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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 conurbationsor in our rural areas, for that matterare 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.
Mr. Dobson: Well, I was about to come on to that very point. My next note says, "Objectionscentral 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.
Mr. McLoughlin: 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?
Mr. Dobson: 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 fairnessI believe in equalitythat 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 choicethe school does the choosing.
Mr. Dobson: 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.
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.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley): 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.
Mr. Dobson: 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.
Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): 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.
Mr. Dobson: 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 the Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) has advanced the discussion.