Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:27 pm on 10th September 2021.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate, even if I disagree with some of the things that he said. I should say that I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group and I applaud the initiative of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, in bringing this Bill forward.
I was not going to mention this little story, but I shall do so in the light of what the right reverend Prelate said. I was talking about refugees at an event in Yorkshire. There were schools and faith groups there—it was not part of an assembly, or anything like that—and I was introduced as a humanist. A vicar was sitting there, and after I had done my piece and done my Q&A, I went up to her and said, “I’m sure you disapprove of me being a humanist”. She said, “Not at all—you and I believe in the same things. It’s just that I believe in God as well”. Maybe the right reverend Prelate would not agree with that, but it seemed to me that it gets to the heart of it: there are important moral standards that are shared and which in my view do not need a Christian backing. I shall come on to that in a moment.
As many noble Lords have said, what happens to children who are not in assembly? They are almost excluded if their parents do not want them to be there, because there is nothing for them. One parent said, “We don’t think it is acceptable that they be left to play with an iPad because they have been withdrawn”. There has to be something to fill that gap; otherwise, it puts young people in an invidious position, which is not very proper.
One clause in the Bill is absolutely crucial, at Clause 4(2), and I shall read it out because it goes to the heart of the argument in favour of the Bill. It says:
“Each pupil in attendance at a school to which this section applies must on each school day take part in an assembly which is principally directed towards furthering the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of the pupils regardless of religion or belief”.
That seems to me go to the heart of it. There are moral standards, beliefs and views in terms of morality that do not depend upon a Christian imprint, but which are there because they are the right and proper way forward.
The Bill is important. It gets to the heart of what assemblies might be about. In my memory of school assemblies, I am not aware that they had any impact on me whatever over the years. That is except for one, when one teacher talked about apartheid in South Africa. I remember it to this day; it was totally different from all other school assemblies that we had and it made an enormous impact. It stayed with me as a matter of crucial importance.
There are better ways forward. School assemblies could have a part to play along the lines indicated in the Bill, which I fully support.