HC Deb 22 July 1996 vol 282 cc18-9
39. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, representing the Church Commissioners, how many clergy on the commission's payroll are currently estimated to undertake the conduct of acts of worship or the teaching of religious education in schools; and if he will make a statement. [36756]

Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

This is not a matter for the commissioners. They are not directly responsible in this area, and I am afraid that we do not have access to the relevant statistics, but I understand that the number is considerable.

Mr. Greenway

If a considerable number of clergy already teach in schools, could not more do so? Perhaps the Dean of Lincoln and his associates would be better employed in doing that. Is it not important that the teaching of right and wrong should come first in the Church's priorities and that clergy and bishops should take more of an interest in their schools than they do?

Mr. Alison

I sympathise with what my hon. Friend says, but as he will know, because he is an ex-headmaster, that, for clergy to take part in school assemblies, they have to be invited by the headmaster. If they are likely to be competent and helpful, they will be invited. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that many dioceses, including Lincoln, run in-service courses as part of their programme of continuing ministerial education so that local clergy are fit to take school assemblies—no mean undertaking, as my hon. Friend knows.

Mr. Spearing

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, whatever the merits of ordained persons conducting services of worship in schools—clearly, denominational schools—that category of person would be regarded by many pupils as having a vested interest? Does he further agree that it is highly desirable that most religious education be conducted by lay persons? Does he also agree that religion cannot be taught—it is something for consideration by the person concerned?

Mr. Alison

I entirely accept the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Religious education is not an occasion for proselytisation. The participation of lay contributors to RE is of fundamental importance. Many lay parents of children in schools are drawn into RE and school worship to assist precisely in that way.