Conservative Manifesto promises


The Conservative Party has released its manifesto for the 2024 general election, which contains pledges on a number of policy areas where Humanists UK campaigns – some negative, and a few positive.

Humanists UK is lobbying all the parties and candidates to support its campaigns and equality for humanists and the non-religious by adopting policies to advance freedom of thought, choice, and expression. In this story, as with yesterday’s piece on the Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto, Humanists UK is analysing what’s in the Manifesto for humanists. It will be doing the same for the Labour Party Manifesto once that is published.

Policies in focus

Faith schools

Disappointingly, the Manifesto repeats the Conservative Party’s promise to ‘lift the cap on faith schools, allowing them to offer more places to children based on faith and encouraging them to expand.’

This policy has been rejected by all sensible groups working in education on the basis that it would worsen racial and social discrimination in schools, having been considered and then abandoned by Theresa May’s government after they concluded it would not work. Humanists UK and others working in education have debunked claims that the Catholic Church has been in any way ‘prevented’ from opening more schools, and criticised misleading use of data on social selection and ethnicity to argue for this policy in spite of the facts.

Despite the general election, a consultation on lifting the ‘faith schools cap’ is ongoing. 

Human rights law

Pictured: European Court of Human Rights

Concerningly, the Manifesto says ‘If we are forced to choose between our security and the jurisdiction of a foreign court, including the ECtHR, we will always choose our security’. 

Humanists UK objects in the strongest possible terms to any implied or explicit threat to pull the UK out of international human rights treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights. Humanists UK previously spearheaded the UK’s largest-ever coalition on human rights to defend the Human Rights Act, which the Conservatives previously pledged in 2019 to scrap and replace with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. More recently, Humanists UK has condemned the use of notwithstanding clauses that would disapply human rights considerations in asylum and other areas. It rejects the implied argument that we must in any way undermine our own civil liberties at home in order to process claims for asylum.

Illegal schools and missing children

The Manifesto promises ‘to ensure all children are getting a high-quality education, including those who are home schooled, we will legislate to create a register of children not in school.‘

Humanists UK is relieved to see this commitment in the Manifesto. After being promised by the Conservatives in Government without coming to anything, the issue was at last included in the Schools Bill in 2019. However, the Bill was later abandoned because of unrelated issues. Humanists UK had repeatedly asked the UK Government to bring those clauses back. It however did not feature in the recent King’s Speech.

A register of children not in schools is one of several necessary steps required for Ofsted and local authorities to tackle the scandal of thousands of children missing from the system due to attending unsafe, unregistered, and educationally inadequate illegal religious schools. Humanists UK was instrumental in bringing the issue of these missing children to wider attention. Labour’s Bridget Phillipson previously promised Labour would also introduce a register, and the Liberal Democrats included it in their Manifesto.

Free speech in schools

A multiracial group of elementary students in class raising their hands to answer a question. The focus is on their teacher, an African-American and Hispanic woman in her 30s, who is standing in front, facing them, smiling and pointing to a student. Most of the students are 9 years old.

The Manifesto says ‘We will ban protests outside schools to stop mobs from intimidating teachers and children. We will always support teachers to uphold and promote fundamental British values and ensure they are protected from accusations of blasphemy.’

This refers to guidance on free speech in schools. This policy originates in Humanists UK’s own petition to the Home Secretary after a blasphemy-related incident in Wakefield. Humanists UK strongly supports this policy and recommends that all the parties running at the general election adopt similar commitments to freedom of expression and protecting the integrity of school life.

Relationships and Sex Education (RSE)

The Manifesto says the Conservatives are committed to ‘new legislation which will make clear, beyond all doubt, that parents have a right to see what their child is being taught in school and schools must share all materials, especially on sensitive matters like relationships and sex education.’

Humanists UK has no objection to parents seeing any course materials for any subject. To set this in its political context, Humanists UK had previously warned that the Government’s recent plans to limit the scope of Relationships Education for younger pupils could undermine child safeguarding. Given this, it is disappointing not to see a fulsome commitment to an RSE curriculum which meets the needs of children to keep them happy, healthy, and safe, including for pupils attending faith schools. Humanists UK is worried that what is instead promised would in reality continue this concerning direction of travel. 

Ban on conversion therapy

Humanists UK and its section LGBT Humanists are sad to see the Conservatives once again walk back their 2018 promise to implement a full, legislative ban on harmful conversion practices. The Manifesto says that ‘Attempts at so-called “conversion therapy” are abhorrent. But legislation around conversion practices is a very complex issue, with existing criminal law already offering robust protections… it is right that we take more time before reaching a final judgement on additional legislation in this area.’

This both overstates the complexity of the required legislation and overlooks the global menu of approaches to successfully ban this harmful, pseudoscientific, religious abuse. The Conservatives have made innumerable promises and U-turns on this issue since 2018, at times briefing the media that the issue has been dropped and at other times stating their strong commitment to act very soon through the Queen’s or King’s Speech. LGBT Humanists has protested the ongoing lack of action.

Humanists UK and LGBT Humanists have campaigned for a ban for decades, and in recent years have helped to drive the political visibility and salience of this issue. It urges MPs from all parties to support a comprehensive and enforceable ban.

Freedom of belief

Humanists UK was pleased to see a Manifesto commitment to ‘stand up for those persecuted for their faith and put the existing role of Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief on a statutory footing.’

Humanists UK previously asked all the parties to do this, using inclusive wording such as ‘religion or belief’ which covers humanists and the non-religious more broadly. Alongside Humanists International, Humanists UK has repeatedly drawn attention to the plight of humanists at risk abroad, most notably in recent years the high-profile case of Mubarak Bala. Humanists UK has used its platform at the UN Human Rights Council, and has worked with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to advance the rights of humanists at risk internationally.

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

The Manifesto includes a promise to ‘support marginalised communities in the developing world and protect those persecuted for their ethnicity, political views, faith or sexuality. We will continue our campaigns against child marriage and FGM.’

As well as supporting the broader position on the UK’s role in promoting global freedom of thought, choice, and expression, Humanists UK was pleased to see the explicit commitment to tackling FGM. Humanists UK helped to co-found the group ACTION: FGM, which calls to eradicate the practice worldwide by 2030.

Assisted dying

Mention of assisted dying in the Conservative Manifesto is watered down from previous remarks made by Rishi Sunak. He promised to allow time for assisted dying legislation, but the manifesto only says ‘We will maintain the position that assisted dying is a matter of conscience and will respect the will of Parliament. Debates on assisted dying should never distract from the importance of delivering high-quality palliative care services.’

Conservative Party policy remains unchanged: the party itself is neither in favour of or opposed to assisted dying, and maintains it is a conscience issue for MPs. However, given that the Government controls the order paper in Parliament, what Humanists UK and others have been asking for assurances of is parliamentary time. In this respect, the Conservative Manifesto comes out weaker on this issue than the Liberal Democrat Manifesto, which promised to ‘Give Parliament time to fully debate and vote on legislation’, or Keir Starmer’s promise to Esther Rantzen of the same.

The other party manifestos

Humanists UK will be analysing the major parties’ manifestos as soon as they are released. It previously published its analysis of the Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto yesterday, and intends to do the same for Labour. 

Humanists UK is urging all its supporters and the general public to write to all their candidates on a range of humanist issues. It has also sent its members and supporters a ‘doorstep guide’ for questions to ask to canvassers. 

Notes

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at [email protected] or phone 0203 675 0959.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.



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