'(1) It shall not be required, as a condition of a pupil being admitted to a maintained school, that:
(a) he must attend or abstain from attending a place of religious worship;
(b) his parents or guardians must attend or abstain from attending a place of religious worship.
(c) the pupil, his parent(s) or guardian(s) belong to any particular faith or denomination.
(2) The local education authority after consultation with the admission forum may by regulation authorise that, notwithstanding (1) a maintained school may admit between 20 per cent. and 75 per cent. of pupils who have a particular faith or denomination.
(3) Where the local education authority is informed that there are insufficient applications to a particular maintained school to fill the available places, the local education authority may after consultation with the admission forum authorise an increase up to 100 per cent. in the numbers of pupils admitted who are of the particular faith or denomination of the maintained school in question.'.—[Mr. Dobson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 2—Employment etc. of teachers: religious issues—
'(1) The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 59) is amended as follows.
(2) Section 58 (Appointment and dismissal of certain teachers at schools with a religious character) shall cease to have effect.
(3) Section 59 (Staff at community, secular foundation or voluntary, or special school) is amended by leaving out subsection (1) and inserting—
"(1) This section applies to any maintained school."
(4) Section 60 (Staff at foundation or voluntary school with a religious character) shall cease to have effect.'.
New clause 18—No requirements of attendance at a place of religious worship (No. 2)—
'(1) It shall not be required, as a condition of a pupil being admitted to a maintained school, that:
(a) he must attend or abstain from attending a place of religious worship;
(b) his parents or guardians must attend or abstain from attending a place of religious worship;
(c) the pupil, his parent(s) or guardian(s) belong to a particular faith or denomination.
(2) The local education authority after consultation with the admission forum may by regulation authorise that, notwithstanding (1) a maintained school may admit between 20 per cent. and 75 per cent. of pupils who have a particular faith or denomination.
(3) Where the local education authority is informed that there are sufficient applications to a particular maintained school to fill the available places, the local education authority may after consultation with the admission forum authorise an increase up to 100 per cent. in the numbers of pupils admitted who are of the particular faith or denomination of the maintained school in question.
(4) This section shall only have effect in respect of schools established after the coming into force of this Act.'.
Amendment No. 78, in clause 208, page 125, line 14, after "206", insert—
'section (No requirements of attendance at a place of religious worship (No. 2))'.
The new clause was tabled in my name and in the names of a large number of hon. Members, including—albeit at the risk of alienating some of my hon. Friends—that of Mr. Willis. Whatever my differences with the hon. Gentleman on other matters, he has been stalwart in the pursuit of a more inclusive approach by religious organisations and religious schools. I was going to say that he had acted despite his known Christian commitment, but perhaps I should say that he has done so because of it.
Although I was baptised and confirmed a member of the Church of England, I am a person of no religious belief whatever, but I was brought up by my Anglican mother and my unbeliever father to respect the religious beliefs of everyone.
The new clause would require all religious schools to admit 25 per cent. of their pupils from families of other faiths or of no faith. That is a measured proposal. New clause 18 would apply that 25 per cent. minimum rule only to new religious schools. It must be recognised that that might be interpreted as discriminating against those religious groups who hope to set up more religious schools—especially the Church of England, with its proposals for 100 extra secondary schools, and people of the Muslim faith and others.
There may be shortcomings in the drafting of our new clauses such that they would not achieve the intentions of their supporters. Indeed, from my experience, there might even be results that we did not want. However, if there is anything wrong with the drafting, it can easily be corrected in the House of Lords. The Government and their draftsmen are obviously good at making changes: on Report, we are dealing with one Government new clause and no fewer than 43 Government amendments. I am sure that we could get some help from them if necessary.
Our proposition is supported by members of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrat party. Furthermore, if those members of the Tory party who have spoken to me face to face were telling the truth—I assume that they were—we also have support from people in the Conservative party. Certainly many teachers, parents and members of religious groups support our proposals—as do many children.
Some of those people would question the very basis of a Church-state relationship in which the taxpayer funds religious schools at all. Money taken from taxpayers of all faiths and of none is handed to various groups who knowingly discriminate against certain children and exclude them on the basis of religion. Those circumstances are unusual. People would agree that if we substituted the words "race" or "colour" for the word "religion", such discrimination would be unacceptable. However, that is a fundamental debate and this is neither the time nor the place to hold it; even if it is the place, it is certainly not the time.
Our proposals respond to current circumstances in which substantial changes are likely to be made and in which there will be a considerable extension of the number of religious schools promoted by religious groups and encouraged by the Government.
The impression has been created that there is something special about religious schools. The White Paper refers to their "distinctive ethos and character". If that ethos and character are indeed distinctive, one would want to promote them only if one believed that they were superior. That impression is sometimes created by those who advocate such schools, and it is resented by teachers, parents and older children in many non-religious institutions.
One does not have to go to a religious school to witness the promotion by dedicated staff of the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural well-being of children. It is frequently provided by staff in non-religious schools—by people with a profound belief in their own religious faiths and by people with none. They manage to provide those things in state schools that have no religious element.
To justify those remarks I cite Argyle primary school in King's Cross in my constituency, which is one of the most deprived communities in the country. The Ofsted report described that school's contribution to the spiritual, moral, social and cultural well-being of children as "outstanding in all respects". The nearest mixed state secondary school, South Camden community school, which my own children attended, was described as "very good overall" in those respects in the recent Ofsted report—and that is without the benefit of clergy, although the report did not add that.
The impression is also created that religious schools perform better and get better results. There is no sound evidence for that. If we compare like with like—schools with similar intakes—or if we take differing intakes into account, the performance of schools throughout the country is similar, as has been shown in surveys undertaken not only by liberal and left-wing organisations but by those that are pretty far to the right of the Conservative party. Those surveys show that some religious schools are inclusive and do a brilliant job, some are not inclusive and do a brilliant job, and some are not inclusive and do not do a brilliant job. The same applies, of course, to non-religious schools.
The problem with religious schools is selection. It is not generally a problem with primary schools. Most of those serve their neighbourhood and are inclusive, whatever their religious nature—very few are selective, and that is how it ought to be. The problem arises with secondary schools. Some religious secondary schools are inclusive, but some are not, and as the law stands all of them can if they wish select children from their religious group only. Inevitably, that means the rejection and exclusion of children from families of other faiths and of no faith. I emphasise the latter as it is important, because more than 40 per cent. of the population of England and Wales subscribe to no organised religious belief. They are just as entitled to send their children to the school of their choice as anyone else.
That selection inevitably divides communities is undeniable. We live in a society where many people are concerned about the loss of social cohesion. They want to avoid division and exclusion and promote inclusion. It is inevitable that separate schools promote division. They divide the sheep from the goats—us from them and them from us. It is part of the function of establishing high morale within the school. It promotes an exclusive sense, suggesting, "We are great people in this school. We are not like that school down the road." That is part and parcel of almost any school or organisation. There is rivalry between schools, which can sometimes lead to abuse or the odd fight or unpleasant behaviour.
If we add more and more divisions—on the basis of religion, race, or colour—we will see a geometric, not an arithmetic, progression of such problems.
I will not give way, as many hon. Members wish to speak.
Within the United Kingdom we have had a terrible example of what can happen when most schools in an area are divided on religious grounds: the vile scenes that were seen outside the Holy Cross school in Belfast recently. That behaviour, by those who call themselves loyalists and parade themselves as Protestants, would not have occurred if Protestant children, as well as Catholic children, had gone to the Holy Cross school. I am not suggesting that the situation anywhere in England and Wales is as bad that, and I do not want it to be as bad as that in the future, but there are conurbations where divisions will increase if something is not done to make Church and religious schools more inclusive, or to restrain their spread.
I would be the last person to suggest that social divisions in our cities and conurbations—or in our rural areas, for that matter—are simply the product of the schooling system. That would be absurd. They are clearly to do with housing and employment, but hon. Members on both sides of the House are working to reduce those divisions. The Government have an effective social exclusion unit, which is there to promote integration. If the Government machine is moving in one direction with the policies on housing, jobs, training, and regeneration, it would appear that education is the cuckoo in the nest, moving in the opposite direction.
It is said that everyone wants schools to be inclusive; indeed the Government's Green Paper says:
"We will support inclusive faith schools".
The briefing kindly provided to the parliamentary Labour party says that the Government's
"hope is that all faith schools should adopt more inclusive admission policies."
I share the Government's hope, and the Bill is their hope made flesh. The Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, also supports that view. He was reported as saying that Church schools
"should include some children of other faiths and of no particular faith, as well as . . . of Christian families."
I support that and share his view, which is why we are introducing these proposals. We propose a national minimum of 25 per cent.
Well, I was about to come on to that very point. My next note says, "Objections—central diktat." So I commend the hon. Gentleman on following the impeccable logic of my speech, but the concept of central direction would probably not be recognised as wholly alien to the education policies that have been pursued by the Labour Government, whom I strongly support, since 1997, and I want to assist in that process.
There is also an objection to quotas, but the Church of England's own document, which set in train its proposals for 100 new schools, says:
"This could be achieved either through catchment or quota".
It then adds—I do not like misleading people—
"as appropriate to local circumstances."
Once again, I agree. We propose a national minimum. Perhaps, in certain circumstances, that national minimum might not be met, and we try our best in our humble new clause to allow for a derogation from the minimum if it cannot be reached for practical reasons.
Our proposals would widen parental choice. They would give every parent in every area the opportunity to apply to every school, with the chance of their children getting into every school.
I went to a Catholic primary school and a Catholic secondary school. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one question on his 25 per cent. limit. If someone outside a three-mile area decided that their child should go to a Church of England school or a Catholic school that was more than three miles away from that person, although they did not profess the faith of that faith school, would they qualify for free school transport as they currently do?
It is my understanding that if someone of a particular religious faith wants to send their child to a school of that faith and they live sufficiently far away, they are entitled to free school transport. In fairness—I believe in equality—that would also apply the other way: at least I hope it would.
The problem with the existence of religious schools is that children get rejected because their parents are not of the appropriate faith. That means that those people are not allowed to exercise their choice—the school does the choosing.
Is not the real problem with my right hon. Friend's new clause—particularly in relation to Catholic schools, which are largely socially inclusive because of their wide catchment areas—that it would create a situation in which 25 per cent. of pupils were being accepted into school on grounds other than their faith? That would create a situation in which those schools became more socially exclusive, not less, because the people who would know how to work the system would be the clued-up parents who understood it.
In those areas in which there are many Roman Catholics, that process already applies even to the Roman Catholics, because the clued-up parents get their children into the Roman Catholic schools that they regard as better than some of the other Roman Catholic schools. The proposition applies to everyone; the new clause would not introduce a novel problem.
The Church of England is proposing to have an additional 100 new secondary schools. Its report makes it clear that that will not be in response to the increase in the number of children. The majority of the new schools will result from existing community schools being taken over. Let us consider the example of a town or neighbourhood in which there are currently two non-religious community schools. All the parents in that area can choose to send their children to one or other of those schools. If one of them becomes a religious foundation, the religious foundation will start turning some children away, and people who are not of the particular faith may have only one option. They will be able to send their child only to the remaining non-religious school. That will reduce choice.
I should make progress.
A further problem arises from the existence of religious schools and specialist schools. The concept of the specialist religious school is irreconcilable with the concept of parental choice. Let us suppose that a Roman Catholic school becomes a specialist language school, or a Muslim school becomes a specialist mathematics school, or a Church of England school becomes a specialist IT school. Unless people are of the appropriate faith, the new specialist school will not be available to them.
On the issue of specialist schools, McAuley Catholic comprehensive school in my constituency has just been awarded specialist status in performing arts and design. My understanding is that part of what specialist schools do is to offer a specialism to the wider community. Specialist status is about a community of schools working together to make the most of their assets by sharing them more effectively across the board. Is that not different from the old grant-maintained days when the school community was divided? Specialist status is about diversity, but within a community of schools.
There is something in what my hon. Friend says, but not everything. If someone wants to specialise in whatever is offered by the specialist religious school, the best place to do it is in the school that specialises. The impact on the surrounding area in terms of that specialism is diluted the further away one is from the core school offering such provision.
My right hon. Friend knows that we share a common position on some things. Indeed, I was proud to associate to myself with his intervention regarding Islamophobia when we debated the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. However, I have two concerns about the new clause. First, for Muslims in my constituency, this is the first time they have stood a chance of getting anywhere near parity, and they see the introduction of quotas as discriminatory. Secondly, is it not naive to believe that just because children of different faiths or different colours are in the same school they will integrate? According to the three reports, the problem was the lack of integration in most non-religious state schools in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford.
I believe in equality between religions. The new clause would apply either to all existing and future religious schools or just to future religious schools. People of the Muslim faith might believe that the latter application discriminates against them, and there may be something in that. However, the suggestion that one religion feels a bit upset about the proposal does not mean that we should desist from implementing it.
The Government Chief Whip sent a letter from the Muslim Council of Britain, addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, to a number of hon. Members. Sadly, she did not send it to me, although it mentions my new clause. The council opposes my proposal. I think that the Secretary of State will say that the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and other groups oppose it, but we have known that all along. I do not think that my hon. Friend Mrs. Fitzsimons has advanced the discussion.
I am making my speech.
The next objection is that the new clause might mean that children have to be bussed in. Let us suppose that a non-religious school in a particular locality serves the whole neighbourhood. If it becomes a religious school and uses the current admissions policy, it can reject children who live nearby who are not of the appropriate religious faith. So children living nearby would have to be bussed to schools elsewhere that will admit them and, as they travel out of their neighbourhood, they will pass vehicles coming in the other direction bringing religious children to the school in their area. I do not believe that that is a valid objection.
Another objection to the amendment is that it sets aside a long-standing arrangement between Church and state. As the parliamentary Labour party briefing said:
"The effect of this amendment would be to tear up the historic concordat between the state and church that was the foundation of the 1944 Education Act."
That concordat was not set in tablets of stone. It must be as susceptible to change as any other part of the 1944 Act and the settlement. The House has passed no fewer than 42 Education Bills since 1944, many of which amended either the 1944 Act or subsequent Acts. We cannot say that that arrangement is sacrosanct and can never be changed.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that all those Acts were introduced after a consultation process that involved many of the organisations and parties that would be affected by the proposed changes? In the case of the new clause, however, the very organisations that would be most affected and, indeed, the parents who would wish to send their children to faith schools have not been consulted. They have found out about the proposal through the media and have had little opportunity to make representations to their Member of Parliament or to have a view on the proposed change. That is not consultation with the organisations that count.
I take my hon. Friend back to the start of my speech, when I pointed out that we are not proposing to initiate something but responding to initiatives by others. There has been considerable consultation by the Government and the Church of England. Not all the responses in any way favoured further extension of religious schools.
