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Lord Desai: My Lords, I was born in India. I went to America for study, then I came here. What struck me when I came to Britain was how relaxed the country was about whether or not it was a nation. Glory to the country that is relaxed about its nationhood. Countries that are not relaxed about nationhood have to go to war to prove that they are a nation. Ever since I arrivedperhaps partly because I am middle-class; I have a middle-class job; and I live in a middle-class areaI have never been made to feel not a part of this country. I may be lucky; I think that class has more to do with it than people admit. But I have found it interesting that at no stage, unlike what I might have had to do in America or even India, did I have to affirm my allegiance to anything. No one asked me to salute any flag. There are not many occasions on which the national anthem is played and I have to stand upnot that I mind standing for the national anthem.
My point is that the whole question of whether we are a nation or not is an anxiety that is not strictly necessary. When new Labour was born, it was somewhat sensitive that the Conservatives had monopolised patriotism and we had to get a little purchase on it. We got a little purchase on it, but the whole point is that we all have multiple identities. We should be happy to carry multiple identities with us and not necessarily have to ask ourselves, "What are you really? Are you black; are you British; are you English; are you a Geordie; what are you?". I could be everything. As occasion demands, as with my credit cards, I will give you the card that is relevant for the purpose. It may be more relevant at the time to assert my race, my background, my citizenship, or whatever.
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An historical fact about Britain is that although the notion of nationhood was born in the late 18th or early 19th centuriesthe French invented the notion of nationalismthis was a united polity before the notion of nationalism was invented. That is partly why, as George Orwell said in his famous essay, the English are embarrassed about patriotism. They are embarrassed because it has never seemed to be something worth bothering about. I have written about India and how it had a problem: if it is a nation, why it is a nation; or is it multiple nations constantly trying to define themselves as a single nation? Here, the United Kingdom had the luxury of splitting itself up and devolving power. Suddenly there were four national capitals, not one, but still no one was very much worried about that. When I arrived in 1965, and for 30 years after, the notion that there were four national capitals was unheard of.
Now we have devolution; and we have a multiracial character. What I find remarkable about 7 July, tragic as it was, was the universal feeling, "How could British boys do this?" It is remarkable that, 30 years after Enoch Powell made that horrible speech, British newspapers, including tabloids, accepted the boys with the bombs as British boys. That is a remarkably big cultural change. My answer to that was, "Why are you surprised, because it is happening in Northern Ireland all the time? British-born boys are throwing bombs, so what is new?", although that is a negative way of putting it. Perhaps I see the glass as half full rather than half empty, but I do not detract from the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, when I say that, despite the way in which the tabloids especially have responded to the whole question of accepting and integrating people of different races into British life, it is remarkable how far things have come.
We are not there yet. There is much more to do. It is interesting not to ask whether someone is a British citizen but to be quite sure that one does not face discrimination, whatever one chooses to be. It is much more important to have a culture of equal rights and not to give people a single label. Anything like a single label or a monotheistic construction of nationality is bound to be wrong.
I shall say only one more thing because my time is running out. The Motion asks what role the Government can play. I hope that they play a minimal role. I want us separately in our various communities to construct the notion of whichever citizenship or original nationality we want. The Government should play a minimal role in providing a simple framework and not start writing a curriculum and ask us to meet 37 conditions for being British. I would rather that we evolved Britishness in our daily lives by ourselves, rather than have an official proclamation of what it is to be British.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, and I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire for giving us this opportunity to talk about what we mean by citizenship and how we foster it. As education spokesman, I am
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sure that your Lordships would expect me to talk about how we foster it in young people, and you will not be disappointed. Although I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said about parents, I shall focus on schools today.
I was delighted when this Government introduced citizenship into primary schools in 2000, and as a statutory foundation subject for secondary schools in September 2002. The framework has three important strands: social and moral responsibility, community involvement, and political literacy. I was delighted about this new subject, not only from the narrow self-interest of a politician despairing at the lack of engagement of young people with the political process and the falling number of those voting, but from the wider community point of view, because this programme should be designed to develop life skills, which are arguably more important to the average young person than anything they learn in their academic subjects.
