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Geraint Davies: My position is clear. The Government should state a preference for voluntary-controlled schools, which offer completely open access, rather than voluntary-aided schools. That is the way forward. I do not support the new clause. I fear that we are in danger of manufacturing artificially defined quotas that in time will not reflect local demand that will change as the ethnicity and demography of communities change. Whatever figure is chosen50 per cent., 20 per cent., 70 per cent.may become the wrong figure as a result of such change.
I am making what could be seen as a much more radical suggestion. I suggest that a school should reflect the community that it servesthat, while having a religious leadership, it should allow admission according to the normal conditions of local education authorities. Such an arrangement would give a child living next door to a school whose religion he or she did not share a good chance of going there.
It is clear from this debate, and from the wider debate in the country, that the problem we are discussing is enormous and prompts enormous concern. Some may think that examples drawn from Bradford, Burnley or Northern Ireland are not relevant, but we all know that they have
The Government should regulate to make such schools voluntarily controlled, or at least signal by means of guidance their support for the establishment of schools on that basis where there is local demand. If schools end up representing one faith 100 per cent., that is fine. One of the deficiencies of the new clause is its failure to provide for the possibility of growth and contraction of that proportion according to local demand.
As has been pointed out, Lord Denning has said that the Church of England wants more inclusion in the 100 new faith schools. The Muslim Education Trust and the Archbishop of Canterbury want it as well, and the MORI poll implies that others want the same. There should be a balance. Religions should have the right to establish new faith schools if there is local demand, but children should have the right to choose between local schools.
The Government should make it clear that voluntary control is the preferred option. After all, our children's education will shape the society of the future. I feel that we should celebrate Britain as a community of communities by establishing more faith schools, but also making them voluntary controlled.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): I support the aims of the new clause, but profoundly disagree with the proposals for compulsion and quota, which strike me as both inappropriate and, probably, counterproductive. I expect that I am among a minority of Liberal Democrats who do not support the proposal in its current form.
I ought to make my position clear. Many have opposed the new clause from a religious standpoint, but I do not. My background is extremely eclectic. I was born a Baptist, went to Methodist Sunday school, converted to Quakerism, married a Roman Catholic and, in a spirit of British compromise, brought up my children as Anglicans and sent them to a non-denominational school. My late wife was Indian as well as Catholic, and most of my in-laws are Hindus. I therefore hold no brief for any particular denomination. Indeed, my background has encouraged my belief in the virtues of inclusivity, provided it is achieved in the right way.
I was given a good example on Tuesday night, when I was invited to give prizes at a local Catholic secondary school for girls. It is an independent school, so the Bill does not apply to it, but the principle is the same. Although the school's ethos was clearly Catholic, many of the girls receiving prizes were Hindus and Sikhs. The head of the science department, sitting on the platform, was a Muslim ladyas was advertised by her shawl and headscarfand was clearly proud of that background.
It was clear that that school believed in inclusiveness and actively promoted it. It worked because the Church, the priests and the nuns who were there believed in it. Such a system could not be made to work in an environment where compulsion and obligation applied.
It is a major commitment to send a child to a religious school, particularly as we live in a highly secular society. Often, parents have a strong wish to send their child to such a school. One cannot compare that with the sense of grievance that an atheist may feel because their child cannot get into the Catholic school next door.
As an MP, I have yet to encounter a non-believer who has a grievance because their child cannot attend a religious school. If people did have that grievance, I am sure that I would know about it. My constituency is very education-conscious. It is at the top of the Government's league tables. On the top of the top of the league tables are the denominational schools. People care passionately about schooling. I am sure that if people had that grievance they would have come to me. However, I am aware of the strong wish of people of faith to send their children to denominational schools in Twickenham. As it happens, my council, which is a Liberal Democrat council, provides additional Catholic and Anglican schools under the private finance initiative to enable that choice to be made.
The second issue is divisiveness. Perhaps in a London suburb, one does not experience religious conflict in the way one does in a northern mill town, but I draw on another example. If any city in Britain approximates to the conditions of Northern Ireland it is Glasgow. I lived there for some years. I was active in political life and in the big debate there about the future of faith schools.
Many people argued in similar terms to those of the new clause. They said that faith schools should be phased out or diluted. They were afraid of divisions in society. I lived in Glasgow when the Northern Ireland troubles were starting. People argued that unless we got rid of faith schools, blood would run in the streets of the city.
At first sight, those people had a compelling case. The city was divided 50:50there were Catholic and non-denominational schools. There is a lot of intolerance. I have been to lots of old firm games. At the end where Union jacks are waved, one can listen to religious ditties on the sex life of the Pope for several hours, which are designed to offend the people at the other end of the ground. Indeed the religion that is taught is far from liberal. My late wife taught in a Catholic comprehensive. She was regularly reprimanded for trying to introduce Cromwell and Karl Marx to the history curriculum, and told to stick to the saints. It was not a liberal tradition that was at stake.
None the less, many of the predictions did not materialise. There has been no religious violence in Glasgow in the wake of the Irish troublesLondon has experienced such violence. It has not happened in Glasgow for a good reason: in many ways it is a very integrated society. People are integrated through residential accommodation, work and personal relationships, and there is no tangible sectarian divide.
I was initially critical of the faith schools, but I came to believe that they perform an extremely important social function. As the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) said, they have provided a valuable mechanism for social inclusion. The Irish immigrant working class found a way, through the city's faith schoolsI believe that the same is true of Liverpool and other citiesof getting into the professions and becoming part of society. Many of the arguments about social division are unfounded.
Dr. Kumar: The hon. Gentleman eloquently argues the case for faith schools in Glasgow, but there we are talking about one religion, Christianity, so the gap is not so wide. Now we have to think about Muslim schools, Sikh schools, Hindu schoolsnot one religion, but several. The gap between those is much wider. My fear is that, given what is happening in some parts of northern England, there is a danger of segregation, rather than the partial integration that he describes in Glasgow.
Dr. Cable: There is clearly a division. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) made the point several times that religious division can combine with racial division, and that would worry me, too, because I believe in racial equality and integration. If the issue is race, it is not only a Muslim/white issue, because there is racial segregation between black and white Christians.
Do those who believe in applying quotas in a denominational context also believe in applying them in a racial one, simply to reduce racial segregation? In countries where that has happened, notably the United Statesit has also happened in India in relation to casteit has generated an enormous amount of hatred and resentment, and the use of prescription has been wholly counterproductive.