that householders should never be arrested for killing an intruder.
The police have a difficult job when they are called to an address where someone is dead. They have to work out what has happened and an arrest may well be necessary in order to allow for a prompt and thorough investigation of the case. The Government are working with ACPO on new guidance for the police in order to ensure that consideration is given to whether somebody may have been acting in self-defence, but there will always be cases that are not clear-cut, where it is important that the police investigate the allegation. I saw an example in an earlier briefing in which the apparent cause of death was an attempted burglary, but further police investigation showed that there were gang and drug aspects to the case that made the death not necessarily a result purely of self-defence. One has to realise that there are cases that are not as clear-cut as some of the Manchester examples that the noble Lord drew attention to.
Let me turn now to the points that the noble Lord raised about squatting. The Government share his concern about the harm that squatters cause. Residential and non-residential property owners have contacted Ministers and Members of Parliament time and again about the appalling impact that squatting can have on their homes and businesses. It is not only the cost and length of time it takes to evict squatters that irks property owners; it is also the cost of cleaning and repair bills which follow eviction. While the property owner is literally left picking up the pieces, the squatters have gone on their way, possibly to squat in somebody else’s property. Again, the noble Lord gave some very good examples of where even the smallest, most trivial of crimes bring down the full weight of the law, yet people can find themselves being told to take the civil law when their property has been squatted.
The current law already provides a degree of protection for both commercial and residential property owners, as offences such as criminal damage and burglary would apply. There is also an offence under Section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 that applies where a trespasser fails to leave residential premises on being required to do so by, or on behalf of, a “displaced residential occupier” or a “protected intending occupier”. This offence means that people who have effectively been made homeless as a result of occupation of their properties by squatters can call the police to report an offence. However, there are many residential property owners, including landlords, local authorities and second home owners, who cannot be classified as “displaced residential occupiers” or “protected intending occupiers”. Given the level of public concern about the issue, the Government decided to consult publicly on options for dealing with it. There is a consultation paper out which sets out a range of legislative options. The consultation process ended on 5 October and generated more than 2,200 responses, which officials at the Ministry of Justice are now analysing.
While most property owners would evidently support tougher measures to tackle squatting, a number of bodies such as Shelter and other charities have pointed out that people would not squat if they had somewhere else to go. Of course, one of the Government’s priorities is to try to address the shortage of affordable housing. The Government are taking both sides of the argument into account as they develop proposals in the area. I cannot pre-empt the Government’s formal response to the consultation, but I hope that we will be able to announce our plans in more detail very soon. As I said, this has been a relatively short debate—although I have been told that I have over-run my time—but I hope that I have met a number of the points. I have certainly found it extremely useful, not least to have had a useful prod from both my noble friends.
My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords who participated in this short debate and I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for his masterful exposition of English law over the past 250 years and to the noble Lord, Lord Bach. There is only one question I have for him: did he win his defence case?
I feel in a similar position today: I feel I have half won on something. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his statement of what the Government intend to do, I look forward with interest to the proposals on squatting and I urge on him my halfway-house solution: let us tackle the problem of domestic premises being taken over first. If the Government’s changes to the law there work, then one can look at commercial premises afterwards.
On self-defence, yes, I was trying to push my noble friend further than I know the House wants to go, or the Government want to go. I have no real objection to the concept of reasonable force, if the CPS guidelines are followed. Like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and other noble Lords, I am entirely supportive of the jury system; we must keep that. I am merely suggesting that there are some cases I have read about where the CPS should not have taken someone to the jury stage, but should have exercised the judgment to drop the case—Omari is a case in point. I also note the point that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, made that, in a trawl, there were only about 11 cases, maybe slightly more, which the CPS did advance.
I conclude by saying that I hope my noble friend will urge the CPS to make a rapid decision in such circumstances. Those of us who are addicted to “CSI: Miami” are used to Horatio confronting a highly complex, horrific crime scene, with 20 different suspects, reaching clarity within 24 hours and deciding who the bad guy is and who is innocent. I rather want the CPS to do the same in all these cases. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate and look forward to hearing the Government’s proposals in due course. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords in advance for their contributions to today’s debate. I have believed for some time that some vital improvements are overdue in the teaching of, and the importance placed on, history in the United Kingdom. The knowledge afforded to us from learning history forces us to think about who we are; to consider our national identity and responsibilities; to decide whether we live in isolation and selfishness and therefore choose to be passive or whether we go forth and make a difference to the world around us—to learn, to be aware and to be considerate of others’ beliefs and traditions and to ensure that previous mistakes are not repeated.
There is a common saying that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It is obvious that we must learn from our past, but to do so we must know our past. Through learning about remarkable individuals and how they shaped our historical landscapes over time, it becomes clear that we all have our roles to play, as did they. Our children are our future, as we were to our forefathers, and history is the key to their future. It is imperative that history be taught, and taught properly. The history that we know does not belong to us; we merely help to contribute to it and protect it for the next generation. It is our duty to ensure that we pass on this knowledge so that our children can, we hope, benefit from it by learning from mistakes which have occurred in the past and, ultimately, by improving the world in which they live—and so the cycle continues.
If taught well, history introduces all kinds of transferable and highly valuable skills, such as an appreciation of the significance of cause and effect and the ability to understand and analyse complex arrangements. Learning about past human relations, and about human nature itself, enhances one’s social awareness and, of course, our sense of national identity. In addition, good general historical knowledge produces a good grounding and jolly good common sense, which is perhaps the most important skill of all.
Knowledge of this subject is seen by many as a valuable currency. For example, the Russell group of universities openly admits that those who possess history qualifications have always been, and still are, immensely attractive candidates when deciding who to take on at degree level. That is why it worries me that the same importance is often not placed on the teaching of history at the earlier stages of the schooling process. England is now the only European country that does not require that history be taught to the age of 15 or 16, and growing numbers of pupils are being allowed to drop the subject at 13. Ofsted reported that 102 maintained secondary schools entered no students to sit GCSE history in 2010. Some 30 per cent of pupils in state schools took history at GCSE last year, and only 20 per cent in academies, compared with 50 per cent in the independent sector. I am afraid that this is affecting the most disadvantaged young people in our society—the very ones for whom a good, well-rounded education is one of their only hopes of improving the quality of their lives.
There are concerns that some young people are being steered into more restrictive pathways, and that these are the most likely to be eligible for free school meals and to live in areas of greater social deprivation. What is being done to target these young people specifically, to ensure that they get the help and encouragement they need? Of all the pupils entered for GCSE history in 2010, roughly 67 per cent passed with grades A to C. Of all those who took GCSE history and were eligible for free school meals, 46 per cent achieved grades A to C. Similar trends can be seen at A-level, and this has a knock-on effect for universities. According to the schools White Paper, of the approximately 600,000 children who enter state education every year, some 80,000 are eligible for free school meals. Only 45 of those students made it to Oxbridge. That figure is up by 12.5 per cent on the year before, when only 40 made it. That increase is welcome, and I commend the Department for Education for it, but the figure is still very low. I would be interested to know what proportion of children eligible for free school meals made it to any university.
I have always believed that our primary goal in politics is to make opportunities equally available for all and to narrow the gap between rich and poor—the advantaged and the disadvantaged. As Michael Gove said recently:
“It is only through reforming education that we can allow every child the chance to take their full and equal share in citizenship, shaping their own destiny, and becoming masters of their own fate”.
I completely agree. Everybody deserves this equal opportunity. Sadly, it seems that it is the most disadvantaged children who are missing out. We must not continue to fail them. Put simply, if one does not know enough, one is at serious risk of not achieving one’s full potential. We must ensure that all our children, particularly the most disadvantaged, fulfil their potential. I know that the Government are acutely aware of this issue and are committed to correcting it. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of the plans in this respect?
Last month the Historical Association published a report in which it noted that the only access to specialist history teaching for two-thirds of young people is during key stage 3. From then on specialist expertise fast disappears in many schools. We in the UK are lucky to have so many fantastic teachers, but what is being done to entice more talent into the profession and to ensure that history teachers are always properly trained and possess the expertise and enthusiasm that is necessary to do the subject real justice? I mention enthusiasm specifically because that is the reason why I studied history when I was lucky enough to go to university. I was taught by some extremely able and enthusiastic teachers.
In their report, the Ofsted inspectors cited that a particular problem with the teaching of history was an unbalanced curriculum that paid too much attention to particular topics at the expense of others. Some of our children are missing out on learning about some of the most important individuals and events of our heritage. The Prime Minister once remarked that the composition of the history curriculum was tapas-like, whereby children are given bite-sized and disconnected instruction on isolated events, and no narrative. I have to say that I agree. I am astounded when I read stories about one set of children thinking that Winston Churchill is the nodding dog character in the television adverts for insurance. I read only the other day that our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord West, was spotted on the Central line wearing his full military attire. When an eight year-old asked him why he was dressed in that way, the noble Lord replied, “Because I am in the Navy”. The boy then asked him, “What is the Navy?”. This is incredibly alarming and surely must not continue.
What is being done to ensure that the history curriculum is properly composed in a chronological manner so that children can place what they learn in a logical way in their minds? Can the Minister also tell us what is being done to make the subject more accessible to children and more exciting to study?
The only thing that we have learnt from history is that we never learn from history. That is a very bleak forecast, but it has been promulgated on many occasions. I just hope that it does not always happen. I dearly hope that it is not true. I am very aware of the work that our great team in the Department for Education is doing and I am confident that it will take on, is aware of, and is working on many of the issues that noble Lords will highlight today. I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister and all my noble colleagues have to say. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support everything that the noble Lord has said about the teaching of history and commend his appalling account of the record of history teaching as it now stands in our schools. I deplore that situation and I call on the Minister to see that it is rectified as soon as possible.
Let me quote WH Auden, who wrote:
“I and the public know
What all school children learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return”.
It is a legendary phrase that he wrote in his poem on 1 September 1939. The phrase “all school children learn” was one that he could use then and everyone accepted it. That is no longer the case. All schoolchildren do not learn. A consensus has gone.
The consensus has gone because over the recent generation there have been what you could call curriculum wars. They arose because a generation of postmodern writers analysed history and came to the conclusion that it was merely entirely subjective and a narrative that was the propaganda of one particular segment, and that being subjective no-one could decide whose history to teach. Those wars went on in academic circles to the detriment of young people. You could imagine that, for example, over the teaching of the history of Ireland. Do we teach the Catholic or the Protestant version? Whose version? One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Whose version do we teach? The chaos of these arguments over the teaching of what truth is—when can you call a fact a fact and not propaganda?—created a crisis in the teaching of history itself.
Bernard Williams, a philosopher, in his book Truth and Truthfulness, drew on what has been an ongoing debate since the time of the Greeks—the postmodernists did not invent it, although they aggravated it. Bernard Williams quoted Clemenceau who, when asked what future historians would say about the First World War, said:
“They will not say that Belgium invaded Germany”.
We can also be confident that Archbishop Ussher, the Primate of All Ireland, was wrong to claim in the 17th century that the world began on 23 October 4004 BC—that that was the day of creation. He believed it, he spoke it as truth, and he was wrong. Knowledge changes over time.
We know that the victors write the history. We have in this building a painting that demonstrates that Wellington defeated Napoleon and that the British were the victors at Waterloo. The Prussians beg to disagree; but the overriding fact was that Napoleon was defeated. These curriculum wars have brought us to this sad state of affairs and it is important that we reinstate history for the three benefits that I shall name. I am sure that noble Lords will mention many others. History teaches us the timeline of humanity. It teaches us chronology and what it means for the human race. I was asked by a small child, who was not that small and should have known better, “Did the Tudors come after the Victorians?”. They need to know. There is virtue in knowing about the Normans, the Plantagenets, the Tudors and the Stuarts because in that way children can understand the nature of monarchy in this country today. That is very important, enriching and a pleasure to know.
Secondly, history teaches cause and effect, as the noble Lord, Lord Luke, said. Have we ever resolved what the causes of the French Revolution were? Have we always gone on writing essays about them? How fruitful it is to revisit such a subject—the causes of the Industrial Revolution or the Russian Revolution? Revolution figures quite a lot in these causation debates. Only this morning, Andreas Whittam-Smith, writing in the Independent, asks, “Is the world heading for a new revolution?”. In his article, he cites the circumstances of 1848 when, as noble Lords will know, Europe was swept by revolution. He cites the causes of the 1848 revolution and suggests that they are available today, and that we should think about that. Understanding cause and effect will make us think about our present society.
History teaches judgment. Over the years, history has taught us to judge the slave trade. It has taught us to judge Victorian society—its virtues as well as child labour and squalid industrial circumstances. It has taught us to celebrate the emancipation of women. Recently, the Tricycle Theatre in London put on a series of 12 short plays in groups of four, running over three nights. Called “The Great Game”, it is about British involvement in Afghanistan since 1940. It sold out. Sir David Richard, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said that it was as historically accurate as you would get in any lesson. The audience was full of people from the Ministry of Defence, soldiers, civil servants, Sandhurst cadets, and people who wanted to know the history of British involvement in Afghanistan. The British were not the only ones. The plays then went to Washington and were played at the Pentagon.
There is a greed for history. There is a greed to know how we got here. How did this situation arise? It is directly significant in all our lives today. There is a yearning for history in people’s hearts. People may miss out at school, but when the new archive building opened at Kew, it was inundated with people seeking their genealogy—those who wanted to know about their ancestry and to feed their identity.
The television programme “Who Do You Think You Are?” has a big following. It teaches people how to go to church not for the religion necessarily but to seek out records of births, marriages and deaths and of their families. History is also expressed in the civic pride we find when cities are full of plaques on the walls, indicating to us where important people lived and what they contributed. With my background, I am particularly fond of one on a rather posh Manchester hotel that records Peterloo and what that massacre stood for in the movement towards democratic reform.
