§ House again in Committee on Schedule 1.
§ Lord Tope
moved Amendment No. 24:Page 56, line 21, leave out from beginning to end of line 5 on page 57.The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to leave out paragraph 5 of Schedule 1. It represents an open encouragement to county schools to bolt for the door marked "grammar school" whenever proposals are published which they do not like. Some of us are familiar with that situation in relation to grant-maintained schools. Where the LEA publishes proposals for change in the character of the school the governing body is then empowered to publish an alternative plan to move to 100 per cent. selection. If the LEA plan has not been determined, and the timing usually lies in the hands of the Secretary of State, that action leads to the Secretary of State considering the two together. Where the LEA plan would otherwise have fallen to be determined by itself, the Secretary of State will acquire control of it. In other words, paragraph 5 creates a clear possibility of collusion between the governors of a dissatisfied school and the Secretary of State against the LEA.
It is of course the case that the governors may have sound reasons for disapproving of an LEA plan. That may well be the case, but what is unseemly in relation to the conduct of the education system is that the Secretary of State should be drawn so openly into a partisan position, or towards the risk of being seen to be in such a position. As with paragraph 4 dealing with specialist schools, the governing body is given the power to trigger the process by publishing its own proposals where it feels that the LEA,have not made satisfactory progress towards complying",within a period of two months to its request to move to 100 per cent. selection. That same loaded question is put to the LEA with a consequence that a determined governing body can draw the Secretary of State into a possibly controversial situation on the flimsiest of judgments as to the way in which the LEA is dealing with the matter.
This is one of the crudest provisions in the Bill. It invites conflict between schools and the LEAs and makes clear that the Secretary of State has prejudged the outcome. Once again, what may be interpreted as the narrow self-interest of individual schools is being placed above that of the community, or, indeed, future generations. There is no reason why what schools may 986 be saying in this instance should be wrong. Equally, there is no reason why they should be right. I beg to move.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux)
I should point out to the Committee that if the amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 25 to 28 inclusive.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I support the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in particular on a couple of smaller points. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the Committee some comfort on the position of the LEA plan which has not been determined, the determination being in the hands of the Secretary of State so that the Secretary of State considers the two together. Where the LEA plan would otherwise have fallen to be determined in itself and on its own merits, the Secretary of State has now acquired control of it and has to consider it together with the other plan.
I wish to know what "together" implies. Does it mean that the Secretary of State must compare one set of proposals with the other? Can she decide something entirely different? Is she either permitted or obliged to consult with the LEA and the governors? Can she call in an independent arbitrator within the powers of the clause? Is she obliged to publish her findings? Is there any appeal mechanism by either side against the decision?
§ Lord Henley
Perhaps I may make clear to the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Morris, that the Secretary of State has not prejudged any of her decisions on such matters which come before her, nor would she do so. If she had so prejudged those decisions, if she had not exercised her decision in the proper manner, the matter could be open for appeal.
We believe that grammar schools, to which the amendment relates, are an essential part of a diverse education system. At present just under 5 per cent. of maintained secondary pupils are in such schools. Furthermore, their geographical distribution is very patchy. In some areas, about 20 per cent. of pupils benefit from such selection. In other areas there are none. We want to encourage schools of all types—county, voluntary, grant-maintained or whatever—to become grammar schools should they so wish.
However, because 100 per cent. selection would represent a significant change in the character of most schools—we recognise that, which is why the Bill is drafted as it is—statutory proposals would be required for making such a change. The governing bodies of voluntary and grant-maintained schools may publish their own statutory proposals. The proposals for significantly changing the character of county schools may, under existing legislation, be published only by the local education authority. That means that county schools, which are the majority of state secondary schools, are at a disadvantage in seeking to become grammar schools, in particular where they are faced with an LEA which is hostile to the whole concept of selection. 987 That is why paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 enables the governing body of a county school to publish its own set of proposals in certain circumstances. Such circumstances are where governors want to turn the school into a grammar school, have asked the LEA to publish the necessary proposals and after at least two months have reasonably formed the opinion that the LEA has not made satisfactory progress towards complying with that request. Therefore, the purpose of paragraph 5 is to establish a level playing field between voluntary schools, grant-maintained schools and county schools in relation to grammar school proposals. Amendment No. 24 seeks to destroy that by removing the paragraph. The effect of the amendment would be to discriminate against county schools by enabling LEAs to block any plans they might have to become grammar schools.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris, asked about consultation. Obviously, the Secretary of State would consider any representations made by the local education authority. It is clear that any local education authority would make such submissions should it so wish. Therefore, there is no need for the Secretary of State herself—and long may it be herself—to consult. I would rather not say "consult with" because I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, would not be happy with that use of English. Having said that, I have come across both Dickens and Trollope using "consult with" and "meet with". No doubt they can be criticised by others than myself.
Obviously, if the LEAs wish to make submissions it is for them to do so and the Secretary of State would have to consider them. However, I do not believe that it is necessary that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State should consult them herself.
§ Lord Tope
I am grateful to the Minister for his brief lesson in English literature. I shall go back and consult my copies of Trollope further on this important issue.
As regards the amendment, I am not entirely satisfied that the Minister has addressed the issue that I raised and I wish to look at it further. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
moved Amendment No. 25:Page 56, line 28, leave out ("general").The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 26 and 33. The purpose of these amendments is to test apparent changes in the definitions of ability and aptitude which have been in place since the 1944 Act. The expression ability and aptitude was used in the Education Act 1994 in relation to the duty of local education authorities and parents to cause a child to receive efficient, full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude. This Education Bill proposes that children may be admitted to primary or secondary schools by reference to ability or aptitude.
988 Clause 2(2) refers also to pupils with aptitude as though that status applies to only a few. For the first time, the Bill introduces into legislation the words high ability in relation to the admission of pupils to a school which is wholly selective. Those distinctions are all new. Ability and aptitude were formerly seen as applying to all pupils, hence the meaning of those terms is being changed subtly from that understood since the passage of the 1944 Education Act.
The meaning of the expression ability and aptitude has been changed in the Bill from that which was in the 1944 Act. The Government would like us to believe that the tests which are used to determine whether children should be admitted to schools are reliable. However, experience suggests that they are intended to identify future general performance or performance in a specific area of the curriculum and they are wholly inadequate in the case of large numbers of children. I beg to move.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
In supporting the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I have only a few questions which I wish to ask the Minister but I find that they go to the very heart of this whole area. Will the Minister explain the difference in this Bill between ability and aptitude?
Secondly, how can a natural aptitude for, let us say, French be recognised as distinct from an interest in or a knowledge of French? It is perfectly possible that a child is brought up in a bilingual or semi-bilingual home and acquires quite a knowledge of French. That would not necessarily be an aptitude for it. What is the distinction between natural aptitude and knowledge?
Thirdly, how is high ability to be distinguished from ability, in the 1994 Act's sense of the word? Can the Minister describe to us the diagnostic qualities of the present test for high ability?
§ Lord Henley
Perhaps I may first deal with the amendment and then address the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on the difference between ability and aptitude.
