Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:35 pm on 10th September 2021.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. I am a humanist and, while not a Satanist, certainly not a God-ist. I consider myself very lucky that I did not have a British education. I was therefore spared religious assemblies every year of my life while I was in school, so I ended up a clear-thinking person.
I heartily support the Bill. Indeed, I think it is too mild. What harm have Christians and Buddhists and Muslims done to not be able to escape assemblies every day, or whenever it is? It is a very strange idea that moral and various spiritual educations can be learned only by getting people together and haranguing them. The whole of school education should be doing that all the time—you do not need a special hour to get students together. I suggest the following experiment: if people think it is so good, and if they think the students think it is so good, hold it at the end of the day, make it voluntary and see how many turn up. That is a challenge. I do not really want to go on for ever, because I think it is absolutely obvious that all children of all religions should be spared assemblies. If you cannot find anything to do in that hour, start school later—they can all sleep more and it will be better for them than having assemblies.
It may have been that one generation or 10 generations ago, people thought that assemblies were great things. I did one year of primary school in my native state of Baroda, which was a princely state. We had to do praise of the king; it was not quite a prayer, but I guess we had to pray to God that the king would have a long reign. Coming from a properly educated family, I knew that politically his reign was about to disappear in one year—that was a fact. So I never had any faith in prayers, which is another very healthy thing that happened to me.
I heartily support this Bill and I think that, if possible, it should be amended in Committee and all schools should be liberated.