HC Deb 03 March 1993 vol 220 cc369-81

Amendments made: No. 81, in page 204, line 6, at end insert— '. Section 1(1) (general duty of Secretary of State) is omitted'. No. 148, in page 204, line 9, at end insert— `. In section 15 (voluntary schools) for "the maintenance contribution payable by the Minister under this Act", in subsections (2) and (5), there is substituted "grants under section [Grants by Secretary of State in respect of aided and special agreement schools] of the Education Act 1993" '. No. 149, in page 205, line 2 at end insert— `. Sections 102 and 103 (contributions and grants by Secretary of State to aided and special agreement schools) are omitted'.

No. 150, in page 205, line 3 leave out '(3)'.

No. 151, in page 205, line 4 after 'expenditure', insert—

  1. '(a) in subsection (2)—
    1. (i) in paragraph (c)(i) for "a maintenance contribution" there is substituted "grants under section [Grants by Secretary of State in respect of aided and special agreement schools] of the Education Act 1993",
    2. (ii) in paragraph (c)(iii) for the words from "which" to the end there is substituted "being expenses in respect of which grants under section [Grants by Secretary of State in respect of aided and special agreement schools] of the Education Act 1993 may be paid",
    3. (iii) paragraph (d) is omitted, and
    4. (iv) in the words following that paragraph, "maintenance contribution" is omitted and for "either of the last two foregoing sections" there is substituted "section [Grants by Secretary of State in respect of aided and special agreement schools] of the Education Act 1993", and
  2. (b) in subsection (3)'.—[Mr. Boswell.]

Mr. Boswell

I beg to move amendment No. 134, in page 205, line 27, after 'education)' insert— `( ) in paragraph 2(a) for "and other religious denominations" there is substituted "denominations and other religions and denominations of such religions", ( ) in the proviso to paragraph 2 for "to represent other religious denominations" there is substituted "under sub-paragraph (a) above", ( ) in paragraph 3 before "denomination", in each place, there is inserted "religion,", and'.

Madam: Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

With this is will be convenient to discuss also the following amendments: No. 127, in page 205, line 27, after `education', insert— '( ) in paragraph 2(a) for "and other religious denominations" there is substituted "denominations and other religions and denominations of such religions", ( ) in the proviso to paragraph 2 for "to represent other religious denominations" there is substituted "under sub-paragraph (a) above", ( ) in paragraph 3 before "denomination", in each place, there is inserted "religion, and".'.

No. 180, in page 205, line 27, after 'education', insert— '( ) In paragraph 2(a) for "appropriately" is substituted "in reasonable proportion".'.

No. 123, in page 213, line 10, at end insert in section 1 1 (4)(a) (Standing Advisory Councils on religious education) for "appropriately" is substituted "in reasonable proportion.".'.

Government amendment No. 136.

No. 36, in page 213, line 10 at end insert— '. In section 9(7) (parent of boarder at maintained school requesting access to particular worship or religious education) after "particular" there is inserted "religion or". In section 11(4)(a) (standing advisory councils on religious education) for "and other religious denominations" there is substituted "denominations and other religions and denominations of such religions" and for "appropriately" there is substituted "proportionately". In section 13 (advisory councils: supplementary provisions) in subsections (1), (2) and (7)(b) before "denomination", in each place, there is inserted "religion,".'.

No. 125, in page 213, line 10 at end insert— `. In section 9(7) (parent of boarder at maintained school requesting access to particular worship or religious education) after "particular", there is inserted "religion or". In section 11 (4)(a) (standing advisory councils on religious education) for "and other religious denominations" there is substituted "denominations and other religions and denominations of such religions In section 13 (advisory councils: supplementary provisions) in subsections (1), (2) and (7)(b) before "denomination", in each place, there is inserted "religion,".'.

No. 124, in page 217, line 10 at end add— `132A. In section 9 of the Education (Schools) Act 1992 (Inspection of certain schools), in subsection (6), "education" there is inserted ", except that it may report on the school's compliance with section 6(1) of the Education Reform Act 1988.". 132B. In section 13 of that Act, (Religious education) in subsection (2), after "means", is inserted ", collective worship or".'.

