Amendment 53

Schools Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 13th June 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Meacher:

Moved by Baroness Meacher

53: Clause 25, page 18, line 20, at end insert—“(2A) For any pupils who have withdrawn from collective worship in accordance with subsection (1) or subsection (2), the Academy school must provide an assembly of equal educational worth, which must be principally directed towards furthering the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of the pupils.”Member’s explanatory statementThis requires academies with a religious character to provide pupils with a meaningful alternative to collective worship if they or their parents request that they are withdrawn, so as to ensure that all pupils enjoy the benefits of the full length of the school day, irrespective of religious belief.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 57 and 58. I thank Humanists UK for its excellent briefing and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and any other Peers who support these amendments.

The context for these amendments is worth noting. Some 62% of people in this country do not identify as Christian, according to the most recent British Social Attitudes survey in, I think, 2022. More than 50% say they are of no religion. In this context, is it really appropriate that all schools in England require pupils to take part in a daily act of Christian worship? Surely not. Also, under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, younger children have the right to freedom of religion or belief. We do not seem to provide that in this country at the moment.

Many parents send their children to a faith school because the school has a good academic reputation or a good reputation for discipline, for example. They may not be people of religion at all. Others find that they have no option but to send their child to a religious school; it is the only nearby school suitable for their child. The law needs to take account of these situations. In reality, many children in faith schools for whom Christian worship has no meaning do not opt out of the collective worship events because they do not wish to attract attention to themselves or to be ostracised by others.

In my view, the lack of any organised alternative activity for these children increases the child’s reluctance to draw attention to themselves and opt out. At present, children who have withdrawn from collective worship often just have to sit outside the door—almost like a naughty child—or are left in an empty classroom with nothing to do.

These three amendments would ensure that the needs of all children are met. They are supposed to be not anti-religion but in favour of the needs of all children. Amendment 53 would require faith academies to provide a meaningful alternative assembly for pupils who have withdrawn from collective worship. It is already law in Wales, which apparently is way ahead of England, through the recent Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021. This amendment would bring England up to speed with Wales.

Amendment 57 would replace collective worship in academy schools “without a religious character” with a requirement to hold inclusive assemblies. The UK is the only sovereign state in the world to impose worship in all state schools, including schools without a religious character. That is pretty remarkable; I am quite surprised by that. The majority of parents do not support this, according to the findings of a YouGov poll. Most parents were not aware of the law but, when made aware of it, 60% of parents opposed it being enforced.

Amendment 57 would free up schools to hold assemblies on subjects that parents do want to see covered. A YouGov poll from 2019 found that religious worship came bottom, surprisingly, of a list of 13 possible topics that could be covered in assemblies, with fewer than one third of parents considering it to be appropriate. The topics that parents wanted to be covered in assemblies included, for example, the environment and nature, equality and non-discrimination, physical and mental health and celebration of achievements. The topics could include religious content but not in the form of veneration of a divine being; it would be more like religious discussion, debate about different religions and so on, with more of an educational content.

Very importantly, the amendment would reflect the recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has urged the UK to repeal our collective worship laws. In reality, many schools pay little heed to the law and lay on secular assemblies on many different topics without any worship. Amendment 57 would sort out legal uncertainty and bring the UK into line with key international organisations and, indeed, the rest of the world. If there were a demand for acts of worship from some of the children, as there might well be, a school could organise these on a voluntary basis; but this would be entirely separate from the inclusive assembly for all children.

Amendment 58 is slightly different. It would significantly reduce discrimination against teachers applying for a job in a faith-based academy. The law already maintains that faith academies cannot discriminate on grounds of religion during the hiring or promotion of teaching staff unless there is a “genuine occupational requirement”. However, the current law is confusing. The English educational law, Section 124AA of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998—sorry to be so tedious—and paragraph 4(d) of Schedule 22 to the Equality Act 2010, appear to allow faith schools to discriminate on the basis of religion or belief for the purposes of appointment, promotion, remuneration or termination of employment of teachers, even where there is not an occupational requirement. The result is that many schools currently do discriminate even where the employment equality directive makes it clear that this is not allowed.

