§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Second Reading debate resumed.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, I very much look forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow in this debate on the Bill which builds on the policy which he developed during his distinguished period as Secretary of State for Education and Science. I am also very much looking forward to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell.
The Bill aims to change important aspects of our education system. Nothing less will achieve our urgent objective of raising standards throughout our schools, colleges and universities. The Bill ensures for the first time that all children will receive a broad, balanced and relevent curriculum—a truly national curriculum. However, the Government believe that setting national standards is not enough. The way to ensure that in practice those standards are achieved is through the healthy competition that arises from encouraging parental choice which is, in any case, a good in itself. Therefore the Bill widens parents' choice of school within the local education authority sector and makes provision for the establishment of two types of school—grant maintained schools and city technology colleges—which will extend still further the range of choice available.
We believe that schools and colleges, and their governing bodies, are best placed to make day-to-day management decisions, and accordingly the Bill builds on developing local practice to devolve responsibility as far as possible. The same principle—that local decisions are best made at the most local level—underlies our proposals for education in inner London. I believe that that gives a lie to those who have argued that the Bill is concerned to arrogate power to the centre. That claim is sometimes made in the most lurid terms. We are told of the 182 new powers which the Secretary of State is taking to himself—and Opposition noble Lords may add some more if they wish! However, noble Lords who have taken the trouble to study the Bill will have seen that that is sheer fantasy. Anyone attempting to tot up the figures to anything like that number, or beyond, is treating it as though it were a separate power, each subsidiary, secondary or minor provision designed to bolster the much more limited number of substantive powers given to the Secretary of State. In any case, most of those substantive powers are designed to enable the Secretary of State to ensure that power is devolved to the most local level.
Financial delegation to the schools and colleges—is that a centralising measure? The setting 1363 up of polytechnics as free-standing institutions—is that also a centralising measure? Similarly, freedom for schools to apply for grant-maintained status, without interference from local education authorities, but at the same level of resources as those other local schools—is that, too, a centralising measure?
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, noble Lords on the Opposition Benches will understand that my answer would be the opposite to that.
There is wide agreement that a national curriculum is desirable. That plainly requires some degree of central co-ordination. The Government's provisions include checks and balances which means that attainment targets and programmes of study will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny following two stages of national consultation in which the independent curriculum councils will have key roles. We have taken the utmost care to ensure that those provisions do not permit a Secretary of State merely to take power into his own hands. In short, at whichever part of the Bill that one looks, the charge of centralisation simply does not stand up. That fact is especially clear in relation to higher education.
At the time of the Bill's publication there was much criticism about the nature of the powers being sought for the Secretary of State in respect of the university funding provisions of the Bill. As I understand it, the essential concern was that they placed inappropriate and dangerous powers into the hands of the Secretary of State. Notwithstanding the amendments which have been made, many of those criticisms continue and that, I understand, is the burden of the Petition made by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury which was read to your Lordships' House this afternoon.
I cannot accept the contention that the powers conferred on the Secretary of State are inappropriate. Between them the funding councils will dispose of some £2.5 billion per annum. Surely it cannot seriously be argued that the Government, on the taxpayers' behalf, have no right to determine how those substantial sums are disbursed? If such powers are appropriate, where is the danger? That must lie in the suspicion that some future Secretary of State might use those powers improperly to involve himself in the detailed provision of higher education. However, that ignores the fact that over many years similar, if not wider, powers have been available to successive Secretaries of State and have never been abused. It also ignores the important point—surely this is fundamental—that the Secretary of State, the Government, are answerable to Parliament.
The contents of this part of the legislation were well canvassed. The starting point is the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Croham, which was published in February 1987. That report was debated in this House on 18th March, shortly before the publication in April of the White Paper Higher Education: Meeting the Challenge. That was debated in this House on 6th May, almost immediately before the publication of the detailed consultation paper on the University Funding Council with a deadline for comments on 30th June. 1364 That certainly, at least for the most part, was not during a holiday period.
The new provisions will provide a proper statutory framework for the funding of universities and higher education generally. This will clarify presently confused lines of responsibility and accountability. The aim has been to carry forward into the new situation the necessary powers available to the Secretary of State under the present non-statutory arrangements. The reactions to the Government's proposals before the publication of the Bill indicated that the conventions were well understood. Provision for the necessary new powers were therefore drawn in fairly broad brush terms.
The criticisms which these attracted on publication arose from dark suspicions of the Government's motives. This Government—any government who cared about the health of higher education—simply could not square the needs of society with the kind of subjugation of the funding councils and the institutions that has featured in some of the wilder scenarios canvassed since the publication of the Bill. However the Government have met these criticisms by a studied package of amendments now embodied in the Bill before this House. These make explicit the always-intended limitations on the Secretary of State's powers. Of course, he needs to be able to attach conditions to the funds he puts at the funding councils' disposal, but these—and this is vitally important—may neither affect the use to which institutions put their private funds, nor require the funding councils to treat specified institutions in particular ways. Similarly, institutions' private funds are explicitly outside the funding councils' influence.
Given the importance of higher education, the Secretary of State needs long-stop powers to direct the funding councils to take particular actions in the nation's interests. The Bill now provides for any such direction to be subject to parliamentary veto under the negative resolution procedure; in other words, under direct parliamentary control. Explicit provision has been made for the funding councils to advise the Government on any matters which the councils wish to raise. The powers of the funding councils to secure repayment of funds in particular circumstances have been clarified, as have the powers of the Secretary of State to delegate additional functions to the funding councils.
There is an obvious tension between the public funding of higher education institutions and the need to preserve their essential autonomy. This Government, as did all our predecessors, fully recognise the need to safeguard the essential nature of our higher education provision. What was implicit in the Bill as introduced has now been made explicit, and it seems to me that on this aspect of the matter the provisions are now in good shape.
Linked with the concerns to which I have referred have been some misunderstandings of the implications for academic freedom of the Bill's entirely separate provisions for academic tenure. The Government have repeatedly stressed their belief in the importance of academic freedom as a vital element in our higher education system. I shall seek to explain briefly, in order to emphasise them, the measures in the Bill aimed at safeguarding it.
1365 I believe the best way to protect academic staff from potentially hostile management and colleagues—and that is what we are dealing with at this stage—is to ensure access to due processes which will protect them from arbitrary dismissal. In view of a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, last night, perhaps I may say that the processes which are here in question are processes which are designed to prevent the dismissal taking effect.
These are: by requiring the commissioners to establish proper procedures for dismissing staff; by requiring the commissioners to provide for an appeals machinery for staff who are dismissed or under notice of dismissal. This should ensure that all academic staff have a means of testing the grounds for dismissal and an effective measure of protection against any victimisation by their colleagues on account of their views. If their appeals were well-founded their positions would be secure. Thirdly, by removing the exclusive jurisdiction of the visitor over cases of dismissal of academic staff, so enabling staff to bring actions in the courts for wrongful dismissal which they cannot now do. This right of action in the courts will be in addition to the right that academic staff have, like other employees, to contest the fairness of their dismissal in an industrial tribunal. That, of course, is the later stage in the matter and perhaps the stage to which some of the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, were more appropriately directed.
I believe it is also important to note that what is proposed by the Government is that commissioners shall have the responsibility of following these provisions in making specific provisions for individual institutions. I believe that this deals effectively with the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester yesterday about adapting the situation to the individual institutions which are in question.
In establishing new procedures and machinery, the commissioners will be required to consult, and to take into account the representations of, both the institutions and representatives of the staff concerned. The Privy Council will not confirm the changes in statutes put forward by the commissioners unless it is satisfied that the dismissal and appeals procedures and machinery are just and fair. The requirement for fairness is central to the whole process and recognises, surely, the sensitivities of these academic issues. Fairness is at the very essence of the procedure which we suggest is appropriate in this Bill for dealing with these matters.
There is continued pressure for provisions protecting academic freedom to be written into the Bill. Whether one calls it academic freedom or scholarly freedom, I do not particularly mind. However, I suppose that scholarly freedom emphasises that it is the freedom of the individual scholar, whereas academic freedom might mean either the freedom of the individual academic or the freedom of the academy itself.
The argument is that a new specific protection is required to replace that currently afforded by tenure, that is, "unsackability", if I might use that word, on grounds of redundancy. What are the implications of this? I pass over the point that tenure in this sense 1366 exists in only half our universities and none of our polytechnics, so that in law and in logic it cannot provide the protection some people want. The implications of that demand can only be that academics are afraid of malign university management and of being persecuted by their colleagues on account of their views. Some odd arguments have been advanced about the magic powers of tenure; for example, that its existence in one institution protects in some way staff in a neighbouring college which does not have it. For my part, I must say that I find this a little less than compelling in logic than some of the other arguments on the law that I have heard from noble Lords.
In practice of course the Bill will do no more than ensure that all universities have the means that other good employers have to run their concerns effectively. Academic staff appointed or promoted after the introduction of the Bill will no longer have complete protection against redundancy. But the Bill in no way gives universities free licence to dismiss people. They would have to be shown to be genuinely redundant, and they would be able to test whether they had been fairly selected for redundancy. Neither is there anything in the Bill which would enable an academic to be dismissed on account of his views in circumstances in which this could not already happen. This is surely right: merely holding an opinion which has no bearing on job performance should not be a ground for victimisation.
It seems to me that putting a specific reference to academic freedom in the Bill could result in some considerable difficulty. It has not as yet been shown to be possible to give academic freedom a definition that would be applicable in all circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, last night put forward in broad terms a suggestion in this connection, but I believe it has to be tested against examples.
Perhaps a striking example of these problems arises in the case of lecturers in theology in institutions with a denominational or creed tradition. There are instances where holders of such posts are required to certify that they hold certain beliefs or that they adhere to a particular creed, for example, the Apostles' Creed. What if one of them loses his faith or is converted to another? Should he be entitled to continue to teach even though his views now may be far from the purposes of the institution and indeed quite subversive of them?
These are deep waters. Any reference to academic freedom might lead the courts to conclude that since Parliament had deliberately mentioned it in the Bill, it must mean something quite distinct from justice and fairness, concepts with which they are familiar. Applications could be made to the courts for declarations that the amendments proposed by the commissioners in particular institutions conflicted with the provisions protecting academic freedom, thus exposing the work of the commissioners to fruitless and disruptive litigation. This would be, in a way, counter to the suggestion made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, that it would not be wise to make too much provision in the Bill and that it would be a matter for application by the commissioners to particular institutions. It could also give new and unmerited protection to staff who 1367 would seek to defend themselves by claiming that they were being dismissed for holding dissident views. The Government's approach, which I have described, is the sounder.
At the risk of trespassing on the patience of the House, I should like to digress briefly. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Swann, suggested that Ministers and their advisers should acquaint themselves better with the lives of the universities. As I think the noble Lord knows, I started off my working life as a lecturer in mathematics at St. Andrew's University in 1948. I know that many changes, not all for the better, may have overtaken universities since then. I also had the experience of being legal assessor to the University Court of the University of Edinburgh during the distinguished tenure of the office of principal by the noble Lord. Therefore I have at least an interest in the universities if not the same experience as the noble Lord.
Another very important issue on which I should like to touch briefly is the special position of the universities in Scotland. The Government fully appreciate that the constitutional arrangements of some Scottish universities are rather different from those in England and Wales. One of the commissioners will therefore be a person with a special knowledge of Scottish universities. In addition, the requirement on the commissioners to have regard to the nature and circumstances of the particular institution in each case will be a safeguard for valuable traditions.
In closing, I wish to emphasise that the Government have not closed their ears or mind to what is being said on these issues. They have recognised that circumstances might occasionally arise which did not involve an immediate threat of dismissal but which nonetheless could leave individual academics in doubt about their assurance of academic freedom. Therefore, at Committee stage, the Government will be considering how best to provide for appropriate procedures, including provision for appeals, to be extended to cover issues concerning grievance and discipline short of dismissal.
The idea of the grievance procedure is to provide protection where what is being threatened is not dismissal but something short of dismissal. That point was not fully understood in some of the remarks I heard in your Lordships' House yesterday. I expect shortly to have discussions on these matters with, among others, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. In some situations the vice-chancellor is almost as important as the chancellor.
In the Government's view, these safeguards will give academics a substantial measure of protection against victimisation by their colleagues on account of their views. As I have said, the further suggestions so far made to us do not appear appropriate because they will put our objectives at risk. However, the Government are perfectly prepared to continue to consider any proposals that will secure effective and practical protection for academics from victimisation on account of their views but are at the same time compatible with sound administration.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
My Lords, yesterday the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, complained of his uncomfortable position, sandwiched between two former Secretaries of State. I suggest that my position is rather worse, being crushed between two active chancellors. However, I shall do my best. Yesterday we had a most interesting and informative debate and no doubt today's contributions will be fascinating and constructive.
Yesterday we heard several suggestions from speakers on the Benches opposite that those on this side of the House were complacent. I should like to refute that suggestion. We on these Benches represent a reforming party. We are in favour of reform if it is improvement, especially in education. To attack us on the basis of complacency is very strange.
As noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Blackstone, pointed out, we recognise many failings in British education. The pity is that this Bill does little or nothing to correct them. Education for under-fives, the standards achieved by those who leave school at 16, the provision of education and training for 16 to 19 year-olds and the damaged morale of teachers at all levels of education are areas where we on this side of the House consider that much requires to be done. However, on these issues the Bill is not significant and in some areas makes matters worse.
In considering the Bill, your Lordships should have regard to why it causes so much worry to so many people concerned with education. Every association of local authorities involved in education, the teaching unions, the National Children's Bureau, the Churches, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, NALGO and even the parents of London children all express deep worries. What is wrong with the Bill? Is it a question of a change in the philosophy of education?
I shall not attempt to cover the whole Bill, but I wish to discuss the position of Scottish universities and then try to deal to some extent with academic freedom, The Bill has nothing whatsoever to do with Scottish education except for its provision as regards the Scottish universities. It does not touch Scottish schools or any of the local or central government colleges of further education. There is a major difficulty in that the Secretary of State for Scotland has responsibility for all education in Scotland except universities, and the eight Scots universities are tacked on as a nuisance of an adjunct to the responsibilities of the English Secretary of State, whose major concern is the totality of English and Welsh education.
The Scottish Tertiary Education Advisory Council, appointed by this Government, stated that there was a need for,an over-arching body responsible for academic planning and co-ordination of provisions across the university and non-university sectors in Scotland and for the formulation of advice in respect of both sectors to government".The Government have not accepted that proposal.
The Croham Report recommended that on the assumption that a separate Scottish planning and funding body was not established, at the very least 1369 the University Grants Committee should have a Scottish committee. Croham also reported:More than elsewhere in the United Kingdom Scottish universities do operate in a distinct environment and serve Scottish needs and this needed explicit recognition".However, there is no recognition explicit on the face of the Bill of the special position of Scottish universities. There should be.
The Scottish position is different. The school system is different. The examination system is different. Because the examination tends to be in the fifth year instead of there being A-levels in the sixth year, the university course tends to last four years. In Scotland a far higher proportion of professional qualifications are based directly on university attainment than is the case in England. The law is a prime example. We do not have separate Bar or solicitors' examinations and training in the way that England has. The Church is another example. In Scotland there is also a different system of teacher training and different proportions of post-graduate students.
On this side of the House we shall have to study what the noble and learned Lord said about Scottish universities. But my immediate impression is that the Government's position is inadequate. There is a general feeling in Scotland across party divides that the Scottish universities, especially at this time Aberdeen and Dundee, have been unfairly treated by the University Grants Committee. There is no confidence that the new University Funding Council, appointed at the whim of the English Secretary of State, will do any better when the promised Scottish committee has no statutory basis.
We on this side of the House believe that the answer is to have a Scottish body responsible for all post-school education. As a further Scottish matter, perhaps I may mention the concerns of the Church of Scotland. Under the Universities (Scotland) Act 1932, the Church has rights in the appointment of chairs to the faculties of divinity in the older Scottish universities. The continuation of these faculties with Church of Scotland approval of their teaching is of course of vital concern to the Church. It is difficult to see how these existing procedures fit in with Clauses 173 to 176 of the Bill. The 1932 Act is nowhere mentioned in the Bill; it is not repealed; it just exists. It is unfortunate that there has apparently been no consultation, or even apparently no acknowledgment by the Government of the Church of Scotland's concern.
On a more general matter, I as a lawyer with some little experience in redundancy in industrial law have difficulty in applying that experience to a concept that appears to be in this Bill—that a professor may be declared redundant and then replaced by a lecturer who would do exactly the same job at a cheaper cost. That is a very strange concept of redundancy to somebody who deals sometimes with the present law on redundancy.
On academic freedom, after the powerful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Swann, I need say very little. In his excellent speech he pointed to the problems and dangers of excessive central government control in what the universities do, especially in the field of research. It is this aspect of control of research and what precisely is to be done that we see as one of the 1370 prime dangers of centralised control which is dangerous to academic freedom. Academic freedom in research and scholarship is crucial to freedom as we understand it. I suggest it is also crucial to the development of new ideas.
We accept that the Government have moved some way since the Bill was first published on the aspect of unjustified dismissal. Of course we agree that the Government have and must have an input as they control and should control the major part of the finance involved. In making sure that the balance is correctly struck, we consider it to be essential that the concept of academic freedom is written into the Bill. It is said to be difficult to define. I agree with noble Lords who yesterday pointed out that natural justice and fairness are also concepts that are difficult to define. But I see no difficulty in noble and learned Lords or other judges understanding what is involved in academic freedom and applying that to any question with which they may have to deal.
We on this side of the House do not see the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council, the Universities Funding Council or the University Commissioners as buffers to protect education from the centralising tendencies of central government. I suggest those tendencies are very strongly centralising, in spite of all the recent eloquence of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the subject. We see them as a means by which the whims of each successive Secretary of State can be forced through, on an ad hoc basis, on to education. The Secretary of State is given numerous and wide-ranging powers to do what he wants by instructing those councils. There is a general need on all the 366 occasions, as I am informed, when the Secretary of State is given power to require that he should state his reasons for exercising that power and the general criteria on which he purports to act.
This is another Bill which appears to have been drafted specifically to avoid the chance of judicial review. We on this side of the House believe this to be wrong in principle. A government in a democracy should not be afraid of challenge to their administrative actions in the courts but should recognise that that is essential to democracy and freedom. I suggest most strongly that it is wrong to try to draft Bills specifically to avoid recourse to the courts.
It is for this reason and because of the dangers involved that we believe that academic freedom must be written in. Tenure is in some ways the other side of the coin in academic freedom. My noble friend Lord Peston will deal more fully with this aspect. All I need say at the moment is that the present proposals are having a disastrous effect on staff at universities. They are making people who have tenure reluctant to move even when they should because they would lose tenure. They are diminishing recruitment from countries like the United States of America where they have tenure.
Earlier in my speech I asked why so many people oppose this Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, suggested yesterday, it may be that there is a new philosophy. If that is so, it is a philosophy with which we profoundly disagree. The philosophy behind this Government's approach to education was described 1371 last year by the Church of Scotland Board of Education thus:a carriage and four has been driven through some of the aims contemplated in 1982, by the various government announcements, making correlations between financial grants and educational systems that are economically productive—correlations that are now beginning to appear at all levels of education, not least in technological, tertiary and secondary institutions. The kind of ecomomic twist that is thereby given to the entire system is so unashamedly utilitarian as to be almost incredible within our western culture. It does not gain any support from educational philosophy across four thousand years of reflection, unless perhaps among Marxists. More seriously, it fails to realise that in fact many of the discoveries which have proved most profitable economically have been inspired by those who were not seeking economic profitability, but were content to try out an idea, or follow a vision. When the Robbins Report on Tertiary Education in 1963 defined the aims of tertiary education—and they would easily apply to secondary education—it included not just the provision of skills and expertise as well as the imparting of a body of information and expert knowledge, but also the ability to think and argue, to assess evidence and judge the validity of conclusions. It is this latter ability which is at risk in an educational theory which is obsessed by quick economic results … and which in its shortsightedness may defeat its own ends".That is a fairly long quotation, but we on this side of the House fully agree with that view. The Government's philosophy, as expressed in this Bill, is wrong-headed and shortsighted and will not produce the results that we hope for.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
My Lords, there is a convention of fairly recent date that your Lordships' House does not destroy major Bills which have the weight of an elected government behind them—at least, I should perhaps add today, so long as that government are able to preserve their normal majority in the House of Commons.
Speaking as someone who wrote 35 years ago of the unwisdom 40 years before that of this House allowing itself to become the poodle of the Leader of the Opposition in another place, I could not possibly contest the general principle with which I began. However, I do not interpret that as meaning that debates in this House should concern themselves only or principally with the margins of issues, where a little ground can be lost or won without serious offence to the legislative authority of the Government. We may have to sheath the sword sometimes in the Division Lobbies but we do not have to muzzle ourselves in this Chamber. And in particular we do not need to be grateful to the Government for undoing part of the damage which they have gratuitously proposed.
It is overwhelmingly to universities that I wish to devote my speech today, although clearly no one could be present throughout the debate yesterday without noting the widespread dismay which the proposal to abolish ILEA, for instance, attracted right across the House. However, as regards universities, it should, I think, be firmly stated that this started as a Bill which they would be much better without and that it remains precisely in that category.
Those concessions already made and those which we hope will be forthcoming are welcome but they are not a subject on which we should be expected to congratulate the Government. It is highly desirable that the Russians should be withdrawing from Afghanistan but it remains discreditable that they were there in the first place and withdrawal hardly 1372 makes their occupation an episode for which they deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, any more than Mr. Baker deserves—perhaps I should be careful when I make such remarks—an Oxford honorary degree for having marched his troops to the top of the hill and then having marched at any rate some of them down again.
The value of the concessions which have so far been firmly made—which relate entirely to the composition and powers, vice the Secretary of State, of the Universities Funding Council—will depend very largely on the good faith of the Government. For instance, on the point that the UFC should, like the UGC, be a two-way channel of communication between Government and universities and not just an instrument of accountancy discipline, the UFC is now rather half-heartedly empowered to provide the Government with information and advice,in such manner as the Secretary of State may from time to time determine".If he determines well, that can be helpful: if not, not. The evaluation of that provision and of other parts of the Bill therefore requires us to look at the Government's record towards universities over the past nine years. It is really almost impossible on this record to find any rational basis on which we can trust the Government's good educational intentions. I believe that the policies of the present Government towards universities have been the most shortsighted that this country has had the misfortune to encounter. Nearly every previous administration, including the overwhelming majority of Conservative administrations, has been responsible for some major advance—some creative act—in our academic framework. This one alone is distinguished in creating nothing and for inflicting great damage on teaching, research, morale and students.
I should be surprised if any noble Lord, including even the Minister, with her departmental responsibilities and whose unprovocative lucidity we greatly admired yesterday, could give us an example of something positive and precise in our university framework which would not have been there without the work of this Government.
Therefore the Government's record towards universities, far from offering a platform of confidence from which to approach the Bill, can only inspire profound mistrust. After three or four debilitating twists of the squeezing machine, the universities face the threat to their independence contained in the Bill from the most attenuated position that they have been in for decades.
I am not sure whether the case for university independence needs to be argued in your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Annan deployed yesterday what one might call the Rue St. Dominique argument in favour of the Secretary of State running schools. "Tell me the time of day and I will tell you which Alexandrines of Racine they are declaiming in every lycée from Limoges to Lisieux" was, I think, the proud boast of French Ministers of Public Instruction at the time of the argument between Church and State at the beginning of this century. But I do not think that my noble friend suggested that Provosts were to be as subordinate as head teachers. Nor has any Government spokesman made up his or 1373 her mind as regards what is now the accepted message for universities.
Are universities to be more centrally directed or are they not? And if not what is the purpose of tacking them uncomfortably on to a schools Bill? If the Government do not intend a major change in the relationship between state and universities, they have certainly gone about things in a remarkably ham-fisted way. They have caused themselves a vast amount of unnecessary trouble. The Secretary of State must have had to spend more time with more Vice-Chancellors—I agree with the noble and learned occupant of the Woolsack that they are much more important than Chancellors and he is lucky, or rather unlucky, not to have one in this House—than are seen gathered together even in this House. Ministers have increased their already well-earned reputation for philistinism and, as my noble friend Lord Blake told us yesterday, they have further reduced the already low morale of the academic community.
If, on the other hand, universities are to be more centrally directed, do the Government really believe that this is the way to sustain their great traditions as centres of independent and critical thought, as guardians of humane values and as instruments for extending the frontiers of knowledge?
It is difficult to think of any field of human endeavour in which central regulation is a greater enemy of excellence than that of the organisation of the teaching and research of universities. Do the Government really think that they have got a new philosopher's stone stored in the basement of Queen Elizabeth House which will enable them to dispense with the principles of independence which have infused every great and successful university from Bologna 900 years ago when it started to Harvard in the past half century? It really is quite extraordinarily perverse that a government which in every economic, welfare and planning field is dedicated to rolling back the frontiers of the state should in relation to the universities be dedicated to expanding them. If that threat of interference becomes a reality—and if not, what is the point of the part of the Bill which relates to the universities?—then I am extremely doubtful as to whether we shall have a university of the foremost world class in this country by the end of the century.
What can still be done to improve the position? I shall mention three points, although I stress that I am against getting so involved in the modalities of the Bill at Second Reading stage that we forget the monstrous undesirability of imposing those measures on universities at all. First, we must have a clear declaration on academic freedom. It will not outweigh the inherent danger of contract funding which broods alongside the Bill and about which the noble Lord, Lord Swann, was so quietly eloquent yesterday. However, it will be something. It will not be totally watertight legally. But it is regularly the case, if I may say so with respect to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, that when governments wish to use vague phrases in legislation they do so without hesitation—this Bill is spattered with them—and they only become dedicated logical positivists when they are trying to resist what other people want. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Blake, put forward a form which is perfectly possible.
1374 Secondly, there should be a limitation on the conditions which the Universities Funding Council may attach to the payments which it makes to universities. That could be done in Clause 115(6) with some statement to the effect that any term or condition imposed by the council should not unreasonably constrain a university in the exercise of its judgment as to the best use of resources in pursuance of its academic objectives. Again, it is not perfect and it does not have many teeth. However, it is of some use from the point of view of institutional autonomy.
Thirdly, there is a point relating to private funding. The Government have said that success in that direction will not lead to any diminution of the flow of public funds. That should be put in a statutory form. Clauses are better than promises. Universities would be reassured and so would potential benefactors who, however great their admiration may be, do not wish just to finance Mr. Lawson. I hope to return to those points at a later stage.
What I failed to hear, either from the Minister yesterday or from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today, was any fundamental positive justification for the clauses of the Bill dealing with universities and other higher education institutions. We hear a great deal about how the Bill will not be operated so as to do some of the damage of which it is capable. What sort of justification is that?
I ask the Minister, when she answers this evening, to announce when she will be dealing with that point and to give us three sentences of positive statement showing how the Bill will improve the performance of our universities. If she finds that difficult, I ask her to reflect on the disadvantages of belonging to a government who constantly practise a restless superficiality masquerading as radicalism. The result is a society many aspects of which increasingly both offend our consciences and threaten our intellectual and cultural inheritance.
I noticed the conjuncture of two events last weekend. One was the publication by the Secretary of State for Education of an anthology of poetry. The other was the 100th anniversary of the death of Matthew Arnold, which was already mentioned most appropriately in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. I have always understood that Arnold met his death as a result of the somewhat un-Oxonian activity of running for a tramcar in Liverpool. He was nonetheless the pastoral poet of 19th century Oxford. The Scholar Gypsy roamed the Berkshire moors, past the Fyfield elm to some lone alehouse where his memory was occasionally jogged by looking down upon a,line of festal light from Christ Church Hall".The Berkshire moors have been put into another county by the colleague of the Secretary of State, Mr. Peter Walker. The Fyfield elm and nearly every acre within miles of it are being obliterated by the enthusiastic bulldozing of most of the South of England encouraged by his other colleague, Mr. Ridley. Will not our Minister poet at least desist from dimming that line of intellectual light from the university beyond Christ Church and from other universities and institutions beyond Oxford?
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I have waited until the end of his philippic before noting that in the last sentence of his peroration he referred to higher education. Will he not, before stigmatising the Government so severely, acknowledge that there are now 100,000 more students in higher education than there were when the last Labour Government left office? Will he not acknowledge the charge of complacency that may be levelled against his whole speech, a complacency that he shares with one of the Opposition leaders in this House and a number of her colleagues? Let him acknowledge that even the universities in this country, great though many of them are, are worried by falling standards in our schools compared to what they should be. Let him acknowledge that he has been very complacent—
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
My Lords, I should do so with pleasure. However, I do not think that I could easily reply to the noble Lord without making an intervention which was even more in the nature of a speech than was his.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Lord Dainton
My Lords, it is difficult to follow the Chancellor of the University of Oxford. It is difficult to follow so many vice-chancellors. I am mindful of the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the relationship between vice-chancellors and chancellors. Having been the one and being now the other, I rely upon the definition of an 18th century divine:Vice-chancellors whose knowledge is but small and chancellors who nothing know at all".Perhaps I may first say how much I welcome the provisions in the Bill to ensure that polytechnics become higher education corporations. Very little reference has been made to that. It has always seemed to me to be entirely appropriate for local education authorities to have the responsibility for post-school but sub-degree level education of young people who live locally and are likely to be employed locally. However, students who aim for a degree and for whom, after graduation, the world is their oyster should be able to apply for admission wherever their education can be best and most economically provided. Consequently the planning and resource allocations mechanism for institutions such as the polytechnics should be national rather than local. That is certainly one step in the right direction and one can but hope that it is not the last towards a national system of higher education which is unified but—and this is an important proviso—allows for diversity and experiment in its component institutions.
Great changes for universities and their relationships with government are foreshadowed in the Bill. As we have been told, a new Universities Funding Council is to replace the UGC. What that UFC can do, the powers it can exercise vis-á-vis the universities, and how it is to interact with the Secretary of State are delineated in some detail. I confess that—based on my experiences as vice-chancellor and former chairman of the University 1376 Grants Committee—I still fail to see the necessity for most of those changes.
The system of university education which we have had in this country since 1919 has been rightly admired by other countries. It is also cost-effective. About 10 years ago I found that, compared with other developed countries, the cost of producing a first degree graduate (which is surely a better measure of efficiency than the cost per student year) was lowest in the United Kingdom. That was because the courses here were shorter, better structured, more intensive, and the drop-out and wastage rates were lower than overseas. The product was not inferior. British university graduates were and still are not just internationally acceptable but are internationally sought after.