I am sorry to disturb the flow of my right hon. Friend's speech, but I should like to respond to the mention of the historic settlement and the lack of consultation. I am not sure how many Members know that the historic settlement of 1944 set up state sponsorship of faith schools, but based on a 50 per cent. state contribution. Since then, the faith contribution has fallen—and it is now proposed that it be 10 per cent. I do not believe that the general taxpayer has been consulted on that.
I admire my hon. Friend's logic, because that was the very next point that I was going to make. The 50:50 split between the Churches and the taxpayer was not set in tablets of stone, and it is now proposed that the split be 90:10, which is a very large difference—a huge amount of extra investment. It has quite rightly been part of the Government's rubric that extra money must be matched by reform. I am proposing the reforms to match the extra funding.
In addition, I do not think that anybody envisaged in 1944 that the Church of England would propose a 25 per cent. increase in the number of its secondary schools, but that is what is being considered. The policy has been entered into without looking at the wider considerations.
Criticisms of our proposals appear to boil down to two: first, that they are an unwarranted, draconian interference, which would cause huge problems and a major upheaval; and secondly, that they are wholly unnecessary because religious schools are already doing what we propose. One or other of those propositions might be true, but both cannot be, and as it happens, I think that they are both wrong.
I am exceedingly grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for finally giving way to me. Does he acknowledge that denominational schools throughout the country are highly successful because of the shared ethos between parents, the school and pupils, and that as a result they are heavily over-subscribed and are already rejecting large numbers of applicants from their own faiths? Demand is the reason for their success. Perhaps in the past they have had a higher proportion of non-denominational children, but as their success has increased, so has the number of pupils from their respective faiths. How can he justify rejecting even larger proportions of applicants from the respective faiths?
The Church of England's proposition is rather like a hydraulic system. It would argue, I think, that it wants 100 extra schools and that those 100 extra schools could take up any displacement that results from the proposals. But in any case, there are plenty of over-subscribed non-religious schools. The situation applies across the board.
The problem is that although most religious schools try to play the game and be inclusive—as I have said, nearly all primary schools do so and quite a number of secondary schools do so too—the ones that do not bring the whole system into disrepute. The ones that are already inclusive would not be much affected by our proposition, and the others would be brought up to scratch.
No, I really must get on.
It is clear that no one has been very good at bringing such schools up to scratch until now. If all the faiths are saying that they want schools to be inclusive and some schools still are not, clearly there is not the machinery in the faith arrangements for them to do what their diocesan boards and the Muslim equivalents would like them to do. All we are proposing is a national minimum; introducing it should be a function of central Government.
Public opinion is on the side of my proposal. I do not attach much importance to opinion polls; I never have and I never will. However, a recent MORI poll showed a 2:1 majority against expanding faith schools; a 4:1 majority believed that it was right to require them to take in children from other faiths. I have listened to children's views as well. As I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can confirm, the Department for Education and Skills conducted, with Save the Children, a consultation on the proposal. Three quarters of the children who took part in that official consultation, about which my hon. Friend Ms Ward was asking, thought that faith schools were not a good idea. One said:
"If you separate everybody, then pupils can't mix together and then racism can happen more often."
There were further comments like that.
I commend my proposals to my right hon. Friend. They have two advantages from a political point of view; they are popular and right, a combination which is not always available to us. My right hon. Friend is a friend, she is honourable, but in this case, I am afraid that she is not right: she is wrong. I urge her to accept our proposal. There may be better ways of introducing of it, and we are happy with that. There should be a minimum of 25 per cent., preferably for all faith schools, not just new ones, which would reduce the divisions in our society.
I return again to my right hon. Friend's briefing, which says:
"A more effective way to tackle segregation is to encourage children from different communities to meet and engage with each other."
The place where children can best do so is school, and we should promote that. Members sometimes ask in the House, "What will people think in future about we are doing today?" I am not usually in a portentous mode, and try to avoid that sort of thing. However, I will adopt that mode now because if we do not work today—not tomorrow, not in 10 years' time—to counter division and exclusion, we may promote a ghastly society with groups at one another's throats; it would be like "A Clockwork Orange", "Blade Runner" and racism all thrown together, which is an awful thought.
I have now reached an age at which my greatest concern is my grandchildren and the society in which they will grow up. I want them to grow up in a society in which all the groups of our diverse population are at ease with themselves and one another. I want a society with an education system where every child is treasured; where every child learns to value diversity and to respect others; where children can understand the variety of contributions that they all make to our culture and welfare, and understand that they all share in both the potential and the frailty of the human condition. They will learn that best not just by studying the theory, but from day-to-day practical experience with their classmates in their classroom, which is why I have tabled my new clause.
We have just heard a sincere and passionate speech from Mr. Dobson who, the House knows, holds strong views. But for all his sincerity and passion, he is wrong. He and his Liberal Democrat allies would make education in this country less diverse and worse if they had their way.
I shall turn to the detail of the new clause in a moment.
It is worth making the case for faith schools, which have suffered so much unfair denigration as the issue has been debated over the past few months. I should perhaps declare an interest, as I was educated at a Catholic primary school in Wales, in a small town which, as a port, saw a good deal of immigration, had very mixed communities and suffered absolutely no sign of racial or religious tension. I observed from my own experience that being educated at a Catholic school did not cut anyone off from the wider community.
The right hon. Gentleman made something of the problems in Northern Ireland—the terrible problems surrounding the Holy Cross school. I merely observe that they clearly stem from the wider tensions in Northern Ireland, and that in a normal society, religious schools are a normal part of life.
Apart from my own experience, my support for Church schools is based on the simple, pragmatic observation that the Church school is very often the good school. For many families, in our inner cities particularly, by far the best chance to obtain a top-class education for their children is the local Church school. The right hon. Gentleman may not have had time to read all of yesterday's report by Ofsted on the latest standards and quality of education, on which the Secretary of State made a statement yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman and the House should know that the Church schools whose ethos he seeks to destroy through new clause 1 performed outstandingly well, according to the chief inspector.
The report lists what it calls particularly successful schools. Of the 210 schools so identified, 82 are Church schools—more than a third. Given that roughly a quarter of schools are Church schools, the right hon. Gentleman will see that they score disproportionately well.
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I propose to deal later in my speech with admissions policy and the effects of the proposals of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and his supporters on it.
Given what the hon. Gentleman has just told the House, would he withdraw his support from faith schools if new information that showed that their performance was not as good as that of other schools became available? Is that the sole criterion that he brings to the debate?
It is not the sole criterion, but it seems reasonable to introduce into the debate the latest evidence. If Ofsted finds that existing Church schools are doing well, it seems a relevant criterion, which the hon. Gentleman may wish to bear in mind while he considers the evidence. I should say that the figures that I gave were for primary schools. For secondary schools, Ofsted identified 90 particularly successful schools, of which 17 are Church schools, so across the board, the Church schools are doing well.
No. The hon. Gentleman has had his chance.
The positive way to deal with the matter is to build on the success of Church schools. The negative way—the way taken by those who tabled the new clauses—is to destroy their ethos. The reason for the existence of many of those schools in our inner cities is closely linked to the history of the Churches in catering for poorer communities and giving them the first leg up the ladder.
I shall concentrate for a moment on the 1,500 Catholic schools, one of which I attended. It is timely for hon. Members of all parties to remember that they were initially set up to provide an education for a mainly underprivileged class, largely of immigrants, who at the time were suffering racism. One hundred and fifty years after those Catholic schools were set up as a priority, we live in a society where, by and large, Catholics are well educated and play an important and successful role in society. That is a success story emanating from the commitment of the bishops and church congregations of the day, and it is continued now by the Catholic Church and other Churches, which rightly attach such importance to education. We achieved that healthier position by providing distinctive education for faith development as well as for other educational needs. That is what other newly arrived groups in our society, including the Muslim community, now seek for themselves.
On the success of the Catholic community after immigration and up to the present day, would the hon. Gentleman care to compare the success of the Catholic community in Britain with that of the community in France, or even the United States, which is perhaps a better example? Both countries ensure that there is a division between state and religion. They have no state-sponsored religious schools, but that hinders neither the Catholic population nor, apparently, any other people.
First, the Bill applies to this country, so although the hon. Gentleman raises a fascinating subject, it is not germane to the new clause. Secondly, France was an explicitly Catholic country and became explicitly republican, so it is bizarre to attempt to compare the state of religion there with that of religion in the United Kingdom, as the circumstances are completely different. Of course, the United States was founded as an explicitly secular society in which Catholics form a small minority. Thus, I do not regard the example as especially relevant, even though I am tempted to do so.
It is relevant, however, to draw an analogy in respect of communities that came here in previous centuries and have, through education, come to play a constructive role in the mainstream of society, and deal with the debate to which Mrs. Fitzsimons referred: the perceived problems of Muslim communities and schools in this country. I urge hon. Members in all parts of the House who hold strong views about Muslim schools to visit one. I remind them that there are very few maintained Muslim schools in this country; I think that there are four.
My constituency has one or two schools that are largely Muslim but not Muslim in character. I am worried that, if we start to establish more Muslim schools, they will almost certainly be girls' schools. That is certainly the case in the Bradford area. We will almost certainly not have any boys' schools, because that is the way things are going. I feel that a school should be a microcosm of society and that we are going to fail the children in that respect.
It is not obvious to me that every school should be a microcosm of the whole of society, as that way lies a complete absence of the diversity that I suspect all hon. Members want in our education system. However, I agree that all schools should transmit the values and ethos of our society. They should pass on those values, including tolerance, respect for diversity and knowledge of our history. That should be—and is—the responsibility of schools, whether they are secular or religious in character. I suspect that the proposition that that should be the basis of education policy will be widely agreed across the Floor of the House.
Let me return to the subject of existing Muslim schools. I recently visited such a school in London. If hon. Members visit it, they will see well-behaved and well-educated children learning the national curriculum with the same textbooks as in any other school. They will see a school that produces rounded children who leave the school gates every day and live in the same world as everyone else in that part of north London. The school itself makes the point that 23 different nationalities are represented among the children's families and that its aim is to produce Muslim children who are British. Those of us who went to schools that produce Catholic or Jewish children who are British should recognise that that is an honourable aim.
The hon. Gentleman will have read the Cantle report. How will additional faith schools promote inclusion and bind communities together when, in respect of northern cities such as Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, we are told by Cantle, Lord Ouseley and all the other people who have considered them that there is a growth of parallel communities that are distinguished on the grounds of race and religion? Should we not address that issue?
Any good school that prepares its pupils for life will enable them to integrate and be successful members of society. People who feel excluded from wider society because they believe that the education system has failed them are often alienated and fall into divisive ways. I suspect that hon. Members are not divided about the matter. Religious schools do not promote division; if they are good schools, their pupils will successfully integrate into society.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the three areas about which reports were produced, the minority of schools are religious? The problem is lack of integration in the state sector, in comprehensive schools where the pupils are 100 per cent. of one denomination, or in those that have a mixture of pupils who do not integrate. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is more integration in some of our Catholic schools because they take more immigrants, especially asylum seekers from Africa who are Catholics? There is therefore a better balance of race in some of our Catholic schools.
I agree with the hon. Lady, who makes the case eloquently and on the basis of experience. However, some reports talk glibly about problems in northern cities and claim that they are due to Muslim schools. Most of the places where the terrible riots happened do not have maintained Muslim schools. It is therefore wrong to suggest that there is a link; it is a bad argument for those who support the new clause to use.
As someone who was educated in faith-based schools and chairs the governing body of such a school, I know that the hon. Gentleman's argument about ethos is fundamentally flawed. Some Church schools have 100 per cent. Church admission; others admit 25 per cent. or more pupils who are not Church members. Schools with 25 per cent. of pupils who are not Christian are no less Church of England or Roman Catholic than schools with 100 per cent. Church admission. The argument that the modest proposal of giving a quarter of places to pupils of another denomination or faith would undermine a school's ethos has no basis in fact. It is an insult to the many faith-based schools that already do that, with no detriment to their ethos.
The hon. Gentleman makes a point about admissions, with which I shall deal shortly. However, I want to finish my comments on Muslim schools.
Like the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, I received a letter from the Muslim Council of Britain. Mine came direct rather than through the Government Chief Whip. Its contents are interesting. It states:
"The Muslim community agrees that both existing and new faith schools must be inclusive whilst contributing their unique character and ethos to the state system. We also agree with the principle that faith schools should be established where there is support from local communities . . .
The Muslim Council of Britain believes it is right that faith schools deliver an inclusive national curriculum and work in close partnership with other maintained schools to build greater understanding between different religious communities."
That is not an easy task, but it is heartening and sensible that the Muslim Council of Britain has set itself that aim. It should be the goal of every school, religious or secular.
This country has a rigorous inspection regime because all of us, as part of wider society, have the right to know what goes on inside every school. If there is evidence that schools are falling below an acceptable standard, whether in general education or through anything to do with their religious background, remedial measures should be swift and effective.
We value diversity in education. Conservative Members believe that parents know better than politicians what is good for their children. That is a fundamental divide between most Conservative Members and Labour and Liberal Democrat Members. They believe that they know best; we believe that parents know best.
I speak as the parent of a child who attends a school with an intake of approximately 90 per cent. Muslim children. If that school became a Muslim school and did not show a willingness to take non-Muslims, my child would be prevented from attending it. That is already the case with the nearest school to where we live; it is a Catholic school, which my child is excluded from attending. How is the new clause going to prevent schools from becoming as inclusive as the Muslim Council and other faith-based organisations say that they want them to be? Why should schools exclude children such as mine?
Let me move on to admissions, which hon. Members who are in favour of the new clause go on about. I admired the way in which the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras presented this as a modest proposal. He was no doubt hoping that most people would not have read new clauses 1 or 18. We should be clear what new clause 1 would do. It would not simply affect new Church schools but violently change the ethos of more than 6,000 mainly successful schools that are already operating. The coalition that signed up to this proposal wants to take the power to tell thousands of schools how they should run their admissions policy, and thinks that it has the right to tell those successful schools to tear up policies that have worked for many years. That is arrogance of the worst kind.
I refer hon. Members to the details of new clause 1. Even in its own terms, it is peculiar. Subsection (1) sets out what I assume to be the right hon. Gentleman's ideal case: a 0 per cent. target for religious admissions. Subsection (2) amends that target to between 20 and 75 per cent.—both completely arbitrary figures, so far as I can see. I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would explain why he had chosen those two numbers, but he failed to do so. Subsection (3) throws in the towel altogether and states that a school can have 100 per cent. religious admissions, but only if it cannot fill its places.