Amendment 58 would remove any ambiguity in the law and make it clear across legislation that discrimination is allowed only where there could be said to be a genuine occupational requirement, or GOR. Again, we have a precedent. This reform was recently introduced in Northern Ireland through the Fair Employment (School Teachers) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022, passed apparently to the sound of applause across the Chamber. The Act attracted wide cross-party support—again, interestingly, to me—from all the religious and non-religious communities, including both the Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist parties. There cannot be many policies that get the full support of both those parties. Now it is for the UK to catch up.

Part 1 of the Bill was highly controversial and will continue to be so. I hope that these relatively small amendments will provide some relief for our Minister—they are widely supported and present no political problems at all. The ideal way forward would, of course, be for the Government to adopt these amendments and move them on Report, no doubt with some tidying up of the wording. I look forward very much to having discussions with other noble Lords and the Minister as to the best way forward. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 9:15 pm, 13th June 2022

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. I shall speak to Amendments 53 and 57, to which I have attached my name. As a patron of Humanists UK, I want briefly to emphasise the points made in the clear, comprehensive and persuasive introduction by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Basically, as the arrangements stand for what the Bill calls worship and religious education, there is no recognition of the fact that many parents will have an ethical and moral code that is not based on faith. As the noble Baroness said, current figures suggest that it is actually over half of our population. Why should these parents not have their values recognised and their children enabled to learn them?

I hasten to add that these amendments in no way disparage religious education. It is simply that there are other sets of beliefs, and indeed other religions than Christianity, that have a long and influential tradition, have helped to form our national identity and should not be sidelined in an education worthy of the name.

I will add only that we now live in a diverse society, which I believe the Government welcome. One corollary of that is that we need to develop and strengthen the bonds that unite us in our differences. We will not do this by neglecting the elements of our various faiths and beliefs in the education of our children. To live with each other, we need to understand each other. Within a framework of human rights, we need to learn to respect where our fellow citizens are coming from. I suggest that this is a better way to avoid extremism—from any side—than excluding the traditions that people value. Among those are values that establish a moral code that is not faith-based. These values are no friend to extremism and are a source of rational and compassionate analysis of the issues that confront us, whether they are environmental, democratic or furthering peace and well-being.

I hope the Minister will recognise the educational deprivation that will continue without these amendments, and accept them.

Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour

My Lords, I am supportive of the last two speeches. One of the things that I suppose I regret about the decline of collective worship is the decline of moments of collective reflection, although I am not of faith. Indeed, I am a humanist, and two years ago I was lucky enough to get married on a deserted heart-shaped island in the Orkneys at a humanist wedding. At that time, and I imagine this is still the case, I was advised by the celebrant that there are more people getting married in humanist ceremonies in Scotland than all the other faiths put together. That is a demonstration of the sense that society is changing, whether we like it or not.

I shall speak to Amendments 54 and 56 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt of Solihull and Lady Bakewell, and myself. Amendment 54 would require faith academies to provide an inclusive alternative to faith-based religious education for those who request it. Amendment 54 seeks to mitigate some of the issues caused by compulsory faith-based RE. It would do so by introducing a requirement for faith academies to offer those pupils who withdraw from faith-based RE a new subject called religion and world views education. This new subject would be objective, critical and pluralistic. This alternative would cover both religious perspectives and non-religious perspectives such as humanism.

We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the stats from the British Social Attitudes survey regarding the number of those now identifying as non-religious, non-Christian and so on. It is particularly high, at 72%, among those in the age bracket 25 to 44 —that is, those most likely to have school-age children—yet over one-third of our state-funded schools have a religious ethos, and I respect them. The vast majority of those, 99%, are Christian, and I respect that too. Indeed, in 2020 the Church of England’s own Statistics for Mission revealed that the number of places in Church of England schools now outstrips the Church’s entire worshipping community.

The DfE’s associated memorandum declares that it is not compulsory for a child to attend a school with a religious designation, but of course this ignores the fact that, as we have heard, thousands of parents are effectively having to send their children to faith schools every year because there is no suitable alternative locally. That was definitely the case in my former constituency of South Dorset in the rural areas where many or indeed most of the village schools were Church of England schools. They did a perfectly fine job, but while you could get assistance with transport if you wanted to send your child to a different faith based-school, you certainly could not get such assistance if you wanted to send them to a comprehensive non-faith-based school if that was what in accordance with your views.