We believe that grammar schools are an essential part of a diverse education system. That is why we wish to promote them. Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 would extend the circumstances in which county schools could publish their own proposals to all cases where county schools had asked the LEA to publish proposals to admit all pupils by reference to ability. That would include cases where a school wished to select all pupils on the grounds of ability on a particular subject or subjects and where a school wished to select all pupils with reference to any level of ability.
Given that the noble Lord's previous amendment sought to remove paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 completely, it seems odd that these amendments seem to be trying to increase the scope for county schools to publish proposals to extend selection. I can only assume that the noble Lord might wish to make it easier for schools to select by any level of ability and not just high ability.
I assure the noble Lord that paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 and Clause 3 provide for that. There is nothing to prevent the admission authority for the school 989 selecting pupils of average or below average ability up to its threshold, and it could do that without statutory proposals. It could select a certain percentage of pupils of high ability, a certain percentage of medium ability and a certain percentage of low ability if it wished to do so.
The noble Lord may also wish to make it easier for schools to select all pupils by reference to different levels of ability, with the aim of achieving a banded intake. I should point out that it is open to schools to use the relevant thresholds set by the Bill to secure a particular ability band in their intake. It is open also to county schools to negotiate banded admissions with their LEA, very often because, for county schools, the LEA is the admission authority. But I believe that it is right for the special arrangement allowing county schools to publish their own proposals to be confined to schools wishing to become grammar schools.
Unlike schools with banded admissions, grammar schools provide a unique service for pupils and parents. As I said, at present, access to that service is very patchy and restricted, hence our priority to increase the number of grammar schools, and the provisions in the Bill facilitate that, should the parents and the community which they happen to be in wish that to take place. The same arguments do not apply to comprehensive schools with banded admissions. I have no objection in principle to such admission arrangements but I see no case for extending that exception to the normal statutory proposals arrangements for such cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, asked about the difference between aptitude and ability, given they are not defined in the Bill. The noble Lord is a much greater linguist than I am, and sadly we do not have the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, who is an even greater expert on these matters, to advise us. I do not remember the 1944 Act because it was passed some nine years before I was born. But the noble Lord, Lord Morris, who is marginally older than I am, will remember it. It uses the terms ability and aptitude without defining them. For example, Section 8 of the 1944 Act refers to different ages, abilities and aptitude of children.
No subsequent education legislation has defined those terms. I do not believe that they need to be defined because they have clear, well-understood meanings in the common use of language. In broad terms, "ability" is used to relate to skills and capacities which are already apparent, whereas "aptitude" relates more to future potential. It may also encompass qualities such as interest, commitment and suitability for a particular type of education. That takes us back to the specialist colleges and whether someone was suited to go to a language college, whether or not he had the ability. I referred to my example as being one who probably did not have a particular aptitude for foreign languages but others might, without necessarily having the ability in those subjects.
As to which particular tests might be used, grammar schools have long used tests of general ability. There is nothing novel there. There is no reason why the Government should become involved in prescribing the 990 precise tests to be used. A great deal of work is going on at the moment to develop a way to assess ability and aptitude for a particular subject. Again, that is well-established in some fields. For example, I ask the noble Lord to look at music and dance.
Some schools use different methods for assessing aptitude for technology. We have hardly discussed the city technology colleges except in the rather useful intervention by my noble friend Lady Brigstocke, who has a close connection with a city technology college in Derby. That development work continues. We shall leave it to the professional judgment of schools as to which methods they use. Again, that is a matter for schools and the admission authority. I remind Members of the Committee opposite that the admission authority is very often the LEA. That should be decided in its local context.
Perhaps I may move on to Amendment No. 33. It would remove the word "high" before "ability" in Clause 2. That clause relates to the requirement on all schools which are not already fully selective grammar schools to consider, once a year, whether to introduce or increase selection. The effect of the amendment would be that a small number of schools which use selective tests to place pupils into ability bands would also be exempt from the annual review. There is no reason why schools which band pupils in order to preserve their comprehensive nature should be exempt from considering whether or not to take in a higher proportion of able pupils, and whether or not that would be welcomed by the local parents. There is scope for such schools to introduce or increase the selection of pupils by high ability and, therefore, they should fall within the requirements of Clause 2. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Tope
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. At first, I thought that he was being a little mischievous. I am quite sure that the noble Lord knows that the purpose of my amendment was not to increase selection; indeed, I believe that my view on selection has been made clear more than once in this Chamber. It was in fact a probing amendment to try to ascertain from the Minister some clearer understanding as to the definition of the terms "ability", "high ability" and "aptitude". I am grateful to the Minister for the explanation which I shall read with care and interest in Hansard tomorrow in an effort to consider the matter further. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 26 not moved.]
Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 27:
Page 56, line 32, leave out ("towards complying with") and insert ("in considering").
§ The noble Lord said: This is a particularly detailed amendment but one which is important as regards complying with the wishes that the Minister expressed earlier; namely, that there should be a level playing field and that, as he said in relation to the Secretary of State, she or even he should not prejudge the situation.991
As I read the phrase in paragraph (2), that is exactly what local education authorities are being asked to do. The words used are.
the governing body reasonably form the opinion that the authority have not made satisfactory progress towards"—
and I emphasise the following words,
complying with the request".
In order not to prejudge the issue and to provide a level playing field, I propose that we delete the words "towards complying with" the request and insert those much more neutral and simple words, "in considering" the request. That seems to me to be more exactly what the Minister wished to do when he spoke earlier. I am, therefore, confident of moving my first successful amendment in this Chamber. I beg to move.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I hope on this occasion that the Minister's stony heart will relent just a little. It is not a big thing for us to be asking. The amendment would at least remove the overt and blatant bias in the procedure. An LEA is not the obedient slave of any of its schools. That is one of the reasons that my party has taken great care to emphasise the word "partnership" between LEAs and schools in all educational matters.
Another advantage would be that the LEA for its part would have to acknowledge its duty to consider. It would be very difficult for it to get out of that duty. It would have to think deliberately and carefully, to inspect, to scrutinise and give attention to those proposals. It would also have to judge them considerately and fairly. Funnily enough, the Minister complained that I was not giving him enough information about languages and literature this evening.
However, I spent some time with the word "consider". The Oxford English Dictionary—and I do not mean the short one. I mean the full one—says that, according to Festus, a grammarian, it comes from sidus, sideris—a star—and speculates that perhaps to consider is in some way to stargaze. There is a very mysterious origin to the word. It may have been a term in augury or in astrology but, if so, it is odd that it is unknown to the Latin writers. At all events, it is a useful and neutral word implying an open mind, making a judgment on the available evidence. Its contemporary value is perhaps best seen in the judge's instructions to the jury at the end of a case to retire, "and consider your verdict".
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
We are having an absolutely delightful discussion. I am very sorry that I did not bring with me my full copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. Naturally, coming from Oxford, I have a very large one. Of course, I would have looked up both "consider" and "comply" so that I could fully follow the noble Lord in his argument which I found to be extremely interesting.