History gives us our identity and a perspective. It allows us to understand the issues of the past about which we might feel some guilt—a wish to apologise even—but it teaches us who we are. It gives us local, civic pride and national pride. We must not deprive our children of that.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Luke on calling for this important debate. When thinking about it, three things occurred to me: my grandson’s pet hen, the Secretary of State for Education’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2010 and the EBacc. Let me explain. Recently my grandson got a pet chicken. When he was asked what he wanted to call it, he said, “Boudicca”. We were all a little taken aback because we thought he was going to say “Henrietta”, or “Hyacinth” or something like that.
It made me ask him some questions about what he was learning in his history lessons at school and he knew as much as most of us know about that mysterious and warlike queen. Then I looked in some detail at the national curriculum document for key stage 1 for 5 to 7 year-olds. It states that during key stage 1,
“pupils learn about people's lives and lifestyles. They find out about significant men, women, children and events from the recent and more distant past, including those from both Britain and the wider world. They listen and respond to stories and use sources of information to help them ask and answer questions and learn how the past is different from the present”.
It goes on to indicate that they are expected to acquire a chronological understanding of events and objects, develop an understanding of events, people and changes in the past, find out about the past from different sources, select from that knowledge and communicate it in a variety of ways.
That struck me as quite challenging and interesting and absolutely fine for a young child. Then I read what the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Michael Gove, said in his speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2010, which was:
“Children are growing up ignorant of one of the most inspiring stories I know—the history of our United Kingdom … The current approach we have to history denies children the opportunity to hear our island story. Children are given a mix of topics at primary, a cursory run through Henry VIII and Hitler at secondary and many give up the subject at 14, without knowing how the vivid episodes of our past become a connected narrative”.
If that really were the state of affairs, it would be extremely sad. However, I had difficulty in connecting the two things: the curriculum that I had read and my right honourable friend’s speech. Even for such young children, the curriculum talks about the history of Britain and chronological understanding. It also seems to me to have a balance between acquiring knowledge and skills. So I looked further to see what Mr Gove's problem was and I discovered that all children have to study history up to the age of 14—that is, during their first nine years of schooling.
Perhaps there is a problem with the curriculum for older children. I found that at key stage 2, 7 to 11 year-olds do more of everything that is in key stage 1 and they also learn about changes and continuity in their own area. They are expected to look at history in a number of ways, such as political, economic, technological and scientific, social, religious, cultural and aesthetic. Again they have to use different methods and sources to investigate and use dates and historical vocabulary to describe events, and learn that the past can be interpreted in different ways. They have to do three British history studies and studies in European and world history. Even those latter ones incorporate looking at Britain in a European or world context.
I was still puzzled about where the problem was. I then looked at key stage 3 for 11 to 14 year-olds. They study people and events in Britain from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, build on chronological understanding and are expected to develop further awareness of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, changes across different historical periods, causes and consequences—the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said that was important—the significance of historical events and assess the validity of different historians’ interpretations. They are being asked to develop critical thinking. It occurred to me that this should really help to develop their critical skills and we do, of course, want to develop critical thinkers in this country.
When I was at school, history was a very passive subject for me and I was bored stiff. I repeated the Middle Ages for three years running, but still know far too little about it. It was better in primary school where we were able to do some project work which was much more engaging. So, looking at what the curriculum requires, it is hard to know what the problem is. Yes, I accept that the number studying history at GCSE and A-level are going down, but all children have already had nine years of history and that should be enough for many of them if it is well taught.
I will return to that. However, I do not believe that interest in history ends when you leave school. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, you have only to look at the popularity of history programmes on the television and the enormous membership figures of the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland. History, personal in relation to family trees and national, has become one of the major activities for older people. Programmes such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” of which I am a keen fan, and the many heritage programmes on television, have very high viewing figures and schools television programmes are also excellent. This started decades ago with the famous “Civilisation” series.
However, I listened recently to a Radio 4 programme about the teaching of history and they did a lot of vox pops. Here I heard a clue to the problem identified by the Secretary of State. Those contributors who enjoyed history and really learnt something had specialist teachers who were passionate about their subject and communicated that to their pupils. Here I think we have a problem. The Historical Association—as the noble Lord, Lord Luke, said—conducted a survey of history teachers this year and they, and Ofsted too, concluded that there is much to celebrate. They said:
“This is not a narrow curriculum, as the Secretary of State suggested, confined to Henry VIII and Hitler”.
That is not my opinion, but that of the expert historians. Having looked at the curriculum, I am afraid I agree with them. However, we should also take note of something else they found: that 67 per cent of the teachers surveyed did not have a history adviser in their area; 49 per cent said they had little or no training for subject leadership; and 90 per cent said there was an absence of subject-specific continuous professional development. As the noble Lord, Lord Luke, pointed out, two-thirds of young people get access to a specialist teacher only when they get to secondary school and sometimes not even then.
That makes history advisers and CPD really important if we are going to have confident teachers who can communicate a passion for the subject. Only then are we going to get enough young people taking GCSE and going on to A-level and history degrees. Only then will we produce enough history graduates to provide more specialist history teachers, as well as enough people to fill all the other posts that require professional historians.
History is important. It helps to develop in young people many of the same skills and critical attitudes and understanding of methodology as science does. If you want to know why history is important, you need only look at what happens to someone who completely loses their personal history by losing their memory. They are adrift. They lose the ability to understand themselves through the prism of their own past. Nations are the same. They understand themselves and are better equipped to face their future if they know about and understand their past.
What are the Government doing about this? That brings me to my third point: the EBacc. I understand from the statement to me of the Minister for Schools, Mr Nick Gibb, that the reason for the EBacc is,
“to ensure that more children study history”.
I presume he means that more 14 to 16 year-olds study history, as all five to 14 year-olds do so anyway. The Government have been at pains to say that the EBacc is only one of many ways in which schools will be judged and that they only want to ensure that all children have the opportunity to study history at GCSE level. That may well be, but the best way to ensure that young people study hard, make an effort and come out of school with some confidence-building success behind them is to ensure that they can study those subjects which are most appropriate for them. It is also a fact that not all schools see it that way. They think that they will be judged on the EBacc, and we find that they are staffing up to deliver it at the expense of other subjects such as RE, music and vocational subjects. That is a problem.
I certainly do not agree with Simon Schama's conclusion that we are creating two nations of young Britons: those who grow up with a sense of our shared memory and those who have been encouraged to treat it as little more than an ornamental polishing for the elite. Having read his article in the London Review of Books of March this year, I am much more inclined to agree with Richard Evans, who says about the national curriculum:
“There seems to be plenty of factual content in all this, plenty of kings and queens too. The examples the curriculum provides for teaching history to children from 7 to 11 make mention of 36 significant individuals, ranging from Boudicea and Caractacus to Livingstone and Brunel. From 11 to 14, children study the whole sweep of British history from 1066 to 1900”.
He points out that assessment concentrates 70 per cent on knowledge and 30 per cent on skills, so why Mr Gove thinks that facts and names play no part in all this is a mystery. Richard Evans concludes, and I agree, that the problem is not in the curriculum but in schools' ability to deliver it. Therefore my question to my noble friend is: what do the Government plan to do about that? Are the new teacher training schools to be involved? What sort of specialist support will be available to non-specialist teachers, who will inevitably have to deliver history, in particular in primary schools?
Finally, I express the hope that those carrying out the curriculum review will not feel the need to throw the current curriculum up in the air as a kneejerk reaction to one or two critical and opinionated historians but instead to seek the views of a wide and balanced range of them. The only lesson of history may be that we do not learn the lessons of history, but we should try.
My Lords, I should perhaps declare an interest to begin with, because one of my books was a set book for Eton on the Spanish civil war. Therefore, what the Etonians had to study was something about which I had thought a good deal. Although I am not a teacher of history, I have taught in universities; although I am not a schoolboy, I have an interest in the debate.
The aim should be to give to everyone who goes to school in this country a broad knowledge of the history of the country. I do not think that foreign countries are as important in the teaching of history as is the teaching of history in Britain. That teaching should concentrate on five things: first, the growth of political liberty; secondly, the industrial revolution; thirdly, the expansion of Britain overseas to the Empire; fourthly, some feeling of the importance of English literature and art throughout the ages, which is one of the reasons why we are admired outside this country; and, fifthly, some view of our relations with the continent of Europe, which has been such a continuous part of our political and intellectual development from the Middle Ages onwards—and, indeed, before. Do not forget that, had things gone differently at Orléans in 1430, this country would have achieved that union with France which Winston Churchill wanted to achieve in 1940.
Speaking of those five separate undertakings, I believe that the winning of political liberty in this country is something on which we should dwell. It was not as easy as it must seem. Some of those who challenge it now seem to think that it is not worth talking about. The effort to achieve habeas corpus, constant elections and the rule of law was not an easy undertaking. It took many generations to perfect it. It would be good if in most schools students—pupils—were brought up to understand the golden age of British politics. One might say that that was the 1790s, the age of Pitt, Charles James Fox, Burke, Sheridan and so on; unless one thinks that it would be better to concentrate on the 19th century, the age of Disraeli and Gladstone or of Gladstone and Salisbury.
The history of the industrial revolution should also be discussed. The industrial revolution is sometimes vilified as if it has brought ugliness, unhappiness and misery. That is not the case. It has vastly increased human comfort and the number of people employed and opened up a new world to a far more satisfied population.
The Empire, the expansion of Britain, should also be discussed. There are several sections to that: the North American empire, the African empire, the Middle East empire, the empire in the Far East, concentrated on the Malay States and Singapore, and Australasia. Those are five separate undertakings by which we as a nation are judged. I belong to a family which served continuously in both India and Africa. I am aware that one can criticise my ancestors or my uncles, but I know that they thought that they were doing the right thing not only for this country but for the peoples of the countries concerned, to whom they were bringing culture, Christianity and civilisation—three major “C”s which they never forgot.
The fourth British achievement—in the arts—should also not be forgotten. We are admired as the nation of Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Shelley, Dickens and Scott just as much as we are as the nation of Pitt, Fox, and so on. There is no question but that such writers as Sir Walter Scott and Dickens are still in the mind of all educated Europeans— indeed, of all citizens of the world.
Finally, there is the relation with Europe. This is a permanently quarrelsome topic but the fact is that British history has been continuously a part of Europe. We have always been in Europe. The mere fact that our main square is called Trafalgar Square and our main station is called Waterloo is a reminder of that. Our monarchs have been alternately French and German, as well as Welsh and Scottish, but our relation with Europe characterises all our military activity throughout recorded history.
I think these five sections should play a part in national education in a major way and the subject should be approached as if they were the essential underpinnings of the historical memory which we are trying to stimulate, develop and achieve.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, who is a most distinguished historian. He referred very modestly to his work on the Spanish civil war but no more seminal work has been produced in this country in the past 50 years. He did not refer, modestly or otherwise, to his history of the slave trade. I wish he had because it is a book that would commend itself to all those Members of your Lordships’ House who have not yet read it.
This is a very important debate and I am most grateful, as we all are, to my noble friend Lord Luke not only for introducing it but for the manner in which he did so. Over the nearly 42 years now that I have been associated with this place I have on many occasions taken parties of school children round this building, which I love and will love to my dying day. I have always taken them to the Royal Gallery and I have gone through the kings and queens whose portraits hang there from the first of the Hanoverians onwards. I have talked of the two great paintings by Daniel Maclise, which are being looked at for restoration. There is a great difference between the parties that I used to take round in the early 1970s and the parties that I have taken round more recently. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to the phrase that every schoolboy knows. In the early 1970s when I talked about the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of Waterloo—the pictures of which, incidentally, had to be covered up when Giscard d’Estaing addressed both Houses here—every member of the group that I was showing round would know about Waterloo and Trafalgar. In more recent years that has not been the case.
As a young man before I entered the House of Commons I was for 10 years a schoolmaster. I taught history. I had charge of the history curriculum in two schools. I made sure that the boys—I am afraid they were all boys in those days in the schools in which I taught—when they reached the age of 16 all had a reasonable, chronological knowledge of the history of their country. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is right to say that it is the history of our country that we should be primarily concerned with. I made sure that all those boys knew about the great events in English history and the great people who had moulded those events, be it Wycliffe and the Lollards and the first attempt at an English Bible, Hampden and Pym in the 17th century, those great orators of the 18th century to whom the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred, or Gladstone and Disraeli. One liked to try and enliven one’s lessons by telling amusing stories. I always loved the one about Disraeli and Gladstone when Disraeli said that if Mr Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a great misfortune but if somebody pulled him out it would be a calamity. By means of anecdotes one could bring alive the history of the country in a way to which young people responded.
In more recent years when I have shown people round there has often been a look of blank incredulity and ignorance when I have talked of some of the great names of our past. Why is that the case? I am afraid I do not share the sanguine view of the history curriculum held by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. What may be said in the curriculum papers is not necessarily brought forth in the classroom. I think that Mr Gove was entirely justified in making the remarks that he made in 2010 and I hope that my noble friend, when he comes to respond to this debate, will be able to give your Lordships some encouragement. The knowledge of our history is the birthright of every child in this country. To deprive a child of his or her birthright is an act of wanton intellectual and academic vandalism. It is essential that all our children have a knowledge of our history so that when they leave school they can fit into the framework of national events the things about which they read in the contemporary press.
We were recalled to this House in August to discuss those dreadful, disfiguring riots. There was unanimous consternation here at what had happened. I put forward a suggestion, which I want to repeat. I said that every young man or woman leaving school, be it at the age of 16 or 18, should go through the same sort of ceremony that those who now aspire to British citizenship must go through and that in order to do so they must be able to demonstrate a certain knowledge of the history of their country. We have a golden opportunity coming up to do something about this.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way but this point is pertinent to what he has just said about those rioters. Is he talking about teaching history, as he and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, have described it, or should we not have more about the people’s history of Britain? There is another dimension to history teaching on which a number of very commendable books have been written which turn the world upside down. Would he reflect on that as well?
