BY CHRISTINA WHITE
CA1140LIC education in England and Wales came under renewed attack this week as the Government's controversial Education Bill moved from the Commons to its first reading in the House of Lords.
During a debate in the House on Monday, peers attacked the ethos of Catholic and other faith-based schools in a series of astonishingly vehement statements.
The independent and crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool said afterwards that "visceral hatred" had presented itself during the debate and he condemned the remarks as tantamount to "wilful ignorance". "They were intemperate and ill-judged," he said. Conservative peer Lord Lucas told the House that people were being forced to "convert" in order to gain access to Catholic education.
Labour peer Lord Peston, argued that parents chose Catholic schools to ensure that their children would not be mixing with "rough boys, blacks or those sorts of people". Baroness Walmsley, speaking from the Liberal Democrat front benches, reaffirmed her party's three-line whip against faith-based education. She stated that the Liberal Democrats would "propose an amendment to the Bill that makes it unlawful for any school in receipt of state funding to deny access to a child from its local community on the grounds of faith or lack of faith," effectively restricting the admissions rights and freedoms of Catholic schools.
Intervening in the debate, Lord Alton said church schools had educated the children of immigrants, and he contested the view that were not racially representative. He quoted Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, head of the Catholic Education Service, who had condemned earlier efforts in the Commons by Frank Dobson MP and Phil Willis MP to restrict the rights of Catholic schools.
He said: "He [Archbishop Nichols] expressed his anger at the caricature of Catholic education, saying that Catholic schools are the fruit of a struggle to which Catholic parents, have contributed financially for many generations."
Lord Alton told The Catholic Herald that he was saddened that so much was said on the basis of so much ignorance. He said: "It brings Parliament into disrepute. I find it most worrying when the front bench of a political party indicates that it will seek to prevent children from entering a school and giving priority to those who live closer. They are proposing the creation of ghettos. This is the worst kind of social engineering"
The Education Bill will now go forward to committee and report stage.