|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
However, at the age of 18 I would have been a disappointment to many in your Lordships' House. I had no overall timeline of British history. I would have struggled to give the correct century for the Battle of Waterloo; I had not covered a world war; and I just thought that it was quite curious that some borders in Africa happened to be straight lines. I know that I am not alone in that experience, as friends of mine spent a new-year holiday watching the boxed set of Simon Schama's TV series "A History of Britain" back to back.
Over many years now, I have been privileged to know some of Britain's black and ethnic-minority communities. I have watched as politicians and commentators have flailed around with concepts like multiculturalism and trying to redefine Britishness. Obviously the teaching of history in schools is not a silver bullet and I am not for one minute suggesting that we make teachers responsible for national identity. But I have become convinced that inspired teaching of
20 Oct 2011 : Column 420
I say the "English story" deliberately. As a wise friend of mine said, people identify as British Asians, not English Asians. The teaching of the English story in schools is essential to the British identity and it has been, until recently, the missing part. Why is that? It should be simple-start perhaps with King Alfred and tell the narrative. But many of the English still do not know how to, or some say are not willing to, deal with parts of the national story.
In 2007, I was involved in organising an event to commemorate the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Again, politicians and commentators seemed unsure about how to handle the anniversary. Is it a celebration? Is it a commemoration? Do we apologise? This lack of national peace over contentious events does little to assist our history teachers who have to teach this without making white children feel bad and black children feel angry. It is not an easy task. As if the Empire and the transatlantic slave trade were not difficult enough, in the post-9/11 American response, President George W Bush saw fit to use the word "crusade". I think many of the English wanted to go and hide. But national peace with our history will not come if children are not even taught the basic content of it. Analysis of events you do not even know about is of course impossible.
In some senses Britain has always been multicultural as we are made up of four nations. Over the last 60 years, however, Britain has sought to include millions of people who often have a different heritage, culture and tradition. Without a strong English story being taught and known, who knows what these newer communities were expected to integrate with? However, the change in the British population means that the teaching of the nation's history in schools is a more varied and perhaps a more challenging task. We all need to know why Britain is the way it is.
I remember one sunny afternoon at Hampton Court Palace when I happened to notice that virtually all the visitors were white. This caused me to reflect, and I realised that I felt connected to the history I was seeing there because my ancestors, whoever they were, were around at the time of Henry VIII. I did wonder, however, if the same could be said for some of my black friends. Maybe not, because the history of their ancestors at that time would of course be elsewhere. Some British black people will feel just as connected as I do but many will not. As a young black Londoner, Sam Kamasu, said to me only yesterday, young black people are not engaging with history as much as they should. Black youth in particular has such a multilayered history because black is such a large cluster-African and Caribbean, for instance. Many young people from
20 Oct 2011 : Column 421
I would ask the Minister to take this suggestion of allowing more choice in the content of the curriculum to Simon Schama, the Government's adviser, and to those within Britain's ethnic minorities whom Mr Schama and of course the department will be consulting with. Although many people acknowledge that the content of the curriculum has improved over recent years, many still feel that it does not appreciate the contribution of or tell the stories of those from Britain's newer communities. This gap is being filled by initiatives such as Black History Month.
I learnt much about the sacrifice of Commonwealth soldiers in World War 2 from speeches by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and novels such as Small Island by Andrea Levy. The Caribbean islanders were apparently never conscripted but chose to fight. It is stories like this that Britain's Caribbean community want emphasising in the nation's classrooms.
It is only since joining your Lordships' House that I have had to begin speaking publicly about multiculturalism and diversity. In my previous role, I would always ask members of Britain's black community to do this, not least because it is their tale often to tell. "My family history ends with a ship", said Bishop Wayne Malcolm in 2007 to a dumbstruck audience of 800 people, including the current Prime Minister. "Thank you for your ancestors' bravery and courage for bringing Christianity, healthcare and education to Ghana. Without their sacrifice, my family and I would not be where we are today". That is my summary of Reverend Kingsley Appiagyei's words to MPs, peers and councillors at a training event. Many had never before heard Britain's contentious missionary history so described.
These perspectives and the courageous stories of migration to the UK need telling in the nation's classrooms. I wonder if inviting different people into schools to tell their and their families' stories would aid our history teachers as well as building community relationships. I would be grateful if the Minister would consider this suggestion.
Simon Schama is right. We cannot be self-congratulatory but we may find that some of those most affected by our past are more at ease and forgiving about what happened than the English might expect or indeed deserve. So I would suggest that Britain's colonial history and the current heritage of the population necessitates that the national history taught in our classrooms contains strands of world history. Rightly or wrongly, Britain has been on the world stage and people came to live here as a result. This could be a tremendously exciting curriculum.
To conclude, it may seem too much perhaps to some people to link teaching history in schools, as I have done, to our national identity but I pray in aid the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, who in his book The Home We Build Together argues for the need for a fragmented Britain to build a covenantally based society; one
20 Oct 2011 : Column 422
So if telling our story in the nation's classrooms and through the media and around our dinner tables will give us anything like the strong sense of national identity the Jewish people around the world have retained, despite persecution and often living as a diaspora, it is a task well worth undertaking.
Lord Morgan:My Lords, history needs defence in Parliament. It has been ill served by parliamentarians in recent years. One of the many reasons why I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for an excellent Motion is that it enables us to make amends.
New Labour served history ill. It was unaware of the historical dimension. The essential quality of New Labour was that it was new-therefore. the past dealt with the old and therefore it was of less significance. That is not true of the two Labour leaders whose biography I had the privilege of writing-Lord Callaghan and Michael Foot. Jim Callaghan was very interested in history, particularly naval history. Michael Foot wrote a famous book on the politics of Queen Anne. They had a sense of history. So, too, did my famous countryman Nye Bevan; he did not have much schooling and did not go to university but had his famous story about how he would walk the hills known to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, above Tredegar. When he was lost he would turn to see where he had come from. The moral, said Nye, was that if you want to know where you are going you want to know where you have come from.
The present coalition is not much better. We have heard about the difficulties in schools where history is marginalised in the curriculum. We heard last week about how university funding for the teaching of history has been severely cut back, with serious effects on historical research. So history needs defending and yet it has, as so many noble Lords have said, huge appeal, growing journals and great appeal on television, particularly, I hope, when presented by professional historians and not by television personalities.
I never taught in a school, so to that degree I am totally unqualified to speak. I speak, perhaps, as a parent. The most successful course that my daughter did at her comprehensive school in Wales was one on social protest in Wales between 1800 and 1914. I believe it was written by one of my former pupils; perhaps I should declare an interest. It was very effective for many reasons, which produce some wider conclusions. First, it was about social history and change within society, particularly change in local society. You could see the toll houses or whatever the artefacts from the conflicts described were.
Thirdly, it covered a decent span of time. I very much respond to what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said on this. It covered the whole of the 19th century, indicating that history should not be a pick and mix or based on snippets and soundbites. You should be able to study a problem over a prolonged period.
