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9.30 pm

To return to achievement in faith schools, it is true that there are many high-performing faith schools with strong academic results. However, if we look at their achievement in promulgating faith, it can be argued that they have been a disaster. As those schools have become more entrenched in our secondary school system, the number of practising Christians has declined year on year. Passionate supporters of faith schools must consider carefully the fact that the amendments would strengthen the role of religion by making it more inclusive.

Some long-standing members of the Church of England who were brought up in its faith and culture are almost in denial about the faith crisis in Christianity. The situation in the Isle of Wight, Gainsborough and Suffolk, Coastal may be different from that in the textile towns of east Lancashire and west Yorkshire. However, I urge hon. Members to look at what happens in most of our urban areas on Sunday, and consider how many people choose to practise their faith on Sunday and how many choose to go to the hypermarket. That is a central issue; the current structure of faith schools has served to undermine the credibility of the religious values that they wish to propagate.

Mr. Goodman: Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that most faith schools would be made stronger if local authorities insisted, as the amendments allow, that they reduce the proportion of pupils of that faith?

Mr. Chaytor: I am arguing that most faith schools would be stronger and that the faith itself would gain strength and wider support if the schools were more exclusive and less inclusive—[Hon. Members: "It is the other way around."] I am grateful for the correction. The various practices in admissions procedures, in which hypocrisy is entrenched, are part of the reason for the growing cynicism about religion in our society. I am neutral on religion. I do not oppose my party manifesto, which calls for an extension of faith schools; I am content to support diversity of school management. If it is a choice between Arthur Andersen and the Church of England, I go for the Church of England every time—[Interruption.] No, it is not a close-run thing; I would certainly choose the Church of England.

In our debate, we have not separated out the Church's different educational roles; we have not separated its role as propagandist, with which I am extremely uncomfortable, from its role as simple contractor, with which I am content. Again, I cite the Church of England school in my constituency, where a majority of pupils are Muslim. There are many similar examples across the country. I am happy for the Church of England, the Catholic Church, the Jewish religion, Methodism and the Muslim faith to manage and run a school, as long as their prime focus is the delivery of high-quality education, not simply the promulgation of the faith.

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My argument, which I do not think has been put this evening, is that for those who believe in Church schools, there is an advantage in supporting the new clause, because it can strengthen the role of Church schools. I ask them to consider seriously what has happened to the levels of membership of their religion over the past quarter of a century.

I was surprised to find that the Labour party manifesto included a reference to encouraging 100 new faith schools. I do not suppose that I was the only one who was surprised by that, but I am not opposed to it, as long as all religions have an equal chance of taking on the responsibility of running a school. Given that there is not an enormous number of confirmed Christians out there, waiting to go to Church of England schools, it is inevitable that if there are to be 100 new Church of England schools, unless the proportion of hypocrites in the population increases dramatically, those schools will have 20 per cent. or more pupils who are not practising Christians.

In one sense, the reality of Christianity in the country and the commitment in the manifesto make the substance of the new clause inevitable. However, if there were any attempt to develop 100 new Anglican schools, 100 new Catholic schools, 100 new Muslim schools, and 100 new Sikh schools, there would be serious consequences for social cohesion. I suspect that the vast majority of hon. Members would be extremely uncomfortable if those schools were entirely restricted to the members of that faith.

The new clause is the only way in which the Labour party manifesto can be implemented without serious social consequences. There is a choice for the Government: to crash ahead with the expansion of exclusive faith schools, with the consequences that we are all concerned about, or to go into reverse and try to hold back the tide and stifle the expansion of state schools, which would be a denial of what was said in the manifesto. The new clause is complementary to the manifesto, because it is the only way in which the pledge to encourage more faith schools can be satisfactorily implemented.

Mr. Rendel: I draw the attention of the House to a personal experience of mine, following the example of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). Some years ago I was lucky enough to be asked to become part of the audience during the recording of a version of the "Question Time" television programme.

On the panel that evening there were four members, of whom one was a Member of the House and a member of the Social Democratic and Labour party. As a result, there was some discussion of the Irish situation. After the panel had expressed their initial views, members of the audience were asked to give theirs. I suggested that perhaps it was time that we thought of desegregating the schools in Northern Ireland. I believed then that the fact that the two communities—the two faiths—were to a large extent being educated separately was one of the reasons why so many young people in Northern Ireland at that time were being brought up to think of members of the other community as the enemy, to be hated and to be opposed in everything that they did.

I am sad to have to tell the House that the response of the members of the panel to those few remarks was that although they accepted the general point that

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desegregation of the schools in Northern Ireland would in the long term introduce a much happier community in that sad country, it would simply take too long. There was no way that they could go with that policy because they needed to alter the situation and to bring peace and happiness back to that country in a much shorter time than changes to the education system could achieve.

That was 20 to 25 years ago. During that time, a whole generation of young people have grown up in Northern Ireland still with that same segregated system. We can see today some of the results. It is one of the great sadnesses of my adult life—I am sure that the same is true of many hon. Members—that so many young people in Northern Ireland from both communities have been shot or bombed since that time and, indeed, that the same has happened to a number of people on this side of the Irish sea. The amount of wealth and opportunity that has been wasted by the continuation of that struggle is a great sadness to us all. If we could only have found a way of avoiding it at the time, even if it had taken a generation to do so, would it not have been better to start so many years ago and to have a better situation now?

I believe that we have a duty to ensure that our schools include a wide variety of faiths where that is possible. As has often been said from the Liberal Democrat Benches, we have nothing against faith schools—there is no reason why we should not have schools that are run by and based on a faith—but I think that it is important that we should include members of different faiths in each of those schools, in order to ensure that people do not grow up in the sort of bigoted way that has, sadly, so often prevailed in Northern Ireland. I do not accept the Secretary of State's argument that we can simply introduce one or two lessons a week in civics, politics or democracy—or whatever one wants to call it—and thereby teach young people tolerance in the way that they can be taught tolerance out of their own experience, if they grow up with members of other faiths and communities, where they can come to learn that the humanity that binds us all together is so much greater and more important than the divide between different religions and communities.

Glenda Jackson: I rise briefly, essentially to rebut the arguments that have emanated from the Opposition Benches stating that the reason why my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) tabled the new clause is based on some sort of hatred of religion and that those of us who support their proposals share that hatred. Nothing could be further from the truth.

May I give the House the benefit of some of my personal experience? I went to a Church of England infant and junior school and can clearly remember when the moment in the day came for a Church of England religious observance. We all went to those schools; they were the only ones in the small place where I lived. At the time of day to which I refer, children who were of a Catholic or Jewish faith or of no faith at all were allowed to leave the room. We were often extremely envious of them, because they could play and we had to pray. I do not think, however, that that necessarily marked our attitude to them as human beings.

Hampstead and Highgate has a large number of faith-based schools, certainly in the primary sector. Without exception, they are committed to inclusivity. I

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have one faith-based school where I think that 56 different languages are spoken. I do not think that anybody ever bothers to ask the children what their religion is. All that that school is concerned with, like all the primary schools in my constituency, is ensuring that every child has the best possible education. I have one faith-based secondary school in my constituency, and yet all the secondary schools there are over-subscribed. Where I have difficulty in understanding why my own Government have problems with accepting the new clause is that—

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