It is that kind of discrimination against people who are not of faith which I am keen to try to do something about, when we have the right opportunity to do so in an inclusive way. Amendment 54 provides a remedy. It would mean that children who do not share the religion of the school they attend will have access to an “objective, critical and pluralistic” version of the subject that does not seek to indoctrinate them into one religious perspective.

Amendment 56 would make it explicit that RE outside of faith academies must be inclusive of non-religious worldviews such as humanism, in line with what is already required by case law, and rename the subject accordingly to “religion and worldviews”. RE is a statutory subject in all schools. However, recent figures from the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education found that 50% of academies without a religious character, which make up approximately two-thirds of academies, do not meet their legal requirements to provide the subject as set out in their funding agreements. Although there are a range of reasons for this, it seems plausible to suggest that many schools—as well as pupils and their parents—see the subject as outdated and irrelevant to their lives. This is an opportunity to give the subject a shot in the arm.

I think that is why, when there was a review of the subject by the Commission on Religious Education in 2018, chaired by the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, the Dean of Westminster and former chief education officer for the Church of England, that report recommended the policy of both the RE Council and the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education: that we should do exactly this. It has been properly considered and thought through, and seems a perfectly reasonable adjustment to make, as do the amendments proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Whitaker.

Finally, I stress that the new “religion and worldviews education” would still reflect the fact that the religious tradition in Great Britain is, in the main, Christian. This is not at all an attempt to whitewash out teaching about religious traditions. Those are really important if we want to have an inclusive society that respects each other’s traditions and faiths. However, as I say, this amendment provides a shot in the arm for what I think is a vital subject.

Photo of The Bishop of Chichester The Bishop of Chichester Bishop

My Lords, I speak on behalf of my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and declare his interest as chair of the National Society. I speak against Amendments 53, 54 and 56 to 58.

I strongly urge noble Lords not to support the proposal set out in Amendment 53. It is framed as a mandatory requirement. However, it is unclear what would satisfy the definition of “a meaningful alternative” for pupils. Furthermore, it does not consider the resourcing implications in terms of staff and accommodation, depending on the number of pupils opting out.

Amendments 54 and 56 provide no definition of what constitutes such an “objective, critical and pluralistic” education. This would require a much fuller consensus to be achieved about the purpose and content of the RE curriculum, which is not the purpose of the Bill—although I note the helpful observations of the noble Lord, Lord Knight, on the work done by Dr John Hall. There may be some helpful work elsewhere that could be continued from that.

The wording around acts of worship and “religious observance” in Amendment 57 is open to interpretation, which is subjective. It would be very difficult to define or apply it consistently. A prohibition as proposed under this amendment would appear excessive and it is unclear how it would be monitored.

Amendment 58’s removal of provisions may conflict with church school trust deeds and governance documents that require certain staff in a church school to have particular attributes as a genuine occupational requirement; for example, fitness and competence to teach religious education because of their religious opinions, attendance at religious worship, and/or willingness to teach in accordance with religious tenets.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 9:30 pm, 13th June 2022

I thank the right reverend Prelate for giving way. I just want to make two points. First, does the right reverend Prelate really feel he should be persuading Ministers not to adopt these amendments when religious communities as well as non-religious communities support them? Secondly, he said that teachers must not be discriminated against if they have a requirement in their job, but the amendment allows for that very clearly. If there is an occupational requirement to have religious knowledge, that teacher will be expected to have religious knowledge, so I am unsure why the right reverend Prelate is arguing those points.

Photo of The Bishop of Chichester The Bishop of Chichester Bishop

The points I am arguing reflect the experience and response, particularly that garnered by the National Society. It is on the basis of that that the rejection of these amendments is built. It presents for us a national picture from the Church of England.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, it is very useful to have the right reverend Prelate raise a religious voice against these amendments and raise some concerns. Maybe I could raise a non-religious voice with some concerns I share against these amendments.

I am particularly worried about Amendments 53 and 57 and the idea of alternative assemblies

“directed towards furthering the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of the pupils”.

