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1 Nov 2006 : Column 127WH—continued

The Muslim community views such sentiments as an attack on Muslim schools, at a time when a small number of privately funded Muslim schools have expressed a desire to become part of the state sector. The proposal to include Muslim schools in the state
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sector, subject to the same national curriculum and inspection regime as other state schools, is welcome, and I hope that more will join them.

That process of integration will do a great deal to further the objective of community inclusion. I hope that Muslim schools will in time adopt the approach taken by the Church of England; however, it should not be foisted on them. We should recognise the feelings in the Muslim community about that, just as we should respect the position taken by Catholic and Jewish schools.

The same approach should apply to the employment of staff. In many faith schools, there is a clear feeling that each person within it is part of a community that is based on common values. The religious aspect of a faith school does not stop outside religious education lessons and collective worship; it lies at the very heart of every activity in which the school engages. That is why voluntary-aided faith schools are permitted to appoint teaching staff on the basis of faith. It ensures that every teacher at the school supports the school’s ethos and values.

The Government propose to extend that derogation to non-teaching staff—when there is a genuine occupational requirement—for the same reasons. Our approach to employment is the same as our approach to admissions. We welcome schools that embrace teachers and staff from outside the faith, just as we welcome the Church of England’s decision on its admissions policies. However, it is absolutely a matter for schools. It is not a matter for prescription or legislation.

3.49 pm

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon(Dr. Harris) on securing the debate, which has been constructive and well informed. We have taken our lead from him, because he spoke most constructively, and I thank him for that. The discussion is timely, given the debates that have taken place in another place, and their reflection in the media. The hon. Gentleman is a strong advocate of secular public services, but like me he is committed to ensuring fair access for all.

Faith schools have long been important to our education system and they have a history of providing good quality education for children of their own faiths and, in most cases, those of other faiths or none. They are popular with parents; the majority of faith schools are over-subscribed, and not just by members of their own faith. At the root of that popularity is their success, on which there has been debate between the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon and the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). I contend from the evidence that I have seen that faith schools add more value than non-faith schools at both primary and secondary level. That holds true across most faith groups, and Muslim and Sikh schools perform particularly well in value-added terms at secondary level, although the size of the sample is such that most statisticians would probably discount it.

Times change, however, and like other schools faith schools must change with them. Along with setting high standards for their pupils, all schools, not just faith schools, must play a part in delivering a cohesive, strong
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society. As my ministerial colleague and noble Friend Lord Adonis said in the other place earlier this week on Third Reading of the Education and Inspections Bill, we have in recent weeks consulted people including key representatives of faith communities. Informed by those consultations, we have now decided that the best and most effective way forward is to place a duty on the governing bodies of all maintained schools to promote community cohesion. That duty will extend beyond existing and new faith schools to all schools, regardless of their admissions policies. A related duty on Ofsted to report on the contribution to community cohesion made by the school will ensure that all schools are held to account. Many good schools already make such a contribution because they recognise the important role that they have to play and its value to the education of their children. Reading the record of the debate in the other place, I was struck by the contribution made by Baroness Williams of Crosby, who spoke of the potential of schools of faith and no faith to work together to promote community cohesion and give religious education collectively. That is an interesting idea that I should like to discuss further.

Last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills announced a historic agreement reached with the Catholic Church. As now, new Catholic schools will be planned to meet Catholic need, and it is right that they should be, but there will also be scope for them to take on a new dimension. Where there is local demand, up to 25 per cent. more places will be added, with local agreement, to cater for non-Catholic families who would like their children to benefit from Catholic education. That follows the Church of England’s decision to offer 25 per cent. of places at new Church of England schools to those of other faiths or no faith. The consultations that we have had with the Sikh community suggest that it strongly welcomes those from other faiths coming to their schools, as do those of Muslim faith.

I again refer hon. Members to the record of the House of Lords debate on Monday, when Baroness Walmsley reported on a ring-round that she had done in which she found that there were few applications from non-Muslim children to Muslim schools or from non-Sikhs to the Guru Nanak school in Hillingdon. I hope that that answers the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar). Earlier the debate went off down a road that was a bit of a distraction from trying to tackle community cohesion. The duty to be imposed on schools goes to the heart of the problem, rather than being too distracted by admissions policies.

Dr. Harris: Will the Minister give way?

Jim Knight: I shall give way very briefly, but the hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that that will reduce my capacity to respond to his other questions.

Dr. Harris: As indeed has the comment that the Minister has just made. Does he accept that the proposal of a new academy school in Leicester to have a uniform requirement for all children, regardless of their religion, to wear the hijab, the Muslim headscarf,
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is likely to deter people from applying to it and might fall outwith its duty to promote social cohesion? Do the Government have any thoughts on such an example of a potential problem?

