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What effect will it have on younger pupils to see those they look up to opting out? Everyone knows that the pressures of the pack and the voices of the most dominant will often prevail. It is quite hard enough for young people to hold onto their religious beliefs without being set up against another group who have no belief. That is divisive and disruptive.
A few days ago, I attended an act of worship in my childrens school at which the sixth form were present along with the rest. It was led by a visiting priest from Zimbabwe who, in a deeply moving and inspiring address, described the depredations of the Mugabe regime and the role of the Church in standing up for the rights of the oppressed. If that had been an optional extra, I wonder how many would have attended and what those who had opted out would have missed.
Worship is part of the web and weave of the Catholic tradition; everyone who opts into Catholic schools knows this. In his memorable bookThe Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis wrote excoriating those who seek to eliminate the teaching of religious belief. He said that educators had become mere conditioners, and that,
To conclude, these amendments encourage noble Lords to fight the wrong battle in the wrong ditch. On Sunday, the Sunday Times reported that at least one million children in England receive second-rate education in poorly performing state schools. A report in Londons Evening Standard said that English is a second language in half of Londons schools. We should be tackling those issues along with the low morale in the teaching profession and the pockets of poverty and deprivation which genuinely threaten social cohesion, not undermining high-achieving faith schools whose exemplary record is one of our countrys success stories.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I will just make two short points. I find myself in broad agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, particularly on Muslim schools, and cannot support my noble friends amendment.
Of course, I take the point that there are real dangers in Muslim children being educated in Muslim schools and living quite separately from the rest of the community. Yet I do not see how my noble friends amendment will solve that problem. I do not believe for one moment that non-Muslim parents will queue
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So far as Catholic schools are concerned, I am not a Catholic, but Catholic parents would have every reason to complain if their children were denied the opportunity to go to the local Catholic school by making room for the children of parents who are not members of that Church. A great injustice would be done, in the hope that some unquantifiable benefit would accrue to society as a whole. That is the worst sort of social engineering.
Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, I want to support Amendment No. 16, to which I have appended my name. Therefore I do not agree with the arguments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth or, indeed, those of my noble friend Lord Alton. The character of the problem with which this amendment tries to deal is very different from that which was put forward in their eloquent speeches. The right reverend Prelate speaks as a representative of a long-established national church and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, also speaks for one of this countrys long-established religious communities. This amendment tries to grapple with the problem of how to succeed in the ambitious project of creating a new basis for national life in large areas of the country, particularly urban areas. Therefore, one cannot deal with it or think of it in the same relaxed way as those opponents.
In view of the ambition that we have, it cannot be right to allow exclusive faith schools to be set up funded by the public purse. That is a very important point. If funding is private and these are private schools, I agree that the Government have no interest in the matter. In those cases, schools have an absolute right to their own admissions policy, but this is part of national policy. We are trying to integrate new communities into the life of this country. They are much more ethnically and religiously diverse and are much newer than the communities that noble Lords who oppose this amendment spoke about.
I argue that once you get into thinking about this as national policy, we have examples which involve compulsion. How was the United States created? It had a national policy of school integration in order to create Americans. I am not saying that we should do that, but the US faced that problem and that was how it coped with it. On the whole, over the years it has been immensely successful. Religious communities have survived and have not been destroyed. Americans have been created and an American sense of national identity has been established, which is what we are trying to do here.
It is a question of getting the balance right. The amendment concedes that what the new minority faiths have asked for is the right to set up new schools which are funded from the taxpayer. They will be mainly Muslim schools. We, as representatives of the legislature and guardians of the taxpayer, have a right also to say that there should be some concessions in
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Lord Taverne: My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who spoke to it in a most delightful and eloquent manner. I also wish to support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. Unfortunately, I do not give quite the same reasons for supporting the amendment as have been so far advanced. I support it because I regard it as an exercise in damage limitation. I take the completely opposite view on what education should do from that of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I am sorry to differ from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.
Let me explain why I think that it is wrong in principle to teach religion in schools. I start with the proposition that part of the history of civilisation has been the gradual erosion of superstition by reason and the development of respect for evidence. I believe that it should be one of the primary aims of education to teach regard for evidence, to teach children to ask questions and not to accept authority uncritically. In fact, they should learn some idea of how science works, how nature works and how to use their intelligence to find out about the world. I recognise that there are many scientists who are Christians and, because Islam is under fire, I direct my remarks principally at the teaching of the Christian religion.
I argue that teaching any kind of religious belief depends on authority and undermines regard for evidence and is in opposition to what a good education should provide. People may be religious because they believe in a vague numinous presence in the universe, although most Christians believe in a personal god who can physically intervene in this world, which is what faith schools teach. They teach children to pray. If praying for the welfare of others is a ritualistic way of encouraging concern for others, which also makes the person who prays feel better, well and good. I love the language of many traditional prayers. However, children are taught to pray on the assumption that their prayers may be answered and that the object of their prayers may recover from illness or some other misfortune through a gods personal response. Indeed, double-blind experiments have been done at considerable expense to see if patients in hospital who are prayed for recover faster than those who are not prayed for andsurprise, surpriseit was found that prayers had no effect.