Fourthly, it was also about conflict. I do not want to be misunderstood on this but history is a record of collision-of colliding ideas, classes and social and political movements. We just lost the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. I wanted to mention Sir Robert Peel's career, of which the noble Lord wrote, which was about conflict over Catholic emancipation and the Corn Laws. It is very important that a history course for children should make the point that out of conflict can grow consensus. How was it, after those people were shot down outside the Westgate Hotel in Newport, that the Chartists' demands were, in the fullness of time, largely accepted? I do not mind history being about conflict. Better that it should be about that than a mindless conformism or a mindless patriotism. People have different views. To quote Nye Bevan again:
The awareness of history is essential for the maturing and development of young people. It is accessible to everybody. As one who has spent-I am afraid-the past 50-odd years of my life writing and teaching history, it is important that I should always bear in mind that it is for everybody, not just for other historians. Outreach is very important. I always commend the Historical Association and never turn down an opportunity to speak to it, even if it is to 10 men and a dog on a wet night in Manchester. It is important to approach your audience in that open way, and to look at history in the round and at its artefacts. I enormously commend the work of National Heritage, chaired by my noble friend Lady Andrews, and, in particular, the work of the People's History Museum in Manchester, where you see documents and archives side by side with the physical artefacts of working-class history. It is nearly adjacent to the site of Peterloo, to which my noble friend Lady Bakewell referred.
There are many reasons to study history. It is fun; it stimulates curiosity; it is infinitely varied and colourful. It is a good intellectual training. It is not just a soft option for, as it were, would-be Guardian readers of the future. It is a powerful intellectual test. How do you know things? What is the evidence? How do you compare different kinds of evidence? When you consider such matters you do not need jargon. I am not so sure about some of my medieval colleagues but you do not need jargon; you can say it in plain English that everybody can understand. You do not need physical apparatus; you need only a working mind. History is available to all sentient beings.
As other noble Lords have said, history teaches a sense of perspective and change over time. This is true of even the contemporary history that some of us are said to teach. In even the most recent period, that is the essential sense that you must convey. You should extend it to everything-not just to anniversaries such as the 50th anniversary of some famous event but to
20 Oct 2011 : Column 424
History gives children a sense of identity-of where they belong and who they are. Other countries are aware of this. In my wife's country, France, people would be astonished that history is not a compulsory part of our curriculum, as it is so powerfully there. History also gives a sense of a many-sided identity. People in this country have many identities. I have spent much of my career writing the history of Wales and the history of Britain and the north Atlantic side by side. It is interesting to see a different sense of relevance. For example, the Blue Books controversy of 1847, which is probably unknown to most of my audience and never mentioned in books on British history, is perhaps the most important event in 19th and 20th century Welsh history in stimulating a sense of nationality.
One must look at and reassess identity, not only because new research is being done and new facts released, but because you are writing within a society that is itself changing. Therefore, the questions to do with the past that you are interested in are constantly changing. The noble Baroness who preceded me spoke very interestingly on multiculturalism and cultural identity. That is clearly an area where questions that are different from traditional themes have been posed. A few years ago there was an interesting series of commemorations to do with the ending of the slave trade in 1807. How refreshing it was to see that an awareness of the multicultural society led to understanding that it was not simply the work of a few benevolent white middle-class Englishmen. It was in fact a dynamic process in which black men and women also participated, which was as much a part of the great process of liberation as what was done in England.
History is the basis of a civilised society. A famous historian, JR Seeley said that it was "past politics". It is much more than that. It is capacious and contains multitudes. It is a mosaic of changing ideas, cultures and social formations. This should be reflected-I hope it is-in the way that history is taught in schools. I hope schools are not afraid of being conceptual and looking at the history of ideas. If we look at and celebrate Magna Carta in three years' time, I hope we do not approach it simply from the bad King John-or even the good King John-point of view, but from the ideas of human rights and the discussion of human rights down the centuries. Yesterday I took part in a debate on the terrorism prevention Bill. A brisk course in human rights would be instructive for the Front Benches on both sides of your Lordships' House.
Finally, history appeals to the most powerful of instincts: memory. The French are very aware of memory, not just the individual memory but the public memory-what the famous historian Pierre Nora called lieux de mémoire, or the sites of memories that have colonised and infiltrated the present. I hope history in schools can capture memory in its widest sense.
I began with a fellow countryman, Aneurin Bevan. I finish with another, a great friend of mine, who I think taught my noble friend Lady Andrews. If the House will indulge me, Professor Gwyn Alfred Williams observed, "Beth yw hanes ond cof cendl?". What is history but the memory of a nation? How right he was.
Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Luke for securing this debate as I have always maintained that in order to shape our future we must look into our past. The lessons of history are a valuable road map of how events and changes in society have affected the world we live in today. It is often said that we can learn from history and avoid making the same mistakes twice. The only problem I have with this is that many leaders and Governments around the world fail to take an even cursory look at a history book before plunging their countries and populations into catastrophic wars and devastating economic events.
Recent history is frequently airbrushed and adjusted to suit political and ideological ends. I find this deeply worrying because some of today's history books do not tell the full catalogue of events. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, I am personally concerned with the documentation of black history and that which applies to the diverse nature of Britain and the reasons why we have become such a rich multicultural society. The recent BBC2 television series "Mixed Race Britain" is, I believe, a landmark piece of television. It has made me aware of part of our history that I never knew had taken place. The programme is brilliantly researched and brilliantly documented. It reminds us of some of the most horrific episodes of racism in our recent history. It tells of Chinese fathers and husbands torn from the bosoms of their English wives and children in dawn raids and deported for no good reason, and of curfews forbidding black people to be out after dark. Yes, this all happened here in Britain less than a lifetime ago.
I have always gone to great lengths to explain to anyone who will listen that immigration to this country did not start with the Windrush, as many people seem to believe, and as the media continue constantly to reinforce. In 17th-century paintings by Hogarth we see the diverse nature of London, and yet it is rarely reflected in our history books that there has been diversity here since Roman times.
In 1987, October was established as Black History Month here in Britain to celebrate and acknowledge the contribution of black people, and to educate and inform society about the important part that black people have played in history. To celebrate, over the past few weeks I have been touring schools across the country, speaking to children in both urban and rural areas about the experiences of those who came to the UK from the British Empire. I make them aware that there were thousands of people from Africa, India, China and the Caribbean here in Britain long before the 1950s. I explain how in Nelson's fleet many black sailors manned the ships; how in Devon there are graveyards with African names carved on the tombstones; how millions of people from Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Asia fought for Britain in the First and
20 Oct 2011 : Column 426
I always find it amazing that so many films and television programmes fail to show the involvement of any of these groups of people when portraying these historic moments. Time and time again, with very few exceptions, films depicting the Elizabethan or Victorian eras fail to show people of colour as part of history. Even the story of the abolition of slavery frequently assigns the success of the campaign to William Wilberforce and his associates, often airbrushing out the black abolitionists who campaigned alongside them, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, highlighted just now. I find it sad, disheartening and frustrating that writers, researchers and directors fail to research past events correctly and truthfully and are therefore in effect changing history. That is why the teaching of accurate recent history in schools is so vital. If our young people grow up without learning and understanding history then we are making a terrible mistake, because the social make-up of our society is shaped by recent history. What vital lessons will be missed by our future leaders if they are not taught recent history in the classroom, history which is affecting their lives?
