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Yesterday MPs held a debate in Westminster Hall on the teaching of British values.

The Labour MP John Denham opened the debate with a swipe at faith schools – or “mono-faith schools” as he called them.  He wanted the Government to take “a fresh look at how we ensure”  the pupils at such schools “enjoy wider opportunities to meet, work, study and socialise with those from other schools and other backgrounds.” No doubt to be soon followed by “a fresh look” at how to “ensure” the faith schools do this, that and the other until they are swamped with hostile Whitehall directives.

Much of the debate danced around a point summarised by the Conservative MP for New Forest East, Julian Lewis, who reminded his audience of:

“The words  of the late, great conservative-oriented philosopher Sir Karl Popper, who in volume 2 of “The Open Society and Its Enemies” laid down the wonderful maxim called the paradox of tolerance: we should tolerate all but the intolerant, because if we tolerate the intolerant the conditions for toleration disappear and the tolerant go with them.”

Actually, I think Mr Denham might have been closer to the mark when he talked about the value “of involving young people in debating.” Let’s have more debating societies in schools. Isn’t that the way to tackle the young totalitarians, the potential future terrorists?  Whether the pupils are Nazi, Communist or Islamist isn’t the most effective approach to allow their views to be subjected to debate?

By all means let’s also have these debates between schools – not just so that pupils from “mono-faith” schools mix with other schools but also, for example, those from independent schools mix with those from state schools. Mr Denham might not be so keen on that – doubtless regarding independent schools as institutions of the class enemy that should be shunned.

Sports competition – within and between schools of all kinds – is another way of achieving this.

The Government should not be prescriptive about it but it is something that could be incentivised. Such activities encapsulate British values and would thus be more effective than seeking to define and inculcate them as an abstraction.

The Conservative MP for East Hampshire, Damian Hinds, warned of “the inherent danger in having someone—anyone—in charge of defining British values, not just now but 10 years from now.” He added:

I call this the Semmelweis question. If anyone present does not know who Semmelweis was, it is because we are all over 40. Our children all know, becausehe is taught in every school in the country. I will not go into it now, but he was an Austrian who found out that hand washing would stop infections from spreading in hospitals. Someone decided that that would be taught in every school in the country; but it is not on the national curriculum. Whoever that person is, they have an awful lot of power. We need adequate ways to make sure that it is not the courts or politicians who are left to deal with such matters.

Surely he has got a point. What would stop classroom time allocated for instilling British values being spent on undermining those values? Most teachers have a mainstream political outlook – to the extent they are politicised at all. But would hat be true of most of the ones taking Citizenship classes? They are rather closer to their Trotskyist leaders in the National Union of Teachers. These are not champions of free speech, a free press, Parliamentary democracy, the monarchy, the rule of law and private property.

Guy Opperman, the Conservative MP for Hexham, said we should learn from Canada:

The Canadians have, a Minister for integration. In Canada, he is the famous Jason Kenney, who has been so successful at formulating and promoting integration of people of many different faiths. His portfolio includes citizenship, multiculturalism, immigration and integration. It is the unification of those strands of Government Departments and the difficulties faced that we genuinely need to address.

I take the view that this process is about creating a stronger society, not splitting it. Surely the purpose of promoting British values is to ensure that by doing so we are not being counter-productive, because any person in this country can uphold their religious, national and cultural identity as well as their British identity.

I am never convinced that having a new Minister for something or other is of any use in itself but the substance of what has been achieved in Canada is certainly worth our attention.

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