Let us be clear about the effect of new clause 1. All those who ask how this would affect admissions should consider this. If a school is unpopular, it can become faith-based. If a school is popular, perhaps because it is faith-based, it will have to have the very reason for its popularity taken away. Frankly, I fail to see how that would improve education. In fact, I suspect that unpopular schools—perhaps those whose rolls are falling because the population in the area is falling—would be the most vulnerable to what the supporters of the new clause are most worried about: being taken over by a religious sect that would try to do something with them of which those hon. Members would disapprove. But those are precisely the schools that the new clause would make most likely to go that way. Even in its own terms, the new clause is therefore defective. If I were against Church schools, I would think that this was a peculiar way to proceed.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the popular schools are over-subscribed because of the quality of the religion or because of their results? Will he tell us how many schools he thinks there are in the country that perform poorly but are over-subscribed entirely because of their religion?
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not profess to know why millions of parents around the country choose the schools that they do. More to the point, nor do I seek to dictate their choice. That is the fundamental difference between us. Neither I nor the Secretary of State nor anyone else in the House has the wisdom to dictate to parents what type of school they should send their children to. Sadly, the supporters of the new clause think that they have that wisdom; I think that they are wrong.
In effect, the hon. Gentleman is attempting to dictate to parents where they can send their children to school. He is arguing that if a child lived next door to a Catholic, Church of England or Muslim school, but did not practise any of those religions—indeed, they might be an agnostic or an atheist—that child should be denied access to such a school. He is, in effect, dictating to parents.
That is precisely not what I am doing. If I were tabling a new clause that stated that every faith-based school had to take 100 per cent. of its children from its own particular faith, the hon. Lady would have a good point. As it is, I am not suggesting anything of the kind. It is she and those on her side in this debate who are trying to dictate to parents. I am saying that parents should have choice and that schools should have choice.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras says that Church of England schools and schools of all faiths wish to choose that option, but I say that he should not be allowed to dictate to them. He said that a passage in his speech dealt with central diktats, but he did not deal with them. Of course he is trying to put forward central diktats. Glenda Jackson and her hon. Friends are trying to dictate to parents, not those of us on this side of the argument.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Catholic hierarchy in this country advises its schools that up to 10 per cent. of their intake should consist of children of other faiths or no faith at all?
I was arguing not about the Catholic hierarchy, but with the hon. Gentleman's argument that my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson was attempting to dictate to parents. My point, which I proved, is that the hon. Gentleman is attempting to dictate to parents by denying children who live close to a faith-based school but do not practise its religion access to it.
Let me make the point simply for the hon. Lady. If, as the Catholic hierarchy says, 10 per cent. of the children should come from outside that faith, a child who lives next door to such a school has the chance to attend it. I am not seeking to dictate the ethos of such a school, but the hon. Lady is.
In essence, new clause 18, which is a soft-cop option, says, "We oppose this on principle, but we will start by standing still." Anyone who believes that there would be no further attempts to damage existing Church schools if new clause 18 were accepted is deluding himself. That would be only the first step—
No, I have given way enough.
Such a first step would prove seriously unpopular with recently arrived groups, which would observe that not all religions were treated fairly in this country. Rather than easing tensions between such groups, it would make them worse. There is a very dangerous intent behind new clause 18.
I have given way enough and other hon. Members want to speak.
The worst argument for these changes was advanced by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, although the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate also believes in it strongly. The right hon. Gentleman said that parents do not choose such schools, but that the schools, because they are so popular, choose the parents. Let us unpick that argument and see what it means.
There are a certain number of places in such schools, but parents want more, so there are more applications than places. Some of us say that, if there are more applicants than places, perhaps there should be more places to meet the demand. That is a basic democratic demand. Others, such as the right hon. Gentleman, say, "No, selection is so evil that we must eliminate all the places in such schools, so that no one is happy." That is old-fashioned equality of misery—[Interruption.] I am delighted to discover, from the noises to my left, that the Liberal Democrats have finally turned into the Labour party circa 1975.
My final message is to the Secretary of State, who will know that the Prime Minister is firmly against the new clause. I take this rare opportunity to agree with the Prime Minister, and I hope and expect that the Secretary of State will have the courage of the Prime Minister's convictions. The new clauses would not improve the education of a single child. On the contrary, they would put at risk the good work done day after day in thousands of schools that serve more than 1 million children. The new clauses are ill-conceived and could be hugely damaging. I hope that the Government and the House reject them.
I begin by honouring the integrity and solid values of my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson. It will soon become clear to the House that he and I fundamentally disagree on this issue, but, however we divide on it, I remain united with him in the aspiration to avoid at all costs the spectre of a society fundamentally divided. His is an honest and honourable view that is evidently shared by at least a sizeable minority of Members of Parliament, who question the role played by faith-based and denominational schools in our society. Some, indeed, would argue that such schools should have no place whatever in our society. That is not my view, but I acknowledge that it is the view of some. I suspect that it is not always a view that they have tested thoroughly with their electorates, although again I except my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, who I am sure is always forthright with his electorate on such issues.
I respect Members' right to hold that opinion and to argue for it. I hope that they, in turn, will accept that any proposal to alter the position of faith schools fundamentally should, as my hon. Friend Ms Ward has said, be considered seriously in Parliament only when that proposal has been made widely known, and after the fullest possible consultation. It should not, surely, be contained in a new clause tabled a mere 10 days before Report, which effectively tears up a 60-year agreement between Churches and state that has been honoured by all Governments and is, I believe—irrespective of the MORI poll—still widely supported by the people.
My hon. Friend said that any significant change should happen only after proper consultation. Does he agree that it would be wrong to talk of greatly increasing the number of religiously segregated schools without such consultation?
I note what my hon. Friend says, but the Bill does not include that proposal.
I am pleased that many faith schools, especially in our main urban centres, contain a wide social and ethnic mix of pupils. An average of 20 per cent. of pupils in Roman Catholic schools throughout the country are not Roman Catholic. I believe, nevertheless, that it would be a huge mistake to enshrine in law a fixed quota for all faith and denominational schools. In practice, it would mean Jewish children being turned away from Jewish schools, Catholic children being turned away from Catholic schools, and Church of England children being turned away from Church of England schools.
I also believe that the new clause would place a huge bureaucratic burden on local authorities and schools that would have to work out the new procedures. That would detract from the important task of putting as many resources as possible into raising standards in all schools.
I remind my hon. Friend that we have consulted on increasing the number of faith schools. The issue was contained in the manifesto on which every Labour Member stood in 2001.
I agree. The fact remains that the new clause could in practice deny parents the right to send their children to the school of their choice because of the 75 per cent. maximum quota. That would utterly change the relationship between Church and state in regard to education. That point of principle has not been put to the British people. It should be put properly and consulted on properly before any decision is taken in Parliament.
I will try to say briefly exactly what I said before. We did not put in the manifesto, and we have not consulted on, a proposal to introduce a fundamental change in the relationship between Church and state, which new clause 1 would bring about. That would need to be consulted on fully and it has not been.
It is important to point out that the Bill does not contain any powers to compel faith communities to establish new faith or denominational schools, which would be wrong and impractical. Having said that, I applaud the Government for their action to ensure a level playing between minority faith communities and the other faith communities that I have mentioned, such as the Catholic, Jewish and Church of England communities, which have a long-established tradition of running their own schools. Many minority faith communities already run their own schools in the independent sector. It would be far better if they were in the maintained sector, where they would be required to follow the national curriculum, employ properly qualified teachers and be rigorous in relation to standards of teaching and results.
In the main, parents and children choose faith schools for two reasons. The first is that they wish to ensure that the faith and values that are supported at home are reflected in the teaching, organisation and ethos of the school. That long-standing and legitimate choice would be undermined by the new clause. The second reason, which has been touched on by several hon. Members, is that on the whole faith schools perform well in terms of standards and examination results.
Can my hon. Friend point to an analytical scientific study that demonstrates with ample evidence that faith schools achieve better results than other schools?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend evidence of that. There is a separate question: why do faith schools perform better in terms of standards and examination results? I do not make any simplistic assertion. The reasons why faith schools perform better are extremely complex, but the Ofsted report is clear. Last year, the number of pupils who achieved five or more A to C grades at GCSE in Church schools was 7.5 per cent. higher than in schools across the piece. That is the factual evidence that I bring to my hon. Friend's attention.
May I continue?
At key stage 2, results in maths and English were on average 7 per cent. better in Church schools than in other schools. That is clear factual evidence. There are several complex reasons as to why that is the case. I believe that it is explained partly by ethos: parents' values and the school's values complement each other. None the less the facts speak for themselves.
I admit freely that this is a much more complex issue than—[Interruption.] I am saying that I fully agree that the reasons why faith schools perform better are complex; one cannot say just that it is because they are faith schools. None the less, the facts speak for themselves: faith schools' results are more impressive than the average.
No. We have a relatively short time for debate and I am sure that many hon. Members are waiting to speak.
People choose faith schools because they complement their own faith and values and because they tend to do rather well. I acknowledge that it is unacceptable for parents who simply want to access a higher quality of education to claim falsely that they adhere to a faith or denomination.
It is understandable when parents do that, but not acceptable. That is why the Government's drive to ensure that high-quality education is available in all schools is so important, so that in academic terms all parents can be happy to send their children to any school. That aspiration can unite all Labour Members, and that—rather than removing the traditional right to attend faith-based schools—is the answer to the abuse of the system.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the infinitely higher standards at faith-based schools. Is he really arguing that the boards of governors of faith-based schools would deny the opportunity of that quality of education to 20 per cent. of their intake because they did not share that faith? I have to be honest: that strikes me as a somewhat irreligious approach to our children.
I made the point clearly that, on average, in Roman Catholic schools, for example, 20 per cent. of the children attending are not Catholics. In practice, many religious schools are far more inclusive than some hon. Members have suggested today.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I want to continue with my next point.
One argument for quotas that is urged by supporters of the new clause is that quotas would lead to greater inclusion and integration in places such as Oldham and Bradford. I believe that my hon. Friend Mr. Prentice said that. I acknowledge that we need policies to promote inclusion in all our towns and cities, but desirable—indeed, crucial—as those aims are, they would not be delivered by a restriction on school admissions. In practice, it would be a recipe for disaster. Despite what my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said, I believe that it would mean bussing children in and out of communities, which would do absolutely nothing for social cohesion.
All faith schools—all schools—should demonstrate a practical commitment to inclusion, but that should be done by local agreement, not central determination and diktat. I welcome the fact that the Government are to issue new guidelines to school organisation committees to promote greater inclusion.
A further argument urged by supporters of the new clause is that faith promotes bigotry. They pray in aid, of course, the example of Holy Cross school in Belfast. Along with all Members of the House, I am sure, I condemn the bigots, but it is disingenuous to say that, because of such episodes, all faith schools promote bigotry and should have their position undermined. I do not accept that faith is the enemy of inclusion. Indeed, in my experience some of the best faith schools are outward rather than inward looking, and help their pupils to engage with and understand the wider world around them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very often when faith schools can show how religious teaching promotes tolerance, which the scriptures of all the great faiths do, that they can help to challenge the intolerance that people sometimes associate with their faith, because of associated sects and so on? We have seen that in the Muslim and other communities.
I believe that to be entirely correct. The challenging of intolerance is not necessarily confined to faith-based schools, but it is something that such schools can do.
I taught religious education in a state school, and I know that one can teach inclusion. However, it is difficult for young people to believe in inclusion when it is taught in a school that is exclusive.
I hope it is apparent from my remarks that I do not believe that schools should be exclusive in that way. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may scoff, but I am arguing strongly for schools to be inclusive. However, I also argue that a school's admissions policy and the way in which it organises inclusiveness should be left to that school. Such matters should not be determined in this Chamber, by this House of Parliament, with the results handed down to all schools in all circumstances.
We are about to have a new generation of faith schools. Voluntary controlled faith schools have a more open admissions policy, and are supported by the Anglican Church. Would my hon. Friend prefer them to voluntary aided schools, 100 per cent. of whose pupils are of one faith?
I want plans and policies to be worked out locally to suit the circumstances of local communities. Faith communities and secular authorities should be involved in the discussions about developing schools and frameworks for education that reflect the needs and aspirations of local communities. We cannot produce such schools by laying down frameworks and quotas in legislation, as that approach would mean that there was no flexibility at local level.
I am determined to finish with no more interventions, and I shall only take a few seconds. I repeat: all schools should, of course, be required to demonstrate a clear commitment to inclusion. However, that cannot be achieved by introducing a quota on admissions that effectively would deny many parents what is a legitimate choice for their children—an education in a faith-based or denominational school.
First, I am delighted that we are having this debate. The quality of some of the contributions so far has demonstrated the need for it. I also thank Mr. Dobson for taking up the new clause, and for the measured way in which he introduced the arguments in favour of it.
There are divisions among hon. Members of all parties on this matter, which people approach from different points of view. However, whenever a difficult matter arises in the House, specious arguments are raised to destroy what should be the basis for a good debate. Mr. Green did himself and his party a disservice by arguing that what is a very small amendment to admissions policy would destroy Church schools.
The counter argument was also made—that many schools have children who are from other faiths or who have no faith at all. Although the Roman Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Muslim Council of Britain have said that they want the proportion of such children in each school to be between 10 and 15 per cent., it has been claimed that diluting the purity of faith schools will cause them to be destroyed suddenly. I do not believe that those two arguments can go together in a sensible way.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras mentioned that my personal beliefs were different from his. From that perspective, may I point out that no faith worth its salt could hold that to bring in children from other faiths, or none, would so challenge that faith that it would be destroyed? Any faith that held such a view is not worthy of the title.
If the hon. Gentlemen will let me finish my point, they can express their excitement.
We are coming to the heart of the argument. The Churches may be extremely concerned—although I do not believe that they are—that, by including in their schools children of different faiths or of no faith, their whole mission would be destroyed. However, the state should not be wholly funding schools to support a Church's mission. A Church's mission is for the Church itself—it should not be the objective of state funding in our schools.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for not giving way to me earlier as his last few words have revealed the true purpose of the Liberal Democrat/old Labour proposal. Would not the amendment give the local education authority the power to say that a school may not admit more than 25 per cent. Catholic pupils, or 25 per cent. Anglicans, or 25 per cent. Muslims? It is not about admitting only 25 per cent. of pupils from other faiths, but as many as 75 per cent.—at the behest of the local council.
The hon. Gentleman always looks at the black side of any proposal. I realise, of course, that at the end of the debate I shall have to be thrown to the lions to be devoured.
If the hon. Gentleman reads the new clause carefully, he will see that it provides for the policy to be agreed locally. The admission forum would have to agree it locally. Indeed, the word "may" appears in the new clause; it is not a directive in that sense. The school's admission forum may decide that the policy is not appropriate in certain circumstances. We cannot be fairer than that.
I shall give way in a moment, as the hon. Gentleman was courteous enough to intervene before I had said three words.
Another argument advanced by both Paul Goggins is that Church schools are successful because they are Church schools. I fundamentally disagree.
Let us deal with schools that are successful—although I do not actually know what that means. If we define success only by the number of students who achieve five GCSEs at grades A to C or who pass A-levels, I challenge that definition. However, let us use that as one definition of a successful school. It is appalling for any Member of Parliament to claim that such schools are successful, without considering their make-up and without comparing them with schools that the hon. Member for Ashford would consider unsuccessful.