Some of this history may be unpleasant. It may make us feel ashamed or guilty. But it must never be brushed under the carpet. Imagine if we allowed significant occurrences, violent conflicts, world-changing political events, and the most evil and shocking atrocities of mankind's past, to be forgotten or erased from our history: the African Holocaust where millions of Africans died in enslavement, stripped of their religion, language and culture; the Jewish Holocaust of Hitler's Third Reich; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the assassinations of Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy; the Vietnam War; and most recently, the horrific events of 9/11, the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war. These episodes must never be forgotten.
I produced a television series recently called "Statues and Monuments". While we were filming a statue in central London a woman came up and said, "Why are you filming the statue of that man? He was a monster. What he did was evil. It should be torn down". I replied, "No. We have to remember what he represents, so that it can never happen again". We must never burn our history books. Our young people must be taught our past, so they will never make those same mistakes again.
History is one of the most important subjects in the curriculum and it must continue to be taught in the hope of securing a more peaceful future. If some of our leaders over the past 50 years had spent more time studying history, how different things might be. The world might not be in the wounded state it is today.
I love history and I loved studying history at school. I took a delight in wallowing in it because it gave me the opportunity to delve into the past with an inquisitive mind and to broaden my knowledge of the world. It inspired me to try to make a difference to our society. That love for history still exists today. I believe we
20 Oct 2011 : Column 427
Lord Bew: My Lords, I, along with other noble Lords, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for securing a debate on this important subject. I have to declare an interest, or perhaps more accurately a passion, as a practising professional historian, and acknowledge that I am the secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History. Perhaps I may say something briefly about that. One of the greatest pleasures of that role was the fact that earlier this year, the all-party group decided to make an award to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, who spoke earlier in the debate, and Professor Eric Hobsbawm, acknowledging the tremendous contribution they have made to the study of history in this country.
I want briefly to draw attention to the fact that it is often said that we are a parochial people. Actually, one of the most striking things about this country is the way in which, more than any other country in the world, we produce major historians of other people's countries. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is a striking example of this. It is an indication of the fact that the accusation of parochialism in that respect is entirely false.
However, today I want to make the case for more teaching of British history in our schools, and I want to make it with some care. I accept in part the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, earlier in the debate that the school timetable is inevitably limited and other subjects have to be accommodated, and I suspect that it will be a struggle to find more time for history. But the content of what is being taught in our schools at the moment is a real issue. I also want to make clear the spirit in which I approach the issue of the teaching of British history in our schools. A diary entry for 13 September 1975 in John Rae's memoir-he was the headmaster of Westminster School and one of our progressive public school headmasters-goes as follows:
"I am disturbed to read a series of articles in the Times Educational Supplement arguing that as Britain is now multicultural, schools should no longer pass on a monocultural tradition. What nonsense. If the history and literature of this country were watered down to suit ethnic minorities, the United Kingdom would be little more than a geographic expression".
It would be easy for me to say in the aftermath of the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Benjamin, that that is a very defensive and negative reaction. In fact, when I talk about the importance of teaching more British history in our schools, I want to make it clear that I do so entirely in the spirit of the two speeches we have just heard. But it is important to remember that, as his diary reveals, John Rae was an SDP voter at the time and saw himself as a progressive,
20 Oct 2011 : Column 428
A couple of weeks ago I went to the University of Cambridge to give the first lecture on modern British history at a graduate seminar. I talked afterwards to dons and fellows of colleges, one of whom was a senior historian not born in this country, but taught and raised in a major European country. He has worked in Cambridge for the last few years. From his vantage point as a European, that historian expressed concerns about the way in which our undergraduates are now equipped as they arrive at university, even great universities such as Cambridge and Oxford:
"There is no notion of the wider meaning of Britishness-Scotland, Wales and Ireland besides England-let alone the Anglo world of the Empire. This is manufacturing parochialism and it is altering the collective memory of where this country comes from".
The truth is that we have ended up manufacturing a certain form of parochialism, but the students all know about Hitler and world wars. I think that this is a real problem which we have to face up to. It is important to understand that if we want to teach people the virtues of tolerance as against intolerance, there are plenty of examples of this from our own British political history. If we want to teach people the importance of the equality of citizenship in our country, the struggle for Catholic emancipation is in its way as significant as the struggle for civil rights in the United States. It is important that people learn the lessons as they occurred in our own society.
It is also very important that the current debate does not become politicised. When we talk about the need for more British history, there is a danger that it becomes a kind of parody argument in which apparently those of us who are concerned about the subject want to hear more about kings and queens, make people learn more dates and so on. That is presented against the exciting and interesting things to be learnt by studying Hitler. This is truly a parody. In fact, within the historical profession at the moment there is a burgeoning consensus around the issue. It is important to avoid a false right/left debate on the subject. There are Conservatives-the noble Lord, Lord Luke, remarked on the failure to understand who Churchill was in our history-who are concerned about the knowledge of British history among our young people, but it is also the case that Tristram Hunt, probably the most distinguished historian in the new Labour intake in the other place and the great biographer of Engels, is on the record as saying that we now need more British history in our schools.
It is absolutely vital that we do not have a sterile right/left debate, one that has already started to a degree in the London Review of Books. There is actually a burgeoning consensus among historians, and it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge that if there is a patriotic tradition in this country, it is of the left as well as of the right, and of the centre. We cannot have more history about Nelson and Wellington without Peterloo and the Tolpuddle martyrs. I heartily endorse
20 Oct 2011 : Column 429
Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, I express gratitude to my noble friend Lord Luke for initiating this debate, and I declare an interest as a graduate in medieval history. I was going to tell the same sad tale told by my noble friend Lord Luke concerning the seven year-old boy on the Tube. I would add only this. Only this morning I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, who thought that the boy who did not know what the Navy was, was in fact aged nine, which makes it somewhat more shocking. It was suggested during the ensuing lively conversation on the Tube that the noble Lord should continue his journey in order to enlighten further passengers on naval history. He is not in his place, so I can only assume that he remains on the Circle Line.
That is an extreme example of the decline in the importance and value of teaching history in schools. The publication in 2007 of the Ofsted report entitled History in the Balance and subsequently History For All, published in 2011, focus on the problems. First, there are the positive signs. The 2011 report shows that history teaching in 63 out of 83 primary schools and 59 out of 83 secondary schools surveyed was outstanding. It was also noted that since the 2007 report, greater use of ICT among pupils engendered more interest and facilitated more self-learning in history. History as an optional course is better taught at key stage 4 and in the sixth form, with the numbers of students increasing. This is reflected in the increase in demand for history courses at UK universities.
However, there remain some fundamental underlying problems. At primary school stage, the 2007 report found that key stage 2 pupils made slow progress in history, a subject too often neglected in favour of literacy and numeracy. There was no discernible improvement highlighted in the 2011 report. Furthermore, teachers were found to lack confidence in teaching history, based on a lack of specific subject knowledge. In some primary and secondary schools, teaching fell short in providing a clear chronology of events, a timeline linking major events through the millennia to provide a perspective.
Schools remain too parochial in focusing on English history to the detriment of the history of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and indeed the rest of the world. Episodic teaching is introduced too early in the curriculum. With some trepidation, my views differ from the noble
20 Oct 2011 : Column 430
The major problems remain at key stage 3. In the maintained sector, only 30 per cent of pupils study history after the age of 14, with even fewer after the age of 16, as the subject becomes optional in marked contrast to many European countries. History is marginalised-and too early-in favour of vocational subjects. The 2011 report pointed out that major disruptive curriculum changes at key stage 3 impacted negatively on 14 out of 58 secondary schools surveyed. In some schools at A-level there is an overdependence on the set texts, which stifles independent research, leaving pupils ill prepared for higher education where research and analytical skills are required.
