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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Minister has said that one in five primary schools is introducing language teaching. Are the Government prepared to follow the continental practice of beginning all language teaching at the age of eight?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I believe it would be sensible for the Government to wait until the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's study of the pilots that are taking place in 150 primary schools has been completed before we make such commitments. However, the Government certainly welcome the voluntary commitment that substantial numbers of primary schools are now making to start teaching modern languages much earlier than in the past.

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a long time has elapsed between the Nuffield inquiry that took place in May last year and the response of the Government? Do the Government recall that at that point Nuffield said that the Government lacked any coherent strategies to deal with the language crisis in Britain and in particular highlighted the fact that nine youngsters out of 10 at the age of 16 cease any kind of language instruction whatever? Can the Minister tell us whether any decisive action is to be taken to reverse such a damaging situation?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, in this country the lack of ability to speak modern languages is a function

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of the education of us all over many years. A partnership action between employers, the Government and individuals needs to be taken to address such a situation. The Minister for Europe and I issued a challenge today to many more people to start learning a foreign language as adults. He has made a commitment to learn French and I have made a commitment to refresh my extremely rusty French.

In relation to young people giving up languages at the age of 16, I am pleased that, as a result of the Government's reforms to the 16 to 19 curriculum and the broadening of A-levels, there appears to be a bigger take-up in foreign languages by young people in that age group, with substantial additional numbers taking an AS-level in a modern language.

Lord Laird: My Lords, in talking about the European Year of Languages, I ask the Minister to bear in mind the minority languages, of which there are 40 that are recognised in the European Union. Is she as thrilled as many noble Lords are at the resurgence of Ulster Scots in my native land of Northern Ireland? In any actions that the Government may take, will she ensure that they look after the activities of those minority languages that are recognised by the European Union and which are spoken inside the United Kingdom?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance. The European Year of Languages covers minority languages as well as the mother tongues spoken by the majority of the populations right across Europe.

Lord Elton: My Lords, in support of my noble friend Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, I ask the Minister whether she accepts that the younger one is the easier it is to learn a language. Does she recall how extremely easy she found it to learn English?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said earlier and what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said. It is well known that it is easier for small children to learn languages than it is to start learning a language in adulthood. On the other hand, it is also easy for small children to forget languages unless there is a consistent and long-term commitment to teach them throughout their schooling. The Government are committed to try to promote that and we are taking a variety of different actions to make language teaching in our schools more effective, including the specialist language schools to which I referred in my initial reply.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, following the question put by my noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond, can the noble Baroness indicate whether over the past five years, in her opinion, there has been an improvement both in the extent and in the effectiveness of language teaching?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I believe that we are beginning to see improvements as a result of the

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fact that there are now 108 specialist secondary schools focusing on the teaching of foreign languages, although it will take some time for all the improvements that we would expect from that kind of development and from the expansion of the teaching of languages in our primary schools to be effective. I believe that in the longer term we shall see big improvements, but we have to be patient.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that while the Zeitgeist may demand a rapprochement with the languages of our European neighbours, it is becoming increasingly difficult as so many people speak English?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, of course, it is easy to be lazy. When travelling in Europe it is becoming easier and easier to get away with speaking English. That is probably the experience of every noble Lord. Regrettably, that is also the experience of many young people, so trying to motivate them to learn a foreign language is tougher in this country than in many countries of the European Union.

Crimes Against Humanity: Commemoration

3.17 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will extend the Commemoration of the Holocaust on 27th January to include other examples of genocide, as defined by United Nations criteria, and the Armenian massacre in 1915.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government decided that Holocaust Memorial Day should focus on learning the lessons of the Holocaust and other more recent atrocities that raise similar issues--and not necessarily genocide as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide. A particular focus on events around the period 1939 to 1945 and thereafter should not be seen as failing to acknowledge, sympathise with and respect the deep concerns about earlier events like the massacre of Armenians in 1915 and 1916.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that partially encouraging reply. Does he agree that, without in any way detracting from the commemoration of the Jewish Holocaust, to deny recognition of other comparable crimes against humanity diminishes the significance? Does he also agree that one of the most important aspects of the commemoration is to discourage further genocide? Any genocide forgotten or denied may well encourage other genocides, as illustrated by Hitler's infamous question posed before he began the extermination of the Jews: "Who today speaks of the Armenians"?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to say that we should not do anything to detract from the commemoration of the Jewish Holocaust. Nor should we deny history. We should try to learn the lessons of history. It must be the hope of everyone that the Governments of Turkey and Armenia have learnt the lessons of history and that they can in some way put the matter behind them. We must ensure that we have the sort of useful co-operation needed to increase stability and prosperity in that part of the world. That would be in everybody's best interests. We need to learn from history, but we should not be locked into history forever and become prisoners of the past. We need to look to the future. At least the national Holocaust remembrance celebrations will enable us to do that.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and I thank the Government and all the leaders of all our political parties and of our great religions for their support for this concept. Does he accept that, while Holocaust Memorial Day is of course important in remembering the tragic victims of the Holocaust, who included half of my family, it is also, and more important, to remind especially younger people what can happen if a racist dictatorship is allowed to take over in any country? In that way we can try to prevent further massacres, murders and genocides of any minority at any time and anywhere in the world.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, surely, that is the purpose of the forthcoming national commemoration. I return to the point that it is important to learn the lessons of history and I thank the noble Lord for focusing on that. Throughout we should focus precisely on that.

The Holocaust was appalling, as is any massacre of any race in the world. I believe that we should understand that and make our children and future generations fully aware of its impact. For that reason, the Government should be congratulated on the steps they have taken in that regard.

Lord Elton: My Lords, if the Government accept that it is necessary for the human race to learn this lesson, surely it is necessary that it is learnt by all countries in which genocide has taken place or may do so. Is the Minister aware that in 1929 Winston Churchill said:

    "In 1915 the Turkish Government began and ruthlessly carried out the infamous general massacre and deportation of Armenians in Asia Minor ... whole districts blotted out in one administrative holocaust ... There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons"?

If those statements from a reliable source are true, surely they should be recognised in this process.

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