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3.39 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: 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.

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(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))'.

Mr. Dobson: 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 the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (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.

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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.

3.45 pm

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

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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.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) rose

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