Mr. Boswell

I wish to speak to Government amendments No. 134 and 136. I shall be brief because I know that a number of hon. Members wish to speak on this important topic. I am glad that we at last have the opportunity to debate the Bill's provisions for religious education. It is an essential element of the curriculum, and it is vital that we support the provision of good quality religious education for all children.

The Bill's provisions build on the arrangements set out in the Education Act 1944, which were strengthened in the Education Reform Act 1988. They are designed to bring the law into line with the new world of grant-maintained schools, heralded in last year's White Paper, and with the main thrust of the Bill itself.

The requirements for religious education have three main purposes. First, clauses 10 and 11 provide for appropriate representation on local bodies for grant-maintained schools following the 75 per cent. trigger being reached in a local area. Secondly, clauses 127 to 137 provide for religious education to be provided in different types of grant-maintained school. Thirdly, clause 232 provides for the review of agreed syllabuses where they have not yet been brought into line with the requirements of the 1988 Act, and for a regular review of syllabuses every five years.

Those provisions are sensible. They will provide better religious education for all pupils by ensuring that grant-maintained schools are fully committed to local arrangements and by stimulating curriculum development.

The Bill already incorporates a number of references which expand the various references to "denominations" in education law to include "religions". Specifically, Government amendments Nos. 134 and 136 have a simple purpose—to bring the law into line with practice. Sharp-eyed hon. Members will have noticed an identity between Government amendment No. 134 and my hon. Friend's amendment No. 127 and between Government amendment No. 136 and my hon. Friends' amendment No. 125—a case of great minds thinking alike.

In making these changes, we are responding to representations made to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is here for this important debate, in particular by the Methodist church, as well as by other respondents to our consultation on the proposals for religious education and collective worship in the White Paper.

8.15 pm

As the amendments are technical I shall explain them briefly. Education law has always referred to religious denominations—I stress the word "denominations"— in describing three matters. The first is the particular character of religious schools and the religious education offered by them. The second is the wishes of parents regarding the education of their children. The third is the membership of religious faith committees on local bodies concerned with religious education. For some time, however, there have been anomalies which do not quite fit the law. For example, there have long been Jewish voluntary schools; references to denominations within that religion have had to be stretched to include religions in order to fit reality. There are also ecumenical Christian schools, which are supported by more than one denomination. Parents may have requested that children be given religious education in accordance with the tenets of a religion which would not recognise the term "denomination", and representatives of such religions have properly been represented on local advisory bodies.

In practice, therefore, the law has been applied as though the word "denomination" included the term "religion". The amendments ensure that there is no confusion and will make it clear that "religion" and "denomination" are both encompassed. It is right that this small change should be made.

Before I allow other hon. Members to speak to their amendments, I wish to make two brief comments. The change is consistent with the sections of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 which deal with similar issues in further and higher education and where the terms that we are proposing are already used. I do not expect any difficulty with the established Church, other faiths or, I hope, hon. Members.

I advise the House that the amendments were originally tabled in slightly different form in Committee. They were not moved, however, because we received representations expressing concern that the position of Christian denominations on standing advisory councils on religious denominations and agreed syllabus conferences might be weakened. I can assure the House that that was never the intention, but the amendments have been redrafted to ensure that there is no possibility of such a misunderstanding. I accordingly commend Government amendments Nos. 134 and 136 to the House.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

I welcome the Government amendments which, as the Minister said, are identical to those tabled by my hon. Friends and I. I also welcome the opportunity to debate the important subject of religious education.

We very much welcome what the Government have done for religious education as a whole in the Bill and hope that more progress will be made here or in another place along the lines of amendments Nos. 180 and 123. They seek to determine more precisely the composition of committee A of the standing advisory councils on religious education and agreed syllabuses conferences. Amendment No. 124 refers to the inspection of religious education and the spiritual, moral and cultural development of pupils in schools. I also want to speak briefly about religious education in schools at present.