A crucial question is: how important is the teaching of history in schools in the context of the demand to teach key subjects such as maths and English in addition to the provision of some vocational training? Its importance cannot be overestimated. The historian Anthony Beevor has stated:
His own historical masterpiece entitled D-Day is an outstanding example of a readable tale focusing on the lead up to D-Day and its aftermath written from the Axis and Allied perspective. It is well researched, written wholly objectively and provides a moving human perspective on the characters of the leaders and the decisions made at the time.
History teaching stands proud in providing the foundation skills for a range of related university courses, including sociology, politics, international relations and economics. Vocationally, it also provides a basis for studying law, for entry to the Civil Service and the private sector. History teaches us how to research, analyse and assimilate information and draw our own conclusions from decisions made in the past. These skills are invaluable for careers where writing reports or making presentations is essential.
"History consists for the greater part of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal and all the train of disorderly appetite".
It is how history is taught that is so important. There is a need for improved teacher training in this respect and better subject-specific training. More creativity is also required in schools for relating history teaching to a link with the local community, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has pointed out. Last week in this House during a Question on war memorial gardens, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, wisely suggested that schools adopt a local war memorial to allow pupils to learn and understand its local importance.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister two questions. First, what plans are in place for substantially improving the training of teachers in history? Secondly, are there plans for increasing the age threshold for the compulsory teaching of history? Arnold Toynbee famously stated that history is,
This is a truism, but it masks the positive fact that the study of history builds up an invaluable mental library to help us lead our own lives better. We must start at least by ensuring that all nine year-old boys know what the Navy is.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for securing this important debate, which has brought forward a range of stimulating and informative contributions from which we all benefit-the Minister in particular, I hope. I have some remarks to address to him specifically.
Let me first of all declare an interest-an interest in history. I cannot declare any other; it is more than a decade since I participated in an education debate due to other obligations in government, and it is almost 50 years since I taught history in higher education. It seems a very long time ago. What I delight in today is the variety of contributions. There are some that I have warmed to very strongly and some that I have reservations about which I will make clear in a moment.
What has come through so strongly is the importance of history. The Minister ought to appreciate that this debate about history in schools and proposals for the future is of the greatest significance. We have certainly put to rest Henry Ford's statement that "history is bunk". Henry Ford said that in a particular context to emphasise the new technology in the age of the motor car, but in Detroit he leaves behind a museum of history which is almost unparalleled elsewhere in its range of exhibits, and is proof positive of the value of bringing to the American people-and people from the rest of the world who have had the privilege of going there-a real interest in the development of our technological and industrial history, so even Henry did not really think that history was bunk.
I warm rather more to the fact that history is the memory of our civilisations, of our country and of mankind. Without an understanding of the past, how can we make intelligible the nature of the world in which we live? History is also partial, selective, subjective and determined by interpretation. That is not to say that good historians-certainly not the historians who grace this debate today-are in any way shape or form disrespectful of facts. Facts are sacred, but often the problem for historians is agreement about the facts, and in particular the interpretation to be put upon them. It is important that we recognise that history is evidence-based and the sacredness of the facts, but also that all who study history need not just a narrative but an appreciation of the way in which the historian works. It will not do to think that we can hand down easy truths in areas where inevitably history is about disputation, uncertainty and interpretation. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is able to take a party of schoolchildren through the building and glory
20 Oct 2011 : Column 432
That is why my concern in this debate is that the Government purport to be reaching judgments with regard to teaching in schools. A mightily important obligation is on the Secretary of State and his fellow Ministers when they reach these judgments. We should have some anxiety. After all, we do not have a Secretary of State who hides his light under a bushel when it comes to a commitment to a set of values. We all know the ideological stance which he has taken with regard, for example, to Atlantic Bridge. We also know the extent to which he is determined to be proactive. I ask merely this of the Minister: will he ensure that the level and range of advice that the Secretary of State obtains on this most important of scholastic areas is broader than it looks to be at present? Like everyone else in this House, I have delighted in the work of Simon Schama. I enjoyed hugely his narrative account of the French Revolution. For those of us who had weltered under highly tendentious and challenging interpretations of the revolution in which, on the whole, narrative development was limited and the identification of a particular perspective was more important, Simon Schama's book came like a breath of fresh air and renewed for many a great interest in the revolution. However, it is a narrative. It is an account which is highly challenged by other historians. That is why, although I have nothing but respect for Simon Schama as a historian, if it is suggested that he is the historian primarily advising the Secretary of State, this House should express anxiety.
This has been a debate which ought to have warmed the hearts of all of us who are concerned about history in all the great dimensions that have been put forward from such authoritative sources, but it is also a debate which is topical and relevant-that is why the noble Lord, Lord Luke, should be congratulated on raising it. It means that the Government must be fully charged of the fact that history cannot just be the concept of an easy, consensual narrative of the island's story. History is far more complex and challenging than that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, identified in her contribution, and we ought to respect that in any judgments that we reach.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, as I come at the end of the Back-Bench contributions to this debate, much of what I might have said has already been said. Nevertheless, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for initiating the debate. From the speeches that we have heard, it seems that there is little consensus in this House except on two things: first, that history is very
20 Oct 2011 : Column 433
In schools, as many noble Lords have said, there is a need to impart a sense of continuity and sequence of the past. However, as my noble friend Lord Addington said, history is now so vast that it would take almost a lifetime-you would certainly have to enrol in the University of the Third Age-to complete an in-depth study from the early times to the present.
We must get away from the notion that history had a golden past. My own history education lacked any sense of continuity or sequence. I learnt about the Romans and the Vikings, then jumped to the Tudors and the Stuarts. Finally, at A-level, I studied 19th and 20th-century European and British-by which I mean essentially English-history. As a result, I knew very little about the medieval period and the 18th century, and virtually nothing about the histories of Ireland, Scotland and Wales or the United States. Never once in those far-off days when we took O-level and A-level in history were we required to examine original sources. History education has come a long way in recent years by requiring pupils at quite a young age and subsequently to learn how to use original sources. In my case, the fragmented and disjointed knowledge of history that I acquired was not at all unique. Others have mentioned that they had similar experiences.
The school curriculum, even if it cannot cover the whole course of history, should, as my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, said, take sufficiently long a period so that one can convey a sense of sequence and development. That requires that history should be accorded a secure place in the syllabus at both primary and secondary levels. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, has clearly recognised this.
The curriculum should not be chauvinistic or xenophobic, although I have to say-here I echo the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Davies-that Mr Gove's approach seems to hint at this. It should not concentrate just on monarchy, the military and empire. Rather, as many noble Lords have said, it should give an appreciation of other aspects. In a devolved kingdom, particularly, we should these days have a sense of the history of Ireland, Scotland and Wales if we are to maintain some sense of a United Kingdom. There have been many criticisms that recent and contemporary history predominates and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, students come up to university knowing about Hitler but have not gone much further than that. In my experience when I was in Northern Ireland, my daughter took a GCSE in history and was compelled to take a paper in the history of Ireland. That stopped quite abruptly at 1919, for obvious reasons, so it is not always contemporary. In certain circumstances, you find that you are not allowed to look at more contemporary features.
