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Revealed: Catholic stranglehold on education policy in Parliament as Church pays for interns within offices of those with education briefs

  • Catholic Bishops’ Conference has been paying MPs to place interns in their offices, Humanists UK can reveal
  • The MPs concerned include the new Education Secretary Damian Hinds, as well as the Shadow Schools Minister Mike Kane, the Shadow Children and Families Minister Emma Lewell-Buck, and the former Lib Dem Education Spokesperson John Pugh
  • Damian Hinds has also spoken out in favour of scrapping the 50% cap on faith-based admissions, in line with Catholic policy
  • Humanists UK believes this represents inappropriate influence within Parliament and raises questions about conflicts of interest in decision over the 50% cap

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has been giving substantial financial support to high-profile MPs from a range of parties, including the new Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds, in return for presence in their parliamentary offices, Humanists UK has revealed. Through a series of donations to cross-party MPs for parliamentary ‘interns’, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference has secured a presence in the parliamentary offices of at least four MPs who held, or subsequently went on to hold, ministerial or shadow ministerial education briefs.

Humanists UK campaigns against the involvement of religious organisations in the running of state schools, and has led the national campaign against plans to drop the 50% cap on religious selection at free schools. It has expressed concern at the extent of Catholic influence over the education policy of England, describing it as ‘pernicious and deeply inappropriate’, and is today calling for action by all parties to prevent any conflicts of interest that arise.

Following a reshuffle this week, Damian Hinds MP took over as Secretary of State for Education from Justine Greening, leading to concerns over the fate of the 50% cap on religious selection at free schools. While Greening had defended the cap and its important role in ensuring both integration in and fair access to schools in England, Hinds has been one of the few prominent voices supporting the removal of the cap, in line with the policy of the Catholic Education Service and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

In April 2014, for instance, Hinds sponsored a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons in support of Catholic schools and their use of admissions policies designed to ensure intakes that are predominantly or exclusively Catholic. In the debate, he took particular aim at the 50% cap on religious selection at free schools, claiming that more inclusive admissions policies would ‘erode’ the character of Catholic schools and calling for the cap to be scrapped.

The Register of Members’ Interests details a subsequent donation given to Damian Hinds by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to the value of £5,116.25, for the purpose of an intern in Hinds’ parliamentary office. The internship is listed as lasting for 10 months, between October 2014 and July 2015.

Damian Hinds is by no means the only MP with an education brief who has benefitted from a donation of this kind from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference:

  • In the months prior to becoming Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister in October 2016, Mike Kane was gifted £5,218.55 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, also to cover the costs of a parliamentary intern for 10 months.

  • Former Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson John Pugh was gifted £4,000 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales for the salary of a parliamentary intern that worked in his office for 10 months, both prior to and during his time in that role.

  • Emma Lewell-Buck, the current Shadow Children and Families Minister, was similarly gifted £5,330 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales for a parliamentary intern. The intern started when she took up the post in October 2016 and remained in her office for 10 months until July 2017.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘A third of state-funded schools in England are run by religious organisations, which are gifted broad freedoms to privilege and discriminate against children, parents, and teachers on the basis of religion. Given this, one would think that the level of religious influence over the education system is bad enough without the pernicious and deeply inappropriate political lobbying conducted by the Catholic Church. It is incredibly disappointing that political parties of all colours have failed to recognise the inappropriate conflicts of interest that such funding raises. It needs to stop.

‘In light of the financial support that the new Education Secretary has received from the Catholic Church, questions must surely be asked about whether or not Damian Hinds has a conflict of interest in making a decision on the 50% cap. The removal of the cap is a policy opposed by every piece of evidence and almost every expert, except the Catholic Education Service. If it were to go ahead now, it would represent a victory for the vested interests of religion over the better interests of children, and signal a worrying shift in the direction of education policy in England.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

See the record of the donation made by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to Damian Hinds MP: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/regmem/?p=24782

See the record of the donation made by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to John Pugh, Former Liberal Democrat spokesperson on education: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/regmem/?p=11174

See the record of the donation made by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to Mike Kane MP, Shadow Schools Minister: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/regmem/?p=25220

See the record of the donation made by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to Emma Lewell-Buck, the current Shadow Children and Families Minister: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/25181/emma_lewell-buck/south_shields#register

Read ‘The 50% cap on religious selection in free schools. Who’s for keeping it, and who’s for lifting it?’: https://faithschoolersanonymous.uk/2017/12/the-50-cap-on-religious-selection-in-free-schools-whos-for-keeping-it-and-whos-for-lifting-it/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

 

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