Education (Assemblies) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:03 pm on 10th September 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat 1:03 pm, 10th September 2021

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this thoughtful debate today. It is clear that everyone who spoke expressed their genuine and heartfelt beliefs. It is a huge tribute to this House that we can have this kind of debate in a well-mannered and mature way. I thank the Minister for her remarks and welcome her to her post, and I also thank my noble friend Lady Hamwee for her birthday wishes. I will not go into detail, because there are so many points to cover, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee did an excellent job of summing up.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, suggests that we might wish to have a public consultation. I think that is a good idea, and I do not understand why the Government would be averse to the idea of a consultation.

The Minister in her remarks said that assembly is hugely valuable—she acknowledges that. The question is how much an assembly is enhanced, or the opposite, by the imposition of collective worship. She mentioned the exemption that schools can apply for, which is called a determination. However, that does not exempt schools from some form of religious worship, so it does not change the fact that we still would have compulsory worship in all schools.

The Minister says that the children are not forced to worship, but the alternative to being withdrawn from religious worship is to be excluded—to be alienated. What the Bill does, if nothing else, is to enable inclusion, bringing all children together, focusing on the values that unite us and enabling them to reflect on the kind of issues that affect them. You cannot be inclusive when a lot of children have been withdrawn from school, and it is important that we focus on those children.

For religious schools, the Bill keeps the requirement in relation to children being taken out of classes. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, mentioned that all children who attend religious schools subscribe to that religion, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the religious school is the only one in the local area, so it is absolutely proper to have the right to withdraw a child in those circumstances.

In summary, I am hopeful that the Minister will reflect on all the cogent and well-thought-through arguments that have been brought forward today. Perhaps she might well discuss with her colleagues whether some kind of consultation might indeed be the way forward. This is a democratic country; we are all here not on our own behalf but to serve the people—not, in this House, those who elected us, but we are still here to serve—and so I hope that the Minister will reflect on that. With that, I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.