Jim Knight: We believe that dress code is a matter for schools and local authorities. If a school, including an academy, were to have such a rule, the governing body would have to bear in mind its new duty on community cohesion. We might wish to challenge the rule at some point through the funding agreement for academies. I am not aware of the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I can examine it if it exists.

There are additional measures to promote social cohesion in the Education and Inspections Bill, particularly the new admissions code on which we are currently consulting. It makes it clear that faith schools should not adopt measures of faith affiliation and that a priest’s reference will be sufficient. It abolishes interviews and sets out that admissions arrangements should make clear the way in which faith affiliation or membership will be measured. It prohibits the use of supplementary application forms to gather information that has a bearing on the operation of a school’s published admissions criteria. Crucially, it also prohibits unfair oversubscription criteria including first preference first, which has been used by some faith schools to select. I hope that hon. Members agree that we are seeking to make progress. We agree with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon that it is wrong to discriminate on racial grounds, but I argue that many faith schools are racially integrated. Catholic schools often have high levels of racial integration, and we cannot rely on a direct read-across.

I was pleased that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that residential segregation informs educational segregation, which is a point to which we must apply ourselves. He debated whether ethos leads to better results, and we agree that ethos informs standards. That is one reason why we are proposing trust schools—so that non-faith-based organisations can use a trust to set up schools with a particular ethos and use them to raise standards. A member of the National Secular Society or the Humanist Society would be perfectly at liberty to enter a competition, formally propose a school and inform it with their ethos.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the contribution made in the other place by Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I can confirm that in the case referred to, the courts were addressing the question whether the admissions policies of formerly independent Catholic schools complied with the specific provisions of the constitution of Mauritius, not whether they complied with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. UK law is more complex and allows for faith-based admissions policies such as those used in our maintained schools of religious character. In the UK, giving priority to children with reference to their faith is compliant with the Human Rights Act. I could say more on the matter, and if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to write to him I shalldo so.

Turning to other issues raised, I shall cut straight to the staffing of faith schools. We have tabled the amendments to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and perhaps it will help him if I outline what they are intended to do.
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They cover very narrow cases. Section 58 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 prohibits the head teacher of a foundation or voluntary-controlled school from being a reserved teacher. By their nature reserved teachers are appointed specifically to teach religious education in accordance with the tenets of a school’s specified religion. Foundation and voluntary-controlled schools with a religious character are therefore unable to appoint head teachers specifically to teach religious education. That causes problems in small rural primary schools, for example, where a head teacher may be needed to teach that subject. The amendment that we have tabled will mean that the head teacher of a foundation or voluntary-controlled school will be able to be a reserved teacher only if they were appointed specifically to teach religious education as well as to carry out the duties of a head teacher. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is a narrow case.

Similarly, there is an amendment to section 60 of the 1998 Act on support staff. In summary, it sets out that an occupational requirement, testable at an employment tribunal as the hon. Gentleman said, will have to be proven. The provision will apply only to support staff with such a requirement to play a pastoral role.

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Population Growth (Local Government Finance)

4 pm

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): I am delighted to have been selected to introduce this debate, which will contain some complex statistical matter, although I hope not to test your patience too far, Mr. Jones.

The part of west London that I have the privilege to represent has an excellent record of harmonious community relationships. Like much of London, Hammersmith and Fulham is home to people of a wide variety of cultures and religions. Well over 60 languages are spoken by people from all continents. We have large communities from Africa, Pakistan and India, and many people from the nations of eastern Europe, most notably from Poland. Nearly 5 per cent. of residents are of white Irish origin and the area has also become a hub for younger visitors from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, who want to spend time in London. All those communities, in all kinds of ways, contribute to the vibrancy of Hammersmith and Fulham.

The proportion of non-white ethnic groups in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham is 22 per cent., and several wards in the borough figure in the top10 per cent. in London in terms of numbers of various ethnic groups. Although ethnic diversity is high as compared with the country as a whole, it is not particularly high as compared with other parts of Greater London or inner London. Crucially, however, the proportions are high in the Irish category and “white other” category, which includes people from eastern European, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, of which I am one. Even though I am a British subject, I was born in the United States and am therefore classified as “white other” for the purposes of census returns and so on, as is my wife, so I know a bit about the issue.

