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Consider the issue, which is of great world importance, of the distribution of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS. The Pope has announced that it is wrong, as have the evangelicals in America. The Muslims have announced that it is wrong. I regard the policy that they advocate as a crime against humanity, because it condemns hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to death from AIDS.
I do not think that we should teach religion in our schools. The Americans have got it right. We are essentially a secular civilisation, and Enlightenment values have spread since the days of the Enlightenment gradually through our society. To promote faith schools is a retreat from Enlightenment values and is part of a current trend that I find deeply disturbing.
Lord Ahmed: Before the noble Lord sits down, he said that the founder of Islamia School said that that school teaches Islam. The noble Lord gave the example of the rabbi who wanted children to mix with different communities. I hope that the noble Lord is not insinuating that Islam does not allow that. It is quite the contrary; those who are taught in Islamic schools are very much taught to live within a society that is multicultural and multi-religious and to respect everyone equally.
Lord Taverne: The point that I was making was that the rabbi said that he wants his kids at school to play football with members of a different religion,to sit beside someone of a different religion and to go to school on a bus with someone from a different religion, and that that will not happen in segregated schools.
Lord Dearing: My not speaking until now gives me an opportunity to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who raised a couple of points earlier in Committee. She said that all classes of schools have failureI agree. As has been said, I chaired a group that looked at the future of Church of England schools. That caused me to look around and led me to the conclusion that any justification for the expansion of Church of England schools should be grounded in superiority of academic achievement. In a 400 to 500-paragraph report, only two paragraphs were addressed to that. In them, we referred to a degree of failure. We mentioned two schools that we had visited that were in special measures. We also acknowledged that the Church schools lived in the same world as the rest of us. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly said, they depend very much on getting the right leadership. We counselled the Church not to venture into adding to the number of Church schools, especially as the policy that we recommended was to expand, if at all possible, primarily in areas of the greatest social and economic need. Those schools would therefore be at the greatest risk of failure. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness.
Reasonable academic performance is a necessary condition of being able conscientiously to recommend an expansion, but that is not a fundamental characteristic of a Church school. Rather, it is having a certain outlook on life. Young people have the experience of living within that community. However, we saw no evidence of any proselytising and seeking to convert children to something that was foreign to them.
Why then did we recommend an expansion of Church of England schools? When I spoke about this matter on the previous occasion, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, shook her head when I said that there was parental demand. We had obtained some information on that, otherwise I might not have said it. If I remember the figures correctlysometimes I doin 1996, some years before we did our study, there were 1.3 applications for every place in a sample of 80 schools, which is nearly half the total of Church of England schools. By 2000, the figure had risen to 1.6. The right reverend Prelate said that, while the rolls for primary schools nationally had fallen by roughly 4.5 per cent, in Church of England primary schools rolls had fallen by only a third of that, which is further corroborative evidence. We should respond in education to parents wishes. I understand that that it is a building block of the policy of the Government and the Conservative Party. That was a major element in the report.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, or the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to the Sutton report. The Sutton report stated that the top schools were all characterised, whether they were faith schools or not, by a low proportion of people having free school meals. It is true that the faith schools were heavily represented in the top 200 schools, but the social class question was distinctive, as it was with the other schools. The report went on to point out that whereas the proportion of different social classes in community schools reflected their immediate community, it did not do so in the voluntary aided schools, even though the overall proportions were the same. That is legitimate,
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I would have wished to have heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, before I spoke, but as few people were speaking up for faith schools, I felt that it was about time that we had a change of menu. I agree with the first element of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, about beliefs, as long as we can find a way of defining the main beliefs rather than 1,001 beliefs. She will know what I mean. The other amendments in the group refer to importing as a matter of statutory requirement the use of an agreed curriculum into voluntary aided as well as voluntary control schools. That should be an objective, but a good deal of thinking and talking is needed beforewe move to a statutory requirement rather than something that has been accepted by the faiths and is gradually being adopted. We should not go about it this week, but it is an objective that we might look forward to meeting.
The issue of Muslim schools has come up several times. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred to the fact that Roman Catholic schools were originally exclusively for Roman Catholics. I think that thatwas because they were supporting an immigrant community. As time has gone by, they have accepted a wider intake in the great majority of cases. It is not surprising that, when there is a very small number of schools of the faith of an immigrant community, those schools should want to serve that community. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said that there are 135 Muslim schools. That is a very small number and many of those schools are very small. It is not surprising that immigrants should want the same opportunity as the indigenous population to have their children work within the framework of their parents faith. If there were 1,000 such schools, it would be a different matter, but the number is small.
I was listening to a lecture by Prince Hassan of Jordan a couple of months agoone or two other Peers were perhaps present. He examined the reasons for the worlds great problems. Underpinning them all, as he said it, was the divide in dignity. He was referring to his own people in particular and their feeling that dignity is denied them. Similarly, in our own community, we have to be very sensitive to the feelings of those who have come to this country and who are oftenthis is so of Muslim familiesliving on low incomes. The families contain many more members than is normally the case. None of the adult members of the family has a job and they live in overcrowded conditions.