Nor in my experience of the system as it then existed, extending over half a century, was change inhibited. I have seen departments superfluous to needs, for example in mining and agriculture, disappear, and I have seen new activities introduced without the business of a Bill. Those changes included a doubling in the size of medical education, centres for Japanese and Chinese studies, the establishment of building schools—the list is endless.
The reasons for that success, in addition to a commendable commitment of staff to teaching, were threefold. First, the relationships on the one hand between the Government and the UGC and on the other between the universities and the UGC were not tightly drawn in the original Treasury minute of 1919 or in the subsequent revisions. Therefore those relationships—which your Lordships have heard are very delicate—could evolve in the light of experience.
Secondly, the planning periods were—as they should be—comparable in length to that of a degree course. The universities had a clear idea of the resources which they could command during that period. In addition, they knew that within that period they had to live within those resources with no bailing out in respect of any deficits which they might incur. That is the most useful financial discipline one can have.
Thirdly, despite earmarking and allocation by the UGC of some part of their funds for particular purposes, the block grant (which was the traditional instrument of the UGC) which was awarded to each university left scope for the university to exercise initiatives. I am bound to say that some of them showed that the UGC judgment was unsound. I always considered that not to be bad for the UGC but good for the system as a whole. It was particularly good for the humility of the UGC and those who would overcentralise decision-making.
The words that I have just spoken sound valedictory. The force of the present circumstances makes one believe, I suppose sadly, that they are. They also serve another purpose. They warn us that arrangements can be too prescriptive, too "top-down", that they can contribute to the centre more wisdom that it can ever possess. That is my reaction to the provisions of Part II of the Bill and various of its schedules as first drafted. I welcome with modified rapture those amendments, many proposed—no doubt after consultation—by the Secretary of State himself, which allow membership of the UGC to be broadened by including distinguished members of the 1377 professions, which confer discretionary power on the UFC over repayment in whole or in part of a grant that has been made, which remove UFC jurisdiction over money received by universities from sources other than the UFC itself—though how in law they could ever claim that jurisdiction defeats me—and which restrict the powers accorded to the Secretary of State himself in the first draft.
I am sure that all your Lordships will be glad that the Secretary of State has accepted that it is wholly advantageous for the UFC to proffer him advice and information. I hope that that will be more often in private than in public as it has been in the recent past, so that conversations can take place to resolve differences rather than views become entrenched in published documents and therefore difficult for either side to retreat from.
Clause 175 of the Bill, which prescribes the power of the commissioners, and to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has already referred, has given rise to a great deal of anxiety and some practical difficulty in the universities. It has done so on two counts. In the first place, it would prevent universities from either promoting a member of their own staff or offering a higher or similar grade post to someone from another university unless the new contract deprived him or her of a benefit of tenure already held under his or her existing contract. Consider this: those whom universities have identified after rigorous selection procedures as outstanding in quality suffer a contractual penalty while those rejected by the very same procedures do not. That is surely absurd and it is illogical to maintain that an increased salary should be sufficient compensation.
Moreover, I can assure your Lordships that events cast their shadows before and that the very existence of the Bill, let alone the passage of the Act, is already having adverse effects on one very distinguished school of the University of London. There, one person appointed to a chair is reconsidering his acceptance. Another will refuse promotion to a senior lectureship and several of those whom the school is putting forward for promotion to readerships and professorships in the university have indicated that they may not wish to accept promotion. I urge the Secretary of State at least to engage in discussions with those who are knowledgeable in such matters and who have relevant experience with a view to modifying the Bill to prevent such a damaging outcome.
The second cause for concern has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Swann, and many others. I support his arguments. I hope that it is an oversight that there is no reference in the Bill to the principle that the academic staff, in the exercise of their duties, have a right to express their opinions in speech and writing in any manner which they think fit which is within the law. Why is that an issue? That is the question which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor posed. Perhaps I may attempt my own answer.
Those of my students holding responsible posts in a wide range of employment tell me that the really useful legacy bequeathed by a teacher to his students is a thorough understanding of general principles and how to apply them to new and currently 1378 unforeseeable concrete situations. That is the only reliable survival kit which a graduate can have in a rapidly changing world. The facts can look after themselves. After all, they can always be looked up in the relevant text books and journals. But the attitude—perhaps habit of thought would be a better phrase—induced by that experience is not transmitted by the teacher to his students unless, through scholarly work and research, he is constantly seeking new perspectives on old knowledge or searching for new knowledge with which to challenge conventional wisdom and conventional principles. Any university teacher who has come to the end of his subject and is not actively engaged in the revaluation or advancement of knowledge can only burden the minds of his students. He cannot quicken them. University teaching of the highest quality is therefore indissolubly bound to the scholarship and research of the teachers. It is idle to pretend otherwise.
Imaginative consideration of knowledge stimulated by research and scholarship does not always reinforce old ideas. Indeed, in my field of science we become accustomed to, and therefore live quite comfortably with, the reality that progress is inevitably the supplanting of old ideas by new and more comprehensive ones. We recognise that the latter may in their turn have to give way in the future. We also know that such progress is crucially dependent on an untrammelled individual thought and imagination applied by someone to a subject freely chosen by him because he thinks he may be able to make an advance.
He must also be free to publish his views so that they may be submitted to critical examination by others. That is the only sure way to maintain high standards in teaching as well as in research, and to expose the charlatans and the second-rate for what they are. I shall not weary your Lordships with examples from my own and others' experience of how the slightest infringement of that freedom can inhibit progress, and how it has in fact done so. When orthodoxy goes unchallenged progress is stultified.
I am sure that what I have said applies to the imaginative teaching and consideration of knowledge of all kinds, not just science at this level. I freely admit that the kind of thinking and inquiry that goes contrary to what is accepted, which is unconstrained, unobstructed and imaginative, which wants to test and re-test every premise and every idea when it is applied to matters which touch us more closely in, for example, ethics, political thought, philosophy, and historical interpretation, may be less welcome because the conclusions and opinions to which it leads can be uncomfortable. They may indeed be so unacceptable as to be labelled by some people as subversive. That is not a sufficient reason for attempting to suppress opinion or for designating certain fields of knowledge as unsuitable for study.
I am not suggesting that there is any intention on the part of those who drafted the Bill to impose censorship, but I am saying that if we want the best universities—which means that they must secure the best staff—the staff must know that their jobs are not at risk simply because what they publish in speech or writing is currently unpopular with authority, always provided that those views are within the limits set by the law of the land.
1379 Therefore, I regard it not as just prudent but as absolutely essential that a place be found in the Act where this over-riding principle is clearly affirmed. After all, it is a principle which is essentially no different from that which is the basis of the Act passed last year, to which the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, drew our attention yesterday, and one which requires university authorities to ensure free speech for visitors. In logic what is thereby granted to mere visitors surely cannot be denied to those whose responsibility for education and the advancement of knowledge comprises a permanent duty and vocation.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
My Lords, I soon discovered when I came to your Lordships' Chamber that one of the pleasures was to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, talking about education. He has certainly not disappointed us this afternoon.
I must begin with two apologies, which may be thought to be a little excessive. First, it was not until I returned to London late last night that I discovered your Lordships had been sitting and debating the Bill. I must therefore apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for not having been here to hear her speech. Even worse, as I really genuinely looked forward to listening to this debate, I had agreed some time ago—my honourable friends may wonder at my lack of discretion—that this evening I would debate the issue of the Education Bill with the Secretary of State himself, no less. As I cannot escape that obligation, that means that I shall miss a number of speeches, including, I regret to say, the maiden speech of Lord Carlisle. At least my not being here yesterday gave me the opportunity of reading the 29 speeches that were made. I came to the conclusion that there was really nothing more to be said. But your Lordships need not look too hopeful about that. It seemed to me that there are two or three points that yesterday's debate focused on, and I should like to draw attention to those a little later if I may.
My first observation is that education seems to be in a dilemma. Speaking for myself, and only for myself, and having passed through the system from elementary school to the level where I am now president of a university college—and what can be greater than to be Chancellor of Oxford University?—there is no doubt in my mind as I go round schools and see what is happening today, that the chidren who are being educated have a far broader education, a far wider knowledge of the world, than I ever had in my youth. Admittedly, I do not believe they can recite all the capes and headlands from St. Abbs to St. Bees Head, but I am not sure that I have ever had much need to use that knowledge in my adult life. Apart from that, and the very necessary basic facts that must be taught and learnt by everyone, I believe our children today in the primary and comprehensive schools are far better educated than ever I was. I think we should begin by acknowledging that.
Let me say straight away to Lord Beloff that that does not mean that I am complacent about the state of education. One can say that standards have risen, as indeed they have, and at the same time that they are not high enough, as Lord Joseph has repeatedly 1380 said. Both facts are true. That is the position today. I recently had the experience of meeting a number of people from other countries who are concerned with education. It was impressed upon me how deeply and vividly they regard the need for higher educational standards in their countries, as we regard it as necessary in our country.
I am not satisfied with the state of education which exists in our country today. This Bill gives us the opportunity to discuss education in general terms, and the question which arises is whether the Bill itself does a great deal to improve those standards. I am bound to say that I am not convinced. I should be more convinced if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had diverted some of the budget largesse to additional resources to allow for more mathematics and physics teachers. Whilst I would never suggest to the Lord Chancellor that he would be better employed elsewhere, he does at least have an alternative occupation to return to if that should become necessary. But we are short of essential resources in education.
One can produce barrels of statistics. Lord Joseph may bubble over again and interrupt me to tell me how much more he has spent and his successors are spending on education. That is true, and it should be true. The standards required must be higher, and not enough is being spent. One can raise the debating point of why our government did not do more. Of course all of us could always do more, but those who complain must understand that the revolution in information technology and the speed with which technology and the production of new products is overtaking us at the present time demand more and better educated people in our society if we are to maintain our position as a leading industrial country.
I do not think it irrelevant to this debate to say that we cannot be working the system properly if the number of girls who, as undergraduates, study science, technology and engineering is pathetically low. It cannot be irrelevant to this debate that the number of young men aged 18 who are at this moment in higher education is lower in this country than in any of the major industrial countries of Europe, with the possible exception of Italy—about which I am not sure. It cannot be irrelevant to this debate that the number of male undergraduates in the universities today is lower in this country than it is in any other major industrial country, as is the number of people as a whole in postgraduate education.
There must be something wrong. We do not need to have a party political battle but the problem has to be solved. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, is quite right. What does this Bill do to solve that problem and ensure that we maintain the lead that we undoubtedly used to have? We have faltered a little, but we can still recapture that lead. I have no doubt about it. However, frankly, I do not believe that the proposals in this Bill will do much to assist us in that direction.
I do not intend to discuss academic tenure, except to say that in my small capacity I agree entirely with what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had to say on that matter. With respect to him, I have known a great many Lord Chancellors and they have always been very good at telling me that something could not be put in a Bill because it would not be 1381 legally perfect. Perhaps I may say to the noble and learned Lord, as to your Lordships, that if we were to wait for lawyers to find something legally perfect to put in a Bill, then we might never have any Bills at all. That of course might be an improvement!
However, having aroused a suspicion, the Government now have the obligation to remove it. I hope I may say to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that I am glad that he is apparently one of the people who is negotiating on this issue. It is important that a formula should be found. I do not believe that it will wreck anything that the Government feel they have to do.
I think that the curriculum is set on the right lines but dangers have been pointed out. In my view, even with all the brakes that are put on the Secretary of State, the power given to him is still too great. When I made the Ruskin speech 12 years ago, to which reference has been made by the Government from time to time, I did not have the idea of a rigid code for the national curriculum. I am very impressed by those who say that if we codify it in the way suggested, there will be a grave danger that the new subjects which are beginning to overtake the old curriculum will be ignored.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, to whom I shall never be unkind, that this is not a Bill which is wholly bad; there must be some good things in it. However, one of my criticisms of the Bill is that in some ways it is too backward-looking. I have been deeply impressed when visiting schools to be told about subjects of which I had never heard 30 years ago. What on earth did continuous assessment mean, I asked myself? I soon found out. It meant something pretty profound. The idea of child-centred learning and of projects learning are new phases which have overtaken us. Noble Lords will agree with me that every time there is a new series of ideas flooding into a system, as they have done into the educational system, there are bound to be excesses. I believe that there have been excesses in some schools.
I am a believer in the essential good sense of the British people. I am also a great believer in the dedication and care given by the teaching profession as a whole. Excesses are being corrected now and to some extent this Bill is out of date. When I go round the country and visit schools I am aware that much of this curriculum has already been adopted. Much of it is already there. I would not take it out of the Bill now that it is there. But I feel that the Secretary of State must be very flexible. My fear is that he may allow himself to be imprisoned by the excesses of the past in these fields and fixed at a point where he is unable to assimilate what is necessary for the future.
I am bound to say, especially as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, intends to follow me, that another trouble with the Bill is that it is too party-orientated. He himself will certainly understand what I mean. Unlike the Butler Act, to which much reference has been made, this Bill derives from a Conservative manifesto—and one cannot say much worse than that, whether they are Conservative or other manifestoes. Even though I say this with humour, my words are spoken in all sincerity: It is really bad that Ministers should have to rely upon the statement that this measure was set out in their manifesto and therefore it must be carried 1382 through—not when dealing with education. Even though there has now been an attempt to pour scorn on the Butler Act and say that it was not as good as it should have been, the reason why it stood for so long was the great effort that was made between Chuter Ede and R.A. Butler to ensure that all the issues were met and dealt with before the Bill came before the House.
That is why a long time ago I said that it would have been much better if the Secretary of State had delayed this Bill for 12 months. Instead of now having the hurried consultations with all the vice-chancellors to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, referred and having to meet the Churches afterwards, those matters could and should have been settled before the Bill ever appeared. We need not then have given the appearance of having a party dog fight on an issue which is of national concern; namely, how to raise the standards of our educational system. I fault the Government for hurrying through this Bill. However, it is over and done with and there is nothing that can be done about it now. Yet they have aroused suspicions unnecessarily by the speed and the dogmatism with which they have approached this subject.
Before passing to my conclusion, I should like to make one further point. In my view it is vitally important that adult education should receive greater weight in our discussion than has been the case so far. We are at school for only a few years; many remaining years of our existence make up the whole of our lifetime. If there is one thing that I have been told over and over again it is that the skills which are learned at age 16 will not be of very great relevance at age 26; they are even less relevant at age 36 and certainly not relevant at 46 years of age. A continuous period of training and retraining is needed as well as a need to give people the opportunity of a second chance.
I speak with some feeling about this matter. I did not have the advantage of going to a university. I do not know whether I would ever have got there anyway, but in any case I did not have that advantage. I have experienced adult education and, even to the limited and unstructured extent that I knew it through such organisations as the WEA (Workers' Educational Association), it opened my eyes to possibilities that were never apparent to me when I was at elementary school or even the secondary school which followed.
Adult education is important not only for training, retraining and such purposes, but also—and I say this knowing that there are many noble Lords of good will on both sides of the House—because it gives everybody, young or old, the opportunity to fulfil themselves in the way that the best of those who go to Eton can do. I firmly believe that adult education is of vital importance if we are to have a cohesive society. I trust that it will be put on a parallel with higher education, with primary and secondary education and with technological education in every way. I put it as high as that. It needs to be done if we are to have the cohesive and united society that has always been my desire.
I was glad to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said yesterday about teachers. Hers is a small voice—not a silent voice. It is a very sweet 1383 voice. I do not want to hear the Government paying half-hearted tributes from time to time to the value of teachers. It is time that the Government understood that if our educational system is to be a success it will be the teachers who produce that success and not the Government. In my view the teachers have been very badly treated. Probably many of those who have visited schools recently will have been deeply impressed by the care—I would almost use the word "dedication"—and the professional pride of school teachers as a whole. They will have been impressed by their feelings of frustration that the Government do not understand, and indeed attach to them the kind of general contempt that they seem to attach to all kinds of public service and public servants at the present time. The Government must get away from their ridiculous prejudice and must value teaching at its proper worth.
How shall we meet the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, that we have to concentrate our attention on some of the things that can be changed? There are three, on one of which I have already touched. The House must not exceed its powers. I shall keep an open mind about what happens to the poll tax when it comes to your Lordships' House. There are issues, as has been said, upon which we are entitled to ask the Government and another place to think again. Reading 29 of the 44 speeches made yesterday, I think it is very clear that there is a general desire on the part of everyone who spoke that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, those associated with him and the Secretary of State should find a solution to academic freedom. The House must concentrate on that. We must compel the Government to ensure that there is a proper amendment to send back to the Commons for consideration.
The second issue concerns opting out. I do not know whether noble Lords have read the clauses on opting out, but they are terrible. This applies to the manner of opting out, the method by which it is done and the way in which opting out by one generation makes it impossible for another generation to come back again, and indeed the way in which it is assumed that one generation of parents is the only generation capable of deciding the permanent future of a school. This surely cannot be; it must have been rushed through at some late stage in the Bill. It is absurd to assume that the long-term future of a school should be settled on the basis now contained in the Bill. I beg noble Lords to read the clauses. I think they will agree with me.
How can it be justifiable that a parent whose child is within six months of leaving should have a vote but the parent whose child is within six months of coming into the school from the junior school should not have a vote? It is idiotic. We shall develop this further in Committee. I hope that your Lordships will attend to this matter, to see whether or not we can devise a better system to send back to the Commons for consideration.
The final issue is the ILEA break-up. I read what the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, had to say. I thought that she made the best of a bad job. Whatever political prejudice or, indeed, political rectitude may exist about the ILEA as an institution, 1384 I have not yet heard anyone make the case for breaking up and dissolving a unitary education system in London. The ILEA may not be the most perfect body in the world, but that is not the point at issue. If the Government are dissatisfied with the ILEA, they should find a better solution than allowing the whole thing to crumble into the hands of 12 local authorities, a number of which are quite incapable—no, I withdraw that—a number of which do not have the resources to cope with this at present. (I have some friends, even among local authorities!).
I beg the Government to reconsider the matter because they have put forward a case that does not stand up. After all, even Joshua had to march round the walls of Jericho seven times before the walls of the city fell. It only needed the appearance of Mr. Heseltine and Mr. Tebbit and the whole system collapsed. I suppose that that is the reason why the honourable gentleman did not succeed over the poll tax yesterday: the Government could not give him two successes in the space of a few weeks.
Let those of us who really care about the subject, as I am sure every noble Lord does, concentrate on three main issues. We should consider these and work out what will be the best solutions as we can see them. No body in the country has more experience of education in many different ways than we do. Let us work them out ourselves, then politely ask the Government to think again and tell them that, if they do not, we shall be very sorry.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, it always a joy to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, even if his observations are politically orientated. He remarked that I would understand that expression when he used it. I retort that, when used by him, it is an expression used with full knowledge, because the record of the government over which he presided, whatever else it was—he will agree that, unhappily, it was not a very successful government—was highly politically orientated.
I was glad to note the line that the noble Lord took on the Bill. His noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna thought it necessary at an early stage of today's proceedings to say that the Labour Party was a progressive or reforming party. I am bound to say that yesterday's debate, with its sturdy defence of the status quo by most Opposition speakers, did not give that impression. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan—I must give this to him at once—indicated that he accepted that much needed to be done to improve our education system, that its standards compared badly with those of many of our European neighbours and that great improvements were needed.
I should have been even more impressed by that had the noble Lord not echoed in somewhat less formal language very much what he said in the speech, to which he himself referred, that he gave at Ruskin College in 1976. He said then very much the same thing. Although he was head of a government that still had two and half years more to live, absolutely nothing was done to implement it: nothing was done to deal with the weaknesses and the evils that he then accepted, and now accepts, require a remedy.
1385 In passing, I am sorry that on his visit to Ruskin he did not innoculate the officers of that college with the ideas of academic freedom of which we have heard a good deal in the debate. Your Lordships will recall the way that Ruskin College recently treated a member of its faculty for the terrible offence of writing an article for The Times when that newspaper was in conflict with one or two trade unions. We have not yet heard any withdrawal by Ruskin College and those who run it as regards the desirability of allowing academic freedom to the college's own members.
The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, accepts that there is need for improvement now. Indeed, that is the essence of the spirit behind the schools part of the Bill. One can of course differ as to whether the remedies proposed are precisely the most effective or the most apposite. However, the problem throughout this debate has been that, with the exception of the noble Lord, on the schools side we have heard nothing but criticism of what the Government propose without any constructive proposals about what needs to be done to deal with what is an increasingly serious situation. I propose, therefore, to address myself to one or two points which arise on the Bill and which, rightly or wrongly—I think rightly—are designed to ensure that some improvements are made.
Incidentally, I cannot forbear to quote to your Lordships from a document that I received this morning from the National Union of Teachers. Apparently thinking that it was arguing that all was well, it said:Eighty per cent. of lessons observed during the year were satisfactory or better".In other words, it was accepting complacently that 20 per cent. of the time of our children in the schools was not being as well employed as it should be, and regarding that as a matter of satisfaction. It recalls to me the story of the Chinaman who said of another businessman, "He welly good man. He 80 per cent. honest". It is a very interesting indication of the innate conservatism, the innate resistance to change, which exists in the trade unions, as it does to a considerable extent—though I have excepted the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan—in the party opposite. It is necessary for progress to be made.
The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, referred to opting out. He made what, on the face of it, seems to me to be a good point as to whether those who have opted out could at some subsequent stage opt in again if they wanted to. It seems to me that that possibility should exist and that, although regular opting in or opting out would introduce chaos into the administrative system, opting out should not necessarily be a life sentence. It seems a reasonable point which I hope my noble friend Lady Hooper will deal with when she comes, some hours hence, to wind up.
What the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, entirely omitted to appear to understand over opting out is this. What better stimulus to an education authority can there be than the knowledge that, if it makes a mess of the affairs of a particular school, that school can up and leave? Obviously, as administration is carried on, if there were to be a question of opting out there would be preliminary contacts. There would be 1386 suggestions to the local education authority about what was the matter and what it could do to improve matters. In very many cases that would result in those matters being put right. It will be a powerful weapon in the hands of the governors of a school to be able to say to its local education authority, "If you go on in this way and make a mess of our affairs, we can leave you". That is totally different from the present situation, in which a school is absolutely subservient to the local education authority.
The general theme of the schools part of the Bill is to remove some of the powers from local education authorities. Some go, as we have been told, to the Secretary of State. Many go to the parents; many go to the masters and particularly to the head teachers. This seems a profoundly good thing. Whether, had we been starting from scratch, we should have taken the view that so important a subject as education was suitable for administration by local authorities, I do not know. However, we are not starting from scratch. We have inherited the system, which we have to adapt and adopt as necessary.
It seems clear that to reduce to some extent the powers in education of local education authorities will help with the objectives to which I referred earlier of making greater improvements in our schools. It has been generally accepted that to free the polytechnics from the local education authorities is good and the suggestion has been most warmly welcomed by the polytechnics. The polytechnics are doing a first-class job already. They will be doing an even better job with the freedoom they will have under the new arrangements. That will make a considerable contribution to what, above all, is needed; that is, that some of the products of our educational system should be, when they emerge from education, well fitted to take a part in industry, commerce and the general activities of life.
There is then the very interesting proposal to transfer powers to the governors and to the head teachers. Though I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of that, I should like, if I may, to put a point to my noble friend Lady Hooper. It is quite clear that in many cases parents will require some serious instruction in the duties of governors. I speak as one who is a governor of an independent school and has been so for many years. I realise that this is not an art which is learnt off the cuff, not just a job to be taken on suddenly, but a job which one requires training and understanding to do properly.
The same goes for the giving to head teachers of the financial powers proposed in the Bill. In the independent sector the headmaster is not in general entrusted with financial powers. There is an official called a bursar who very firmly keeps him in order on financial matters. I suggest that where a school becomes grant-aided someone such as a bursar will be needed in most cases to assist the headmaster with the serious and large financial problems of managing a school.
I wish to say only one word more on another subject. That is ILEA, which has aroused so much excitement. The excitement is, however, not only one way. This morning I received a letter from the leader of the Kensington and Chelsea Council and I should 1387 like, if your Lordships will permit me, to read a line or two from it:As you will know the Council of the Royal Borough has for many years been calling for the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority. Reasons for that have been two-fold. First we have contended that the Authority is far too extravagant and has had a devastating effect upon the rate bills of the residents of the Royal Borough…Of the total rate levy of 117.4p in the £ (reduced to 98.9p for domestic ratepayers) 81.8p is attributable to the precept of ILEA…Secondly we have argued and continue to argue that the standard of education provided, particularly in the schools in the Royal Borough and indeed in Inner London generally has been unacceptably low".I believe the same views are taken in Westminster. It is on the face of it ridiculous that such great local authorities as Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea should not be education authorities. We are, for better or for worse, committed to the principle that education is a locally administered service and a service which is not locally administered in great boroughs or cities such as those is not following the spirit of local administration.
It has been argued that it is all right for them, but what about the smaller boroughs? The size of a borough does not determine its competence to be an efficient education authority. Some of your Lordships may recall that I was for 27 years Member of Parliament for the Royal Borough of Kingston-Upon-Thames, which I think is the smallest of the boroughs in the Greater London area. It had a very fine education record with some of the best schools in the country, with two schools, the Tiffin Boys' and Girls' Schools, taking a considerable percentage of Oxbridge scholarships. This was run by one of the smallest authorities in the country. Therefore it is simply not true to say that small local authorities cannot be efficient education authorities.
If indeed some of the 12 London boroughs in ILEA are not even capable of becoming education authorities, or are not competent to do it, then I would suggest to my noble friend that the right thing is to consider amalgamating them altogether with some other boroughs, because, if they are not competent to be education authorities, they are not competent to be local authorities. Confronted with that, I think that one would find that most of them would find it perfectly possible to take on these matters.
I hope, therefore, that we shall get on with the abolition of ILEA. There have been appeals to delay it. Nothing could make less sense because, if the matter is to be delayed and if there is to be further consideration, then uncertainty covers the whole system and those who work there, good, bad, efficient, inefficient, will all be working under the shadow of uncertainty. It is much better, the decision having been taken, to go ahead and implement it. There are of course problems with the joint organisations which ILEA maintains—some of them excellent organisations—but, just as with the Greater London Council, where the same point was raised about joint organisations and has been largely overcome, so those problems will be overcome in this case.
This is an immensely important Bill. It is a historic Bill. It follows in the succession of the 1902 and 1944 legislation and it will govern our educational system 1388 and so mould our younger generation for many years to come. I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that your Lordships' House is a good body to discuss it. I am happy that he should say that because he once headed a party which advocated abolition of your Lordships' House. One welcomes the convert with even more enthusiasm than one who has been a true believer all his life.
I believe that your Lordships' House can do good service to our country and to a generation who will continue for many years after most noble Lords present are no longer with us. I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House and wish it every success.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord Adrian
My Lords, not being a gladiator of a political kind I shall have great difficulty following the previous two speakers. As someone of a naturally conservative cast of mind, I am inclined to view with caution a Bill entitled the Education Reform Bill. It somehow seems intended to pre-empt the moral high ground. Surely it seems to say, "You cannot question what is proposed or the reasons for particular proposals. These are reforms and ipso facto they are good".
Changes are needed. I say at the outset that many of the aims of the Bill are easy to agree with. Better literacy and numeracy, enhanced work skills and life skills, are vitally important across the whole range of ability. I believe that most noble Lords will agree with that statement. I am sure that universities will welcome (indeed, they have) the Government's policy of better standards in secondary education and of increased access to higher and tertiary education. Universities will respond to the changes in secondary education which the Bill will produce. They will be looking to the Bill to provide them with greater scope to make their own responses to the challenges ahead.
We have already seen that however well meaning are the proposers of the Bill—I believe that in many respects they are well meaning—in some respects the Bill's drafting has been hasty and imperfect. It has already been necessary to amend substantially the provisions in Clauses 92 and 94 of the original Bill among others. I do not intend to discuss those changes. We know that they concern the powers of the Secretary of State and the Universities funding Council. At least, I do not intend to discuss them at Second Reading but rather to suggest that the necessity for them gives ground for close scrutiny of what the Bill will actually produce. I should like to thank the Secretary of State for his sympathy with the anxieties to which the original clauses gave rise.
I believe that the real difficulty is not so much with what the Bill says. We can spend time trying to get that right. However, we cannot here affect what the Secretary of State may do when the Bill becomes an Act. As the noble Lord, Lord Swann, has pointed out, that means what the civil servants may do. For my liking, there is too much in the Bill which does not go much beyond the setting up of statutory bodies. The Universities Funding Council, the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council and the National Curriculum Council are to be nominated by the Secretary of State and subject to his direction. They will have wide powers which, from the point of view of universities, polytechnics and schools, will 1389 virtually be powers of legislation and direction. Indeed, the university commissioners will also be appointed and they, too, will have legislative powers.
We have been encouraged by the speech of the Minister to make historical references. I recall that it is just 200 years since Edward Gibbon completed Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In it he wrote:The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost when the legislative power is nominated by the executive".That is a short sentence for Gibbon; but I believe its meaning is clear enough.
We are told that schools and polytechnics are being set free, and we can applaud that. However, it is apparent that universities are to be increasingly managed from the centre. On the crucial point of how that may come about the Bill is silent. The system of contracting between the UFC and the universities, so prominent in the White Paper, receives no mention in the Bill. Is one to suppose that it will be set up by executive fiat of the UFC thereby avoiding a repeat of the criticism with which it was greeted in this House?
The drafting of the Bill seems deliberately vague on where the management of universities will lie. Initially the Bill seemed to suggest a Bonapartist centralism. I am not sure that we were especially encouraged to hear the Minister of State at a debate in the Cambridge Union offer as a model for our consideration not universities in Napoleon's France but in Bismarck's Prussia. But the very next day the Secretary of State undertook to amend Clauses 92 and 94 so we in universities were able to sleep a little easier.
Again, there is no mention of new arrangements for funding students at universities and polytechnics for which we have been waiting so patiently for several years. I have said on other occasions that I believe that here lies the real solution for the problems which beset the relationships between governments and the universities and that universities will not become managers of their own affairs until they can charge real fees. If this is a reform Bill for universities, it is disappointing to see in it only the barest outline of a constitution for the UFC and the mechanism for making dons more sackable.