Although in 1944 religious education was made a statutory obligation for all schools and all local authorities, sadly, in the intervening period—possibly due to the rise of secularism, and social and moral education —it has fallen into a parlous state in our schools.

In 1987 it was estimated that 62 per cent. of year 8 children and 58 per cent. of year 9 children had no religious education whatever. Recently David Pascal!, the chairman of the National Curriculum Council, estimated in writing that two thirds of children in our schools receive no religious education whatever. Small wonder that the Association of Christian Teachers said that religious education was safe on the statute book but not safe in schools.

I believe that religious education is crucial for the spiritual and moral development of our children. I refer back to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) said when he was Secretary of State for Education in 1988: What the vast majority of children have been ultimately starved of are the riches of the spirit. Their ignorance of the historic faith of this country, a faith which has inspired and guided so many of its greatest men and women, is a national disgrace.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be happy to know that Lancashire has the highest proportion of church schools anywhere in the country. In my constituency—I do not know about other places—we have outstandingly good assemblies. Whenever I go to a school I always attend assembly. Assemblies are sometimes conducted by the children and sometimes by the headmistress or other members of staff —and they are outstandingly good.

Mr. Coombs

I am delighted to hear that in some parts of the country the same somewhat dismal picture is not apparent—as it is in too many other areas.

The Education Reform Act 1988 had an effect, first, by making SACREs compulsory and, secondly, by leaving control of syllabuses local. Possibly most important of all was the fact that section 8(3) said that agreed syllabuses after September 1989 must reflect the fact that the religious traditions of Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of" other religious traditions. That advice was subsequently enlarged upon in a letter of advice dated 18 March from the Department of Education to local education authorities, which said: The fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian would in most cases be properly reflected by devoting most attention to Christianity". Section 8(3) was passed by the House on an unwhipped vote by a majority of 274.

If agreed syllabuses are to be appropriate and in line with the law, it seems to me that the way in which they are drawn up must also be in line with the law. I welcome what the Government have done through their amendments to the Bill, but I would like to ensure that, when we talk about Christianity and other denominations and religions, committee A takes cognisance of the appropriate proportion of the religious make-up of the area. That would allow minority religions to be represented, yet appropriate status and appropriate numbers would be afforded to Christian traditions in the area. Too often those committees do not reflect the Christian traditions of an area.

In South Tyneside committee A contained two Muslims and one Roman Catholic, despite the fact that in South Tyneside Roman Catholics outnumbered all other Christian religions put together. In Hounslow there were nine non-Christians on the committee and only four Christians. In Newham there were nine non-Christians and only three Christians. In Oxford and Coventry Christians were outnumbered, despite the fact that in those areas it is plain and obvious that Christianity is the predominant religion of most people.

The same is true for the SACREs. Our amendment would ensure that the representation on committee A of SACREs would reflect the Christian and non-Christian make-up of an area. The National Curriculum Council tells us that one third of local education authorities have more non-Christians than Christians on their SACREs. That does not reflect the religious make-up of those areas.

No fewer than half the committees involved in drawing up the 36 new syllabuses that have been produced since 1989 contained more non-Christians than Christians. Small wonder that the Free Church Federal Council says that the membership of many local education authorities' committees do not represent the make-up of the religious affiliations of the area.

That is why our amendments refer to "reasonable proportion". That is not so specific as to be always sending cases on the exact numbers through the courts, nor to exclude minority religions, but it would at least give Christian religions the kind of predominance which in most, although not all, cases would be required by the religious make-up of the area.

Agreed syllabuses are important and it is important to monitor them and to ensure that they are rigorous. Teachers in individual schools are required by law—under the Education Acts 1944 and 1988—to teach according to the agreed syllabuses. It is therefore very disappointing to hear of a report from the National Curriculum Council described in The Sunday Times, but not yet published, although I have asked the chairman of the National Curriculum Council to publish it because it is a matter of great legitimate public interest. The report shows that the law is effectively being broken on the requirements of the 1988 Act vis-à-vis the agreed syllabuses by every new syllabus that has been drawn up by agreed syllabus conferences since 1989.

