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Several hon. Members rose

Estelle Morris: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies).

Geraint Davies: Will my right hon. Friend accept that there is an opportunity for new faith-based schools to be voluntary controlled, rather than voluntary aided? This would combine the opportunity for inclusion with the delivery of a religious ethos. Indeed, 40 per cent. of Anglican secondary schools already work in this way. Will my right hon. Friend at least contemplate encouraging faith-based schools to be voluntary controlled rather than 100 per cent. voluntary aided?

Estelle Morris: If they want to do that, fine, but I am not going to force them to do so. That is the main thrust of the point that I am making. What would happen in those circumstances—I know that the Local Government Association supports this view—is that the admissions criteria would change, as my hon. Friend rightly suggests. I have been speaking for far too long already, but the one thing that I hope to get over is that I defend a school's right to admit by faith to maintain the value base of that school.

I welcome the fact that the Church of England has an inclusive admissions policy. Inclusivity is essential and, as I said earlier, it does not always have to be achieved through an admissions policy. I am not standing here being critical of the fact that Roman Catholic schools, Muslim schools, Sikh schools—or whatever—have achieved inclusivity. I am not going to force them to do so, but I welcome schools that have achieved inclusivity either through an admissions policy or through other arrangements.

Several hon. Members rose

Estelle Morris: I want to make some progress, but I may give way later.

If we were to adopt new clause 1, we would be in real difficulty. I can quite understand the arguments. The inner-city school at which I taught for 18 years was multicultural; I think it was 70 or 80 per cent. non-white. Many of the schools in Birmingham are 99.8 or 99.9 per cent. Muslim, but they are not faith-based schools. The problem with new clause 1 is that it does not tackle any problems that might exist.

There are many all-Muslim schools in Birmingham that are brilliant schools. I do not want anybody to think that I am critical of them. They are little gems; they are good schools that give a good quality of education to their children. But we cannot start from the premise that we have an education system in which schools are

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all-Muslim, for example. Let us not forget that the reverse of that is illustrated in leafy Solihull, which abuts my constituency, and where the schools are 100 per cent. white and Christian. Do those schools present the same problem as the 100 per cent. Muslim schools? We have heard less talk about them than we have about the 100 per cent. Muslim schools. [Interruption.] I am not saying that this has been suggested by hon. Members who have spoken today, but nationally—people have come to talk to me about this—some people have shown far more concern about Muslim faith schools than they have ever shown about Christian or Jewish faith schools. I am not attributing such sentiments to any of my colleagues, but some people in our country have voiced those views.

Under new clause 1, we would have to change the intake of all maintained non-faith-based schools that happened to be 100 per cent. Muslim. I do not know how we would do that. Would we bus children in? Would there be a black/white quota in a maintained school that was not a voluntary faith school? Once hon. Members go down the road of trying to get a school to admit children of more than one faith, they are out of the argument about faith-based schools and into something far more complex.

Glenda Jackson: I am having difficulty following this part of my right hon. Friend's argument. There is nothing in the new clause that would preclude the possibility of a faith-based school having an admissions policy. The only addition that we would like is that 20 per cent. of the intake should be either from another faith or from no faith. No one is attempting to reduce the autonomy of faith-based schools, but we are concerned that too much exclusivity can lead to real divisions in society.

Estelle Morris: With great respect to my hon. Friend, another provision in the new clause would mean that a school could find itself being allowed to take in only 25 per cent. of children from its own faith. It does not matter what I think; what the Churches say to me is that if they were reduced to that 25 per cent. point, they would feel that their commonality—the essence of what they feel their Church is all about—would go. If Church schools have an inclusive admissions policy, that is great, and I am not prepared to take that away from them, because that is how they feel.

Mrs. Fitzsimons: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the main flaw in new clause 1 is that it suggests that the use of selection criteria is a way of creating inclusivity? Many schools in my right hon. Friend's constituency and in mine do not have any religious basis; none the less, 100 per cent. of their pupils are drawn from a single denomination or religion. The question of inclusivity is about the practice in those schools, rather than the religion or the selection process.

Estelle Morris: I agree with my hon. Friend. I have been really worried about the debate on these issues over the last few months. What happened in Oldham and Bradford last summer was terrible. This is our nation, and every one of us wants far more cohesion than we have ever seen before. Every hon. Member with a multiracial constituency in a multiracial city goes home at the weekend and worries about the things that they hear, and about the lack of cohesiveness there.

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My worry is that there are real issues out there about social cohesion; we, as a nation, have to face up to some very difficult issues. This is about fragmented communities, and about whole streets in which there is a feeling of alienation from what—whether we like it or not—is the majority culture. My fear is that the debate since last summer has not been about that. I say this guardedly, but the debate has been more about faith schools than about social cohesion. Let us not make faith schools the scapegoats for the lack of cohesion in some of our cities.

If we want to tackle this problem, we must address issues of urban development, housing allocation policy, employment and sheer racial discrimination. An Asian family in my outer-ring white constituency told me that they wanted to move back to Small Heath because they do not feel at home in my constituency. These issues are so complex. There is an argument to be had, and I would never say that schools do not have a role to play. They have a key role, but getting rid of faith schools will not solve the problems that I know Parliament wants to solve; it is about more than that. Please let us not make the admissions policies of faith-based schools the scapegoats for all the ills of what should be a multicultural society.

I want to tell the House how the school system should progress. This is a tougher job than one of fiddling about with admissions policies. This is about saying to children growing up in a very complex world, in which they have to experience all the pushes and pulls, that they should be proud of their historic culture and community, although that can sometimes vie with that of the nation in which they live.

There is a tribal instinct in all of us to be a little bit chauvinistic, although we want to encourage flexibility. We see all the competitiveness between different nations, groups and communities. Against that background, we have to teach tolerance to our children. It is more difficult for this generation of teachers, and for us as a generation of politicians, to teach that tolerance and flexibility in a society that is, by nature, more multicultural, but we have to do it. It will be a hard slog and I do not have all the answers.

All the factors that I have mentioned are involved, including citizenship on the national curriculum. I am immensely proud of that Government initiative, which will be available to everybody from September 2002. Regardless of whether the school is a faith school, we must ask teachers to find ways to let children mix. While the children are learning art, sport, music or drama together, regardless of whether the school is in a cluster or a partnership, teachers must provide an inclusive education. This debate must be about more than a child being able to say, "I am in a school that is only 20 per cent. Roman Catholic because of its admissions policy, so I know that I am tolerant." The challenge that faces us as a nation is much more than simply changing admissions policy.

6 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Estelle Morris: No, I want to make progress.

For all those reasons, I do not support the new clause. In such a sensitive area, change must be secured by agreement. Even if the new clause were accepted, it would

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not have the agreement of the Roman Catholic Church or many minority faith Churches, although I sense that it would have the agreement of the Church of England. We would be accepting a new clause that flies in the face of the wishes of certain major religions in this country, without consultation and without plans being published. No manifesto, Green Paper or White Paper has made such provision.

The concordat afforded by the Education Act 1944 is important to me. I know that it is not set in stone, but if someone wants to change it, they should do so properly by putting forward their plans and reasons, and discussing such change. They should consider the real nature of the problems and confront the challenges that we face. With the greatest respect, they should not go for the easiest solution, which is to change in name the admissions arrangements of a faith school and pretend that we have conquered some of the real dilemmas that we face.

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