I fear this would become a secular version of religion, with all its preaching of things I do not particularly like. It was interesting that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, mentioned what is happening in Wales, where I am from. I met some teachers from Wales over the weekend and one talked about how, apparently, the alternative to religion is that we teach environmentalism—the new religion—and made that joke. What would the content of these things be?

While I am not religious and consider myself a humanist, I feel queasy because we have a problem in this country of religious illiteracy. I think we want a secular society that understands religion and shows some regard for religion and its tradition. Religion seeps into the public sphere and a lack of religious literacy can be problematic. We have seen in the last week the issue around the film “The Lady of Heaven”, which several major cinema chains have backed off from showing in a really disgraceful instance of artistic censorship. I noted that the reason given for that was that it was offensive to local Muslims, but the film was made by a Muslim filmmaker. At the very least, that could indicate that people panic in the face of religion without necessarily understanding it.

This religious illiteracy is perhaps why I have a preference—if I had to choose between them—for Amendments 54 and 56, which make some attractive points. “Religious and worldviews education” sounds more palatable. If anything, I would say, “Why not for everyone?” The amendment mentions non-religious philosophical convictions to be taught. I think all pupils, including those of religious faiths, would benefit from reading John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration and understanding the philosophical roots and importance of religious freedom for a secular society, ironically, and from reading On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. This might counter, for example, the shocking events we saw in Batley, where a religious education teacher is still in hiding for his life over the allegation of blaspheming—despite the fact there is no blasphemy law. People seem to feel very queasy about calling this out or saying anything about it in this House, or in politics more generally.

I was glad to see in Amendments 54 and 56 an acknowledgement that Christianity is the predominant religion in Great Britain, because I think people have got a bit queasy about saying that for some reason. It is important to understand that the Christian tradition does not just inform faith or even a moral framework for the country, but has provided centuries of cultural imagery in art and literature. I remember, as an English teacher, standing in front of a group of A-level students and asking, “What might that apple symbolise?” I was met with blank faces because they could not understand what I meant: the apple did not symbolise anything to them. I do not think that it was entirely my poor teaching that did that; when I explained it, it took quite a lot to get there because they were unfamiliar with the symbol. I would like a greater understanding of the traditions, history and philosophy of religion, if anything.

Finally, I worry about some of the comments made that assumed that people of faith or introducing pupils to faith—within faith schools, for example—equals indoctrination. That is the wrong way to see it. I was brought up in a Catholic school but it backfired on them terribly, which made me think that people are not indoctrinated in that way.

It is also wrong to associate religion with extremism per se, or to imagine that the problems of political extremism that we might see in society are to do with religion—goodness knows that there is plenty of secular extremism about. We should also be concerned about a mood of intolerance to Christianity, or even a squeamishness, with people feeling embarrassed by Christianity in this country; I do not think that that is particularly helpful. Although I have some sympathy with two sets of the amendments rather than the others, we should be careful not to demonise religion, religious people or faith in our aspiration to widen education and give more options for non-religious families.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

I reassure the noble Baroness that Amendments 53 and 57 apply to children who have already opted out of religious worship, as is perfectly legal and has been the custom for some time. Is she reassured by the fact that it is highly likely that John Locke and John Stuart Mill would be taught as part of a moral and ethical basis in any decent education, I would have thought?

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

I am familiar with what is happening in education at the moment, and John Locke and JS Mill are nowhere near it. The point I was suggesting is that, if they were, they should be taught to everyone. Opting out is fine; on other amendments, we are going to go on to talk about parents opting out of different things—that is fine. I was worried about secular assemblies; that filled me with horror. Maybe children could go and listen to some classical music or something that would be more productive. That was my concern on that matter.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I have a great deal of sympathy for what the noble Baroness has just said. The phrase that comes to my mind is, “Better the devil you know”—if I am allowed to refer to the Church of England in that way. We know that religion is an immensely powerful and deep force for people. The Church of England is very civilised and easy to get on with; it is part of our community and history. That is the right way, and the right environment, for that part of children’s education.