Indeed, The Sunday Times quoted Margaret Morrissey of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations as saying of the 1988 Act: There's always the danger that the fact that religious traditions in Britain are in the main Christian and that that should be reflected in the agreed syllabus is interpreted so broadly that it's hardly religious education any more". That is one reason why in too many of our schools religious education has effectively disappeared.

I find it disturbing that the leaked report of which I have had sight says: no syllabus could be said to be meeting the full legal requirements for RE as interpreted by Counsel in 1991"— subsequent to the 1980 Act The absence of specified content makes it impossible in most cases to discover whether teaching based on the syllabus would give most attention to Christian traditions … None specify what proportion of teaching should be based on Christianity". Too often we find that religious education is not being taught in practice in the classroom, but that is small wonder as the vast majority even of the revised agreed syllabuses, let alone the probably unsatisfactory agreed syllabuses that have not been revised by the other 90 or 100 local education authorities, are illegal because they do not ensure that Christianity is predominant in most areas, as it is the religion of most people in this country.

I should like the Government to do three things to rectify the problem. I hope that they will take my suggestions on board when the Bill goes to the House of Lords. First, it is crucial to have a national monitoring body to ensure that agreed syllabuses are within the law and to insist that the Government take action under their powers in the Education Act 1944 if syllabuses are outside the scope of the law. That could be done quite easily and I urge the Government to do it.

Secondly, although we need locally determined agreed syllabuses, I see no reason why there should not be a national advisory agreed syllabus. At the moment, grant-maintained schools will be able to take an agreed syllabus from any in existence throughout the country. I see no reason why we should not introduce a degree of uniformity on a voluntary basis which would mean that a local education authority, or possibly even an individual school—whether or not it is a grant-maintained school —would be able to adopt instead of its own locally agreed syllabus a national agreed syllabus if that were most appropriate for its needs.

8.30 pm

Finally, I understand that the National Curriculum Council will be issuing guidelines in the near future. We need a limit laid down by law on the number of religions that can be taught within an agreed syllabus to stop the plethora of religions in certain agreed syllabuses producing an exercise in comparative religion rather than religious education.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Is not the crux of the matter that the issue is not taken seriously enough and far too often it is left to a disconsolate art teacher to lead yet another chorus of "Lord of the Dance" to a group of despondent students who know that he does not believe? There is no interest in what he is saying and no communication of the values that he does not espouse anyway. Therefore, there must be a more professional approach and real belief should be at the heart of faith-oriented teaching.

Mr. Coombs

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Some 51 per cent. of people who teach religious education have no qualifications, whether primary or secondary, to do so. That could be part of the problem and more resources may be needed.

I was going to mention new clause 13, but I am aware that other hon. Members wish to speak. If the Government take up the measure that I have suggested and, most important, take seriously the appalling findings of the National Curriculum Council in that every single authority seems to be flouting the law as laid down in the Education Act 1988, there will be great advantages to religious education to the benefit of the spiritual and moral development of our children.

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)

May I preface what I hope will be a short speech by once again thanking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the enormously flexible, sensitive and constructive way in which they have listened to representations from those of us with a particular interest in religious education? They have shown sympathy for it and have done everything possible, without any preconceived notions or bureaucratic pressure, to help us forward. We are very much in their debt, as are a large number of people outside the Chamber.

I shall briefly address a fairly narrow point arising on amendment No. 124, which relates to inspections in denominational schools delivering denominational education. I put down a brief marker, because it is possible that my right hon. Friend will see fit to pursue the matter further in another place. It is not entirely satisfactory that schools which supply denominational education, for example, Roman Catholic or Church of England schools, will have two separate obligatory school inspections. One is carried out by the inspector appointed by the denominational schools' own governors directed narrowly and exclusively at the religious education curriculum and its teaching in the classroom under that narrow head. The second inspection is by an outside inspector appointed by Ofsted directed at the school's spiritual and moral development and the provision of the schools' collective worship.