Let us not be in any doubt that the introduction of citizenship into the curriculum is a good thing. However, as one might expect, it has not been without its problems in these early days. I believe the Government were well meaning, but I am afraid that I do have some negative things to say. After all the investment and effort in launching this new subject in schools, it is a pity that it has been left to flounder, and that consolidation and continuing investment have not happened as we all hoped they would.
Last year, there were only 240 PGCE places for citizenship teaching. The Institute for Citizenship has reported that it has closed down many INSET courses because of poor uptake, with teachers claiming that they did not have the time to train. This shows that teachers have to do this work almost as an afterthought. Indeed, 90 per cent of citizenship teaching is done as part of personal, social and health educationnot an illogical place for it in the curriculum, of course.
I am sure that French teachers find the time for French INSET, and that physics teachers find the time to get up to date with physics knowledge. There is an opportunity to bring elements of the citizenship curriculum into every academic subject and not simply isolate it in PSHE lessons. That, however, takes an enormous amount of planning and considerable vision on the part of the leadership team in schools.
The second missed opportunity is to demonstrate joined-up government. If developing responsible young citizens is really a priority of this Government, why is the Home Office going out on a limb with a confusing plethora of initiatives, some of which are under the respect agenda, which do not appear to be linked at all to the genuine enthusiasm of the DfES for this new subject? After all, the citizenship brand is familiar to those young people who have been studying it since 2000. Most of them know what it means, as do many of their parents. Instead of the many sticks contained in the respect action plan, why are the Government not putting more carrots into the well
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known citizenship brand and responding to the early findings of the National Foundation for Education Research longitudinal study?
There is a real need to build on the work that has already been done and to broaden the scope of the work into the community beyond the classroom walls. For example, surely an opportunity for political engagement is being missed by the Government's resistance to lowering the voting age to 16. We should be catching them at the end of 11 years of citizenship education, and getting them into the habit of voting straight away. The NFER study of the operation of the citizenship curriculum has already found that 66 per cent of the students reported their intention to vote in national elections when the time came. If that intention can be turned into real votes, it would be a big improvement on the poor showing of the 18 to 25 age group in the past two general elections.
The NFER study identifies a considerable gap between the policy aims and actual practice in schools. It reports that schools employ a wide diversity of approaches in the delivery of citizenship education, and although that is not a bad thing in itself, teachers to whom I have talked during their visits to your Lordships' House and another place have pleaded for more opportunities to share best practice and to learn from other teachers about what works best to engage young people and their interest. Certainly there is no shortage of teaching materials and ideas for activities, but, at this early stage, teachers crave more help and guidance with choosing what is most suitable for their students.
Sadly, although school leaders reported that many opportunities exist for students to participate in active citizenship activities, the take-up rate was low. Perhaps I may at this point recommend the Minister to visit one of UNICEF's "Rights Respecting Schools", as I did when I visited Kempshott junior school in Hampshire last November. Here, I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK. Hampshire took up the "rights, respect and responsibility" programme when its representatives visited Nova Scotia a few years ago and saw it in operation. Impressed by what they saw, they brought it home and introduced it first to primary and now to some 20 secondary schools. What impressed me was that it was not all about "my" rights to do what I like. It was about your rights and my responsibilities. In the classroom, that translates into: everyone has the right to have their say and they also have the responsibility to listen to others.
Pupils are encouraged to take part in the school council and the school council reps report back to their classes and consult them about how they want to be represented. The ethos of the school was uplifting, too. They took seriously their responsibility as little environmental and global citizens, learning about basic rights to things like nutrition and education that children in some countries do not have and about the dangers to the environment and they were all doing their own little bit to put those things right.
It works in secondary schools, too. One year-seven teacher reported that she acts out the part of a naughty child and the whole class laughs. Then she asks them,
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"How is this affecting your learning?". They soon get the idea that unacceptable behaviour can be dealt with by them as a group and it becomes uncool to mess about. You now hear 12 year-olds say, "Stop that, we have a right to listen to this". Is that not the sort of responsible empowerment that we want in our young citizens?
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