If hon. Members take the trouble to examine the Civitas study and to compare the make-up of schools—their catchment area, the number of pupils taking free school meals and the special educational needs factor—they could make a realistic assessment of the results achieved in different types of school. We must not think that simply because a school is Church of England, Jewish or Muslim it has a divine right to success. That is not the case. Schools are successful because they have good leadership, good teachers and supportive parents.
No, with respect, I want all children to be able to have access to excellence if it is available. I do not want it to be kept for a certain group of children who happen to have passed a faith test before they go to school. Most of the Church schools that I visit do not want to be exclusive—they want to broaden their boundaries.
Is not my hon. Friend Mr. Turner right to say that under this clause a local authority could tell a Catholic school that only 21 per cent. of its pupils should be Catholic? Effectively, the clause could destroy the character of a large number of the faith schools that already exist. If that is the aim of those who tabled the clause, should they not be honest enough to admit it to the House?
I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House know me reasonably well by now—well enough to realise that if that was what I meant, it is exactly what I would say. That is not the intention and it is not my point of view. On admission forums, it was the previous Government who took away the right of local authorities to determine their admissions policies. Those arrangements are still in place and there has to be an agreement about distribution.
I will not take long, as I have spoken for long enough, as I am sure many hon. Members would agree. The hon. Gentleman seemed to be directing a number of his comments at me so I think that I ought to have a right to reply. He seemed to be reinterpreting some of my remarks to the point of making them a complete travesty.
First, many Church schools serve disadvantaged communities—fact. Secondly, faith schools gain better examination results—fact. I said that the reasons were complex, but those are the facts.
I will not give way as I wish to make some progress now.
As the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made clear, this clause is not an attack on Church schools. There are hon. Members who would frankly like such schools to go altogether. They have that point of view and they support the secular society. I do not and that is not Liberal Democrat party policy. I must make that clear.
I recognise the enormous strengths of many Church schools. I have two superb Church schools in my constituency and they practise what I am trying to preach in that their entries are inclusive—they encourage children from other faiths—they have the largest ecumenical sixth form in the United Kingdom and they do tremendous work outside the UK in other areas, in particular, in Northern Ireland. I recognise the great strengths of our Church schools.
What I find unacceptable is that while the majority of Church schools deliberately choose to have inclusive admissions policies—in a Church of England primary school in the constituency of Mrs. Cryer 95 per cent. of the pupils are from Muslim backgrounds—a small number of them will not move from the position that they want an exclusive enclave unless legislation encourages them to do so. I think that that answers the hon. Member for Ashford. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the mission of those schools is so special that they cannot allow anyone to dilute it, I challenge his argument.
I am glad that we have now got to the heart of the issue. The hon. Gentleman has just admitted that the new clause, which would radically alter the character of 6,000 schools, is intended to deal with a small minority. Is it not up to him to prove why the disproportionate change that he and his hon. Friends are proposing should be accepted? If the measure is aimed at only a small minority of schools, it is wholly disproportionate and dangerous and it puts at risk excellence of education in many schools, in particular in our inner cities.
I had thought that a highly intelligent member of the Conservative party was leading on education, but that argument is ridiculous nonsense. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways; he cannot say that a significant number of schools have open admissions policies and encourage children of other faiths and of no faith and that the proposal will destroy 6,000 schools. Let us remember that the Bill applies only to secondary schools; it will not affect any primary school at all. Again, most hon. Members would recognise that our school system has been built on filling in the gaps since 1870, especially in primary education.
I am always nice. Does my hon. Friend accept that his proposal is not only seen as modest by many people, including many in Church schools and the families of those who attend them, but is hugely welcome in communities such as mine, which have mixed-faith backgrounds and where some of the best schools already admit a percentage of pupils who are not from the same faith? The proposal would deal with the terrible system whereby many people suddenly find a faith and start going to church, resurrecting a faith that they have not practised for years, to get their children into a school, and once their children are in, they are never seen in church again. There is a hypocrisy about the current system, which the proposal would begin to get rid of, and an honesty about the proposal, which would be hugely welcomed in most urban communities in England.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that comment, which stands on its own. There is clearly a contradiction in that only 10 per cent. of people in the United Kingdom go to any church at all, yet suddenly there is an overwhelming demand for faith schools. Somehow, those two things do not balance.
No. I want to make progress.
The purpose of new clause 1 is very simple. It is intended to deal with admissions policies and the principle of inclusion. The White Paper clearly stated that the intention was to increase the number of faith schools and that, in fact, they should be inclusive in character. I gave evidence to Lord Dearing's commission, and Lord Dearing's report made it clear that the Church of England wanted another 100 schools, but it wanted them to be inclusive.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was quoted by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made it absolutely clear in an interview that appeared in The Times Educational Supplement two and a half weeks ago that he wanted to see Church of England schools that were not 100 per cent. Church of England. That was a positive statement. The Muslim Educational Trust has gone on record as saying that it wants any new school to be inclusive. There is a recognition that inclusion should be at the heart of any expansion of our system.
Although the right hon. Gentleman did not quote the public opinion polls, it is clear from polls published in The Observer and The Times Educational Supplement and by MORI that the result of every poll is against what the Government are trying to do. I am not against what they are trying to do, per se, but I am trying to moderate it, so that we can ensure that schools are inclusive in their operation.
No, I am aware that other hon. Members want to speak and I do not want to take up too much time.
Mention has been made of Northern Ireland, Oldham, Burnley and Bradford. It is important to address the issues involved rather than sweep them under the carpet. The hon. Member for Ashford is absolutely right. There were no Muslim schools in Bradford. However, the Ouseley report and the Cantle report draw the damning conclusion that children are already educated in segregated communities. Do we want to gold-plate that by making schools single faith as well? If that is the hon. Gentleman's vision—to make sure that children are kept in their place in their communities—it presents a frightening prospect for the future. 5.15 pm
The overwhelming conclusion of children in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley was that they did not want to be educated in single-faith schools. They wanted to be educated as part of a broader community. We must respect those wishes, too.
The hon. Gentleman is making a travesty of my remarks. To say that I want to impose a single-faith school on anyone is ludicrous. Those of us who are opposed to the new clause are saying that parents should choose. Therefore, if parents do not want single-faith schools, they will not have them. The hon. Gentleman has just admitted that the riots in the northern cities were not caused by single-faith schools, so to pray such events in aid of his argument is absurd.
At times, I wish that the hon. Gentleman would listen to my arguments. The Cantle report and the Ouseley report draw the damning conclusions that the way in which children are currently segregated in schools does not provide them with a basis for living in a multicultural society, or with an understanding of each other's cultures and faiths. Although, in my constituency, that does not matter too much, because the Catholic school and the Church of England school work together, have a joint sixth form and are virtually all-white, it matters enormously in Bradford and Oldham, where there are hugely depressed communities.
Before the hon. Gentleman yawns again, may I point out to him that yesterday's Ofsted report contains the damning finding that, although people from ethnic minorities have lived in this country for generations, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Afro-Caribbean youngsters are performing worse than anyone else. Are we saying that we want to bung most of them into schools that are out of the way, and that that will improve things? I do not believe that at all.
Does not the Ouseley report also reveal that the ethnic loyalties that are built up are cemented by segregation at a primary school level, and, subsequently, at secondary level? We must stop that at that level, otherwise the problem will only escalate further.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the real challenges for education authorities in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford is to take up that challenge in their education systems. I honestly believe that the new clause would go some small way towards recognising that everybody should consider the way in which schooling is organised and admissions policies work, so that we try to encourage a greater mix. Alternatively, as the hon. Member for Ashford wants, the good schools in the good areas will continue to ban children.
That is exactly what happens in Oldham, where Muslim children cannot currently get into the two Church of England schools. I congratulate one of those schools, which last week changed its admissions policy and said that it would deliberately take 15 per cent. of its pupils from non-Church of England backgrounds. That would not have happened without this debate—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may howl but, in reality, unless we are prepared to confront these issues and have these debates, nothing will change. That is why we are here.
New clause 18 offers an alternative. We intend to divide the House on new clause 1 and new clause 18, which would apply to faith schools that are created after the Bill is enacted. As for that being unfair to Muslim communities, the Church of England wants to create another 100 schools. The Sikh faith also wants new schools and there is a move by the Jewish community to have more Jewish schools. All of those would need to have an admissions policy that provided for a mixed intake. That would be a good thing. I will be happy if new clause 18 at least is accepted and I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will call my hon. Friend Dr. Harris to talk to new clause 2.
I join Mr. Willis in congratulating my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson on the way in which he introduced the debate. On the whole, the tone has been constructive and positive. To a large extent, the debate is welcome. The subject is raised outside the House and it is right that we debate it here. I have no objection to that, although I shall set out why it does not have much to do with the Bill.
I accept that there are things on which the House is united: a deep concern for tolerance and for more cohesive communities; a wish not to see a repeat of the events that occurred in many northern cities last summer; and a deep concern about the nature of the world after
I also accept as a given the fact that most parties are split on the subject, and some may be more divided than others. The divisions are born not out of an adherence to a political party, but out of long-held views that were not taken into account when hon. Members chose which political party to join. Although the debate is to do with politics, I accept and respect the fact that Labour Members can have legitimate views about the role of the Church and of faith and Church schools and still be honourable members of the party who have every right to stand for election on a Labour party manifesto.
Yes, but I want to make it clear that I will resist giving way after every other sentence, which has been the nature of the debate so far.
In view of the conciliatory tone of the Secretary of State's remarks, will she also accept that there are different views within the hierarchies of faith communities and the faith communities themselves? Bishops of the Church of England take the view expressed by my hon. Friend Mr. Willis and others. Some people, certainly in the Roman Catholic Church and of the Muslim faith, take the view endorsed by the Government. There are no fixed, certain positions on this. However, the younger generation is overwhelmingly against division by faith. Young people reject it whatever the—
Any organisation would be strange if it did not have a range of views, but I would not go as far as the hon. Gentleman. The Roman Catholic Church and parts of the Jewish and Muslim faiths think that they keep the faith base in their schools because most of the people who attend them practise that faith. That is not true of the Church of England. Its admissions are far more inclusive. It believes that its faith value base can offer a good education for children of different faiths. I respect those views.
However, like my hon. and good Friend Paul Goggins and Mr. Green, I am not going to base my arguments against the new clauses on the contention that faith schools are inherently better. My arguments stand whether or not faith schools are at the top of the performance tables. I am not busying myself counting the number of Church of England schools that featured in yesterday's Ofsted list of outstanding schools. I am not arguing against the amendments because faith schools have a higher academic standard. If they do so now, that may change in future, and they may not always have had such standards in the past.
The danger in using such an argument is that one unwittingly gives the impression that unless a school is a faith school, it cannot be a good school. Not a Member of this House feels that; no one feels that. Good schools are good schools whether they are faith schools or not. One way that I approach my job is to celebrate success wherever it occurs, and I never assume that success comes in any one shape, form, colour or creed.
I have always felt that the strength of faith schools for those who have a faith is a shared value base—a sense of purpose, mission and being. That needs to underpin any good school. Interestingly, I first experienced that not when I was a teacher in an inner-city, multiracial, non-faith school, but when I started visiting faith schools in my constituency as a much younger Member of Parliament from 1992. Faith schools find it easier to articulate such commonality.
I am not saying that any school that is not a faith school cannot have common values. Many non-faith schools strive for such values and find them. However, in a Roman Catholic school, there is a natural link between school and Church and home and community, which all of us who are interested in education know is the very foundation of the educational partnership that is good for children. Again, I am not saying that that does not exist outside Church schools. However, I have come to value and appreciate the fact that, for many people, it is easier to find in a faith school.
My argument against the amendments is one of tolerance, which is exactly the argument deployed by those who support the amendments. This debate is not about who is more tolerant; it is about how we go about creating the tolerant society that we want.
My right hon. Friend is saying that she finds in faith schools a commonality and an ability to promote inclusion and understanding of others. If that is true, surely it would be beneficial to the community as a whole and more in keeping with the ethos of those faith schools if they accepted people outside that faith. That would broaden the benefit.
Many do so; 20 per cent. of children in Roman Catholic secondary schools are not of the Christian faith, and many Church of England primary schools, which contribute to the 7,000 total voluntary aided schools, are the only primary school in their village and receive all-comers—everybody who lives there.
Head teachers in Roman Catholic schools in my constituency tell me that the fact that they are committed to admitting pupils by religious faith gives them their commonality and the link between home and Church and school. I do not want to take that away from them. That is what I regard as tolerance. I do not want to deny them the right and the ability, which they have had for a long time, to admit pupils according to faith to achieve the commonality and base that they value.
I am not saying that such commonality cannot be achieved elsewhere. I know, respect and applaud head teachers in inner-city, multiracial schools, which one might argue face more difficulty in establishing a common value base. I do not want to deny a Roman Catholic, a Muslim, a Methodist, or whoever, the ability to create that common value base if that is what they feel makes their school successful.
My right hon. Friend knows that the admissions policy in most Church schools is built on a lie. She talks about the commonality between the Church and the school. Why, then, do only about 8 per cent. of adults in this country attend church, whereas in America, where there is a separation of Church and state education, the churches are full?
People do not have to go to church to say that they belong to a particular faith. For the record, I am a confirmed member of the Church of England but, to be open about it, I do not attend church regularly; I go only at Christmas and for constituency carol services. However, we should not say that people who maintain that they adhere to a faith do so only if they attend church. Some Churches may say that people have to attend church on Sunday to adhere to a faith; I do not accept that argument, and would not want to deny people that right.
I shall explain what the Bill is about and quickly say why the new clauses and amendments are flawed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said that their intention is important and that if we really wanted to accept them, we could amend them in the Lords. He said that it was easier to draw up amendments in government and that the number of Government amendments on the amendment paper is an argument for that. The Bill is not about faith schools. Nowhere does it say anything about them; it will not introduce a single additional measure to establish more faith schools. It does not change decision making; it does not change anything; it does nothing to promote more faith schools.
In recent months, the Government have rightly said that we want to promote more faith schools, but we have not taken legislative powers to enable us to do so. We want to make a level playing field for existing powers. Prior to 1997, there were only Christian and Jewish voluntary aided schools; there were no Muslim, Sikh or Hindu schools. I shall come on to that later, but it is the reason for the Government saying that we want to promote more faith schools. In meetings with Labour Back Benchers and with the public, I have said, as Secretary of State and on behalf of my whole team, that I am not about to spend one minute of my time or one ounce of energy going out to promote more faith schools. Nor, as Secretary of State, am I likely to take one decision that will encourage more faith schools. However, to my dying day, I will defend the policy of making sure that our legislation can be accessed, without religious or any other kind of prejudice, by every single citizen and every single faith.
