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Ms Ward: Surely my hon. Friend accepts that the legislation introduced by the Government and reinforced by the Bill, which he said he supports, will maintain high standards. The fact that a school is a faith school and promotes a certain faith—whatever it may be—will not diminish the quality of education that it provides. Surely he cannot suggest that it would.

Mr. Khabra: I am not sure about that. The Bill will extend the provisions to other faiths and there will be

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more faith schools. Many applications will be made and it is a tragedy that money from public funds will support such schools. My hon. Friend does not know what will happen. She presumes that standards will be maintained, but I do not agree with her.

Ms Ward: It is not a presumption. The standards that have been set and enforced by the Government are designed solely to ensure that all schools of whatever faith offer a high quality of education. We cannot use arguments about standards to oppose faith schools or the expansion and extension of them.

Mr. Khabra: I do not agree with my hon. Friend. I seriously doubt whether the new faith schools will be able to maintain the standards that we expect.

If schools are based on religion, why should they not support the ideas of a certain faith? That is what they are meant for. They will teach more religion, and what teachers will they employ? We will not be able to control the religious fanatics who might teach in such schools.

Caroline Flint: Does my hon. Friend agree that however a school constitutes itself—whether as a faith school or not—it will be covered by legislative requirements concerning Ofsted, equal opportunities, the national curriculum and health and safety? Legislation spreads to all schools in all communities and applies to how they are run and how they meet the needs of children. Legislation applies to all schools, including any new faith schools.

Mr. Khabra: Although my hon. Friend suggests that many restrictions will be placed on the new faith schools, supervisors will not be present in the school at all times to monitor those—the mullahs or others—who teach religion. Such schools will not necessarily stick to the rules and regulations required by the law.

Mr. Willis: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) is entirely wrong? In its provisions for powers to innovate, the Bill will allow schools to disapply the national curriculum and every other piece of legislation that they want to disapply so that they can carry out what they think is right. That will give those schools exactly the opportunities that he has described.

Mr. Khabra: I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

As I said, why should faith schools not support the ideas of a certain faith? However, that will lead to an increase in segregated education, and that is a reactionary move that is particularly damaging to the interests of ethnic minority children. Inspectors' reports show that Hindu and Sikh children do better than the Muslim children who are taught in segregated schools. That is because communities with more liberal ideas about education are more interested in obtaining a good education for their children.

7.30 pm

If we provide an opportunity for religious people to have their own schools, we cannot stop them teaching

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what they want about their faith to their children. Such schools will lead to segregated education, which will damage the interests of ethnic minority children. There is a provision for state schools to give a religious education. They can provide whatever religious education a child might need, so why do we need more faith schools? There is no need for schools to be run or owned by a religious organisation.

The idea of a faith school is a reactionary one. It has the capacity to hinder the progress of the good education that is suited to modern society, the economy and possibly even scientific progress. In some American schools, topics such as evolution cannot be taught, are sidelined or are wholly dismissed. I hope that we never reach that stage. There is always an opportunity in faith schools and private schools to ignore what is required by the law. The national curriculum might mean that they have to teach certain subjects, but they might not be inclined to put their best efforts into that if it is contrary to everything that their faith tells them to believe.

We do not have to look as far as the dreadful attacks on New York and Washington to see the dangers of prejudice and the misunderstanding between cultures. We need only to look at the reports on last summer's riots in the north of England or the dreadful scenes in Northern Ireland where children were verbally abused or spat at on the way to school. Have we learned nothing from that experience?

Opinions were expressed after the Bradford riots that segregated schools can be a prime cause of racial hatred. It was also suggested that communities were fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines and that segregation in schools is one indicator of that trend. I am usually inclined to argue on the side of parental choice, and of course I would argue in favour of parents choosing to send their children to whatever school they like. If parents want to send their children to faith schools, and the demand is certainly there, some may ask why such schools should not be allowed. I believe that when society as a whole is at risk of being damaged, questions need to be asked. The danger of division through intolerance is an adequate ground for objecting to the provision in the Bill.

There is much to commend in the Bill and it is a shame that such worthy ideas as devolving more powers to head teachers have been overshadowed by the discussion and comment on faith schools. Like many other hon. Members, I am concerned about the idea of extending faith schools. Schools and religion are too uncomfortable a mix and the Government should not involve themselves in such a way.

