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Angela Watkinson: Let us imagine that the new clause is agreed and denominational schools are obliged to accept applications from anybody, irrespective of faith. Supposing that of those interviewed the best person for the job happened to share the school's faith. How do you then—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must use parliamentary language. When she says "you", she is addressing the Chair and not the hon. Gentleman.

Angela Watkinson: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. How does the hon. Gentleman think that the school could be protected from challenge by applicants who are unsuccessful and do not share the school's faith?

Dr. Evan Harris: I am asking that a situation obtain which obtains in every other circumstance—in the state sector, certainly. One would hope that under the provisions of the EU employment directive, which I hope the hon. Lady's party supports, although I think it is still considering it, appointments could be challenged in an employment tribunal. Clearly, the school might consider it a bonus if the best candidate were also of the same faith, but I am arguing that the best candidate should not be rejected and that a good teacher should not be sacked or overlooked for promotion simply because of their beliefs or whether they attend church or mosque in their private time. The provisions are inappropriate and I cannot understand how they can be defended.

7.45 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's remarks about teachers in faith schools. I do not know whether he has attended a faith school. I have, and I know from experience that teachers at that school were a combination of those who supported that faith and those who did not support it—some were practising Catholics, others were not. The school's duty was to balance the needs of supporting and sustaining the religious faith of its pupils with achieving the best examination results—as well as other factors. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that the new clause relates to a very narrow example of how faith works in schools? There are much broader issues, which he seems to have ignored so far in his speech.

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Dr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman has fallen into the same trap as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) in arguing that the job of a religious school is to promote its religion. As I understand it, the job of religious schools is to promote an ethos and not a particular religion. That point was made eloquently in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, whom the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who is no longer in his place, quoted. I believe that one can promote an ethos without determining what teachers do in their spare time with regard to their private religious beliefs.

There is a worry, as far as the Dearing committee's proposals for the Church of England's expansion are concerned, that there are not sufficient Christian teachers. Church of England schools constitute about one quarter of all schools, but Church of England membership, among which one might imagine the majority of Christian teachers in Church of England schools might count themselves, represents only 3 per cent. of the population. Some teachers in community schools will be members of the Church of England, so that reduces the pool even further.

The education officer of the Church of England London diocese has admitted publicly in the Church Times that it is unrealistic to expect to fill staff vacancies in Church schools by relying on practising Anglicans or even any Christians. Indeed, a Roman Catholic school has had to appoint its first non-Roman Catholic head. There are other examples, which I shall not go into, of concerns among the religions community that the position is unsustainable.

My third objection to the proposals is that they are unnecessary given the exemptions in the EU framework directive, which will come into force by December 2003. Effectively, it bans discrimination in employment on the grounds of religion, age, sexual orientation and disability. It is due to be brought into force in this country by that date, in terms of religion at least, and the Cabinet Office and the Department of Trade and Industry are consulting on how to do that. Some occupational exemptions are relevant and those should provide the protection that hon. Members might feel is required for certain posts in schools. The directive states that discrimination

One must ask whether teaching mathematics in a state school would lead to a genuine and determining occupational requirement to go to church on Sunday in one's spare time or whether what one really needs is someone who is good at teaching maths.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman refer the Tory party, whose members are sitting alongside him, to the American constitution, which states:

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If that is true of the United States, which is regarded as a liberal and democratic regime, why cannot it be true in this country?

Dr. Harris: I leave that question on the record for those who oppose the new clause to answer.

In the directive, the second occupational exemption to the general rule against discrimination states:

That exemption renders unnecessary the stringent provisions of section 60 of the School Standards and Framework Act, which deals with people being hired, fired and overlooked for promotion on the grounds of lawful and appropriate private activity. I hope that I have convinced hon. Members that sections 58 and 60 are not required in the context of those occupational exemptions.

Mr. Savidge: May I illustrate the hon. Gentleman's point with a historical anecdote from 1860, when Aberdeen was not quite as religiously tolerant as it is now? We eventually combined our two religious universities; one was Presbyterian, the other Episcopalian. We sacked the professor of physics because he was thought to have the wrong theological views on infralapsarianism or supralapsarianism; he was James Clerk Maxwell.

Dr. Harris: That is a fascinating historical example of the sort of thing that may arise. I worry that an expansion of faith schools, particularly in communities where strong religious views are held, may lead to more peril for employees. I am concerned about the Government's view of the EU framework directive. Paragraph 13.12 of their consultation document states:

I am concerned that, under section 60, no caretaker's job is safe in a religious school if it is felt that, to maintain the ethos, everyone employed by the school is required to be of a certain religion.

I have heard nothing about new clause 2 from the Secretary of State, so I urge the Minister, when he replies to the debate, either to provide reassurance or to try to justify the strong provision of section 60 against the need for freedom of belief, freedom of activity and freedom of thought.

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Ms Ward: I start by declaring that I am a product of the faith school system. I was educated at numerous Catholic primary schools and a Catholic convent school. I find incredibly offensive the suggestion of some hon. Members that people who attend faith schools, whatever their faith, whether Catholic, Anglican or anything else, leave school prejudiced, intolerant and unable to accept or understand the views of others. My experience and that of many people who have attended faith schools and Catholic schools is that, when we left the school gates, we returned home to a community. We lived in a street and played with the local kids who might, or might not, have gone to the same school, followed the same religion and decided to go to the same church. As children, we got involved in a range of extra-curricular activities and mixed with children of different faiths, nationalities and backgrounds. It is wrong to believe that our faith schools create intolerant communities.

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