That is the nature of our debate. May I make it clear, particularly to Labour Back Benchers, that the Government rightly said in our manifesto that we will encourage faith schools "where parents wish it", and that we want to promote more faith schools? Our starting point is that it cannot be naturally right in a rich multicultural, multi-faith society that only Jews and Christians have managed to get faith-based schools. We would not look at the leadership of the country, find that it did not include many people of Afro-Caribbean and Asian minority faiths, then turn round and say, "They cannot have wanted it". We would say that the structure must work effectively, and it is in that sense that the Government have promoted the wish for more faith schools. I shall draw attention to a particular way in which we have done so in a few minutes.
I am grateful for the tone of the Secretary of State's comments, and for the way in which she dealt with faith schools and higher standards. She focused on the issues of choice and freedom, but does she acknowledge that page 37 of the White Paper "Schools—achieving success" says that the Government are seeking a system in which the best schools lead and create pressure for improvement? It says that they will deliver a better system by
"Expanding the number of Beacon schools, faith schools, and City Academies."
The Government have therefore argued that raising standards involves increasing the number of faith schools.
The Government have always made it clear that having a mission and, as I said at the outset, a shared value base makes a good school and spurs it on to success. The hon. Gentleman read out a list of schools in the White Paper; their inclusion suggests that schools find that shared mission and shared value in different ways. Some have found it through the specialist school movement, others through the beacon school movement, but some find it through being a faith school. If other schools want to find it through being a faith school, I do not want to deny them that route to a sense of mission and purpose.
In a few minutes, when I have made some progress.
There is nothing in the Bill that will make a difference to the current position. I shall tell the House how the decision will be made, as no one has asked about that and it is so important. If members of a faith want to start a new school, they will not come to me or to any of my successors. They will go to the local school organisation committee, on which are represented schools, the local authority, parents, governors and churches, which are likely to be Roman Catholic and Church of England churches.
The committee has a statutory obligation to consult. It will consult and make a decision. It will not ask us in the Department, it will not seek our permission and I will not authorise the decision. It will be nothing to do with me. That is what I mean when I say that we are not giving our energy or our time to promoting more faith schools. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough would appreciate the fact that we have said to local people, "You decide whether you want to admit to the family of local schools a new school of a voluntary aided nature."
I have emphasised that for two reasons. First, it is important for people to know that the Government do not intend centrally to create, authorise or designate more faith schools. Secondly, and probably more important, I know that people feel—I say this in the most sensitive way—that we have given the green light to members of various faiths who are at the more fundamentalist, more extreme end of their faith. Every faith has such members, and people feel that we have given them the green light to open schools. Whether that happens will be up to the local school organisation committee. Every new school must go through the school organisation committee, where the decision will be taken.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that, in the vision that she has rightly set out, one of the defence mechanisms needed against fundamentalism is to ensure that the direction is that schools must be inclusive? That is what we are arguing about today.
I agree, but I argue against the idea that the admissions policy is the best or only way to make a school inclusive—that is why I am so against the new clause—and that it solves the problem that the nation faces. That is the thrust of my comments.
My right hon. Friend encapsulates a great problem for many of us who are members of the Labour party and Members of the House. We hear that the Government will encourage more faith-based schools. We do not remember being consulted about that as members of the Labour party, and my right hon. Friend seems to be saying that Members of Parliament will never be able to vote on the issue. Whether or not we increase religious segregation is an important matter, and we ought to have some opportunity to debate it.
I am reminded that the subject was in our manifesto, which I quote:
"We will encourage more church and other faith-sponsored schools, where parents wish it."
That is the manifesto on which I stood and on which my hon. Friend stood. [Interruption.] I know that the House wants me to read more from the manifesto, but I shall resist the temptation.
I shall first say why I believe the new clauses are wrong, then I shall give way to my hon. Friend and fellow Birmingham Member.
Hon. Members should be clear about what they are voting about this evening. New clauses 1 and 18 are roughly similar, as has been said. It is a matter of timing for new schools and old schools. Essentially, the new clauses would prevent schools admitting children according to the faith of the child or the parents. We have spoken at length about giving that power to the LEA and I do not intend to go over that again. Hon. Members will make up their own mind whether they think the local education authority is the right body to exercise that power. The new clause does not state
"in agreement with the local admission forum", but
"after consultation with the admission forum".
The authority would consult the forum, but would not be obliged to reach agreement with it. Indeed, the LEA could make the decision without the agreement of the admission forum or even the school organisation committee.
I have two other serious concerns about the new clause. First, every single hon. Member knows what an admissions round at primary school transfer is like. My advice bureaux are full of people who did not get their first choice and we all write a lot of letters about such matters. What could happen in the middle of the admissions round? A school that does not reach its quota of faith-based applicants cannot say merely that it will do so next time. It would have to go back to the LEA, which would then have to consult the admission forum. The LEA would have to make a decision for every single school. The matter would then go back to the school, which would have to re-do its admissions round. That would be a disaster.
The new clause would also extend the right for schools to admit by faith. At the moment, the only schools that can admit on that basis are voluntary aided. The new clause would give the local authority the right to authorise any maintained school, whether or not it is voluntary aided, to admit between 20 and 75 per cent. of pupils by faith. Whereas the right to admit by faith currently belongs to 7,000 voluntary aided schools, the new clause could make it belong to 24,000 maintained schools.
My right hon. Friend may recall that when I introduced the new clauses, I said that it was quite possible that they were faulty—[Laughter.] They might be almost as faulty as the Bill, which requires 43 Government amendments on Report and will, no doubt, require an abundance of further amendments in the House of Lords. She should not try to foot-fault us, because she has the ability to do something next time there is a set or even a match.
I take my right hon. Friend's point, but it is very dangerous for politicians to table amendments and then say in the middle of the debate, "When you vote, don't for a minute think that you're voting on the amendment that is printed in black and white in front of you; we really didn't mean that, so please vote on something else." My affection for my right hon. Friend knows no bounds, but in terms of persuading people to take the risk that he proposes, I thought that he would want to get as many hon. Members as possible to vote for the new clause but in effect, he has just said, "Blimey, don't so many of you vote for it that it's passed, as it's not what I want to do."
I should declare an interest, as both my eldest daughters attend a Church of England school. I am entirely with the Secretary of State in her arguments about wanting to leave those schools free to set their own admissions arrangements. Does she agree, however, that if we leave schools with that right, it is important that they exercise it openly and transparently? They should ensure not only that the arrangements are inclusive wherever possible, while meeting parental preferences, but that the appeals system for admissions, whose amendment we are considering, is independent, so that the admissions criteria for Church of England schools are not operated by a cosy club in ways that lack proper integrity.
There are schools in each of the sectors that do not operate their admissions policies as openly as they should. It is not the thrust of my argument to say that Church schools do everything well. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, there are some that have an admissions policy that must be skewed—indeed, we have seen examples—to get the sort of intake that they achieve. I do not defend such practices, but I urge us not to judge the whole system on that basis.
No. One of the arguments against the new clause is that it does not provide for local consultation and would give power to the local education authority without agreement. I do not want to accept the new clauses, and I would not accept them if they were amended to provide for delegation to local school forums.
I want to explain my main reason for rejecting the new clauses. If they were accepted, we would stand less chance of attracting faith schools that are currently in the independent sector to the maintained sector. The number of pupils who are educated in faith schools in the independent sector has risen significantly in the past year. Paragraph 393 of the Ofsted report states:
"The number of pupils being educated in Muslim independent schools has increased by 40 per cent . . . in Jewish schools numbers are up by a quarter to nearly 9,000; and in evangelical Christian schools they have risen by around a fifth".
Since 1997, the Labour Government have admitted 13 non-Christian schools to the maintained sector. All but four were transferred from the independent sector. Those four were two Jewish primary schools in Hertfordshire, a Jewish primary school in Redbridge and a Greek Orthodox school in Croydon. The Sikh schools and the Muslim schools were all transferred from the independent sector.
I shall put my cards on the table. I want these schools to be in the maintained sector rather than the independent sector. I want them to be in the framework of accountability and their performance data to be placed in the public domain, as happens in the maintained sector. We do not all agree about that, but it is a strong argument. I also want faith schools to have to make available to their pupils the equal opportunities for boys and girls that schools in the maintained sector are obliged to provide. That is vital.
If we accept the new clause, I believe that an independent school that has to decide between remaining in the independent sector and being able to admit according to faith, on the one hand, and joining the maintained sector and running the risk of being instructed by an LEA that it can admit only 20 per cent. by faith—I accept that that is an extreme example—on the other, would remain in the independent sector. That would be a loss. Such a school would not close or cease to exist; its pupils would not transfer to multiracial, multicultural schools where, as if by fluke or magic, we have managed to get a good balance of colour, creed and race.
Forty per cent. more Muslim children attended independent schools this year because they had no choice. They wanted a faith-based education and they had to go to the independent sector because we had not made such provision in the maintained sector. It does not matter what I or any hon. Member thinks about what we would do for our children. In a multicultural age, when we show tolerance, I have no answer for a black constituent in Yardley, or someone in inner-city Nechells or Aston who asks, "How come if you're a Christian or a Jew you can exercise a right to voluntary aided, faith-based education, but if you're a Muslim or a Sikh, you can't?" If parents want faith-based schools, I want to make them available in the maintained sector. I therefore object to the new clauses in the name of tolerance, although, ironically, they were tabled in its name.
I respect the sincere views of my right hon. Friend. She speculated about why people choose the independent sector and she suggested that they do that because the option of faith-based state schools is not available. However, many Muslim children who grow up in inner-city areas find that they are not allowed to attend the faith-based school—of whatever Book—that they wish to join because it does not admit anyone who is not, for example, Catholic or Church of England. That is an equally valid reason for choosing the independent sector.
That point has been made by a number of hon. Members; it is a truism. I am not sure whether the argument has been put forward today—I have certainly heard it in the many debates that I have had about faith-based schools—that it would be terrible to exclude a child because it had brown hair. Of course that is the case. Life is never quite as simple as that, though. In defending the right of a Church or a faith to admit by faith, as I do, I entirely accept that the reverse of that principle is that someone may not be admitted to the school next door to their house because they are of a different faith. I would be silly to argue that that was not so.
Politics, like life, is always about weighing up someone's rights against someone else's freedoms. Those hon. Members who support new clause 1 have weighed up those rights and freedoms and come down on the side of giving the person living next to the Catholic school the right to go there, no matter what. I have come down on the side of giving the right to the Church to select by faith. I do not disparage the view of those hon. Members. I do not say that my view is better, but it is the view of the Government at the moment.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that there is an opportunity for new faith-based schools to be voluntary controlled, rather than voluntary aided? This would combine the opportunity for inclusion with the delivery of a religious ethos. Indeed, 40 per cent. of Anglican secondary schools already work in this way. Will my right hon. Friend at least contemplate encouraging faith-based schools to be voluntary controlled rather than 100 per cent. voluntary aided?
If they want to do that, fine, but I am not going to force them to do so. That is the main thrust of the point that I am making. What would happen in those circumstances—I know that the Local Government Association supports this view—is that the admissions criteria would change, as my hon. Friend rightly suggests. I have been speaking for far too long already, but the one thing that I hope to get over is that I defend a school's right to admit by faith to maintain the value base of that school.
I welcome the fact that the Church of England has an inclusive admissions policy. Inclusivity is essential and, as I said earlier, it does not always have to be achieved through an admissions policy. I am not standing here being critical of the fact that Roman Catholic schools, Muslim schools, Sikh schools—or whatever—have achieved inclusivity. I am not going to force them to do so, but I welcome schools that have achieved inclusivity either through an admissions policy or through other arrangements.
I want to make some progress, but I may give way later.
If we were to adopt new clause 1, we would be in real difficulty. I can quite understand the arguments. The inner-city school at which I taught for 18 years was multicultural; I think it was 70 or 80 per cent. non-white. Many of the schools in Birmingham are 99.8 or 99.9 per cent. Muslim, but they are not faith-based schools. The problem with new clause 1 is that it does not tackle any problems that might exist.
There are many all-Muslim schools in Birmingham that are brilliant schools. I do not want anybody to think that I am critical of them. They are little gems; they are good schools that give a good quality of education to their children. But we cannot start from the premise that we have an education system in which schools are all-Muslim, for example. Let us not forget that the reverse of that is illustrated in leafy Solihull, which abuts my constituency, and where the schools are 100 per cent. white and Christian. Do those schools present the same problem as the 100 per cent. Muslim schools? We have heard less talk about them than we have about the 100 per cent. Muslim schools. [Interruption.] I am not saying that this has been suggested by hon. Members who have spoken today, but nationally—people have come to talk to me about this—some people have shown far more concern about Muslim faith schools than they have ever shown about Christian or Jewish faith schools. I am not attributing such sentiments to any of my colleagues, but some people in our country have voiced those views.
Under new clause 1, we would have to change the intake of all maintained non-faith-based schools that happened to be 100 per cent. Muslim. I do not know how we would do that. Would we bus children in? Would there be a black/white quota in a maintained school that was not a voluntary faith school? Once hon. Members go down the road of trying to get a school to admit children of more than one faith, they are out of the argument about faith-based schools and into something far more complex.
I am having difficulty following this part of my right hon. Friend's argument. There is nothing in the new clause that would preclude the possibility of a faith-based school having an admissions policy. The only addition that we would like is that 20 per cent. of the intake should be either from another faith or from no faith. No one is attempting to reduce the autonomy of faith-based schools, but we are concerned that too much exclusivity can lead to real divisions in society.
With great respect to my hon. Friend, another provision in the new clause would mean that a school could find itself being allowed to take in only 25 per cent. of children from its own faith. It does not matter what I think; what the Churches say to me is that if they were reduced to that 25 per cent. point, they would feel that their commonality—the essence of what they feel their Church is all about—would go. If Church schools have an inclusive admissions policy, that is great, and I am not prepared to take that away from them, because that is how they feel.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the main flaw in new clause 1 is that it suggests that the use of selection criteria is a way of creating inclusivity? Many schools in my right hon. Friend's constituency and in mine do not have any religious basis; none the less, 100 per cent. of their pupils are drawn from a single denomination or religion. The question of inclusivity is about the practice in those schools, rather than the religion or the selection process.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I have been really worried about the debate on these issues over the last few months. What happened in Oldham and Bradford last summer was terrible. This is our nation, and every one of us wants far more cohesion than we have ever seen before. Every hon. Member with a multiracial constituency in a multiracial city goes home at the weekend and worries about the things that they hear, and about the lack of cohesiveness there.
My worry is that there are real issues out there about social cohesion; we, as a nation, have to face up to some very difficult issues. This is about fragmented communities, and about whole streets in which there is a feeling of alienation from what—whether we like it or not—is the majority culture. My fear is that the debate since last summer has not been about that. I say this guardedly, but the debate has been more about faith schools than about social cohesion. Let us not make faith schools the scapegoats for the lack of cohesion in some of our cities.