I do not intend to enter into the details of what is proposed on tenure. It is obviously a central intention of the Government to abolish it as it stands, come what may. However, I should like to ask that, in appropriate circumstances, the commissioners be allowed to authorise universities to offer someone—particularly a senior person from outside whom a university may wish to attract to start, or revitalise, a department—guaranteed employment for a fixed term, say five or 10 years, with stringent review before reappointment. I do not believe that that will be legal if the present proposals become law. If that is not done I believe that it will become even more difficult to attract someone—from the United States, for example—occupying a tenured position, often with a retiring age of 70, and receiving a substantially higher salary. It is hard enough to do so now. Who, in their senses, will look at a job in the UK which can be made redundant by the Universities Funding Council six months after his arrival? We are still just competitive 1390 in the international academic market. We need to be more competitive, not less.
Tomorrow, I go to the United States to give a lecture to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. It is perhaps one of that nation's most distinguished learned societies, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 and closely modelled on the Royal Society in London. I have been asked to speak on the crisis in British universities. I should like to say that it will give me no pleasure at all to have to report, first, that Her Majesty's Government are determined to remove tenure; and, secondly, that they have so far been unwilling to put safeguards for independent inquiry and expression on to the face of their Education Reform Bill.
I have listened carefully to the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. They have given me some reassurance, although, I fear, not a great deal. If there is no relationship between tenure and academic freedom, I see no reason why academic freedom should not appear on the face of the Bill. If there is a relationship, then the removal of tenure and the apparent reluctance to make alternative reference to the protection of academic freedom can only give rise to anxiety. I am afraid that my powers of advocacy will not enable me to persuade my American audience that the take-home message is not that it will now be even easier to headhunt British academics.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Viscount Eccles
My Lords, my experience of British education makes me a convinced supporter of this Bill. That experience goes back a long time because I took part in all stages of the 1944 Act in another place. The war was still on. No one then foresaw how knowledge would sprout in every direction or that there would be such big changes in morals. Therefore, it is not enough today for the schools to do better what they have been doing since the war; they have to do it differently. They have to do both new and old things differently. It will not be easy because the way that young people think and behave has been transformed by such inventions as television and the pill. The schools find themselves in the thick of the confusion about what is right and what is wrong. Liberty has much increased and authority has declined.
It was forces outside the classroom which loosened the ties that had held families and generations togther. Whether we think the results are good or bad for our society, such changes have made a new Education Reform Bill essential. When the 1944 Act was being debated we assumed that the local authorities and the teachers were perfectly capable of seeing that the core subjects were well taught to all children. We also assumed that the traditional code of morals, derived from the Christian religion, would continue to be followed by both teachers and pupils. We were looking forward to the gap in standards between the private and maintained schools narrowing to the point where parents had no need to choose between them on academic grounds.
That did not happen; and why not? Up and down the country hundreds of fine new schools were built and the number of teachers was trebled, as was the 1391 number of staff on local education authorities. The teacher-pupil ratio was almost halved and the school leaving age was raised. However, as the years passed the visible tragedy of school leavers unprepared for the modern world forced itself on the attention of the public; it forced itself on the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and I was very interested at the time in his speech. He is right to remind us today that despite that there have always been many good schools where all the pupils are doing well. Many students from comprehensives have achieved success at university, but brilliant results at the top cannot conceal the fact that British education has not met the requirements of our economy. Indeed, we have been told that it is falling behind that of our competitors.
Thousands of our boys and girls have not reached the level of proficiency in subjects like English or mathematics which they could have reached had they been taught differently. Very often the below average child has been forgotten. With this Bill every child's progress will be monitored; not one child can be forgotten. That alone is reason to support the Bill.
Your Lordships may wonder why, with all these additional teachers, the equivalent of a national curriculum could not be taught without the upheaval of transferring responsibility for what is taught to the Secretary of State. The answer is very clear: the 1944 Act placed that responsibility where, as time passed, it could not be discharged. Clause 23, after making religious instruction the only statutory subject states:Secular instruction … shall … be under the control of the local education authority".Those 12 words have proved to be the great weakness of the 1944 Act.
Of course, when I look back I remember many excellent directors of education, not to mention my noble friend Lord Alexander of Potterhill to whom I owe so much. The fact is that the scientific and technological revolution overwhelmed the local authorities. Secondly, the local authorities and the teachers were far too preoccupied with restructuring secondary education to make the adjustments to the curriculum which the explosion in knowledge demanded. Party politics have invaded the schools, dividing and paralysing educational policy. My party defended the grammar schools and direct grant schools. The Labour Party were far more interested in getting rid of selection than in devising courses which would have helped children of very different ability to obtain jobs in a modern world. The weakness in the 1944 Act was revealed. No man, no institution and no elected body has had sufficient authority to stop the curriculum from going off the rails. Now we have this reform Bill and the vacuum in authority is to be filled.
I hope that the new arrangements will be given a fair trial before there is any rush to opt out. Local authorities, as has been said before, will come under mounting pressure to satisfy the wishes of parents. Let us see how they react. If any of them continues to ride roughshod over parents' wishes, I ask your Lordships what democratic alternative can the Secretary of State offer except opting out? Of course, opting out arouses political opposition. It is a way of proving that everybody does not want to be treated 1392 alike and that some are confident that they can do better for their children without the assistance of so many local politicians and bureaucrats. On the other hand, if all the schools tried at once to become grant-maintained, we should face a chaotic diversity in standards.
The principle that should guide us is not a political principle at all but simply what is best for the children; that is different in different areas of the country. In a perfect world all schools would satisfy a majority of parents, but in the world in which we live they do not. The Secretary of State should have the statutory means for dealing with cases of extreme frustration.
These reforms will take a long time and we shall not see half the results before the next election. But they are extremely urgent. The world is moving very fast. Progress at home and abroad depends on keeping British education at least on a level with that of other countries. Do we not wish to see our health service the best in the world; that is, the best that resources and skill can make it? That wish will remain a dream unless our schools and universities equip the next generation to earn the vast wealth that is needed to fund advances in medical science. Education is the productive social service; the others are distributors. Only if we know how to create more wealth can more be available for the common good.
I turn now to the teachers. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and other noble Lords have already spoken of them. Are the teachers going to do their best to carry out the provisions of the Bill? That question is crucial. No transfer of power to the centre, no national curriculum, will make a good school without the willing co-operation of experienced teachers.
The other day the chairman of the Xerox Corporation said that teaching was the only profession he knew of where if one does well nothing good happens; and if one does badly nothing bad happens. The Secretary of State should pay attention to that observation. His Bill will only work well if the social and financial position of good teachers is progressively improved and adequate arrangements are made to assess and dismiss incompetent teachers. Outside assessment is important because it is unlikely that all head teachers will be strong enough to weed out incompetence in their staff.
I have one final point that I should like to make. Since the war home and school appear to be changing places as the chief influence on a child's behaviour. Television is now the most educational concept we have. Every school day teachers must cope with the influence on their pupils of hours and hours of viewing. What can they do to straighten out the tangle of morals seen on the screen? That is a new problem—we did not have it in 1944; we had then no television and never even thought of this as a possible problem. It makes the insistence in the Bill on religious education more important than it was 44 years ago. Matthew Arnold expressed the view that the paramount virtue of religion is to draw our attention to morality. Well, in 1988 where can religion shed its light on morality? By far the best hope is in the schools. There, if it is well-taught, it can reach everyone's child.
1393 When I was a boy at Winchester—which is a long time ago—Sir Edward Grey, who had been the Foreign Secretary in the First World War, came down for the evening's fishing and took me with him. He said:Our school would fulfil its function if the majority of the boys left as Christian gentlemen".Today, would not the maintained schools fulfil their function if the core and foundation subjects had been well taught and if pupils leave knowing the difference between right and wrong; knowing what to praise and confident that ultimately the good will win?
We do not talk often enough to the teachers about the purposes of education. We think we know the kind of society we want and the virtues and values which would enable our children to build such a society. Well, with whom, rather than the teachers, are we to discuss those grave questions? Who are better placed to lay the foundations of the future? The most promising way to start those discussions will be through religious education. Therefore when the Bill is enacted what matters will be the spirit of hope in which parents and teachers, local authorities and the Secretary of State come together to carry out its provisions? In 1944 all the political parties were united in putting the interests of the children first—may it be the same in 1988.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, yesterday the Government Benches made much play on what they said was the complacency on these Benches about education. I thought that my noble friends Lord Morton of Shuna and Lord Callaghan of Cardiff had effectively dealt with that criticism. However, it seems that it might continue today. Therefore let me say that there has never been complacency in my party about the extent or quality of our educational provisions. There has certainly never been complacency about the vast majority of our young people who leave school with no progression into further and higher education. To show concern does not mean that we have to deny what is good in the system. It does not mean that we must acquiesce in the passage of a Bill which seems intent upon destroying the whole structure of our educational system.
The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, pointed out yesterday—almost defensively I thought—that he was not the first to raise the issue of standards and that it was done by my noble friend Lord Callaghan. Today in his speech my noble friend has acknowledged that fact. However, since that speech was made some 12 years ago there has been a considerable amount of agreement on a whole range of issues affecting education and standards, from primary right through to higher education. However, typically of this Government, they have gone far beyond the consensus that had emerged and have moved into the realm of doctrinal policy. Now, where there was harmony, there is discord.
I wish to deal with Part II of the Bill and I should like to make three points. The first relates to continuing education. I thought that that was one of the issues on which there was consensus. The Government will no doubt say that it is not an issue 1394 at all and that they are already putting money into the "pick-up" initiatives. The pick-up with its emphasis on updating those in employment, essential though that is—I underline the fact that it is essential—is an aspect and not the totality of continuing education. The UGC/NAB joint statement on continuing education described it as,in order to facilitate adjustments to technological, economic and social change, and to meet individual needs for personal development".The Government for their part said that they would give a lead in promoting education throughout life but they do not believe that the arguments for taxpayers' support are the same as for initial education.
The difference in emphasis is clear. Moreover, there is precious little lead in the Bill on continuing education. There is but one small reference in a section of a sentence. Further, there is no reference to the need for personal development and no safeguards for continued support for liberal adult education. There is no reference to the provisions needed to widen access to higher education, despite universal agreement, in the light of both our declining number of 18 year-olds and our need to involve a far greater population right across the spectrum in higher education.
I emphasise this because it is important to involve that whole spectrum of our population, those of different ages and those of different sexes. I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Callaghan referred to the importance of encouraging more girls into the science and technological area. It is important to involve those of ethnic origin and different cultures. All of these people must be encouraged to take part in our system of higher education. But we need provision for them to do so.
If we are really to think of major alternative routes into higher education other than the A- and O-levels of our 18 year-olds and not to just tinker with the problem, then we need a philosophy, a structure and a funding to cater for this. I am afraid that the Bill completely fails to address this problem.
This brings me to my second point on further education. What provision we have had in the past for continuing education or vocational education or second chance education, call it what you will, has largely been provided through our further education system. I am not convinced that the changes that are proposed in the Bill meet our needs. It seems that a new binary line is being drawn now between advanced and non-advanced further education, whereas what we need is a continuum with sufficient flexibility for students of whatever age to move in and out of the system according to their circumstances.
Perhaps I may give an example. Bradford and Ilkley College is, I believe, the largest further education college in the country. It has 30,000 students or 6,500 full-time equivalents of which 1,600 are full-time equivalents in higher education. It caters for basic, non-advanced further education through to higher education. Some of its courses are complete in themselves; some are modular, some access and feeding into university courses in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, mentioned yesterday in regard to ILEA and London University. Some of the 1395 access courses lead into its own CNAA degree and professional courses. This is surely the kind of institution we want to encourage, yet the Bill removes from local education authorities the duty to provide higher education. Those authorities that continue to do so will not have, as in the past, the same claim to direct funding from the new Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council as they do now. Ironically, Bradford and Ilkley College comes into that category but that is a matter to which I might return during Committee stage.
I now turn to my third point, which is the concern and the anxieties in the universities about academic freedom. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, I speak not as an academic but as a lay person involved in three universities. Apparently the Secretary of State was pained and bewildered at the reception of his Bill by the universities. They misunderstood him. The transfer of control over their own affairs to the centre should not be regarded as an attack on individuals or upon institutions—or so he said.
The Secretary of State seems completely unaware of the deep-down damage that has been done to the morale and to the trust of the universities. It is damage caused both by the financial constraints and by the continual criticism of not being close enough to industry, not earning their keep and not possessing management skills. The attack has continued despite all the changes that have been made as a result of pressures which have come not just from government but from a fast-changing world. I do not want to see the changes go too far. I do not want them to go so far as to set the universities in the mould of private enterprise. Yes, I want the universities to be enterprising but not the enterprise of the market place.
Several of your Lordships have given definitions of academic freedom. I shall not follow that line, yet I was struck by something that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said yesterday. Perhaps it is because we are both lay persons. He said he was concerned with three fundamental freedoms of lasting value and I quote his words:These are the freedoms to research in subjects of as yet unrecognised importance, the freedom to question received wisdom and the freedom to be protected from direct and narrow political interference".—[Official Report, 18/4/88; col. 1292.]Again I give an illustration of just how important these freedoms may be. In 1973 Bradford University established a department or a school of peace studies that was concerned with the philosophy, psychology, geography and economic and social consequences of, on the one hand, war and friction, and, on the other, peace and development. Peace studies is not a very popular subject now in some circles. Indeed even in your Lordships' House we have witnessed something of a vendetta against such courses—at any rate in schools.
Bradford University itself did not entirely escape this atmosphere of oppression. No less a person that the chairman of the UGC himself visited the university and put the department under scrutiny. But the rigour of his scrutiny was more than matched by the academic rigour and the scholarship that had 1396 been applied to the courses and to the research work under way.
Here I believe that it would be only fair and proper to Bradford University to say this in the light of the current atmosphere. It is widely recognised as having contributed to extending the frontiers of knowledge and of having contributed considerably to a better understanding of some of the trouble spots of the world.
I mention this because I wonder whether in the climate of 1988 a university would have the courage to establish the first department of peace studies in the United Kingdom. I believe that to be the important test of academic freedom and that is the point that I ask your Lordships to bear in mind.
§ 5.29 p.m.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, said at the start of his speech that he had concluded this morning, having read all the speeches of yesterday, that there was nothing more to be said. Happily, he recovered early in the afternoon and we enjoyed his contribution. I hope that my noble friend the Minister was listening intently when he talked about the importance of adult education. I believe that that subject has been mentioned too seldom until now in this debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and I have listened to almost every speech made yesterday and today. I am afraid that I cannot agree with her, if I heard her rightly, when she said that the Bill was aimed to destroy the structure of education. I have seen no justification at all for that accusation.
A number of the speeches yesterday expressed so clearly and admirably the points I wish to emphasise in support of the Bill that I need not repeat them now. For example, I found very persuasive the arguments deployed by my noble friend Lady Young, with all her knowledge of education, in favour of the national curriculum. A national curriculum is overdue. If our boys and girls are to become useful and responsible citizens of an increasingly educated democracy they must be able at least to speak and write English clearly so as to be understood. At present, far too many fall short of any acceptable standard in that respect. That is true too, I am afraid, of the comparison with contemporaries in other countries in the basic subject of mathematics.
Of course the proof of the pudding will be in the eating in terms of the curriculum, but if the curriculum and the core subjects are well taught—and my noble friend Lord Eccles was clearly right to emphasise that—and the knowlege of the individual is regularly tested the young will be provided with a much better springboard for careers than they have at present.
The other part of the Bill to which I should like to call the attention of the House for a few moments only is that of religious education and the Christian element in it. Over the century preceding the 1939 war each generation of British children was taught by a team effort. The team was composed of the mother, the school master and the minister of religion. That gave to the children the story of Christianity and a 1397 Christian code of values for life on earth. They learnt that by the authority of the Founder of the Christian religion they were commanded not to kill, not to steal, not to covert and to treat their neighbours as they would be treated by them. That instruction did not produce a nation of saints but at least when boys and girls went into the world outside they were provided with a yardstick by which they could measure their actions and the behaviour of others. The majority of the young in those days took notice of the instruction because the example was set by people they loved, respected and admired because they practised what they preached.
Some time after the war—and probably because of the economic and socially destabilising effect of war—it became fashionable to question nearly all moral values, disciplines and restraints associated with the Christian code of conduct. The permissive society was not the happiest or the most creditable interlude in our national story. We are paying a heavy penalty in indiscipline, crime and intolerance which derives from that period. I hope the lesson has been learnt that in community life, whether it is in the profession of politics, business or any other activity—for example, on the football or cricket field—morals and manners matter. We have been perilously near forgetting that. We have gone a long way down the road of ignoring the code of morality of which I have spoken.
I have heard it said in Parliament and among the Church leaders that Britain is no longer a Christian country. I find that too facile a judgment. The Queen is head of the Church of England. That Church is the established Church of the realm. Parliament, the highest court of the land, starts its proceedings every day with the prayer,Prevent us O Lord in all our doings".All that is not a sham. It is real, and our young people ought to know about the story of Christianity and the commitment of their predecessors to its values. Far too many of them do not know about that today.
They probably do not know because of the economic and social changes in our society. The great majority of mothers work, and young mothers work. At the end of a long working day it is unreasonable to expect them to be able to spend the evening instructing their children in religious values. The manpower of the Church, if I am not wrong, is overstretched. So inevitably a greater and greater responsibility in preparing the young for the moral choices in life is placed on the schools. That has to be so.
The question that will face us at the Committee stage is whether to insert into the text of the Bill words that will steer the local bodies which will create the syllabuses for religious teaching in the direction of teaching the Christian religion and the Christian story. The case for that was put eloquently yesterday by my noble friend Lady Cox. The case against it—and I hope I shall be corrected if I am wrong—was expressed paradoxically by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. If that view is to prevail (and there are strong arguments which the Bishops of the Church on the whole support that no further words should be put into the Bill) the right reverend Prelate will have to give a better explanation 1398 than the House has so far heard as to why the Church so signally failed to take advantage of the 1944 Act. Unless we get a better explanation than we have had so far the question is bound to be asked: why should the House be persuaded that the Church will do better this time?
Between now and the Committee stage we have plenty of time to search this question out and I hope that we get the answer right. At present I am inclined to think there is a case for putting in some additional words if we can find the right wording. That is not easy. There are many other aspects with which this important Bill deals, but I cannot help thinking that we must try to give back to the young of this nation the code of values of which I have spoken. It will have to be a united effort by the Church, the school teachers and the parents, all together. For myself, I do not know a better one.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, I must start by apologising for my cold and the effect it has on my voice; but at least it will mean that I shall try to be very brief, not only to save noble Lords but also to save myself.
My noble friend Lord Kilmarnock said yesterday that I would be speaking about the subject of parental choice. I intend to limit myself to that in my remarks today and in talking about the amendment on this subject which I hope to put down at an appropriate stage next month. The noble Baroness, Lady David, almost at the beginning of this debate, quoted Mr. Baker:We are removing the balance of power from the producers and giving it to the consumers of education".The extraordinary thing to me is that Mr. Baker appears to believe that that is what he is doing.
A great deal has been said both today and yesterday and in other places about parental choice, but to my mind without getting to the guts of the matter, which is that there can be no genuine choice without diversity. Who wants to choose between six blue shirts or six red shirts? Or between more or less identical schools? We need diversity not only to enhance freedom but also to stimulate and nourish the mainstream schools.
The history of education in this and other countries is the story of experiments and diversity which become adopted as orthodoxy later on. The noble Baroness, Lady David, quoted Sheila Browne to that effect yesterday. Yet there is only one new kind of school featured in this Bill: the city technology colleges which will stress science and technology and which are, as we know, to be supported in some measure by the state. My question is: why only that? Why should the Bill not also allow parents and teachers in rural areas as well as cities to have a go and set up new, non-fee-paying schools with emphasis not just on science and technology but also on the visual arts and the performing arts, ecology and the environment, outdoor pursuits, a particular faith or philosophy that may be held by a group of parents, or new methods of learning?
I stress most of all the need that I believe many parents feel for smaller schools than those to which 1399 they are ordinarily able to send their children—small schools, not just in villages (important as they are there) but also in towns, if that is what parents and pupils want. I should like to see all this happening as it is in the United States, to some extent, in a different way with the Magnet schools. In many counties in the United States parents can choose between science and technology-based schools and others which stress the visual and performing arts, those which stress foreign languages and many other subjects. The question is: why not here?
The same thing has happened again in a different way in Europe, notably in Holland and Denmark. I was in Denmark a fortnight ago and had the pleasure of a talk with the Minister of Education there, Mr. Haarder. He told me how proud he was not just of the high standards of education in his country but of the nation's free choice schools, set up by parents of different persuasions, which are attended in all by about 10 per cent. of the children in that nation. He was proud for two reasons. The first was the competition that was provided, not between different schools but between different types of schools in their fairly ordinary large state schools, and also the co-operation they had with those same state schools. It is quite common in Denmark for children to spend part of their school life in a free choice school and most of it in a state school. Ideas and practice are therefore freely interchanged.
My hope is that one day we in Britain will also have mainstream schools with a ring of small maintained schools around them, all benefiting from the variety that they represent and from the exchange of ideas and experience between different types of school, between teachers with different experiences and between parents who have had different experiences of their children's education. I fear that, unless that is done, real choice in education in this country will remain the privilege of a privileged class. If you are well off, you will have the choice of all manner of schools. If you are poor, you will have none or very little. Britain is divided and the social classes are, to quite a large extent, divided between those with money who can afford fee-paying schools and the great majority who cannot.
However, we could as a nation move towards equality of opportunity and choice, and I dearly hope that we shall in May this year.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Viscount Ingleby
My Lords, I rise metaphorically at least to make two points, the first on religious education. I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others in asking that religious education should be predominantly Christian or predominantly biblical. I understand that in some schools almost anything is taught under the heading of RE. It seems to me that clear guidance is needed. I think that this is what the great majority of parents would like. Those of other faiths can opt out if they so wish.
Secondly, perhaps I may say a word on home economics. I should like to ask that this should have a place in the national curriculum. Our homes form 1400 the essential background to our lives, affecting for good or ill everything else. Together with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, and others, I ask that home economics in its more modern and much broader form of life management skills should be an obligatory subject for all boys as well as girls.
We must give all young people the know-how to make better homes. Many will not be able to learn it from their own homes: to learn about budgeting and the debt trap, for instance; to learn about health; to learn about human relationships; about responsible parenting; about careers; about the individual and the community, including where to get help if necessary; leisure and the ways in which to use it; as well as the more obvious and very important skills of cooking, home-making and being a good handyman. I wish I had been better taught on those subjects.
The co-ordination of home economics as a subject in its own right is also essential. If the contents of this subject are simply spread about among other subjects, it will lose its coherence and young people will not be able to put it all together. It is for this reason that I ask very fervently that home economics should have a place of its own in the new national curriculum.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lord Carlisle of Bucklow
My Lords, in asking your Lordships to extend to me the indulgence which is traditional to someone addressing the House on the first occasion let me, like the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, start with an apology. As some of your Lordships may know, I am at the moment chairing a committee set up by the Home Secretary to review the parole system. In that capacity I arrived back at Heathrow during the course of this morning from America having flown overnight from Washington. Therefore I fear that I rise to address your Lordships without having had the advantage of hearing any of the speeches of yesterday, although I have had the opportunity and the time since I have been back to read both the speech of my noble friend the Minister and that of the noble Baroness, Lady David.
It also means that should I during the course of the rest of this afternoon at any time be seen to be slowly closing my eyes, your Lordships will appreciate that it is done for the purpose of increasing my power of concentration and with no intent of disrespect.
I realise looking through the list of yesterday's speakers that I am the fifth ex-Secretary of State for Education to speak in the debate. Indeed I must admit that I was somewhat surprised to learn on being introduced into your Lordships' House last November that seven ex-Secretaries of State for Education are currently Members of this House. I have been thinking about that and I cannot decide whether it reflects upon the longevity of Secretaries of State for Education or whether it reflects even more on the attitude of successive Prime Ministers to the office of Secretary of State for Education.
By any test this Bill is massive. Clearly it is bound to receive much detailed study, but its aim, which is one that I certainly accept, is to improve education standards in this country. However much we may 1401 disagree about the means by which it achieves that aim, I hope at least that we can agree on the aim. I welcome wholeheartedly the proposal for a national curriculum and for the testing of children at different ages so as to ascertain their level of attainment in basic subjects. I believe that that part of the Bill in itself will help to raise education standards.
At the present time the school curriculum is attacked simultaneously both as being too diverse—it is often said that a proportion of time is given up to teaching subjects which do not appear wholly to fit into the school life—and as being too narrow in that too many people are encouraged to give up subjects or indeed whole fields of study at too early an age.
We must remember that the duty to educate is not the duty of the state; it is the duty of the parent. The responsibility of the state is to provide the facilities whereby that parent may carry out his duty. I believe that parents are entitled to require and expect that the state will provide for all children in maintained schools a broadly based and balanced curriculum which will prepare them for adult life. I believe that a national curriculum can achieve that end provided, as has been said, it retains a degree of flexibility.
The same principle applies to choice in education. Parents should surely be given the widest choice possible to decide the school at which their children are to be educated. It was for that reason that in the 1980 Education Act for the first time we provided a statutory right for a parent to express a preference for the school at which his child should be educated. However, I would say to the Minister that choice at the end of the day can never sadly be absolute in a state provided service. The Secretary of State must remember that the holder of that office has a responsibility not to 90 per cent., not to 95 per cent., but to 100 per cent. of the children in those schools.
In 1980 I had to accept that, faced with a substantial drop in the number of children of school age, local authorities must be able to have a degree of control over admission policy so as to ensure that the policy of any individual school did not prejudice the provision of efficient education for children throughout the rest of the area of the local education authority.
I accept that much has changed over the intervening years and I hope that we now may be able to move to a period of total open enrolment. It is quite wrong that local authorities should be allowed to use their powers to reduce admission levels below the 1979 capacity merely as a means of keeping down the numbers in a popular school or purely to increase the numbers in an unpopular school. Nevertheless I believe that complete open enrolment in itself contains some difficulties and certainly would be expensive as regards resources.
I welcome the proposed financial delegation to individual schools. Obviously it will put a lot more pressure on the heads of those schools, but the control that it will give them and their governors over the budget for their school and the responsibility for day-to-day management will give greater independence to the individual schools.
That leads me on to say something about the proposal to allow schools to opt out of local 1402 education authorities altogether. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said earlier this afternoon that the power of opting out as a matter of last resort may and probably will in itself have a salutary effect on many local education authorities. But in view of the control which is to be exercised over the school curriculum through the proposals for a national curriculum, and in view of the far greater financial freedom to be given to individual schools, I find it hard to see that very great benefits will accrue.
As we have been told that there is to be no change in the admission policy or ethos of a grant maintained school, that they will be debarred from charging fees and that the level of funding at such schools will be exactly the same as at all other local authority maintained schools, I find difficulty in seeing how the very fact of opting out of the malevolence or the benevolence of a local education authority and the opting in to the benevolence or the malevolence of the Department of Education and Science by its very nature will necessarily improve the standard of education.
As I say, I believe and accept that that final power will have a salutary effect on relationships with certain local education authorities. But what is important is that we recognise that opting out would indeed be a major step and one which needs to be adequately thought through before it is acquired.
As regards higher education, the only point I wish to make is that I welcome very strongly the proposal to take polytechnics out of local authority control. I believe that they are an important and a rapidly growing part of higher education in this country and they should be recognised as being so.
Finally I turn to the proposals in the Bill to abolish the Inner London Education Authority. It is no secret to your Lordships' House, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady David, in her speech yesterday referred to the fact, that not only did we hold an inquiry into ILEA in 1980 but as a result of that review I announced in another place in 1980 that the Government had decided at that stage to maintain a single unitary authority for education throughout inner London. It was not that I did not recognise and do not recognise very fully the very powerful arguments that can be mustered and advanced against the Inner London Education Authority—above all the fact that it is an enormously extravagant authority. But, in the end, the two matters which weighed most with me and which led me to come to my conclusion at the time were, first, my belief that some of the weaker authorities—they were not necessarily the smaller authorities—did not have adequate capacity to take over responsibility for the education of children in their boroughs and, secondly, the effect that abolition might have on further, adult and continuing education in London.
Clearly, the decision to wind up the Inner London Education Authority has been taken. However, I believe that thought will have to be given to how the schools in those boroughs are to be run. I believe that careful thought ought to be given to the need for a framework to provide for the substantial co-operation between the various boroughs which I believe will be essential if special education, further education and continuing education are not to suffer 1403 and if the education of children in certain London boroughs is not to be damaged as a result.
I started by saying that the aim of the Bill was to increase educational standards. Perhaps I may conclude by saying that I get extremely concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said, hearing people talk about falling educational standards in this country. I believe that by any objective test educational standards are rising, whether the test used is the results of exams or, in contradiction to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the growing numbers of students in higher education in this country.
That is totally different from saying that standards are still far too low and lower than those in most of our competitor nations. I hope that we shall not involve ourselves in arguing that in absolute terms standards have come down. I believe that to do so casts unnecessary blame on many dedicated people in the teaching profession who, I believe, are doing their best to continue to raise—although not fast enough—those standards.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Blackburn
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle. One is expected to follow a maiden speaker by saying nice things about him. I can honestly say many nice things about him because we have had a long association, working together in many ways.
I first knew the noble Lord when he was a member of the Northern Circuit. He was then a young barrister going from quarter session to quarter session to try to get briefs. I was the leader of a county borough local authority which was responsible for providing lunches for the Recorder and barristers attending the quarter sessions. We had very interesting lunchtime discussions ranging over many subjects. I next came into contact with the noble Lord when he became Secretary of State for Education and Science.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I have prepared three speeches. One goes on for 25 minutes, another for 15 minutes. I shall watch the clock and try to keep to 10 minutes. I feel that Second Reading debates are a time when one should concentrate on general principles and not get to much involved in detail. We can do that at Committee stage. However, there are several points which I feel I should draw to the attention of your Lordships.
I do not want to go into a great deal of criticism of the Bill, although one could do that very easily. However, I feel very disappointed that the Bill is being taken as it is. In my opinion, it should have been in three parts. The first part should have dealt with the abolition of the ILEA, if that had to be done. The second part should have looked at general principles and at ways to improve education in the general sense of the term. The third part should have dealt with higher and further education. I should have liked to see three separate Bills rather than the one cumbersome Bill before us today. I do not believe we can do justice to it. Many things are wrapped up together which should not be.
