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Clive Efford: My right hon. Friend is saying that she finds in faith schools a commonality and an ability to

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promote inclusion and understanding of others. If that is true, surely it would be beneficial to the community as a whole and more in keeping with the ethos of those faith schools if they accepted people outside that faith. That would broaden the benefit.

Estelle Morris: Many do so; 20 per cent. of children in Roman Catholic secondary schools are not of the Christian faith, and many Church of England primary schools, which contribute to the 7,000 total voluntary aided schools, are the only primary school in their village and receive all-comers—everybody who lives there.

Head teachers in Roman Catholic schools in my constituency tell me that the fact that they are committed to admitting pupils by religious faith gives them their commonality and the link between home and Church and school. I do not want to take that away from them. That is what I regard as tolerance. I do not want to deny them the right and the ability, which they have had for a long time, to admit pupils according to faith to achieve the commonality and base that they value.

I am not saying that such commonality cannot be achieved elsewhere. I know, respect and applaud head teachers in inner-city, multiracial schools, which one might argue face more difficulty in establishing a common value base. I do not want to deny a Roman Catholic, a Muslim, a Methodist, or whoever, the ability to create that common value base if that is what they feel makes their school successful.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): My right hon. Friend knows that the admissions policy in most Church schools is built on a lie. She talks about the commonality between the Church and the school. Why, then, do only about 8 per cent. of adults in this country attend church, whereas in America, where there is a separation of Church and state education, the churches are full?

Estelle Morris: People do not have to go to church to say that they belong to a particular faith. For the record, I am a confirmed member of the Church of England but, to be open about it, I do not attend church regularly; I go only at Christmas and for constituency carol services. However, we should not say that people who maintain that they adhere to a faith do so only if they attend church. Some Churches may say that people have to attend church on Sunday to adhere to a faith; I do not accept that argument, and would not want to deny people that right.

5.30 pm

I shall explain what the Bill is about and quickly say why the new clauses and amendments are flawed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said that their intention is important and that if we really wanted to accept them, we could amend them in the Lords. He said that it was easier to draw up amendments in government and that the number of Government amendments on the amendment paper is an argument for that. The Bill is not about faith schools. Nowhere does it say anything about them; it will not introduce a single additional measure to establish more faith schools. It does not change decision making; it does not change anything; it does nothing to promote more faith schools.

In recent months, the Government have rightly said that we want to promote more faith schools, but we have not taken legislative powers to enable us to do so. We want

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to make a level playing field for existing powers. Prior to 1997, there were only Christian and Jewish voluntary aided schools; there were no Muslim, Sikh or Hindu schools. I shall come on to that later, but it is the reason for the Government saying that we want to promote more faith schools. In meetings with Labour Back Benchers and with the public, I have said, as Secretary of State and on behalf of my whole team, that I am not about to spend one minute of my time or one ounce of energy going out to promote more faith schools. Nor, as Secretary of State, am I likely to take one decision that will encourage more faith schools. However, to my dying day, I will defend the policy of making sure that our legislation can be accessed, without religious or any other kind of prejudice, by every single citizen and every single faith.

That is the nature of our debate. May I make it clear, particularly to Labour Back Benchers, that the Government rightly said in our manifesto that we will encourage faith schools "where parents wish it", and that we want to promote more faith schools? Our starting point is that it cannot be naturally right in a rich multicultural, multi-faith society that only Jews and Christians have managed to get faith-based schools. We would not look at the leadership of the country, find that it did not include many people of Afro-Caribbean and Asian minority faiths, then turn round and say, "They cannot have wanted it". We would say that the structure must work effectively, and it is in that sense that the Government have promoted the wish for more faith schools. I shall draw attention to a particular way in which we have done so in a few minutes.

Mr. Laws: I am grateful for the tone of the Secretary of State's comments, and for the way in which she dealt with faith schools and higher standards. She focused on the issues of choice and freedom, but does she acknowledge that page 37 of the White Paper "Schools—achieving success" says that the Government are seeking a system in which the best schools lead and create pressure for improvement? It says that they will deliver a better system by

The Government have therefore argued that raising standards involves increasing the number of faith schools.

Estelle Morris: The Government have always made it clear that having a mission and, as I said at the outset, a shared value base makes a good school and spurs it on to success. The hon. Gentleman read out a list of schools in the White Paper; their inclusion suggests that schools find that shared mission and shared value in different ways. Some have found it through the specialist school movement, others through the beacon school movement, but some find it through being a faith school. If other schools want to find it through being a faith school, I do not want to deny them that route to a sense of mission and purpose.

Geraint Davies: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Estelle Morris: In a few minutes, when I have made some progress.

There is nothing in the Bill that will make a difference to the current position. I shall tell the House how the decision will be made, as no one has asked about that and

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it is so important. If members of a faith want to start a new school, they will not come to me or to any of my successors. They will go to the local school organisation committee, on which are represented schools, the local authority, parents, governors and churches, which are likely to be Roman Catholic and Church of England churches.

The committee has a statutory obligation to consult. It will consult and make a decision. It will not ask us in the Department, it will not seek our permission and I will not authorise the decision. It will be nothing to do with me. That is what I mean when I say that we are not giving our energy or our time to promoting more faith schools. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough would appreciate the fact that we have said to local people, "You decide whether you want to admit to the family of local schools a new school of a voluntary aided nature."

I have emphasised that for two reasons. First, it is important for people to know that the Government do not intend centrally to create, authorise or designate more faith schools. Secondly, and probably more important, I know that people feel—I say this in the most sensitive way—that we have given the green light to members of various faiths who are at the more fundamentalist, more extreme end of their faith. Every faith has such members, and people feel that we have given them the green light to open schools. Whether that happens will be up to the local school organisation committee. Every new school must go through the school organisation committee, where the decision will be taken.

Mr. Willis: Does the right hon. Lady agree that, in the vision that she has rightly set out, one of the defence mechanisms needed against fundamentalism is to ensure that the direction is that schools must be inclusive? That is what we are arguing about today.

Estelle Morris: I agree, but I argue against the idea that the admissions policy is the best or only way to make a school inclusive—that is why I am so against the new clause—and that it solves the problem that the nation faces. That is the thrust of my comments.

Mr. Savidge: My right hon. Friend encapsulates a great problem for many of us who are members of the Labour party and Members of the House. We hear that the Government will encourage more faith-based schools. We do not remember being consulted about that as members of the Labour party, and my right hon. Friend seems to be saying that Members of Parliament will never be able to vote on the issue. Whether or not we increase religious segregation is an important matter, and we ought to have some opportunity to debate it.

Estelle Morris: I am reminded that the subject was in our manifesto, which I quote:

That is the manifesto on which I stood and on which my hon. Friend stood. [Interruption.] I know that the House wants me to read more from the manifesto, but I shall resist the temptation.

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