If we want to tackle this problem, we must address issues of urban development, housing allocation policy, employment and sheer racial discrimination. An Asian family in my outer-ring white constituency told me that they wanted to move back to Small Heath because they do not feel at home in my constituency. These issues are so complex. There is an argument to be had, and I would never say that schools do not have a role to play. They have a key role, but getting rid of faith schools will not solve the problems that I know Parliament wants to solve; it is about more than that. Please let us not make the admissions policies of faith-based schools the scapegoats for all the ills of what should be a multicultural society.
I want to tell the House how the school system should progress. This is a tougher job than one of fiddling about with admissions policies. This is about saying to children growing up in a very complex world, in which they have to experience all the pushes and pulls, that they should be proud of their historic culture and community, although that can sometimes vie with that of the nation in which they live.
There is a tribal instinct in all of us to be a little bit chauvinistic, although we want to encourage flexibility. We see all the competitiveness between different nations, groups and communities. Against that background, we have to teach tolerance to our children. It is more difficult for this generation of teachers, and for us as a generation of politicians, to teach that tolerance and flexibility in a society that is, by nature, more multicultural, but we have to do it. It will be a hard slog and I do not have all the answers.
All the factors that I have mentioned are involved, including citizenship on the national curriculum. I am immensely proud of that Government initiative, which will be available to everybody from September 2002. Regardless of whether the school is a faith school, we must ask teachers to find ways to let children mix. While the children are learning art, sport, music or drama together, regardless of whether the school is in a cluster or a partnership, teachers must provide an inclusive education. This debate must be about more than a child being able to say, "I am in a school that is only 20 per cent. Roman Catholic because of its admissions policy, so I know that I am tolerant." The challenge that faces us as a nation is much more than simply changing admissions policy.
No, I want to make progress.
For all those reasons, I do not support the new clause. In such a sensitive area, change must be secured by agreement. Even if the new clause were accepted, it would not have the agreement of the Roman Catholic Church or many minority faith Churches, although I sense that it would have the agreement of the Church of England. We would be accepting a new clause that flies in the face of the wishes of certain major religions in this country, without consultation and without plans being published. No manifesto, Green Paper or White Paper has made such provision.
The concordat afforded by the Education Act 1944 is important to me. I know that it is not set in stone, but if someone wants to change it, they should do so properly by putting forward their plans and reasons, and discussing such change. They should consider the real nature of the problems and confront the challenges that we face. With the greatest respect, they should not go for the easiest solution, which is to change in name the admissions arrangements of a faith school and pretend that we have conquered some of the real dilemmas that we face.
I have no less respect for my colleagues at the end of this debate than I have had throughout it. Ours is an honourable difference of opinion. If, in the name of inclusion, we accept the new clause, we shall make some people feel more excluded. In the name of tolerance, we would take away a freedom for Churches that has existed in this country for centuries. In the name of cohesion, we would ensure that some schools remained in the independent sector, rather than joining the family of schools in the maintained sector. This has been an incredibly constructive debate, but, for all those reasons, I trust that the House will not support the new clause.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak so early in the debate, and I begin by nailing an inaccuracy that has been perpetrated throughout—that we are discussing a 25 per cent. new clause. It is a 100 per cent. new clause that would make it unlawful for any school to admit a pupil on the grounds of attendance at religious worship by the child or his parents or the faith of the child or his parents. Schools would have to secure local education authority approval to admit not only 25, 50 or 75 per cent. of children on the basis of religious faith, but even a single child.
It is misleading—not deliberately so, but misleading none the less—for the proponents of the new clause continually to suggest that all that is required is that such schools be 25 per cent. inclusive. If hon. Members were representatives of the Church of England or the Roman Catholic or Muslim faiths, would they go to the trouble of setting up a school if they were not sure that they were permitted to admit pupils of their faith?
I and Mr. Willis, who is no longer in his place, know that many Church schools are inclusive. Some are perhaps 10, 15 or 20 per cent. inclusive—indeed, Church of England primary schools in villages in my constituency are 100 per cent. inclusive—but that does not solve the problem of those who want to set up new schools. If, in so doing, they are to invest time, energy and enthusiasm, and the pennies of the poor, they will want a guarantee that they may provide for people of their faith, as well as for those of others.
It was interesting to listen to the remarks made by the Secretary of State and, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. The right hon. Lady used the phrase "their schools", but Dr. Harris, who is also no longer is his place, said that they are not "their" schools, but our schools. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said that a few hon. Members want every faith school swept away. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon nodded vigorously at that assertion. Let us be absolutely clear: there are hon. Members, some of whom sit on the Liberal Democrat Benches, who want to end not only exclusivity in Church schools, but Church schools altogether.
Is not a key issue in the debate Britain's remarkable concordat, which—unlike in most countries—enables faith schools and non-faith schools to work together in the maintained sector? The Secretary of State argues that that is unique and remarkable. To overthrow it because of some passing thought is a very serious step to take, given how successful we have been.
I am tempted to ask Mr. Gummer on what basis he concludes that our support system for Church-based schools is uniquely successful and that those of all other countries with political systems similar to our own are not.
It is clear that there is a great divide between this country and many others, such as the United States of America. In the US, those who wish to be educated in the Roman faith have to attend an independent school—the equivalent of a non-maintained school—because that country has only secular schools. We are very fortunate to have Church schools within the state, so, to put it bluntly, one does not have to be wealthy to attend a Church school.
I hear what my right hon. Friend says, but I shall take the point seriously. [Interruption.] If Glenda Jackson will allow me, I will take her point seriously. Some people wish to establish schools for the benefit of adherents to their own faith. I believe, as I think many others do, that if those people are to incur the trouble, expense and commitment of their time involved, it must be in order to benefit the whole country, not just those fortunate enough to gain admission.
As the non-religious father of a child at a Church of England school, may I ask whether the hon. Gentleman is taking account of the Education Act 1944 when referring to Protestant and Catholic schools? Following
I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman's view, but I did not hear him use the words "Muslim" and "Sikh". I wonder whether he is one of those referred to by Mr. Dobson who have mentioned the possibility of Muslim and Sikh schools. I suspect that that is the hidden fear of some, mostly not Members of Parliament, who oppose the extension of faith schools.
That is exactly why I support proposals to include schools of all faiths in the body of maintained schools.
I was talking about the Liberal Democrats' long- standing hostility to the involvement of the Church in education. In Committee, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said that he had
"a fundamental objection to the state paying for the promulgation of a faith within a school . . . We should not be encouraging schools to be run for faiths, but promoting the coming together of faiths."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G,
That is the hon. Gentleman's view, and it seems to be the view of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, whom I think I heard say "Yes, yes." Nevertheless, those who adhere strongly to a faith, and indeed many who adhere less strongly, want their children to be brought up in that faith. Why should they not have that opportunity?
I know that the hon. Gentleman, like me, has not been a Member for long, but surely he is experienced enough, and sufficiently well versed in political issues, to know that the new clause is supported by many Liberal Democrats who are strongly committed to religion and to religion in schools. That is because they are concerned about the liberty of those whom the line that he is taking would exclude from good schools.
Of course I accept that, but I take a different view, and unlike the Secretary of State in her response to those whose views are different from hers, I think that I am right and that the hon. Gentleman is wrong.
The trouble is that the new clause and the speeches—especially that of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough—say different things. I do not decry what was said by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. That speech, however, suggested that this was a modest, even moderate proposal that would allow no more than a tweaking of the admissions policies of a minority of schools that currently accept 100 per cent. of pupils from the same faith. That is not the case. The new clause would have a much deeper more dangerous consequence: anyone who runs a faith school now—not to mention anyone proposing to establish one in the future—would have to obtain approval from the local authority before being legally entitled to admit a single child on the basis of the faith involved. That is what subsection (1) means.
I do not know whether supporters of the new clause envisage the establishment of bin Laden academies throughout the country, with the approval of school organisation committees or otherwise; but I do not think that the admission of pupils from other faiths would make such schools less fundamentalist, because I do not think that those from other faiths would apply for admission to schools with those unacceptable characteristics. The new clause is directed at, and would damage, the sensible, moderate, involved Church schools that are so successful in our community. For that reason, it should be resoundingly defeated.
I am pleased to follow Mr. Turner. He may not have been here for long, but he made an excellent speech. I also congratulate the Secretary of State. It is said that the best speeches come from the heart; she certainly spoke from the heart, but she also spoke with a deep knowledge of and commitment to the subject.
As Second Church Estates Commissioner, I want to put the Church of England's view. The Church has an historical partnership with the Government, and with local education authorities. Mr. Gummer mentioned that, and my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson referred to the concordat of 1944. The Church is concerned for the quality of education in all schools, and remains committed to providing education in line with its historical tradition, in all parts of society including areas of need.
The vast majority of the Church of England's 4,700 schools are neighbourhood schools serving their local communities. The Church welcomes opportunities for other faith communities to sponsor schools in the maintained sector, and believes that those too should be inclusive. It therefore believes that it has a distinctive contribution to make to the nation's education.
Parental demand for places in Church schools is high. Many of the secondary schools are over-subscribed. Last year, there were on average 1.6 applications for each year 7 place.
Whatever sympathy one may have with the philosophy behind the new clause, might it not have an unintended practical consequence? Might not popular Church schools be forced to take on people who do not belong to the faith in question while, in effect, excluding those who do but who come from less well-off backgrounds, who would be creamed off by the comprehensive sector?
The world is full of the law of the unintended consequence, and I think that the new clause falls into that category.
The heavy demand for places has resulted in some Church secondary schools' having an exclusively Christian intake, but the Church has adopted a national policy of seeking to ensure that all Church schools admit children from other faiths and from no faith. That is to enrich the educational experience of all the pupils, whatever their background.
Developing more Church of England secondary schools will help to ease the overall pressure on places and promote greater inclusivity. In that context, the Church is committed to providing an education on the basis of faith that creates the opportunity for a genuine encounter between different faith groups. Its approach is different from that of schools that do not have a distinctly religious character.
For those reasons, the Church would resist the imposition of a percentage quota of children to be admitted for diversity in new religious schools. A quota, be it 20 per cent. or some other figure, is too prescriptive. It may not be realistic in areas where the make-up of the local community does not support such a quota.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. However, we are dealing with this Bill and these new clauses, and my comments are directed to them.
The proposal for a quota fails to address the more widespread issue of how communities can become segregated as a result of housing policies or demography, an issue that relates as much to community schools as to schools with a religious character.
Lord Dearing's report entitled, "The Way Ahead: Church of England Schools in the New Millennium" referred to an appropriate balance in admissions policy between open and foundation places. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred in depth to admissions policy and admissions officers. It is a matter for local government, not for national prescription.
For those reasons I ask the House to reject the new clauses and the amendment.
The Secretary of State for Education and Skills was right when she referred to the historic compromise that is the basis on which our schools operate. It is important for the House to understand that for many people the religious content of education is the most important part of education. It may be that some do not believe that it is. I have been fortunate enough to be able to afford to choose the schools to which my children went. They went there because of the centrality of the faith that was taught there. It would be deeply intolerant to say that that choice should be available only to the faithful who are well off enough to make that choice. It is because I believe that that is a proper part of a tolerant society that I want to speak against the new clause.
It is clear that for some hon. Members the only good is a particular kind of multiculturalism and multiracialism—a system that ensures that no one shows any difference from anyone else. I can understand that, but I beg them to accept that for others that is not the paradigm. Many of us believe that people who are secure within their own faith find it easier to reach out to very different people than do those who are insecure in their background and faith. There are very good examples of that. Some of the greatest proponents of tolerance in intolerant societies have had the strongest adherence to their faith.
An important point was made by one Labour Member, who pointed out that by the accident of geography many schools almost end up being exclusively of one faith. Would it not be odd if we allowed schools that were faith based by accident, but excluded schools that were faith based on purpose? Schools that are faith based on purpose often seek to use their faith to extend an understanding of the brotherhood of man through an acceptance of the fatherhood of God. Those schools can often do more than any other in a community to extend the very tolerance that we seek.
To say that it is not acceptable to have a faith-based school is fundamentally contrary to the freedom that we have had in this country for centuries. It says to the whole nation that it is not proper for those with an income below what is required to pay for the education of their children to hold their faith so dearly that they want it to be the basis of that education. I find that a most intolerant position. I know that it upsets the hon. Member for Camden but she must understand that many of us feel that her position is the intolerant one, not ours. We are asking people to be allowed to have a choice even though they are not very rich. That should appeal to her, rather than cause her to object.
The right hon. Gentleman is as ill informed about the name of my constituency as he is about religious history in this country. I represent the seat of Hampstead and Highgate. Many Catholic educational foundations in this country had to provide their own education facilities for children because the prevailing Church of England view at that time was that they should be excluded from British society. Therefore, the argument that religion always informs and enlarges human understanding and is pledged to the greater brotherhood of man is wrong. That is by no means the history of religion in this country.
The fact that I referred to the hon. Lady's constituency by the borough in which it is situated is not an entirely wicked thing to do. Her partial view of history runs totally against the fact that all major social advance in this country has been carried through by those who have been motivated by their religious faith. To deny the influence of Wilberforce, to attack Salisbury, to say that the Churches have not had a fundamental levelling effect shows her ignorance of history. I would not like to have been responsible for her education.
This country is what it is because of the witness of men and women of faith. They have upheld the concept of the brotherhood of man because of their belief in the fatherhood of God. To deny children the right to go to a school where that is the central tenet upon which all depends is a very sad denial of freedom.
I do not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of wickedness, but he certainly does not need me to point out his overweening arrogance. Does he really claim that the advancement of the human situation is entirely and exclusively due to those who have practised a particular religious faith? That is clearly absurd and discounts the extraordinary cruelties and incredible prejudices that have been exercised in the name of various religions. It seems that his argument for the fundamental excellence of a religious education is as ill founded as his knowledge of the name of my constituency.
I thank the hon. Lady for that, although I was not intending to make that particular point. I wanted to say that there is a danger of language getting into excess, and it would be better to calm it down.
The hon. Lady rightly says that many people do many things in the name of religion that we would not support. I merely said that many of the major changes in this country of which she would approve were effected by people whose motivation came from their faith. To deny that is to deny a fundamental element in British history.
I departed from my usual emollient way of speaking precisely to flush that out. I know perfectly well why so many of those who will vote for the new clause will do so: not from the moderate, reasonable motives set out by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras or because they want to give a little bit of help to the difficult areas where inclusiveness is awkward, but in pursuance of their long-standing hatred of those who stand for something that they believe so deeply that they consider it the centre of their lives, want it to be the centre of their children's lives and do not want to exclude from it those who cannot afford to pay to make that choice.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that others will vote for the new clauses who share his faith, if not his denomination, and his view that there should be a right to have faith schools, but believe that it is wrong that any faith school should be able to insist that all its pupils be of its particular faith. That is a perfectly reasonable and moderate view.