As my noble friend Lady Benjamin and others have said, there must be a large focus on the UK's position in the world. As was said earlier, if the habit of continuous military adventurism persists there is a strong case for giving a hefty dose of the history of the Middle East. Perhaps Afghanistan would make a good special paper at A-level and any intending candidates
20 Oct 2011 : Column 434
At university level, history is almost in extremis. As the debate in your Lordships' House last week on the condition of the English universities illustrated, in speech after speech, the arts and humanities-of which history is a main constituent-were shown to be in dire straits. It is significant that in the Guardian today the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, an eminent medical scientist, very eloquently comes out defending the arts, social sciences and the humanities as being equally vital alongside more vocational subjects and disciplines.
Not only is the teaching of history at risk but, as others have remarked, the quality of historical research is being jeopardised. It is research that nurtures university teaching which, in turn, informs and keeps fresh the teaching in schools. The future history teachers in our country are being short-changed, and will be increasingly so, by the parsimony of university funding. In every sense, history will not take kindly to the financial treatment currently being meted out to it. Along with others, I ask the Minister whether he is able to offer any crumbs of comfort that will convincingly provide grounds for a degree of optimism in this regard.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for initiating this debate. He has raised some challenging questions about the future of history teaching and the need, which he rightly identified, to narrow the knowledge gap between rich and poor so that all children can excel. We have also, thankfully, had a measured and extremely well informed debate today. I did not realise that there were quite so many history teachers in your Lordships' Chamber but I have certainly found the debate enlightening. I have also very much welcomed the tone in which the debate has taken place. All too often when these subjects are debated they can dissolve into myth and political discourse.
We have also had some passionate contributions about the wider role of history in establishing truth and fact. I particularly commend the exposition from my noble friends Lady Andrews and Lady Bakewell on the wider benefits of a good grounding in history. I also look forward to hearing the response of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, who I understand is also an expert on this subject. I am sure that he will also give a thoughtful and reflective analysis of the problems which we are now confronting.
We all understand the importance of history in helping us to understand progress, the development of our society and our place in the world today. We also recognise the academic and personal skills that flow from learning to analyse and question, and to differentiate between historical fact and fiction. As my noble friend Lord Morgan rightly pointed out, it gives a good intellectual training.
As several noble Lords pointed out and argued persuasively, it also gives us a sense of identity and belonging and creates a memory of a nation. It also sometimes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin,
20 Oct 2011 : Column 435
Several noble Lords have quoted Simon Schama, who is one of the advisers brought in to shape the new syllabus. I understand that he will be working with Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson, notable academics in their own right. They have been very vocal in their criticisms of the current teaching of history, so at least that has helped to provoke a debate. However, as my noble friend Lord Davies argued, they have a particular ideological focus, which is raising some concerns among teachers and parents. Particular alarm bells rang for me when I read that Niall Ferguson had created a war games video to teach young people about the Second World War. He described how his two young sons had enjoyed playing it, but that his daughter had shown no interest in playing war games. That is no surprise. I found myself thinking that Michael Gove might have been better advised to ask some women to join his team of advisers. They might have had a better idea of the sorts of issues which would inspire the imagination of young women in learning history.
Nevertheless, on some things the advisers are right. We all are concerned about the fall in take-up of history GCSE. While history remains a statutory part of the curriculum up to the age of 14, the numbers taking the subject beyond this have been reducing, as we have heard, with only 30 per cent of students taking the subject at GCSE in maintained schools. As both Ofsted and the Historical Association have identified, there are a number of reasons for this. First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly pointed out, there is a lack of specialist teaching in schools, leaving many young people with little or no teaching from history graduates trained to teach the subject. Of course, this problem becomes self-perpetuating as the lower numbers taking the subject to A-level and beyond affect the future supply of qualified teachers.
Secondly, there has been a reduction in the time allocated to the subject as the curriculum is squeezed with other priorities or history is combined into a more general humanities course in which the specifics of the discipline can be lost. Thirdly, there are restrictions placed on the subjects that some young people are able to study at GCSE, with history not being an option, or only available if other humanities are dropped. Finally,
20 Oct 2011 : Column 436
This issue of the time available to teach particular subjects is more fundamental than might at first appear. It may be that the previous Government allowed the curriculum to become too crowded, but there is always pressure, as we have heard, to add new and justifiable subjects to the list. Conversely, it is rare for anybody to make a case for a subject to be dropped from the curriculum; and just as that applies to the curriculum as a whole, it also applies with individual subjects. I have listened carefully today to the many persuasive contributions on what should be included in the history syllabus, and it would be easy to agree with everyone. Issues raised have included the significance of the French Revolution, the origins of the slave trade, our links with Afghanistan, the history of our relations with the Middle East; the need to understand people's history, social history, local history, the history of the four UK nations, the history of English literature and art; the development of science and technology and the history of multiculturalism, to touch on just a few. I endorse all of those. They all have a legitimate place in the curriculum. However, we also need to be realistic about what can be achieved in, say, two hours a week up to year nine and maybe three hours a week at GCSE over a 38-week academic year. It is simply not possible to have both the breadth and the depth that we might all desire.
This dichotomy has led to one of the central failings in the teaching of history, which is identified by Ofsted and on which we can probably all agree. It reported that pupils were being let down by a lack of chronological understanding of the subject. In particular, it reported that pupils at primary schools,
I very much support the idea that a stronger strand of chronology should underpin the history syllabus, but this is very different from the Secretary of State's apparent mission to return to learning dates by rote. At a time when our challenge is to excite pupils and capture their imagination about the past, there would be nothing more dull and uninspiring than to force feed them with dates of wars and of births and deaths of kings and queens.
It is an accepted fact among most educationalists that individual children have different techniques for learning and remembering. The real skill of a classroom teacher is to teach in such a way that every child can get the maximum benefit from the lesson. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out, the current history syllabus meets many of the concerns that have been raised today. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, disagreed, but this matter can easily be resolved by
20 Oct 2011 : Column 437
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: Perhaps many of the noble Lord's colleagues remain so. However, we need to scrutinise objectively what is happening in the classroom. In its report earlier this year, History for All, Ofsted praised the teaching at key stage 2, describing pupils as having a,
and had the skills to apply critical judgment to support their analysis. Throughout the Ofsted report the skills of the specialist history teachers who knew their subjects well and were able to inspire their pupils were a common theme. Surely we should value and celebrate the contribution of these teachers rather than alarm them with talk of further upheaval.
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister agrees with me that there is a need, first, to tackle the structural reasons why history teaching is in decline and is fighting for space in the school week. Secondly, we need to look again at how the syllabus can be adjusted to allow the chronology and sweep of history to be better understood. Thirdly, we need to engage with history teachers, value what they achieve and listen to their ideas for reform. Politicians should refrain from meddling in an educational agenda fraught with ideological divides, and should perhaps also recruit some women to advise on the really significant events in history and how they might be taught. Then we might inspire a new generation of young people to study history, develop the skills of analysis and apply the lessons learnt so that they can better interpret their lives today.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, it is with more than my usual trepidation that I rise to speak because there have been times this afternoon when I felt as though 30 years had rolled back and I had been at an undergraduate tutorial with an overdue essay. However, this debate has been extremely good and thought-provoking, and there has been a large amount
20 Oct 2011 : Column 438
Everyone else seems to have been declaring an interest, so I had better do so. I must correct the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch-I am not an expert, but as a boy I was hooked by RJ Unstead's Story of Britain, with those wonderful illustrations by Victor Ambrus. I still have my copy at home and I should be happy to share it with anyone who has not read it. I also remember as a boy being fascinated by an encyclopaedia's picture of French aristocrats being taken off in a tumbrel, and one of Constantine XI fighting heroically on the walls of Constantinople. I suspect that it was an early sign of a lifelong commitment to lost causes, with which I persist to this day.