1404 As regards abolition of the ILEA, I cannot understand why so many authorities should be penalised because of those few authorities which are straying at the present time. Many of them will come back into the fold as time goes on. I am sure that there is a great deal of pressure and thought within local authorities to try and get back to the path. I must point out to your Lordships that there are 104 education authorities in England and Wales. Is it fair to penalise 103 authorities for misdeeds elsewhere?
I cannot understand the way the Government are going about giving power to the boroughs within the London area. When I was a member of a county borough education authority—it was a good, small education authority which catered for a population of 130,000—I realised that we could not go the way which we wished regarding higher education. We were nevertheless doing a good job within our own capabilities; we had a number of good successes. I am not judging success simply in terms of academic success but rather in terms of people who were able to start factories, introduce new industries and so on. That is how I judge a school—by all-round success, not just by academic success. Now we are reversing the situation, exactly as happened when reorganisation took place. I cannot see the logic of that. Nevertheless, there will be more time later to get involved in detailed discussions.
Many noble Lords will know that I was privileged to chair for three years a committee which looked at governors and managers in schools. We produced many recommendations. I am pleased to say that out of all those recommendations, according to the department's figures given in an Answer to a Question of my noble friend Lord Peston some time ago, 39 were accepted. I am also pleased that in the present Bill another of our recommendations concerning the giving of financial control to schools is included. Forty recommendations out of about 70 is not a bad job. Of all the reports published by eminent educationists, I cannot remember a case where so many of the recommendations were published and accepted by the Government. I look upon that as an achievement and hope to see some of those recommendations implemented in my lifetime.
Many of the recommendations were implemented in the 1980, the 1982 and the 1986 Acts. If one looks at those Acts, one sees that many things contained there are in the present Bill. Many of the powers that the Government are trying to bring together already exist, if the Government want to use them. If they used them in the right way, there would be no need for many of the things contained in the Bill. I am simply voicing my opinion at this stage. We will get down to the details later.
I am grateful for the changes in religious education that the Government have accepted. That is a move in the right direction. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on that point. Your Lordships might say that we are two strange—I shall not say bedfellows, because I must be careful about that—people from opposing sides who agree on this point I accept what the noble Baroness has to say. We fundamentally disagree about most matters in education; but on religious education, we agree.
1405 I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, for what he has said. I go a stage further. I wish to re-emphasise adult education. Many of us, especially in my part of the world, are grateful for the benefits of adult education. Many people who, like myself, were compelled to leave school at the age of 14 because of financial circumstances, would have had little education if it had not been for the adult education movement in its broadest aspect. I am sorry we are not spending more time on adult education in the Bill. Many great things can come from it.
I should also like to have seen more about home economics, again something that the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, mentioned. A report called Half hour Future was published when the school-leaving age was raised. It tried to help those children who were not academically inclined but who were capable of learning a great deal about how life should be. Many of the things were simple—cooking and banking (if banking can be called simple) and how to use a cheque book. All kinds of subjects come within home economics. I should like to see them in the curriculum.
I feel that we are missing the point. The Bill does not provide what people want. We criticise schools and teachers. But who should we really criticise? We should criticise ourselves. Our generation is responsible for many things going wrong with our young people. It is not just in the schools but in the home where things really matter. Have we done our duty in our homes? Have we brought up our children in the right way? Have we said the right things to them? Those points are part and parcel of what we should have been discussing in one way or another.
We knock teachers from time to time. I have done so in the House. Not long ago I talked about teachers who after a time act like some of the children that they teach because of lack of training. Here we have an opportunity to deal with training, in-service training and re-training. That subject was mentioned yesterday. I am glad to say that a report is to be published. This matter forms part of a Question to the Minister that I have tabled for next week. I am sure that today she does not want me to go into what my supplementary question will be. I shall ask how we train teachers and whether we are training them along the right lines. Those are points that we should have been discussing in connection with the Bill.
I hope that we shall try to improve the Bill. We want to improve it. I hope that we can improve it. I am sure, given goodwill on all sides of the House, that we can improve it.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, somewhat unusually I must begin by declaring an interest, not once but twice. First, I wish to declare an interest as an ILEA parent who voted in the ballot. I must confess that I listened with some strain on my patience to some of the things that were said about me and my fellow voters from the Benches opposite.
Secondly, I must declare an interest because in speaking to the clauses of the Bill dealing with universities I shall be speaking in defence of my 1406 profession as a university teacher. I am well aware that there are many people, some of them in the House, who think that gives me less and not more claim to a hearing on that subject. There is an anti-professionalism abroad in this Parliament, stronger than it has been in any Parliament since the rump, where it got so far out of hand, partly because your Lordships' House could take no part in restraining it.
When the Bill received its Third Reading in another place a Government spokeswoman said:the cohort of the education establishment and its camp followers have been gnawing away at the Bill and its provisions like rats in a cellar".—[Official Report, Commons, 28/3/88; col. 828.]I am tempted to say that I address the House as one of the rats, save for the fact that I am visibly aboard the sinking ship. Indeed, in 1984 I gave up a good job in the United States and came back aboard the sinking ship to help to man the pumps. That speech also reminds me of the 17th century anti-clerical who said that there was no need to listen to the protests of the clergy because they were all our servants.
As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said yesterday, that is not the way to get good service. It is possible that the professional or the servant may on some things, especially about means, know more than those outside. Indeed, the rats may know more about the structure of the cellar than those who listen anxiously to their gnawing from above. In that context, I was pleased, if a little surprised, to hear praise for the teachers from the Minister. I was pleased by the remarks made by the Secretary of State which show that he is the universities' friend, and that his heart is with them. But if the Secretary of State wants to show that he is the universities' friend, he must accept that where his heart is there must his treasure be also.
I shall not delay your Lordships on the subject of university funding. It is something upon which I hope that I may be able to ask for your patience on another occasion. I shall quote one statistic. My college, University College London, which has been treated exceptionally favourably because of its high research rate, has lost 30 per cent. of its income from the UGC since 1980. It is normal in most institutions to credit those who take away 30 per cent. of one's income with hostile intent. Indeed, on occasion it may even be correct. I mention that point because without that context it is impossible to understand the intensity of academic reaction to the Bill, and also because, especially in relation to the tenure clause, it provides the context in which the Bill will operate.
I feel that I must answer the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Joseph, about complacency. My colleagues spend a large part of their time trying, in small and undramatic ways, to devise methods of improving what they do—the system of examining, the system of teaching and the provisioning for the library. It is not the least of academic grievances against the Government that that process has been brought almost to a halt. In a poll organised by MORI during the last election campaign 92 per cent. of my professional colleagues expressed agreement with the view that government cuts had caused chaos. I find myself that between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. of my working time is spent trying to clear up the mess caused by 1407 government cuts. In those circumstances there is not much time for improvement. That is something that we regret.
I shall also try to touch on one or two at least semi-objective measures on the issue of quality. I think that the central thinking behind the Bill is, as it was so eloquently put by Geoffrey Smith of The Times, that, "Education is in a mess". I do not think that is correct. It is well known that people from abroad are eager to offer our professors, or indeed our readers and senior lecturers, appointments at their universities. Our postgraduates will stand comparison with those from any other country. I say that having considered them from the interesting vantage point of chairman of an American appointing committee. Our undergraduate courses are doing exceptionally well in attracting overseas students, including people taking junior years abroad from Ivy League colleges.
Even if one considers our unit costs, which sometimes seem to be the only measure of quality in which this Government are interested, they are rising at half the rate of those of our leading American competitors. Consider their contribution to the economy. I should like to quote from a survey conducted by the Japanese Ministry of International Trade reported briefly in The Times in February 1985 when investigating the national origins of research inventions of industrial significance since the Second World War. The figures the survey produced were: Britain 55 per cent.; US 22 per cent.; Japan 5 per cent. It seems to me that those figures suggest that whatever has let down the British economy since the war it is not our universities.
I shall turn now to the specific points on which this Bill affects universities, but I shall not dwell at length on the University Funding Council because my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead has so admirably said almost everything that I wished to say. However, I should like to repeat that I would welcome from the Minister an explanation of why those clauses are included in the Bill. In the original version it looked to members of my profession like the worst threat to university autonomy since the University of Oxford refused to support King Henry VIII over his divorce.
The Minister tells me that that is a misunderstanding. I welcome that assurance. However, that leaves me with no understanding at all of why the clauses are there. I think that it is not enough simply to refer to the Croham Report, first, because there are many noble Lords present who have not read it, and, secondly, because it is a controversial point as to whether or not the contents of the Bill follow the Croham Report.
Before I sit down, I want to say something about the issue of tenure. The threat to academic freedom has been mentioned. It is a real one. Only two weeks ago Mr. Digby Anderson in The Times deplored tenure because it got in the way of getting rid of anti-business ideologues. Should I say that I should be consoled about the abolition of tenure because it would make it easier to get rid of anti-service ideologues, Mr. Anderson would be entitled to the indignation which he would undoubtedly express.
1408 I speak also as the son of one of your Lordships' number who not once but twice succeeded in losing an academic job for non-academic reasons. I would welcome an amendment to protect academic freedom because I think that there are occasions, some of them already in this Bill, where hortatory legislation serves some purpose. However, I must confess to a sneaking sympathy with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about the difficulty of defining academic freedom. I am also aware that the ostensible grounds of many dismissals are not the same as the real reasons. I think that the only proper defence of academic freedom is tenure itself.
If your Lordships will bear with me one moment more, I think that there is also an economic case to be made. If you spend many years acquiring a skill you are entitled to hope that if you do it well you can earn your living by that skill. However, we live in a market where skills are so specialised that the market is inevitably distorted. My colleague in Dutch language and literature holds the only appointment which has been made in that field in the British Isles in nine years. Your Lordships may say that that is a special case. But in my own field of Tudor and Stuart English history—a mainstream field if ever there was one—the appointment made at Cambridge a few weeks ago was the first in the British Isles for three years. In those circumstances if you lose your job through no fault of your own you lose your profession also.
Finally, I do not think that everyone appreciates the financial pressures on universities. In most universities everyone over 55 is being urged to take premature retirement—in some, everyone over 50. I hope your Lordships will agree that a man's useful life is not over at 55. I hope your Lordships will view the proposal to abolish tenure with the same misgivings you would bring to a proposal to introduce a retiring age for Peers.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord Aldington
My Lords, I have much pleasure in congratulating the noble Earl on his maiden speech and in telling him how much we enjoyed listening to him even though we might not have agreed with some of what he said. Perhaps I may also say how much we look forward to hearing him again. There is one point on which I at least among the Members of your Lordships' House agree, and that is that life does not stop at 55. Having read his curriculum vitae I observe that I had left university before the noble Earl was born. I also noted that he believes in the tag that says that where his heart is there must his treasure be. I think that the noble Earl must have a very happy household.
As the first to speak from this side of the House following my noble friend Lord Carlisle, I should also like to take the opportunity to congratulate him on his maiden speech. What about jet lag about which we have all heard from doctors and elsewhere? If a man who has spent the night on the red-eyed flight, as we used to call it, from New York is able to come and address your Lordships' so cogently, lucidly and in such a nice manner we do not think much of jet-lag. I suppose that we ought to congratulate our noble friend Lord King of Wartnaby on the excellence of his services.
1409 To me this Bill is one of the most important Bills of my adult life. I strongly support its aims of improving the standards of education in the country and I strongly support those who say that there is a great need to do so now. Of course there are many good schools. Of course as one noble Lord has said—I think that it was my noble friend behind me—standards of education nationally have been improving. But they have not improved enough. They are not high enough, as we know from industry and as we know socially. They are not high enough in comparison with many other countries in the world.
I shall concentrate my few remarks on three points: first the importance of flexibility in the application of the national curriculum, particularly after the age of 14; secondly, the direction of schools by governing bodies; and, thirdly, the balance between the safeguarding of public money and of academic freedom, particularly in relation to universities.
As your Lordships know, I have no experience in teaching, nor in the management of schools or universities, but, as with many others here, my experience lies in having been a pupil long ago and a parent less long ago and in being a grandparent now. In addition, I have been a member of the governing body of the oldest of public schools for 16 years and its chairman for nine years. For three happy years I was chairman of the governing body of a maintained sixth-form college—it was a very good one, as it still is—only to be removed by the small print in an order made by one of my noble friends; I think by the noble Lord sitting behind me. I am now chairman of the Governing Bodies Association and of the Independent Schools Joint Council. However, I would ask your Lordships not to be under the illusion that I am concerned only with independent education. I am concerned with the success of education in the country as a whole, as we all are.
The first step in the Bill to improve national standards lies in the national curriculum. When the national curriculum was first published there were strongly-voiced fears that it introduced too tight a straitjacket. There appeared to those who had such fears to be insufficient flexibility both for different aptitudes and speeds of development among pupils and for individual and original teaching methods and approaches. I think that that is what worried my noble friend Lord Joseph and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff.
In the independent sector it has been hoped that the national curriculum could be accepted voluntarily and wholeheartedly, for independent schools, although by definition independent of the Government as well as of each other, set out to provide the kind of framework of education which recent Secretaries of State and others had been wanting. There was disappointment at the start, but that did not last for long, since my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and his Ministers were listening well and very soon they showed by their speeches that they accepted the aim of flexibility.
They have now translated this into the Bill in Clause 10, which makes it possible for the curriculum requirement to be interpreted more flexibly in the case of pupils who can reach a reasonable standard in the foundation subjects by the age of 14 or soon after 1410 and so need not be tied to them in a straitjacket until they reach the age of 16. Many will neither need nor wish to wait until that age before they concentrate on other academic subjects for A-level or widen their studies in other fields than the foundation subjects.
Of course I am not opposing breadth in education. I know that is not the only area where flexibility is important. I know too that much depends on the terms of the regulations made under Clause 10 and that these will be affected by advice from the new National Curriculum Council and by the forms of assessment and testing decided upon. I shall listen carefully to what my noble friend the Minister has to say to us on that, either today or when we come to the clause. But let there be no doubt that flexibility is of vital importance to the success of the national curriculum system.
Perhaps I should say a word about the relationship of the independent sector with the maintained sector. I do not think it is always remembered that the Secretary of State has a general responsibility for standards in the independent sector which he can and does exercise through the registration system and through HM Inspectors' reports.
My noble friend Lady Young, to whose speech we must all have paid great attention yesterday, emphasised when speaking for the Government at the end of the debate in 1984 that there is one system only of education in the country but two sectors, and that there is a great deal of interdependence between them. For example, the Headmasters Conference and the Secondary Heads Association work very closely together on many things, and have much agreement on the national curriculum. Your Lordships may not be aware that today the independent sector includes just over 7 per cent. of all pupils of school age, but a much higher percentage, 18 per cent., of those in sixth forms. This follows a fairly rapid increase over the past few years.
The experience of independent schools in administration and direction must be of interest to grant-maintained schools and to local authorities when they have devolved the power and responsibility to governing bodies under this Bill. I was rather disappointed with the remark that I noted in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady David, yesterday when she seemed to say that the duties which will be additional to those now being performed by the members of maintained schools' governing bodies would be too much for many of the members. I very much doubt that. I have noted that both in the maintained sector and in the independent sector the voluntary spirit of those who join governing bodies is wonderful. They are only too anxious to do everything that is required of them.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I am only going by the comments that some governors have made to me and by a number of letters. They are very anxious to give their services. They are slightly worried by the additional responsibility, the financial and management responsibility, which might be imposed upon them.
§ Lord Aldington
My Lords. I am glad the noble Baroness has mentioned that. I regard the position 1411 and duties of governing bodies and of headmasters and their relationship as of great importance for the success of the devolution. There are some points of commonality between the experience of the independent sector and that which will be needed in the maintained sector. I have three principles to put to noble Lords.
The first is that the headmaster must have the powers and the position to enable him to fulfil the responsibility for running the school which is his and not the governing body's. The governing body is there to direct him, but he must not be overburdened with practical and administrative responsibilities outside the teaching area. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, made that point, as did my noble friends Lord Blake and Lord Boyd-Carpenter. That is why most independent schools of reasonable size have excellent bursars usually but not always responsible directly to the governing body.
My second point is that members of the governing body must be chosen for their experience and merit. The governing body must be composed so that there can be continuity. I know that the position of parents in the maintained sector is different from that in most independent schools, but continuity is of importance.
My third point is that the relationship between the headmaster and his governing body, and particularly between him and the chairman, must be understood. That is very important and if it goes wrong great damage can be done to the school. We have found that to be the case in the Governing Bodies Association, and I think the same applies to girls' schools. We have evolved some rules and advice, and I commend them to my noble friend. She can have those and any help from us that she may like.
I have one further point about administration. It will be familiar to many of your Lordships who have run institutions which have introduced either devolution, labour-saving devices or data processing. When a new system starts one needs more money and not less. Savings are not made in the early years. One devolves administrative obligations to the schools below, but the LEAs will not reduce their staff at once and the total administrative cost may well be greater than is thought. That must be allowed for. One must not starve schools of money for good administration at the start.
I said I would end with a point relating to academic freedom and the universities. I was very glad when I heard that my right honourable friend had been able to meet the principal wishes of the vice-chancellors about the directions and conditions in the financial field. I was also pleased when he expressed his general sympathy for the wishes of the vice-chancellors that academic freedom should be safeguarded in the rules governing dismissal on redundancy or otherwise, for that is what I understood. I appreciate that there are some difficulties in drafting such a safeguard and the opinion of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor confirms that. However, I have been impressed with the advice given to me by vice-chancellors who are not Members of this House and I also appreciated the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, and other noble Lords. My present inclination is to support the search for an explicit 1412 safeguard, whether directly in the Bill or indirectly by instructions to the commissioners which may also be in the Bill. I also think that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, about limited tenure is one that is well worth pursuing.
The old University Grants Committee system always seemed to me to be a typical British compromise which for many years appeared to work well. I have no quarrel with any attempt to make it work better, which I thought was the subject of the report by the noble Lord, Lord Croham, but I understand that the present attempts to enshrine an improvement of that system under different names in a statute has caused problems and will very likely continue to do so because the customs and conventions that restrain the Government's interventionary powers are difficult to enact in the language of a Bill. Like other of your Lordships I have to assume that the Government want more powers than they have over recalcitrant universities, whichever they are, and that they want more power because of some incidents of failure which they assume can be prevented in the future.
However that may be, I am on the side of those who give a higher priority to academic independence and freedom not only to express opinions but also to make academic decisions. I very much like the robust way in which the Chancellor of Oxford University—my university—stood up for university independence this afternoon, as I very much like all that was said by my noble friend Lord Swann yesterday about his experience of official interference. I believe that we must beware that the search for the best in the new UFC does not become the enemy of the good. I shall join with other noble Lords in examining very carefully the relevant clauses of the Bill but I support the ends of the Bill and congratulate the Government on bringing it before us.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Lord Alport
My Lords, I should like to join my noble friend Lord Aldington in congratulating the two maiden speakers on their delightful and important speeches. If the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, goes to sleep during my speech, I shall attribute it entirely to jet lag and not to the tedium of my remarks.
When I ceased my own formal education, I swore a solemn oath that never again would I have anything to do with education. Since then I have been directly involved in the affairs of two public schools, two voluntary aided grammar schools, one voluntary aided comprehensive and two universities; I have served as a WEA lecturer and a college tutor and for a time was Director of Education for the Conservative Party. So much for the efficacy of oaths.
Forty-four years ago saw the passing of Lord Butler's Act, and since then Britain's changed status in the world, the extraordinary advances of modern technology and the emergence of a new social structure in this country have made it right and timely to review our national education system. There are many features of this Bill on which there is broad agreement but there are also some aspects of it which I think invite criticism. For instance, the Association 1413 of Secondary Heads of Schools in Essex, which is my own county, says:The proposals read more as a stick with which to beat the Local Education Authorities and schools than as an attempt to get the highest standards for all".There is evidence to support that contention in the decision to include in this Bill the proposed abolition of the Inner London Education Authority, to which a great deal of reference has been made by many speakers during the debate. In the previous Parliament, the Government proposed that the ILEA should be elected by indirect election, via the borough councils, with the prospect of being abolished within the subsequent five years. That proposal met with strong opposition from all sides of your Lordships' House. As I understand it, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw and the then Secretary of State who is now the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, were persuaded that the objections were valid and the ILEA remained a central education authority for Inner London on a directly elected basis.
As has been said so often during this debate, it has been seen as essential for a century or more that there should be a central body. Then, suddenly, halfway through the passage of this Bill in another place the Government took the unprecedented decision to add a major piece of legislation, without prior consultation and apparently in response to a Back-Bench Motion that in normal times would have been noted and ignored. Anyone who has studied Part III of this Bill must realise that no proper provision has been made for the administrative, educational or social consequences of the abolition of the ILEA or for the transference of its responsibilities to boroughs which are without the necessary experience and, in many cases, the resources to tackle the duties imposed upon them.
The decision to abolish the ILEA in the manner which is proposed by this Bill will be seen in London, and indeed throughout the country, as either an ugly act of political irresponsibility and vindictiveness or at best an unprecedented example in Britain of educational and cultural vandalism. The suspicions of the head teachers in Essex, which I quoted earlier, will be strongly reinforced that this is not a move to improve the organisation and standard of education for 300,000 children of Inner London, but is a blatant political act which has already been rejected by a large majority of their parents.
One day last week Jill Brown, who is our village post lady, delivered 105 letters to me. It was no doubt an organised lobby, but each letter was handwritten and set out the writer's personal circumstances and his or her anxieties regarding the future of adult education in London, about which the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, spoke earlier. The adult education system in London has an international reputation for excellence and those letters brought home to me the potential effect that the destruction of the ILEA will have on the quality of life for many of the 250,000 elderly, unemployed, single people or mothers of families and youngsters who are seeking a skill to improve their livelihood.
The DES has said that no overall body will take over adult education. Two institutes that exist will be funded by it and the rest will be left to the tender 1414 mercies of the boroughs. I quote a recent newspaper article:The London service has an outstanding record of reaching deprived groups. 15 per cent. of the 250,000 adult students are unemployed … 41 per cent. have no formal educational qualifications and 28 per cent. are taking courses to improve employment and career prospects".It continues:In the Department's view, the ILEA spends too much on adult education".Therefore, it will cut the funding to 60 per cent. of current levels by 1990. If that is not vandalism, I do not know what is.
But adult education is not the only aspect of the problem. A number of special schools are run by the ILEA to cope with the varied needs of disadvantaged children. How can the boroughs individually or in concert be expected to administer these schools without some central authority? How will the present careers service, the legal service, the central computing service and the inspectorate of the ILEA be replaced in the new regime that will come into being? What will be the cumulative costs when each borough has to provide a specialist education department to replace the administrative, purchasing and financial services now provided centrally at the lowest possible cost by the ILEA?
Instead of the Government giving an ill-conceived reaction to the House of Commons Motion, which will certainly undermine the integrity and purpose of what is in some respects a timely Bill, a parliamentary inquiry should have been set up to consider again in depth the reorganisation and reform of the ILEA.
My noble friend Lord Ironside, speaking at a very late hour last night, mentioned the special problems likely to affect one of London's voluntary aided comprehensive schools, the Skinners Girls School in Hackney, an area of daunting ethnic and social problems. In his support, I should like to read an extract from a letter sent to the Secretary of State by the chairman of the governors:The Governors warmly welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that his purpose is to secure an improvement in the quality of the education service in inner London; but they note that he and his colleagues have supplied no evidence, nor advanced any argument, which suggests that this aim is likely to be served in boroughs such as Hackney by what is now proposed".It continues:Since they perceive no prospect of an improved service, but rather apprehend great danger that the service will be impoverished, the Governors which to record their opposition to the destruction of the ILEA and to the dispersal of its assets and their probable loss to Hackney schools".Only yesterday the chairman of two schools in Hammersmith, on the other side of London, sought me out to express exactly the same view about education in his area. These are not politically inspired views; there is nothing political about these representations. The people concerned are responsible and experienced educationists who, like others throughout London, are appalled at the consequences that will flow from the enactment of Part III of the Bill. It is perhaps not too late to prevent this wanton mistake of political judgment.
I was astonished to read recently that 300 years ago, in the time of King Charles II, Sir William Petty, one of the founder members of the Royal Society—whose ideas included the creation of a 1415 ministry of health, a general land register, the precursor of the tank, a medical research council and decimal coinage—proposed that the House of Lords should be strengthened by the creation of life peers,—I quote from a biographer,to hold its own against a too powerful House of Commons".It has taken a long time for many of those things to come about, but I am glad that many of them have.
I believe that today the House, even though it has only influence and no power, should use that influence in the public interest either to delete Part III of the Bill or at least to add an amendment that Part III should not come into effect before a full parliamentary inquiry has reported on future organisation of education for inner London. By this service we may be able to safeguard the integrity of the Bill and prevent legislation that will do lasting harm to future generations of Londoners and to the historic reputation of the Conservative Party.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I rise with a great deal of pleasure to follow what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Alport. Although there is pressure on my time as well as that of other Members, it is not so great that I can ignore the excellent maiden speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It was a model of its kind. He said a great deal with which I agree. I hope that the House will hear him again.
Interests have been declared. All of us have many interests. I have two. The first is that I have the honour and privilege to be president of the Association of London Authorities, which is very much affected by the proposals in regard to ILEA. As noble Lords may have noted, I am wearing the tie of the Open University. This week the Open University has some opportunities in the Palace to demonstrate its breadth of experience. It gives me pleasure to pay tribute to the provision that the state system accorded me in that respect.
I speak 67th in a batting order of more than 80, so it is perhaps a truism to say that little has been left unsaid. The Minister, in a fair opening speech, paid tribute to the work and professionalism of the teaching profession. Even at this late stage, although there is little evidence that I can see that notice has been taken of its views hitherto, I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will listen carefully to the views of the teaching profession, and not merely of one organisation but of a number of the others. The Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association, for instance, has drawn to my attention its concerns on the curriculum. The association believes that in this respect the Government's proposals are flawed. It remains the case that the Bill would permit the national curriculum to be a rigid system of prescribed syllabi and tests unconnected with the wider purposes of school education set out in Clause 1. For those of us who follow these matters, it is a great mystery how the Government can be so clear in Clause 1 about what they intend to do yet say so little in the remainder of the Bill about how this will be achieved.
The association points also to the weak constitutional position of the curriculum councils. If 1416 it is the intention of the Secretary of State to use informal working groups of his own devising to write the national curriculum, there will be some serious difficulties in implementing fairly the provisions of Clause 13.
I should like the House to understand the views of the National Union of Teachers, which will be heard often as the Bill progresses. These can be summed up by reference to one document in which the NUT said:Until every child in every school has the resources he or she needs for a good quality education, then a national curriculum and testing will not work. To pretend that it would represent a massive confidence trick by the Government on Britain's parents and children".In that kind of atmosphere the Minister has some way to go to convince the teaching profession that she is on their side.
I turn now to the concern of the Association of Polytechnic Teachers. The association has told me of its concern that the academic input into the funding councils will be insufficient to ensure sufficient understanding, communication and expertise. If these councils are to have a majority of members without experience of higher education, the councils will be unduly reliant upon the opinion and evaluation of the council officers. I shall welcome the Minister's comments about that, though not necessarily tonight.
The Minister has a major job to wind up and place all these matters in context. I shall not add to the burden, except to say that it is my responsibility to ask the Minister and her advisers, how have they sought, and why are they seeking, to rubbish the outcome of the ballot by the parents? The Government, in a whole range of legislation, have said that the acme they are seeking is a ballot, the secret views of the members, and legislation across the field has been put forward. Yet here we have a group of responsible people who, despite the Minister's refusal to be of assistance, have said that they want the views of their members to be made known. They set about that at considerable expense. The Minister knows about democracy, not least a democracy which gives the Government power not only with a majority of those who have voted but a minority of those who are entitled to vote. With that slim, flimsy veneer of democracy which sustains the Government, how can they not pay serious attention to the views of the parents of London's children? When the Government look for bench-marks and measuring rods this is the first real opportunity that the parents of London have had to express their views since the Government made known their intentions.
I want the Minister to consider seriously what she told the House yesterday. She said:The proposal that ILEA should cease to be the single education authority for inner London was in our manifesto last May".—[Official Report, 18/4/1988; col. 1216.]Let me remind the House of what was in the Conservative Party manifesto last May.
In the area covered by the Inner London Education Authority, where entire boroughs wish to become independent of the LEA, they will be able to submit proposals to the Secretary of State requesting permission to take over the provision of education within their boundaries".It is nonsense to say that those words can be translated precisely into the proposition contained in 1417 the Bill. The Minister ought to consider seriously whether she has not deceived the House and other people outside, if those are the words in the manifesto upon which she rests her proposition.
I said that I was more concerned about the effect of the abolition of ILEA than about many other matters. Speeches from this side of the House can be taken as having a political bent. But surely the Minister remembers the words of Sir Keith Joseph when he was Secretary of State, only three or four years ago. This is what he said then:Inner London boroughs will not have the right to opt out. The Government have decided that there should be a continuing unitary authority for inner London".No evidence of any substance has been submitted to validate the case for abolition of the Inner London Education Authority. If the Minister wants some other evidence, why does she not listen to what her noble friend Lord Marshall said? He conducted a major investigation into the GLC and ILEA only 10 years ago. He said:The physical and financial difficulties in setting up new local education authorities in the inner London boroughs would be so severe that, in my submission, only a fool would attempt it".We know who is attempting it now and we know what his noble friend is calling him 10 years later.
One issue that has been raised is the ability of boroughs to opt out. I note that Dr. John Rae, who is an eminent educationist, said less than a year ago on the financial consequences of richer boroughs opting out:If ever there was a formula for privileged and underprivileged schools that is it".I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is not in his place as he usually is during these debates, but earlier today he drew our attention to the ability, as he said, of a very small London borough to survive. He is entitled not only to his view but to his experience, which I respect, in the London borough of Kingston. Let me tell the Minister what the London borough of Richmond told Mr. P. Cohen—a name not unfamiliar in these matters—as recently as October last year. The London borough of Richmond was asked to comment on the future of ILEA. This is what it said:representatives of other boroughs at present within ILEA have used Richmond as an example of how a small borough can run an education service of excellence.It is ironical that they may do this and use DES Statistics to back their case. The D.O.E. do not share their confidence: they claim that Richmond spends 25% too much on education as assessed in our GREA. Our experience shows that until the D.O.E. and the D.E.S. achieve some unity of purpose and view on the spending needs of small LEAs the assumption that boroughs will be able to provide education for their children of the excellence and quality of that attempted by ILEA is a chimera—either the education service will be significantly underfunded or the boroughs themselves will be as beset by insoluble expenditure problems as is Richmond".That is the situation seen by people who are at the chalk face of education in a small London borough.