It would be a perfectly reasonable position if it were not an exclusive one, but the hon. Gentleman is proposing not that some schools should be faith-based and admit a range of members of other faiths but that it should be illegal for a maintained school to have a fully faith-based intake. That, to me, is intolerance. One of the sadnesses is that the Liberal party has a three-line Whip on this. [Interruption.] As I understand it, the Liberals are under strong pressure to vote for the new clause—I put it as delicately as I can. That is a most illiberal proceeding from a party that once believed that people should be allowed to choose for themselves and not be bossed about by a lot of politicians deciding what is best for them.
This is a real debate. The difference between us is that, for many of us, the experience is that people have not been able to have that choice, because schools have chosen to exclude people of other faiths who want to attend them. All we are asking is that, if there is not a situation in which all the places are taken up—which is covered elsewhere in the new clauses—schools that take money from the state should be required to admit some pupils from faiths or denominations other than their own.
But the hon. Gentleman cannot say that and still deny that he wants to have a society in which no school may choose both to be part of the maintained sector and to have 100 per cent. of pupils from its own faith. I call that intolerant. It is divisive and unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman is insisting that his view of what is best should prevail against the view of, for example, the Roman Catholic Church or most Muslims.
No. Simon Hughes made a reasonable point and I want to explain to him why I think it is very serious. First, he is setting his view against that of very large sections of law-abiding and reasonable people who want the opposite. Secondly, whether he likes it or not, he is excluding from the experience of a faith-based school all those whose parents cannot afford to pay for it. To me, that is intolerant, too.
No, I will not give way to any of the hon. Gentlemen, because the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey intervened in a very courteous way and I want to explain to him the third reason why I feel that he is wrong. He is wrong because he is suggesting that we should not have wider rather than narrower choice in our society. I want people to have more choices, so although I do not like the fact that some children go to schools where there is no religious education at all, I have to accept that if people really want to make that choice, they must be able to do so. The hon. Gentleman must not therefore say that those of us for whom faith is the most important thing in life and education cannot choose it for our children unless we can pay for it.
I strongly support the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. I hope he will agree that it is also true that to foist an arbitrary quota of 25 per cent. on schools is in any event utterly inappropriate in certain localities.
The hon. Gentleman must be right, but it is also inappropriate for another reason: it applies a mechanistic system in place of choice. The trouble with choice is that it means trusting people. "Trust the people" was a very famous phrase. We have to trust the people to make decisions for their own children. I happen to believe that parents should do that, and that, as far as is humanly possible, we should do nothing to take that choice away.
I find it very odd that something that for many parents is the most important part of that choice should be restricted, and especially by a House that contains a predominance of people who do not take that view. This is a real issue. In a world in which the majority do not much care about these matters, it is an important part of democracy to give freedom of choice to those who do. It is part of the reticence of democracy that becomes more important when the vast majority think differently.
That is a travesty of what happened, and although I did a lot of jobs in government, I never had a job in an Education Department. If the hon. Gentleman had ever done any of those jobs, he would understand how these issues are decided. Moreover, if it would have been better to do that in the past, it must surely be wrong to say that in the future we should stop it. If he is saying that we should have done it earlier, why is he supporting the new clause, which would prevent it?
I recognise that there is a real problem when a particular faith has less connection with the historical fabric of a society, when we are trying to create a multicultural society. We know that. It is foolish to pretend that that is not so, but we have to take the risk. I am afraid that that is one of those things we have to do.
If Muslim parents want their children to go to a Muslim school, I do not believe it right for any of us to say that they may not, yet that is what the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras wants to do. [Interuption] It is no good the right hon. Gentleman accusing people of repenting when he will not allow Muslims to have all-faith schools. It is perfectly reasonable—
No, I wish to—[Hon. Members: "Give way."] I shall be happy to give way when I have finished my point. In that way, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will be able to put his point with the sharpness for which he is known.
If Muslims are to have choice, they must be able to choose the school that they think that they want. We must not say that they can have a Muslim school, but that 25 per cent. of its pupils must be non-Muslim. That is not what Muslims are asking for. They are asking for faith-based schools that are 100 per cent. Muslim. In a free society, they must be able to have that.
For a start, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. Had he bothered to read some of the letters that have been sent, he would have realised that Muslim representative organisations want their schools to be inclusive. They do not necessarily want them to be 100 per cent. Muslim.
It sticks in the craw to listen to any Tory talk about giving Muslims the opportunity to have Muslim schools. There was not the faintest chance of that happening when the Tories were in government. The opportunity for them to have such schools has arisen only since this Labour Government came to office. We are saying that we want equality, and that we want all religious schools to be willing to accept 20 or 25 per cent. of pupils from other faiths, and from no faiths. That sort of proposal is a function of central Government from which we should not resile.
The right hon. Gentleman must remember that the famous concordat of 1944 was based on the 50:50 contribution—
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras protests too much. Some Muslim organisations want to have the sort of mix that he describes, but others do not. The right hon. Gentleman says that he has the right—and I believe that he thinks he has the duty—to tell Muslims what they shall have. I am saying merely that I believe in a free society, and that people should be able to make this choice for themselves.
The real difficulty for me is that the party that is most against centralisation—the party that is always talking about local choice and that always wants decisions to be made at the lowest level possible—is busy saying that the one decision that people cannot make concerns the matter that for some people is the most important thing in life. That matter is the religious nature of the school to which they send their children.
People do not have to go to faith schools, and parents do not have to make the choice to send their children to such schools. If too few parents make that choice, faith schools will not be available. We suggest that people should be allowed to choose in big matters, not merely in small ones. There is an attitude to choice that suggests that it should be peripheral. I believe that people should be able to make choices about the important things in life. For some people, religious education is the most important thing in life, and so the choice for them is very important.
Would the right hon. Gentleman extend his belief in freedom of choice to allowing people to set up a humanist school, in which there would be no religious worship or daily service?
The hon. Gentleman knows that many schools behave in that way, even if they do not adopt that name. A school in my constituency is exactly as he describes. I do not agree with it, but I support its right to make the choice that it has made. Indeed, I had to fight the Government to prevent it from being closed down. That was because the Government did not like the progressive form of education that it was offering. The hon. Gentleman therefore cannot teach me anything on that issue.
I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to be careful, as he has slipped occasionally into criticising those who support the new clauses. The new clause proposes only limited admission control; it has nothing to do with any argument about the right to found schools of any faith. No hon. Member has argued that there should not be a right to found faith schools. There may be a debate about that, but it has not taken place today, and it is not part of the case being set out by the proponents of the new clauses.
The hon. Gentleman kindly brings us back to the key point in the debate—that choice should not be partial. It is not for him to say, "We will allow you choice, but only within the parameters that we consider decent."
Those who oppose the new clause are saying something different. We are saying that the glory of a tolerant society is that individuals can make choices that are extraordinary and huge. They can choose about big things that really matter, and which make a difference.
When I stood up for Summerhill school in my constituency, I was able to say to the then Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who is now Secretary of State for the Home Department, that although I did not like the school, that I would not send a child of mine to it and that I did not like the way it ran its education, I was willing to fight to the death for its right to teach in the way that it did. I was also willing to fight for its right to exclude people who wanted to choose a different kind of education.
Why should that choice be available only to those rich enough to pay for it? That is grossly unfair. Does the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey want the proposals to be extended to those who pay for their education? If not, his position is very peculiar. It is that only the poor shall be forced to go to schools with the mix proposed in the new clause, and that the rich will be excluded from that requirement.
That seems to me to be wholly intolerant, and reminds me of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, which wanted to suppress vice among those with an income of less than £500 a year. The new clause would achieve something similar, as it would suppress faith schools for those who are not rich enough to pay. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is being even less liberal than I thought him to be.
It is interesting that the party with the most liberal name should have become the party with the least liberal policies. Liberal Democrat Members think it is wicked to consider abortion wrong, and they now think it wicked to suggest that 100 per cent. of pupils at a faith school should be of one faith.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have been trying to avoid being provoked by him for some 20 minutes, but matters have reached a critical point.
Liberal Democrat Members of course understand the argument about choice presented by the right hon. Gentleman. However, is not his a rather short-sighted and partial view of choice? Let us assume that a new faith school has been built in a town in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, and that it has just gone to faith status. Let us assume, too, that a child who went through the primary system with his friends now wants to go on to the new school, which is only 30 yards down the road from where he lives. In my scenario, the school is of high quality, but the child is prevented from going to the school that he prefers, with his friends, because that school will not take any pupils who do not belong to the faith that it represents. What would the right hon. Gentleman say to that child and his parents when they came to see him at his constituency advice centre?
First, I have had to help a number of my constituents with regard to choice of schools. In my area, it is often true that not everyone is able to go to the school of first choice. Sometimes, I have to tell Roman Catholic children who cannot go to the Roman Catholic school that there is not enough space. The new clause, therefore, will not resolve that problem.
Secondly, I find it difficult to believe that propinquity is so important that it overshadows people's right to decide the nature of the school that they want to run. I do not understand why Mr. Laws does not accept that it is right for people to be able to make such choices. The choices that are made by people might upset the hon. Gentleman, or me. For example, some schools in my constituency do not, in my view, honour the faith status with which they were endowed. They have become so inclusive that it is difficult to tell the difference between them and schools with no faith base. I am sorry about that, but that is a decision for those schools to make. I have to accept that, if I want the right to make choices as I want, others must be able to do the same.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for finally giving way to the pressure to interrupt me, because I want to tell him that the danger to tolerance comes when those who would be tolerant are asked to accept something that they themselves do not like and do not want. We are in danger of becoming a society that is tolerant of everything that we accept but that is unwilling to be tolerant of things that are inimical to us.
I recognise the damage and the danger. That is why I have changed my mind about several social and moral issues. I used to believe that we should be much less tolerant of activities and actions of which I disapproved. I do not believe that now. I have come to that conclusion because we are in significant danger of having a cosy tolerance within limits, whereas we need the difficult tolerance of allowing people to make big choices that really matter and which for them are central and basic and which we must defend.
I speak in support of the new clause introduced by my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson because I want to put children and their education for the future at the centre of our lives. The most important thing we can do is to help them to live together in understanding—not segregated and attending different schools. We shall then have a more cohesive and decent society.
I also want to speak up for the 40 per cent. of people who admit to no religion. By and large, they have been excluded from the debate until now—and possibly from our manifesto.
I am the child of humanist, socialist parents. I went to a Church primary school because it was the only school in the village, so I had early experience of how it feels to be treated differently in school—because my parents were different. For many, many years I was quite intolerant of Church schools.
I then went through another phase. Like Mr. Gummer, I have found that I changed my mind as I went through life. However, during the past 10 or 15 years, I have turned back to my other views.
"The child shall have the right to freedom of expression: this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds."
That is a strong basis for education.
Like the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, I want a level playing field, but perhaps mine would be different: I want all our schools to be secular. Newfoundland has just got rid of its Church schools. That is a good thing and will enhance integration. I realise that that course is not possible for us, but my right hon. Friend's proposals will help us to progress to greater integration.
I challenge the notion that religion is a precondition for morality. It is not. A child brought up without religion can be a moral human being who knows the difference between right and wrong. We must challenge the notion that religion and morality are necessarily the same.
My experience of life shows me that many agnostics, atheists and humanists are often more tolerant than religious people. Many of my non-believer friends do not believe in capital punishment and do not want to drop bombs on civilians. However, I have many friends who are Christian or Muslim or from other faiths who hold the opposite view. We should not assume that just because people are religious they are superior to us. If we extend the number of faith schools, we are making the assumption that their religion makes them superior.
I want to address the argument that faith schools have a reputation for delivering better education—especially in the secondary sector. There is selection in faith schools: by their very nature they select. By selecting, they cream off pupils. They take less than their share of deprived children and more than their share of children from middle-class backgrounds.
I am from Halifax. I went through the whole saga of the Ridings school. Anyone who wants to study selection should go to Halifax. At the top of the pyramid are two grammar schools which select. Then there are two opted-out Church schools which also select. We are left with two secondary modern schools and the Ridings school. That is how selection works.
No, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal took up an enormous amount of time and I want to speak briefly.
In October, I tabled an early-day motion, which was signed by about 80 hon. Members, pointing out that faith schools are not only about selection but about the exclusion of children.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras touched on another issue that I want to raise. I want to sing the praises of teachers in community schools. Their moral values are no less than those of someone who opts to teach in a religious school. We should praise those teachers for their teaching about humanity and human values. When they talk about inclusivity, we should praise them—not denigrate them.
I have three more points. First, more faith schools will be damaging to racial and religious relations. About 8 per cent. of the people of Halifax are Muslim: not one of them has asked me to support them in setting up a separate Muslim school. I have held many discussions with them about education. Like all immigrant populations, they realise that education is the way to get on and to achieve integration. They are trying to better themselves and their children through education. I have never been asked for a Muslim school in Halifax and I am pleased about that. Incidentally, we were not consulted about the inclusion of the manifesto commitment on faith schools so I did not feel that I had to defend it during the general election.
I ask hon. Members to read Lord Ouseley's report: "Community Pride not Prejudice, Bradford Vision 2001". The report was commissioned before the Bradford riots and was published just after they took place. It asked several questions, one of which was:
"Why is community fragmentation along social, cultural, ethnic and religious lines occurring in the Bradford District?"
The conclusion was that the answer lies partly in education.
The young people of Bradford spoke for themselves about what had gone wrong. They complained that there was polarisation of communities along racial, ethnic and religious lines; that there was limited or non-existent interaction between schools; and that there was "virtual apartheid" in many secondary schools.
In his conclusion, Lord Ouseley noted:
"What was most inspiring was the great desire among young people for better education, more social and cultural integration . . . Young people realise that being taught in religious ghettos is not a good preparation for life in a multi-cultural society."
Those are the words and conclusions of those young people. They are not mine. Why cannot we listen to those voices?
I have already said that I would not take interventions. I have almost finished my speech.
My second point is about Northern Ireland. We cannot smooth over it and pretend that it does not exist. Anyone who witnessed little girls running the gauntlet of hatred as they tried to go to school—some of them for the first time—must reflect on the wisdom of segregation based on faith. We cannot ignore that problem.
My third point relates to the Cantle report, which makes it clear that separate education leads to lack of cohesion and integration. The report notes:
"The development of more faith-based schools may, in some cases, lead to an increase in mono-cultural schools."
Of course it will. It says that it will be a big problem for the future, so it is irresponsible to promote the idea any more. Faith schools are a big mistake.