It is bizarre, prima facie, that two separate inspections in more or less watertight compartments should be conducted in the same school. Its rather like having two ticket inspectors travelling on my train to York every week, one to examine whether I have a valid ticket and the other to decide whether I really need to go to York at all. It is unsatisfactory to have two separate inspectors conducting disconnected inspections.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will appreciate how unnatural and artificial it is to separate religious education—the narrow technical teaching of the curriculum subject—under one inspectorate appointed by the governors, from the inspection of the spiritual and moral development of the children and the provision of collective worship under Ofsted inspectors.

I shall illustrate how unnatural it is, because religious education in a denominational school goes far wider than the instruction of the elements of a particular faith. Spiritual and moral development, which is to be inspected by a separate, outside, possibly secular humanist inspector, in the case of a child in a denominational school, will and should encompass a specific commitment to the Christian faith. That is what is involved by definition in a denominational school. A child's moral progress must, by definition, represent moral progress towards the attainment, recognition and approval of Christian moral standards, particularly in the realm of sexual morality.

For example, the religious education in a denominational school, spilling over into spiritual and moral development, may explain to a child that a real Christian commitment means accepting the moral inadmissibility of homosexual acts or pre-marital or extra-marital heterosexual activity. It means subscribing to the sanctity of human life in regard to abortion and euthanasia, for example. That could be part of the teaching in a denominational school.

The second Ofsted inspector, a secular humanist perhaps, appointed from outside the school, may say that that spiritual and moral education is bigoted, dangerously narrow, fundamentalist, manipulative, exclusive, intolerant, rigid and biased. One can imagine such a report from a secular inspector concerned with the moral and spiritual education of children which is delivered to children put into a denominational school by their parents with a view to their being taught Christianity and led into a commitment to it. Thus the result could be an inspection that is abrasive, inimical and repudiatory to the spiritual and moral standards being taught in that denominational school.

In conclusion, I turn to collective worship. The Ofsted inspector may be an admirable man or woman, fully in sympathy with the Christian faith, but then again, the individual concerned may not. Only the school governors' appointed inspector can by definition be sympathetic to the Christian faith.

I draw hon. Members' attention to what Monsignor McHugh, the diocesan director of religious education in the diocese of Birmingham, had to say about collective worship: The problem with using the yardstick of 'educational value' is that this is not what worship is primarily about. Therefore, using educational criteria to judge the value of worship can only be acceptable to the degree that it is accepted by the inspectorate that this is to use criteria only distantly related to the activity being inspected, even if it is taking place in an educational setting. Worship is not undertaken primarily for educational reasons—we do not celebrate Mass in order to educate ourselves, but to thank God, to listen to his Word and to join ourselves to his sacrificial redemptive offering. We do not pray in order to educate ourselves: we pray because we want to adore and praise God, to thank him, to confess our sins and to ask his help. There can be an educational spin-off to worship, of course, but education is not the primary purpose of worship. And so worship which is educationally poor may nonetheless be good worship; while worship that is educationally rich may be poor quality worship. To what extent will the Ofsted inspector be able to tread sensitively and properly in the very specialised area of denominational education? My right hon. Friend must consider seriously whether he can at least reach a compromise on the matter by extending the remit of the school inspector appointed by the governors, who is at present limited to the RE dimension, so that his remit runs part passu with the remit of the Ofsted inspectors so that he or she can cover the other areas that have to be inspected, such as moral, spiritual, ethical and social education, and collective worship.

There would then be two parallel inspectorates going into denominational schools. Parents looking at the different reports would be able to pick the one in which they had most confidence. That compromise is a reasonable way forward. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider it sympathetically and that he will table amendments in another place to give effect to this proper concern.

Mr. Enright

It is always difficult for politicians to talk about personal beliefs and then to attempt to legislate for them. We are left with many dilemmas, not least because each of us has different beliefs, although we may all be Christians. There are, of course, differing beliefs between the differing religions.

I shall talk mainly about voluntary-aided schools from a Catholic perspective because that is where my experience principally lies, although I taught religion eight periods a day, five days a week for six months in a state school, which gave me some experience in that area.