However, I shall now return to the slightly more serious point about the amendment. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will be able to explain this, but is not the point the fact that this section of the schedule refers to the governing body of county schools publishing proposals for admissions apt to be selective?
992 But clearly, if a school decides to undertake the publication of such proposals to the local authority—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, will be able to correct me on this—it is rather like one of those Latin questions which expects the answer, "yes"; indeed, I believe it is correct to say that that begins with nonne.
§ Baroness Young
I thought so. In any case, that is what would be expected. If they do not get it, "considering" the matter is not of course the same answer at all. Naturally, if they are putting forward the request, they want the answer "yes" and will not be satisfied with anything else. The paragraph reads:the governing body reasonably form the opinion that the authority have not made satisfactory progress towards complying with the request".That is something which they would not accept because they expect them to comply with the request, and to "consider" the request is much weaker and, from their point of view, completely unsatisfactory. Therefore, I cannot see any reason for changing the wording and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will say so.
§ Lord Henley
It is many years since I did what I suppose would now be called my Latin GCSE but what was then called an O-level. I thought that I had escaped forever from the great nonne and num questions. I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding me of the distinction between the two. I shall bear that in mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that he thought that this was the most reasonable of all amendments and that, for once, he hoped that he might be successful. Perhaps later on in the Bill we might be able to see reason on certain matters. I presume, although I have not looked it up in today's newspapers, that it is not the noble Lord's birthday today. Indeed, I am not minded to be quite so generous. But, having said that, even if it were his birthday today, I am not sure that I would be quite so generous.
I was interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that he was going to talk about specialist schools. I thought, for once, that we might tease out from the noble Lord what the Opposition's policy is on such schools, other than the fact that we have been told that we think that the Official Opposition—and I must always bear in mind the fact that I must refer to the two Opposition parties—are quite keen on specialist schools but have not yet been able to enunciate just what their policy is on admissions for those specialist schools, and what freedoms they should be given.
The noble Lord said that he would talk about specialist schools, but all we heard about was the OED (The Oxford English Dictionary) the full version thereof in many volumes. I believe that you can actually get it in two volumes now, but in very small print which necessitates the use of a magnifying glass to read it. I have neither and I make use of the smaller, shorter version which comes in one or two volumes.
993 Quite rightly, my noble friend Lady Young asked about the amendment. Indeed, it is the amendment that we should be discussing. Amendment No. 27 links to the provision for encouraging grammar schools, especially by giving county schools the right of appeal in cases where they wish to become grammar schools but are blocked by the local education authority. If the governing body wants its school to become a grammar school, it must start by asking its local education authority to publish statutory proposals to that effect. If the LEA agrees, or if it negotiates alternative arrangements with the governing body, there is no problem. Paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 is intended to deal with a situation where the LEA wants to block the governors' plans. It is right that the governors ought to be allowed to put forward those plans. That is why paragraph 5(2) gives the governing body a right to publish its own proposals if, two months or more after receiving the governors' requests, the LEA has not made satisfactory progress towards complying with the request. "Complying" means a degree of action and does not mean—as I think the noble Lord's amendment implies—"in considering". I think there is considerable difference between the words "complying" and "considering" as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, would be the first to agree. What it means is the LEA consulting on, or publishing, proposals and not just simply within the confines of the education committee—a committee that many of us have sat on in different LEAs up and down the country—not debating whether what the governors want is a good idea.
Amendment No. 27 would mean that the LEA could use words to prevent governors publishing their own proposals. For example, as I said, if the education committee discussed the governors' request during its two-month period it would be difficult for the governors to argue that the LEA had not made satisfactory progress in considering their request if the LEA had perhaps considered it but at excessive length and wanted to consider it even further. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will recognise that—despite the fact it is not his birthday, and despite the fact that even if it was his birthday I would not be prepared to agree to this—I am not prepared to agree to this tonight.
§ Lord Tope
I should start by reassuring the Minister that it is indeed not my birthday today. But as I now know that he is so sympathetically disposed towards me when it is my birthday, I shall ensure that he has long notice of my date of birth and then we can arrange appropriate business for that occasion. I shall leave the Minister to look it up.
I am grateful to the Minister for considering my amendment. I am deeply sad and disappointed that he did not feel able to comply with it. I remain unconvinced. It is of course part of the difference between us that whereas I wish there to be some reasonable consideration of requests for selective schools, the Government's stated policy quite clearly is to push ahead as hard as possible. That is at the root of our disagreement. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.994
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 28:
Page 57, line 5, at end insert—
("(6) The Secretary of State shall before determining proposals for a change of character published under sub-paragraph (2) consult the local education authority and have regard to its advice.
(7) The Secretary of State shall publish criteria for the determination of proposals under this paragraph and shall have regard to them in reaching any such determination.
(8) The criteria to which sub-paragraph (7) above refers shall include—
§ The noble Baroness said: This amendment is extremely clear and easily understood. Its purpose is to ensure that decisions by the Secretary of State to allow a county school to become a grammar school against the wishes of its maintaining authority are taken according to published criteria and only after consultation. It undermines the proper duty of an LEA as the admissions authority to allow an individual school to become fully selective on its own initiative and against the considered wishes of its authority. That will happen if the Bill is left unamended.
§ The amendment seeks to ameliorate this difficulty by requiring the Secretary of State to follow published criteria in determining such cases and to consult the LEA before reaching a decision. The specific criteria proposed cover the need to maintain choice for all parents—this is quite clearly a government stated objective—and the need to assess the impact on neighbouring schools and areas and to avoid damaging their interests. I refer to the points made so effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, with regard to the 18 per cent. of children with special needs. I refer also to the promotion of opportunities of pupils with special needs in general, including those with statements. I think that it is extremely clear. I beg to move.
§ Lord Henley
I have now done my research and discovered that the birthday of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, was on St. Andrew's Day 1943. He is therefore just under 10 years older than I. Sadly, the way parliamentary business runs, there are not many days when legislative business is happening at about that time of the year, bearing in mind the Queen's Speech and all that. However, I am sure that the appropriate authorities will always bear in mind that business of a sort that interests the noble Lord will come up around about then, and we might be able to do what we can.
I think this is the final amendment relating to the proposed right of appeal in Schedule 1 for county schools which wish to become grammar schools. The amendment would require my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to consult the LEA and to have regard to its advice before determining the governors' 995 proposals. It would also require the Secretary of State to have regard to certain published criteria in coming to her decision.
The first of those requirements for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to consult the LEA is, I believe, unnecessary. Arrangements for the publication, approval and implementation of proposals will be almost identical to those already applying for voluntary schools. That will mean that the LEA will have a statutory right of objection to any proposals published by the governors of a county school. As of now, the Secretary of State will take all objections into account in determining her proposals. So she should and she has no choice but to do so. To ask her to consult the LEA beforehand seems unnecessary, particularly in the light of the remarks that I made earlier when I said that any LEA worth its salt would make its views known. It would be a particularly odd LEA that did not make its views known. No doubt the noble Lord will be able to inform me of the kind of LEAs that do not make their views known. However, I am sure it is something that they would take trouble about.