If you are sending your child to a school run by the Church of England or the Catholic Church, for goodness’ sake, you know what you are getting. Although I have come out the far side of religion some long time ago, I very happily sent a couple of my children to schools with a strong Church of England ethos, and it did not do them any harm any more than it did me harm to go to church twice a day for 15 years of my life. Religion is not a poisonous thing; it is an enriching thing. When I get to go to a decent wedding, I bellow the hymns with enthusiasm and deep memory. I am sure that a lot that I have experienced enriches my life. We should not look at this as something harmful; it is something that we are, by and large, all used to and live with, and is a positive force in our country and lives. We should celebrate it and not try to shy away from it.

Photo of The Bishop of Chichester The Bishop of Chichester Bishop

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for her comments. There are two things. I am very aware of the important statement that the Queen made in her Diamond Jubilee about the vocation of the Church of England, which is not to promote itself but to promote faith, the practice of faith and respect for people of faith. The noble Baroness’s comments on religious literacy are very timely, particularly if we are taking seriously the education of our young people as they face not only a global issue in which religious literacy is of increasing importance but also, of course, as we prepare them for a pluralistic society here in England, in Britain, where, once again, religious literacy is increasingly important because of the range of places from which people come and the faiths that they bring with them. I greatly value the comments—thank you.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will just make a very brief contribution. I have found this a very helpful, thoughtful debate which will merit reading in Hansard tomorrow to get some of the finer points.

I want to say a word or two about Amendment 54 and Amendment 56, which my noble friend Lady Burt has signed. It is based on my understanding of what the amendments are saying. As I read them, these amendments are not aimed at diluting the approaches of faith schools or undermining their rights to maintain the faith ethos taught in them. They simply mean that students who opt out of faith-based RE and all students at non-religious schools have a more inclusive subject available to them. That is my understanding, so I would be grateful for the Minister’s confirmation.

Can I add two questions to the Minister? As I understand it, these amendments would not actually change the legal position but place existing case law into statute. In 2015, in the case of Fox v Secretary of State for Education, the High Court ruled against the DfE and in favour of three humanist parents and their children who challenged the Government’s relegation of non-religious world views in the new subject content for GCSE religious studies. The court stated that religious and non-religious world views, such as humanism, must be afforded equal respect in the RE curriculum. I have concluded that the amendments would simply ensure that equal respect becomes a statutory requirement. Does the Minister see it in the same way?

Secondly, can I build on a point made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in relation to recent legislation in Wales? That has not been particularly debated this evening. Maybe we should look at it in greater detail because I think it is important to consider, and I hope the Minister will be considering it in the context of this Bill. In looking more carefully at that, does the Minister think that there may be a case for legislation in England being similar to that which applies in Wales? Does she think it might be helpful to try to build on it? I am looking forward to a response from the Minister about that because I often get worried about the United Kingdom having key differences on matters of approach in law on matters such as this which seem to me would benefit from a single legal understanding.

That is two legal questions. I acknowledge that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, pointed out that, in Amendments 54 and 56, the statement is clearly made that the religious traditions in Great Britain are, in the main, Christian. I am glad that, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Burt, who was the first signatory to the second of these amendments, that point has been fully understood.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 9:45 pm, 13th June 2022

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for asking those questions about the good things that we are doing in Wales, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for raising them initially. RE becomes RVE in Wales this September—religion, values and ethics. There is a great deal to learn from what the devolved nations are doing.

The place of religion and belief in the education system is incredibly complex—the debate this evening has demonstrated that—coming from a time when our society was much less diverse and much more religious than it is now. The amendments are targeted at ensuring that children of no faith do not miss out if they opt out of collective worship. They should not have to sit at the back of the classroom while everyone else is in assembly; they need a meaningful alternative provided for them during this time. These are admirable aims, to ensure that cultural education is balanced and non-exclusionary; in a modern and increasingly secular society, where children are exposed to all kinds of things, particularly in the online sphere, it should be a right that we promote. We should provide an excellent opportunity to discuss a variety of topics and issues. It is important to break down stigmas, and non-religious children in faith schools should not be made to feel left out if they opt out. The Government should think carefully about how to encourage this here. The amendments and the work in Wales are a way forward to do this.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for this thoughtful debate, as we reach the end of our second day in Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, rolls her eyes at me. She may have anticipated that, while I shall not quibble with the wording of her amendments, I shall disappoint her in my response. I also wanted to tell the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that he is making me increasingly jealous of the time that he spends on the Orkney Islands, and the celebrations and reflections that he gets to do there.