Voluntary-aided schools are a minefield for religious education. Many starving Irish people emigrated to this country. When they came here, they wished to protect their culture and their religion. The Catholic voluntary-aided schools were built on the pennies and halfpennies of washerwomen, tram drivers and navvies—working-class people who were poor by any standards but who were proud enough to say, "We want our culture, but we also want our culture to be within the community." That proud tradition continues.

This very week, I received a plea from my old school, St. Josephs's Roman Catholic junior and infant school in Pontefract. The school has been given the go-ahead for some new building, and I thank the Department for Education for that. The letter asked for my help in an appeal to cover the school's share of the capital costs so that it could remain independent. When I think of the sacrifices made by my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents to keep those voluntary-aided schools going, I am only too happy to give a reasonable amount for the sake of generations to come because I am part of the Catholic community and I am part of the Pontefract community.

8.45 pm

Catholic schools were set up in the community, sometimes in conjunction with the school boards and sometimes ahead of the school boards. All primary education sprang up at a local level because it was important at that level. Tammany hall prefigured much of that. When we had direct elections for school boards locally, people had 10 or 11 votes, depending on how many places there were on the board. As Catholics, we knew our way around that so we gave our 10 or 11 votes to the same person. Catholics regularly came top of the poll, which meant that there was always one Catholic on the board. It is not quite like that with the standing advisory councils on religion these days. There was one powerful Catholic voice.

Out of those school boards arose self-assurance and, importantly, assimilation into society. It was a slow and gradual process, but it was because Catholics were able to have their own voluntary-aided schools that they were able to gain the confidence to enter the local community and local politics. We shall never forget that it was the local communities, which ultimately became the local education authorities, which gave us assistance in doing that. We have a residual loyalty which it is important to remember. The history of people who emigrate is important to them. In this case, that history is certainly cherished.

There we are, secure in our schools and willing to pay the price to remain not completely independent—certainly complying with the community but having the crucial ability to control what we are doing in our education in moral and religious terms. If we throw that away for grant-maintained status, which is often suggested, we shall throw away an important tradition. That is why Bishop Konstant has urged against schools becoming grant maintained. I do not wish to caricature the issue by implying that if a Catholic school decides to go grant maintained, we in the Catholic community will throw it to the wolves. We shall certainly not do that. It is our duty, as it is the duty of the Labour party, to look after every child who is being educated.

We are now considering what is meant in terms of religious education and in terms of the moral background of the schools. It is extremely important that we belong to the diocesan family. I use the phrase "diocesan family" deliberately because within the Catholic Church—this is little realised—devolution is important. We talk much about Maastricht and about moving downwards, as it were. Indeed, the word that is used for that is not political but comes from the Vatican, suggesting that deep down in the diocese, in the devolved situation, that responsibility lies.

The family of diocesan schools must cling together. One must support the other, and within the voluntary-aided —the Catholic—system that is crucial. We look on our schools not as the property of the parents who happen to have children attending them at the time, but as part of the whole community—an aspect that is important not only to Catholic schools, but to all state schools.

We are responding to the needs of the Catholic community in specific areas, so we can sacrifice one for the other in that, because there are difficulties in, say, Bradford, we in Pontefract can pay more, or perhaps because they have difficulty recruiting religious teachers in Leeds, we in Hemsworth can provide them with that religious teaching and the training that goes with it. We can follow the same exercise for sacred music and examining the liturgy.

That is important to us, but it is equally important in the Catholic tradition that there should be consultation with other schools. There was a great deal of religious bigotry. Visit Pontefract and see a church that was built at the time when Catholics were still unable to vote. That church was built on a hill behind a peak so that it could not be seen by the good burghers of Pontefract, who might otherwise have stoned it. We have come out of that ghetto situation. It was a deliberate decision which led us out of the ghetto to talk to the local schools, including schools with Anglican origins as well as those with simply state origins. That informal association and co-operation is important. But, above all, we are asserting our Catholic identity in a Christian community.