I started to read history at university but I am afraid I did not complete it because I did not have the sticking power-it was a PhD on Russian history with Norman Stone. However, it was in the 1990s that a stint at Downing Street opened my eyes to medieval history because it dawned on me that I was effectively working in a medieval court. For the first time, I realised why the role of Keeper of the Stool was such an important job because, as political secretary, I spent a lot of my time going round clearing up after powerful people.
I therefore share the views expressed by all noble Lords about the importance of history, which was set out so powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, and from another but equally important perspective by my noble friends Lady Benjamin and Lady Berridge. I think that there is agreement that history helps us to understand our common past, our shared values and our sense of national identity-a point made by my noble friend Lord Cormack, but underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. She correctly said that history teaching is more important than ever as our society becomes more varied. Understanding history helps us to make sense of the present, as has been argued by a number of noble Lords. It develops analytical skills and helps us to understand cause and effect-one of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, underlined. History helps give us the ability to argue and enables us all to make connections. Everyone here is agreed on the importance of history as a subject.
We heard a number of examples of some of the things that people do not know about history. We heard about Churchill. I saw another survey that suggested that nearly half the young people aged between 18 and 24 did not know that Nelson commanded the fleet at Trafalgar and led it to victory. Nearly half did not know that the Romans built Hadrian's Wall. That links to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, about the importance of British history. He made an extremely important point about the opportunity we have to avoid a false left/right divide on this. For most of the time in this debate we have managed to avoid that. I accept that it is impossible to dissociate history and the study of it from a political perspective. However, we have been discussing the chronology and the sequencing of history-some of the great events. Noble Lords may think that I am a mad optimist but it
20 Oct 2011 : Column 439
In terms of current take-up we know that, alongside geography and modern foreign languages, the number of pupils taking history has been falling. It is down from 39 per cent doing GCSE in 1995, to 30 to 31 per cent last year. The proportion taking A-level has been static and the number of students studying history at university has risen, but that rise is slower than the average increase in university enrolments generally. We also know that while just over 30 per cent of children in maintained schools took a history GCSE in 2010, nearly half of children in independent schools did so. That relates to a point well made by a number of noble Lords about the importance of making sure that all our children have a chance to study history, and that those from more disadvantaged backgrounds do not miss out on the opportunity to do so.
My noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie told us about the Ofsted report in 2010. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, also referred to it and was absolutely right to say that the report found much to commend in the teaching of history at both primary and secondary level and in the work that our teachers are doing. It found many examples of extremely good practice. I very much associate myself with that point of view.
That links to some of the points made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. The report recommended that pupils should study overview as well as in-depth topics. That relates to a point about bore-holes and breadth, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. Ofsted also thought, again relating to the important point raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, that primary school teachers needed more subject-specific continuous professional development opportunities and that all students in secondary schools should benefit from a significant amount of history until at least 14.
I felt there was broadly a shared analysis of what we think the main issues confronting us are. There are concerns about the bitty nature of the curriculum and a lack of sweep and chronological development, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan; about the support available to teachers to enable them to teach history well and more broadly; and about the time available in the timetable for teaching history,
20 Oct 2011 : Column 440
I will try to set out what the Government are doing in three broad areas: first, the curriculum; secondly, encouraging the take-up of history; and thirdly, support for teachers and initial teacher training. So far as the curriculum is concerned, we had an extremely good debate which flushed out some of the difficulties. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about curriculum wars and the history of that; my noble friend Lord Addington talked about fashions. Both those points are well made. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, agrees with our argument that, as the national curriculum developed, it has covered more subjects, prescribed more outcomes and taken up more school time than originally intended.
Overall, our intention through the curriculum review is to slim the curriculum down; to free up time in the school day; and to free teachers to use their judgment to design curricula that best meet needs of their pupils. We want the new national curriculum to be based on a body of essential knowledge that children should be expected to acquire in key subjects during their school career, to cover for all children their cultural and scientific inheritance-an important point was made about the importance of science and technology-to enhance their understanding of the world around them, and to expose them, if we can, to the best of what has been thought and written.
The review is being conducted in two phases. In the first phase, we are designing new programmes of study for those subjects-English, maths, science and PE-which we have already confirmed will continue to be a part of the national curriculum at all four key stages. We are also considering which of the other subjects that currently form the national curriculum, including history, should be part of the national curriculum in future and at which key stages. The second phase of the review, which will start in early 2012, will produce programmes of study for those other subjects which remain within the national curriculum. The review will also advise on whether non-statutory programmes of study should be published for any subjects that are not to be included in the new national curriculum.
The review began with a public call for evidence that invited views from all interested parties on what a new curriculum should look like. I understand that the call for evidence closed on 14 April; the results will be published in due course. There will be further widescale public consultation before any final decision is made. I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, that it is important that there should be widespread discussion representing a range of views.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, specifically asked whether the EBacc is having any effect on encouraging the take-up of history. The Government think that a child's education is diminished without a sound understanding of history. We know that history, alongside some other subjects, has been in decline for a number of years. The Government believe that there are some academic subjects, the core subjects in the English baccalaureate-English, maths, the sciences,
20 Oct 2011 : Column 441
I know that all noble Lords believe that many more pupils have the potential to succeed in those subjects, and we feel that we should do everything that we can to help them have that opportunity. We know that pupils who have achieved the EBacc combination of subjects have proved more likely to go onto A-levels, have attempted a greater number of A-levels and have achieved better results. We are trying through the EBacc to allow parents and pupils to see for the first time how their school is performing against those key academic subjects. In doing so, we hope to encourage a greater number of schools to offer a broader set of academic subjects, which would include history, to more of their pupils.
The early indications are that the introduction of the EBacc is encouraging the take-up of history. Some research was carried out on behalf of the department by the National Centre for Social Research over the summer. That suggests that 39 per cent of pupils entering GCSEs in 2013 are expected to take history. If that turns out to be the case, that would be up by 8 per cent from this year and back to the level that it was that in 1995. Time will tell whether that turns out to be true, but I hope noble Lords who are keen, as we all are, to see more children carrying on with history up to the age of 16 will regard that as an encouraging sign.