I hope that I reflect on all sorts of things as I make my meandering remarks but I will not allow myself to be too diverted by the noble Lord’s intervention.
The point I am seeking to make is that I believe that those who leave school to go into the wider world should be proud of their British birthright, which means that they must have a knowledge of the history of this country. I was going on to say that I believe there is a golden opportunity coming up because in 2015 we will be commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Only yesterday I was talking in my capacity as chairman of the History of Parliament Trust to Sir Robert Worcester who is chairing the committee on Magna Carta. I asked him whether it would not be a marvellous idea if in that year every school leaver in the country was given a facsimile of Magna Carta and an account of what it meant for the foundation of our liberties. That would be a good thing and would help concentrate the mind.
Anniversaries are good. This morning at Question Time—rather mischievously, because it was not relevant to the Question—the noble Lord, Lord West, talked about Trafalgar Day, which is tomorrow. How many people out there know that Trafalgar Day is tomorrow? Should it not be incumbent on those who teach history in our schools to ensure that every child knows that Trafalgar Day is tomorrow, just as they should know the significance of 11 November? Of course, in three years’ time we will have an opportunity to reflect on the beginning of the First World War.
The problem today is that there is a pick and mix attitude to history teaching in schools. Very often there is a constant emphasis on the Second World War. I was born just before the beginning of that terrible war and of course I yield to no one in acknowledging how tremendously important and life-changing for everyone around the world it was. However, that is not the sum total of history. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about cause and effect, as did my noble friend Lord Luke. If people are going to understand the Second World War, they have to understand the First World War; and if they are going to understand the First World War, they have to understand the French Revolution, to which the noble Baroness referred. If they are going to understand that, they have to understand our revolutions of the 17th century: the bloody one, which resulted in the death of the king, and the glorious one, as we often call it, through which the true foundations of parliamentary democracy were laid and the absolute power of the monarch came to an end without bloodshed. All these things they have to know.
It is important that we should discuss these matters in the House. This evening I will have the honour of presiding at a small dinner for a group of fellow members of the Royal Historical Society. We shall meet David Willetts, the Minister in charge of universities, to discuss the teaching of history in universities. This is a follow-up to a similar dinner that I arranged last year for Royal Society members to meet Michael Gove to discuss the teaching of history in schools. A golden thread links the two: we want more young people in our schools to read history at university. We hope that when they do, it will give them a comprehensive knowledge of history such as is not always the case at the moment. I have a son of whom I am extremely proud. He read history at a great university. He knows nothing at all about the Middle Ages, although he has a very good degree. That cannot be right.
We have an opportunity today to point to and underline the fundamental importance of the study of our past. My noble friend introduced the debate very eloquently on that score. We also have a duty to ask the Minister to do all that he can with the Secretary of State to ensure that the centrality of history in the curriculum of our schools is underlined. History must be chronological and as all-embracing as possible. Young people must study it to the age of 16 at least, and when they leave school they should not only have knowledge, but knowledge of which they are truly proud.
My Lords, we are all in debt to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for the debate. It is a pleasure to take part and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who has done so much in his career to promote history and heritage. I declare an interest as chair of English Heritage and also, in another life, as a makeshift historian. Sadly, I was never taught either by my charismatic noble friend Lord Morgan or by any of the other historians in the Chamber—sadly, not even by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
The debate is extremely timely because it is timeless. At its heart are questions that surround the whole purpose of teaching history and how we find the right way to teach it. Dictatorships have never had a problem with the importance and purpose of teaching history, and they have come up with similar solutions. Democracies, too, wrestle with this, and many questions raised in the House are fundamental to a democratic appreciation of the importance of history. Even in a country such as ours, with a very placid trajectory, we have wrestled with these questions for decades if not centuries.
The teaching of a subject that raises the issue of what constitutes the national past and what should be taught in schools is a study in history itself. It is a brave debate to embark on, and it is a brave Minister who, in summing up, will have to try to reconcile all the different views. I have been helped to find my own way through this thicket by the work of David Cannadine. I was very happy that he gave me access to a book he is about to publish called The Teaching of History. I am very grateful to him for the brief glimpse he gave me of a very powerful thesis in which he charts the disagreements over the teaching and learning of history in this country over the past century. There is no doubt that, in a very decentralised curriculum that serves an astonishing variety of schools and a diverse system generally, the teaching of history has been fraught with disagreements, at least since 1870 if not earlier—I am sure my noble friend could correct me.
Until the 1980s and the coming of the national curriculum, the power to influence through the Secretary of State was very limited. Now, with the national curriculum and its relationships with examinations, almost as many issues are being raised. Many of them were raised in this debate, with controversies around them. The fundamental question is whether history matters. If it does not, it is hard to explain the fascination demonstrated already across the Chamber, for example with “The Tudors” on television or with the great blockbusting historical novels or, indeed, the great popularity of anniversaries. If one wants an example of how government interferes with the presentation of history, the account of Prince Albert chairing the Fine Arts Commission, and the commissioning of the Maclise portraits in the new German technology, on which he insisted, is fascinating. I commend Malcolm Hay, our curator, for that knowledge.
If history does not matter, why is there so much evident concern with the fact that fewer than one-third of students take history beyond 14? Why is there anxiety among teachers themselves about the lack of specialist knowledge in primary schools? Why is there an agonised debate about narrative versus bore-hole theories of history? I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that many of these issues will be raised in the curriculum review. History does matter, and must be seen to matter. That is crucial. In a complex, liberal and individualistic society such as ours, consciousness of the past is even more important. The more sophisticated that our society becomes and the more that we move away from linear, simplistic interpretations, the more we need history. Of course it is about identity and it is central to our sense of place, significance, perspective and proportion. I was fascinated by the account of the dramatic interpretations of British relations with Iraq. For the past 10 years I have yearned for our Governments to know more about the history of British relations with the Middle East in general.
History offers at least two particular, related motivations for learning. One is that it is full of ripping yarns and feeds our appetite for more stories. One of my GCSE heroes was Jethro Tull and the seed drill, although I cannot imagine that he is a very popular figure these days. The Elizabethan spymasters, too, captured my imagination. Having talked to a few leading historians this week, including some from the better history forum, which involves both academics and teachers, it seems that a key issue is time itself—time in the school day. Evidence suggests that since 2007 the curriculum has been eaten away in terms of time and focus. Head teachers are under pressure to get results. One result is that in many schools the time available for history is heavily restricted. In some, the discipline survives as a discrete subject; in others, it is treated principally as serving other disciplines. The picture is very patchy, especially in primary schools.
In secondary schools there is a growing tendency to cram key stage 3 into two years. This can mean that, in effect, many pupils get only two years of specialist history teaching before they give the subject up. The rest of Europe might be shocked to know that we have students giving up history completely at 13. I have to ask the Minister why he thinks so many schools are losing the battle. How can we incentivise head teachers? What impact is the EBacc going to have in this respect? Crucially, does he agree with the case made by many historians these days that history should be compulsory to 16? Does he agree that this would drive a more coherent and integrated syllabus across key stages 3 and 4?
This is a salient question because, no matter how we read history, whether we are on the side of the great sweeping narrative or we see the virtues of the in-detail study of Henry VIII or Hitler, there is a tension here. We do not go in for the great historical panorama set pieces any more. I do not want to use another food analogy, but it has been described as the YO! Sushi approach to history, where one just tastes little bits of history and studies short blocks of time intensively. Whether or not this approach allows a better understanding of historical debates and engagement with original materials—and I think possibly it does—it certainly leaves students, as Ofsted put it, with,
“an episodic knowledge of history”,
and a sense of time that is unclear. At GCSE level there is a sort of swerve back into narrative history but the complaint here is the isolated use of texts without the connecting tissue of context.
The question of what is taught, and how, raises questions around the need for transparency of the assessment and examination system. Again, I hope the curriculum review might address this. I do not want to put the Minister on the spot but there is a big question about whether the Government should have a greater role in determining detailed content of the curriculum to avoid, for example, eccentric programmes of study. Another subset of this tension between narrative and episodic teaching is between what could be parodied as the Gradgrind approach to history—“Facts, my boy!”—and the approach that determines that history is a splendid way of developing other analytical skills and competences. Again, this is an active debate in our schools today.
I too have read the Historical Association reports about the absence of specialist teaching and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was quite right to point to that as absolutely central to how we read and develop this debate into better learning and teaching. By the sound of it, it is possible that some students can go through their entire school career without ever being taught by specialist teachers. Ofsted talks about teachers failing to establish,
“a clear mental map of the past”,
because they lack expertise and because of the disconnected way the national curriculum treats topics.
Finally, one point of particular relevance to bodies such as English Heritage is the proposition from the better history forum that the Government should work from the outset with professional bodies and resource providers to ensure that the curriculum is fully resourced. I say amen to that, because surely history is above all an adventure—an active and participative adventure. When children are engaged with learning they are motivated to learn more, and when they visit our great monuments and sites, whether in school or sometimes more successfully out of school, they do not engage with bricks and mortar but they engage with their imaginations.
There is a problem with time and resources in schools—it is a crowded curriculum. I hope the Minister agrees that time and resources are well spent when schools commit to out-of-school learning. English Heritage is fully engaged with this, as noble Lords will understand. We have wonderful resources that we download into classrooms and then we upload students into our sites and monuments. Anyone who has seen the legions of 10 year-old Roman soldiers at Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall—making Roman lamps no less—or encountered a group of tiny children acting out the life of the Victorian servant class in Apsley House, will know that these children will always want more history and that heritage for them is not actually the past, it is something that enriches and explains their future.
One of my ambitions is to make those occasional encounters a substantial and systematic part of the relationship between local schools and local history and the national story. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, that he would like to see his five themes; I would actually like to see more attention in the curriculum to the local history of our country and, of course, the four countries in our nation. I would also make a plea for more study of the impact of science and technology.
For noble Lords who have not been there, I should say that Dover Castle is a brilliant example of how history reinvents itself. Dover Castle was not only an Iron Age hill fort at the beginning of our story; it concludes with the wartime tunnels—opening this summer—from which Admiral Ramsay, a rather neglected figure, saved the soldiers from Dunkirk, when 300,000 men were taken off the beaches. We have the whole story of England in one site. How much better can it get?
Finally, I do not entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I actually share Simon Schama’s concerns that if less history is taught in some schools—those schools might be the academy schools, and I would like the Minister to comment on whether that is possibly the case—there can be a schizophrenia, which is to say a sense of shared memory and shared appreciation of history among one group of people and a lack of interest and appreciation among another. That has huge implications, not just for culture but for a diverse nation which has to come to terms with a number of different stories and histories. I believe that this is an issue. As Simon Schama said,
“a truly capacious British history …will not be the feeder of identity politics but its dissolvent”.
That is one of the many very serious questions raised by this debate.
My Lords, when it comes to a debate on history I am afraid I bring a little history of my own into this. The first time I got into a really nasty row with a member of my own party was about 23 years ago when I spoke on a debate on history in this House. It was when we were getting rid of the old O-level and replacing it with GCSE, and it was decided that this was not fact-driven enough. We had to do something else; we just could not have this new syllabus with things like empathy coming in. When I criticised the council leader who sacked a teacher who was, bizarrely, teaching to the then Scottish O-grade, I was attacked about it over the phone. I was quite joyful as a 26 year-old to tell a 45 year-old councillor to go and shove it and read the debate before he spoke to me again. Everybody has an opinion, everybody gets paranoid about history, because everybody assumes that the bit they are interested in is the bit we should be interested in—the bit that we find speaks to us should be the bit that somebody else should take on board.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke about the 18th and 19th centuries. I did the 18th and 19th centuries because I was at school in the 1970s. I did the O-level system where you actually learned lots of facts—we had O-level memory and we did not have any history, to be perfectly honest. Yes, we could run off all the Prime Ministers and the Acts they passed, but it did not tell you anything. It did not tell you how they related to each other or how anything went on from that. The noble Lord referred to the Glorious Revolution, so called because of course in England there was not any fighting; it was all in Ireland and Scotland—not quite so glorious there, possibly. Every time you take a little bit of history you have to look at it.
Probably the most profound historical exercise I undertook was to do with being best man at a wedding in France, believe it or not. I was best man to a university flatmate who also read history. The families were arguing over who should sit where. Over the second bottle of wine at a dinner party it was suggested that I might want to put all the French people on tables named after famous English victories over them, with the most embarrassing paragraph about that victory on the table, and the English the other way round. This was an extremely fun project. The best one I found was Yorktown for the English. You could say it was a French victory—and we had a few Americans there so they got annoyed as well; it was great—because the army of America was of course paid for by the French and there were nearly as many French soldiers outside and a French fleet besieging it, which is an interesting little fact to take back and annoy people with. You then get the idea: “But that’s not really fair. No, that’s not it”. But that is what happened. Unless you look at and embrace your failures and the things that went wrong in history, you will ultimately get it wrong. In looking at history, we tend to look at what makes us great. We should look at what made us bad as well and remember the fact that any nation which has been out there could almost drown in its own sins of failure or perhaps straightforward misunderstanding at any point.
Earlier, we heard that when people were in colonial service they thought that they were bringing culture and superiority to the societies which we were imperially controlling. I suggest that India might argue with us that it had a valid culture and a valid history. Its civilised and recorded history is rather better than ours. It is more interesting and more colourful. India must look at why it allowed this ridiculous nation thousands of miles away to take over the whole sub-continent, which is an equally interesting question.