The second requirement for my right honourable friend is to consult the LEA before determining its proposals. Obviously that would only delay her consideration. Again, as I said, it would have ample opportunity to make its concerns quite clear to her during the two month period for objections. As regards the second requirement that the Secretary of State should have regard to criteria set out in primary legislation, again I see no reason at all why this is necessary. Criteria for determining proposals from voluntary and grant-maintained schools for 100 per cent. selection are not set out in any statute but they are matters which obviously my right honourable friend has to bear in mind. It is the intention of the provision to create a level playing field for county schools as opposed to voluntary and grant-maintained schools in this respect. I think that is right.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and any of her successors, whether they be "hers" or "hims", will consider all proposals on their merits. In considering proposals from county schools for 100 per cent. selection, she will as a matter of course take into account all the relevant factors including the contribution the proposals will make to increasing choice, diversity and the quality of education in that area. I think this amendment would simply add an unnecessary step to my right honourable friend's consideration of proposals and would create an inconsistency with the equivalent arrangements for voluntary and grant-maintained schools.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
We on these Benches regard that response as unsatisfactory. There are still further amendments that deal with this area of consultation. In seeking the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment, I give notice that it is an issue to which we shall wish to return at later stages of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.996
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 57, line 18. leave out ("(if any)").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 29 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 64. The purpose of these amendments is to remove the possibility that admission authorities or GM governing bodies can carry out absolutely no consultation on proposals to increase selection. Under the existing system proposals for significant changes in the character of a school have to be published and these proposals are made available to interested parties. The systems differ slightly as between county, voluntary and grant-maintained schools, but in many cases will fall to be determined by the Secretary of State as of right. Any others will be so determined where there are objections which cannot be dealt with.
§ The basic point is that the publication procedure is designed to give parents, neighbouring local education authorities and other bodies, such as the relevant further education funding council, the opportunity to learn of the proposals and lodge objections. There is appropriate ministerial oversight and intervention. The purpose of the system is to seek to ensure that the pattern of provision is coherent across the needs of differing parts of the country.
§ The Bill gets rid of all that in cases of selection up to the new proposed thresholds. Instead, the admissions authority or the governing body concerned is given the lightest of duties in respect of public consultation; namely, to carry out such consultation, "if any", as appears to it to be appropriate. The wording betrays an attitude which appears to view consultation as less, rather than more, likely to be appropriate. The consequence is that parents, for example, of children in the schools concerned or in feeder schools may well not learn of proposals to increase selection and thus will have no opportunity to comment.
§ It might be thought surprising that a well-tried system should be cast aside. The history of education reorganisations in many parts of the country shows how sensitive proposals are which attempt to alter the character of schools. The Government are well aware of the importance of this issue to parents. The amendment seeks to remove the words in the Bill which would allow no consultation to take place. By removing the words "if any", not only is the loophole plugged, but the sense of the wording is altered towards a presumption in favour of consultation rather than against it. I beg to move.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
I listened very carefully to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, on this matter. As I read this part of the schedule, Section 6 begins with consultation on proposals which do not need to be published. That is its starting-point on all these matters. The amendment seeks consultation despite the fact that these are proposals that do not need to be published. In effect it seems somewhat to contradict the purpose of the provision.
997 If, however, a school is contemplating this course—which it would do should it seek to increase the numbers of pupils to be admitted to it by reference to ability or aptitude—it would presumably have considered whether or not this was something that was likely to be successful and for which there was a demand. It would have found out from parents and others who were interested that it was something they wished to do. So a measure of consultation would have taken place before a school embarked upon this course at all. I therefore do not see what purpose would be served in asking for a consultation on proposals which do not need to be published. The amendment seems to me to be quite contradictory. I shall be very interested to hear my noble friend's reply.
§ Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
I support Amendments Nos. 29 and 64. The purpose of these very modest amendments is to try to remove the possibility of admission authorities or grant-maintained governing bodies carrying out no consultation on proposals to increase selection.
Under the present system proposals for significant changes in the character of a school have to be published so that parents, neighbouring local education authorities and any other relevant bodies have an opportunity to know about the proposals and an opportunity to object. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, said, there is also appropriate ministerial oversight and intervention.
In the past that was always considered necessary in order to try to achieve some sort of coherence across the whole country. The Bill sweeps all that away in the case of selection up to the new proposed thresholds. All a governing body need do is carry out such consultation, if any, as appears to it to be appropriate. All that these amendments suggest is that the words "if any" should be removed.
I find the inclusion of the words "if any" so casual as to be breathtaking. The wording implies that it is more than likely that there need be no consultation at all. There is certainly no obligation whatsoever in the Bill on governing bodies to carry out any. These amendments therefore seek to remove the words that would allow no consultation to take place. By removing these words the sense of the wording is, I hope, altered towards a presumption in favour of consultation rather than against it. I cannot understand in principle why people would stand against that.
I hope that the Minister will accept these very reasonable amendments. If he does not, I shall be very interested to hear why he thinks that the parents of children in the school in question, or in feeder schools, should not have an unqualified right to be consulted.
§ Lord Henley
There are in effect two questions before us on this amendment. I shall address both. One is a simple point about whether the words "if any" should stay in the Bill; that is, whether there should be consultation on any case. Secondly, we move on to the wider question as to what should constitute that 998 consultation should consultation take place. It is important for me, for the sake of putting it on the record, to say what consultation should consist of.
Starting with the first, the amendments seek to remove the words "if any" from descriptions of the coverage of consultation when statutory proposals are not required but would probably have relatively little practical effect on the scope of the legislation but merely serve to obscure the application of the provision in question. The remaining words would still allow those proposing changes not to consult if that was considered appropriate.
It is no accident that the Bill is drafted in this way. The words "if any" make that clear. Although we fully accept that consultation is important—and I shall go on to spell out that consultation where proposed changes would have a perceptible effect on the functioning of the school—we are also aware that there are bound to be some changes so small that formal consultation would be a waste of time, effort and money for all concerned.
It may therefore be helpful if I say a little about the approach that we are taking on consultation for those changes that do not require the publication of proposals. That includes those proposals which are currently not significant as well as those which would be covered by the new provisions.
I start by assuring the Committee that we take very seriously the need for full consultation with those who have a legitimate interest in proposed change. I think that we have a pretty good record on this on statutory proposals. Having moved to the Department for Education and Employment from the Ministry of Defence, I cannot remember a department that consults on more matters than this one. Certainly, I do not remember my previous departments—and in particular the Ministry of Defence—consulting to quite the same extent, but that might say something about different approaches.
Existing legislation already requires those bringing forward proposals to consult such persons as appear to them to be appropriate. That guidance is given in Circular 23/94, which I am sure is familiar to all Members of the Committee. That circular sets out in detail those who should be consulted for various types of proposals. If those concerned do not act reasonably in deciding whom to consult, they are rightly open to challenge in the courts. It is that type of model that we seek to follow in the present Bill, particularly Clause 5 and paragraph 6 of Schedule 1, which requires those proposing to make changes to consider whom to consult in the light of guidance from the Secretary of State. That brings within the ambit of legislation not only changes that no longer require the publication of proposals but also non-statutory changes in admission arrangements. As I have mentioned, that includes changes that are not at present subject to a statutory duty to consult. So in some respects the Bill will strengthen the current requirements.