That is linked with the important question about teacher supply and teacher training. The EBacc does have implications for teacher supply. If more children want to study history, we will need to have more history teachers. The modelling undertaken by the department to set future-year ITT places is taking that into account. I am told that there is currently healthy interest in training to become a history teacher. My noble friend Lady Walmsley rightly mentioned the importance of CPD, or continuing professional development. Our overall approach to that was laid out in our White Paper published in November 2010. In broad terms we are trying to improve the capacity for schools to take the lead for the training and development of teachers and to create more opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, which is what we have been doing this afternoon. Our approach is based on research that shows that teachers learn best through observing teaching and being observed and receiving feedback from other professionals. We are creating a new national network of teaching schools which will give outstanding schools the role of leading the training and professional development of teachers and head teachers so that all schools have better access to high-quality professional and leadership development. The first 100 teaching
20 Oct 2011 : Column 442
Earlier this year we published an initial teacher training strategy which is out for discussion at the moment. That contains proposals for giving schools the opportunity to play a greater role in teacher training, the funding of ITT, toughening the entry criteria, and prioritising training most relevant to classroom practice. We are finalising proposals for initial teacher training in the light of responses we have received to that and we will publish a plan shortly. We believe overall, alongside work we are doing in looking at proposals for a single set of new standards for all qualified teachers, that these reforms, the network of teaching schools and a new set of teacher standards will improve the rigour and quality of teaching in all subjects, including history.
An interesting part of the debate was on issues around learning outside the classroom, enthusiasm and the importance of enthusiastic teachers, and accessibility. My noble friend Lady Berridge rightly talked about the importance of bringing outsiders in. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, talked about the kind of work that English Heritage and other organisations can do to enthuse and inspire children and bring history to life in a way that someone standing up in a classroom will not necessarily do. I do not think that helping children have a better sense of the chronology of the events in history needs to come from a dry as dust, learning by rote, going back to the 1950s approach to teaching. The development of the media and all kinds of new ways of learning that all of us, unfortunately, were not able to benefit from provide fantastic opportunities for children to become engaged in and get a love of history and be excited and inspired by it. Learning outside the classroom is extremely important and going to battlefields, visiting the Imperial War Museum and going to Dover Castle-which I would love to do one day if I am invited-are all ways that we can bring history to life. We think schools can work out how to do that but there is more the Government can do to make it easier for them to take pupils on trips by taking steps to reduce teachers' fears of legal action for failures in the dreaded and sometimes mythical area of health and safety. We want teachers to be confident that they can take pupils to this kind of activity, and we will work with the Health and Safety Executive on that.
I remember reading a few years back pronouncements that history was dead. Today's debate shows that it is very much alive. We know that there are more history books being written and that there is more history on the television; we have heard about the interest people have in archaeology and in their own ancestry. As was said, history is full of ripping yarns. There is no doubting the passion and knowledge brought to us in today's debate. I do not share the knowledge of all noble Lords-for instance, that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton-but I hope that at least I share some of the passion expressed this afternoon. I will bring the debate to the attention of my honourable friend Mr Gibb, who is leading our curriculum review,
20 Oct 2011 : Column 443
The Government take this seriously. There is much more work to do, but I hope that we may have started to turn the corner. The timing of the debate, as the Government consider the national curriculum review, is excellent. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Luke on it once again, and on providing us all with the opportunity for the thoughtful discussion that we had.
Lord Luke: My Lords, this has been a most elevating afternoon. I very much enjoyed all the speeches and learnt a lot, which is always a good thing. The debate shows how important history is in the House. On a Thursday afternoon, the number of noble Lords who spoke was amazing, and I am extremely grateful to them. I will finish by saying that my noble friend Lady Benjamin summed up what I think about history when she said, "I love history". I love history, too, and I am sure that is so for many noble Lords. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, industrial and provident societies-co-operatives as they are better known-and credit unions have made a long and invaluable contribution to our society. For centuries they have been a driving force for common endeavour and mutual support. From high street co-operatives to pubs and football clubs, from healthcare to agriculture and from education to local shops, co-operatives and credit unions are cornerstones of our communities.
The strength of the co-operative economy today, with more than £30 billion in turnover and more than 13 million members, is testimony to the trust and value that we place in them. Credit union membership continues to grow across Great Britain, enhancing the diversity of our financial services, with membership on track to exceed 1 million this year. Despite a difficult economic environment, credit unions continue to provide much needed finance and support to local people and communities. Co-operatives and credit unions are a key element of the coalition Government's vision to empower local communities. Both will benefit from the changes introduced by the legislative reform
20 Oct 2011 : Column 444
The legislative reform order has been a long time in the making. Consultations with the mutual sector began in 2007, and co-operatives and credit unions took the lead in proposing measures designed to bring their regulatory and legislative frameworks into the 21st century. The proposals themselves fall into two parts: those applying to co-operatives and those applying to credit unions.
There are six proposals of benefit to co-operatives. The first abolishes the minimum age for membership and reduces it for those wishing to hold office. This will enable young people to engage more actively with their local co-op, and in some cases to become officers sitting on their local committees. The second removes the restriction on the maximum holding of non-withdrawable shares in a co-operative. This will enable co-operatives to raise capital more easily.
The other four proposals remove burdens and increase choice for co-operatives by: allowing them to choose their own year-end dates; removing the requirement to have interim accounts audited; permitting them to charge non-members for copies of their rules, while protecting the rights of existing members; and enabling easier dissolution. Taken collectively, these measures will have a positive impact in reducing burdens on co-operatives, removing unnecessary costs estimated to total £33 million, and delivering net benefits from improved access to capital of a further £7 million.
With respect to credit unions, the legislative reform order contains eight proposals. The first four enable credit unions to extend their membership base and serve a greater number of customers by: opening up the common bond requirements; removing the limit on non-qualifying members; and allowing bodies corporate to become members for the first time subject to a cap. These proposals will allow credit unions to serve a greater number of people by extending the membership base and enabling mergers to take place where this is considered appropriate. The fifth proposal allows credit unions to issue interest-bearing shares, which could encourage increased savings, helping to tackle chronically low rates of saving across the country, and which, in turn, could lead to greater lending.
The remaining proposals relax restrictions on share withdrawal, allow credit unions to charge an appropriate rate for providing ancillary services and remove the 8 per cent limit on dividends, unless the rules of the credit union provide otherwise. These proposals will substantively update credit union legislation and provide a welcome boost to the mutuals sector and its members. Such is the enthusiasm for these reforms that a recent survey by the Association of British Credit Unions identified that over 60 per cent of credit unions are intending to extend their geographic coverage once the LRO comes into effect.
As noble Lords are aware, the LRO was previously laid in Parliament in March 2010 and the Committees of both Houses recommended changes to the order prior to its approval. These recommended changes were: first, that the affirmative resolution procedure
20 Oct 2011 : Column 445
In conclusion, credit unions and co-operatives have been waiting a long time for this LRO to be made and many stand ready to take benefit of the order as soon as it takes effect. This LRO reflects our commitment to promoting the mutual and co-operative sector in Great Britain, ensuring that we enhance diversity in our financial services and that we support a sector that provides finance, employment and support for millions of people, including those hardest to reach and most in need of help. This legislative reform order will support and enable growth of co-operatives and credit unions and I look forward to hearing your Lordships' views on these proposals. I very much hope that you will lend your support to these important reforms. I beg to move.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, today is International Credit Union Day and the theme for the celebrations is "Credit Unions Build a Better World". It celebrates the important economic and social contributions credit unions make to their communities worldwide. I am vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions and it is wonderful that we are debating and approving this statutory instrument today of all days.