This comes down to the question of how one takes this information and puts it into a classroom. My noble friend Lady Walmsley got it right when she read out what is prescribed in the history curriculum. It is a huge task, which, if anything, is too big. It is possible only with specialist support. Perhaps we are too ambitious and ask everyone to do rather more than they are capable of. A limit on what you are trying to do might be important. How can we possibly bring this together?
We come back to the fashions in history. People of my age were taught about the 18th and 19th centuries. Now it seems to be World War II and the Tudors—possibly not, but they seem to be the fashionable subjects that come up most often. What is more valid? One could spend a lifetime discussing that question and still not come to a conclusion that means anything. As has been pointed out, they are part of the same continuous street.
I have met professional historians—indeed, the much missed Lord Russell, who I remember would say when you got slightly outside his spectrum, “Oh, not my period”. He might have had a rough idea of what was going on but it was not his period. Most professional historians are like that. The arguments about fashion come back to the idea of the marxist versus the revisionist or the post-modernists. All of them basically play with ideas. Then we all have an opinion on the ideas. We have all done a little history or have all done some education, in that most of us have been to school. The idea of fashion comes in and out and always different pressures will be put on people as regards fashion.
We should not read too much into this. The one thing that we can be sure about is that fashion changes. People now attacking the system and the status quo will be attacked because that is what academics and politicians do. They feed off ideas. If history gives us an idea of place and of our place within our country, it will depend on how we teach that and how we connect it.
I shudder to say this with my noble friend Lady Benjamin at my left elbow: the fact is that if you come from an ethnic minority you may have a different sense of what is important in history from, for example, a white hereditary Peer. I am sure that different family connections go back through the system here. I know that my family provided people for the colonial service for quite a long time. There were different perceptions of what you did and what you should not do. Once again, people can drown in a sort of self-loathing for things that were done in days gone by which they would never do today. That is fashion or perception.
I say to my noble friend who will answer this debate that when we talk about history, we should try to remember that there is not a right answer. There are merely answers that will give some help and understanding. Is it a narrative guide to what happened in the past or is it an academic discipline? On using history to discover other things, I had a moment from my nine year-old daughter, who asked, “What is rape?”. I said, “Why do you want to know?”. She said, “Boudicca’s daughters were raped by the Romans”. That was a slightly less worrying reason for being asked that question than many I can think of.
Once you use history for various parts of education, you will always have to make sacrifices. The sacrifice that you will ultimately have to make if you teach more history is whether we should teach more English and maths. We all know that English and maths is appalling and has never been as good as it was—as it always was in my youth and, indeed, my mother’s youth, apparently.
English is a very difficult language to learn because of its two origins—French and German, thanks to the fact that the English were ruled over by French kings for several hundred years—which is probably one of the reasons. Perhaps history can help us with that. There is always a problem somewhere in the curriculum. Ever since we have had a national curriculum, there has been a constant cry to spend more time on the pet subject of the person speaking at the time. Recently, we have heard about nutrition, parenting, English is always coming up and now history. We must make a limit on this. History must be fit in as a coherent part of that whole. We will never get it right. A degree of flexibility may be important in the approach but if we say that there is one right way and one wrong way, all we will do is set up another row, which, after all, may be what the professional historians want.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Luke for securing today’s important debate. As previously outlined by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Walmsley, history is thankfully back in fashion. People are spending time researching their family history on the internet, and “A History of Ancient Britain” and “Mixed Britannia” are just some of the 36 episodes of historical programming available today on BBC iPlayer. I do not approach this debate as a TV producer, professional educationalist or historian but merely as the recipient of inspired history teaching at GCSE and A-level.
However, at the age of 18 I would have been a disappointment to many in your Lordships’ House. I had no overall timeline of British history. I would have struggled to give the correct century for the Battle of Waterloo; I had not covered a world war; and I just thought that it was quite curious that some borders in Africa happened to be straight lines. I know that I am not alone in that experience, as friends of mine spent a new-year holiday watching the boxed set of Simon Schama’s TV series “A History of Britain” back to back.
Over many years now, I have been privileged to know some of Britain’s black and ethnic-minority communities. I have watched as politicians and commentators have flailed around with concepts like multiculturalism and trying to redefine Britishness. Obviously the teaching of history in schools is not a silver bullet and I am not for one minute suggesting that we make teachers responsible for national identity. But I have become convinced that inspired teaching of our national story is an essential element in forming our national identity, which includes the English story and the multicultural story.
I say the “English story” deliberately. As a wise friend of mine said, people identify as British Asians, not English Asians. The teaching of the English story in schools is essential to the British identity and it has been, until recently, the missing part. Why is that? It should be simple—start perhaps with King Alfred and tell the narrative. But many of the English still do not know how to, or some say are not willing to, deal with parts of the national story.
In 2007, I was involved in organising an event to commemorate the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Again, politicians and commentators seemed unsure about how to handle the anniversary. Is it a celebration? Is it a commemoration? Do we apologise? This lack of national peace over contentious events does little to assist our history teachers who have to teach this without making white children feel bad and black children feel angry. It is not an easy task. As if the Empire and the transatlantic slave trade were not difficult enough, in the post-9/11 American response, President George W Bush saw fit to use the word “crusade”. I think many of the English wanted to go and hide. But national peace with our history will not come if children are not even taught the basic content of it. Analysis of events you do not even know about is of course impossible.
Simon Schama, the Government’s adviser on the national curriculum, puts it like this:
“Without this renewed sense of our common story—one full of contention not self-congratulation—we will be a poorer and weaker Britain”.
I believe we have been poorer and weaker as a people who do not know their own story and identity are more vulnerable to malevolent influences such as the EDL and the BNP.
In some senses Britain has always been multicultural as we are made up of four nations. Over the last 60 years, however, Britain has sought to include millions of people who often have a different heritage, culture and tradition. Without a strong English story being taught and known, who knows what these newer communities were expected to integrate with? However, the change in the British population means that the teaching of the nation’s history in schools is a more varied and perhaps a more challenging task. We all need to know why Britain is the way it is.
I remember one sunny afternoon at Hampton Court Palace when I happened to notice that virtually all the visitors were white. This caused me to reflect, and I realised that I felt connected to the history I was seeing there because my ancestors, whoever they were, were around at the time of Henry VIII. I did wonder, however, if the same could be said for some of my black friends. Maybe not, because the history of their ancestors at that time would of course be elsewhere. Some British black people will feel just as connected as I do but many will not. As a young black Londoner, Sam Kamasu, said to me only yesterday, young black people are not engaging with history as much as they should. Black youth in particular has such a multilayered history because black is such a large cluster—African and Caribbean, for instance. Many young people from this group struggle to find what history to connect with, especially second and third-generation migrants. At times they might find it difficult to identify with current course content. Allowing young people to shape their historical learning by choosing the content from earlier in the academic system may contribute to them being more inspired to keep on learning”.
I would ask the Minister to take this suggestion of allowing more choice in the content of the curriculum to Simon Schama, the Government’s adviser, and to those within Britain’s ethnic minorities whom Mr Schama and of course the department will be consulting with. Although many people acknowledge that the content of the curriculum has improved over recent years, many still feel that it does not appreciate the contribution of or tell the stories of those from Britain’s newer communities. This gap is being filled by initiatives such as Black History Month.
I learnt much about the sacrifice of Commonwealth soldiers in World War 2 from speeches by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and novels such as Small Island by Andrea Levy. The Caribbean islanders were apparently never conscripted but chose to fight. It is stories like this that Britain’s Caribbean community want emphasising in the nation’s classrooms.
It is only since joining your Lordships’ House that I have had to begin speaking publicly about multiculturalism and diversity. In my previous role, I would always ask members of Britain’s black community to do this, not least because it is their tale often to tell. “My family history ends with a ship”, said Bishop Wayne Malcolm in 2007 to a dumbstruck audience of 800 people, including the current Prime Minister. “Thank you for your ancestors’ bravery and courage for bringing Christianity, healthcare and education to Ghana. Without their sacrifice, my family and I would not be where we are today”. That is my summary of Reverend Kingsley Appiagyei’s words to MPs, peers and councillors at a training event. Many had never before heard Britain’s contentious missionary history so described.
These perspectives and the courageous stories of migration to the UK need telling in the nation’s classrooms. I wonder if inviting different people into schools to tell their and their families’ stories would aid our history teachers as well as building community relationships. I would be grateful if the Minister would consider this suggestion.
Simon Schama is right. We cannot be self-congratulatory but we may find that some of those most affected by our past are more at ease and forgiving about what happened than the English might expect or indeed deserve. So I would suggest that Britain’s colonial history and the current heritage of the population necessitates that the national history taught in our classrooms contains strands of world history. Rightly or wrongly, Britain has been on the world stage and people came to live here as a result. This could be a tremendously exciting curriculum.
To conclude, it may seem too much perhaps to some people to link teaching history in schools, as I have done, to our national identity but I pray in aid the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, who in his book The Home We Build Together argues for the need for a fragmented Britain to build a covenantally based society; one based on a mutually binding promise to one another sustained by loyalty, fidelity and faithfulness. He argues that a covenantally based society would,
“integrate diversity into national unity without asking anyone to abandon their independence or identity”.
How does the noble Lord suggest such covenantal societies achieve this lofty goal? They tell a story.
So if telling our story in the nation’s classrooms and through the media and around our dinner tables will give us anything like the strong sense of national identity the Jewish people around the world have retained, despite persecution and often living as a diaspora, it is a task well worth undertaking.
My Lords, history needs defence in Parliament. It has been ill served by parliamentarians in recent years. One of the many reasons why I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for an excellent Motion is that it enables us to make amends.
New Labour served history ill. It was unaware of the historical dimension. The essential quality of New Labour was that it was new—therefore. the past dealt with the old and therefore it was of less significance. That is not true of the two Labour leaders whose biography I had the privilege of writing—Lord Callaghan and Michael Foot. Jim Callaghan was very interested in history, particularly naval history. Michael Foot wrote a famous book on the politics of Queen Anne. They had a sense of history. So, too, did my famous countryman Nye Bevan; he did not have much schooling and did not go to university but had his famous story about how he would walk the hills known to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, above Tredegar. When he was lost he would turn to see where he had come from. The moral, said Nye, was that if you want to know where you are going you want to know where you have come from.
The present coalition is not much better. We have heard about the difficulties in schools where history is marginalised in the curriculum. We heard last week about how university funding for the teaching of history has been severely cut back, with serious effects on historical research. So history needs defending and yet it has, as so many noble Lords have said, huge appeal, growing journals and great appeal on television, particularly, I hope, when presented by professional historians and not by television personalities.
I never taught in a school, so to that degree I am totally unqualified to speak. I speak, perhaps, as a parent. The most successful course that my daughter did at her comprehensive school in Wales was one on social protest in Wales between 1800 and 1914. I believe it was written by one of my former pupils; perhaps I should declare an interest. It was very effective for many reasons, which produce some wider conclusions. First, it was about social history and change within society, particularly change in local society. You could see the toll houses or whatever the artefacts from the conflicts described were.
Secondly, it was covered through primary documents. It was very valuable for schoolchildren to look, for example, at some of the pamphlets of protest from that period.
Thirdly, it covered a decent span of time. I very much respond to what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said on this. It covered the whole of the 19th century, indicating that history should not be a pick and mix or based on snippets and soundbites. You should be able to study a problem over a prolonged period.
Fourthly, it was also about conflict. I do not want to be misunderstood on this but history is a record of collision—of colliding ideas, classes and social and political movements. We just lost the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. I wanted to mention Sir Robert Peel’s career, of which the noble Lord wrote, which was about conflict over Catholic emancipation and the Corn Laws. It is very important that a history course for children should make the point that out of conflict can grow consensus. How was it, after those people were shot down outside the Westgate Hotel in Newport, that the Chartists’ demands were, in the fullness of time, largely accepted? I do not mind history being about conflict. Better that it should be about that than a mindless conformism or a mindless patriotism. People have different views. To quote Nye Bevan again:
“You tell me your truth and I’ll tell you mine”.
That is the way to approach history.
The awareness of history is essential for the maturing and development of young people. It is accessible to everybody. As one who has spent—I am afraid—the past 50-odd years of my life writing and teaching history, it is important that I should always bear in mind that it is for everybody, not just for other historians. Outreach is very important. I always commend the Historical Association and never turn down an opportunity to speak to it, even if it is to 10 men and a dog on a wet night in Manchester. It is important to approach your audience in that open way, and to look at history in the round and at its artefacts. I enormously commend the work of National Heritage, chaired by my noble friend Lady Andrews, and, in particular, the work of the People’s History Museum in Manchester, where you see documents and archives side by side with the physical artefacts of working-class history. It is nearly adjacent to the site of Peterloo, to which my noble friend Lady Bakewell referred.
There are many reasons to study history. It is fun; it stimulates curiosity; it is infinitely varied and colourful. It is a good intellectual training. It is not just a soft option for, as it were, would-be Guardian readers of the future. It is a powerful intellectual test. How do you know things? What is the evidence? How do you compare different kinds of evidence? When you consider such matters you do not need jargon. I am not so sure about some of my medieval colleagues but you do not need jargon; you can say it in plain English that everybody can understand. You do not need physical apparatus; you need only a working mind. History is available to all sentient beings.
As other noble Lords have said, history teaches a sense of perspective and change over time. This is true of even the contemporary history that some of us are said to teach. In even the most recent period, that is the essential sense that you must convey. You should extend it to everything—not just to anniversaries such as the 50th anniversary of some famous event but to all the experiences of daily life. For schoolchildren daily life becomes alive if you stimulate the historical sense and it can be linked to the past. The greatest of all historians, Edward Gibbon, observed that his period in the Hampshire Grenadiers was not irrelevant to the historian of the Roman legions and the decline of the empire.