The Minister ought to tell us, for example, how boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea—which have no special schools—will be able to cope. She ought to be able to tell us about Westminster, which has only two special schools within its boundaries for children with severe and moderate learning difficulties. How will Wandsworth, for example, be able to cope? It has no primary schools for 1418 profoundly deaf children or secondary schools for physically disabled children. Its only boarding provisions are for visually impaired children and those with emotional and behavioural difficulties.
It is no good Ministers and their advisers merely saying that they want to abolish ILEA and then inviting all the parties to be good democrats and get together to sort out the problems, to look at an advice note and tell us how they are getting on and then get on with it. Then five years later, as they are saying about the GLC, they will say, "You said there would be problems. You are surviving and getting on with it." That is exactly what they are saying now. It is a nonsense to say that that is a democratic way of dealing with such matters.
I remind the Minister and the House and plead with some passion that the problems in London and in inner London are not only some of the worst: they are worse collectively, or geographically cohesively, than in any other part of the British Isles. London not only has problems of deprivation, problems of a multi-ethnic nature, but ILEA and the London boroughs in general are deciding not to run away but to confront the challenge which these conditions impose. I think they deserve far better from London, from Londoners and from the Goverment than for the Government to provide an opportunity for the rich boroughs to opt out. It is a cop-out. Of course those which will be left will survive, but they will survive in a poorer environment with a poorer life and poorer life opportunities for the children of those who live and work there.
The effects on places such as London show that the blight has already begun to work. Will the Minister tell us upon what legal basis Ministers may urge inner London boroughs to prepare for the situation after the Bill becomes an Act and how they can spend money which they are not legally entitled to spend in preparation? Are we to be told that this will be contained in the advice notes that will be coming later? Will the Minister tell us? It is a nonsense for the Government to set themselves on a legal course in everything and yet urge London boroughs to anticipate in that way.
I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for drawing the attention of the House to head teachers. The secondary head teachers of London are certainly almost as one in attempting to ask the Minister not to abolish ILEA. The supporters of the Bill have made much of the links between 1944 and 1984, between the Butler and the Baker and now between the Thatcher and the Hooper.
They have largely kept mute, but clearly in evidence throughout the debate have been other contrasts of far greater significance to me. There have been contrasts between opportunity and oppression; between partnership and patronage; between ambition and arrogance; between principle and politics. In the Bill we have an attack on groups who deserve our defence for no other reason than that the tactic of the bully and the philistine should have no place in the lives of our children or our children's children. The Minister has made much of the concerns of a whole range of people and groups upon whom she will rely for the Bill to work. They are parents, pupils, teachers, governors, councillors, 1419 industry, the Churches and voluntary bodies. She is right to expect much of them, and they will not let our children down. However, they all bear a mark which distinguishes them from this Government and this rotten, miserable, arrogant Bill. It is that they place education above narrow party political spite.
While the Minister will seek to promote the interests of her power-crazy Secretary of State and the destruction of an ethos of parents, teachers and pupils within our schools, they will unite in preserving their right to that most precious of gifts. It is the pursuit of an education to fit our future generations and to meet the challenges of an uncertain future. The human spirit deserves better than to be shackled by such tawdry political dogma. We on the Labour Benches intend to make the Minister fight every inch of the way.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, in a short speech one cannot hope to cover more than a few provisions of the Bill. In general most people, both parents and teachers, think that in spite of some valid criticisms ILEA has not done too badly during the past two years. Abolishing it outright means initially a state of chaos while the boroughs take over during the two years allowed. But it will take far longer before the new system settles down and any possible advantages can accrue. This fact should be perfectly obvious from previous experiences; for example, the reorganisation of the social services.
It is also quite apparent that the Government have moved without proper consideration of the side effects of their policy. ILEA has had a very important role in providing special schools and support facilities which cannot be provided individually by single boroughs. To mention just two not so obvious examples, there are the Centre for Urban Education Studies (CUES) and the teams of specialist teachers who help children with language difficulties. Some 16 per cent. of pupils in primary schools in London are handicapped by language difficulties. For all those reasons it would surely have been more sensible to reconstitute ILEA, perhaps with a different name.
I shall mention just two of what I believe are the many likely undesirable side effects. First, although giving parents greater influence on school policy is on the face of it a good idea, very few parents now attend parents' meetings. I fear that those who will do so and dominate the meetings will be the extremists. They are used to speaking in public and know all about the techniques of getting their own way.
Secondly, I believe that the excellent ILEA policy of obtaining a balanced composition of British and ethnic students and those from poorer homes will be destroyed with greater freedom of parents choosing a school. Once the ethnic composition of students reaches perhaps more than one-third of the pupils, parents will fear that their children will be held back by the language difficulties of the ethnic minority. There is also the human desire of birds of a feather to flock together, as is the case in our foreign enclaves. We must avoid that happening as far as possible in our schools. In that context we might remember the difficulties that the Americans have experienced.
1420 I also detect the Government's dogma for competition in allowing greater freedom of choice of schools. But have they counted the administrative difficulties which it raises and the insecurity and other problems for the teachers?
The publicity that ILEA received for alleged support of homosexuality and of extreme educational views was, I think, out of all proportion to the facts; and so have been other criticisms. Surely the Government must realise that in some cases it will be, out of the frying pan into the fire. Some London boroughs will inevitably elect Left and sometimes extremist councils. They will continue to a greater extent those policies for which ILEA was criticised. It would have been far easier to control a reconstituted ILEA rather than such duly elected councils. The Government's argument that the situation can be controlled by schools affected opting out from the borough is simply unrealistic and moonshine. In any case, I wonder how the poorer boroughs can cope with their new commitment.
I am worried about the new examinations. Of course we must have some testing at different ages, and of course exams are unfair for some students. Some teacher assessment is in principle a good idea, but we have heard all that many times before with cogent arguments against it and on which I cannot now have time to elaborate. Probably an element of teacher assessment could be introduced, but it should only be in a minor key and to help those who do not do justice to themselves in exams.
Even more important is the debasement of exam standards, no doubt to encourage the poor achievers, but it does the reverse for the brighter pupils. Apparently in at least maths, chemistry and physics, those who have failed O-levels can achieve A-level grades in the GCSE. The same devaluation of standards could well happen at A-levels, which would imply the need for a fourth year at university or else a lower degree requirement.
I now turn to universities. If money could be provided without limit, then we could leave them to manage their own affairs with their ivory towers intact. Unfortunately that is not the case, and the limited funds available must be used on a cost-effective basis. For that reason complete academic freedom, as was proposed in an amendment to this debate, is not acceptable. A middle way is required. There have always been centres of excellence for specific subjects. That must be more so today because of the ever-increasing cost of equipment for the applied sciences, and the Government must have a say as to how it is allocated.
I accept that staff should not be sacked because of unusual views, but with the proviso that they should not inflict them too far on their immature students.
Pure research in whatever area the researcher wishes is all very well up to a point, but it should not dominate university thinking. Nor should the doctrine of publish or perish be the only way to gain promotion. Like it or not, I foresee that what could be called government interference is a price we may have to pay to achieve a balanced university structure.
I shall end by saying that this Government are foolishly pressing ahead without due thought or 1421 consideration; quite unsupported by the views of parents and others, as we know from the very recent poll. In some cases governments may be justified in taking necessary and unpopular measures. In matters where they need not take extreme and dogmatic views, they ought not to do so. This Government have signally failed to unite the nation; in fact, they have needlessly done a great deal in the opposite direction. That is a pity when so many of their actions have been both brave and necessary.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord St. John of Fawsley
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, is not in his place. I hope that he is not indisposed. He is one of the great figures in the education world. I care for him particularly because when I became a Minister for the first time—more years ago than I care to remember—he took me out for my first free lunch. I mean my first free lunch as a Minister; I had been taken out to lunch before that. However, despite his absence being education's loss, it is my gain as I have moved up from 70th to 69th speaker on Second Reading; and that is something.
I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Carlisle on his excellent maiden speech. We have long been associated in the education world. He succeeded me as education spokesman in 1978—my noble friend has arrived just in time—and he has been one of our most distinguished Secretaries of State for Education. His timing has always been good! If I may presume to do so I should also like to congratulate the other maiden speaker the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on a fascinating speech which had all the elegance and astringency we associate with someone bearing that famous name. At one point I wondered whether or not we were listening to a reincarnation of the never to be forgotten Bertrand.
As we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, in a notably irenic speech, this is a Second Reading debate for a discussion of principles. We have a Committee stage for the details and I am sure that virtually every noble Lord who has taken part in this debate will have some amendment or modification to put forward.
However, I should like to make my own position clear on the general principles which underly this Bill; namely, that I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly support them. That is perhaps not surprising because the concepts on which the Bill is based, namely, parental rights, high standards of education, choice and diversity, were worked out from 1973 to 1978 when I had the honour of being Opposition education spokesman. Those principles have been under discussion ever since. They are now embodied in a major Bill.
That disposes, I believe, of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady David, that the Bill has been advanced with great haste. In fact it has had a period of gestation of nearly a decade—worthy, I understand, of an elephant.
The result of this long period of preparation is a Bill worthy of its place alongside R.A. Butler's epoch-making Act of 1944. I do not believe that we have to compare. Comparisions are always odious. However, one succeeds the other in a true succession. 1422 It has certainly been a remarkable achievement for the Secretary of State who has emerged as one of the brightest stars in the Cabinet firmament. Admittedly, as I look around your Lordships' House, I see that the present Cabinet is somewhat denuded of heavenly bodies, but a star remains a star nonetheless. I should like to congratulate him on his diplomatic skills. He has converted the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and has satisfied the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has brought them together in agreement. That is a really remarkable achievement.
At least in part he has disarmed the universities and their objection to the Bill—
§ Lord St. John of Fawsley
I have listened to the vast majority of speeches. They have been very good, well worth listening to and rather better than the ones to which I was accustomed in the Commons.
The basic reason is not mere political adroitness. The Secretary of State cares deeply about education and has been engaged in open dialogue with those who also care deeply about it. I find it a strange form of reproach of the Secretary of State that he should have listened to the representations made to him and, on certain points, to have changed his mind. Surely that is what the whole of parliamentary government is about. I believe it requires both tolerance and courage to say, "No, I was not right in the first place. I shall make this modification".
All sorts of criticisms have been made of the Bill in the course of our two-day debate. Many of them are exaggerated. However, I pick out two for particular comment; first, that this is a centralising measure advanced by a power-crazy—if I may use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Graham—Secretary of State. With all respect to the noble Lord who is a very old friend—and I mean a friend of long standing—I believe that that is rather exaggerated.
It is certainly true that there has been a shift in the partnership between local education authorities and the Secretary of State. The shift has been towards the Secretary of State, but the partnership remains. I believe that, on the whole, that shift is good. I often reflected while at the Department of Education how extraordinarily few powers the Secretary of State had. If one has a national curriculum and assessment tests then there is bound to be a shift to the centre.
However, that point of criticism has to be balanced by another point. One can have centralism in one direction and devolution in another. There is no contradiction between those two concepts. That was a point made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in an authoritative speech. Power can go up to the Secretary of State in certain spheres and come down to head teachers and parents in another. I think that that is an excellent development, especially the bringing in of parents into a more important role.
The second major point of criticism—I leave aside ILEA because I know nothing about it—has been the proposed opting out of the local authority system. That may be inconvenient for the local authority; it 1423 may also be inconvenient for the Roman Catholic diocesan bishops. However, I am tempted to say, "So what", because schools exist for children and not children for schools.
I should like to add a footnote to the position of the Catholic bishops. It is a central part of Catholic social doctrine that the right to educate children inheres in parents. That golden thread runs through the whole Catholic approach to education policy and it has done so for centuries. Of course bishops have a part to play, just as teachers and the state have a part to play; but parents must have the priority. John Henry Newman said—and I paraphrase him—"If I had to propose the health of the bishops in an after-dinner speech, I would certainly do so but I would drink to the parents first".
When I recall what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said yesterday when he championed the view of the Roman Catholic bishops I cannot but remember that at the supreme moment—the great test when Henry VIII broke with Rome over his divorce—there was only one bishop who took a lead in resisting it and that was John Fisher, the predecessor of the present Bishop of Rochester. Therefore I say—thank Heavens that there is only one Prelate of the established Church here— "Put not your trust in Prelates".
In fact it was Thomas More, a layman, who expressed the conscience of the faithful and who was the only predecessor of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to have been both beheaded and canonized. I hope in one of those precedents he will follow him, although I must say I do not know which of the two he would find the more disagreeable.
However, it has been notable in the debate that though the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, has been present for much of the time, he has not spoken. I think it is a reasonable inference that he is not too dissatisfied with the provisions on opting out. Many of us would like to see further safeguards moved in Committee, to preserve the particular character of a school. However, I do not think it would be right to deny to Catholic parents the right which is being conferred on every other parent in the country.
I should like to make a special plea in respect of three matters which are close to my heart. First, I ask for a greater concentration on the classics. It is bad enough to be cut off from Greek, but if we are to cut out Latin as well—through which we have access to Greek civilisation—we shall be cut off from our cultural roots. Naturally I should like to see Latin taught more imaginatively; literarily and not mechanically. Secondly, may we please have more emphasis on visual education right across the curriculum, because without that we shall never achieve a worthy architecture in contemporary Britain?
Finally, I should like to say a word about the universities. I concur strongly in what my noble friend Lord Blake said yesterday. If I may I shall utter a gentle word of warning to the Government Front Bench. The Conservative Party is not at its strongest in the universities these days. The Government should be seriously concerned about that standing. If one loses the universities, one loses the future.
1424 I turn now to the subject of religious and moral education, which I am delighted to see has been upgraded. However, that will mean little unless two aspects are dealt with. First, we must ensure that there is an adequate supply of teachers of the subject; and, secondly, that it is tested and examined. It is only in that way that the subject will keep its academic status.
Let me address an even more fundamental issue: what is religious education for? The answer is both simple and complex. It is to transmit the fundamental, moral and spiritual values on which our society is based, the preservation of which constitutes the life of our society and the loss of which constitutes its death. Those values include self-control, loving kindness, care of neighbours and moral responsibility, among many others. Where do they come from? On what do they ultimately rest? In this country the answer must surely be on religion in general and on the Christian religion in particular. When I use that phrase I incorporate in it the whole of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, because one part of that tradition is incomprehensible without the other.
Christianity is the soil in which the roots of our morality is planted: cut them off and that morality will die. Therefore the case for teaching religion is not primarily theological; it is cultural, social and historical. The moral values in this country must be principally, although not exclusively, Christian because that is the foundation on which our house is built and you cannot take it out of the foundations without the house falling down.
I conclude with a personal plea for the use of more civilised terminology in our education discussions. Economics may or may not be part of education; but education is not a part of economics. The phrase "producers of education" makes me shiver and "consumers of education" makes me shudder. It is a new form of barbarism. The use of those phrases comes from people who wear no bearskin, who carry no club and who perhaps wield nothing more lethal than a ballpoint pen. But it is barbarous nonetheless to speak within the city in such terms, thereby undermining our tradition of civilised discourse on this crucial subject.
Education is one of the greatest and most noble of human endeavours, leading men and women at many different ages out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge and that process needs to be clothed in words worthy of the greatness of the age.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord Basnett
My Lords, my concerns with the Bill inevitably reflect those of the trade union movement; with equal inevitability most of them have already been expressed. However, two of them were not frequently mentioned and I should therefore like to speak about them.
First, since the morale, standards and commitment of the staff are essential for an effective education service, I look—or briefly glance—at those changes which could undermine that morale, those standards and those commitments. We all welcome the words of praise from the Minister for those who work in education. However, those people do not welcome 1425 the uncertainty that the Bill introduces into their employment conditions.
Secondly, and a little less briefly, I refer to the internationally-praised part of our education system which the Bill has virtually overlooked but upon which its provisions are damaging. The importance of it was underlined by my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff and mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel. I refer to adult education. Over 1 million people work in local authority education services in this country and there are over half a million teaching staff in schools, colleges and other institutions. There are nearly 700,000 non-teaching staff who do jobs such as librarians, cleaners, caretakers and administrators. All these staff will be affected in some way by the Government's Education Reform Bill.
The aspects of the Bill which have not been widely publicised are those concerning the employment of staff. While all staff will be affected by changes in the Bill, some will be directly affected by the clauses which specifically relate to their employment conditions and rights and who is to be their future employer. Under the present proposals some education staff have no guarantees concerning their future employment or conditions. Many others are guaranteed protection of existing conditions at the time of transfer but they have no reassurance for their future with their new employer. There is still greater uncertainty about the future of some national bargaining agreements.
In the ILEA the situation is worse. Only certain of the staff will be designated for transfer and others will lose their jobs. Of those who lose their jobs, some will be paid compensation, some redundancy, and some will have no payment. The proposed staff commission has advisory powers only for transferring staff, so ILEA staff cannot be guaranteed jobs. My noble friend Lord Graham stated that he hopes the Secretary of State will listen to the representations that the unions will be making. I join in that hope.
However, my major concern is about the trade union movement's historic interest. From its birth the union movement has sought the introduction and extension of adult education and its role in its development is widely recognised. For members of the trade union movement adult education has always been a route through which to repair the deficiencies of a system too frequently insensitive to the needs of underprivileged groups. It is an avenue into liberal education besides being a way in which to acquire new and additional skills for personal and community development.
An adult and continuing education has proved to be one of the most vital and most community-oriented of local services for which this country has a deserved reputation. Yet it has been virtually overlooked by the drafters of the consultation papers and the Bill. It has been overlooked but not left unharmed. The White Paper which preceded the Bill had significant implications for adult continuing education, particularly in relation to access. It asserted that the Government's proposals will make 50,000 extra student places available. It also talked of the need to accommodate students with a wider range 1426 of academic and practical experience, many of whom will not have traditional qualifications for entry.
For that to happen, entry procedures will have to change and institutions of higher education will have to adapt their teaching methods and the design of the courses to accommodate new types of students. Not only will that development be stifled by the Bill, but the developments we have so far achieved could be endangered. At the moment, joint further and higher education involvement in course design, selection, promotion, maintenance and assessment (and sometimes teaching) has encouraged a responsible and responsive approach to curricula, teaching methods and quality control. These are particularly important to link access courses.
If implemented, the Bill will irrevocably split further education from higher education and thereby undermine the collaborative structures which underpin the most successful access initiatives. There is a fundamental contradiction between developing access courses and access links between further and higher education and in removing most of the higher education institutions from local authority control. There is a danger in doing this without ensuring some focus for development. There is no guarantee that the new corporate, highly competitive higher education institutions will become, or will continue to be, responsive to local education authorities' pioneering of access courses or be involved in their strategic planning.
Indeed, LEAs themselves will be overwhelmed with the massive changes that they will need to make. With this pressure and without the statutory requirement to ensure the provision of adult education, this could weaken the community orientation of much of such education. No focal point will exist for the development of adult education. That is a situation that we must rectify. Other changes not directly concerned with further and higher education will affect adult education as well.
The opting-out proposals for schools will directly affect adult education because many local education authorities depend heavily upon the use of school premises. The proposed break-up of ILEA will make London-wide adult provision impossible and it will bring to an end the wide access available in London. This was dramatically illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Alport. There will be barriers, particularly to the disadvantaged, to entry to adult education. This will apply to the unemployed, for instance, because of the abolition of the 21-hour rule which allows study in further education colleges for up to 21 hours a week without loss of benefit. To this restriction has to be added the loss of concessionary fees at a time when course fees, because of the Bill, are likely to rise.
All these problems arise against a background of some millions of adults needing, as for decades they have needed, help with basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. These measures also have to be set against a background of the need to develop, as the Minister said, the abilities of our workforce and the desire to preserve the excellence of our most valued community-oriented service. An immeasurable social and economic contribution can be made to our communities and our economy by continuing adult 1427 education, assisting those who seek it to develop it through liberal education or by acquiring a wider range of skills. We must ensure that we maintain that contribution.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, as I am the first speaker from these Benches to follow the maiden speakers, I should like very much to congratulate them on their notable contributions to today's debate. My old friend the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, spoke great words of wisdom and I hope that the Government pay heed to what he said. My noble friend Lord Russell made a scintillating contribution which augers very well for future debates in your Lordships' House.
I am old fashioned enough to suspect that the greatest contribution politicians can make to education is to provide the resources for the people who know what they are doing. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, was right when he suggested that if, instead of lowering income tax for higher rate taxpayers by 20p, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had lowered it by 18p and the rest had gone to education it would have made a greater contribution to education than this Bill, however well intentioned it may be. Though it is a massive Bill, I have yet to be persuaded that it is a great Bill.
It so happens that I agree broadly with the concept of a national curriculum though I very much agreed with the point made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, that the present provisions in the Bill are too prescriptive. Unless there is a change in this matter—and it is right to say that the task-force on the curriculum has shown sensitivity on this point—there is a danger that, rather than becoming a framework, the whole thing will become a straitjacket. That is one of the worst things that could happen to our education system.
It so happens that I am the 71st speaker in this debate. I want to concentrate on one point. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn knows perfectly well that we in Wales have been troubled over the centuries, educationally and otherwise, by the presence of a large ethnic minority known as the English. This Bill deals fundamentally with what will happen to Welsh education in the future. Four hundred years ago the translation of the Welsh Bible ordered by Parliament was published. It was the work of Bishop William Morgan. It transformed the prospects for the Welsh language. It established a standard Welsh and made an enormous contribution to the language. By Act of Parliament it was required to be available in every church in Wales, as was the King James version. It had a profound influence on the way we speak Welsh.
Four hundred years later this Bill will provide the framework for education in Wales. I make no apology for saying to your Lordships that it is important for Members to understand the significance of this Bill to Wales. I refer in particular to those who do not have a knowledge of the Welsh background. As this is the Second Reading it is right to discuss the principles that will be applied in deciding what should be a core subject and what should be a foundation subject in the curriculum in 1428 Wales. In Wales, we love our language. It is part of our roots. Yesterday, in a speech that was largely devoted to the importance of religious education, a speech with which I entirely agreed on that point, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the fact that in this country—he was speaking of the United Kingdom, of course—we have a fine tradition of treating minority cultures sympathetically and sensibly. It is in relation to that matter that I want to refer to the provisions of the Bill as they affect Wales.
Because of the problems that are inevitably bound up with economic development and so on, parts of Wales are dominated by the English language and parts are still the redoubt of the Welsh language. Broadly speaking, two kinds of school deal with the Welsh language. In the Bill the definition of a Welsh-speaking school is given in Clause 3(6). A school in Wales is a Welsh-speaking school,if more than one half of the foundation subjects other than Welsh are taught (wholly or partly) in Welsh".If it is a Welsh-speaking school, Welsh becomes a core subject. If it is not a Welsh-speaking school, it can be considered a foundation subject. The importance is not in the categorisation as such but the consequence of the categorisation.
Among lovers of the Welsh language this Government have a good reputation for their concern for the future of the language. We would be lacking in political generosity if we were not to pay tribute to the respective Secretaries of State who have on behalf of the Conservative Government been in charge of Welsh affairs. They have shown sensitivity and sympathy with regard to the continuation, with strength, of the Welsh language. However, a powerful movement in the largely English speaking areas has resulted in the setting up of bilingual schools. The environment is largely English in those surrounding areas but in the bilingual schools many subjects are taught in Welsh with the aim of making sure that the children who emerge from the schools are entirely bilingual. Because the home and other dominant influences are very often English there is a greater emphasis on teaching different subjects in Welsh.
As I understand it, all those schools would qualify as Welsh-speaking schools under the definition in the Bill. However, areas such as Gwynedd—the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, comes from what he would regard as the most important part of Gwynedd—are largely Welsh speaking. Dyfed, small parts of Powys and certain parts of Clywd are also largely Welsh-speaking areas. Many of the schools in those areas do not teach up to six subjects in Welsh because many of the children are naturally Welsh-speaking. There is pressure from the parents to give them more instruction in English because they already speak Welsh far better than the intake into the bilingual schools in the English-speaking areas. There, though the school is much more naturally Welsh-speaking than the bilingual school, under the definition in the Bill it would not be categorised as a Welsh-speaking school. However, under the provisions embodied in the Bill an opting out procedure would be available.
In Wales there is constant pressure from certain parents—very often a new influx into the district—to change the curriculum. They ask: why should my 1429 child be taught Welsh? There is a definite threat to the future of the Welsh language. It is unintended, I think, but nevertheless real. I believe that I am expressing the view of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, as well as the views of other Peers from Wales. There is a real fear in Wales that, inadvertently, we might be providing through the Bill the machinery for the eventual killing off of the Welsh language. I should have thought that that is the last thing the Secretary of State for Education and Science would want to achieve.
Therefore I am laying the ground for matters that will be discussed in Committee. It is important that your Lordships should be apprised of the genuine fears within Wales and able to consider the principles that should be brought to bear in deciding what the curriculum should be. We are very anxious to achieve the kind of progress that has been made in preserving the Welsh language. We are not an introspective people. It is right that the Welsh-speaking schools, whether bilingual or otherwise, provide the very broadest education. Probably there is in Welsh schools at the moment a greater interest in Europe and European affairs than in many schools in England. But it is very important that we preserve our roots, particularly our cultural roots. I think it was important that I should spend what little time was at my disposal on bringing this problem to the attention of the House.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Trafford
My Lords, I hope to break the record for brevity in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, in his interesting and enjoyable speech earlier this afternoon asked why universities were included in the Bill at all. If he had been with me at the Association of Commonwealth Universities meeting in Australia last month —and I happen to know that he was not—he would have been most interested to hear the debate on the relationship between the universities and the state and their role in national life in the last quarter of this century and on into the next. I do not think he could then have suggested, as he rather did today, that the best of all possible things was happening in the best of all possible worlds and we could leave the universities alone to get on with it themselves.
The second reason why the universities are in this Bill is that there is a strong public interest in them, if only manifest by the fact that £2½ billion is spent on higher education, £1½ billion of it on universities.
The third reason is probably that it is inevitable that all parts of the public sector must come under scrutiny. Periodically there is a certain dissatisfaction with the performance of one particular part of it or another which then leads to further investigation. Much of this is a structural change which follows on things like the Croham Report, which made recommendations with regard to the UGC and changes to it. The Bill is not involved directly in any form of assault on the universities as has been suggested in some ways.
The real problem of the relationship between universities and the state is very simply that universities are state-funded. If universities in this country had ever been able to follow to a great extent the pattern in the United States, where there is far 1430 greater private funding of universities, and if there was not great dependence on the state, the universities would not have to take note of the length of the spoon—just as those who sup with the devil need a long spoon. In part this is what we are discussing in that section which I suspect will be in the Bill.
Great changes have taken place in the last three or four years in universities already and will continue to take place, regardless of the provisions relating to them in the Bill. To a very large extent all that this Bill does in this respect is tidy up the process, one might say. It certainly does not undermine the universities in any way, especially after the amendments brought forward in the other place.
I turn briefly to two other points which have exercised a large number of speakers in this debate: first, the question of tenure in the universities; secondly, the question of academic freedom. These two have been connected by many people, although I do not see a direct connection. It is understandable that from the way in which academic freedom has been referred to in this debate one might think that this was a special freedom. I do not think it is. There are many freedoms which any civilised society, any civilised democracy, must safeguard.
Freedom in all fields is a very precious commodity. I do not regard this one as being particularly special. But like all other natural liberties, it has its natural and legal limits, where the freedom of one impinges on the freedom of another—that is a classic example—or where it is limited by law with regard to race relations, which is another example. But it is a commodity which needs to be earned and maintained by respect.
I should have thought it was not unreasonable that some speakers could have acknowledged that freedom of thought and expression, freedom to question received wisdom or orthodox thinking, should extend to a whole university, to a whole higher centre of learning, not one part of it; and that those who defend it and demand a legal safeguard of some sort in this Bill have failed to see that that has happened. It has not been protected throughout the institutions of higher learning. We have seen some sad examples, which my noble friend Lord Joseph quoted yesterday, including Ruskin College, Bristol University and the place which has been publicised so much in The Times recently at Wolverhampton. So I do not think we do anybody a service by trying to defend or protect a selective freedom. It is absolute or it is not.
This Bill in my opinion is not challenging it in any way. The noble Lord, Lord Swann, spoke eloquently yesterday, mostly about the extension of those dreadful ministerial contracts for research which he waved in one hand in the House and with which I have some familiarity. I have exactly the same feeling as he described whenever I look at them. It is as though one were signing the Official Secrets Act. I agree with him that it is this bureaucratic, legalistic approach to the contracting of work and of research which is somewhat more dangerous. These contracts are not confined to universities, centres of higher learning or polytechnics. They also apply to vast numbers of other undertakings where the ministry requires work or information to be received.
1431 I turn finally to the question of tenure. This worries me a little because my view of it is slightly different from the view previously expressed. As at present constituted, it seems to me that this Bill is discriminatory mostly at the expense of newcomers. The new blood scheme was one of those which was welcomed in most universities in recent times. If one imagines a reproduction of that after this Bill is passed, it can be seen that these people would be disadvantaged. It is also true that it would disadvantage those who wished to make changes in the progression of their careers. Up to a point it discriminates against the 50 per cent. who have no tenure anyway, because it affects only those who have tenure. I believe it discriminates againt 100 per cent. in the polytechnics because the entire 100 per cent. do not have tenure.
My concern is practical rather than one of principle; namely that many people are disadvantaged. Careers are disadvantaged and change, or restructuring in universities is made more difficult even if it were to be totally agreed by all concerned. I wonder whether it would be better either to substitute some specific five-year programme of contractual obligations to the institution, reviewable, or to abolish tenure altogether. This would have another singular advantage. Not only would it be discriminatory; it would also tend to get rid of many of the problems concerning the duties of the commissioners who are proposed in the Bill.
I promised that the length of this speech would be a record, and I believe that if I sit down now I have managed to achieve that.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, tributes have already been paid in the House to the quality of the speeches in this two-day Second Reading debate. The speeches have been of an exceedingly high standard and for me some of them have been like an extramural education session. By comparison I am afraid that my remarks will be somewhat pedestrian.