If it was the will of Parliament in some way to block Muslim schools, that would be seen as a profoundly unacceptable signal about their rights as members of our civilisation and as a lack of acceptance of their right to dignity. We should do well to ponder that. I have been into only a couple of Muslim schools, but I have read elsewhere that many of the parents who send their children there are not as well heeled as is typical of the Anglo-Saxon community. They make a great sacrifice. They only pay low fees, and that is reflected in what can be
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For a time, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I had different roles in life and I knew where I stood. He was the Minister and I was the chairman of a nationalised industry who came and made a case to him. On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I am not speaking for the Church of England at all; I am speaking for Ron Dearing. Of the hundred-odd Church of England schools coming along, 30 per cent must be not of the faith of the foundation. I would say, No problem, easy! I nearly said that some might find it difficult to make up the number of the faith. There are definitional problems, but for many long-established faiths this would not be a problem. For the Muslims, however, it could be. I would regret anything that would be interpreted in the Muslim community as a rule that would bite on them but nobody else.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My 30 per cent target to prevent a school being exclusive was meant to encourage schools of separate faithsnot just Islamto encourage children from other faiths to go to that school. If they did, they would get the state money, the very point the noble Lord was making at the beginning. They would not be cheated. But if they did not get to 30 per cent, they would not get the state money. That is the iron hand in my velvet glove.
I turn to divisiveness, which has been mentioned again and again. I totally understand it. I do not think bringing in Northern Ireland is a fair analogy. We could debate that on another occasion; it is a rather different situation from that in England. The more that faith schools are committed to pupils of their own faith, the more they have a strong obligation to the whole community to encourage respect for other faiths. They must import into their ethos statement that the school offers active goodwill and respect to fellow citizens of other faiths. They should seek opportunities for joint activities with schools of other faiths, or community schools where there are many of another faith. There is a major responsibility to do that kind of thing, and not stay behind closed doors.
Finally, if we look back, although faiths say things that are unacceptable to many of us and have made bad mistakes, a great body of good has been done. When the state did not provide schools for the poor, who did? It was the Churchesand not just a few, but by the thousands. When the state provided education in 1870, it had a tough job getting people to move
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The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: On Saturday, 10 days ago, I was taking a school service in an independent school in my diocese. The service began with contributions from Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian pupils. I thought to myself, In the context of a school with a clear Christian history and identity, what a great experience for these pupils. I also thought, Isnt it a pity that only those who can pay for this education get that experience?.
One of the problems with this debate is that if you do not provide for what the people want in the public sector, those who can afford it will pay for it elsewhere. Those who cannot will find other mechanisms in their community to make some provision for the needs of their families and communities. We must come to terms with the fact that we are now a multicultural, multi-faith society. Education must reflect that. We cannot go on behaving as if a secular model will do. Understanding and sympathising with what lies behind the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, neither do I think that we can impose integration. We cannot achieve it like that. Different communities are going to have different educational needs in a multicultural society.
A crucial thing to be achieved is that every facet of our multicultural community must have confidence in its identity and history if it is to thrive. I live with that in my diocese; I have the Borough of Newham, which is probably the most multicultural borough in most of Europe. A multicultural society does not work as a result of us all gradually becoming the same. It works as a result of us enjoying the difference and learning to live good neighbourly lives across the many faces of our community life.
Education must reflect that. While one understands, culturally, what lies behind these amendments, some of them would have a damaging effect upon our capacity to build that multicultural community, and build the next generation with sufficient confidence to thrive in it. If that requires Muslim schools, provided that educational and cultural standards are met and the community is satisfied about that, they may be essential at this moment in history for the flourishing of our multicultural society. We have had it with Catholic and Church of England histories, and I can take noble Lords to many places where the quality of those contributions has been enormous. We should strive for every school, whatever its character, to make a wholesome contribution to building the welfare of the whole community. That is what it is about. If we can understand that, we can be a little more relaxed about todays diversification of education.
To start where the right reverend Prelate left off: yeson consideration and having listened to all the argumentsthat is where I find myself. It is enormously important that schools should make a contribution to their local community and, where that is possibleI take the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that that is less possible for newly arrived communities than established onesthey should open their doors and aim to be multi-ethnic schools.
The right reverend Prelate will know that I have a continuing objection to the admissions practice of some Anglican schools. As many will know, I edit The Good Schools Guide so much of this passes in front of me. Frankly, some Anglican schools are socially selective. They have set their selection procedures so that not only do they get Anglicans but they get middle-class Anglicans. I regard that as destructive. I think that view is shared by most of the Bishops Benches. As I said at Second Reading, I would be delighted to support any moves from the Bishops Benches to give them more power to bring these schools into line. Many more Catholic schools do the same thing or are entirely religiously selective. It is time the Catholics joined the rest of us.
From many Catholic friends and relations I sense that there is a residual feeling of being apart that comes from their Catholic education and from many centuries of persecution. It is time that ended. The way to end it is to follow the route that has been followed by most Catholic independent schools, which is to admit a pretty large proportion of non-Catholics. One thinks of the Catholic schools in the middle of London where there is a great shortage of good education. They are incredibly selective on grounds of religion. The London Oratory and many others effectively exclude large parts of their local community, even the quasi-Catholic community.