History gives children a sense of identity—of where they belong and who they are. Other countries are aware of this. In my wife’s country, France, people would be astonished that history is not a compulsory part of our curriculum, as it is so powerfully there. History also gives a sense of a many-sided identity. People in this country have many identities. I have spent much of my career writing the history of Wales and the history of Britain and the north Atlantic side by side. It is interesting to see a different sense of relevance. For example, the Blue Books controversy of 1847, which is probably unknown to most of my audience and never mentioned in books on British history, is perhaps the most important event in 19th and 20th century Welsh history in stimulating a sense of nationality.
One must look at and reassess identity, not only because new research is being done and new facts released, but because you are writing within a society that is itself changing. Therefore, the questions to do with the past that you are interested in are constantly changing. The noble Baroness who preceded me spoke very interestingly on multiculturalism and cultural identity. That is clearly an area where questions that are different from traditional themes have been posed. A few years ago there was an interesting series of commemorations to do with the ending of the slave trade in 1807. How refreshing it was to see that an awareness of the multicultural society led to understanding that it was not simply the work of a few benevolent white middle-class Englishmen. It was in fact a dynamic process in which black men and women also participated, which was as much a part of the great process of liberation as what was done in England.
History is the basis of a civilised society. A famous historian, JR Seeley said that it was “past politics”. It is much more than that. It is capacious and contains multitudes. It is a mosaic of changing ideas, cultures and social formations. This should be reflected—I hope it is—in the way that history is taught in schools. I hope schools are not afraid of being conceptual and looking at the history of ideas. If we look at and celebrate Magna Carta in three years’ time, I hope we do not approach it simply from the bad King John—or even the good King John—point of view, but from the ideas of human rights and the discussion of human rights down the centuries. Yesterday I took part in a debate on the terrorism prevention Bill. A brisk course in human rights would be instructive for the Front Benches on both sides of your Lordships’ House.
Finally, history appeals to the most powerful of instincts: memory. The French are very aware of memory, not just the individual memory but the public memory—what the famous historian Pierre Nora called lieux de mémoire, or the sites of memories that have colonised and infiltrated the present. I hope history in schools can capture memory in its widest sense.
I began with a fellow countryman, Aneurin Bevan. I finish with another, a great friend of mine, who I think taught my noble friend Lady Andrews. If the House will indulge me, Professor Gwyn Alfred Williams observed, “Beth yw hanes ond cof cendl?”. What is history but the memory of a nation? How right he was.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Luke for securing this debate as I have always maintained that in order to shape our future we must look into our past. The lessons of history are a valuable road map of how events and changes in society have affected the world we live in today. It is often said that we can learn from history and avoid making the same mistakes twice. The only problem I have with this is that many leaders and Governments around the world fail to take an even cursory look at a history book before plunging their countries and populations into catastrophic wars and devastating economic events.
Recent history is frequently airbrushed and adjusted to suit political and ideological ends. I find this deeply worrying because some of today’s history books do not tell the full catalogue of events. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, I am personally concerned with the documentation of black history and that which applies to the diverse nature of Britain and the reasons why we have become such a rich multicultural society. The recent BBC2 television series “Mixed Race Britain” is, I believe, a landmark piece of television. It has made me aware of part of our history that I never knew had taken place. The programme is brilliantly researched and brilliantly documented. It reminds us of some of the most horrific episodes of racism in our recent history. It tells of Chinese fathers and husbands torn from the bosoms of their English wives and children in dawn raids and deported for no good reason, and of curfews forbidding black people to be out after dark. Yes, this all happened here in Britain less than a lifetime ago.
I have always gone to great lengths to explain to anyone who will listen that immigration to this country did not start with the Windrush, as many people seem to believe, and as the media continue constantly to reinforce. In 17th-century paintings by Hogarth we see the diverse nature of London, and yet it is rarely reflected in our history books that there has been diversity here since Roman times.
In 1987, October was established as Black History Month here in Britain to celebrate and acknowledge the contribution of black people, and to educate and inform society about the important part that black people have played in history. To celebrate, over the past few weeks I have been touring schools across the country, speaking to children in both urban and rural areas about the experiences of those who came to the UK from the British Empire. I make them aware that there were thousands of people from Africa, India, China and the Caribbean here in Britain long before the 1950s. I explain how in Nelson's fleet many black sailors manned the ships; how in Devon there are graveyards with African names carved on the tombstones; how millions of people from Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Asia fought for Britain in the First and Second World Wars, the Boer War, and the Crimean War, in which not only Florence Nightingale but Jamaican-born Mary Seacole nursed British soldiers. The children I speak to absorb this information like sponges. It is a delight to see their minds opening up to history.
I always find it amazing that so many films and television programmes fail to show the involvement of any of these groups of people when portraying these historic moments. Time and time again, with very few exceptions, films depicting the Elizabethan or Victorian eras fail to show people of colour as part of history. Even the story of the abolition of slavery frequently assigns the success of the campaign to William Wilberforce and his associates, often airbrushing out the black abolitionists who campaigned alongside them, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, highlighted just now. I find it sad, disheartening and frustrating that writers, researchers and directors fail to research past events correctly and truthfully and are therefore in effect changing history. That is why the teaching of accurate recent history in schools is so vital. If our young people grow up without learning and understanding history then we are making a terrible mistake, because the social make-up of our society is shaped by recent history. What vital lessons will be missed by our future leaders if they are not taught recent history in the classroom, history which is affecting their lives?
Some of this history may be unpleasant. It may make us feel ashamed or guilty. But it must never be brushed under the carpet. Imagine if we allowed significant occurrences, violent conflicts, world-changing political events, and the most evil and shocking atrocities of mankind's past, to be forgotten or erased from our history: the African Holocaust where millions of Africans died in enslavement, stripped of their religion, language and culture; the Jewish Holocaust of Hitler’s Third Reich; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the assassinations of Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy; the Vietnam War; and most recently, the horrific events of 9/11, the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war. These episodes must never be forgotten.
I produced a television series recently called “Statues and Monuments”. While we were filming a statue in central London a woman came up and said, “Why are you filming the statue of that man? He was a monster. What he did was evil. It should be torn down”. I replied, “No. We have to remember what he represents, so that it can never happen again”. We must never burn our history books. Our young people must be taught our past, so they will never make those same mistakes again.
History is one of the most important subjects in the curriculum and it must continue to be taught in the hope of securing a more peaceful future. If some of our leaders over the past 50 years had spent more time studying history, how different things might be. The world might not be in the wounded state it is today.
I love history and I loved studying history at school. I took a delight in wallowing in it because it gave me the opportunity to delve into the past with an inquisitive mind and to broaden my knowledge of the world. It inspired me to try to make a difference to our society. That love for history still exists today. I believe we must encourage all children and reach out and hand them the opportunity to study history. We must not deprive them of the rich lessons of the past. I ask the Minister to tell us how the Government will ensure that the teaching of history, including black history, remains a core subject for children of all cultures and all backgrounds throughout their time at school, to enable them to leave this world a better place than they found it.
My Lords, I, along with other noble Lords, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for securing a debate on this important subject. I have to declare an interest, or perhaps more accurately a passion, as a practising professional historian, and acknowledge that I am the secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History. Perhaps I may say something briefly about that. One of the greatest pleasures of that role was the fact that earlier this year, the all-party group decided to make an award to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, who spoke earlier in the debate, and Professor Eric Hobsbawm, acknowledging the tremendous contribution they have made to the study of history in this country.
I want briefly to draw attention to the fact that it is often said that we are a parochial people. Actually, one of the most striking things about this country is the way in which, more than any other country in the world, we produce major historians of other people’s countries. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is a striking example of this. It is an indication of the fact that the accusation of parochialism in that respect is entirely false.
However, today I want to make the case for more teaching of British history in our schools, and I want to make it with some care. I accept in part the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, earlier in the debate that the school timetable is inevitably limited and other subjects have to be accommodated, and I suspect that it will be a struggle to find more time for history. But the content of what is being taught in our schools at the moment is a real issue. I also want to make clear the spirit in which I approach the issue of the teaching of British history in our schools. A diary entry for 13 September 1975 in John Rae’s memoir—he was the headmaster of Westminster School and one of our progressive public school headmasters—goes as follows:
“I am disturbed to read a series of articles in the Times Educational Supplement arguing that as Britain is now multicultural, schools should no longer pass on a monocultural tradition. What nonsense. If the history and literature of this country were watered down to suit ethnic minorities, the United Kingdom would be little more than a geographic expression”.
It would be easy for me to say in the aftermath of the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Benjamin, that that is a very defensive and negative reaction. In fact, when I talk about the importance of teaching more British history in our schools, I want to make it clear that I do so entirely in the spirit of the two speeches we have just heard. But it is important to remember that, as his diary reveals, John Rae was an SDP voter at the time and saw himself as a progressive, as well as to recall the important changes that have occurred in our thinking about modern British history since then. It is also important to note that there can be no question of having a modern British history that does not acknowledge the multicultural realities of our society.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the University of Cambridge to give the first lecture on modern British history at a graduate seminar. I talked afterwards to dons and fellows of colleges, one of whom was a senior historian not born in this country, but taught and raised in a major European country. He has worked in Cambridge for the last few years. From his vantage point as a European, that historian expressed concerns about the way in which our undergraduates are now equipped as they arrive at university, even great universities such as Cambridge and Oxford:
“There is no notion of the wider meaning of Britishness—Scotland, Wales and Ireland besides England—let alone the Anglo world of the Empire. This is manufacturing parochialism and it is altering the collective memory of where this country comes from”.
The truth is that we have ended up manufacturing a certain form of parochialism, but the students all know about Hitler and world wars. I think that this is a real problem which we have to face up to. It is important to understand that if we want to teach people the virtues of tolerance as against intolerance, there are plenty of examples of this from our own British political history. If we want to teach people the importance of the equality of citizenship in our country, the struggle for Catholic emancipation is in its way as significant as the struggle for civil rights in the United States. It is important that people learn the lessons as they occurred in our own society.
It is also very important that the current debate does not become politicised. When we talk about the need for more British history, there is a danger that it becomes a kind of parody argument in which apparently those of us who are concerned about the subject want to hear more about kings and queens, make people learn more dates and so on. That is presented against the exciting and interesting things to be learnt by studying Hitler. This is truly a parody. In fact, within the historical profession at the moment there is a burgeoning consensus around the issue. It is important to avoid a false right/left debate on the subject. There are Conservatives—the noble Lord, Lord Luke, remarked on the failure to understand who Churchill was in our history—who are concerned about the knowledge of British history among our young people, but it is also the case that Tristram Hunt, probably the most distinguished historian in the new Labour intake in the other place and the great biographer of Engels, is on the record as saying that we now need more British history in our schools.
It is absolutely vital that we do not have a sterile right/left debate, one that has already started to a degree in the London Review of Books. There is actually a burgeoning consensus among historians, and it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge that if there is a patriotic tradition in this country, it is of the left as well as of the right, and of the centre. We cannot have more history about Nelson and Wellington without Peterloo and the Tolpuddle martyrs. I heartily endorse everything that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, about conflict and consensus. There is no need to get involved in a false argument. I conclude by asking a question. Is there a case for a national council of historians to advise on these matters? One of the remarkable things about the British historical profession is that it is very good and has a tremendous range of scholars working within it. Probably what happens on the whole in our schools does not fully reflect the actual quality of work that goes on among British historians and their commitment to knowledge of the past. There is the possibility to avoid sterile polemics and to proceed on the basis of understanding and agreement. I hope it is something that the Government might give just a little thought to.
My Lords, I express gratitude to my noble friend Lord Luke for initiating this debate, and I declare an interest as a graduate in medieval history. I was going to tell the same sad tale told by my noble friend Lord Luke concerning the seven year-old boy on the Tube. I would add only this. Only this morning I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, who thought that the boy who did not know what the Navy was, was in fact aged nine, which makes it somewhat more shocking. It was suggested during the ensuing lively conversation on the Tube that the noble Lord should continue his journey in order to enlighten further passengers on naval history. He is not in his place, so I can only assume that he remains on the Circle Line.
That is an extreme example of the decline in the importance and value of teaching history in schools. The publication in 2007 of the Ofsted report entitled History in the Balance and subsequently History For All, published in 2011, focus on the problems. First, there are the positive signs. The 2011 report shows that history teaching in 63 out of 83 primary schools and 59 out of 83 secondary schools surveyed was outstanding. It was also noted that since the 2007 report, greater use of ICT among pupils engendered more interest and facilitated more self-learning in history. History as an optional course is better taught at key stage 4 and in the sixth form, with the numbers of students increasing. This is reflected in the increase in demand for history courses at UK universities.
However, there remain some fundamental underlying problems. At primary school stage, the 2007 report found that key stage 2 pupils made slow progress in history, a subject too often neglected in favour of literacy and numeracy. There was no discernible improvement highlighted in the 2011 report. Furthermore, teachers were found to lack confidence in teaching history, based on a lack of specific subject knowledge. In some primary and secondary schools, teaching fell short in providing a clear chronology of events, a timeline linking major events through the millennia to provide a perspective.
Schools remain too parochial in focusing on English history to the detriment of the history of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and indeed the rest of the world. Episodic teaching is introduced too early in the curriculum. With some trepidation, my views differ from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend, Lord Cormack, in that I believe it is important to have a great depth of knowledge of the history of the great continents in addition to that of the UK. For example, how can we understand the relative decline of the USA if we do not understand the recent rise in influence of China and India?
The major problems remain at key stage 3. In the maintained sector, only 30 per cent of pupils study history after the age of 14, with even fewer after the age of 16, as the subject becomes optional in marked contrast to many European countries. History is marginalised—and too early—in favour of vocational subjects. The 2011 report pointed out that major disruptive curriculum changes at key stage 3 impacted negatively on 14 out of 58 secondary schools surveyed. In some schools at A-level there is an overdependence on the set texts, which stifles independent research, leaving pupils ill prepared for higher education where research and analytical skills are required.