Despite excellent relationships between communities in Hammersmith and Fulham, Government policy penalises such places for taking a huge share of recent immigrants, owing to the Government’s failure to provide proper funding for their impact on basic local government services.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that other areas are also particularly affected in a similar way, such as my constituency? There has been a chronic understating of population figures in my constituency, and a ping-pong debate with the Minister concerning that understatement and the inadequacy of the figures from the Office for National Statistics. We have taken a proactive approach by identifying people who have not been included in the figures who equate to at least £2 million of lack of grant. We should like to take up that case further with the Minister.

Mr. Hands: My hon. Friend is quite right. Others also have the same problem, which is by no means unique to my constituency or local authority. I have spoken with officers in Westminster city council and with London Councils, which used to be known as the Association of London Government. Slough borough
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council is also playing a leading role in highlighting the issues, and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) has previously made the point in this Chamber about the problems facing his council. I shall return to the problems facing the other councils shortly.

To provide a bit of background, since May 2004 the UK has seen considerable migration from some of the new EU accession countries. Unlike any of the other major economies in the EU, the UK decided not to impose any restrictions on migration. The Prime Minister himself predicted that only 13,000 such workers would travel to the UK and that the bulk of them would return after a short stay. That was a massive underestimate. Even the Government now admit that between 300,000 and 400,000 east European workers have come to the UK since May 2004. That is 25 to 30 times the official prediction.

I believe that the right decision was made to allow the free movement of people from the new accession countries in 2004, and in that I disagree with the line that my party took at the time. In the 1980s I spent a huge amount of time in the old eastern Europe. As I may have mentioned, my wife is from the former German Democratic Republic, and I also visited every other one of the captive nations of eastern Europe at that time.

Calls at the time were made from the west—indeed, from this House—for the free movement of peoples from east to west. It was difficult to imagine then, when the wall was in place, that hundreds of thousands of people would come. Nevertheless, the position that Lady Thatcher and President Reagan laid out was to welcome the peoples of eastern Europe. The phrase that Ronald Reagan used was “Tear down this wall”. I do not know what he would have made of efforts to create a new division of Europe based on where one can and cannot work.

In any case, I am not here to discuss the rights and wrongs of the policy; rather, I should like to highlight for the Minister the impact that such migration has had on my constituency. For a variety of reasons, Hammersmith and Fulham has proved a popular destination for recent migrants. Despite the unprecedented population shift that we have experienced, however, official Government funding remains based on the borough’s population in the 2001 national census, with some flawed estimates of change since then. This situation is unfair and means that the amount of money that the council receives from central Government to provide vital support services for local residents does not reflect the size and the needs of the local population.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on securing this important debate. Does he agree that there seems to be a disparity in some geographical hot spots throughout the country, both urban and rural, between the economic benefits of mass migration from the EU10 and its costs, which fall on a small number of local authorities, in terms of the delivery of public services and, importantly, the potential impact on community cohesion?

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Mr. Hands: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am a strong believer in the contribution that the recent migrants have made to our national economy, but an important point to make on top of my hon. Friend’s point is that most of their contribution—in higher tax revenues and national insurance contributions—goes to central Government, not to local councils. Those local councils are being short-changed in every possible way because of that.

To return to the Poles, so established is their influence in Hammersmith that the mayoral emblem of my borough has the Polish eagle on it. Polish newspapers and food shops are increasingly apparent. In fact, we now get Polish language-only call cards through the door—I have one here offering a magazine called Cooltura, which appears to be a Polish language magazine in the UK. There are Polish language newspapers, alongside the South African and New Zealand newspapers that one can pick up outside a lot of tube stations. I also have here a leaflet that we received only last weekend in Fulham, which is headed “Polish professional workers” and gives a complete guide to various services—carpenters, nannies and so on—which is a great thing. In addition, POSK, the Polish social and cultural association on King street in Hammersmith, is the largest Polish cultural institution outside Poland.

We have a long record of welcoming people, so our message to migrants from the EU accession countries is clear—I speak not only for myself but for the new administration running Hammersmith and Fulham council: they are very welcome here, as they always have been. We are proud of the established eastern European community, which is an essential part of the fabric of life in our local community. We equally welcome the beneficial contribution that the new accession state nationals make to our local economy and our day-to-day lives.

However, Hammersmith and Fulham council is being short-changed. With an increase in population comes an increase in the demands on local support services. We are starting to see pressure being placed on services such as refuse collection, parks, street cleaning and housing. Hammersmith and Fulham council wants to provide the extra capacity that the recent population increase requires, but it is struggling because Government funding mechanisms do not reflect recent immigration into Hammersmith. That has also been recognised by Dr. Olgierd Lalko of POSK, who has joined the council’s funding campaign and is quoted in the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle as saying:

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