The explanatory note in relation to clause 126 makes it clear that
“The 1998 Act as amended by the 2006 Act provides for a sixth-form pupil in a maintained school to withdraw from religious worship. This clause obliges the Secretary of State to make regulations to afford the same rights to sixth-form pupils in non-maintained special schools.”
Like the Government, we support the right of someone, post-16, to withdraw from religious study. After all, it is compatible with other decisions made by this House on the rights that young people have and are competent to enjoy at the age of 16.
However, is it not ironic that the Government believe that a person at 16 or 17 should be empowered to withdraw from religious study because they are competent to make that decision, yet do not believe that someone is competent, at that age, to make a decision on whether they should participate in education per se? It is the Government’s contention that it is okay for someone at the age of 16 to say that they do not want to study religion, but not okay to say that they do not want to study everything else.
That seems to me at best paradoxical and at worst something altogether less desirable. Surely, it is a contradiction which strikes at the very heart of the purpose of the Bill. As the issue of compulsion has informed our discussions from their beginning until now—almost the end—I could not resist the temptation to raise the issue again. We all want the ideal life for young people, do we not? We want a life that is both “full and reasonable”—
“a life to which the perception and creation of beauty, the enjoyment of real pleasure that is, shall be felt to be as necessary” to young people “as their daily bread.” I finish in those words of William Morris and I am sure that the Minister will respond in kind.
I think I will use my own words on this occasion and I apologise to those who were wanting more excerpts from the “Dictionary of Quotations”, or even the original source, because we all know that the hon. Gentleman is fond of bringing the original tomes into Committee and referring to them, as we have seen throughout our proceedings.
The current regulations for non-maintained special schools require religious worship and religious education to be provided for pupils in those schools unless their parents express a wish that they not do so. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 amended legislation for maintained special schools so that sixth-form pupils in those schools have the right to withdraw from religious worship. All we are seeking to do in this clause is to afford those same rights to sixth-form pupils in non-maintained special schools as exist in maintained special schools. There is no justification for treating sixth-form pupils differently just because they attend a different type of special school.
In making this change, we are not only achieving consistency but, in respect of the hon. Gentleman’s point, being consistent in saying that young people have a duty, that they are of sufficient maturity to be able to understand and fulfil that duty, and that we therefore similarly believe that they are of sufficient maturity to make up their own minds as to whether they want to participate in religious education and worship. I hope the Committee will support this clause.