However, in order to cater for very minor changes in admissions arrangements, we felt that it was right for the legislation to allow for the possibility that there could 999 he circumstances where, having considered the issue of consultation, the governors properly decided that that was not necessary. This will not, however, weaken the requirements to consult those who have legitimate interests, including other schools in the area that may be affected.
Perhaps I may illustrate what we have in mind by reference to proposals from grant-maintained schools to introduce selection. In such cases, we would expect the guidance to say that those whom the Secretary of State considers should be consulted will include any local education authority that is likely to be affected, the funding agency for schools, other schools in the area, whether county, voluntary or GM—including, obviously, the feeder primary schools—and parents and teachers in the area who may be affected. If a school has a particular religious foundation, it should be the appropriate diocesan authorities and, in the case of non-diocesan schools, any connected or other charitable body.
The guidance would be likely to say that the schools which already had an element of selection would still need to consider carefully whether to consult on further proposed increases in their selective proportions. But, depending on local circumstances, they may well consider that consulting on an increase of up to 5 per cent. in the same subject may not be necessary, provided the change would not take them above the threshold of 50 per cent. If it were proposed to increase the percentage by selecting an additional subject, then consultation would be required.
We also intend that the guidance should give advice on the procedures to be followed in carrying out the consultation. This would be likely to indicate that what was proposed should be clearly set out in writing, that interested parties should be given a reasonable period, not less than a month, in which to comment and that there should be a clear statement on where comments should be sent and the final date of receipt.
The most appropriate style of consultation may vary. We would normally expect it to include a notice to the press, letters to key bodies and meetings with those parents most directly affected. We would expect copies of projections to be available in a public place such as the local library and, where meetings are held, we would expect a written record to be made of all the points raised. We would of course—and I stress this—wish to consult on the precise terms of the guidance that we will offer before it is issued.
I hope that I have said enough not only to give the Committee a clearer idea of what we have in mind, but also to reassure the Committee that we have taken very seriously the need to ensure that adequate consultation takes place wherever and whenever required. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will feel that their amendment is not necessary.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
Before the Minister sits down, could he answer two questions? First, would he expect the level of consultation to be no less than that which pertains now when a local authority Secondly, would he care to consider 1000 consulting before Report stage of the Bill the record for local authorities? It is my experience and that of colleagues, I am sure, that to allow a month for consultation when parental feelings run high and several institutions are involved would be inadequate. I should not like to be the person who tried to carry it out within that timescale.
If the Minister is saying that he does not intend any reduction in the proper consultation but merely a change as to who makes the final decision, that would be interesting information to have.
§ Lord Henley
I mentioned Circular 23/94 and made it clear that I thought that what we propose would tighten up the position. I also said in considerable detail that we intended to consult on the guidance that the department would put out. As the noble Baroness is aware, there are certain guidelines on how long we should consult on certain matters. It would not be right for me to try to consult the local authority associations between now and Report stage because I do not think it would be long enough. However, I am sure that they will make their views known to us between now and that stage.
What I do make clear is that the guidance that the Secretary of State will put out will be subject to consultation before the final guidance goes out. That guidance will have at least the minimum of 10 or 12 weeks—I forget what it is—for consultation on those matters as appropriate.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
For the record, I did not ask for the views of the local authorities on the guidance. I merely asked that the Minister sought some factual information about the timescale involved, whichever sector of the schools it is. Consultation affecting a large group of schools, including feeder schools, to my knowledge cannot be carried out to the satisfaction of all parents concerned in four weeks from beginning to end.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
I perfectly understand the noble Baroness's point. It has been put to my department on a number of occasions when consultation has necessarily, for one reason or another, had to be curtailed. Knowing the school year, it can be quite difficult to do it in those timescales.
My point was that my right honourable friend will consult on the guidance that she ought to put out. There may be certain people who have strong views about the month I mentioned as a possibility. On certain occasions, if it is a month in term time, a month might be appropriate. I accept that that month would not necessarily be appropriate if it were a month starting on 1st August and extending from then. But obviously those are points on which there must be consultation before my right honourable friend issues that guidance. But she would like to put out her views on guidance following the passage of this Bill and then consult—I am not talking about a consultation of merely a 1001 month; it goes wider and is not merely one school's consultation on the whole guidance—for the appropriate length of time.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
I thank the Minister for his long and interesting replies. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, for her contribution. We must go away and look at this matter. As the noble Baroness said in her response to a previous amendment, this amendment refers to a range of anxieties which are very widespread, not only on these two Benches but among many other people.
Before I sit down, let me respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Our amendment precisely queries the type of consultation provided for in the Bill on matters which do not, technically speaking, have to be published. That provision is in the Bill and my amendment attempted to address it.
As I said, I am grateful to the Minister for the length and detail with which he replied. I thought that he went some way at any rate toward recognising the strength of some of our comments. For that reason, I rather wish that he would accept these very small amendments or think again about them, if only because the phrasing does not, I believe, reflect any part of his answer to us. I shall leave that thought in his mind. Meanwhile I withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 30 not moved.]
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Duty of governing body to review selective admission policy]:
Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 31:
Page 2, line 9, leave out ("unless") and insert ("where").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 32, 34 and 35. We turn now to Clause 2 of the Bill which requires governing bodies of secondary schools to consider annually whether to introduce selection, if they do not already have it, or, if they do have selection, whether to increase the proportion which is selected.
§ This amendment follows the same requirement brought in and imposed on schools to consider whether to seek grant-maintained status each year. It is notable that since that provision was brought in and schools have been required each year to consider whether to seek grant-maintained status, the number of schools deciding to do so has plummeted. Although considering it every year, there are now almost no schools which decide to seek grant-maintained status.
§ Given that record of what I would consider success, although the Minister might not do so, I was somewhat tempted to leave the clause as it stands. It might indeed be the most effective way to stop an increase in selection were we to follow the precedent of the grant-maintained schools. However, I can resist that temptation. My views about selection are such that I do not even want to take the risk. Therefore, the purpose of the amendment is to require the provision only to apply to schools currently 1002 admitting on a wholly selective basis and to require their governing bodies annually to consider the case for reducing the level of selection.
§ The arguments for this amendment are the arguments against allowing a higher proportion of places to be selected. As was said at Second Reading by myself and other speakers, there is little public support for a general reintroduction of selective education in this country. The level of examination results has been rising steadily under a system in which the great majority of school-age pupils are educated in comprehensive schools. Governing bodies of schools are now required annually to consider the case for proposing grant-maintained status and Clause 2 follows that precedent.
§ However, what is clear is that the effect of Clause 2 on county schools will be particularly divisive since the governing body is not the admission authority. It is difficult to see what motive Ministers might have in mind for making that annual requirement other than to seek to put pressure on LEAs to enable schools to select up to the new threshold. The result is clearly intended to be a creeping process whereby the proportion of selected places in the system rises, with the Bill setting out a number of paths along which selection can be expanded. The presumed effect of the annual consideration by governors is to seek to legitimise that process as well as seeking to ensure that the issue is raised regularly within county and voluntary sectors.