The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill states:In general the Bill extends to England and Wales only. But the provisions relating to universities extend also to Scotland. The provisions relating to academic tenure may be extended to Northern Ireland by Order in Council subject to the negative resolution procedure".Clauses 115, 179 and 198 and Schedule 9 specifically deal with Northern Ireland educational matters. In addressing the Northern Ireland aspect of the Bill, I am not ignoring the widespread public concern expressed about major and indeed disturbing changes proposed in educational organisation and legislation. Those changes will set the climate for the future of educational development throughout the United Kingdom.
Notwithstanding the words in the Explanatory Memorandum, there can be no doubt that the Bill will have widespread and serious implications for all levels and all aspects of education in England and Wales, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. Noble Lords will be aware that education in Northern Ireland has its separate legal standing and its distinct administrative arrangements. Some two weeks ago, 1432 on 30th March, the Northern Ireland Office issued a consultative paper entitled Education Reform in Northern Ireland. The introduction to the paper states:The proposals are broadly parallel to those in England and Wales".Hence the keen interest of Northern Ireland people in this Bill.
In Northern Ireland we have a very forward looking and reasonably fair system of education. That does not mean by any means that there is no need for radical reform and improvement. Indeed some of the proposals in the consultative paper are welcomed. But, at the same time, there is much public disquiet about why, what and how the proposed legislation is being imposed on the existing Northern Ireland education system.
While the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland, Dr. Brian Mawhinney has provided for full consultation over a period until 10th June, it is regrettable that Northern Ireland is to be denied the democratic legislative process of parliamentary debate with the hope of suitably amending the impending legislation. The Order in Council procedure does not meet the need for open representative consultations to obtain consensus and public commitment to any agreed changes. It is for those reasons that many educationists and parents in Northern Ireland are anxious to see fundamental changes in the proposals put forward in the Bill.
It is claimed that the Bill is as radical as the Butler Act of 1944. There is, however, at least one major difference. The Butler Act was introduced in an atmosphere of general objective harmony and consensus of educational, public and political opinion. That is in sharp contrast to the clouded atmosphere of confusion, disagreement and discontent surrounding the present Bill. I am unable to confirm or refute reports of doubts and disagreement within the Cabinet concerning some aspects of the proposed educational changes in the Bill. However, the general discord does not bode well for the future as it seems to indicate a lack of sensitivity to the reasoned advice of the majority within the education profession including teachers, lecturers and administrators.
Let us not forget: it is these teachers and other educationists who in professional terms and in practical application must implement the reforms. Fundamental to the lack of consensus is the apparent blind, doctrinaire political philosophy underlying the Bill's inception. To believe that standards in educational excellence will rise simply by introducing a competitive spirit into the provision of education is naive in the extreme.
Such a crude basic approach, by its very nature, will have the effect of reducing standards for many of our children. To introduce a doctrine of free market forces into the organisation of the education system reveals a sad lack of understanding of educational thought and planning for pupil needs. Ultimately, through its enforced implementation at administrative and teacher levels, it will be divisive.
Part II of the Bill deals with further and higher education. Clauses 115 to 117 set out the proposals for funding higher education and the establishment 1433 of the Universities Funding Council. Clause 115 proposes that the new council shall have power,to provide the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, on such terms as may be agreed, with such advisory services as the Department may require in connection with the discharge of the Department's functions relating to universities in Northern Ireland".This is not the time to go into detail on the wording. But it is causing considerable concern in Northern Ireland. What is meant byon such terms as may be agreed"?Who is to come together to form the agreement?
In Clauses 173 and 179 it is proposed to establish a body to be known as the university commissioners. Clause 179 states that the duty and functions of these university commissioners should apply to Northern Ireland in terms corresponding to the provisions for universities in England, Wales and Scotland.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his very reasoned and excellent explanation of the part of the Bill dealing with the university commissioners mentioned that one of the five commissioners will have some understanding of Scottish university procedures and traditions. It may be too much to ask that there should be one commissioner for Scotland, one for Wales, and one for Northern Ireland, thus leaving two for England. I suggest that that would be a fair United Kingdom share-out, but I shall not put the Minister into a dilemma by asking for a reply.
In Northern Ireland the present provisions and administrative arrangements are under the University Grants Committee together with the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, and with the two Northern Ireland universities—Queen's University, Belfast, and the Ulster University—these have operated very effectively and efficiently in the best interests of the higher education needs of the Province.
However, concern has been expressed by officials and others associated with Queen's University, Belfast, and the Ulster University about some of the proposed changes related to the Universities Funding Council and the role and functions of the university commissioners in respect of Northern Ireland. Recently, I had informal consultations with officials of both the Northern Ireland universities. They were informative consultations as well as being informal. Among the proposals we discussed was that for accounting and auditing in higher education. A paper that I have received from one of the universities states:The University readily accepted that there was a need for formally-defined lines of financial responsibility and accountability under the proposed new arrangements. However the University was concerned, particularly in the Northern Ireland context, that the proposals introduced too many layers of audit".A note from Queen's University further outlines this concern about the proposed new arrangements. It states:We consider that the proposal to establish a Higher Education Internal Audit Unit will impose a further layer of control and audit on Universities which is likely to place an unnecessary additional burden on universities' administrations. In Northern Ireland, the two universities are subject to annual audit by the Northern Ireland Audit Office and we believe that this will obviate the need for further scrutiny by a Higher Education Internal Audit Unit.Also of concern to us were the references in the consultative document to value for money exercises. We believe that within 1434 universities there are certain types of provision which may be highly desirable on academic criteria, given the academic background of Queen's community, but which would not necessarily satisfy strict and unqualified value for money criteria. Subject to that reservation, the University is totally committed to achieving the most economic, efficient and effective use of resources".I have dealt with only a few of the issues which are of deep concern to the people of Northern Ireland. I did not have the opportunity to inform the Minister that I would be raising those matters or dealing with Northern Ireland affairs. However, I wish to give due notice that further reassurances may be required to be written into the Bill during Committee stage to meet the needs of the population of Northern Ireland.
The Bill cannot be considered in isolation. There are the divisive and restrictive implications of the Government's wider legislative programme in social welfare, health care and services, unemployment and taxation. They impinge forcefully on the social fabric of our society in which education must function creatively and fairly.
All of those elements have a cumulative effect on values and standards in our society and on the opportunities for pupils to realise their full potential. The Education Reform Bill must be seen to function within a framework of social justice enabling equality of opportunity. My view is that the Bill presents us with further unnecessary social divisions. I feel compelled to conclude that I shall be joining all those in the House who seek radically to change the Bill and bring about reasoned educational reform.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord Kirkwood
My Lords, I hope that I shall beat the record of the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, for brevity. However, the speech I wish to make will go in a different direction. I wish to defend, if possible, the concept of academic tenure.
Despite the many excellent speeches which have been made on both sides of the House, I wish to speak on the subject of tenure and my excuse for doing so is that although I am an academic, I am not a vice-chancellor; I am not a former vice-chancellor and I do not expect ever to be a vice-chancellor or a chancellor. I am a bit closer to the chalkface than that.
I wish to speak in support of retaining tenure, although perhaps not in its present form. In that regard, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, was important and interesting. There is no doubt that the right to tenure of employment by academics is hard for the general public to understand and to sympathise with when so many people have lost, and are losing, their jobs as a result of the general economic recession. Tenure is seen by many as a shelter behind which the idle and the incompetent seek refuge. Nevertheless, it is a vital privilege which underpins academic freedom—the freedom to criticise, to do research and to publish without interference from political or commercial interests. No one, it seems, questions the imperative need for academic freedom within the limits imposed by the laws of libel and national security, although the Government seem to be nervous about including any reference to it within the Bill, despite their earlier promises.
1435 Without academic freedom, universities and polytechnics simply cannot perform their duty of questioning received opinion with impunity. Although lip service may be paid to academic freedom and it may even be enshrined in statutes, the greatest impediment to the exercise of academic freedom is the threat, if not the actuality, of dismissal. I am not speaking of the area of dismissal for good cause, which may be hard to prove and in which one hopes the proper and formal grievance procedures will be established to protect those who feel that they have been discriminated against in such cases.
The more insidious threat is from redundancy engineered on the grounds that the contraction of a particular discipline is required or on grounds of financial exigency. In both cases it will be difficult for the dismissed academic to prove victimisation for his opinions because those are not the overt grounds for dismissal.
Tenure is the only effective defence available to prevent such injustices. It is needed by academics in this country just as it is perceived to be needed by academics in the United States, in Japan, in the old Commonwealth countries and in France and Germany, and just as it is perceived to be needed by civil servants and judges to prevent political interference in the execution of their duties.
The style of hierarchical management is hardly suited to, as the White Paper on higher education put it:the promotion of the powers of the mind, the advancement of learning, and the transmission of a common culture and common standards of citizenship".It is even less appropriate to the relationship between a graduate and his supervisor in research which depends on the equality of respect for one another's ideas. In that sense, it is not the managers—the heads of departments, the deans, and the vice-chancellors or directors of polytechnics—who carry out the proper tasks of higher education; rather it is the body of academics as a whole. They are represented in universities by senates who determine courses, standards and the academic structure of the particular university.
The Government may feel that it is necessary to interfere with the limited autonomy that universities have in trying to run their own affairs. They may feel that it is a piece of slow and clumsy machinery to effect economies and changes. It must be, and is, accepted by the majority of academics that changes in higher education are required, partly because of limited funding available, partly because of different student demands and a changing student population, and partly because of the changing needs of society and in particular the needs of employers.
To the end of shaping institutions of higher education which are better able to produce graduates fitted for the modern world, the abolition of tenure would no doubt enable university authorities to bring in required changes more rapidly by disposing of staff. It would almost certainly inflict great damage on the institutions themselves. They must be allowed to change without destroying the academic freedom which is essential to their health.
1436 Along with the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, I believe that some form of tenure is required to secure that. However, it should probably not be in the present form, which involves not only job security but an automatic escalation in salary and the formality of passing an efficiency bar to get to the top of the promotion ladder. If that system were to be replaced by the tenure system as practised in the United States, for instance, where academics of proven record are guaranteed salaries for only nine months of the year and make up the salary in the other three months by consultancy, by bringing in research funds or by administrative duties, that could bring a flexibility to management and reward and provide incentives to the active and conscientious members of the academic community without losing the important safeguards provided by tenure.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I must apologise to the House for arriving rather late last night and missing the early part of the debate. I can assure those who spoke before I arrived that I have read all their contributions with great interest. I may raise one or two points later. I should also like to thank the usual channels for arranging this two-day debate, which has allowed everyone who wanted to take part to do so. It is significant that the list of speakers is so long. It is an indication of how important the nation feels the Bill to be.
I shall speak about a few of the detailed aspects of the Bill and also about what I might describe as the broad issues. First, I should like to mention the national curriculum that is projected. I have already put on record in the House my total opposition to a national curriculum. I believe that it is worth reporting why I am opposed to it. At a time when the extent of knowledge is increasing rapidly and technology and research continue, it is dangerous effectively to freeze the curriculum of study for our school children. If the body of knowledge were held to be static and not increasing there might be an argument for a set curriculum, but while we have an expansion of knowledge and while the way education is conducted is developing it will be counter-productive to have a national curriculum.
However, if we are to have a national curriculum it should be applied to every school. We should treat every school student equally in that respect. It should also apply to every part of the land. A legitimate reason for having a national curriculum would be to break down and deal with some of the problems that exist in this United Kingdom of ours. I shall touch on two of the problems. One is the perceived divide between Scotland and England.
Over the past 15 years there has been a resurgence of Scottish nationalism. I was educated in Scotland and have some appreciation of why that feeling of nationalism still exists. The Scottish system of education is separate from that of England. I shall explain that. When school students in Scotland are taught history, their understanding of it virtually stops at 1707 with the union of the Crowns (apart from one or two Jacobite incidents after that and of course the great Scottish 19th century characters such as Mungo Park and David Livingstone). An explanation of the works of Ken Livingstone might 1437 be a salutary experience for the school students of Scotland; but be that as it may.
One of the matters that could be addressed is that of having a national curriculum which applied to Scotland and England. I was interested in the contributions about religious education. I received what I would describe as a good Christian education. It may surprise some of your Lordships to hear that our school chaplain held the view that Christianity was an early form of communism. I am not sure how that would sit with a large number of members of the Conservative Party.
I am not a practising Christian because I perceive that Christianity is honoured in the breach rather than in the observance of the teachings of Christ. If we could have a curriculum of Christian studies that put forward Christ's philosophy, and that curriculum applied right across the United Kingdom (through England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) we might break down some of the religious conflicts that exist. If we look at the Bill, religious education is seen to be the province of the LEAs in consultation with the local churches. I think that it would be hard to find a greater recipe for conflict. While on the one hand the Bill's aims may be laudable, the mechanisms by which those aims are expressed are doomed to failure.
Another aspect of the Bill's proposals is that of the delegation of financial powers to school governors. In practice, that will mean the day-to-day management of financial affairs by the headmaster. It is dangerous for the teaching profession to have its senior members transformed into managers. I shall come to that aspect a little later. One of the points that I shall bring out is the way the Government seem to want to turn all our education institutions and institutions of academic learning into businesses—in the word of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, firms.
Another little clause tucked inside the Bill gives chief constables the right to influence the curriculum put forward by the local education authority. I come from Manchester. I am horrified by the idea that our chief constable, even with a direct line to God, should have any influence over the curriculum of our Manchester school students.
I must progress quickly to the subject of polytechnics. To those people who work and teach in polytechnics I make the point: "You think that you have had it hard over the past few years under LEA control; you do not know what is coming to you, because it is going to get that much worse under central government control". That is what we are talking about. Polytechnics will effectively jump out of the frying pan into the fire. I shall say no more than that. It is just a warning to academics and people who work in polytechnics.
I turn now to universities. The proposals contained in the Bill will destroy academic freedom. I suggest that academic freedom is incapable of definition within a Bill. If we reach the stage where we have to define it we are effectively turning to the judges and saying, "This is your province to supervise and adjudicate on". That means that cases will have to come before the courts. Bringing such cases before 1438 the courts will pose a threat to the academics involved.
It is interesting to note that all the clauses to do with the university commissioners and the way that the PCFC and the UFC will operate are geared towards making people redundant. These is no provision which says, "This is the way that extra funds will be spent". It is all in terms of, "How do we get rid of people?" So, to everyone working in universities and polytechnics, the message comes through loud and clear: "You jobs are on the line".
I should like to say a quick word about ILEA. It is total nonsense to try to abolish ILEA. There have been some very good speeches on that subject. I would just refer your Lordships to the speeches by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lords, Lord Stewart of Fulham and Lord Pitt, which I think make the case for the retention of ILEA very clearly.
The main problems with this Bill are the centralisation of control which it introduces and the erosion of democracy. There are many clauses in the Bill which effectively deny any aspect of local democracy in the running of our education system. I have lost count of the number. It is frightening. A large number of people are frightened by the whole tenor of the Bill. Mention has already been made of the significance of the similarities of the type of actions proposed in this Bill to actions of the parliamentary governments under the Fascist regimes of Mussolini and Hitler. Just a few days ago an incident occurred which again drew a parallel with the actions of those governments: three unarmed people were shot on the streets of Gibraltar. That is the kind of activity in which the governments of Hitler and Mussolini engaged.
As I have already mentioned, virtually every institute of education or academic learning will be turned into a business by this Bill. They will be shaped on businesslike lines. As I have already reminded the House, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor described them as firms.
We are faced with the twin problems of a newly emerging Fascism and capitalism. I suspect that while a large number of members of the Tory Party may welcome the advance of capitalism in education and academic learning, in practice it is not the capitalism which will win; it is the Fascism. That is what is frightening about this Bill.
§ 8.43 p.m.
The Earl of Stockton
My Lords, let me begin where I mean to end, with the children in our education system. I have four reasons for wishing to concentrate on the children. First, in common with all of us, I was a child once—a fact which some of your Lordships seem to have forgotten. I was given a privileged education. But I do not apologise for it as many would in the education establishment. To have attended one of the finest schools in this country, if not the finest, is something for which I shall always be grateful, not ashamed. Having experienced the best, it is therefore my ambition that as good should be available for all.
My career at Eton was far from distinguished. I am sorry to have missed the contribution yesterday of the 1439 noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, the provost of that great institution. The reports from my long-suffering masters charted my erratic progress between the shoals of academic inadequacy and the rocks of disciplinary disaster. At the end of the first year the comment was, "Alexander is lethargic". At the end of the second year there was a graver note:He sets himself a consistently low standard which he then fails to achieve".At the end of the third year, almost in desperation, the comment was:Macmillan presents a smooth exterior to the world, an impermeable finish which the gentle dew of education finds hard to penetrate".Happily, after that I got down to some work. I never became the successful pot-hunter that my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone confessed to being, nor a great sportsman like my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel. However, I was taught how to work and how to think; that nobody and nothing in life owed me anything; and above all the standards of Christian morality so lucidly alluded to by my noble friend Lord Home.
I was very pleased to hear from my noble friend Lord Aldington that the independent schools are willing to embrace the core curriculum in its objectives. I urge my noble friend Lady Hooper to amend the Bill to ensure that the independent sector is always brought within the statutory framework of the core curriculum.
My second reason for concentrating on children is that I am a parent. I am determined that I shall have as great an amount to say as possible not only in what my children are taught but also by whom and how. Is that unreasonable? I do not want them to be taught only facts; I want them to be taught how to think, how to work and how to operate in the first community outside the family that they will be meeting. I also want them to know the joys of discovery but also to learn the realities that only with hard work comes success. I hope that they will have inspiration. I shall ensure that they have perspiration.
Thirdly, I am an education publisher, the fifth generation of my family so to be. Since 1846 my family business has managed to produce instruction books for pupils and teachers alike and testing and assessment material for use by teachers to help the profession and the parents to monitor both progress and the strengths and weaknesses of the children. Even the most militant of the teachers would accept that the publishing industry has always had a role in shaping the education system of this country as well as those of many overseas countries. Many of those same teachers and lecturers who are railing against the introduction of the cold winds of economic reality in their cosy education world show no signs of refusing the pieces of silver from the publishing industry. It is no good the noble Lord, Lord Peston, shaking his head. He would be better wringing his hands.
I have a yardstick against which I can judge the state of education in this country. It is the eagerness, enthusiasm and the very lust to learn that I find in the countries of the third world where it is our privilege to have been able to play a part in the creation of an 1440 education system. When I compare that enthusiasm and success, achieved on the most meagre of resources with the parade of excuses and self-justification which your Lordships have heard from those who claim—wrongly in my view—to be the guardians of the Butler Act when they are in fact no more than the supporters of Shirley Williams, I find myself saddened and disturbed. I am saddened by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. I am glad that my predecessor did not hear his words, for my noble friend Lord Joseph showed in his intervention that there has been an enormous increase in the numbers of students during the period of office of this Government. I know that it would have gladdened my grandfather, as I think it ought to gladden the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, to hear that.
As an academic publisher who has a number of authors among your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I feel that I have enough of an interest in the universities to leave further education to the galaxies of chancellorial and professorial stars who have addressed your Lordships, including the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his striking maiden speech.
I am disturbed because of the fourth interest that I have in the children in this country—as an employer. Successive governments of both hues have failed to grasp the nettle of reform. As a result they have condemned all but the more gifted to the economic scrapheap. For nearly 10 years I have been a governor of a Church of England boys' school in the people's republic of Lambeth, including during its years of transition from a grammar school to a comprehensive. Notwithstanding the unstinting efforts of the staff, governors, the diocesan board and parents, the dubious sociological experiments of ILEA referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, produced a higher and higher proportion of boys who were unfitted either by knowledge or by outlook to fill anything but the lower ranks of the economic ladder. They were and are some of the best boys it has ever been my privilege to know. I am sure that as a well-to-do old Etonian Conservative I represented all that is worst in the minds of the Inner London Education Authority. But at least I was trying to offer the boys a career as well as a job. Sadly, however much they wanted to, too many of them were not equipped to fulfil their potential.
Potential is a very wide concept, but I feel most strongly that without assessment potential can never be realised. If a teacher in a primary school discovered that one of the pupils was unable to see the blackboard she would insist that the child should wear glasses. If he were unable to hear the teacher she would insist that he be fitted with a hearing aid. If a secondary school teacher discovered that a child was unable to do long division when all the others in the class could, the appropriate corrective action would have to be taken. I find opposition to assessment and testing as logical as opposition to eye and ear tests. I am convinced that the better teachers share that view.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, made the point yesterday that without the support of the teachers the reforms put forward in this Bill will not be worth the paper of the 221 pages on which it is printed. In a notable maiden speech my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow endorsed that support for the teachers from these Benches.
1441 We have been told by noble Lords opposite that the teachers are unanimously opposed to the reforms. I received a letter from the Secondary Heads Association of Cleveland, Durham, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear. Naturally they expressed concern over details of various aspects and offered a number of extremely constructive suggestions for improving the Bill which I hope to be able to put forward for your Lordships' consideration at a later stage. However, they say:Generally our members welcome and support the undoubted aim of Her Majesty's Government to improve the state education service and extend its accountability and control to those who have a direct interest in the outcomes of the educative process".So do I, four times over.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Lord Perry of Walton
My Lords, we are dealing with a great reform Bill which is going to have profound effects on the mechanism of education. I find it disturbing that it has so little to say about education itself. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, it starts off with Clause 1, which is wholly unexceptionable. There must be:a balanced and broadly based curriculum which—That is splendid stuff, but unfortunatley that is all. Nowhere else throughout 197 clauses is there any mention of the aims and objectives of the philosophy or a policy for education itself. Not even at the start of Part II is there a clause saying anything comparable to that which is said in Clause 1 about the whole of further education and higher education.
- (a) promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society; and
- (b) prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".
I find that disquieting, for despite the arguments of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, there is a great deal of centralisation of powers in the Bill, both directly to the Secretary of State and indirectly to him by conferring powers on bodies such as the funding councils which he nominates and which he may even direct.
I am not against centralisation as such. Had the Secretary of State had such powers in the past few years we might have avoided the present mess where training is artificially separated from education by having been handed over to the Manpower Services Commission which, unlike the Department of Education and Science, had the necessary powers. It is less the centralisation of powers that worries me than the fact that there is no explicit statement about the aims and objectives for the fulfilment of which these powers will be used.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, I do not doubt that the present Secretary of State is well meaning, but Secretaries of State come and go and even this Government will not last forever. But great reform Bills are very rare. Who knows what the successors of the Secretary of State may do? The fact that they are not constrained by any statements of policy engenders the suspicion, no doubt wholly unjustified, that the Government have no clear vision of their own.
Perhaps I may deal in slightly more detail with one of the lacunae in the Bill, namely its absolute silence on adult education, which was mentioned by the 1442 noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, or more specifically of continuing education, which in many ways is the same thing under a different name. I have been acting as chairman of the standing committee on continuing education since it was set up by the joint decision of the University Grants Committee and the National Advisory Body, with the backing of the Open University and the education departments of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Our remit is to keep under review the national provision of continuing education at the higher education level. In other words, we try to promote through our parent bodies some sort of coherent provision of the continuing education that is so desperately needed if we are to be able to compete internationally in a world where science, technology, engineering and business studies are all advancing so fast that initial education cannot fit any skilled technologist or manager for a lifetime career. Updating, refreshment and retraining are all vital.
Almost everyone recognises that fact. The Government pay lip-service to it. The tragedy is that they pay very little more. Almost the only exception is the pick-up scheme of the Department of Education and Science. The policy there, as with previous governments, has been that continuing education is the responsibility of the private sector, of employees and employers. They certainly benefit, but so does the nation. The policy is not one followed by our competitors in other countries. I submit that it is a foolish policy in this day and age.
My committee has published several reports which argue for change, so far without success. The Government support the Open University with very large grants for first degrees, but they deny their support for increasing provision of a continuing education in technology. They started the open college to provide continuing education at pre-university level but expect it to become self-supporting within three years. The efforts that we have made to promote a national network of provision of advice about the availability of continuing education courses has not been successful, and there is no national policy to ensure that the opportunity for continuing education exists where it is needed. There is only a growing number of institutions doing their best and sometimes co-operating very effectively with a few others to provide what is so badly needed.
There is also the problem of what to do about part-time students, who are discriminated against in a number of ways. They do not qualify for mandatory grants even to cover their fees; yet they are a relatively untapped source of mature students who are very much needed and who so need encouragement. They are seldom offered evening classes for credit towards qualifications in the universities, although things are changing, and academics are mostly untrained in how to teach adults as opposed to school leavers.
I should have thought that in an Education Reform Bill in 1988 a whole section should be devoted to that new, exploding and critically important facet of a sensible overall coherent education policy. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will help to fill the lacuna. I should 1443 very much like to have a reaction from the Minister on this matter.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, it is now some five hours since the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, rose to say that he felt that most things had been said. Since then a great deal more has been said. I understand that at lunchtime a certain noble Lord was offering prizes to anyone who would say something new. I feel that a great deal that is new has been said since last night. I am not sure how much I can add to that but I wanted to speak because I felt that I should like to nail my colours to the mast.
I am an elected member of an LEA. I do not claim to have any great educational expertise, which obviously a great many of those who have already spoken possess. I was elected to the county council and I am a member of the education committee. I support this Bill and think that the Government are headed in the right direction.
I should like very briefly to mention three aspects of the Bill: open enrolment, financial delegation to schools and what is called opting out. As regards open enrolment, I have listened to a great deal of this debate and I have read in Hansard the speeches yesterday that were made before 9.30 p.m. I left the Chamber at about 11 o'clock because I felt it was getting late. I have also read the NUT's views on the subject in one of the documents that it has issued, and quite frankly I do not understand why there is so much fuss.
In the local education authority on which I serve children are allowed to attend the schools of their parents' choice so long as there is room. Admittedly, if the school lies outside the catchment area the pupils may have to pay for their transport, but essentially the school is one of the parents' choice. It never occurred to me when I first went on to the education committee—and I suppose I was rather naive in that respect—that there were some education authorities who refused to allow children to attend schools other than those of the catchment area in which they lived. It seemed quite extraordinary that some authorities should be quite so dictatorial.
We have been told that open enrolment will create problems for LEAs. I am sure that it will. They will no longer be able to plan; it will be harder to take out surplus places and future planning will be more difficult. I quite accept that point. Of course it will make the job of the LEA harder, but that is what it is there to do. The LEA is there to provide the education that parents and society want. It is not there in order to have an easy time and send pupils to what it happens to believe are the most convenient schools.
One could also argue that it makes the job of the LEA very much easier in regard to the problem of school closures. If it is found that school A is rapidly losing its pupils to schools B and C, one must ask why. I expect that the most likely reason is that the school is not satisfactory; it is not up to the job. One has to admit that there are bad schools. However, in the area of falling rolls does it not make it easier to accept that school A is probably the school to close 1444 and that schools B and C should take the remaining children from school A?
I should like to touch on one other aspect of open enrolment. We have been told that most parents are already satisfied and that they are obtaining the school of their choice. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady David, who said that about 95 per cent. overall, and in some cases 99 per cent., had already achieved the school of their choice. If those figures are correct, why are people so worried by open enrolment? As the noble Baroness said, it might be impossible to attain 100 per cent., but surely we can try and surely a few more of the 5 per cent. or so who do not get to the school of their choice should be given their chance. If that makes future planning for the LEAs more difficult, so be it.
I turn briefly to financial delegation and opting out. I gather that already some LEAs have been experimenting with financial delegation to schools and that those experiments have met with some success. Again the noble Baroness, Lady David, stated that in principle the Labour Party was not against that proposal, although I think she implied that she would prefer the Government to proceed with more caution. However, there has been opposition to the idea and it seems to me to reside in the fact that neither the schools nor the schools' governors have the expertise or the desire to take on those tasks.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, went further when he said that he was very worried about the "pushy parent". He stated as a professional that he had suffered very much from the so-called pushy parent and that this was a sore burden—I think that those were his words. I should have thought that his job, as a professional, was to deal with the pushy parent. These things are sent to try us. Policemen have to deal with criminals and teachers presumably have to deal with the occasional pushy parent. I am afraid that my heart does not exactly bleed for him. As I said earlier, it is possible that the job of the LEA might become harder with open enrolment. So might the job of the teacher, but it is the job of the teacher and of the parent to overcome such problems.
It seems to me that the argument against local financial management—and it is an argument which also applies to opting out—is that there may not be sufficient people who are prepared to act as governors. I do not accept that view. I know that it can be difficult to persuade people to take on those jobs. Anyone who has served on an LEA will know that it is often very difficult finding likely people who are prepared to have their names put forward as governors. I can think of a school in my county council division in which there was a vacancy for a parent-elected governor. Two parents were quite keen on the idea of serving but they were not prepared to put themselves forward for the vacancy because they did not like the idea of a parental election. Such difficulties must be overcome. There will always be problems persuading people to participate, but merely because people at first seem unprepared to act as governors is no reason to throw out what is in general a good idea.
Perhaps I may give another illustration. I gather that school governors now have to produce a report every year for the parents. I am told at one school 1445 which is fairly near me in Carlisle in the first year only two parents bothered to turn up for it. That is very sad. Many of my opponents on the county council said, "Look, the whole thing isn't working; it's pointless". However, the next year many more parents turned up and I hope that that trend will continue and that parents will participate.
It is always clear how much they will participate when a school comes under threat. In our county at the moment we are conducting a review of all secondary education. Therefore some schools perceive themselves to be under threat. As noble Lords will know, everyone in the community will turn out when their school is under threat. If people are prepared then to put in so much interest and commitment, I do not see why that same commitment cannot be translated into running a school and looking after its management. There would have to be a bursar to take charge of matters. There is no reason why local people cannot act as the governors for schools.
I did not intend to take too long. I have not touched on opting out, but a great many of my noble friends have dealt with it far better than I can. I feel that it gives parents a choice. I do not see why it is wrong for parents to make the decision that others say the local education authority should be making.
Although I am aware that I have dealt with only some aspects of the Bill, I commend it to the House.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, called in aid what he said was the view of the North Eastern teacher associations. I am very surprised at what he said. I come from the North-East. I have been in education all my life there; I keep in close touch with them and I am glad to say that they keep in close touch with me. In the North-East the feelings of all the organisations with which I keep in touch are very much against the Bill. I very much hope that the House will not accept the view that there is strong support for the Bill, as the noble Earl said.
