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Mr. Dobson: If my hon. Friend has been listening to the debate, she will know that the Church of England proposes the establishment of 100 additional secondary schools to which new clause 18 would apply, so I do not think that she can single out the Hindus. As far as I can see, she is erecting a problem that does not exist. So far, I have not heard from anyone from any Hindu group who wants a Hindu school. Every Hindu group with which I have had connections has said that it does not want a Hindu school and is happy with the system as it is.
Ms Ward: I can tell my right hon. Friend that that is not the case and that representations are being made for a Hindu school. I accept that the more Muslim and Sikh schools that exist in the maintained sector, the more that demand will grow, but none the less, the demand is already there. My right hon. Friend referred to the 100 additional Church of England schools, but he misses my point, which is that the Church of England already has schools in the maintained sector, while the Hindu religion has no such schools. If it decided to enter the maintained sector, it would be the only mainstream religion to be discriminated against in terms of the whole of its religious education being controlled by a quota of a maximum of 75 per cent. I believe that that would be open to challenge in the courts.
You will not be surprised to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not support new clauses 1 and 18. I believe that it is right that we should extend the opportunities for an increase in the number of faith schools to more religions and that they should be encouraged by the Government's guidelines to work closely with other schools of faith and no faith, in the belief that religions promote in society the basics of good citizenship, values and standards. Of course, that is not to say that that is exclusive or that those who do not follow a faith do not have those values, but I believe that those are the core elements of all our main religions in this country and that it is for the good of our society that we see those values extended and promoted.
Mr. Hoban: It will perhaps come as no surprise that I concur with much of what the hon. Member for Watford (Ms Ward) has said, as she and I had a similar education. It was not exactly the same, however, as although we both attended Catholic primary schools, I attended not a Catholic convent but a Catholic comprehensive school.
I am not sure that a school can have the ethos of a faith school if it admits only 20 per cent. of its pupils on the basis of the faith that they share. I do not believe that that is possible. Some schools may decide that they can create the ethos of a Church or other faith school while accepting such a low proportion of pupils from a particular faith. However, it is important that it is the responsibility of the school and its parents to decide the appropriate mixture of admissions. I do not believe that it is the responsibility of Members of Parliament to tell schools how they should develop the religious composition of their pupil intake. Nor indeedI refer back to the speech of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)should we tell schools how to appoint or select their teachers on the basis of faith. For a school to be a genuine faith school, it must not be merely a brand with no brand values. We need to ensure that the values of those who participate in the school reinforce the values of the faith that it is meant to represent.
That is why it is right for us to oppose new clause 1 and allow schools the right to develop their own character to reflect the faith that they are there to work alongside. The Secretary of State described very well the situation of a Catholic school in terms of the relationship between the school, its pupils, the Church and the community. That characterisation illustrates the point well, as there is a mutually sustaining relationship between a faith school and the community that it serves.
I object to new clause 18 because, in particular, I do not think that it is right to deny to Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims the right to set up schools that support their faiths. It is wrong simply to draw a line in the sand, as the new clause proposes, and prevent people in those religions from setting up schools that have the right to determine their admissions policies and characters. Indeed, as somebody who has benefited from a faith school and a faith education, I find that proposal especially offensive. We should allow other religions to set up schools. New clause 18 would do nothing to promote the equality of esteem in which we should hold all religionsit would simply reinforce the status quo and not address the concerns that hon. Members who support the new clauses have so far expressed.
I should like to pick up on some of the comments about inclusivity and the assertion that faith schools are not inclusive. Faith schools can improve inclusivity in other ways than by changing their admissions policy. Recently, I spoke to a group of Muslims in my constituency who would like a Muslim school to serve the people of south-east Hampshire, although they recognise that to be inclusive, they would have to reach out to other faith groups and promote dialogue on moral and religious issues so that both parties to that dialogue could
Mr. Hoban: I accept that there is a point to that argument, but somebody who is confident in their own religion and has been educated within it will have a much stronger positiona position that allows one to argue from a point of view not of hostility, but of informed comment and discussionthan they would gain in a school of no faith at all.
Chris Grayling: Does my hon. Friend agree that the comments that we have just heard display a lack of comprehension of the strength that faith schools can bring to the understanding of different religions? My experience is that faith schools are better than any others at building cross-religious understanding, but I think that there is a lack of understanding of that point in the Chamber.
Mr. Hoban: Indeed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. I met the Muslim community in my constituency as part of an evening in Ramadan to which a canon from the Anglican cathedral in Portsmouth had been invited to discuss interfaith issues. Those discussions do not tend to take place in a local pub or café. On the occasion that I mentioned, they happened during a meeting of a religious group in an exclusive place. By demonstrating that they could start a dialogue in the Jamaat, Muslims showed that they could also do that in their schools. I therefore do not accept the point made by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry).
Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare): I simply want to attest to the fact that the perception of Catholic and other Church schools is sometimes wrong. I attended Catholic schools and I studied many different religions as well as Karl Marx and his manifesto. I was encouraged to do that, and I have ended up on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Such an education did not therefore do me much harm.
Mr. Berry: The hon. Gentleman asserts that interfaith dialogue is easier between two faith schools, but not a shred of evidence has been produced to support that. It is a great insult to the majority of non-faith maintained schools that promote interfaith dialogue to suggest that they cannot do that as well as faith schools.
Mr. Hoban: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point but I am not yet convinced by it. Those who speak with confidence about their faith can enter into dialogue more comfortably than those who have no deep understanding of a faith. I accept that some non-faith schools promote a dialogue. The original point was that faith schools can be exclusive, but faith schools can be inclusive by encouraging dialogue between different faith schools.
Let us consider social inclusivity. The Catholic school that I attended was in Durham. Its catchment area was more socially inclusive than that of the nearest state comprehensive school, which served a predominantly middle-class area. My Catholic comprehensive school served not only the centre of Durham but the former coalfield communities around the city. Although faith schools may have a single religion, they admit pupils of other religions and can be socially inclusive.