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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I do not know if this helps the noble Baroness. I have looked at the

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consultative document issued by my local Birmingham University NHS trust. Out of a board of 35, it is proposing up to 12 partner organisations, including the PCT, the local authority and the University of Birmingham. But it is also consulting with other partnership organisations, including the University of Central England, Birmingham and Solihull Learning and Skills Council, Advantage West Midlands, the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, the Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine—a large organisation now that the MoD has moved to Birmingham in order to work with the health service there—various high sector groups, business groups, such as the CBI, and hospital volunteer services. It is clear that there can be a huge range of organisations, all of which clearly have an impact on health services. That indicates that foundation trusts can be left to sort this matter out for themselves.

Lord Clement-Jones: The noble Lord, Lord Hunt has, as ever, raised an interesting point. No doubt he speaks from the peculiar circumstances in Birmingham, although they may be replicated elsewhere. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister had information in the department about the average or actual numbers on the board of governors proposed by applicants for foundation trusts at the moment. He was talking about 13 being a somewhat extravagant number, whereas 35 seems to be an incredible number for a board of governors in those circumstances.

Lord Warner: Perhaps I may just clarify my position. I was not saying that 13 was an adequate, too large or too small number. I was using that example to show how the noble Lord's formula would work in a particular set of circumstances. I was not prejudging the right and appropriateness of any foundation trust to have a board of governors appropriate to its circumstances.

Lord Clement-Jones: That makes the numbers look rather modest and, therefore, the outcome of my proposal look extremely modest when compared to the 35 which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, so usefully mentioned.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Surely the point is this. If it is now decided that this is an advisory body, what is the problem in having a large number of people on it? Clearly, it has no real decisions to make. It is an advisory body; it might as well have as many groups and interests as it can.

Lord Clement-Jones: I could not agree more. I was not disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, or what the hospital proposes. But it makes 13 representatives, which the Minister said had to be the minimum number if there was to be one-fifth staff representation in those circumstances, look very modest. Therefore, my original amendment looks entirely reasonable and acceptable.

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1.30 p.m.

Baroness Noakes: The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has possibly shone greater illumination on this topic than did the Minister, although I am grateful to him for his response. I was surprised by the number of 35 and by the very long list of so-called partnership organisations which seem collectively to dominate that board of governors. I found that strange.

It may be that my probing amendment to search out the meaning of a "partnership organisation" was the wrong one to bring forward; perhaps we need a harder definition of which partnership organisations should be allowed to take part and what proportions would be appropriate for them.

The Minister did not answer fully the questions that I put to him. I asked him who is to judge whether an organisation is a partnership body. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, cited a long list of local bodies.

Lord Warner: Perhaps I may clarify that point. It was an oversight on my part. Under the present arrangements it is made clear that it is for the foundation trust, in making its application, to decide what is an appropriate group of partnership organisations.

Baroness Noakes: So we shall have yet more flexibility laid on top of an entirely vague set of proposals for the board of governors. The flaw in Schedule 1 dealing with the board of governors is not dealt with by this amendment; it goes much wider. I am sure that we shall return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]

Baroness Andrews: This may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until after Starred Questions. I therefore beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 3 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 1.32 p.m. to 3 p.m.]

Religious Education in Schools

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How their decision to set up a faith communities liaison group will affect the teaching of religious education in schools.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, a high-level steering group is taking forward the review of the

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Government's interface with the faith communities. The review, which was a manifesto commitment, is time-limited. Its objective is to consider the most effective means of bringing the perspectives of faith communities, where relevant, into policy-making and delivery. The review is not concerned with specific policy issues such as the teaching of religious education in schools.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, have the Government changed, or do they have it mind to change, the financing of church schools? I am not clear from what my noble friend said whether that aspect will be considered.

Can the Minister confirm that the capital costs for a new school or the expansion of an existing church school would allow LEAs or schools to apply for a fixed-rate incentive of #400,000, payable on approval of the proposals? Is my noble friend aware that millions of people who do not have any religious faith, or have a very thin religious faith, will be strongly opposed to such massive sums being used for this purpose?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have a long tradition of church schools in this country. As far as I am aware, there is no intention of changing the funding base of their existence within the school system. My noble friend asked a number of supplementary questions which go somewhat wider than the original Question. If I cannot cover any particular issue, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Ashton will be happy to provide more detail to the noble Lord on those points.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, is there not a big difference between treating children as Muslim children, Protestant children and Catholic children, as opposed to treating them as the children of Muslim, Catholic or Protestant parents? Is not the fundamental objection to religious schools that the two definitions are confused and the Government are supporting the first and not the second?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not agree. As I said, it has long been a tradition that we support faith schools within our system, and I do not see a great pressure to change that. Surely we are here to reflect the breadth of our society, and that is what the Government are trying to do.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it may come as a shock to the Minister, but I wholeheartedly support him. My government when it was in office, other governments before them and this Government, supported personally by the Prime Minister, have welcomed the contribution that church schools make in our country and, indeed, are encouraging more of them. Church schools provided the first free education in this country. Long may they continue.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not believe the noble Baroness asked a question, but I am inclined to agree with her.

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Lord Hylton: My Lords, can the Minister confirm, first, that the liaison group recognises that religious faith can contribute to good community relations; and, secondly, that religious motives sometimes fuel terrorism? Will the Government therefore encourage inter-faith dialogue to develop, and to include the extremes wherever possible, for the sake of peace both at home and abroad?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question. It reflects what is happening in the wider community. Faiths make a tremendous contribution to the health and well-being of active communities and play an important part in them. The Government's policy is to work with all faiths. We are grateful, in particular, to organisations such as the Inter Faith Network and for the important work that other representatives from the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and Buddhist faith communities contribute to the way in which the Government work to develop and strengthen our communities. The noble Lord's comments about extremes and extremists are broadly understood and supported by the Government.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the late Lord Runcie, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, remarked that when he served on the border commission for Yugoslavia after the war he was surprised even then that no one thought it necessary to have anyone on it who understood about religion. Does he agree that a society in which people are not deeply rooted in their own traditions but also have a deep awareness of the traditions of others in relation to faith, is a society which—as we now know about Yugoslavia and our own country— is storing up a great deal of trouble for itself? Does he therefore accept that many of us are delighted that the Government are prepared both to support religious education in schools and to engage all religious communities in policy-making and discussion in relation to regeneration, which is such an important matter for all communities of faith?


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