Amendment 53

Part of Schools Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 13th June 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat 9:30 pm, 13th June 2022

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.