Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Andrew Turner: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on the word "moderate"?

Mr. Willis: 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.

6 Feb 2002 : Column 893

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.

Mr. Damian Green: 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.

Mr. Willis: 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.

Dr. Kumar: 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.

Mr. Willis: 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.

6 Feb 2002 : Column 894

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 the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) to talk to new clause 2.

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): I join the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (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 11 September. We also share an awareness that, as we are enriched by rightly becoming a more multiracial and multicultural society, it is more difficult and challenging to teach and encourage tolerance. That is our starting point. I accept that as a given for every hon. Member.

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.

Simon Hughes: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Estelle Morris: 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.

Simon Hughes: 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 the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and others. Some people, certainly in the Roman Catholic Church and of the Muslim faith, take the view endorsed by the Government.

6 Feb 2002 : Column 895

There are no fixed, certain positions on this. However, the younger generation is overwhelmingly against division by faith. Young people reject it whatever the—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Interventions must be brief.

Estelle Morris: 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 the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) and the hon. Member for Ashford (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.

Next Section

IndexHome Page