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Lord Peston: My Lords, the whole process seems to be in a mess. I want to speak to Amendment No. 5. Equally, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. Normally I like to speak to amendments after the movers have made the case for them. However, I shall speak only to Amendment No. 5 at the moment and we ought to find a way whereby the noble Baronesses who favour Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 can put their case so that we can argue about them as well without breaking the rules of Report stage in your Lordships' House.

I want to say the reverse of what the right reverend Prelate said; namely, that I am totally opposed to Amendment No. 5. I have a simple logical question—nothing to do with quiet time or anything of that sort; namely, if it is the view under freedom of choice and related matters that parents ought to have the right to have religious schools, does it not follow logically that other parents ought to have the right to have purely secular schools? That right should not simply be met by opting-out procedures, but by not having the religious element in the school.

It is entirely right that the right reverend Prelate raises this matter. It enables us to try and obtain from the Government, at least on one occasion, a logical basis for the position they are taking on parental choice. My view is that if parents within a school wish that school to be wholly secular, then the whole spirit of the legislation before us is that they ought to be able to say, "This is an innovation we want. We have thought it through. We will put it to the Secretary of State as a suggestion we should like put in place".

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I am not saying that the Secretary of State should necessarily agree. But if that is an innovation that parents want, they should not be denied the right to have it. I am extremely glad, therefore, that the right reverend Prelate moved Amendment No. 5. I hope that he will now seek to divide the House so that at least one person can vote against him; namely, me. That would solve many of my other problems in getting myself on the record as putting my money where my mouth is. There is a fundamental question here to which it is about time that we faced up. If noble Lords believe in freedom of choice, they must apply that to all parents, including parents like myself. In practice, of course, in schools to which parents such as myself sent their children, the religious bit was so derisory as not to bother us. But we ought to have the right to say that we want an innovation in a school to make it a secular school. That follows absolutely from the Government's position.

5 p.m.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that point—I thought that he might. Is not Chapter 1 about raising educational standards achieved by children? I cannot see how removal of worship or removal of religious education contributes to raising the standards of education. It withdraws children's opportunities rather than adding to them, so I should have thought that it is outside the scope of the clauses.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I wish that I could be as sanguine as is the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about that. There are schools—in some numbers, I am afraid—that would regard not having to carry out daily worship or include compulsory religious education as leaving space in the curriculum to do other things that they would argue raised the school's standards. It is not inconceivable—it may even be reasonably probable—that such an application would be made. It would then be a matter for the Secretary of State.

I have received an Answer from the noble Baronesses on this matter, and it is unnerving. That Answer is the reason why I strongly support the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate. My Question was:

    "What would be the status of compulsory subjects such as the core curriculum, religious education and daily worship, and citizenship, if proposals were to come forward under Clause 2 of the Education Bill linking the dropping of subjects with the raising of standards"?

The reply from the noble Baroness was:

    "Exemptions under clause 2 of the Education Bill may be conferred for a temporary period only, and only for the purposes set out in clause 1".

We know that the temporary period is for up to six years and could thereafter be extended for all time if legislation followed. The Answer continues:

    "That is, exemptions may be conferred only 'to facilitate the implementation by qualifying bodies of innovative projects that may—(a) in the opinion of the Secretary of State contribute to the raising of the educational standards achieved by children in England, or (b) in the opinion of the National Assembly for Wales

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    contribute to the raising of educational standards achieved by children in Wales.' The Secretary of State would have to approve any such proposals, and would do so only if she were convinced it would lead to higher educational standards".—[Official Report, 25/3/02; col. WA 25.]

So, as I said, it is conceivable that an application could be made that made a good case that good use could be made of the time freed up by removing daily worship and religious education from a school. Therefore, technically, if the Secretary of State decided that compulsory subjects could not be set aside—if so, that should be in the Bill—and took the view that that school would not be raising standards on the grounds that it would displace a compulsory subject, the applicant could go to judicial review and win. There is no protection in the Bill for that subject.

The Education Act 1944 enshrined the right of all children to receive religious education and enshrined the daily act of worship. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, reminds us at regular intervals that that is contentious. I have believed for a long time that education without a spiritual dimension is a pretty arid and clinical experience. Unless it is enshrined in law, many children will not receive religious education. That is a double jeopardy fate for them, because we know that many children do not receive religious education at home. For a large number of children, the only anchor in their life and the only way in which they will receive any kind of spiritual dimension to their lives will be through school. As a nation, we should at least protect for our children a spiritual dimension to their education through the promise made in the 1944 Act.

We have dealt with special educational needs. The Government were sufficiently moved to include protection for them in the Bill. We need some protection on this matter in the Bill, whether it is this amendment or something akin to it. Exhortation on the record at this stage will not work because I have a Written Answer to a publicly placed Question which is contrary to what the noble Baroness may say today.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, perhaps I may say a brief word about Amendment No. 11. I am grateful to the Minister for tabling her amendment, which achieves exactly the same effect as that tabled by the Liberal Democrats in Committee. It may be helpful to the Minister and the rest of the House to know that I do not intend to move Amendment No. 11 as a consequence.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I shall now try to be helpful to the House with regard to procedure. I apologise to your Lordships, but it is my first ever day on Report, so I am trying to follow what I believe to be the correct procedure. It may be helpful to noble Lords if I suggest, having been advised that it is up to me, that from now on I shall speak to the amendment that I am moving and then wind-up at the end of the debate. That may make things slightly easier and I apologise to the House.

I shall now speak to Amendment No. 10 and then wind up on Amendment No. 5. First, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. As she knows, in

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Committee, I agreed with the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley, that it is important to keep a public record of the power to innovate. That is precisely why I have proposed the amendment. It will require the Secretary of State or the National Assembly to produce a report. As I said, it is important that the Secretary of State is involved. We want there to be a public record of exactly what legislation is to be disapplied; exactly who the disapplication applies to; and for how long it will last.

But I also felt—I believe that noble Lords shared this feeling—that it might be helpful to have, in one place and on an annual basis, a summary of the orders that have been made during the course of the year and those orders that continue to apply from previous years. That would ensure that no school, LEA, parent or pupil was in any doubt about exactly what legislation had been disapplied and for how long that would continue. Amendment No. 10 achieves that.

I turn to Amendment No. 5. Noble Lords will be aware that Amendment No. 2 alters the Bill by inserting the requirement to have regard to the need to promote,

    "the spiritual, moral, cultural"

—the list continues—education of children. I hope that noble Lords understand from that that we are as keen as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, whom I entirely support, to ensure that children receive the kind of spiritual education that they would want. That is precisely why I listened carefully to what noble Lords said in Committee and agreed that it is important that that is stated in the Bill.

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn for tabling his amendment. It gives me an opportunity to put on record that the Government cannot conceive of any situation in which exempting requirements to RE or collective worship would raise the educational standards of children in England or Wales, not least because of the protection already enshrined in the Bill for children's spiritual, moral and cultural education.

The Secretary of State can disapply legislation for the fixed time period only if it will raise standards for children—and in the context of the amendments that we have already made to the Bill. The amendment is therefore unnecessary. We have already ensured the protection that the right reverend Prelate seeks. I shall be clear again: we would not regard the requirements relating to RE or collective worship as suitable matters for disapplication. On that basis, I hope that the right reverend Prelate will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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