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Mr. Turner: 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.
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.
Another argument advanced by both the hon. Member for Ashford and the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) is that Church schools are successful because they are Church schools. I fundamentally disagree.
Let us deal with schools that are successfulalthough 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 schoolstheir catchment area, the number of pupils taking free school meals and the special educational needs factorthey 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
Mr. Willis: 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 exclusivethey want to broaden their boundaries.
Mr. Goodman: Is not my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (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?
Mr. Willis: I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House know me reasonably well by nowwell 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.
Paul Goggins: 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.
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 inclusivethey encourage children from other faithsthey 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 policiesin a Church of England primary school in the constituency of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) 95 per cent. of the pupils are from Muslim backgroundsa 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.
Mr. Damian Green: 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.
Mr. Willis: 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.
Mr. Willis: No, I will not give way for a second time because the hon. Gentleman was not nice last time. [Interruption.] The argument adduced by the hon. Member for Ashford is not worth serious consideration.
Simon Hughes: 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
Mr. Willis: 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.
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.