A crucial question is: how important is the teaching of history in schools in the context of the demand to teach key subjects such as maths and English in addition to the provision of some vocational training? Its importance cannot be overestimated. The historian Anthony Beevor has stated:
“Without an understanding of history we are politically, culturally and socially impoverished”.
His own historical masterpiece entitled D-Day is an outstanding example of a readable tale focusing on the lead up to D-Day and its aftermath written from the Axis and Allied perspective. It is well researched, written wholly objectively and provides a moving human perspective on the characters of the leaders and the decisions made at the time.
History teaching stands proud in providing the foundation skills for a range of related university courses, including sociology, politics, international relations and economics. Vocationally, it also provides a basis for studying law, for entry to the Civil Service and the private sector. History teaches us how to research, analyse and assimilate information and draw our own conclusions from decisions made in the past. These skills are invaluable for careers where writing reports or making presentations is essential.
History is interesting and there is a need to bring it alive for pupils in schools. Edmund Burke wrote:
“History consists for the greater part of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal and all the train of disorderly appetite”.
On this basis, if there were a Richter scale for excitement, history should surely be ranked 10, well above reality TV programmes or the PlayStation.
It is how history is taught that is so important. There is a need for improved teacher training in this respect and better subject-specific training. More creativity is also required in schools for relating history teaching to a link with the local community, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has pointed out. Last week in this House during a Question on war memorial gardens, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, wisely suggested that schools adopt a local war memorial to allow pupils to learn and understand its local importance.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister two questions. First, what plans are in place for substantially improving the training of teachers in history? Secondly, are there plans for increasing the age threshold for the compulsory teaching of history? Arnold Toynbee famously stated that history is,
“just one damned thing after another”.
This is a truism, but it masks the positive fact that the study of history builds up an invaluable mental library to help us lead our own lives better. We must start at least by ensuring that all nine year-old boys know what the Navy is.
My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for securing this important debate, which has brought forward a range of stimulating and informative contributions from which we all benefit—the Minister in particular, I hope. I have some remarks to address to him specifically.
Let me first of all declare an interest—an interest in history. I cannot declare any other; it is more than a decade since I participated in an education debate due to other obligations in government, and it is almost 50 years since I taught history in higher education. It seems a very long time ago. What I delight in today is the variety of contributions. There are some that I have warmed to very strongly and some that I have reservations about which I will make clear in a moment.
What has come through so strongly is the importance of history. The Minister ought to appreciate that this debate about history in schools and proposals for the future is of the greatest significance. We have certainly put to rest Henry Ford’s statement that “history is bunk”. Henry Ford said that in a particular context to emphasise the new technology in the age of the motor car, but in Detroit he leaves behind a museum of history which is almost unparalleled elsewhere in its range of exhibits, and is proof positive of the value of bringing to the American people—and people from the rest of the world who have had the privilege of going there—a real interest in the development of our technological and industrial history, so even Henry did not really think that history was bunk.
I warm rather more to the fact that history is the memory of our civilisations, of our country and of mankind. Without an understanding of the past, how can we make intelligible the nature of the world in which we live? History is also partial, selective, subjective and determined by interpretation. That is not to say that good historians—certainly not the historians who grace this debate today—are in any way shape or form disrespectful of facts. Facts are sacred, but often the problem for historians is agreement about the facts, and in particular the interpretation to be put upon them. It is important that we recognise that history is evidence-based and the sacredness of the facts, but also that all who study history need not just a narrative but an appreciation of the way in which the historian works. It will not do to think that we can hand down easy truths in areas where inevitably history is about disputation, uncertainty and interpretation. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is able to take a party of schoolchildren through the building and glory in the depiction of the past events which it identifies. It is also why I can take a party of schoolchildren and identify my criticisms of some of the choices made. Why certain figures are in the Royal Gallery and others are not is a judgment reflective of the 19th century when this Palace was created. The depiction of history through our various Lobbies is a distinct interpretive act. I am not against it; I love this place. I am not against anything which helps to communicate to people the sense of our history. However, I am also at pains to ensure that people recognise that there is more than one dimension to the island’s story as portrayed in this building.
That is why my concern in this debate is that the Government purport to be reaching judgments with regard to teaching in schools. A mightily important obligation is on the Secretary of State and his fellow Ministers when they reach these judgments. We should have some anxiety. After all, we do not have a Secretary of State who hides his light under a bushel when it comes to a commitment to a set of values. We all know the ideological stance which he has taken with regard, for example, to Atlantic Bridge. We also know the extent to which he is determined to be proactive. I ask merely this of the Minister: will he ensure that the level and range of advice that the Secretary of State obtains on this most important of scholastic areas is broader than it looks to be at present? Like everyone else in this House, I have delighted in the work of Simon Schama. I enjoyed hugely his narrative account of the French Revolution. For those of us who had weltered under highly tendentious and challenging interpretations of the revolution in which, on the whole, narrative development was limited and the identification of a particular perspective was more important, Simon Schama’s book came like a breath of fresh air and renewed for many a great interest in the revolution. However, it is a narrative. It is an account which is highly challenged by other historians. That is why, although I have nothing but respect for Simon Schama as a historian, if it is suggested that he is the historian primarily advising the Secretary of State, this House should express anxiety.
This has been a debate which ought to have warmed the hearts of all of us who are concerned about history in all the great dimensions that have been put forward from such authoritative sources, but it is also a debate which is topical and relevant—that is why the noble Lord, Lord Luke, should be congratulated on raising it. It means that the Government must be fully charged of the fact that history cannot just be the concept of an easy, consensual narrative of the island’s story. History is far more complex and challenging than that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, identified in her contribution, and we ought to respect that in any judgments that we reach.
My Lords, as I come at the end of the Back-Bench contributions to this debate, much of what I might have said has already been said. Nevertheless, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for initiating the debate. From the speeches that we have heard, it seems that there is little consensus in this House except on two things: first, that history is very important; and, secondly, that it is in financial crisis—it is a problem about provision both in schools and in universities.
In schools, as many noble Lords have said, there is a need to impart a sense of continuity and sequence of the past. However, as my noble friend Lord Addington said, history is now so vast that it would take almost a lifetime—you would certainly have to enrol in the University of the Third Age—to complete an in-depth study from the early times to the present.
We must get away from the notion that history had a golden past. My own history education lacked any sense of continuity or sequence. I learnt about the Romans and the Vikings, then jumped to the Tudors and the Stuarts. Finally, at A-level, I studied 19th and 20th-century European and British—by which I mean essentially English—history. As a result, I knew very little about the medieval period and the 18th century, and virtually nothing about the histories of Ireland, Scotland and Wales or the United States. Never once in those far-off days when we took O-level and A-level in history were we required to examine original sources. History education has come a long way in recent years by requiring pupils at quite a young age and subsequently to learn how to use original sources. In my case, the fragmented and disjointed knowledge of history that I acquired was not at all unique. Others have mentioned that they had similar experiences.
The school curriculum, even if it cannot cover the whole course of history, should, as my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, said, take sufficiently long a period so that one can convey a sense of sequence and development. That requires that history should be accorded a secure place in the syllabus at both primary and secondary levels. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, has clearly recognised this.
The curriculum should not be chauvinistic or xenophobic, although I have to say—here I echo the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Davies—that Mr Gove’s approach seems to hint at this. It should not concentrate just on monarchy, the military and empire. Rather, as many noble Lords have said, it should give an appreciation of other aspects. In a devolved kingdom, particularly, we should these days have a sense of the history of Ireland, Scotland and Wales if we are to maintain some sense of a United Kingdom. There have been many criticisms that recent and contemporary history predominates and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, students come up to university knowing about Hitler but have not gone much further than that. In my experience when I was in Northern Ireland, my daughter took a GCSE in history and was compelled to take a paper in the history of Ireland. That stopped quite abruptly at 1919, for obvious reasons, so it is not always contemporary. In certain circumstances, you find that you are not allowed to look at more contemporary features.
As my noble friend Lady Benjamin and others have said, there must be a large focus on the UK’s position in the world. As was said earlier, if the habit of continuous military adventurism persists there is a strong case for giving a hefty dose of the history of the Middle East. Perhaps Afghanistan would make a good special paper at A-level and any intending candidates for cadetships at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst should be required to take that as a pre-requisite for application.
At university level, history is almost in extremis. As the debate in your Lordships’ House last week on the condition of the English universities illustrated, in speech after speech, the arts and humanities—of which history is a main constituent—were shown to be in dire straits. It is significant that in the Guardian today the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, an eminent medical scientist, very eloquently comes out defending the arts, social sciences and the humanities as being equally vital alongside more vocational subjects and disciplines.
Not only is the teaching of history at risk but, as others have remarked, the quality of historical research is being jeopardised. It is research that nurtures university teaching which, in turn, informs and keeps fresh the teaching in schools. The future history teachers in our country are being short-changed, and will be increasingly so, by the parsimony of university funding. In every sense, history will not take kindly to the financial treatment currently being meted out to it. Along with others, I ask the Minister whether he is able to offer any crumbs of comfort that will convincingly provide grounds for a degree of optimism in this regard.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for initiating this debate. He has raised some challenging questions about the future of history teaching and the need, which he rightly identified, to narrow the knowledge gap between rich and poor so that all children can excel. We have also, thankfully, had a measured and extremely well informed debate today. I did not realise that there were quite so many history teachers in your Lordships’ Chamber but I have certainly found the debate enlightening. I have also very much welcomed the tone in which the debate has taken place. All too often when these subjects are debated they can dissolve into myth and political discourse.
We have also had some passionate contributions about the wider role of history in establishing truth and fact. I particularly commend the exposition from my noble friends Lady Andrews and Lady Bakewell on the wider benefits of a good grounding in history. I also look forward to hearing the response of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, who I understand is also an expert on this subject. I am sure that he will also give a thoughtful and reflective analysis of the problems which we are now confronting.
We all understand the importance of history in helping us to understand progress, the development of our society and our place in the world today. We also recognise the academic and personal skills that flow from learning to analyse and question, and to differentiate between historical fact and fiction. As my noble friend Lord Morgan rightly pointed out, it gives a good intellectual training.
As several noble Lords pointed out and argued persuasively, it also gives us a sense of identity and belonging and creates a memory of a nation. It also sometimes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, pointed out, scandalously writes some of our citizens out of history, and that cannot be tolerated. As politicians we are keenly aware that we need to learn from history and that the two disciplines are closely intertwined. We are also aware that even in the hands of the most careful practitioner history can be subjective and distorted. This is why individual politicians should be wary of interfering in the shape of the syllabus. I am very pleased that Michael Gove enjoyed studying history at school. He obviously enjoyed a particular style of teaching, and I have no doubt that it works well for some people, but this does not justify him recreating his own teaching experience in every school in the country. Surely he should, instead, be drawing upon the best professional advice as to how children learn effectively and the best academic experience of history teachers in the classroom. It may well be that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, of a national advisory body of historians could provide focus for this.
Several noble Lords have quoted Simon Schama, who is one of the advisers brought in to shape the new syllabus. I understand that he will be working with Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson, notable academics in their own right. They have been very vocal in their criticisms of the current teaching of history, so at least that has helped to provoke a debate. However, as my noble friend Lord Davies argued, they have a particular ideological focus, which is raising some concerns among teachers and parents. Particular alarm bells rang for me when I read that Niall Ferguson had created a war games video to teach young people about the Second World War. He described how his two young sons had enjoyed playing it, but that his daughter had shown no interest in playing war games. That is no surprise. I found myself thinking that Michael Gove might have been better advised to ask some women to join his team of advisers. They might have had a better idea of the sorts of issues which would inspire the imagination of young women in learning history.
Nevertheless, on some things the advisers are right. We all are concerned about the fall in take-up of history GCSE. While history remains a statutory part of the curriculum up to the age of 14, the numbers taking the subject beyond this have been reducing, as we have heard, with only 30 per cent of students taking the subject at GCSE in maintained schools. As both Ofsted and the Historical Association have identified, there are a number of reasons for this. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly pointed out, there is a lack of specialist teaching in schools, leaving many young people with little or no teaching from history graduates trained to teach the subject. Of course, this problem becomes self-perpetuating as the lower numbers taking the subject to A-level and beyond affect the future supply of qualified teachers.
Secondly, there has been a reduction in the time allocated to the subject as the curriculum is squeezed with other priorities or history is combined into a more general humanities course in which the specifics of the discipline can be lost. Thirdly, there are restrictions placed on the subjects that some young people are able to study at GCSE, with history not being an option, or only available if other humanities are dropped. Finally, there are concerns about the inconsistency of exam boards regarding marking, course materials and the criteria for assessment, which puts some students off. So there are undoubtedly a number of structural problems with the curriculum offer which militate against a large uptake of history at GCSE. Incidentally, I am not sure that these problems will be solved by the introduction of the English baccalaureate, which specifies that only one humanities subject should be part of the award.
This issue of the time available to teach particular subjects is more fundamental than might at first appear. It may be that the previous Government allowed the curriculum to become too crowded, but there is always pressure, as we have heard, to add new and justifiable subjects to the list. Conversely, it is rare for anybody to make a case for a subject to be dropped from the curriculum; and just as that applies to the curriculum as a whole, it also applies with individual subjects. I have listened carefully today to the many persuasive contributions on what should be included in the history syllabus, and it would be easy to agree with everyone. Issues raised have included the significance of the French Revolution, the origins of the slave trade, our links with Afghanistan, the history of our relations with the Middle East; the need to understand people’s history, social history, local history, the history of the four UK nations, the history of English literature and art; the development of science and technology and the history of multiculturalism, to touch on just a few. I endorse all of those. They all have a legitimate place in the curriculum. However, we also need to be realistic about what can be achieved in, say, two hours a week up to year nine and maybe three hours a week at GCSE over a 38-week academic year. It is simply not possible to have both the breadth and the depth that we might all desire.