§ It would be preferable if, rather than pursuing that process, the Government were to recognise that the burden of proof rests with those who wish to move to greater selection rather than the other way round. On that basis it will be logical to ask the governing bodies of selective schools to consider reducing their proportion. The clause would then be more targeted, applying only to those governing bodies whose schools included a proportion of selected places, and more focused by placing the argument where it is most relevant.
§ Governing bodies already have many and onerous duties and there is increasing difficulty in many areas in persuading busy people with relevant experience to take on that role. All school governors know that their agenda and responsibilities have grown enormously in recent years. The onus is surely on the Government to explain why all governing bodies should have to add what for most of them is an irrelevance to their already substantial pile of business. I beg to move.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
I intervene briefly, largely because my name is attached to the amendment. From these Benches we wholeheartedly support the amendment moved with great clarity and force by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.
I do not wish to repeat something I said earlier in the debate today in relation to my views and those of my noble friend on grant-maintained schools. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, stole one of my lines when he said that we had far better leave this the way it is and let it wither on the vine; that is exactly what is happening with grant-maintained schools, even in the face of the many denials we heard today from the Minister. They are simply not succeeding.
1003 The provisions are just another way, in the context of the Bill, of providing greater selection. Our views have been made clear on that and I hope the Committee will consider those views. If the Government are so keen—as they obviously are—on an annual consideration, it is logical and fair that the governing body, where the school is wholly selective, should be given the opportunity of saying that it wishes to reduce it to some extent.
The Minister may not agree, but I believe that there is a movement in the country these days against selection; there is no doubt at all about that. It may be that the governors of a school of this type would wish to reduce the proportion of selected pupils. We support the amendment.
§ Baroness Young
I really do not think the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, can quite get away with his remark about grant-maintained schools failing. The fact is that these are very popular schools. We have already heard from the Minister that there are more than 1,000 of them. Many more schools would go grant maintained if there was not a sustained campaign at a local level against them.
When I made this point at Second Reading the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said that she was amazed that I should make that statement. I would not make that statement if I did not know it to be true. I could, but I shall not in this setting, give the details of, at any rate, one school that is known to me that was prevented from going grant maintained by a sustained campaign. I have had a great deal of evidence brought to me from other authorities where that has gone on.
The truth of the matter is that it is very easy indeed to frighten parents. They think that they are going into the unknown, they are not sure whether the school will be financially viable, they are not sure whether it will collapse, they are not sure who will be teaching, and so on. It is their children who are involved and so they play safe. It is therefore very unfair and untrue to say that grant-maintained schools have not been a success. If there are not more of them, the reason is not hard to find. I would not want anyone to think that grant-maintained schools had not been successful. Bearing in mind the old adage that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, why would such distinguished people wish to send their children there if they were not very good schools indeed? I hope that we shall not hear any more in the Committee discussions about grant-maintained schools being a failure. They are not. They are a success story.
Another point has been raised about selective schools reducing the number of selected pupils. After all, selective schools could choose to do that if they so wished, but on the whole selective schools are satisfied with what they are doing. I cannot see the purpose of the amendment except to try to make it as difficult for other schools to do what they would like as grant-maintained schools find it is to do what frequently they would like to do today. I very much hope that the Minister will not accept the amendment.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
Perhaps I may respond to what the noble Baroness said about me. I did 1004 not say and have never said—I repeat it again—that grant-maintained schools fail. That is not the point. As I said earlier this evening, I am sure that some grant-maintained schools are highly successful, some are moderately successful and some probably fail, as with most schools. What I did say—I repeat it again and I have said it many times—is that what the Government have said about introducing grant-maintained schools has failed. The noble Baroness said that 1,000 schools are now grant maintained. What she did not say is that 25,000 schools are not grant maintained. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, and as we have said many times from these Benches, the applications from governing bodies to become grant maintained have fallen to a trickle—either a trickle or they have stopped altogether. Where ballots have been held, in many cases schools have voted against becoming grant maintained. That is a most peculiar definition of success.
§ Baroness Young
If I have misunderstood the noble Lord, I apologise completely. I certainly do not want to misrepresent what he has said in any way. He said that the number of grant-maintained schools is not increasing. That is a fact. I would agree with him on that. It is not increasing, first, because a good many parents have been intimidated into voting against such a move. Secondly, when one party says that were it to win the election it would do away with grant-maintained schools, or at least fundamentally alter them so that they would cease to be the independent schools that they presently are, not surprisingly, a good many people decide that they do not wish to risk something when they do not know what the outcome will be. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, because of his party's commitment to various bureaucratic arrangements, of which this would be one, it has been very successful in the past in stopping a great many things which would have helped a lot of people.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
This argument is rather extraordinary. It is plain that if every voluntary or county school were obliged to agree to consider selection every year it would become an absolute formality. Most people would not even consider it, but they would be able to say that the matter had been on the agenda and had been discussed for perhaps two minutes. Is it then really a proposition that all schools should at least consider genuinely being, even in part, selective? It seems to me that the number of children who are there to be selected would soon dry up. How could it be that all schools should be selective schools? What is going to happen to the other children who are not going to be selected? If all schools became selective, the number of places for unselected children would contract. But they have to be educated somewhere. I cannot see the realism behind this clause. I do not particularly support the suggestion that schools should be allowed or forced to decide whether to be less selective, but this is an empty clause. It is not a 1005 particularly helpful contribution, but I believe that there is something very weird about the argument behind this clause.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
Perhaps I may add to the argument which the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has just made. I made the point earlier that it seems to me that selectivity can apply only to schools which are over-subscribed. Therefore, how can it be that schools which are under-subscribed should consider this policy? There is no way in which it can be made to operate. I believe that I am only making the same point as the noble Baroness made.
§ Lord Henley
I start by assuring the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, that I do not believe that "Thomas" is a horrible name. We even have a cat named "Thomas" if that is of any consolation to the noble Baroness. I accept that Members of the Committee opposite—and I refer to both Benches—simply do not like selection or grant-maintained schools. They are frightened of what parents might want and believe that they or their friends on the local education authorities know best.
Perhaps I may correct one or two of the assumptions of the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington. He spoke about a number of failing grant-maintained schools. I accept that there are obviously such schools failing. There are also failing non-grant-maintained schools and there are successful grant-maintained schools and LEA schools. That is part of the diversity. If the noble Lord looks at the figures and the annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector he will find that, of those inspected, about 1 per cent. of grant-maintained schools were found to be failing. Of those which have not taken the option of going grant maintained the figure was about 3 per cent. That speaks for itself and shows how well the grant-maintained schools are doing and how well they can do.
I repeat the call I made earlier that many more schools should consider the option of going grant maintained. I am not going down the line that the noble Lord tempted me to follow as to why there are not more grant-maintained schools. We discussed that at great length before dinner, if I remember rightly. It is quite clear that many more schools would like to become grant maintained if they were offered the option of the ballot, but very few have had that option. I imagine that that is largely because of the influence of the LEA governors, who will not allow the parents of those schools to have a ballot on becoming grant-maintained.