The Earl of Stockton
My Lords, I was merely quoting the introductory paragraph of a letter from area 17 head teachers' association that I received this morning.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, I took due note of that. The noble Earl read the aims and objectives. I do not think that there is any difference between the two sides of the House on the aims and objectives. What we are concerned about in the Bill is how to set about achieving them. That is why we on the Opposition Benches are so opposed to it.
Much of the debate has been concerned with the iniquitous proposals in the Bill about the universities. That is understandable. I support virtually everything that has been said about the implications for higher education. However, I have no doubt that all noble Lords who have expressed their fears on higher education will readily acknowledge that the success of the universities depends on a sound foundation being laid in our schools. It is largely 1446 about the implications for our children that I wish to speak.
The fundamental criticism that could be made and that I certainly make of the Bill is of its sheer lack of realism. In another place a former Tory Prime Minister, Edward Heath, called parts of it a "confidence trick". I am sure that that criticism is justified because the term implies a lack of realism.
I give some immediate examples that I shall develop later: the extent to which parental control and involvement can be made effective; the management role of governors and more particularly of the head teacher; the free choice or virtual free choice of schools; the assumption that the testing proposed will not develop into something akin to the old 11-plus examination; the assertion of the Government that the Bill is a decentralising measure, while at the same time it gives the Secretary of State 170 new powers. I think that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to 185 new powers today, but we shall not quibble about the odd 15. I could give more examples of the lack of realism. Because of the lack of relationship to the real world of education, when I first saw the provisions of the Bill I asked who the Secretary of State had consulted.
Her Majesty's Inspectors, with whom I have worked for a number of years and for whom I have the highest regard, cannot possibly have suggested or agreed to many of the proposals. The teachers' and head teachers' organisations are opposed to much of it. The National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations has voiced strong opposition to a range of proposals, not least to opting out and testing, two of the most important parts of the Bill. There is a noticeable lack of enthusiasm among the local education authorities, to put it mildly.
With all these important voices against the measure, one begins to wonder who is supporting it. In those circumstances it is as well to remember that the Secretary of State allowed only 10 weeks for consultation on proposals that he knew would not be acceptable to a large section of education. Your Lordships will remember the furious row that broke out last summer about the short time allocated for consultation, as noble Lords have properly mentioned in their speeches.
One of the great reforming education Ministers, R. A. Butler, took two years to consult before producing the 1944 Education Bill. My noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff suggested that there should have been another year, and I certainly accept that. R. A. Butler has been quoted so often in the debate that it is worth reminding the House that that was the period of consultation that he allowed for the 1944 Education Bill. The contrast between the two timescales is a measure of the doctrinaire approach shown in this matter by the Government.
The emphasis I place on the lack of realism in the Bill arises from my experiences as a local authority chief education officer. I refer again to the noble Earl: I see teachers, head teachers and governors virtually every weekend. One of my main aims in my work in the post that I held at that time was to try to involve parents in the life of the schools. I tried in a number of ways to stimulate interest and concern but, I am afraid, without success. It will come as no surprise to 1447 your Lordships that that is regrettably the normal situation. I hasten to add that efforts should continually be made to involve parents in all aspects of the work of the schools. But it is ludicrous to think that parents wish to run schools in the manner suggested in the Bill.
Equally lacking in realism is the proposal to delegate the financial management to head teachers and governors. There can be no better example of lack of thought and consultation than this provision. The resource and training implications constitute a major change in the functions and workload of head teachers and governors. Many comprehensive schools work on a budget of over £1,000,000. A number of primary schools work on budgets ranging from £250,000 to £500,000. In the United States of America it is quite common for schools of that size or less, as it is for some schools in Europe, to employ as part of their staff trained financial officers to deal with exactly this kind of work.
Perhaps even more important is the fact, which should be recognised, that head teachers do not want to be spending time on such work. For years head teachers complained to me about the administrative workload that they carried. "We are teachers, educationists", they would say. "We were not trained for this, nor should we be expected to do it". This silly Bill will exacerbate that position beyond belief. I believe it is fundamentally important for a head teacher to spend at least three or four lessons a week in front of a class. Any hope of that happening in these circumstances will be futile.
I turn now to the issue of opting out: the most doctrinaire part of the Bill. I say "doctrinaire" because it is difficult to discover any evidence for such a fundamental change in our education system. We must take notice to some extent of the opinion polls. Certainly they show that there is no demand for it. It may be—this has been said on a number of occasions in the debate—that the Government have in mind a few local education authorities with which they disagree. If that is the case, is there any justification for a change when some 100 local education authorities are apparently conducting their affairs to the satisfaction of the Government? If it arises from the assumption that standards in schools are deteriorating, I challenge the Minister to produce the evidence.
Every year I enjoy reading from cover to cover the full annual report of the Department of Education and Science. That shows that every year there is a steady improvement in educational standards. It is not spectacular, but it is steady. The opinion polls show a very high degree of parental satisfaction with their children's education. Of course there is much more to opting out that that. It means that when a school opts out, the school itself will decide which pupils to take and that in turn means having brighter children in it. That is inevitable and I hope it is not a matter of disagreement between us. In such a process we shall see the destruction of the present system, which not only is working well but on the whole is fair and provides equal opportunities for the full range of pupils' abilities.
1448 Nor does it require too much imagination to realise that it is only a step from that to the charging of fees. The National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations has described the proposals for opting out as "evil". That is the confederation's word. It may sound a little strong, but there can surely be no doubt that it will lead to the creation of a divided school system, and that, in my view, is the most damning indictment of the Bill. The concept that the parents of children attending a school at a given time can bind future parents, whether by a simple majority vot—which is what the Government intend—or by any other kind of vote, must surely be without precedent, certainly in the world of education. It is objectionable on any basis and potentially destructive to the work carried out in any school. If the Government really feel that there is merit in the scheme, we have to say that they should be honest and make provision for opting in. I believe that to be the logical answer to that complaint.
The Bill is not only a fraud and unworkable, it is hypocritical. If the many proposals which it contains are so much of an improvement, as we are told day in and day out, why do they not also apply to the private sector? I share the view contained in a letter which I received from a school signed by all members of its staff. They state:It is being presented by people whose own children are outside of the system it will affect".I congratulate the noble Earl on the view that he expressed as regards the private sector being included in the proposals and I am glad to have his consent again on that matter. I believe it to be entirely logical and if the Government believe it to be right it should apply to the whole of the education system. I find the hypocrisy shown in keeping private schools away from the measure to be breathtaking and perhaps it is the biggest justification for calling the Bill a fraud.
The Secretary of State is missing the most glorious opportunity presented for 40 years in the field of education. He could have built on the solid foundations laid during that period. Where is the much-needed provision for nursery education; for mandatory grants for 16 to 18 year-olds; and not least for an expansion in adult education?
The tragedy is that, because of its nature, the objectives of improved standards and increasing educational opportunity will not only not be achieved but perhaps the system will be irretrievably damaged. There will be two nations in education and, most important of all, thousands of our children will never achieve their potential. After all, that is not only what education is about but it is what life is about.
We live in a pluralist democracy. To ensure the continuing health of such a system, in my view there is no more important contributory factor than an education system controlled and managed according to pluralist democratic principles. Every clause in the Bill negates that objective and the means by which a fair and decent society can achieve it.
I conclude by saying that this House has seven days in which to correct the Bill's most damaging proposals. I am confident that noble Lords on all sides will bring that about.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Lord Birkett
My Lords, I sense a growing excitement among your Lordships that the debate may come to an end. Therefore I shall try not to disappoint the House and delay that moment for too long. However, I have two worries which concern areas not mentioned in the Bill. I believe that they should be mentioned and dealt with. They concern what may happen in London if the ILEA is swept away. The first matter relates to the two notable museums, the Geffrye and the Horniman, both of which are of national importance and standing. It is by chance that up till now they have not been adminstered on a national basis because the GLC and now the ILEA have administered them. However, that is not to say that they are not of the importance with which I credit them; they are both most distinguished museums.
As regards the Horniman, most noble Lords will know that from the ethnographical and anthropological point of view it is admired the world over not merely by museum people but as an educational institution. It is admired not merely for its collections but for its lectures, exhibitions and its entire educational programme, which is highly imaginative. It is probably wrong that by a pure accident of geography it should be devolved upon a borough which, however willing and admirable, should not be taxed with the job of looking after an institution of that importance.
That argument applies to both the Geffrye and Horniman Museums. I believe that some kind of central funding or arrangement should be made for the two museums. After all, dozens of important national museums are funded centrally. Therefore, it is not inventing a new principle, nor indeed is it causing any great administrative trouble to figure out how those two museums could be funded centrally. I have no idea what are the Government's intentions in that direction, but I urge them to consider the matter. I wonder whether or not those museums should be administered centrally and taken out of the provisions whereby the local boroughs absorb all the functions of the ILEA were it to be defunct.
My second point concerns music. I must not weary your Lordships with this point because the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—and I am ashamed to say that I could not come to yesterday's debate but I read his speech at some length—went into great detail concerning the problems of music in the ILEA. However, I should like to reinforce that factor today. Anybody who has heard the London Schools Symphony Orchestra will know the excitement and the sheer thrill that is created from seeing the best youngsters from the schools of one particular capital playing in such a way that, if one were blind-folded and did not know to whom one was listening, one might well think it was one of our premier London symphony orchestras.
One should remember that it is not merely one famous symphony orchestra that has been put together. There are also two or three wind bands, consorts of recorders, a steel band, a guitar group and, indeed, there are countless London-wide ensembles picked from the schools of London. There is a central musical facility, a central musical school; 1450 there are visits, lectures, teaching courses—it is a complete London-wide musical scene.
One might suppose that were the ILEA to be abolished all the London boroughs could get together to ensure that that facility was maintained, thereby maintaining the sheer excitement that comes to those children and indeed, and let us not forget this, to those who hear them. In view of the sheer thrill that that musical education provides, one would think that the boroughs might well get their act together. However, sadly and cynically, I doubt it. I really doubt whether they can or will do that. At present the assorted London boroughs do not at any point talk with one voice at all. In fact they do not really meet. They meet in various organisations, but they do not have a central and powerful voice.
I mistrust the thought that after the abolition of the ILEA that musical scene will continue; however, it must. It is too thrilling for the children and too exciting for us to let it pass away. I urge the Government to look very closely at those two matters before the Bill goes further.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Lord Croft
My Lords, in view of the lateness of the hour I hope not to detain your Lordships for more than perhaps five minutes. This Bill—here, I may be touching on ground we have already surveyed but I do so without apology—is our response to a situation that has become increasingly apparent over the years; namely, that the level of basic skills taught in our schools has not been high enough to satisfy parents and employers and that our educational standards lag behind those of our Continental competitors.
I am an optimist. I believe that the Bill will eventually bring about a change. However, it will take time. The provision of a national curriculum and the testing and monitoring of each child's progress at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16 should ensure a proper grounding in English, mathematics and science, which are the core subjects, and the other seven foundation subjects which are wide enough to cover the humanities and the arts.
I shall not dwell on that aspect of the Bill—it is one of the principal aims contained in Clauses 1 to 18—because the subject was so fully explained and discussed yesterday. I support the Bill in its main aims as outlined by my noble friends Lady Hooper, Lady Young and Lord Beloff in their powerful speeches. I entirely support the Government in that respect. I am also glad that the matter of religious education has been resolved in a satisfactory manner.
However, there are other aspects of this large Bill on which representations have been made to me and with which I should like to deal briefly. I am aware of the anxiety and disquiet among members of the Association of University Teachers whose national literature I have been sent together with separate submissions from the Southampton branch. The association admits that helpful amendments have been made by the Government but argues that they do not go far enough. It feels that the balance between the Government and the UFC is still weighted far too heavily in favour of the former. Perhaps, in Committee, some of these points can be discussed and possibly resolved.
1451 I would have suggested inserting the words "academic freedom" in an appropriate part of the Bill, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Blake. But having heard the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I prefer to wait to hear the arguments in Committee. The words "academic freedom" are emotive and inspiring; it would be a pity if no place could be found for them.
I should like to suggest that the Government take account of the views of the University Museums Group of which the chairman, Christopher J. White, is director of the Ashmolean Museum. I am very interested in art galleries and museums. He refers to Clause 115, which makes new arrangements for funding higher education. Subsection (4) provides that:The Council"—that is, the UFC—shall be responsible … for administering funds made available to the Council by the Secretary of State for the purpose of providing financial support for activities eligible … under this section".Subsection (5) further provides:Those activities are—The group suggests that the clause should be amended to include authorisation for the Universities Funding Council to make adequate funds available for museum and art gallery collections—of course, there is no mention of museums in the clause—and that a responsibility be placed on the governing bodies of universities for the proper curation of their museums and art galleries. Surely the Government should approve of that.
- (a) the provision of education and the undertaking of research by universities; and
- (b) the provision of facilities and the carrying on of other activities by universities in connection with education and research".
In recent years many of the major museums in universities have suffered from lack of funds for various reasons. I have seen that especially at Cambridge in the Fitzwilliam Museum, which I know well. The University Grants Committee has currently so far identified 16 museums and galleries in 11 universities as qualifying for special factor funding in the calculation of the block grant to those universities. But the chairman says that the UGC does not indicate how much has been included in the block grant for the purpose. And it cannot oblige a university to spend any amount included for that purpose on its museum. There seems an opportunity to be grasped here of solving the ever-present problem of the inadequate funding of university museums and of ensuring that the money allotted is actually spent on those museums.
Finally, I should like to endorse what noble Lords from all sides of the House have said about the common services that ILEA performs so well. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred to the Horniman and the Geffrye museums. The Horniman Museum is truly national in standing and well-known internationally. It would be rather absurd if this museum, as a result of the abolition of ILEA on 1st April 1990, came under the sole control of the local borough. A better solution might be the creation of a board of trustees. But adequate resources would need to be found to replace those of ILEA and so 1452 avoid any deterioration in standards or services provided.
I agree very much with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, when he indicated that it might be useful to have a new central authority for these special purposes in order to look after these really important museums.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, it might seem that, as the 83rd speaker in this debate, there would be nothing new to say. That is not so. We are talking about the nature of our culture and if noble Lords talked for another two weeks there would still be something new to say. Speaking as one who has served in every branch of the education service, from the infant school to the doctoral thesis, I believe that the Bill touches every aspect of every individual in this country and that it is the most important Bill ever introduced into this country during this century—and probably the most dangerous.
The narrowness of the Government's attitude towards education is seen right from the start when they list the core curriculum. There is much to be said for and against a core curriculum. I draw attention to only one aspect of it. In the Government's own 1985 White Paper on education the following was stated:To help pupils to develop personal moral values, respect for religious values and tolerance of other races, religions and ways of life.(5) To help pupils to understand the world in which we live and the interdependence of individuals, groups and nations.(6) To help pupils to appreciate human achievements and aspirations.I suggest that that concept is as valuable and as crucial to the present and future generations of this country as any of the subjects which are included in the Bill as part of the core curriculum.
In the few minutes more that I intend to speak I want to concentrate upon what I have been specifically asked to do by a number of vice-chancellors and by the master of my own Cambridge college; that is, to deal with the issue of the universities. My noble friend Lord Morton, in opening the debate this afternoon, spoke of the change in the philosophy of education. I would go further. This Bill represents a change in the philosophy of the character of our country. That character has depended essentially on the freedom of expression, of thought, of writing and of dissent. My noble friend Lady Lockwood and the noble Lord, Lord Swann, said a great deal of what I would have said had I spoken earlier. They spoke about the threat to the universities. After all, it is the universities that set the tone for the moral and cultural character of any country.
I shall add only this. The master of my college wrote to me the following words:The Bill does not provide adequate protection for freedom of inquiry and expression in universities which is quite fundamental to their effective functioning".It is not only fundamental to their effective functioning. It is fundamental to their leadership in the freedom of expression and speech on which our culture depends. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom wrote in this vein: 1453We hope that amendments will be tabled at Committee stage to protect the duty of academic staff to question and to test received wisdom and to put forward new and controversial and unpopular opinions".I make no apology for repeating what I believe the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester first said in this debate, and it has been repeated since. He quoted Sir Mark Richmond, the chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, who said in a speech at a seminar on 19th January of this year:We are not seeking to protect privilege or to secure special status for the universities or their staffs. We are arguing vehemently for three fundamental freedoms which we believe to be of lasting value to this country. They are the freedom to research in subjects of as yet unrecognised importance, the freedom to question received wisdom and the freedom to be protected from direct and narrow political interference by the government of the day. That is what we mean by academic freedom, not a licence to brood comfortably in ivory towers".I would ask the noble Baroness who is to reply to address herself to that quotation and to let the House know in what way this Bill is promoting or safeguarding those freedoms. To my mind in reading this Bill, the whole section on the universities could have been entirely omitted. I have not heard of any valid criticism of the way in which our university system is organised or run. It has a long and honourable tradition. This Bill attacks its independence. It attacks the independence of every member of that university system and, above all, it attacks the independence of thought which has been the pride of British universities and made them the envy of the world.
I was also glad to know that my noble friend Lord Callaghan added on to the conventional university world the world of adult education, which has depended very much upon the extramural classes run in conjunction with the WEA. That is genuine, true education. It is the education which must always above all start from the individual and individual initiatives. It is the right of every citizen of Britain of all ages.
The inquiry that goes on in adult education classes may be unpopular with some. It may even be unpopular with some noble Lords here, but we shall 1454 fight for the right of citizens to continue to discuss and to argue, whatever their age may be. It is an invaluable part of the university tradition of this country.
The Bill should be seen in the context of the policies which this Government have been putting into practice over the past nine years, and those practices are frightening. It is not simply a Bill on its own. It is part of a total attack on our traditional culture. It reminds one more closely of Hobbes's Leviathan: as social authoritarianism spreads from one sector of the community to another, as the local authorities are downgraded, as the trade unions are attacked and as now independence of thought through the education system from school to university is under threat. From what is it under threat? It is under threat from Big Brother. It is under threat from centralised control; from the control of those who would lay down what is to be taught, how it is to be taught and what is to be researched. It is being put in the market place: if you can find the money, you can do the research. Would we ever have had the distinction of discovering DNA by such methods, or had any other of our great national victories in the freedom of thought? It is only through freedom of thought, above all unpopular thought, that we get the results that are for the benefit of mankind.
Again I make no apologies for quoting, this time from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Swann, yesterday (at col. 1249). I hope that the noble Baroness will answer this point:Even the most enthusiastic supporter of this Bill can scarcely deny that it involves throughout a very marked increase in the centralised control of the whole education system by the Secretary of State".Is that not a threat to the traditional culture of this country? I hope that when we get to the Committee stage there will be Members of this House on all sides who will recognise that this Bill, in conjunction with the rest of the social legislation of the past nine years, is a threat to the cultural heritage of Britain which we have a duty to pass on to our children and grandchildren. I hope that when we get to that stage there will be a sufficient number of noble Lords on the other side of the House with the imagination to join with us in safeguarding what has been the most precious asset of this country.
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, before I commence my speech I should like to apologise to your Lordships' House that, owing to circumstances totally beyond my control, I was not able to be present to hear the very distinguished speeches this afternoon as I ought to have done since I am winding up from these Benches.
Noble Lords on the government Benches have said that there is a great deal of complacency on this side of the House. Let me assure them that we on these Benches are not in the least complacent about the present state of education in this country. We are well aware that what is needed is a very great deal of progress in education. Indeed in my view nothing less than a quantum leap in education is what is required, and at all levels.
I agree strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, said. Progress is required particularly but of course not exclusively in relation to that large section of the public who have not benefited from our system of education in the past. It is common ground that we have turned far too many people out of our schools who have been ill-equipped to face the modern world be it in terms of earning their living or in leading a satisfactory, human and social life. I do not say that in criticism of the schools but it is a fact.
I remember hearing in a Lords' committee on unemployment evidence from the GLC about what was happening in its schools. We were told of the 40 per cent. who were leaving school at that time with very little indeed to show for their schooling. In a world and a future in which there will be very little opportunity for the unskilled and for people who are unable to learn and relearn, that kind of education is inadequate and we require reform in this area.
There are aspects of this Bill which we can all welcome. We can all agree with the importance of those three core subjects of English, maths and science. It must be wrong to turn people out into the modern world inadequately equipped in those subjects in particular. It is my guess that a great many schools do a great deal of work in this area. But the results so far have not been as satisfactory as they should be and the emphasis on those three subjects is of very great importance.
We also welcome local financial control and the greater involvement of parents and of professional teachers in the running of their schools provided—I am only echoing what other people have said—that they are given adequate administrative and financial support. Teachers are not necessarily the people best qualified or fitted by personality to run the office and control the expenditure. If anyone thinks that this will be a cheap option he had better think again because schools will need proper finance officers and proper clerical and secretarial assistants.
It has been a bad joke in both schools and universities that the most expensive filing clerks in the City of London have been found among the professors who have been losing their papers in their own files, when somebody could have done the job so much more efficiently at a tenth of the price. But all that follows from what will be needed if one is to 1456 make a reality of effective local financial control. But assuming (and I recognise that it is a big assumption) that the Government are prepared to put the money into this—I would welcome detailed comments from the Minister on this point—this provision can do nothing but good.
We welcome also the fact that there appears to be near agreement at least between the Government and the Bishops on the subject of religious education. I welcome that very much. But speaking as an Anglican I hope that it will not concentrate on what has been described as Christian education.
I think it has not been said—unless it was said during the time when I was not in the Chamber—that one of the reasons why it is extremely important to have religious education is that, if one looks across the globe today, one sees that there is no subject more explosive and more important than religion. There are the moral majority, the extreme Right in America and the fundamentalist Islamic religions. Surely no one could say that religion is always a force for good. However, equally no one can deny that it is a force.
I suppose that all of us were caught by failing to anticipate the rise of fundamentalist Islam and its importance politically, morally and economically in the world today. Religious education is therefore something which is much wider than is so often described when it is being discussed. It needs to be done in an extremely rigorous way. I hope that it will not be sidelined and marginalised as it has been only too often in the past.
On all those matters we welcome the programme which the Government have put before us. We welcome the purposes of that programme. What we have to doubt is whether, in the detailed plans laid down in the Bill, the purposes declared by the Government are going to be achieved. Perhaps we may look first at the national curriculum.
I have referred to the core subjects about which there can be no disagreement. Now we are told by the Government that they believe in flexibility. I should like the comments of the Minister on the fact that, with religious education, there are now 10 subjects—the core subjects, the foundation subjects and religious education. There are only so many hours in a week and so many weeks in a year. How much time is going to be available for any subjects other than those 10 if they are to be done in anything other than the most superficial way?
We have been told that the number of hours to be devoted to the core subjects will be reduced. There is nothing about that on the face of the Bill, as I understand it. Nor would I necessarily wish there to be. It seems to me, in the logic of the number of subjects there, that we cannot expect that anything much outside those subjects will be taught with any thoroughness.
Who thought up—or perhaps remembered would be a better word—those particular foundation subjects? If we substitute Latin for geography, they are precisely the subjects which I was taught 60 years ago. I suspect that they were thought up by somebody who was taught 60 years ago. If the object of the exercise is to prepare people for the future, it 1457 seems a bit odd to provide them with the diet with which I was provided all those years back.
Then again we are told about flexibility and that we wish to develop the individual child. I have never had any children. However, I have observed that individual children differ markedly. They develop at different rates and they have different interests and capacities. We should be the last people to say that all men are equal or the same. All children most certainly are not.
Why then should it be appropriate for all children to do the same subjects and to do them in the straitjacket of a particular timing? We say, "You may take one foreign language and you may only start it when you are 11, unless you get permission from the Secretary of State to start it earlier". Tommy wants to start German at nine years of age. His mother was German and he took the language in originally with his mother's milk. But he has to go to the Secretary of State to obtain permission to start the language at nine years of age. What on earth are we talking about?
Since we want variety and since youngsters are different and develop at different rates, surely there ought to be more choice in foundation subjects. What is wrong with the idea of saying "Yes, maths, science and English" and then grouping the other subjects? Not only the foundation subjects but all subjects could be grouped broadly into the humanities, the sciences and, as the noble Lord, Lord Joseph—who is probably the most intelligent Secretary of State for Education that we have had since Edward Boyle (with apologies to Shirley Williams)—
§ Baroness Seear
I do not retract what I said.
The noble Lord made the point—and it is a serious point—which I have tried to echo. We have failed the non-academic child educationally. Where are the expanding educational opportunities for the nonacademic child in the foundation subjects? Why cannot we have, as I say, a group of humanity subjects, a group of science subjects and then a group of these non-academic subjects, including life skills, and including that subject, to me so strangely called home economics, which apparently covers practically everything which is not included under the other subjects, and allow people to choose from those groups?
Some children are capable of learning three languages and should start them early. Whoever told the Government that one should not start a language until one is 11? I cannot imagine who it was. Some people should be doing three sciences and only struggle through with one foreign language. For a great many of them, it is as much as they can do to struggle through with their own language. Why cannot we have that variety and choice? Surely that is what the Government say they want. But we are stuck with the list, which as I say was the list on which I was brought up, for better or worse. So, let us look again at the foundation subjects.
There is one other point about the list of subjects and the syllabuses which are being drawn up so assiduously by all the committees that have been 1458 selected. I can assure your Lordships that if we had a different committee we would get a completely different syllabus. However, that is as may be. Any professional educators who are worth their salt are changing things all the time. They are developing their subjects and what they want to teach on their subjects. They are developing methods of doing that. If we set this extraordinary idea in concrete—the noble Baroness shakes her head, but it is on the face of the Bill that we do these things. Are the Government going to take it off? If we set the curriculum in concrete, schools will teach things that are always behind the times in a world which is changing extremely fast. We must allow room for that development and flexibility, that getting ahead which the good professional is always trying to do.
Your Lordships will know, I am sure, what some academics think about other academics who regurgitate their notes year after year. They exist. I admit that they exist. I did it myself sometimes, and so did Professor Peston. That is what we are asking teachers to do by having this fixed syllabus. It is all against the best pansophic methods and what good professional teachers want to do.
I cannot leave the vexed subject of the ILEA. The Government are extremely anxious to raise the education standards of the least successful. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, was so right about that: it has been our biggest failure. Will the noble Baroness tell us that when the ILEA has gone, if the Government insist on getting rid of it, the schools in the poor boroughs—the boroughs which are up to their eyes in debt now; the Lambeths and the Southwarks—will have money from some source, if not from the ILEA, which will have disappeared, so that those standards will rise and not fall? If the money for those schools depends upon funding from those boroughs, as night follows day they will become even more sink schools than they are at present. What happens then to what the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, wanted to do? What happens then to the Government's assertion that they want to raise standards for everyone?
How about the specialised services which the ILEA has provided in the past? What will the Government do to provide that kind of guidance and advice, and, above all, what will happen to further education and adult education? Perhaps I may say something particularly about adult education and declare an interest. For some years, until very recently, I was chairman of Morley College. I know what adult education in London means. The people who come to adult education are looking for a second chance; indeed, some did not even have a first chance. They are the drop-outs from school.
Of course they are not only drop-outs. Some make a very distinguished contribution to the music and the arts which are taught in the colleges. At the same time, there are women who want to re-enter the labour market and to acquire skills and confidence in order to do so. There are many members of ethnic minorities who come to acquire skills and knowledge and in so doing become part of the community from which they would otherwise be alienated. If ever there was a sector of education which could contribute most to solving the economic and social problems that we face at the present time it is adult education.
1459 Will the noble Baroness say whether the statement in the press the other day that there was to be a cut of 40 per cent. in adult education is true? Will she deny it and will she say instead what is to happen to adult education if ILEA goes? At least will the Government think again about the date for getting rid of ILEA? April Fool's Day 1890 is very close—1990. So backward looking are the Government, it is no wonder that I got confused.
The schools have been trying to cope with GCSE and TVEI. The schools are now having to deal with the problems arising from all the proposals in the Bill. How on earth, in that short period of time, are they going to make the adjustments that will be necessary if the Government go ahead with the abolition of ILEA? At the very least the Government can give it a longer period of life to make those adjustments possible.
Then there are the universities. I have gone on far too long, but let me just say that I absolutely echo what the noble Lord, Lord Swann, said. He put it so well that it would not become me to try in any way to paraphrase what he said. The universities are one of the great countervailing powers in a pluralist society, a great centre of freedom against interference by government. I am not talking about tenure; I am not talking about individual university staff, although I could. I am talking about the position of the universities as a whole.
I know that the noble Baroness will say that that will not go, but nevertheless at point after point in the Bill there are curtailments of the freedom of the universities. University work is best done by awkward people who pursue absurd ideas. Out of those absurd ideas come the new and brilliant discoveries. Of course, out of some of them come nothing at all, but that is the price one pays. Leave them alone to get on with the job. Leave them alone.
All the way through, this is a centralising Bill. At point after point the Secretary of State will decide, the Secretary of State will arbitrate. Let me put this quite bluntly. "The Secretary of State" means the officials of the Department of Education and Science. What do they know? Who the hell are they? Whether it be in the universities or in the schools, the Government are submitting us to the control of people who have never taught, who have never researched, who have never published. They are to be our judges. Some of us have suffered under this. Some of us who had the research contracts about which we heard the other day have had to argue the case for them with people who have not understood the subject matter and do not follow the process.
One thing they are expert in is administration. That is why we get 18 pages to fill up, because that is the one thing they know about. I know it is not the convention to make criticisms of this sort, but the Government should ask their tellers why it is thought the Civil Service is a better judge of what ought to go on in the universities and the schools than the professionals who are doing it all the time.
That is the key. The people who really matter in education are the dons and the teachers. If the Government really could raise the level, the 1460 enthusiasm and the confidence of dons and teachers they could tear up their Bill.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, my first pleasure is to congratulate the two maiden speakers. As a fellow academic, I was most sympathetic to what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, had to say. He reminded me of a matter that we must raise in due course, which is the financial time bomb ticking under our universities. Several of us are very close to disaster.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, made an excellent, sensible speech. I was particularly taken with what he said about opting out. I think he said that he was the seventh Education Secretary to join your Lordships' House. As I was listening to him I was reflecting that there is another rather distinguished Education Secretary who has not yet reached here, but with any luck she will be here fairly soon.
Our strategy on this Bill is three-fold. We aim to amend it and improve it, but there are places where we would really like to see it changed outright, and we shall certainly ask the Government to think again. Reference has been made to the errors of omission, of which I suppose the most obvious is adult education, to which my noble friends Lords Callaghan, Basnett and Perry referred. That is a matter to which we shall certainly return. Also, my noble friend Lord Carter, the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and others referred to the problems of children with special education needs. That too is a matter to which I shall return.