I was brought up in a religious family and on Don Camillo. The advice of the Lord to Don Camillo that he must baptise Peppones child, whatever Peppones attachment to communism, is entirely the right attitude. Certainly, when it comes to Church schools, I would be quite content, as would many of usI include myself as, having been brought up on religion, I have abandoned itfor my child to go to a Church school. Indeed, I would value the philosophy that goes with such a school; I would value that being part of her life.
Looking at schools that are essentially secular, such as the Camden School for Girls, one can see how much they benefit from large Muslim populations which lend them a very strong moral tone. That is one reason why the Camden School for Girls has succeeded. Ones child can benefit in many ways from being in a religious atmosphere, which is why a non-religious person might wish to have access to such a school. Therefore, I have a strong objection to the continuance of mainstream Catholic and Anglican schools that practice total insistence on one religion. During Report or Third Reading, I would very much like us to adopt an amendment that would open up those schools.
I understand that some of the newer and smaller communities will want their own schools and they may feel that their security is bedded in those kinds of school. Where there are only a few, it does not hurt too much. The small collection of Jewish schools in London is tolerable, although I have found it very difficult to deal with the graduates of some of those schools who refuse to break bread with me because they feel that doing so will make them unclean. I find that a difficult attitude to have grown up with; I do not believe that they would have grown up with that attitude if they had gone to a more mixed school.
I believe that such schools are tolerable in small amounts. It is difficult for the Muslim community because it is numerous. There are difficult relations between Muslims and Christians throughout the world and the Government appear to be conducting a love affair with the Muslim brotherhood which I find extremely difficult to agree with. Naturally, we have fears about these things. But, at the end of the day, what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the right reverend Prelate said is right: we have to be trusting in these matters. We know how these things have developed in the pastthat is fineso let the community and the community relations mature, but for goodness sake let us give them an impetus. Let us say that any school which is selective on religious grounds has to be prepared to admit, say, 25 per cent of children from other faiths, even though they might not apply. Beyond that, schools should have to make a real effort to bring those children in to integrate with the local community; they have an obligation to interact with other schools and other children of other faiths in a way that might make it unattractive. A school which started off as 100 per cent Muslim or Jewish or Scientologist or whatever and is still that way in 15 years time might be invited politely to return to the private sector.
Baroness Walmsley: I have an amendment in this group and I think it is time that I was allowed to speak to it. I have very much enjoyed hearing from those Members who do not have amendments in this group. I believe this debate has demonstrated your Lordships' House at its best. It seems a pity that we have been forced to have such a mixed group of amendments and that we have to talk to them altogether. In some ways, the discussion has been broken up a little because of that.
Before speaking to my amendments, I should make a few brief comments, from a personal point of view, about some of the comments that have been made by other Members. I do not often find myself in total agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, nor with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but I agree with both of them when they speak of intolerance and exclusivity being characteristics that we should not encourage in our schools. Although I have enormous sympathy with the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and by my noble friend Lady Tonge and others who supported the first amendment
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I am attracted by what my noble friend Lady Tonge hinted at in her excellent speech; that there is an alternative to the expansion of more Church schools and the right of Muslim groups to have their own schools. That is epitomised by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, which is a compromise. People of faith make up a large percentage of the community in this country and they have a right to have an involvement in education. However, I would prefer that that involvement happened as part of maintained community nonsecular schools. If they really do not want to do that, I believe they have a right to have something else.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, suggested a compromise which contained the q wordquotawhich I know many noble Lords do not like, but I can give the Committee an example where I have seen it working rather well. Last summer, I went to the small country of Fiji and had a chat with the Minister of Education there. Fiji does two things very well. One is playing rugby, which is why I was there. The other is that it has integrated the ethnic Fijian and Indian communities extremely well in its schools. I asked the Minister what was the secret and she said, Money. The state says that if you do not integrate, you do not get the money. That is a strong indication that we should look at something along the lines of what the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, suggested.
I share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, about Amendment No. 129. I also share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Taverne and his preference for religion to be taught in the home or a place of worship rather than in a maintained school, but that is an aside.
The main reason for rising is to speak to my Amendment No. 217A, which would allow pupils aged 16 and over to choose to exclude themselves from acts of collective worship rather than have to rely on their parents to do it for them, as now. The Committee may have heard that the Joint Committee on Human Rights is minded to look at this amendment with a view to giving its opinion. However, leading human rights lawyers have already given their opinions and they believe that there is no justification for forcing young people to take part in a religious service with which they do not agree. Freedom of worship, or non-worship in this case, is a basic part of our rights as citizens of a free country, so I would be surprised if the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Minister did not agree with us.
Of course, there is a case for a slightly different amendmentone that draws a line at the point at which a young person becomes competent to make a decision for himself, but that may differ depending on the maturity of the individual. That would be hard to decide without a professional assessment of the individual, their maturity and their competence to decide, which is why we have laid our relatively simple
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