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6.30 pm

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Lady rightly says that many people do many things in the name of religion that we would not support. I merely said that many of the major changes in this country of which she would approve were effected by people whose motivation came from their faith. To deny that is to deny a fundamental element in British history.

Mr. Goodman: Is not what the hon. Lady said a confirmation that, as some of us claimed earlier, the motivation of some of those behind the new clause is an apparent hatred of faith schools and of religion?

Mr. Gummer: I departed from my usual emollient way of speaking precisely to flush that out. I know perfectly well why so many of those who will vote for the new clause will do so: not from the moderate, reasonable motives set out by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras or because they want to give a little bit of help to the difficult areas where inclusiveness is awkward, but in pursuance of their long-standing hatred of those who stand for something that they believe so deeply that they consider it the centre of their lives, want it to be the centre of their children's lives and do not want to exclude from it those who cannot afford to pay to make that choice.

Mr. Berry: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: I really ought to give way to a Liberal.

Simon Hughes: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that others will vote for the new clauses who share his

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faith, if not his denomination, and his view that there should be a right to have faith schools, but believe that it is wrong that any faith school should be able to insist that all its pupils be of its particular faith. That is a perfectly reasonable and moderate view.

Mr. Gummer: It would be a perfectly reasonable position if it were not an exclusive one, but the hon. Gentleman is proposing not that some schools should be faith-based and admit a range of members of other faiths but that it should be illegal for a maintained school to have a fully faith-based intake. That, to me, is intolerance. One of the sadnesses is that the Liberal party has a three-line Whip on this. [Interruption.] As I understand it, the Liberals are under strong pressure to vote for the new clause—I put it as delicately as I can. That is a most illiberal proceeding from a party that once believed that people should be allowed to choose for themselves and not be bossed about by a lot of politicians deciding what is best for them.

Simon Hughes: This is a real debate. The difference between us is that, for many of us, the experience is that people have not been able to have that choice, because schools have chosen to exclude people of other faiths who want to attend them. All we are asking is that, if there is not a situation in which all the places are taken up—which is covered elsewhere in the new clauses—schools that take money from the state should be required to admit some pupils from faiths or denominations other than their own.

Mr. Gummer: But the hon. Gentleman cannot say that and still deny that he wants to have a society in which no school may choose both to be part of the maintained sector and to have 100 per cent. of pupils from its own faith. I call that intolerant. It is divisive and unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman is insisting that his view of what is best should prevail against the view of, for example, the Roman Catholic Church or most Muslims.

Mr. Berry: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made a reasonable point and I want to explain to him why I think it is very serious. First, he is setting his view against that of very large sections of law-abiding and reasonable people who want the opposite. Secondly, whether he likes it or not, he is excluding from the experience of a faith-based school all those whose parents cannot afford to pay for it. To me, that is intolerant, too.

Ian Lucas: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Berry: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I will not give way to any of the hon. Gentlemen, because the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey intervened in a very courteous way and I want to explain to him the third reason why I

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feel that he is wrong. He is wrong because he is suggesting that we should not have wider rather than narrower choice in our society. I want people to have more choices, so although I do not like the fact that some children go to schools where there is no religious education at all, I have to accept that if people really want to make that choice, they must be able to do so. The hon. Gentleman must not therefore say that those of us for whom faith is the most important thing in life and education cannot choose it for our children unless we can pay for it.

Mr. Burnett: I strongly support the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. I hope he will agree that it is also true that to foist an arbitrary quota of 25 per cent. on schools is in any event utterly inappropriate in certain localities.

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman must be right, but it is also inappropriate for another reason: it applies a mechanistic system in place of choice. The trouble with choice is that it means trusting people. "Trust the people" was a very famous phrase. We have to trust the people to make decisions for their own children. I happen to believe that parents should do that, and that, as far as is humanly possible, we should do nothing to take that choice away.

I find it very odd that something that for many parents is the most important part of that choice should be restricted, and especially by a House that contains a predominance of people who do not take that view. This is a real issue. In a world in which the majority do not much care about these matters, it is an important part of democracy to give freedom of choice to those who do. It is part of the reticence of democracy that becomes more important when the vast majority think differently.

Mr. Willis: How does the right hon. Gentleman square that position with the fact that, for all the years when he was in the Government—and indeed the Cabinet—they consistently denied the Muslim faith the right to have its own schools?

Mr. Gummer: That is a travesty of what happened, and although I did a lot of jobs in government, I never had a job in an Education Department. If the hon. Gentleman had ever done any of those jobs, he would understand how these issues are decided. Moreover, if it would have been better to do that in the past, it must surely be wrong to say that in the future we should stop it. If he is saying that we should have done it earlier, why is he supporting the new clause, which would prevent it?

I recognise that there is a real problem when a particular faith has less connection with the historical fabric of a society, when we are trying to create a multicultural society. We know that. It is foolish to pretend that that is not so, but we have to take the risk. I am afraid that that is one of those things we have to do.

If Muslim parents want their children to go to a Muslim school, I do not believe it right for any of us to say that they may not, yet that is what the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras wants to do. [Interuption] It is

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no good the right hon. Gentleman accusing people of repenting when he will not allow Muslims to have all-faith schools. It is perfectly reasonable—

Mr. Dobson: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I wish to—[Hon. Members: "Give way."] I shall be happy to give way when I have finished my point. In that way, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will be able to put his point with the sharpness for which he is known.

If Muslims are to have choice, they must be able to choose the school that they think that they want. We must not say that they can have a Muslim school, but that 25 per cent. of its pupils must be non-Muslim. That is not what Muslims are asking for. They are asking for faith-based schools that are 100 per cent. Muslim. In a free society, they must be able to have that.

Mr. Dobson: For a start, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. Had he bothered to read some of the letters that have been sent, he would have realised that Muslim representative organisations want their schools to be inclusive. They do not necessarily want them to be 100 per cent. Muslim.

It sticks in the craw to listen to any Tory talk about giving Muslims the opportunity to have Muslim schools. There was not the faintest chance of that happening when the Tories were in government. The opportunity for them to have such schools has arisen only since this Labour Government came to office. We are saying that we want equality, and that we want all religious schools to be willing to accept 20 or 25 per cent. of pupils from other faiths, and from no faiths. That sort of proposal is a function of central Government from which we should not resile.

The right hon. Gentleman must remember that the famous concordat of 1944 was based on the 50:50 contribution—

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