Education is a controversial matter upon which it is reasonable to hold differing views. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, used an excellent expression "the honest divergence of views". As my noble friend Lord Glenamara pointed out, in dealing with that what is required is persuasion, consultation and consensus. That is certainly what we seek. Political intervention of a doctrinaire and narrow kind is unwelcome to us. That is what the abolition of ILEA is about, as my noble friends Lord Stewart and Callaghan pointed out.
A matter which I must deal with immediately concerns the powers of the Secretary of State. We are absolutely convinced that these powers must be limited. He must be denied the right to act covertly or in an ad hoc way. Everything he does must be based on reasoned and explicit criteria and be subject to criticism. We shall be putting down amendments to deal with that. We are rather worried about how many powers he has. He has N powers, N being a number between 150 and 400; but whatever the number of his powers we shall put down exactly that number of amendments so to limit his use of them.
We are told that this Bill is about freedom of choice, but I must say I find this suggestion quite incomprehensible. If the Bill were about freedom of choice there would be no national curriculum; there would be no argument between the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary because both views of the curriculum could easily be available to whoever chose to have them. If there were freedom of choice there would be no imposed religious education; there would be whatever people chose. There would be no limitation on subject choice in universities. Indeed, 1461 for those interested in the doctrines of classical economics I might say that if there were no freedom of choice there would be no minimum school leaving age. This Bill is not about freedom of choice at all.
In my view it is also not pro-parent. I ask myself why rights which are to do in particular with educational performance are actually given to parents. What rights with respect to assessment are they in fact given? In that connection I was rather struck with a remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who referred to living with failure and recognising one's limitations. Some noble Lords must make up their minds on who is being judged and who has failed. If it is the pupil who has failed, why are the teachers blamed? If the teachers are at fault, why blame the pupil and call him or her a failure? The point I seek to make is that failure is too crude a notion to apply to education. Performance is multi-dimensional. Doing as well as one can is much more impressive than coming top of the class—and I speak as someone who always did.
I have already said that, desirable though it may be, I feel that the national curriculum is certainly incompatible with freedom of choice. What about flexibility? What of the suggestion that the national curriculum might impose too tight a straitjacket? The problem is that too much flexibility destroys the national curriculum. In the context of this Bill perhaps it ought to be destroyed. I should also add that there is the genuine problem of relating the national curriculum to diagnostic testing. Surely it is right—and this point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear—that given the diversity of people, which is shown up much more clearly by diagnostic testing, the curriculum would have to be so flexible in order to deal with individual cases that it would no longer be at all sensible to call it a national curriculum. Let me add that I again agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. In my view the national curriculum as outlined in this Bill inhibits experimentation.
May I say a few words about opting out, and perhaps I can best make my point by asking some questions. I still ask the question, why? I have heard no argument from noble Lords as to that. In particular I should like to know what opting out offers over and above local financial management. What is it that the opting out schools can do that other schools cannot do? I should be very interested to know the answer to that question.
The point has been made about opting in and I do not need to labour it. It seems to me perfectly obvious and logical that if schools can opt out, in due course they ought to be able to opt back in. I reiterate that opting out makes planning impossible, especially for post-16 education, and makes life extremely difficult for those who have special educational needs and are disadvantaged in some way. I ask the noble Baroness, who is responsible for education in the opted out schools? Who takes the responsibility? What redress will parents in those schools have? Perhaps I may be forgiven for finding the Bill extremely opaque; the answers may be there and I cannot find them. But I ask the noble Baroness, what will be the role of the inspectorate with respect to the opting out schools?
1462 People ask why we should be afraid of those schools. The answer is that we regard them as the basis for covert selection. My noble friend Lady Blackstone made the point most succinctly and correctly. Of course the opting out schools will be those which select the parents. It will not be the case that the parents select the schools.
I should like to return to the question of the alleged deficiencies in our schools. Of course there are some deficiencies but in my judgment they are swamped by the achievements of our schools. While certainly we must rectify the deficiencies, let me add that they are of long-standing. I do not remember which noble Lord suggested that they were connected with comprehensive education. That is preposterous. The whole history of education suggests that these deficiencies go a long way back, to before comprehensive schools were thought of. Those deficiencies are in fact to do with the anti-education, anti-intellectual traditions of this country, of which we have heard too much in this debate.
The noble Baroness was right to emphasise in her remarks the needs of the individual and of society, but in our view the needs of the individual are particularly complex, indeed extremely so, and cannot be met by a restrictive philosophy based on a narrow conception of knowledge. In a democracy young people need an environment in which they can mature, learn to think logically and criticise, use and scrutinise evidence.
In that connection I have been sitting in this Chamber wondering who it is that wishes to brainwash our children. It is certainly not noble Lords on this side of the House. All the remarks about controlling attitudes and opinions have come from noble Lords opposite and their friends. I was especially amused to hear one noble Lord say that our businessmen are no longer content to pay themselves absurdly large salaries and to wield power. They now also want to be appreciated and even loved. I suggest that the noble Lord who takes this view should explain to the vast numbers of poor people who have had their benefits cut or to the millions who are experiencing unemployment because of the incompetence of businessmen and their friends in government why love and appreciation are the appropriate response.
Perhaps I may say a word on international comparisons. We on this side have argued continuously that our future as a nation depends upon investment in people, in science and technology and, of course, in physical capital development. Our country is backward in all these dimensions.
On the first, of course we must improve our education performance. But we should hesitate a little before emulating, say, the Germans and the Japanese. I am not sure that noble Lords would wish to live in the corporate society of Japan, although it has the merit of offering full employment. Do we really want our children to experience the stresses of its educational system? Do we want the unhappiness and anxieties of the Germans? I, for one, should like to see Ministers speak up for our country for a change.
Of course, we must improve. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, is probably correct in saying that our 1463 expectations are too low, at least for the below average child. This seems slightly incompatible with the suggestion that our children have to learn to live with failure—but never mind! I fail to see what the Bill has to offer for the bottom quintile. I am certainly fearful, as are other noble Lords, of the damage that may be done to all the things at which we are good.
I wish to make a few comments on tests and testing. I have been rather bewildered by some speeches. Those of us on this side of the House have argued consistently that diagnostic tests are a good thing. It is an important question to ask: how well am I doing? It is an important question to ask: how much progress am I making? If there are to be such diagnostic tests, in our view that must lead to action. There is no point in doing a test, then saying, "You are a failure", and that is it. The essence of testing is to do something about it. As several noble Lords have pointed out, that can be very expensive. If the tests are intended to throw light on a school as a whole, that, too, will require a great deal of care. Every school will be a mini-experiment. I suppose that those of us in the social sciences are looking forward to the employment creation of examining with the appropriate statistical methods pretty well every school in the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Blake, said that not enough thought has been given to the ILEA. I agree. I was rather taken aback to discover from the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, that there is any thought in the Bill at all. I was amazed to discover that 15 years of intellectual exercise lie behind the Bill. I do not believe that that is reflected in any way in the document before us. The noble Lord, Lord Blake, is correct. Not enough, if any, thought has been given to the abolition of the ILEA. Certainly, I have not thought about it sufficiently. One advantage of the Government's policy has been to make us think: we are indebted to them for that.
Instead of a concentration on ILEA's failings, what we have seen as a result of debate are the great achievements of the ILEA. We have seen why an education authority for London is needed. One thing has not emerged. I look forward, in the reply of the noble Baroness this evening and in Committee, to a demonstration of any kind of how devolution to the boroughs can be of any use whatever. Something must be done about ILEA; but precisely not what the Government propose.
On resources, I should welcome some guidance from the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said that the trouble with ILEA is that it is too expensive. That means that the boroughs will be able to spend a good deal less. Other noble Lords have told us that all existing resources will be available to the boroughs. Which is it to be?
The Government must think again on ILEA. Will they not withdraw their proposals and agree to an independent view? The educational advantages are obvious. Following the parents' ballot, it seems to me that the political advantages, too, are overwhelming. As I have said on other occasions, I take a dim view of your Lordships ever casting doubt on expressions of public opinion in ballots.
And so to higher education. Here I must first echo the remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord 1464 Jenkins of Hillhead. By "remarkable" I mean that I agreed with it! In echoing it, I have to ask the question, why? Have the universities let us down? Have the polytechnics let us down? In the latter case surely not: the emergence of the polytechnics has been an educational triumph. It shows that in this country we can raise standards; we can improve our institutions beyond all recognition. I use the word "we" advisedly. The "we" refers to the education authorities. It refers to the CNAA and those of us who have been members of it and it refers to the academic staff themselves.
The Bill is right to give the polytechnics their independence, but let me add that that is no criticism of the LEAs, because the ability of the polytechnics to operate on their own now is a tribute to the LEAs. I do not suppose the noble Baroness will go as far as I will, but I for one would go further and now make the polytechnics independent of the CNAA as well so that that body can concentrate on other institutions. The polytechnics deserve a better share of resources to improve facilities, to improve libraries and to repair and rationalise their premises. But I hope that the noble Baroness does not assume that I am also saying that that money should be taken from the universities. I am not that keen on equality.
I believe that the universities are a great national success as well. Of course they need to rationalise and they need to be more flexible. I was one of the first many years ago to argue to the vice-chancellors that we must take ministerial criticism seriously, but unfortunately we were slow to respond. However, that response has happened, and it has come from the vice-chancellors and the academic community in general.
What we are talking about is teaching, scholarship and research, especially the freedom to pursue ideas without limit. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, it is a wasteful process. Most of the lines of research that we pursue end up nowhere, but that is the nature of the activity. It is expensive but it is justified by the successes, few though they are for some of us and for most of us hardly at all. The academic in the pursuit of truth and, dare I say, goodness, is a nuisance. He or she is difficult and hard to control, quirky and disrespectful. The critical approach that Sir Karl Popper has emphasised is threatening to the status quo, and the Government are part of the status quo and may not like it. But it would be a tragedy if the Government were then to go on to limit the critical approach.
The universities must be accountable to the taxpayer. The Secretary of State has an interest and in the end will get his way, but his powers must be limited. I make the same point about the Universities Funding Council. It must be more independent of the Secretary of State than it appears to be. We shall put down amendments on that. The universities must be more independent of the UFC and we shall put down amendments on that. What is required is something much nearer to an equal partnership.
In connection with all this the constraints and controls already exist and they are so powerful that we must find a way of writing academic freedom into the Bill. My worry about the changes that are occurring is that they will provide precisely the wrong 1465 incentives to academics. In particular it seems to me that it would be much more sensible as an academic in order to retain one's job to provide a regular series of rather mediocre efforts than one great piece of work. On this basis it would especially be a mistake to do a great piece of work while one is young. I remind noble Lords of the old Einstein joke. At Princeton we used to ask the question, "Would you give Einstein tenure?" The answer was, "Well, not really. He has done nothing much since general relativity. He has no conception of administration and he does precious little teaching".
Academic scholarship and freedom are inextricably connected with tenure. The Bill abolishes tenure. It does not limit it to some, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, mistakenly said yesterday. The effect of that is to increase the risks of an academic career—
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, I should like to say that I agree that the Bill abolishes tenure. I said that it did not inhibit a university giving tenure to anyone it wished.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I beg to differ with the noble Lord. It does inhibit the university giving tenure to anyone it chooses. Our amendment would do precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, wishes, which is to provide that the university should be free to offer tenure to anyone it wishes. This Bill and the commissioners prevent that happening. However, we shall deal with the matter in Committee.
The abolition of tenure will increase the risks of an academic career. Either salaries must be raised to compensate for that or inferior people will become academics. Recruiting people from the United States and Australia will become more difficult, if not impossible, as will retaining our best young people in this country. We are already losing academics to the American new brain gain and I for one do not wish that to happen endlessly and uncontrollably, placing the future of our academic life in danger.
Again referring to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I believe that there is no need to abolish tenure. There would be a range of contracts in which tenure would be the limit case. Tenure could be made harder to obtain but it should not simply be abolished.
Time is pressing. A number of other matters need to be raised but I believe that it would be better if I delayed most until the Committee stage. I also am most anxious to hear the noble Baroness, apart from being anxious to be released from this place for a while. However, I must make one or two further remarks. When discussing academic freedom, the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, raised the question more generally. I agree that freedom is indivisible. There is only one thing called "freedom"; it is freedom. My belief in it is total and I certainly agree that in the university freedom applies to all. It certainly applies to visitors such as the noble Lord. I also have practical reasons for saying that. How else are we to expose his mistakes if he is not free to express them?
I should like to make a comment about bias and I hope that I shall be forgiven a personal note. I was taught economics by the best free-market economists of their time. They did me nothing but good, but they 1466 did not make me a free-marketeer—certainly not the kind of naive free-marketeers who appear to occupy the Benches opposite. I teach what is called "mainstream macro-economics". I doubt whether I have ever converted anyone to my way of thinking but I have educated a large number of first-class economists. That is the academic tradition of this country. It is to acquaint young people with the highest standards of intellectual endeavour. We do that rather well, so why place it all at risk?
In conclusion, it is with great regret that I say that this will be our only chance to legislate on education for some time. We must get it right. Unfortunately I must remind noble Lords opposite that we are not the government, although several speak as though they think we are or ought to be. The Opposition will devote itself to improving the Bill in Committee and we shall do so in the right spirit. We can hope only that the Government will respond in the same spirit. We have a duty to the young people of our country and we must not fail them.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Hooper)
My Lords, the London Marathon was run last Sunday with a greater number of participants than ever before. This Second Reading debate has constituted another kind of marathon and I am glad that so many of us have stayed the course. Of the many notable contributions and participants in our debate, among whom figure two former Prime Ministers and five former Secretaries of State for Education, not to mention the vice-chancellors, I must mention my noble friend Lord Carlisle and the noble Earl, Lord Russell. They have given the House a foretaste of the valuable contributions that they will be making to our proceedings in the future. I add my congratulations to those already expressed.
At the outset I said that I expected the debate to be instructive. It has proved to be so, since so many of your Lordships speak from considerable and varied experience in the field of education. But I cannot hope to respond either to each point raised or to each speaker, and I trust that I have your Lordships' understanding on this.
Before dealing with those provisions of the Bill which are clearly of most concern and interest, I should like to dwell briefly on an issue which has been raised by many speakers. That is the question of whether the Bill is or is not a centralising measure and its implications for the role of local education authorities. It was the noble Baroness, Lady David, who first quoted the figure of 366 new powers for the Secretary of State. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor pointed out earlier that this astronomical figure is produced only by the most absurd literal-mindedness and that if one is talking about substantive powers the number is very much smaller.
In any case, many of those powers, such as those in relation to financial delegation or grant-maintained schools, are designed to enable the Secretary of State to devolve responsibility to schools and colleges. The balance is no more than is required for proper exercise of functions by government. It would plainly be futile, for example, to devise a national curriculum and then have no means of ensuring that it was 1467 implemented. I was glad to have the approbation of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, my noble friend Lord Blake and others on the need for powers on this measure.
Another aspect of this concern has been expressed by those who fear that the Bill's provisions may undermine the role of the local education authority. In my opening speech I endeavoured to illustrate a new strategic role for LEAs. Of course it is true that financial delegation, for example, will mean that there are fewer detailed decisions to be taken by the LEA centrally. However, I repeat that many authorities are moving in this direction in any case. They recognise that many kinds of decisions are best taken at the level of the individual school or college, and that the LEA's role is properly to control the overall availability of resources and to provide the necessary support and guidance to ensure that schools and colleges are able to function as efficiently as possible.
Many noble Lords on all sides of the House have expressed their agreement with the principle and aims of a national curriculum but perhaps none more succinctly than my noble friend Lady Young. We shall have an opportunity to consider the concerns expressed about the detailed implementation of the national curriculum during Committee stage. For the moment perhaps I may concentrate on two points in particular. The noble Baroness, Lady David, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, and many others questioned whether the national curriculum allowed sufficient scope for flexibility. Even my noble friend Lord Joseph hoisted a question mark on this.
The fact is that our proposals have built upon the wide agreement given to the aims of my noble friend's White Paper Better Schools; namely, that we need a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum for all pupils up to the age of 16. Any option such as alternative subjects within the core would put at risk the delivery of such a broad and balanced curriculum. What we have done is to set out the objectives for knowledge, skills and understanding. These are defined in terms of subjects. But we are not defining and never have defined a timetable, and Clause 4 of the Bill actually prevents the Secretary of State from doing so.
The delivery and organisation of the national curriculum in schools will be a professional matter for heads, other teachers and governing bodies to decide. There will be nothing to prevent primary schools from following their traditionally flexible approach, while secondary schools will continue to be able to develop innovative programmes like the TVEI, to which several noble Lords have referred. Indeed, the Bill recognises the need to ensure that the school curriculum is dynamic, alive and capable of reflecting new ideas, new approaches and new areas of knowledge. I remind your Lordships that the Bill has never sought to define the whole school curriculum.
The core and foundation subjects are not the whole of the curriculum. There will be real and effective scope for flexibility beyond the requirements of the national curriculum. Beyond that, within the national curriculum core and foundation subjects, we intend that there should be wide scope for initiative. 1468 The Government believe that the flair and professionalism of teachers will help, that they will play an essential part and that the Bill will secure that. In any event, the content of the national curriculum will be subject to review; it is not set in concrete. I say further to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that the national curriculum provides a minimum. Anyone who wishes to start early, or do more, may certainly do so.
I can quite understand the concern expressed in relation to individual subjects or areas of the curriculum; for example, the importance of environmental studies or business studies. But two subjects in particular were mentioned by several of your Lordships—classics and home economics—and perhaps by saying a little in more detail about those I can illustrate the way in which other subjects and themes can be approached.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, in a delightful speech at a late hour gave a powerful plea for the classics. He and my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley are, if I may say so, eloquent examples of the value of a classical education. However, I want to emphasise that the national curriculum does not threaten the place of Latin or Greek. There is sufficient flexibility in our proposals to allow schools who wish to do so to continue to offer classics to some or all of their pupils. In particular, the more able pupils are likely to have around 30 per cent. of their time available for non-foundation subjects such as Latin or extra science. Noble Lords may be interested to know that the Joint Association of Classical Teachers—whose stake in this issue can hardly be denied—is not pressing for classics to be a foundation subject, though it is of course keen that classics should be available as an option in non-foundation time. That must be the right approach.
The Government also recognise the range of valuable opportunities offered by home economics in schools. Although it is not a separate foundation subject, certain aspects of home economics such as food science and technology, textiles and technology in the home do provide an opportunity for technological and scientific knowledge and skills to be practised in a context which appeals to many children. We have already asked the science working group to consider links between home economics and science. We shall also be asking the technology working group to consider how technological work might be developed in other subjects, including home economics.
In this context, several noble Lords referred to the proposals for assessment and testing. The report of the Task Group on Assessment and Testing and its excellent summary answers many of the concerns expressed. That report was published three months ago, has been widely distributed and has been given a very wide welcome in the education service and beyond. We certainly do not expect teachers merely to confine themselves to what is testable; for assessment arrangements to lead to a narrowing of focus would undermine our whole policy for the curriculum and I can assure your Lordships that the attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements, taken together, will be carefully constructed to ensure that that does not happen.
1469 On religious education, I very much welcome the statement of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London in the House yesterday in which he recognised that the arrangements we have agreed with the Churches are "an acceptable and significant step forward". A number of noble Lords referred to the content of RE, and in particular to the special place of Christianity. The Government note those views and will await with interest the amendments which have been foreshadowed.
I believe all of us in this House share the concern so well expressed by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel that the curriculum should pay proper attention to the moral development of the individual. As the working groups on various subjects are set up, they are being asked to consider the need to develop personal qualities and competences in pupils, including self-reliance and self-discipline, a spirit of enterprise, a sense of social responsibility and the ability to work harmoniously with others.
Noble Lords on all sides of the House have voiced their concerns about the impact of the Bill on children with special educational needs. I am glad that it is recognised that a number of significant improvements in respect of these children have been made to the Bill in another place. At the same time, the Bill must ensure that the demands of the national curriculum on this group of children are realistic. I wish to emphasise that since it was this Government who placed the Education Act of 1981 on the statute book. I can confirm that we stand by the principles in that Act and in particular the principle of integration. However, these children must be given attainable targets, so we must ensure that the Bill allows for flexibility.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State noted the concerns which were being expressed by representative groups. We think it important that disapplication should apply to as small a number of children as possible. He has therefore explained that it will be possible for children to show their factual knowledge and understanding of the principles which lie behind the requirements of the national curriculum in different ways. The subject working groups, the TGAT and the National Curriculum Council will be looking for ways to resolve problems of this kind.
We have also made allowances to modify or suspend the requirements of the national curriculum for children with a whole range of short-term problems whose performance might be temporarily affected by medical, family or perhaps psychological problems. It is right too to recognise the needs of children whose needs are being assessed under the 1981 Act, and that provision is now in the Bill.
Some have queried the use in the Bill of the word "categories". The word is used to denote any group or description of pupils for whom provision may be made under Clause 4(4) to modify, or under Clause 10 to disapply, all or part of the requirements of the national curriculum. The category will be specific to the problem being addressed in the regulations which will be made under these clauses.
To take some examples, children whose safety might be jeopardised by taking part in a range of scientific experiments for medical reasons—asthma, 1470 allergy, motor disorders—might need to have the requirement to take part lifted or modified. Children with severe problems in English, whether as a second language or for reasons of special educational needs as described under the Education Act 1981, might, for example, have the requirement to study a second language at secondary level lifted from them. Very able children might reach age-related targets early and need the flexibility that this provision affords to drop a subject before the age of 16, so as to take up another perhaps related subject. The national curriculum requirements must be capable of allowing for all these circumstances.
Turning to the question of more open enrolment, I should like to clear up a number of misunderstandings which still seem to remain on our proposals in this area. Schools will not become overcrowded. They will simply have to admit up to the number that they can accommodate, if the demand is there. Some noble Lords have tried to put it both ways by arguing that, on the one hand, virtually all parents now secure the school of their first choice in any case, and, on the other, that the consequences of our proposals will be disastrous for all less popular schools. Of course we cannot guarantee 100 per cent. satisfaction. But our aim is to remove any artificial barriers to parental choice.
As my noble friend Lady Blatch pointed out, at present many parents accept the status quo simply because they see no alternative. If, under these provisions, unpopular schools begin to lose pupils, the governors and the local education authorities should ask themselves what reforms are required. Or it may indeed be that the authority has too much provision, and that open enrolment will help them to decide where to rationalise.
I think that none of your Lordships has queried the advantages of financial delegation. However, one or two raised the question of the appointment of bursars. The noble Lord, Lord Charteris, raised a similar point in relation to grant-maintained schools. The Coopers and Lybrand report, published four months ago, refers to this question, as to many others relating to financial delegation. Briefly, those authorities which already have a system of appointing bursars or similar staff to large schools are likely to build on this. But not every local education authority will feel that it is necessary, given that the authority will still be able to provide essential services and support. Plainly, however, an enhanced secretarial capacity will be required.
Other noble Lords—the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, for example—pointed to the need for the training of governors and heads. The Government accept that such training will be crucial, and we have recognised it in the proposals for education support grants which my right honourable friend is putting to the local authority associations today.
I turn now to grant-maintained schools. These will do something for all children which the present system has failed to do in the 40 years or so of its existence. By the very fact that they break the local authority monopoly of free education, grant-maintained schools will force LEAs to become more responsive to consumer choice and be more willing to 1471 listen to the views of parents and governors. If LEAs respond to that challenge, there is no reason at all why they should be left with a rump of less popular schools. It is not as though grant-maintained schools will be offered an unfair advantage in the competition. They will receive from the Secretary of State a grant corresponding to the level of funding they would have received had they remained under LEA control.
Moreover, the Secretary of State will take account of the views of the maintaining LEA as well as of other interested parties when deciding an application for grant-maintained status, and will give full consideration to the implications for other education provision in the area. Of course LEAs will be operating in a more uncertain climate once schools have the chance to opt out. The spur that that will give them has been mentioned by a number of your Lordships. But if they are really doing their best to provide the kind of service parents want, they should have little to worry about.
On the question of opting back in, it must be made clear to governors from the outset that they will not be able to change their minds if the commitment to run a grant-maintained school proves to be heavier than they had expected and simply hand back responsibility to the local education authority. If exceptionally, and after a period of some years, the Secretary of State approved a proposal from the governors to cease to maintain a school, the local education authority would retain its responsibility to secure enough places for the pupils in its area and could then consider whether to establish a school in the premises.
Perhaps at this point it may be convenient to refer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in relation to resources for local authorities to implement the reforms set out in the Bill. I am pleased to be able to say that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is writing to local authorities proposing a £125.5 million programme of education support grants for 1989–90. Seventy-seven million pounds of new expenditure would be available and more than £65 million of this would support activities relating to financial delegation and the introduction of the national curriculum.
A proposed £35 million of new expenditure to assist the implementation of financial delegation would include more than £5 million for training governors in schools and colleges as well as provision for management information systems, and for the establishment of central implementation teams to plan and oversee the introduction of financial delegation. This should meet some of the concerns that have been expressed.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, and many other noble Lords mentioned adult education and seemed to think that the Bill does not give sufficient attention to this area. Let me say at once that as this aspect of education falls within my own departmental responsibilities I am fully aware of the value and importance of education for adults in all its forms, from literacy teaching to part-time degree courses. The definition of further education in Clause 104 1472 relates to adults as well as to younger students and recognises the diversity of the education needs and demands by referring to both academic and vocational education, including continuing education, and also social, physical and recreational education.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and others asked why it was necessary to legislate on the arrangements for university funding. The same question seems to have underlain a number of other contributions to the debate. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor dealt with these matters in his speech, but I should emphasise the main points. Before doing so, however, I must caution the House, not least the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, himself, who took a very exclusive view of higher education, not to take too narrow a view of this field. It is not the exclusive preserve of universities. Polytechnics and colleges have an important part to play. Indeed, they have borne the brunt of taking the total number of student in higher education to today's record levels.
The present arrangements for funding universities hardly bear examination. Grants are paid to the universities by the Secretary of State under the non-specific statutory authority of the annual appropriation Acts. In making such payments he is advised by the non-statutory University Grants Committee. By convention he always accepts such advice but he is obviously free to act otherwise if he thinks fit.
It is hardly surprising therefore that the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Croham, found that an unsatisfactory basis for the annual distribution of about £1.5 billion to the universities. The central recommendation of that committee's report was that to set proper lines of responsibility and accountability a clear statutory basis for university funding should be put in place. This we are attempting to do in the proposals.
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor spoke earlier about other aspects of higher education and academic freedom in particular. In view of the pressure of time, with your Lordships' permission I shall leave further detailed discussion of this to Committee and will pass instead to the Inner London Education Authority.
Many noble Lords have spoken with emotion on this subject. I would remind the House that there is no dispute, even among ILEA's friends, that its secondary schools have achieved poor results. Yet it is to the secondary schools above all that parents and employers look as the heart of the education system. If we are failing our young people at that point, we are failing them severely indeed, and the best quality education in other phases cannot make up for that deficiency. Moreover that performance is being achieved at costs which simply cannot be explained by a special case for London. To take just one example, the outer London boroughs are spending £1,700 per secondary pupil. Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester are spending between £1,750 and 1,950 per pupil. ILEA is spending £2,600 per pupil. No other authority has unit costs which remotely approach those of ILEA.
We believe that the individual boroughs are just as likely to respond to the pressing needs in their locality 1473 as a remote authority in County Hall. But there is naturally concern over any change of this magnitude, and the arrangements being put in place for the transfer of responsibility are designed to ensure that it takes place with the minimum of disruption.
It may be helpful if I briefly remind your Lordships of those arrangements. The inner London boroughs have a full two years to prepare themselves for their new responsibilities. That is as long as was allowed for the establishment from scratch of many outer London boroughs as LEAs in 1965. The boroughs will have to produce development plans by the end of February next year setting out the way in which they propose to take on their new responsibilities. We shall be publishing shortly a draft of the guidance which is designed to help them draw up their development plans. The department has set up a special inner London unit which will actively seek to discuss with the boroughs, individually and collectively, the steps they need to take in the light of the draft guidance and help them to resolve particular problems.
Some of your Lordships have argued that the inner London boroughs will be too small to function effectively. But I thought that my noble friend Lady Faithful and others argued convincingly that that was not so. Setting aside the special cases of the Isles of Scilly and the City of London, while it is true that some of the inner London boroughs will be small by the standards of county councils, they are not particularly small by the standards of the outer London boroughs. Richmond, Kingston and outside London the Isle of Wight are each smaller than all but a couple of the inner London boroughs. Yet no one would suggest that they struggle to make their way as LEAs providing a full range of services.
I think I am running out of time, so I shall not dwell on the details of the consultation process, except to refer to the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, whose position in education history is, after all, secure. But I should like to take issue with him on one point, which is that he contrasted this Bill with the 1944 Education Act in terms of the degree of consultation which preceded its introduction. But my noble friend Lord Eccles has told us from his personal experience that even the 1944 Act was not fully implemented, or at least not implemented fully in line with all the hopes and aspirations of the architects of that Act.
But the fact is that many aspects of the Bill have been under discussion for a long period of time and the results of those debates which emerged in our party manifesto were followed by the consultation process that I referred to earlier. The point is that we cannot rush the detailed implementation of our proposals. We seek to develop them in full consultation with professionals in each field and as we do so the exciting and innovative nature of our proposals becomes increasingly clear. I believe for that reason that our proposals will continue to win greater acceptance as they take fuller shape.
I have noticed the specialist views expressed on Northern Ireland and on Scotland as well as on Wales, and I hope that we can deal satisfactorily with the points that have been raised in the next stages of the Bill.
1474 We have had an immensely valuable and stimulating debate. I have listened carefully to the points made by noble Lords on all sides of the House, and the Government will continue to do so as we move on to a more detailed scrutiny of the individual clauses of the Bill.
This debate has shown beyond doubt that we are all agreed on the aim of improving standards in our schools, and providing the best possible service across all phases of education. But I have to say that, while that agreement is most welcome, I regret that we have had no positive contribution from the Opposition on ways in which the improvements which we seek might be achieved. It is the Government's firm conviction that, applied with goodwill and common sense, the reforms set out in this Bill will be immensely beneficial to our children, to all involved in the process of education, and to the nation as a whole. It is on that basis that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.