As the noble Lord said, credit unions are financial co-operatives owned and controlled by their members. Credit unions in the UK manage over £600 million on behalf of over 900,000 people. The order before us today makes some very welcome changes. It was originally laid in similar form by the last Labour Government, as the noble Lord said, and I was delighted when the present Government sought to carry forward these much needed reforms. The order makes a number of sensible changes, such as allowing credit unions to pay interest on savings rather than a dividend. It allows them to provide services to community groups, attract investments and extend the services that they offer. That is all very welcome. I congratulate the Government on what they have done.
However, this is only one of a number of steps that the Government should be taking. Although the credit union sector in the UK is growing, it is still relatively small. With the right support, the potential for major expansion is all too evident. That expansion and growth would be of benefit to communities up and down the country. We must also remember that it is a sad fact that some of the most financially excluded citizens have to pay the highest price for credit, which we should all regret and want to work to eliminate. We have seen organisations on the high street that are little more than legal loan sharks which charge people
20 Oct 2011 : Column 446
The big society seems to have disappeared a bit from the vocabulary of the Government in recent months, but initiatives like this, which enable people to help themselves, are what I understand by the big society and are very welcome.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, let me join others in welcoming this order laid before us. Like others, I think that the only regret is that we had not seen it perhaps a little sooner, but I am delighted that it has come now. I am also delighted to be able to look at it in the context of the Government's commitment to credit unions. A project is now under way between the Post Office and ABCUL-a sort of industry spokesperson for credit unions more broadly-to find ways for the Post Office to be the front-door platform for many people to access their accounts through the Post Office structure. That would have been inadequate were these other steps not being taken to expand the capacity of credit unions.
I am particularly delighted that we now have a new definition of the common bond, which will take a real constraint away from credit unions and their capacity to build membership and to serve the community. The United States has long had much greater flexibility. Whereas in the UK the figures from ABCUL suggest that the current amount of assets under credit union management is £790 million, in the United States-even allowing for the difference in population size-some $900 billion of total assets come within the credit union structure. We are looking at a completely different dimension, which I hope the UK will be able to move towards. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has said, many people who are financially excluded can see a route into financial inclusion through credit unions that they would not find in the high street banks.
I also am encouraged by the expansion of the groups which a credit union can serve to include corporate bodies, partnerships and unincorporated associations. We have many small businesses which once again cannot find a satisfactory financial relationship through existing high street banks. They need other sources and mechanisms. Again, if we look at the United States, it is interesting that the ability to serve small business has long been part of the credit union framework. In 2011 alone, the Obama Administration are using that credit union network to push $300 million in additional credit directly to small and very small business in a way in which we have no capacity to do here in the UK. For the kind of activity that we are seeing through credit easing-obviously, that is a much broader programme-in the United States that is able to happen far more easily and fluidly through mechanisms such as the credit union and the much wider world of community development banks. We can now begin to move towards having that potential here in the UK.
With the new classes of shares and the ability to deepen investment, we are coming now to the point where there is a recognition that more diversity and provision that focuses on people who are financially
20 Oct 2011 : Column 447
I join others in welcoming this order laid before us by the Government today. I express apologies from my noble friend Lord Newby, who had expected to be standing here but, because of the time, unfortunately could not cancel another commitment. I welcome this move by the Government.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Minister greeted my arrival at the Front Bench with a slightly wintry smile earlier. Whether he thought I was late, though I assure him I was descending from the rarefied atmosphere of the Back Benches, which is why I was slightly delayed, or whether he anticipated that this debate had some hidden horrors, I am not sure. He will, however, by now have appreciated the fact, from the contributions both of my noble friend Lord Kennedy and of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that this measure is most welcome and Her Majesty's Opposition are delighted to see it being presented today.
As noble Lords have already spoken about the virtues and possibilities of the credit union and the Minister himself paid due tribute to their work, it would be otiose of me to expand on that matter and, as I am given to brevity, noble Lords will appreciate that I will take as read the reason why this order should commend itself to the House. However, I have some questions to ask, which I hope the Minister will be able to respond to. What does he expect the removal of the limit on non-withdrawal shares to be? Will this result in dominant members of a society emerging? What steps will the FSA be taking to ensure that societies do not become subject to such dominance whereby a small number of individuals might establish a very considerable influence with regard to these non-withdrawable share holdings?
On credit unions, could I ask about the removal of the common bond, which is the whole point of a credit union, because it provides the self-regulatory strength of mutual knowledge and understanding? What does this mean as far as the future of the credit union is concerned? Does it mean that credit unions will be just another form of financial organisation rather than the distinctive sort of organisation which is being commended in the speeches made so far today in this short debate?
Finally, what does the Minister expect to be the impact of bodies corporate joining credit unions? Will this not lead to small commercial enterprises exploiting the financial strength of the credit union to further the interests of their own businesses? In other words, would credit unions become tied to businesses instead of being independent? After all, one business which might supply 10 per cent of the assets of the credit union will undoubtedly be a powerful force within it.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am grateful to the small but focused and committed group of noble Lords who have spoken with clear knowledge and some degree of
20 Oct 2011 : Column 448
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, I was waiting to see-my noble friend Lady Kramer having nobly stepped in in the absence of my noble friend Lord Newby-who might be on the Front Bench in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. I noticed that the noble Lord crossed three Benches in one bound and here he is. It is always good to be opposed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies.
I had not realised that we were debating this order on International Credit Union Day, but I am delighted that we are making a small contribution to that. I should like to have said that we had scheduled the business deliberately, but I must confess that I was unaware.
As has been said, although the co-operative and credit union sector is not as large in Great Britain as it is in other countries, its membership is growing. That is clear testimony to the trust and esteem in which they are held across the country. The Government want to make sure that we underpin the valuable role that they play, particularly in promoting higher rates of saving across the economy, helping to develop a culture of financial responsibility, providing credit at a local level for individuals and empowering communities across the UK.
However, I recognise the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and my noble friend Lady Kramer about the need for us to do more. Even though I was not asked about what else the Government are doing, we see this order in the context of a series of reforms that we are making, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is aware. We are exploring the commencement aspects of the co-operative Act and this order is a necessary precondition of that Act coming into effect. We are making the electronic communications order for mutuals, which will enable them to cut the costs of communicating and to hold votes electronically. Only earlier this week we debated in Committee the transferring of Northern Ireland credit unions under the FISMA legislation, which will not only act as a deregulatory measure but give better protection to an important category of depositor. Therefore, this order is part of an ongoing programme of work.
Let me address the important questions of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. On the question of non-withdrawable share capital, the consultation and trade body studies indicate that approximately 0.5 per cent of industrial and provident society members will seek to invest more in their co-op. This is viewed as positive. The results do not raise a question of withdrawal but show a small positive interest among members in investing more.
Then there was the question of whether businesses will effectively take over credit unions. Will credit unions lose their independence? The sector itself wanted businesses to be able to be members and, in that way, help to expand the membership base. No concerns
20 Oct 2011 : Column 449
In relation, finally, to the common bond and its removal, there is a limit on the extension of the common bond which is currently very restrictive. Some restrictions will remain to ensure that the fundamental purpose of credit unions is not undermined, and that is built into the new construct. I agree with the noble Lord that we must not do anything to undermine the fundamental purpose here. We are not doing so, nor does the sector believe us to be.
When the coalition came into government, we made clear that we would be supportive of the mutuals sector. By means of this legislation, we are taking
20 Oct 2011 : Column 450
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|