This dichotomy has led to one of the central failings in the teaching of history, which is identified by Ofsted and on which we can probably all agree. It reported that pupils were being let down by a lack of chronological understanding of the subject. In particular, it reported that pupils at primary schools,
“knew about particular events, characters and periods but did not have an overview. Their chronological understanding was often underdeveloped and so they found it difficult to link developments together”.
I very much support the idea that a stronger strand of chronology should underpin the history syllabus, but this is very different from the Secretary of State’s apparent mission to return to learning dates by rote. At a time when our challenge is to excite pupils and capture their imagination about the past, there would be nothing more dull and uninspiring than to force feed them with dates of wars and of births and deaths of kings and queens.
It is an accepted fact among most educationalists that individual children have different techniques for learning and remembering. The real skill of a classroom teacher is to teach in such a way that every child can get the maximum benefit from the lesson. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out, the current history syllabus meets many of the concerns that have been raised today. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, disagreed, but this matter can easily be resolved by looking at the facts. The Ofsted report was much more positive about the current history provision than we have been led to believe by some commentators. It is an area in which myths have been flourishing. Just as it is not possible to avoid being deported by owning a cat, it is equally not true that Henry VIII and Hitler are the only individuals studied in the syllabus. In fact, as we have heard, the syllabus is littered with leaders, explorers, inventors and dissenters. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, rightly pointed out, on any named subject at any time, we always believe that it was taught better in the past and are nostalgic for the way that we were taught it at school.
Perhaps many of the noble Lord’s colleagues remain so. However, we need to scrutinise objectively what is happening in the classroom. In its report earlier this year, History for All, Ofsted praised the teaching at key stage 2, describing pupils as having a,
“detailed knowledge derived from well-taught studies of individual topics”;
while at secondary level it described how,
“effective teaching by well-qualified and highly competent teachers enabled the majority of students to develop knowledge and understanding in depth”.
It went on to identify that students displayed,
“a healthy respect for historical evidence”,
and had the skills to apply critical judgment to support their analysis. Throughout the Ofsted report the skills of the specialist history teachers who knew their subjects well and were able to inspire their pupils were a common theme. Surely we should value and celebrate the contribution of these teachers rather than alarm them with talk of further upheaval.
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister agrees with me that there is a need, first, to tackle the structural reasons why history teaching is in decline and is fighting for space in the school week. Secondly, we need to look again at how the syllabus can be adjusted to allow the chronology and sweep of history to be better understood. Thirdly, we need to engage with history teachers, value what they achieve and listen to their ideas for reform. Politicians should refrain from meddling in an educational agenda fraught with ideological divides, and should perhaps also recruit some women to advise on the really significant events in history and how they might be taught. Then we might inspire a new generation of young people to study history, develop the skills of analysis and apply the lessons learnt so that they can better interpret their lives today.
My Lords, it is with more than my usual trepidation that I rise to speak because there have been times this afternoon when I felt as though 30 years had rolled back and I had been at an undergraduate tutorial with an overdue essay. However, this debate has been extremely good and thought-provoking, and there has been a large amount of agreement on a lot of the key themes. Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Luke for securing the debate, getting it off to such a good start and setting out the issues for us so clearly.
Everyone else seems to have been declaring an interest, so I had better do so. I must correct the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch—I am not an expert, but as a boy I was hooked by RJ Unstead’s Story of Britain, with those wonderful illustrations by Victor Ambrus. I still have my copy at home and I should be happy to share it with anyone who has not read it. I also remember as a boy being fascinated by an encyclopaedia’s picture of French aristocrats being taken off in a tumbrel, and one of Constantine XI fighting heroically on the walls of Constantinople. I suspect that it was an early sign of a lifelong commitment to lost causes, with which I persist to this day.
I started to read history at university but I am afraid I did not complete it because I did not have the sticking power—it was a PhD on Russian history with Norman Stone. However, it was in the 1990s that a stint at Downing Street opened my eyes to medieval history because it dawned on me that I was effectively working in a medieval court. For the first time, I realised why the role of Keeper of the Stool was such an important job because, as political secretary, I spent a lot of my time going round clearing up after powerful people.
I therefore share the views expressed by all noble Lords about the importance of history, which was set out so powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, and from another but equally important perspective by my noble friends Lady Benjamin and Lady Berridge. I think that there is agreement that history helps us to understand our common past, our shared values and our sense of national identity—a point made by my noble friend Lord Cormack, but underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. She correctly said that history teaching is more important than ever as our society becomes more varied. Understanding history helps us to make sense of the present, as has been argued by a number of noble Lords. It develops analytical skills and helps us to understand cause and effect—one of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, underlined. History helps give us the ability to argue and enables us all to make connections. Everyone here is agreed on the importance of history as a subject.
We heard a number of examples of some of the things that people do not know about history. We heard about Churchill. I saw another survey that suggested that nearly half the young people aged between 18 and 24 did not know that Nelson commanded the fleet at Trafalgar and led it to victory. Nearly half did not know that the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall. That links to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, about the importance of British history. He made an extremely important point about the opportunity we have to avoid a false left/right divide on this. For most of the time in this debate we have managed to avoid that. I accept that it is impossible to dissociate history and the study of it from a political perspective. However, we have been discussing the chronology and the sequencing of history—some of the great events. Noble Lords may think that I am a mad optimist but it is possible to separate some of the facts of our history and of world history. My noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton made the important point that we increasingly need our children to have an awareness of world history. However, it is possible to separate an understanding of fact from interpretation. Interpretation is something that comes increasingly with age and knowledge, but there is a factual basis that we should be able to work hard to identify.
In terms of current take-up we know that, alongside geography and modern foreign languages, the number of pupils taking history has been falling. It is down from 39 per cent doing GCSE in 1995, to 30 to 31 per cent last year. The proportion taking A-level has been static and the number of students studying history at university has risen, but that rise is slower than the average increase in university enrolments generally. We also know that while just over 30 per cent of children in maintained schools took a history GCSE in 2010, nearly half of children in independent schools did so. That relates to a point well made by a number of noble Lords about the importance of making sure that all our children have a chance to study history, and that those from more disadvantaged backgrounds do not miss out on the opportunity to do so.
My noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie told us about the Ofsted report in 2010. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, also referred to it and was absolutely right to say that the report found much to commend in the teaching of history at both primary and secondary level and in the work that our teachers are doing. It found many examples of extremely good practice. I very much associate myself with that point of view.
The Ofsted report also said—and this point has been recognised and accepted on all sides of the House—that at primary level,
“some pupils found it difficult to place the historical episodes they had studied within any coherent, long-term narrative… Their chronological understanding was often underdeveloped and so they found it difficult to link developments together”.
They also commented that,
“the curriculum structure for primary schools was itself episodic”.
That links to some of the points made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. The report recommended that pupils should study overview as well as in-depth topics. That relates to a point about bore-holes and breadth, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. Ofsted also thought, again relating to the important point raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, that primary school teachers needed more subject-specific continuous professional development opportunities and that all students in secondary schools should benefit from a significant amount of history until at least 14.
I felt there was broadly a shared analysis of what we think the main issues confronting us are. There are concerns about the bitty nature of the curriculum and a lack of sweep and chronological development, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan; about the support available to teachers to enable them to teach history well and more broadly; and about the time available in the timetable for teaching history, particularly at key stage 3. There is also some concern about the numbers of children who want to study history at GCSE level.
I will try to set out what the Government are doing in three broad areas: first, the curriculum; secondly, encouraging the take-up of history; and thirdly, support for teachers and initial teacher training. So far as the curriculum is concerned, we had an extremely good debate which flushed out some of the difficulties. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about curriculum wars and the history of that; my noble friend Lord Addington talked about fashions. Both those points are well made. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, agrees with our argument that, as the national curriculum developed, it has covered more subjects, prescribed more outcomes and taken up more school time than originally intended.
Overall, our intention through the curriculum review is to slim the curriculum down; to free up time in the school day; and to free teachers to use their judgment to design curricula that best meet needs of their pupils. We want the new national curriculum to be based on a body of essential knowledge that children should be expected to acquire in key subjects during their school career, to cover for all children their cultural and scientific inheritance—an important point was made about the importance of science and technology—to enhance their understanding of the world around them, and to expose them, if we can, to the best of what has been thought and written.
The review is being conducted in two phases. In the first phase, we are designing new programmes of study for those subjects—English, maths, science and PE—which we have already confirmed will continue to be a part of the national curriculum at all four key stages. We are also considering which of the other subjects that currently form the national curriculum, including history, should be part of the national curriculum in future and at which key stages. The second phase of the review, which will start in early 2012, will produce programmes of study for those other subjects which remain within the national curriculum. The review will also advise on whether non-statutory programmes of study should be published for any subjects that are not to be included in the new national curriculum.
The review began with a public call for evidence that invited views from all interested parties on what a new curriculum should look like. I understand that the call for evidence closed on 14 April; the results will be published in due course. There will be further widescale public consultation before any final decision is made. I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, that it is important that there should be widespread discussion representing a range of views.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, specifically asked whether the EBacc is having any effect on encouraging the take-up of history. The Government think that a child's education is diminished without a sound understanding of history. We know that history, alongside some other subjects, has been in decline for a number of years. The Government believe that there are some academic subjects, the core subjects in the English baccalaureate—English, maths, the sciences, languages and humanity—in which too few pupils are achieving, or have even had the opportunity to study. As my noble friend Lord Luke pointed out at the beginning of the debate, the situation is worse for pupils on free school meals. The disparity between the percentage of those on free school meals who are taking the EBacc subjects—which the Russell Group of universities states are those that best equip children to take degrees in its universities—and others is very large. Only 4 per cent of children on free school meals achieved the EBacc subjects last year, whereas for children as a whole across the country, the figure was 16 per cent. We need to address that issue.
I know that all noble Lords believe that many more pupils have the potential to succeed in those subjects, and we feel that we should do everything that we can to help them have that opportunity. We know that pupils who have achieved the EBacc combination of subjects have proved more likely to go onto A-levels, have attempted a greater number of A-levels and have achieved better results. We are trying through the EBacc to allow parents and pupils to see for the first time how their school is performing against those key academic subjects. In doing so, we hope to encourage a greater number of schools to offer a broader set of academic subjects, which would include history, to more of their pupils.
The early indications are that the introduction of the EBacc is encouraging the take-up of history. Some research was carried out on behalf of the department by the National Centre for Social Research over the summer. That suggests that 39 per cent of pupils entering GCSEs in 2013 are expected to take history. If that turns out to be the case, that would be up by 8 per cent from this year and back to the level that it was that in 1995. Time will tell whether that turns out to be true, but I hope noble Lords who are keen, as we all are, to see more children carrying on with history up to the age of 16 will regard that as an encouraging sign.
That is linked with the important question about teacher supply and teacher training. The EBacc does have implications for teacher supply. If more children want to study history, we will need to have more history teachers. The modelling undertaken by the department to set future-year ITT places is taking that into account. I am told that there is currently healthy interest in training to become a history teacher. My noble friend Lady Walmsley rightly mentioned the importance of CPD, or continuing professional development. Our overall approach to that was laid out in our White Paper published in November 2010. In broad terms we are trying to improve the capacity for schools to take the lead for the training and development of teachers and to create more opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, which is what we have been doing this afternoon. Our approach is based on research that shows that teachers learn best through observing teaching and being observed and receiving feedback from other professionals. We are creating a new national network of teaching schools which will give outstanding schools the role of leading the training and professional development of teachers and head teachers so that all schools have better access to high-quality professional and leadership development. The first 100 teaching schools have already been established and we have a further 100 planned for April 2012. They will be the embodiment of our commitment to CPD and will run a range of programmes for schools, including in history, to help address some of these important issues.
Earlier this year we published an initial teacher training strategy which is out for discussion at the moment. That contains proposals for giving schools the opportunity to play a greater role in teacher training, the funding of ITT, toughening the entry criteria, and prioritising training most relevant to classroom practice. We are finalising proposals for initial teacher training in the light of responses we have received to that and we will publish a plan shortly. We believe overall, alongside work we are doing in looking at proposals for a single set of new standards for all qualified teachers, that these reforms, the network of teaching schools and a new set of teacher standards will improve the rigour and quality of teaching in all subjects, including history.
An interesting part of the debate was on issues around learning outside the classroom, enthusiasm and the importance of enthusiastic teachers, and accessibility. My noble friend Lady Berridge rightly talked about the importance of bringing outsiders in. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, talked about the kind of work that English Heritage and other organisations can do to enthuse and inspire children and bring history to life in a way that someone standing up in a classroom will not necessarily do. I do not think that helping children have a better sense of the chronology of the events in history needs to come from a dry as dust, learning by rote, going back to the 1950s approach to teaching. The development of the media and all kinds of new ways of learning that all of us, unfortunately, were not able to benefit from provide fantastic opportunities for children to become engaged in and get a love of history and be excited and inspired by it. Learning outside the classroom is extremely important and going to battlefields, visiting the Imperial War Museum and going to Dover Castle—which I would love to do one day if I am invited—are all ways that we can bring history to life. We think schools can work out how to do that but there is more the Government can do to make it easier for them to take pupils on trips by taking steps to reduce teachers’ fears of legal action for failures in the dreaded and sometimes mythical area of health and safety. We want teachers to be confident that they can take pupils to this kind of activity, and we will work with the Health and Safety Executive on that.
