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Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, in the context of that Answer, can my noble friend confirm that only a small number of schools include in their curriculum the need to inform pupils that a substantial part of the population does not hold religious beliefs? As the religious education syllabus has broadened a good deal in recent years to include knowledge of all faiths, is it not logical and proper that it should include the non-religious point of view?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot tell my noble friend how many schools provide information about the proportion of the population which does not follow any particular religious faith. However, we ought to remember that religious education is about teaching different aspects of different religious faiths to young people, including tolerance for all faiths and for those who hold no particular religious view. Within the school curriculum, there are many opportunities--whether in English, history or the new citizenship lessons which are to be introduced--to discuss such issues.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I recognise the way in which the teaching of religion has broadened to include faiths other than Christianity and I welcome that. However, is it not the case that non-religious people have a strong moral code? Will my noble friend

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go further than her previous answers and encourage local education authorities fully to include non-religious teaching in their syllabus and discussions, perhaps by circulating guidance about that?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I entirely accept the fact that many people who have no religious faith have strong moral convictions which all of us can and should respect. However, as regards religious instruction in schools, we expect teachers to cover a broad range of issues. It would be difficult to require them to teach about non-religious views in religious instruction. It is important to ensure that a broad range of views are covered and that understanding and tolerance are part of what teachers are conveying.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's comment that religious education is about religion rather than non-religion. Her colleague in another place, Jacqui Smith, today issued a press release which states:

    "Collective Worship also provides an opportunity for promoting pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development".

What does "promoting" mean in that context?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I have not seen that document which was apparently issued today. Indeed, this is the first that I have heard about it. I cannot really answer what was meant by the word "promoting" in that context as I have not seen the document.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, will my noble friend please use this opportunity to congratulate those many teachers who, especially at this time of year, organise multi-faith celebrations so that children in their schools may understand, enjoy and appreciate not only their own religions, but also those of other people?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that intervention. We should all congratulate teachers who undertake what is often a difficult task in covering a wide range of religious views and beliefs in our multi-faith society. It is one of the strengths of our schools that they do that so effectively.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, should not the Government give considerable encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, in that the citizenship curriculum coming into force in autumn 2002 has as one of its basic foundations the whole question of values and is designed to help pupils to develop their own values and their own moral autonomy? Should that not go a long way towards giving solace to the questioner?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes. I greatly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has said. The citizenship curriculum will be able to cover a wide range of issues including questions of morality and

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democracy. It covers the kind of issues of which we want all young people to be aware, including their obligations to members of their own community and indeed to communities far beyond the one in which they live.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, is correct in saying that an awful lot of children do not know anything about religion, is that not a good reason for them being taught it? I presume that if they were not taught it, they would not know much about mathematics either.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not sure that my noble friend was saying that many young people do not know much about religion, although of course he may speak for himself. I believe that he was saying that many adults in this society do not follow any particular religious faith. The statistics show clearly that that is the case.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the Question is about the non-religious point of view and that it is not answered by widening the range of religions covered? Will she agree that my noble friend is raising specifically the position of those who have no religion and will she address the issue from that point of view?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I thought that I had already made it clear that it is possible for those issues to be raised and discussed with pupils in our schools in many different aspects of the curriculum. It is particularly appropriate at the secondary stage and that is indeed what I believe happens.


2.53 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the latest regulations covering the travel of British subjects working with charitable non-governmental organisations in Afghanistan.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Government continue to advise strongly all British subjects against travel to Afghanistan because there is a significant threat to their safety. For that reason, DfID will not fund the activities in Afghanistan of NGOs which send British personnel into the country against the Government's advice. The Secretary of State for International Development explained the Government's position more fully in a letter to the Chairman of the International Development Committee on 5th August, a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer even though it is not at all satisfactory. We all agree that the Taliban is an evil regime and should on no account be recognised, but will the Minister tell us why, either through NGOs or by other

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means, we cannot support the Tajiks, the Shia Hazaras or Ahmed Shah Masoud, who have always held the British in high esteem and have been our friends?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the advice of DfID is quite specific: we shall not fund organisations which send expatriates into Afghanistan against Government advice. However, we continue to fund NGOs which use local personnel. We have just concluded a review of that policy and have changed the policy slightly to enable NGOs to send in expatriates for small periods of time. We shall continue to review the policy on a regular basis.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, under what conditions do the Government expect to recognise the Taliban?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, at this moment in time I am unable to give the noble Viscount a direct answer to that question.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are well-attested violations of human rights, particularly in relation to women, in the Taliban-dominated part of Afghanistan? What action have the Government taken in relation to those violations?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Government are extremely concerned about human rights violations in Afghanistan. We have taken an extremely strong position in relation to our development assistance, which is represented also in the EU position on aid, in which we are clear that aid is agreed only where there is an equitable relationship between women and men in terms of the disbursement of that aid. In addition, we press in all ways possible the Taliban and others involved in Afghanistan about violations of human rights.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in view of what the Minister has just said, will she assure the House that when aid agencies send personnel into Afghanistan on the temporary assignments that she mentioned, there is no discrimination by the Taliban in terms of insisting that only male members of staff be sent in?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I can only repeat what I said in reply to previous questions: we take the human rights issues and, in particular, the issue of violations of human rights against women and girls very seriously indeed. It is a matter which we are taking up with NGOs which will be sending personnel for short periods of time into Afghanistan. They understand the Government's position fully.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the restrictions in the case of the United Nations agencies have been relaxed somewhat without

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them coming to terms with the Taliban? Cannot the United Kingdom follow that example and give more encouragement to the NGOs?

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