It is a stated principle passed down by the diocesan education commission that, whatever we do, we must not recruit from abroad or try to steal pupils from other schools. That is important and is clearly laid down. It is also clearly laid down that we must look to the disadvantaged and those with special needs—that we go out into the community to recruit, as it were, those sections of society because we believe that they belong preciously to the overall society that makes up our schools. We wish to give them our values, including our values of religious education, and we say that unashamedly.

Much can be said about the standing advisory committees on religious education. Anyone who contributes to a SACRE or takes part in its deliberations—immediately before I came to this place I was a member of the Wakefield SACRE, so I know something of its workings—appreciates that it is a question not whether one person can outvote another in a SACRE, but of coming together in Christian and religious co—operation.

Although we have only a small Muslim community in Wakefield metropolitan district, it has been important for us to understand that community. It is important from our Christian viewpoint, not because we wish to be tolerant of it—that is a demeaning attitude to take—but because we have a strong desire to understand it. Other religions can enrich us as we can enrich them.

If we are part of a SACRE, we should accept the consequences of the SACRE. In other words, we must accept the agreed syllabus, and there is something wrong about the Bill when it says that a grant-maintained school can enter an agreement with a SACRE but can withdraw from the results of it. It is cynical to say, "I am taking part in these deliberations, but I reserve my right to go elsewhere in the end."

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why SACREs do not approve religious education syllabuses which comply with the Education Act 1988 and which, in the main, should be Christian? Far too many syllabuses are not complying with that, which is why, according to a MORI poll, 44 per cent. of school leavers leave school without a proper understanding of what happened even on Easter day.

Mr. Enright

While I do not necessarily accept the hon. Lady's statistics, I agree that what she says is a fair reflection of the way in which society is operating today. The hon. Lady has in previous debates referred to the case of a mother who wrote to her saying that her 11-year-old child could not recite the Our Father. I would be ashamed if my children could not recite the Our Father, but I claim that the present state of affairs in that respect has nothing to do with the schools but has to do with the family. Religion initially comes from the family, and we look to the schools to enhance the intellectualism of religion.

The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) said that we must look to the law. I am worried about that because I remember distinctly what Christ said about the scribes and the Pharisees and the law. If we look to the law in that way, we shall kill the spirit of religion.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Not only is ignorance of Christianity widespread, but it is extraordinary that, although a recent opinion poll showed that about half t he people in Britain regard themselves as Christian and only about 4 per cent. adhere to other religions, we can have SACREs in which Christians are in a minority. No wonder there is such widespread ignorance and, hence, the amendments that are before the House.

Mr. Enright

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. I have looked at the syllabuses available from SACREs. It does not matter who is represented on SACREs. What matters is the syllabus that emerges at the end, and I know that there is no such syllabus which affects either the Catholic or the Anglican teaching of religion.

Mr. Boswell

As I shall not be able to reply to the debate, perhaps I may take this opportunity to say that I will reflect seriously on the points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly in relation to SACREs and the implications of inspection as raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends in their amendments. It will be impossible to discuss them further today, but we shall reflect on them before the Bill proceeds to the other place.

Mr. Enright

I am grateful to the Minister. It is a shame that, as a result of the guillotine, we could not discuss the matter properly in Committee. That is one of the consequences of the way in which we proceed.

I would also like SACREs to conduct their business in public. That is most important. With my dying gasp, I point out to the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) that the whole of education is seamless. It is impossible to separate history, English, biology and physics from religious education and worship. Among other things, worship is educational: it is through worship that people are brought out in spirit. I believe that passionately, and it is important to state it here.

The three points that the hon. Member—

It being Nine o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question already proposed from the Chair, That the amendment be made:

Question agreed to.

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER then put the Questions on all remaining amendments moved by a member of the Government.

Amendments made: No. 152, in page 205, line 34, at end insert—

  1. 'The Education Act 1946 (c. 50) 58 words
  2. c381
  3. 'The Education Act 1967 (c. 3) 29 words
  4. c381
  5. 'The Representation of the People Act 1983 (c. 2) 57 words
  6. c381
  7. 'or (Approval of premises of maintained or grant-maintained special schools)'. 86 words