I come to the point that my noble friend Lady Young made very effectively—that should the party opposite, sadly, get into government it will quite simply neuter the grant-maintained schools, and there is no question about that at all. They say, "Yes, they will survive under a different name. They would be called 'foundation schools'" but there would be a number of LEA governors on them and their funding would be provided by the LEAs. If that is not scrapping the grant-maintained process I do not know what is.
1006 I come now to the amendments themselves. They would turn this particular clause on its head. They would require wholly or—dare I say it to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, despite what he said—partially-selective schools to consider reducing or ending the proportion of selective school places they offer and other schools not to consider introducing or extending selection. We believe that selection is an important matter which deserves proper consideration. It is a matter that has not been properly considered in the education world over the past few years. We want schools which are not wholly selective to consider introducing or extending selection as part of their strategy for improving standards and responding to parental wishes. It may be that they come to a different view and do not want to consider selection, but that is a matter for them. We think it right that they should consider it once a year, just as once a year they should consider whether to go grant-maintained.
Again, I direct my next remark at the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, who implied that there was no parental desire to go selective. He suggested that the majority of parents were against it. According to at least one survey, parents want to see more, not less, selection in many areas. A recent survey by the Association of Teachers & Lecturers showed that a majority of parents were in favour of selection. If the noble Lord looks at any of the selective schools up and down the country, he will find that their places are over-subscribed four or five times over. That seems to express a desire on the part of the parents in those areas to have the selective option. Sadly, in many parts of the country, there is no selective option that parents can pursue.
There is nothing to prevent a school considering whether or not to seek to reduce or to end its selective arrangements. However, we have no intention of requiring those schools so to do. This clause does not place any requirement on schools to introduce or extend selection. It requires the governing bodies of the schools to consider the matter. For that reason, I hope that the Committee will reject the amendment.
§ Lord Tope
It has been a most interesting debate—albeit a debate mostly about grant-maintained schools, which is not what the amendments were about. However, this debate has elicited for the first time—in my hearing at least—an admission from the Government Benches that their grant-maintained policy has failed—
§ Lord Henley
At no point did I say that the process had failed. I said that far too few schools had been given the option of having a ballot on whether to go grant-maintained. One out of 10 schools has had a ballot; of those, some 75 per cent. have agreed to go grant-maintained. The other nine out of 10 parents of 1007 secondary school children in this country have not been given the option of their school holding a ballot on whether to go grant-maintained.
§ Lord Henley
The noble Lord cannot get away with that. What I said was that they had not had the option of having a ballot and that the other 90 per cent. would like to have a ballot. Why does not the noble Lord encourage Liberal LEA councillors who are school governors to encourage their schools to have ballots to see whether they want to go grant-maintained? But no, they will not give them that option.
§ Lord Tope
I want to return to the amendments in a moment, but quite a number of schools have had a ballot and an increasing number, even on ballot, are rejecting that option. The suggestion that nearly every governing body and nearly every teacher-governor, parent-governor and co-opted governor is cowed into submission by a small minority of LEA governors and into deciding not to have a ballot is just ludicrous. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of school governing bodies are deciding not to have a ballot on grant-maintained status because they see no need to do so and no purpose in wasting the time and money involved. It is nevertheless a fact that the Government are accepting that their policy on grant-maintained schools has failed. Irrespective of whether they wish to blame bullying LEAs for that, the fact remains that their policy has failed.
I should like to return to the amendment, which does not deal with grant-maintained schools but with county and voluntary schools. I think that we have made a useful point. This debate has elicited an admission which I was not expecting but which it is useful to have. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 32 to 35 not moved.]
Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 36:
Page 2, line 24, after ("increase") insert ("or decrease").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 36. If governing bodies are to be required to consider increasing selection, it seems to me to be only fair and equitable that at the same time they also consider, where appropriate, decreasing selection. The purpose of the amendment is to turn a one-way street into a two-way street. I am sure that in the interests of fairness the Minister will accept this amendment.
§ Lord Henley
As no other noble Lord wishes to intervene I shall speak with even greater brevity than the noble Lord, Lord Tope. There is nothing to prevent a school from considering whether to reduce or end its selective arrangements; but we do not require it so to do. This clause does not place any requirement on 1008 schools to introduce or extend selection, only for governors to consider the matter. As I made clear earlier, the Government believe that insufficient consideration has been given to increasing or extending selection over the past few years, and it is therefore right that schools should so do.
§ Lord Tope
I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I realise that it is not my birthday and that I am not going to get another surprise. When we discussed grant-maintained schools and alleged bullying by LEAs I might have said that it would be open to any school, if parents really wanted to go grant-maintained as the Minister asserted but only 20 per cent. requested it, to hold a ballot. One wonders why that ballot has still not been held. However, the present amendment has tested the water, and I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 37:
Page 2, line 24, at end insert—
("(2A) In undertaking its consideration in accordance with this section, a governing body shall have regard to criteria which the Secretary of State shall specify after consultation with persons representative of local education authorities, which shall include—
(2B) In undertaking its consideration a governing body shall also have regard to any additional matters relating to the area which the local education authority may consider relevant and which it has notified to the governing body.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 37. In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 38. The purpose of Amendment No. 37 is to ensure that when schools consider whether to introduce or increase selection by ability or aptitude as part of their annual review they should have regard to the implications of such a decision on other schools, local admission arrangements and other local matters, including, for example, transport arrangements. Transport arrangements are more important in some parts of the country than in others, not least in rural areas. The arrangements of rural schools, particularly in times of bad weather, can be wrecked in preparing children for examinations if rural transport is not up to standard and in order. Therefore, the question of transport arrangements is not a light one.
§ All schools are part of a wider community. We place a great deal of importance on the community aspect of schools. A decision by one school to introduce or increase the proportion of pupils selected by reference to ability or aptitude will have an impact of varying magnitude on other schools within its area and the local educational community. In certain cases the effect will radiate far beyond the area of the local education authority because people will be attracted to certain 1009 schools from well beyond the LEA boundary. No school should be able to take such a decision without regard to the full implications of its actions. We believe that properly set out criteria that are complied with will help in achieving a good result after this. We see all of this against the background of competition. The schools concerned will be placing themselves in competition with other schools in the area. Competition, as I have said before, is a form of civilised warfare, just as boxing is a form of homicide. It has to have rules or people would be killed. People did of course get killed. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, shakes her head and frowns slightly. I refer her, since we were talking about literature earlier, to Book 6 of Virgil's Aeneid where, in a boxing match, I think someone does come off very badly indeed.
My point is that competing schools must obey rules to limit damage to other schools in their area and community. It is not enough to be confined to one's own self interest. One has a duty to other people:
No man is an Island".
The amendment is concerned primarily with the quality of the referee.