Dr. Evan Harris: I want to speak to new clause 2. It has rightly been selected and has important implications. I support the purposes of new clause 1 and new clause 18, which the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) eloquently addressed. In particular, I want to pay tribute to the contribution by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), whose powerful points I support. Although I concur with much of what the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) said, I cannot join him in praising the Bill. I think that he had to get that comment in to excuse his views to Members on his Front Bench. Indeed, I also agree with the sentiments put so clearly by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar) in his intervention.

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I am especially pleased that the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall referred to the views of Professor Richard Dawkins. He is my constituent and, like me, an honorary associate of the National Secular Society, which I want to declare as an interest. I am grateful to the NSS for advice on the issues covered by new clause 2.

Kevin Brennan: As a member of the National Secular Society, does the hon. Gentleman find it odd that he secured his place for today's debate by using a prayer card?

Dr. Harris: I am not sure that I am guilty of that, because the prayer card is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey). I have views on the use of Prayers to obtain a seat, but I do not want to try the patience of the Chair, so I shall stick to new clause 2.

Hon. Members may not be aware of what the new clause is about. It would repeal sections in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. They are not set out in the Bill, so it is useful to clarify what it would do. It would repeal sections 58 and 60. The former states:

basically, religious schools—

It is curious that there is a provision on our statute book to ensure that certain teachers are appointed and promoted on the basis of their ability to teach religion according to the religion of the school in which they teach. Religious education is supposed to be non-denominational, non- directional and non-proselytising. It is not clear why the reserved teacher status is necessary. Surely when we teach subjects, including religious education, in any school, we want the best teacher for that syllabus.

Section 60 has even worse implications. Subsection 5 states:

a religious school—

that is, the hiring or firing—

in their spare time, presumably—

the sacking of a teacher—

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It does not require a teacher to act illegally, unlawfully, or inappropriately, or to breach of the norms of a teacher's employment contract; a teacher just needs to be outwith the tenets of that religion. That relates to what maths teachers, French teachers and science teachers do within the law in their spare time if that goes against the tenets of the religious controllers of voluntary-controlled or voluntary-aided schools.

New clause 2 would eliminate those sections of the 1998 Act. It is necessary for three reasons. First, the sections unlawfully discriminate against employees on religious grounds. Secondly, they militate against the best interests of pupils because they sacrifice best teachers to the ones deemed religiously appropriate. Thirdly, they are unnecessary in the context of the exemptions provided in the European Union employment directive due to be introduced by December 2003.

I should like to set out why I feel that the provisions, and especially section 60, which the new clause would repeal, are discriminatory. Section 60 allows for employees, as it happens, in the state sector, who are funded by taxpayers' money—salaries are 100 per cent. funded by the taxpayer; the 10 or 15 per cent. contribution from the Church is for capital costs—to be discriminated against on the grounds either of religion or of perfectly lawful, appropriate behaviour that goes against the tenets of the religion concerned.

We do not need to go too deeply into that, but some people will be aware that certain religious organisations have very strong views about the inappropriateness of homosexuality—a practice that is lawful and private and none of an employer's business. The exemption under the EU framework directive could make it legal for a school to invoke section 60(5) in order to terminate the employment of such teachers. Indeed, teachers currently work in that danger.

The provisions are also discriminatory in that teachers of faith can teach anywhere. They can apply for any job in any school—religious and non-religious—but a secular or atheist teacher cannot teach in some schools and is therefore deprived of certain opportunities. The legislation in effect gives the small number of teachers who teach from a religious perspective privileged access to a large number—100,000-odd—of publicly funded jobs. That number would become even larger if more faith schools emerged from the Government's proposals. That amounts to institutionalised discrimination, as there is no counterbalancing body of community schools where teachers who are not committed to some faith are favoured over teachers who are religious. I am not of course advocating achieving equality by spreading discrimination.

The job prospects of many excellent teachers who are non-believers in any religion are therefore reduced, and the disadvantage that they will suffer may increase with every new faith school that is opened. With such a high proportion of teaching posts—as well as, perhaps, new teaching posts—concentrated in faith schools, it is possible that teachers in some localities, especially rural ones, will have difficulty in obtaining employment unless they are or claim to be of the requisite faith.

Secondly, the provisions militate against the best interests of pupils because what matters to the education of our children is having the best teacher at that subject and not the church attendance of a teacher. How religious

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in any school does one need to be to teach mathematics, French or science? Does one need a working knowledge of Genesis to teach geology? I will go no further than to say that I doubt that that is a requirement.

Given that there is such a short supply of teachers—and, I would imagine, a specific shortage of faith-based teachers given the small proportion of the population who are members of the Church of England, for example—there is a worry that teachers who are not as good as others will be appointed, especially if the number of faith schools increases.

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