A belief in the efficacy of prayer as a possible cure for diseases is essentially a return to medieval superstition, when it was seen as the only hope of a cure for various illnesses. You prayed to a particular saint for a particular disease. You would pray toSt Lucy, for example, who was very beautiful and, according to one legend, avoided the lustful glances of men by plucking out her eyes, and that made her the patron saint for eye diseases.
Christians believe in miracles. Jesus, it is claimed, performed miracles. Catholic saints qualify as saints because they perform miracles. The resurrection is a miracle, and how can the doctrine of the physical assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven be reconciled with the laws of nature? Miracles are, by definition, events in which the laws of nature have been suspended. Teaching people to believe in miracles is teaching them to ignore evidence and to believe in the supernatural. No wonder so many Christians reject the fact that animals and plants have evolved over many millions of years and turn to intelligent design or creationism to explain the world. A recent poll showed that 30 per cent of sixth formers in British schools do not understand evolution. If you are encouraged to believe in miracles, you can believe anything, including creationism.
Roman Catholics are taught that the Pope is infallible, just as in Galilean times when the authority of the Church overruled evidence. It is hardly rational to treat the authority of the Pope as infallible when he can change his mind and pronounce his predecessors wrong. Before 1861, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has pointed out, the infallible doctrine of the Pope held that the soul only entered the embryo 40 days after conception in the case of the male foetus and 60 days after in the case of the female foetus. Since then, popes have decreed that all abortion is murder because it has now been decreed that the soul enters the embryo at the moment of conception. Even today the Pope can change the official doctrine taught to Catholics because it seems that they may have been wrong to believe that babies who died before they were baptised go to limbo. Catholics may profess to argue on scientific grounds that stem cells from adults are more likely to cure certain diseases than embryonic stem cells, but their views are not decided by evidencethey are decided by the Popes current decree that the destruction of a human blastocyst is murder.
I do not object to children being taught about various religions because they are part of our cultural heritage, art, literature and music. I also accept that religion gives great comfort to many people and that many moral teachings of the churches are admirable. I accept the great contribution that churches and religious groups make to the community. I regard the sermon on the mount as a wonderful moral text which everyone should know about, but you do not have to believe in a god to teach morality.
Let us not, however, forget the harm that religion does. It is religionthe teachings of the American evangelicals, the Pope and Islamthat prevents UN agencies distributing condoms in Africa and thereby condemns countless Africans to death from AIDS, which I regard as a crime against humanity. It is religion that has led to the poor education of women in the world at large. It has also led to the decline in international support for family planning, which, as I shall argue in a debate tomorrow, is a vital part of any effective policy to reduce poverty. As my favourite Latin poet Lucretius put it a long time ago:
It is unfashionable to quote Latin these days. Nearly a century ago when it was still in vogue, the Conservatives pretended to understand even if they did not and the Labour Benches pretended not to understand even if they did. It means, Such crime did religion inflict upon the world.
We should keep religion out of the classroom, as the Americans do. In this they are wise. Unfortunately they make up for that by letting religion interfere in their politics. On the whole the tradition in our politics has been, in the words of Alastair Campbell, that we dont do God. It is a sad fact that through the promotion of faith schools, the Government are now undermining that tradition.
Baroness Richardson of Calow: My Lords, I am making a great effort not to be tempted to defend the Christian Church. I shall speak briefly from the viewpoint of the Methodist Church, which is not a big player in education in this country nationally, although we have a significant number of independent schools, of which I am chair of the board of management, and a growing number of state-maintained schools that are of Methodist foundation, some of them jointly with the Church of England. I have to say that on the whole the Methodist Church believes that Methodist foundation schools are a gift to society and exercise an open-access policy, do not have a quota system of any sort and would resist it strongly. If this amendment were to be passed, it would create grave difficulties for a Methodist foundation school, which would have to start asking about the professed religious allegiance of parents and create a bureaucratic administrative process which would be very difficult.
I agree entirely and enthusiastically with the intention behind the amendment, but it just would not workI cannot see how it would. All of us are familiar with the lengths to which parents will go in order to get their children into the school of their choice, moving house and making all sorts of arrangements. When I was a minister in the circuit, I noted a number of people who suddenly discovered a profound religious faith about six months before the selection process began to take place and lost it like mist in the morning sunshine soon afterwards. Yet many parents see schools of a religious foundation as institutions of excellence with a strong emphasis on justice and discipline in the way they are run. They choose these schools on educational grounds and on many occasions pretend to have a faith in order to get their children into school. If this amendment were passed, it is interesting to speculate whether it would work the other way around. Would faithful people suddenly lose their faith in order to get a place within the 25 per cent allotted to them?