I remember reading a few years back pronouncements that history was dead. Today's debate shows that it is very much alive. We know that there are more history books being written and that there is more history on the television; we have heard about the interest people have in archaeology and in their own ancestry. As was said, history is full of ripping yarns. There is no doubting the passion and knowledge brought to us in today's debate. I do not share the knowledge of all noble Lords—for instance, that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton—but I hope that at least I share some of the passion expressed this afternoon. I will bring the debate to the attention of my honourable friend Mr Gibb, who is leading our curriculum review, and also to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, whose commitment to history, as some noble Lords have mentioned, is well known.
The Government take this seriously. There is much more work to do, but I hope that we may have started to turn the corner. The timing of the debate, as the Government consider the national curriculum review, is excellent. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Luke on it once again, and on providing us all with the opportunity for the thoughtful discussion that we had.
My Lords, this has been a most elevating afternoon. I very much enjoyed all the speeches and learnt a lot, which is always a good thing. The debate shows how important history is in the House. On a Thursday afternoon, the number of noble Lords who spoke was amazing, and I am extremely grateful to them. I will finish by saying that my noble friend Lady Benjamin summed up what I think about history when she said, “I love history”. I love history, too, and I am sure that is so for many noble Lords. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Legislative Reform (Industrial and Provident Societies and Credit Unions) Order 2011
Motion to Approve
My Lords, industrial and provident societies—co-operatives as they are better known—and credit unions have made a long and invaluable contribution to our society. For centuries they have been a driving force for common endeavour and mutual support. From high street co-operatives to pubs and football clubs, from healthcare to agriculture and from education to local shops, co-operatives and credit unions are cornerstones of our communities.
The strength of the co-operative economy today, with more than £30 billion in turnover and more than 13 million members, is testimony to the trust and value that we place in them. Credit union membership continues to grow across Great Britain, enhancing the diversity of our financial services, with membership on track to exceed 1 million this year. Despite a difficult economic environment, credit unions continue to provide much needed finance and support to local people and communities. Co-operatives and credit unions are a key element of the coalition Government’s vision to empower local communities. Both will benefit from the changes introduced by the legislative reform order that we are debating today, which will reduce burdens and remove obstacles to enable them to grow and extend their services to new members.
The legislative reform order has been a long time in the making. Consultations with the mutual sector began in 2007, and co-operatives and credit unions took the lead in proposing measures designed to bring their regulatory and legislative frameworks into the 21st century. The proposals themselves fall into two parts: those applying to co-operatives and those applying to credit unions.
There are six proposals of benefit to co-operatives. The first abolishes the minimum age for membership and reduces it for those wishing to hold office. This will enable young people to engage more actively with their local co-op, and in some cases to become officers sitting on their local committees. The second removes the restriction on the maximum holding of non-withdrawable shares in a co-operative. This will enable co-operatives to raise capital more easily.
The other four proposals remove burdens and increase choice for co-operatives by: allowing them to choose their own year-end dates; removing the requirement to have interim accounts audited; permitting them to charge non-members for copies of their rules, while protecting the rights of existing members; and enabling easier dissolution. Taken collectively, these measures will have a positive impact in reducing burdens on co-operatives, removing unnecessary costs estimated to total £33 million, and delivering net benefits from improved access to capital of a further £7 million.
With respect to credit unions, the legislative reform order contains eight proposals. The first four enable credit unions to extend their membership base and serve a greater number of customers by: opening up the common bond requirements; removing the limit on non-qualifying members; and allowing bodies corporate to become members for the first time subject to a cap. These proposals will allow credit unions to serve a greater number of people by extending the membership base and enabling mergers to take place where this is considered appropriate. The fifth proposal allows credit unions to issue interest-bearing shares, which could encourage increased savings, helping to tackle chronically low rates of saving across the country, and which, in turn, could lead to greater lending.
The remaining proposals relax restrictions on share withdrawal, allow credit unions to charge an appropriate rate for providing ancillary services and remove the 8 per cent limit on dividends, unless the rules of the credit union provide otherwise. These proposals will substantively update credit union legislation and provide a welcome boost to the mutuals sector and its members. Such is the enthusiasm for these reforms that a recent survey by the Association of British Credit Unions identified that over 60 per cent of credit unions are intending to extend their geographic coverage once the LRO comes into effect.
As noble Lords are aware, the LRO was previously laid in Parliament in March 2010 and the Committees of both Houses recommended changes to the order prior to its approval. These recommended changes were: first, that the affirmative resolution procedure be used for any changes to the caps relating to corporate membership; secondly, for members to be required expressly to endorse a decision to abolish the 8 per cent limit on dividends; and thirdly, for the proposal enabling credit unions to charge a market rate for ancillary services to apply only to new members, and to be subject to a review after two years. I am pleased to confirm that each of these recommendations has been taken on board in the new draft order before the House today. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended that the order is,
“in a form satisfactory to be submitted to the House for affirmative resolution”.
In conclusion, credit unions and co-operatives have been waiting a long time for this LRO to be made and many stand ready to take benefit of the order as soon as it takes effect. This LRO reflects our commitment to promoting the mutual and co-operative sector in Great Britain, ensuring that we enhance diversity in our financial services and that we support a sector that provides finance, employment and support for millions of people, including those hardest to reach and most in need of help. This legislative reform order will support and enable growth of co-operatives and credit unions and I look forward to hearing your Lordships’ views on these proposals. I very much hope that you will lend your support to these important reforms. I beg to move.
My Lords, today is International Credit Union Day and the theme for the celebrations is “Credit Unions Build a Better World”. It celebrates the important economic and social contributions credit unions make to their communities worldwide. I am vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions and it is wonderful that we are debating and approving this statutory instrument today of all days.
As the noble Lord said, credit unions are financial co-operatives owned and controlled by their members. Credit unions in the UK manage over £600 million on behalf of over 900,000 people. The order before us today makes some very welcome changes. It was originally laid in similar form by the last Labour Government, as the noble Lord said, and I was delighted when the present Government sought to carry forward these much needed reforms. The order makes a number of sensible changes, such as allowing credit unions to pay interest on savings rather than a dividend. It allows them to provide services to community groups, attract investments and extend the services that they offer. That is all very welcome. I congratulate the Government on what they have done.
However, this is only one of a number of steps that the Government should be taking. Although the credit union sector in the UK is growing, it is still relatively small. With the right support, the potential for major expansion is all too evident. That expansion and growth would be of benefit to communities up and down the country. We must also remember that it is a sad fact that some of the most financially excluded citizens have to pay the highest price for credit, which we should all regret and want to work to eliminate. We have seen organisations on the high street that are little more than legal loan sharks which charge people 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 per cent interest to borrow money. Expansion of the credit union sector gives people who are financially excluded the opportunity to become financially included and to pay a fair price for the credit that they need.
The big society seems to have disappeared a bit from the vocabulary of the Government in recent months, but initiatives like this, which enable people to help themselves, are what I understand by the big society and are very welcome.
My Lords, let me join others in welcoming this order laid before us. Like others, I think that the only regret is that we had not seen it perhaps a little sooner, but I am delighted that it has come now. I am also delighted to be able to look at it in the context of the Government’s commitment to credit unions. A project is now under way between the Post Office and ABCUL—a sort of industry spokesperson for credit unions more broadly—to find ways for the Post Office to be the front-door platform for many people to access their accounts through the Post Office structure. That would have been inadequate were these other steps not being taken to expand the capacity of credit unions.
I am particularly delighted that we now have a new definition of the common bond, which will take a real constraint away from credit unions and their capacity to build membership and to serve the community. The United States has long had much greater flexibility. Whereas in the UK the figures from ABCUL suggest that the current amount of assets under credit union management is £790 million, in the United States—even allowing for the difference in population size—some $900 billion of total assets come within the credit union structure. We are looking at a completely different dimension, which I hope the UK will be able to move towards. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has said, many people who are financially excluded can see a route into financial inclusion through credit unions that they would not find in the high street banks.
I also am encouraged by the expansion of the groups which a credit union can serve to include corporate bodies, partnerships and unincorporated associations. We have many small businesses which once again cannot find a satisfactory financial relationship through existing high street banks. They need other sources and mechanisms. Again, if we look at the United States, it is interesting that the ability to serve small business has long been part of the credit union framework. In 2011 alone, the Obama Administration are using that credit union network to push $300 million in additional credit directly to small and very small business in a way in which we have no capacity to do here in the UK. For the kind of activity that we are seeing through credit easing—obviously, that is a much broader programme—in the United States that is able to happen far more easily and fluidly through mechanisms such as the credit union and the much wider world of community development banks. We can now begin to move towards having that potential here in the UK.
With the new classes of shares and the ability to deepen investment, we are coming now to the point where there is a recognition that more diversity and provision that focuses on people who are financially excluded, and on businesses that are micro and small, is all to the positive for the growth that we need in our economy.
I join others in welcoming this order laid before us by the Government today. I express apologies from my noble friend Lord Newby, who had expected to be standing here but, because of the time, unfortunately could not cancel another commitment. I welcome this move by the Government.
My Lords, the Minister greeted my arrival at the Front Bench with a slightly wintry smile earlier. Whether he thought I was late, though I assure him I was descending from the rarefied atmosphere of the Back Benches, which is why I was slightly delayed, or whether he anticipated that this debate had some hidden horrors, I am not sure. He will, however, by now have appreciated the fact, from the contributions both of my noble friend Lord Kennedy and of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that this measure is most welcome and Her Majesty’s Opposition are delighted to see it being presented today.
As noble Lords have already spoken about the virtues and possibilities of the credit union and the Minister himself paid due tribute to their work, it would be otiose of me to expand on that matter and, as I am given to brevity, noble Lords will appreciate that I will take as read the reason why this order should commend itself to the House. However, I have some questions to ask, which I hope the Minister will be able to respond to. What does he expect the removal of the limit on non-withdrawal shares to be? Will this result in dominant members of a society emerging? What steps will the FSA be taking to ensure that societies do not become subject to such dominance whereby a small number of individuals might establish a very considerable influence with regard to these non-withdrawable share holdings?
On credit unions, could I ask about the removal of the common bond, which is the whole point of a credit union, because it provides the self-regulatory strength of mutual knowledge and understanding? What does this mean as far as the future of the credit union is concerned? Does it mean that credit unions will be just another form of financial organisation rather than the distinctive sort of organisation which is being commended in the speeches made so far today in this short debate?
Finally, what does the Minister expect to be the impact of bodies corporate joining credit unions? Will this not lead to small commercial enterprises exploiting the financial strength of the credit union to further the interests of their own businesses? In other words, would credit unions become tied to businesses instead of being independent? After all, one business which might supply 10 per cent of the assets of the credit union will undoubtedly be a powerful force within it.
We welcome this legislation, but I would be grateful if the Minister could give me some assurance on those limited anxieties.
My Lords, I am grateful to the small but focused and committed group of noble Lords who have spoken with clear knowledge and some degree of passion about this, as it is important. It is clear from all sides that there is strong support for the work that co-operatives and credit unions undertake across Great Britain.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, I was waiting to see—my noble friend Lady Kramer having nobly stepped in in the absence of my noble friend Lord Newby—who might be on the Front Bench in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. I noticed that the noble Lord crossed three Benches in one bound and here he is. It is always good to be opposed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies.
I had not realised that we were debating this order on International Credit Union Day, but I am delighted that we are making a small contribution to that. I should like to have said that we had scheduled the business deliberately, but I must confess that I was unaware.
As has been said, although the co-operative and credit union sector is not as large in Great Britain as it is in other countries, its membership is growing. That is clear testimony to the trust and esteem in which they are held across the country. The Government want to make sure that we underpin the valuable role that they play, particularly in promoting higher rates of saving across the economy, helping to develop a culture of financial responsibility, providing credit at a local level for individuals and empowering communities across the UK.
However, I recognise the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and my noble friend Lady Kramer about the need for us to do more. Even though I was not asked about what else the Government are doing, we see this order in the context of a series of reforms that we are making, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is aware. We are exploring the commencement aspects of the co-operative Act and this order is a necessary precondition of that Act coming into effect. We are making the electronic communications order for mutuals, which will enable them to cut the costs of communicating and to hold votes electronically. Only earlier this week we debated in Committee the transferring of Northern Ireland credit unions under the FISMA legislation, which will not only act as a deregulatory measure but give better protection to an important category of depositor. Therefore, this order is part of an ongoing programme of work.
Let me address the important questions of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. On the question of non-withdrawable share capital, the consultation and trade body studies indicate that approximately 0.5 per cent of industrial and provident society members will seek to invest more in their co-op. This is viewed as positive. The results do not raise a question of withdrawal but show a small positive interest among members in investing more.
Then there was the question of whether businesses will effectively take over credit unions. Will credit unions lose their independence? The sector itself wanted businesses to be able to be members and, in that way, help to expand the membership base. No concerns were expressed about this during the consultation period. Therefore, this is seen entirely as an opportunity by the sector itself, rather than as any threat to independence.
In relation, finally, to the common bond and its removal, there is a limit on the extension of the common bond which is currently very restrictive. Some restrictions will remain to ensure that the fundamental purpose of credit unions is not undermined, and that is built into the new construct. I agree with the noble Lord that we must not do anything to undermine the fundamental purpose here. We are not doing so, nor does the sector believe us to be.
When the coalition came into government, we made clear that we would be supportive of the mutuals sector. By means of this legislation, we are taking another step to bring what is essentially a 19th century construct into the 21st century in order to free the sector of unnecessary burdens and obstacles. It is clear from what I said in my opening remarks, and I think it has been confirmed by contributions this afternoon, that there is huge appetite for growth in this sector. At a time when we must redouble our efforts to support the economy, we have to do all that we can, and this plays a modest but important part in enabling growth. I believe that this order is a win-win situation not only for co-ops and credit unions, but also for the communities that they serve.
House adjourned at 4.22 pm