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Mr. Willis: I take great offence at the hon. Lady's remarks, as, I am sure, does every other Member who has spoken in our debate. Not once have I heard a Member make the points that she says we have made; quite the opposite. Most hon. Members, and certainly those who tabled the new clause, want faith schools to extend their boundaries and open up to others. That is exactly the opposite of her point, and I hope that she withdraws her remarks.
Ms Ward: I certainly do not intend to, as I believe that those who argue for the dilution of faith schools are arguing that there is something wrong with people who are products of the faith school system. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) is not in the Chamber, but he referred to prejudice and intolerance; I take great exception to that, and I know that others will too.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Does the hon. Lady share my experience, which is that faith schools, particularly in London, tend to have an ethnic and religious mix, provide a tolerant and open society within the school and do a much better job of educating children about the diversity of religious beliefs on the planet than non-faith schools?
Ms Ward: I agree. My experience of Catholic schooling is that one of course receives an education based on religion, but one also gains an understanding of other religionsperhaps not in the same depth, but the opportunity exists. We should take the opportunity to encourage faith schools, not just to educate children in their own religion, but to create and promote tolerance and understanding. However, in doing so, we should not weaken the faith school system. New clauses 1 and 18 seek to weaken the status of faith schools.
I listened carefully to the views of Members who have spoken, and accept that some do not support faith schools and wish that we did not have them. If times were different, and if history could be rewritten, perhaps we would not have faith schools in a wholly secular society. However, we are where we are. Historically, we have had schools of faith, but unfortunately schools of limited faiths. Now we have an opportunity to do something about that.
Ms Ward: I respect my hon. Friend's views, and respect people who follow different faiths. However, he has a choice; he, or anyone in his position, can decide not to send their children to a school with a particular faith or denomination[Interruption.] I am afraid that I disagree with hon. Members who argue against that; in the vast majority of cases, and certainly in secondary education, people can choose not to send their children to certain schools.
We have already heard this evening that where a primary school is the only rural primary school in the area, and may be a Church of England school, it opens its doors and welcomes children from all faiths and no faith. I see no reason why that should change; it should be encouraged wherever possible. However, I strongly object to the idea that that should be written into the Bill, and that there should be a quota. We have heard much about the figure of 25 per cent., but under new clauses 1 and 18 the figure need not be 25 per cent. The percentage of pupils of a particular faith at a faith school could range between 20 and 75 per cent. It would be determined by the local admission authority with only consultation rather than by agreement. That would be wrong.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones: I am not sure what the position is in my hon. Friend's constituency, but does she not recognise that there are inner-city constituencies in which it is normal to find that a Church school, particularly a Roman Catholic school, is almost entirely white, and that because of the area in which it is situated, the neighbouring school is largely Asian and black. That situation is neither desirable nor sustainable.
Ms Ward: My hon. Friend may well be right about the circumstances of those schools, but in many cases that is not dictated by the fact that one is a faith school. Schools may have a catchment area or, in the case of primary schools, an intake based on the area that they serve. The local community may be predominantly white or Asian, as is the case in some parts of the country.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), I have looked around the Chamber and I cannot see any hon. Member who represents a more characteristically inner-city constituency than I do. I have a considerable number of faith schools, of which many are Roman Catholic or Church of England. They are not all white, as he characterised them. Although the level of education in my constituency is good and getting better, parents of all religions fight to get their children into the faith schools because they are known to be of a very high standard.
I do not believe that faith schools are wrong to have a strong ethos. That encourages people to want to attend and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State so articulately said, it encourages a common bond among those who attend the school. We should encourage such an ethos, but we should also encourage faith schools to diversify and work closely with other schoolsschools of other faiths and of no faith. I would encourage faith schools that consider it appropriate in the areas that they serve to increase the intake of children of other faiths or no faith. I hope that the guidance from the Government will encourage opportunities for schools to work together.
If new clause 18 were introduced, fewer independent schools in the faith sector would decide to move into the maintained sector, because the provision that would restrict the number of pupils of a particular faith in the faith school concerned to 75 per cent., or even 20 or 25 per cent., would not encourage them to do so.
Many parents who believe strongly that their child should be educated in a faith school but who cannot get their child into a faith school in the maintained sector in their own community feel forced to go to the private sector. Many of them cannot afford to do so. We should not continue to discriminate against parents who feel so strongly about their faith by failing to encourage independent faith schools to come into the maintained sector.
We should expand the number of faith schools right across the alternative, ethnic and minority faiths that exist in the United Kingdom. I have a significant Muslim community in Watford. I know that over the years there have been many representations from some within the community who want a school that clearly reflects their faith. I also know that there are alternative views, and I respect that. People should have the choice. If the demand exists for a Muslim school in Watford, the local community must decide. We must have the opportunity to discuss the matter as a community, but we will not have such an opportunity if there are not more faith schools in the maintained sector.
Kevin Brennan: On equality and people from less well-off backgrounds getting into faith schools, does my hon. Friend agree that somebody who supports a secular and comprehensive system should vote against the clause, as it would institutionalise the creaming off by faith schools of the most talented pupils in our comprehensive schools, and probably exclude the children of the faith of the school from the poorest backgrounds?
Ms Ward: I did not say at the outset that I supported secular education. I said that had we been in a different position many centuries ago, we might not have the faith school system that we have now, and that there are those who believe that we should have had a secular system.