I turn first to Amendment 53, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher and Lady Whitaker. The Government view collective worship as central to life in a school with a religious character. The right to withdrawal from collective worship is also important, as it provides choice for families as to whether or not their children participate. The amendment seeks, where children are withdrawn from collective worship, to provide an alternative assembly aimed at furthering the spiritual, moral, social and cultural—SMSC for short—education of pupils in schools with a religious character. The Government do not believe that the amendment is necessary, as all state-funded schools are already required to ensure the SMSC development of their pupils. Collective worship is one way to promote SMSC education, but there are areas of the curriculum in which schools can meet this requirement, such as religious education, history and citizenship.

On Amendment 54, when children are admitted to a school with a religious designation, their parents are aware of this and expect it to be part of the school’s ethos and culture. The Government support the right of such schools to provide religious education that aligns with their religious character. We therefore believe that there is no need for the amendment. I am unaware of significant demand from parents who withdraw their children from religious education to have this replaced by education representative of a wider range of religious and non-religious beliefs. There are many examples of academies with a religious designation taking care to ensure that their provision, to some degree, reflects a diversity of religions. We also expect schools to promote fundamental British values, which includes encouraging mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs, including non-religious beliefs. While acknowledging that the intention of this amendment is to widen choice in the teaching of RE, we believe that it is unnecessary because RE will likely already include the concept of non-religious world views.

Amendment 56 relates to academy schools without a religious character. Again, the Government believe this amendment is unnecessary because RE may already include the concepts of religious and non-religious belief. On religious belief, academies without a religious designation must already teach RE, reflecting the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are, in the main, Christian, and must take account of the teachings of the other principal religions in Great Britain. On nonreligious belief, this can be covered within RE. There is no obligation for schools to give equal time to the teaching of each religion or the teaching of nonreligious worldviews.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked me two specific questions. On the point about not giving equal time to nonreligious worldviews, we are talking about the same judgment, but I shall write to him on the specific point, and on the point relating to Wales—although, if I understood him, it might rather reflect the devolved nature of education in Wales rather than a different legal approach. I shall reflect on Hansard and make sure I write.

On Amendment 57, collective worship is important in encouraging pupils to reflect on the concept of belief and its role in the traditions and values of this country. The right of withdrawal from collective worship provides families who do not want their children to participate to withdraw from it in whole or in part. As I have set out, there are already plentiful opportunities for schools to further children’s spiritual, moral, social and cultural education regardless of religion or belief. This includes holding nonreligious assemblies, so the Government do not believe that this amendment is necessary.

Amendment 58 would repeal specific sections from the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998. This would have the effect of removing statutory freedoms and protections regarding the recruitment, promotion and remuneration of teachers by reference to their religious practice, belief or knowledge at academies with a religious character. The Government support the freedoms and protections associated with academies with a religious character, including their freedoms to continue to appoint, promote and remunerate their teachers and deal with their employment with reference to the relevant religion or religious denomination. The Government do not intend to change this position for any school with a religious character, including academies. We continue to provide equivalent protections for academies to those available to maintained schools.

As I say, I thought this was an interesting and reflective debate, but I am afraid that the Government do not agree with the amendments tabled by noble Lords. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

I thank noble Lords who have spoken in support of these amendments and I thank the Minister for her response, although it seemed to me that the departmental response, if I can call it that, did not deal with the inconsistencies and inadequacies in the law, and so on. Never mind, we can come back to that.

I will just say that “Better the devil you know” is fine if you are a Christian, but it is not what the majority of people or the majority of children in this country would want, because the devil they know is something other than Christian worship. It seems to me that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, agreed with Amendment 57, even though she bent over backwards to say she did not, because of course we are all very happy with religious education and information; what we are talking about here is worship.

Anyway, with those few provisos, I am very grateful to everybody who is here at this late hour, especially our two Ministers, who have been here for a very long time. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 53 withdrawn.

Amendment 54 not moved.

Clause 25 agreed.

Clauses 26 and 27 agreed.

Amendments 55 to 58 not moved.

Clause 28 agreed.

Amendment 58A not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.55 pm.