I recognise that I am in a minority in the House in saying that I want secular education in all our schools. Obviously, we will not get it with the new clauses and the amendment. Faith schools are about division and I have had personal experience of that. They are also about selection. They encourage parents to lie about attendance at church. Only 8 per cent. of adults attend church in this country. People who do not agree with faith schools and do not want any more of them often ask me why the rest of us should pay to indoctrinate children in only one religion when our churches are empty. They ask why the churches are not doing their job. If their religion is so good, let them fill the churches.
Religious schools discriminate against everyone who is not of their faith. I disagree with the letter sent to the Secretary of State from the Muslim Council of Britain. The letter makes my point for me. It states that the council does not mind including a few children of different faiths, provided that they operate within a Muslim ethos. That will exclude any other ethos and it will not produce the healthy, well-educated and well-balanced child of the future. It will lead to more divisions.
I will support the new clause in the Lobby. I urge the Prime Minister to listen to this debate and to those of us who have spoken against having more faith schools. Let him, for once, listen to us, especially after
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a well respected journalist and Muslim, recently wrote these words of wisdom. She said that many people think that
"traditional multiculturalists believe that equity means that funding Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish schools must also mean state funding for Muslim and Hindu schools where there is sufficient demand . . . we need a different approach—to fairly represent the society we live in without breaking it up further into minority groups aided and abetted by the State."
She is completely against state funding for religious schools, saying
"there should not be state funding for state schools of any religion".
I totally agree.
In my life, I have gone on a journey through various points of view, some based on my early experiences, but in the past 10 years I have come to believe that in 2002 we must try to work towards a secular state education system that is bothered about education and not indoctrination.
I speak largely on behalf of my Muslim constituents in High Wycombe, who are a disadvantaged community whose views should be heard with respect. My Muslim constituents have told me—before the election and since—that they see Church of England and Catholic schools in the Wycombe area, but no Islamic schools. Whoever they may have voted for at the election, most of them want a Muslim or an all-girls school in the constituency.
The Bill would make it easier for faith schools to be established. The Secretary of State was careful to say that that was not the intention, but it is none the less clear that that would be the effect. What effect would the new clause have on the desires of my constituents? Subsection (2) is the most important part of the clause. It makes it clear that in the last resort, even though it is "after consultation", the local education authority
"may by regulation authorise"—
"authorise" is the key word—
"that . . . a maintained school may admit between 20 per cent. and 75 per cent. of pupils who have a particular faith or denomination."
I am not sure why those figures are given. Those who have supported the new clause did not explain them, but perhaps we may learn the reason in due course.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clearing that up at least. [Interruption.] I think that my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer is saying that that is still not an explanation. He may be right, but I want to return to the new clause.
If my Muslim constituents had a school that was maintained on the same basis as a Roman Catholic or Church of England school, under the new clause the local authority could in the last resort say that only 20 per cent. of its pupils could be Muslim. In the eyes of my constituents, a school with only 20 per cent. Muslim pupils would not be a Muslim school. I appreciate that Church of England schools are different, but my constituents are not thinking of those schools.
I fully accept what Mr. Willis said about his motives in introducing the clause. He said that he was not carrying on any vendetta against faith schools. However, the most important thing about the clause is its effect and I believe that in many parts of the country local authorities would tell people who wanted to set up a Muslim school, "We're sorry, but only 20 per cent. of your pupils can be Muslims." I may wrong, but I believe that to be the case.
My Muslim constituents do not oppose Church of England or Roman Catholic faith schools. They are happy that they are there. Were they following this debate closely and I hope that some of them will—
Some of them do go to such schools. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking me what my constituents want, the majority of my Muslim constituents—this includes the majority of those who voted for the Labour party at the election as well as those who voted for me—want a Muslim school.
The new clause would affect not only any future faith schools but those that exist at present. It simply states that "after consultation" the local authority could authorise those percentages in "a maintained school". That must mean any maintained school and not merely any such school that might be established.
I appreciate the careful and well-argued way in which the hon. Gentleman is developing his case. How much flexibility does he believe his constituents should have to determine the character of schools, both existing and new, in his area? Would he be willing for them to determine not only the religious nature of the school but whether it should take boys and girls or one sex only? Would he be willing to give his constituents any further powers or impose any further constraints on them as to the type of individuals or nationalities that might be accepted?
I made it clear to my future constituents at the election that I would be happy to have either an Islamic or a girls' school in Wycombe. I would not want 100 per cent. of the pupils in a Muslim school to be Muslim, but that is my personal view. I should like members of other faiths to be taken as a mix, but the important factor is what parents want and schools can manage, rather than what I as a politician lay down by diktat to my constituents. That is how the Conservative party's view is rather different from that of the Liberal Democrat party. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I want to return to new clause 1.
The principal point is that, under new clause 1, local authorities could tell existing faith schools that only 20 per cent. of their pupils could come from their religion. As I say, some Church of England schools would have no difficulty with that, but existing Roman Catholic and some Church of England and existing other religious schools would be placed in great difficulty by new clause 1. That is the key point.
To illustrate that point, I have a child at the London Oratory school and also a child at Our Lady of Victories school, both of which are in central London. Both schools are hugely over-subscribed and, sadly, have to exclude many Catholics. If new clause 1 were accepted, even more Catholics would be excluded from those schools and would have to go to schools that did not share their values. That would be unfair on those children and their parents, would it not?
My understanding of new clause 1 is not exactly that that would happen, but my hon. Friend is certainly right to say that it could happen. Throughout the country, many pupils and parents would be adversely affected in exactly the way that he describes.
For those reasons, I urge the House to reject the new clause. There is some clumsiness in its drafting. If I understood the Secretary of State correctly, under the new clause, if some religious fanatics happened to take over a local authority, they could insist, by diktat, that a maintained school should become a faith school. Those hon. Members who support new clause 1 have been somewhat careless, even though one of them is a former Secretary of State, but I shall leave that matter aside. In conclusion, there is no substantial motive to vote for the new clause, and I hope that the House will overwhelmingly reject it.
I represent a constituency where a large number of people from many different faiths live. I was born in India, and I have the experience of being a pupil in religious schools. I am not happy about the concept. I do not hold any religious views, but it is not a good concept. This is an interesting debate, and I have listened to many hon. Members speak about faith education and religious schools, but they have mostly talked about Christian or Muslim schools; not much has been said about the large Hindu and Sikh communities. I find from personal experience that there is not much support in the Sikh and Hindu communities for faith schools.
I am able to support many of the good things in the Bill. We have taken enormous strides in improving the provision of primary education since 1997. I am delighted that the Government are willing to put the necessary investment into education. It is with those improvements in mind that I broadly support the Bill, as it seeks to shift the focus to secondary school education. A frequently heard complaint—which, as a teacher, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills no doubt understands—is that schools and individual teachers often find the current legislation restrictive. That is the reason why I welcome the recurring theme of flexibility in the Bill.
I believe that teachers will welcome reform that removes imposed initiatives that can result in excessive work loads, and instead allows the freedom to create a less prescriptive curriculum framework. Although the Bill sets down the core and foundation subjects for key stage 4, it will allow changes to cater for the need to respond to the future shape of the post-14 curriculum.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must remind him that we are debating the new clause, not the Bill in general. He must confine his remarks to the new clause.
I was about to come to new clause 1, but I wanted to assure the Minister that I support the Bill. However, one aspect of policy that I do not feel able to applaud is the support for the expansion of faith schools, which troubles me greatly. I have a certain amount of sympathy for those who are seeking to address the admissions policy of faith schools.
I will set aside for the moment the more philosophical arguments put forward, including the thought-provoking ones outlined by Richard Dawkins in his open letter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. First and foremost, the research does not seem to support the confidence in expanding faith schools as a means of improving standards.
The Conservative think tank Civitas, which one might have expected to support the expansion of the role of the Church in education in fact argued in its report, "Faith and Education", that
"Church schools are not as good as the Government thinks."
The work by John Marks, director of the Civitas education unit, calls into question an automatic policy of expanding Church schools, pointing out that standards in faith schools are inconsistent, and I tend to agree with him.
Church schools may or may not intentionally select middle-class pupils, but they tend to end up with fewer children from poor families. A recent study carried out in Wales concluded that, when the different levels of free school meal entitlements had been taken into account, differences in performance between Church and other schools
"were not statistically significant".
The key to improving standards is surely to consider the nature of the teachings used in schools, rather than the faith-based element of any establishment.
Even if the empirical evidence on results did not throw into question the desire to expand faith schools, the possibly damaging effects outside the classroom should give pause for thought. I am not suggesting that all faith schools encourage segregation, and I am aware that there are some notably good faith establishments in the country, but the fact is that we do not live in a single-faith country, never mind a single-faith world. In my opinion, the policy will be divisive and will risk bringing down education standards in many areas. Furthermore, it is likely to cause social friction between and within communities.
I should like to cite the experience north of the border, where Aberdeen is the only one of the four big cities that has integrated schools; the others have religious segregation. Aberdeen does not suffer from the religious discrimination, division and dissention that can still sadly blight the life of Scotland.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend's view. A large part of who we are—our views, our aspirations and, unfortunately, our prejudice—is formed in childhood. Prejudice is more often than not due to ignorance, and faith schools are likely to create more ignorance among children who are not able to think for themselves; nor are their parents.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the way in which the multicultural and multiracial society has progressed over the past 30 or 40 years has been a great achievement? We have made society more harmonious. The creation of faith schools is likely to lead to segregation and not to the integration that has been the hallmark of our society. Does he agree that there are serious dangers with faith schools?
I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Ethnic minority children, in particular, have achieved greater success in education when they have gone to integrated schools. I came to this country in 1959. In the late 1960s, the National Front mounted a campaign to have ethnic minority children taught in segregated schools, but the advantages of integrated education for those children are great. In a segregated school—whether we call it a faith school or not—100 per cent. of the children will be from an ethnic minority community, and they will not receive the education that they should receive and that would enable them to fit into society when they finish their education. That is the great danger for ethnic minority children.
Faith schools will not provide an opportunity for children of many different faiths to work together, learn together and live together. Under the Conservative Government, schools were able to opt out of public control, and I remember that the official policy of the Labour party was to oppose opting out. I do not understand why the Labour party's policy has changed in favour of more private provision of education. We were against private education in principle, and I do not believe that people from poor families will benefit even from faith-based schools.
Education should remain the responsibility of the local education authorities and should not be handed over to private interests that are sometimes dominated by religious extremists. We might think that faith-based schools will be able to provide similar opportunities to children from other faiths, but that will not happen for ethnic minority children. We are trying to compare the current situation with what happened a century or two ago when Christian and Jewish schools were established. The situation is completely different now and we should not fall into the trap of accepting this new idea of faith schools.
We should pursue a pluralistic and secular approach to education. Religious schools will intentionally encourage people towards particular religious beliefs. Have we not learned enough from the madrassah schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Have we not learned from the attacks of
Faith schools will lead to children having less tolerance for children of other faiths. Such schools have the mission to provide education to the children of their faith and they are not directed towards achieving the standards of education that we need in a modern society and a modern economy.
Surely my hon. Friend accepts that the legislation introduced by the Government and reinforced by the Bill, which he said he supports, will maintain high standards. The fact that a school is a faith school and promotes a certain faith—whatever it may be—will not diminish the quality of education that it provides. Surely he cannot suggest that it would.
I am not sure about that. The Bill will extend the provisions to other faiths and there will be more faith schools. Many applications will be made and it is a tragedy that money from public funds will support such schools. My hon. Friend does not know what will happen. She presumes that standards will be maintained, but I do not agree with her.
It is not a presumption. The standards that have been set and enforced by the Government are designed solely to ensure that all schools of whatever faith offer a high quality of education. We cannot use arguments about standards to oppose faith schools or the expansion and extension of them.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. I seriously doubt whether the new faith schools will be able to maintain the standards that we expect.
If schools are based on religion, why should they not support the ideas of a certain faith? That is what they are meant for. They will teach more religion, and what teachers will they employ? We will not be able to control the religious fanatics who might teach in such schools.
Does my hon. Friend agree that however a school constitutes itself—whether as a faith school or not—it will be covered by legislative requirements concerning Ofsted, equal opportunities, the national curriculum and health and safety? Legislation spreads to all schools in all communities and applies to how they are run and how they meet the needs of children. Legislation applies to all schools, including any new faith schools.
Although my hon. Friend suggests that many restrictions will be placed on the new faith schools, supervisors will not be present in the school at all times to monitor those—the mullahs or others—who teach religion. Such schools will not necessarily stick to the rules and regulations required by the law.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Caroline Flint is entirely wrong? In its provisions for powers to innovate, the Bill will allow schools to disapply the national curriculum and every other piece of legislation that they want to disapply so that they can carry out what they think is right. That will give those schools exactly the opportunities that he has described.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
As I said, why should faith schools not support the ideas of a certain faith? However, that will lead to an increase in segregated education, and that is a reactionary move that is particularly damaging to the interests of ethnic minority children. Inspectors' reports show that Hindu and Sikh children do better than the Muslim children who are taught in segregated schools. That is because communities with more liberal ideas about education are more interested in obtaining a good education for their children.
If we provide an opportunity for religious people to have their own schools, we cannot stop them teaching what they want about their faith to their children. Such schools will lead to segregated education, which will damage the interests of ethnic minority children. There is a provision for state schools to give a religious education. They can provide whatever religious education a child might need, so why do we need more faith schools? There is no need for schools to be run or owned by a religious organisation.
The idea of a faith school is a reactionary one. It has the capacity to hinder the progress of the good education that is suited to modern society, the economy and possibly even scientific progress. In some American schools, topics such as evolution cannot be taught, are sidelined or are wholly dismissed. I hope that we never reach that stage. There is always an opportunity in faith schools and private schools to ignore what is required by the law. The national curriculum might mean that they have to teach certain subjects, but they might not be inclined to put their best efforts into that if it is contrary to everything that their faith tells them to believe.
We do not have to look as far as the dreadful attacks on New York and Washington to see the dangers of prejudice and the misunderstanding between cultures. We need only to look at the reports on last summer's riots in the north of England or the dreadful scenes in Northern Ireland where children were verbally abused or spat at on the way to school. Have we learned nothing from that experience?
Opinions were expressed after the Bradford riots that segregated schools can be a prime cause of racial hatred. It was also suggested that communities were fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines and that segregation in schools is one indicator of that trend. I am usually inclined to argue on the side of parental choice, and of course I would argue in favour of parents choosing to send their children to whatever school they like. If parents want to send their children to faith schools, and the demand is certainly there, some may ask why such schools should not be allowed. I believe that when society as a whole is at risk of being damaged, questions need to be asked. The danger of division through intolerance is an adequate ground for objecting to the provision in the Bill.
There is much to commend in the Bill and it is a shame that such worthy ideas as devolving more powers to head teachers have been overshadowed by the discussion and comment on faith schools. Like many other hon. Members, I am concerned about the idea of extending faith schools. Schools and religion are too uncomfortable a mix and the Government should not involve themselves in such a way.