I know that the policy in Church of England schools means that parents from other Christian denominations have done rather well. If they can prove that they are members of a church which is in communion with the Church of England through Churches Together in England, they are often successful in gaining a place. Would that be forbidden under this amendment? Would those who are not members of the Church of England be regarded as other religious denominations along
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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bakers plea for inclusion was very heartfelt and immensely important. On the defeat of Abd-er-Rahman by Charles Martel outside Poitiers in 732, the great Edward Gibbon wrote:
And the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval conflict into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the Revelation of Mohammed.
It looks as if we are getting to that state now. As has been pointed out, Church of England schools are part of the ancient fabric of England and society as a whole. All other faith schools, be they Roman Catholic, Jewish or now Mohammedan, want to withdraw to an exclusivity for themselves. It is that exclusivity which is dangerous. On Sunday I heard a discussion on the wireless in which an Orthodox Jewish lady said quite deliberately, We want our people to come to these schools so that they do not marry out. These are habits of exclusion.
All I now want to do is to speak on a point that has been touched on already. Let us assume for the sake of argument that there is a Muslim school in an area which encourages all its girls to wear veils. Let us also remember that the Prophet Mohammed had two Christian wives and one Jewish wife, and said nothing about the veil whatsoever. It came about at the time of the Abbassid Caliphate when there was an outbreak of immorality and all women were forced to wear the veil. Equally let us remember that Kemal Ataturk said of the veil that any woman wearing one would be considered a prostitute. The number of veils whipped off faces of women in Constantinople the next morning was quite enormous.
There is an element of exclusion about this. It is a dangerous exclusion that will drive people inwards into ghetto-like communities, and therefore my noble friend Lord Baker must be supported because his amendment goes some way towards offsetting the damage which new faith schools are, in my belief, liable to cause. I cannot think that non-Muslim people from the leafy suburbs are going to rush to buy a house close to a school where their 13 year-old girls will wear the veil, so it is going to be extremely difficult to make up the quota. I see a terrible danger of exclusivity and people huddling in their own masses. That is what worries me and that is what we have got ourselves in a muddle over in wanting new faith schools.
Lord Tombs: My Lords, first, I want to associate myself with the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Alton, who stole most of my points and made them much more eloquently than I could have done, so I am grateful to him. Since I am not going to repeat them, I am sure that noble Lords will be grateful too.
Why do we want a quota? Many Church schools welcome those of any other faith or none. The point has been made that in Roman Catholic schools in this countrythe second largest faith in terms of schooling30 per cent of pupils are not Roman Catholic. They also have a battery of arrangements with other schools, exchanging and doing things together. The Secretary of State made the point the other day that the Roman Catholic Church is one of the most outward-looking faiths in the country and the one most associated with social cohesion.
If the aim is to address a fractured societyI think that is what underlies the discussionthis is not the best way to do it. To interfere in state schools that are already outward looking is treading on eggs in hobnail boots. There are genuine feelings involved; there are genuine people doing very good things. A bull in a china shop is a poor simile. National and local government share the bulk of the responsibilities for our fractured society. Immigration and housing policies are two good examples of the way in which separate sects, separate groups and separate ghettos have grown up, and they have infinitely more leverage than schools. That is where we should be putting our attention.
All faith schoolsor certainly the Christian faith schoolsteach comparative religions; there is no isolation and no direct indoctrination of any kind. But quotas are blunt tools; they are national figures which do not take proper account of what is essentially a local issue. They do not take account of catchment areasmost pupils go to school in their catchment areas; they do not take account of geography; of social and economic conditionswealth versus poor, high unemployment versus low unemployment. A blunt tool of that kind cannot, and should not, work. The risk is that we may alienate yet other groups in the community. I oppose the amendment. It is well intentioned but far too mechanistic to work.
Finally, on a personal note, I have been distressed to hear so much anti-religious talk tonight. There is a great deal of it in the country, I know. I do not object to atheists being atheiststhe noble Lord, Lord Taverne, is welcome to his beliefs as far as I am concernedand I would like to experience a similar tolerance from the Liberal Democrat Benches.
The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, the last thing I want to do is to make any kind of grand or grandiose claims on behalf of the Church of England, but I do want to underline that Church of England schools, by their nature and by their purpose, have certain similarities with other faith schools, of course, but also some important differences from them.
The basic point is that Church of England schools are community schools; they are primarily neighbourhood schools. They are a part of the
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That is why, too, it is right for the Church of England to commit itself so that at least 25 per cent of the places in any new schools will be available on the basis of local priority rather than on faith priority. That means that at least 25 per cent will be made available to people from the local neighbourhoodand I underline at least.
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