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Like the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, I received a letter from the Muslim Council of Britain. Mine came direct rather than through the Government Chief Whip. Its contents are interesting. It states:
The Muslim Council of Britain believes it is right that faith schools deliver an inclusive national curriculum and work in close partnership with other maintained schools to build greater understanding between different religious communities."
This country has a rigorous inspection regime because all of us, as part of wider society, have the right to know what goes on inside every school. If there is evidence that schools are falling below an acceptable standard, whether in general education or through anything to do with their religious background, remedial measures should be swift and effective.
We value diversity in education. Conservative Members believe that parents know better than politicians what is good for their children. That is a fundamental divide between most Conservative Members and Labour and Liberal Democrat Members. They believe that they know best; we believe that parents know best.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I speak as the parent of a child who attends a school with an intake of approximately 90 per cent. Muslim children. If that school became a Muslim school and did not show a willingness to take non-Muslims, my child would be prevented from attending it. That is already the case with the nearest school to where we live; it is a Catholic school, which my child is excluded from attending. How is the new clause going to prevent schools from becoming as inclusive as the Muslim Council and other faith-based organisations say that they want them to be? Why should schools exclude children such as mine?
Mr. Green: Let me move on to admissions, which hon. Members who are in favour of the new clause go on about. I admired the way in which the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras presented this as a modest proposal. He was no doubt hoping that most people would not have read new clauses 1 or 18. We should be clear what new clause 1 would do. It would not simply affect new Church schools but violently change the ethos of more than 6,000 mainly successful schools that are already operating. The coalition that signed up to this
I refer hon. Members to the details of new clause 1. Even in its own terms, it is peculiar. Subsection (1) sets out what I assume to be the right hon. Gentleman's ideal case: a 0 per cent. target for religious admissions. Subsection (2) amends that target to between 20 and 75 per cent.both completely arbitrary figures, so far as I can see. I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would explain why he had chosen those two numbers, but he failed to do so. Subsection (3) throws in the towel altogether and states that a school can have 100 per cent. religious admissions, but only if it cannot fill its places.
Let us be clear about the effect of new clause 1. All those who ask how this would affect admissions should consider this. If a school is unpopular, it can become faith-based. If a school is popular, perhaps because it is faith-based, it will have to have the very reason for its popularity taken away. Frankly, I fail to see how that would improve education. In fact, I suspect that unpopular schoolsperhaps those whose rolls are falling because the population in the area is fallingwould be the most vulnerable to what the supporters of the new clause are most worried about: being taken over by a religious sect that would try to do something with them of which those hon. Members would disapprove. But those are precisely the schools that the new clause would make most likely to go that way. Even in its own terms, the new clause is therefore defective. If I were against Church schools, I would think that this was a peculiar way to proceed.
Mr. Chaytor: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the popular schools are over-subscribed because of the quality of the religion or because of their results? Will he tell us how many schools he thinks there are in the country that perform poorly but are over-subscribed entirely because of their religion?
Mr. Green: Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not profess to know why millions of parents around the country choose the schools that they do. More to the point, nor do I seek to dictate their choice. That is the fundamental difference between us. Neither I nor the Secretary of State nor anyone else in the House has the wisdom to dictate to parents what type of school they should send their children to. Sadly, the supporters of the new clause think that they have that wisdom; I think that they are wrong.
Glenda Jackson: In effect, the hon. Gentleman is attempting to dictate to parents where they can send their children to school. He is arguing that if a child lived next door to a Catholic, Church of England or Muslim school, but did not practise any of those religionsindeed,
Mr. Green: That is precisely not what I am doing. If I were tabling a new clause that stated that every faith-based school had to take 100 per cent. of its children from its own particular faith, the hon. Lady would have a good point. As it is, I am not suggesting anything of the kind. It is she and those on her side in this debate who are trying to dictate to parents. I am saying that parents should have choice and that schools should have choice.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras says that Church of England schools and schools of all faiths wish to choose that option, but I say that he should not be allowed to dictate to them. He said that a passage in his speech dealt with central diktats, but he did not deal with them. Of course he is trying to put forward central diktats. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) and her hon. Friends are trying to dictate to parents, not those of us on this side of the argument.
Mr. Kerry Pollard (St. Albans): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Catholic hierarchy in this country advises its schools that up to 10 per cent. of their intake should consist of children of other faiths or no faith at all?
Glenda Jackson: I was arguing not about the Catholic hierarchy, but with the hon. Gentleman's argument that my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was attempting to dictate to parents. My point, which I proved, is that the hon. Gentleman is attempting to dictate to parents by denying children who live close to a faith-based school but do not practise its religion access to it.
Mr. Green: Let me make the point simply for the hon. Lady. If, as the Catholic hierarchy says, 10 per cent. of the children should come from outside that faith, a child who lives next door to such a school has the chance to attend it. I am not seeking to dictate the ethos of such a school, but the hon. Lady is.
In essence, new clause 18, which is a soft-cop option, says, "We oppose this on principle, but we will start by standing still." Anyone who believes that there would be no further attempts to damage existing Church schools if new clause 18 were accepted is deluding himself. That would be only the first step