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Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Estelle Morris: No.

Several hon. Members rose

Estelle Morris: If I give way to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), I will have to give way to many other hon. Members.

I have no less respect for my colleagues at the end of this debate than I have had throughout it. Ours is an honourable difference of opinion. If, in the name of inclusion, we accept the new clause, we shall make some people feel more excluded. In the name of tolerance, we would take away a freedom for Churches that has existed in this country for centuries. In the name of cohesion, we would ensure that some schools remained in the independent sector, rather than joining the family of schools in the maintained sector. This has been an incredibly constructive debate, but, for all those reasons, I trust that the House will not support the new clause.

Mr. Andrew Turner: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak so early in the debate, and I begin by nailing an inaccuracy that has been perpetrated throughout—that we are discussing a 25 per cent. new clause. It is a 100 per cent. new clause that would make it unlawful for any school to admit a pupil on the grounds of attendance at religious worship by the child or his parents or the faith of the child or his parents. Schools would have to secure local education authority approval to admit not only 25, 50 or 75 per cent. of children on the basis of religious faith, but even a single child.

It is misleading—not deliberately so, but misleading none the less—for the proponents of the new clause continually to suggest that all that is required is that such schools be 25 per cent. inclusive. If hon. Members were representatives of the Church of England or the Roman Catholic or Muslim faiths, would they go to the trouble of setting up a school if they were not sure that they were permitted to admit pupils of their faith?

I and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who is no longer in his place, know that many Church schools are inclusive.

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Some are perhaps 10, 15 or 20 per cent. inclusive—indeed, Church of England primary schools in villages in my constituency are 100 per cent. inclusive—but that does not solve the problem of those who want to set up new schools. If, in so doing, they are to invest time, energy and enthusiasm, and the pennies of the poor, they will want a guarantee that they may provide for people of their faith, as well as for those of others.

It was interesting to listen to the remarks made by the Secretary of State and, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. The right hon. Lady used the phrase "their schools", but the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who is also no longer is his place, said that they are not "their" schools, but our schools. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said that a few hon. Members want every faith school swept away. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon nodded vigorously at that assertion. Let us be absolutely clear: there are hon. Members, some of whom sit on the Liberal Democrat Benches, who want to end not only exclusivity in Church schools, but Church schools altogether.

Mr. Gummer: Is not a key issue in the debate Britain's remarkable concordat, which—unlike in most countries—enables faith schools and non-faith schools to work together in the maintained sector? The Secretary of State argues that that is unique and remarkable. To overthrow it because of some passing thought is a very serious step to take, given how successful we have been.

Mr. Turner: My right hon. Friend is right, with a single and important exception. For the Liberal Democrats, that is no passing thought, but a long-standing hostility to Church involvement in education in this country.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: I am tempted to ask the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) on what basis he concludes that our support system for Church-based schools is uniquely successful and that those of all other countries with political systems similar to our own are not.

Mr. Turner: It is clear that there is a great divide between this country and many others, such as the United States of America. In the US, those who wish to be educated in the Roman faith have to attend an independent school—the equivalent of a non-maintained school—because that country has only secular schools. We are very fortunate to have Church schools within the state, so, to put it bluntly, one does not have to be wealthy to attend a Church school.

Glenda Jackson: The hon. Gentleman says that "we" enjoy such benefits, but we as a nation do not, because children can be excluded.

Mr. Gummer: That is a silly point.

Mr. Turner: I hear what my right hon. Friend says, but I shall take the point seriously. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) will allow me, I will take her point seriously. Some people wish to establish schools for the benefit of adherents to their own faith. I believe, as I think many others do, that if those

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people are to incur the trouble, expense and commitment of their time involved, it must be in order to benefit the whole country, not just those fortunate enough to gain admission.

Glenda Jackson: It was established earlier that 90 per cent. of the costs were met by taxpayers. I do not know where the "pennies of the poor" come in.

Mr. Turner: They come in by meeting the other 10 per cent., and they have met a great deal more in the past.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): As the non-religious father of a child at a Church of England school, may I ask whether the hon. Gentleman is taking account of the Education Act 1944 when referring to Protestant and Catholic schools? Following 11 September, Oldham, Bradford and the social disintegration in certain cities last year, many Labour Members fear that if we allow a big expansion of faith schools they will be seen as places in which to hide—that, rather than being part of a socially inclusive policy, they will be places where people barricade themselves inside the school gates, beyond the mainstream of society. Surely that is exactly what we do not want.

Mr. Turner: I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman's view, but I did not hear him use the words "Muslim" and "Sikh". I wonder whether he is one of those referred to by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) who have mentioned the possibility of Muslim and Sikh schools. I suspect that that is the hidden fear of some, mostly not Members of Parliament, who oppose the extension of faith schools.

Mr. Allen: My worry is that those who are probably at the greatest risk of social exclusion will not be included in mainstream schools.

Mr. Turner: That is exactly why I support proposals to include schools of all faiths in the body of maintained schools.

I was talking about the Liberal Democrats' long- standing hostility to the involvement of the Church in education. In Committee, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said that he had

That is the hon. Gentleman's view, and it seems to be the view of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, whom I think I heard say "Yes, yes." Nevertheless, those who adhere strongly to a faith, and indeed many who adhere less strongly, want their children to be brought up in that faith. Why should they not have that opportunity?

Mr. Laws: I know that the hon. Gentleman, like me, has not been a Member for long, but surely he is experienced enough, and sufficiently well versed in political issues, to know that the new clause is supported by many Liberal Democrats who are strongly committed to religion and to religion in schools. That is because they are concerned about the liberty of those whom the line that he is taking would exclude from good schools.

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6.15 pm

Mr. Turner: Of course I accept that, but I take a different view, and unlike the Secretary of State in her response to those whose views are different from hers, I think that I am right and that the hon. Gentleman is wrong.

The trouble is that the new clause and the speeches—especially that of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough—say different things. I do not decry what was said by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. That speech, however, suggested that this was a modest, even moderate proposal that would allow no more than a tweaking of the admissions policies of a minority of schools that currently accept 100 per cent. of pupils from the same faith. That is not the case. The new clause would have a much deeper more dangerous consequence: anyone who runs a faith school now—not to mention anyone proposing to establish one in the future—would have to obtain approval from the local authority before being legally entitled to admit a single child on the basis of the faith involved. That is what subsection (1) means.

I do not know whether supporters of the new clause envisage the establishment of bin Laden academies throughout the country, with the approval of school organisation committees or otherwise; but I do not think that the admission of pupils from other faiths would make such schools less fundamentalist, because I do not think that those from other faiths would apply for admission to schools with those unacceptable characteristics. The new clause is directed at, and would damage, the sensible, moderate, involved Church schools that are so successful in our community. For that reason, it should be resoundingly defeated.

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