§ The criteria to which schools ought to have regard before considering their decisions should include, I think, four things: first, the impact on other schools. Changing the admission arrangements to select pupils by reference to ability or aptitude is more than likely to alter the range of ability of pupils in other schools. The selected require the unselected. The second is the implications for all children within the relevant age range within the area. A school which chooses to increase the proportion of the pupils it selects by reference to ability or aptitude effectively extends the geographical area from which those pupils are recruited. That means that some children who might previously have attended that school will now have to go elsewhere. The third is that failing to meet parental preferences for local schools, because selected pupils from further afield are given places, will have potentially damaging effects on the relationship between schools and their local communities. That has been seen to happen in many cases so far.
§ The fourth is that if there are no locally agreed and co-ordinated admissions policies, parents are likely to be faced with a bewildering array of complex admissions procedures involving tests and interviews at a large number of schools. Some will thrive on that. There are some people—usually in the middle class—who adore the kind of complexity and puzzle-solving requirements which are necessary to get the child into the school that they prefer. There are others—perhaps lower wage earners—in the same community who have neither the time nor necessarily the intelligence themselves, or the ability to find the answers from others, to put them in a competitive position. The complexity of admissions procedures is discriminatory.
§ So the amendment would mean that the governing body had to consult those who would be affected by the decision to introduce or increase the number of pupils admitted by reference to ability or aptitude, and to set its 1010 decision within a local framework. Otherwise, measures which are intended to increase diversity might well lead to a real mismatch between what schools offer and what parents want. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
We from these Benches support these amendments. I shall not rehearse all the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Morris, covered so admirably. I would point out just two things: one of the themes of the amendments we are putting forward today is that we believe that individual schools are part of a wider community of schools. That is why the criteria to which we suggest they should have regard try to take on board the effect of the action of individual schools upon the wider school community and the community at large.
My second point concerns the potential for increasing LEA costs because children have to travel further to school. A primary school child is not obliged to travel far before the LEA has to pick up the costs. If a secondary school child has to travel more than three miles the LEA will contribute towards the costs.
LEAs in counties—I am a member of an LEA in a county—already spend enormous amounts of money on school transport. It is one of the biggest single elements of the school budget. The idea that individual schools can, through the mechanism described by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, oblige the LEA to provide school transport when it already has places available for children in each locality is a most unfortunate result of some of the provisions in the Bill.
§ Lord Skidelsky
Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a question which interests me. She referred to the community of schools and the need for individual schools to have regard to what other schools in the community are doing. What does she mean by "community of schools"? Does she define it by area, by type, by catchment area or by LEA?
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
In my experience living in a small town in a shire county, the community of schools operates in several ways. All the primary schools in my division and the adjacent division are part of a group of schools which co-operate with each other in settling the difficulties of placing pupils exactly, deciding whether they need to make representations to local authorities for funding for some special approach and so forth. Whatever their problems, they tend to talk among themselves and to use the group as a way of improving the performance of the schools and sharing good practice. That is one group which operates in my small geographical area involving five or six primary schools. At secondary level, similar co-operative endeavours occur, despite the Government's recent efforts to put everyone at each other's throats by introducing a competitive economy in education. Co-operative efforts still occur between local schools sharing good practice and so forth.
§ Lord Henley
I am not sure that I fully share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on boxing. I was interested in his reference to Book 6 of the Aeneid and 1011 the fact that boxing took place with fatal consequences. Perhaps I may remind him that that was before the Queensberry rules had been formulated. The noble Lord ought to be grateful for the hereditary principle in formulating the Queensberry rules. We should be grateful to the former Marquess of Queensberry—
§ Lord Henley
I am grateful to the noble Lord. His amendments would require the governing bodies of county and voluntary secondary schools to have regard to criteria which the Secretary of State would be required to specify after consultation with local education authority representatives when undertaking their annual review of selection. The criteria will have to include the impact on other schools, the desirability of the admission arrangements in terms of the needs of all children in the area, the additional costs which might arise and any relevant criteria arising from information published by the Audit Commission. In addition, the governors would have to have regard to matters considered relevant by the local education authority.
I believe that that is pretty prescriptive. It is asking a lot and is setting down a great deal on the statute book which is unnecessary. I believe also that it introduces unnecessary extra bureaucracy. We believe that governing bodies are best placed to identify and be responsive to local needs and relevant factors. They do not need those factors spelt out in detail on the statute book.
I believe also that it undermines an important principle by which we set much store, although Members of the Committee obviously do not; namely, the principle of giving more responsibility to the schools themselves. Governing bodies are best placed to assess just how their schools should develop. It would be perverse to prescribe that long list of factors which governors should take into account when considering whether selection is right for their school and the parents whom they serve.
Moreover, as I implied earlier, it undermines the theory that governing bodies know best. The form which the annual consideration of selection should take must be a matter for the governing bodies themselves. Governors are in the best position to take an informed view of the wishes of local parents. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment so that we can move on swiftly to other amendments.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may press him on one matter which concerns me. It seems to me that as things stand, a governing body is able to take decisions which have financial consequences for others, in particular local authorities. I find that to be a disturbing principle. That matter was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and I am not sure that the Minister addressed that question.
§ Lord Henley
As I said, governors will obviously consult and talk to local people. If others have a view 1012 that serious financial consequences may arise, that is something which can be taken into account. But I do not believe that it would be right to undermine the right of governing bodies to consider those matters. I believe that those matters can be adequately considered and on some occasions—and I take the example of school transport—costs might rise on the one hand but diminish on the other.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
Before reaching a conclusion as to whether or not I should withdraw the amendment, is not the Minister concerned about the questions raised by the Audit Commission and its recommendations in Trading Places, which has been referred to before this evening? It recommends that, to make the current approach work better, central government should restate their support for local efforts to manage the supply and allocation of places; should encourage and support effective relationships between the LEAs and other bodies; should, to change the current approach, reconsider the existing policy framework by reviewing the consistency between existing policies and procedures; should consider options to give more effective powers to local agencies to plan provision, and so on. Can the Minister really ignore the whole of that?
§ Lord Henley
We have not ignored it. We dealt with Trading Places earlier today. I made it plain that we have seen quite a large fall in the number of surplus places in schools. We accept some of the points which the Audit Commission put to us. Obviously, we should like to see a further fall in the number of surplus places but, as the noble Lord knows full well, one can never totally eradicate the number of surplus places because it is right that there should always be a number of surplus places to cope with the degree of choice and selection which is required. As I made clear earlier, the Audit Commission's report raised very interesting questions and we shall consider those as appropriate.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I am grateful to the noble Lord for quite a long, detailed and sadly unsatisfactory reply. I shall need to look at it carefully. I shall read it tomorrow morning to see whether it reads as I have heard it. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 38 not moved.]
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ 10 p.m.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 39:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
OBJECTIONS ON NOTIFICATION TO PROPOSALS WHICH DO NOT NEED TO BE PUBLISHED
(" .—(1) Before determining whether to implement proposals to which by virtue of section 1 and Schedule 1 the publication procedure does not apply, the admission authority for a county or voluntary school shall give notice of them to every parent of every registered pupil at the school, such other parents, governing bodies of the schools affected by them or other persons as appear to the admission authority to be concerned.
(2) The provisions of this section shall apply in addition to requirements as to consultation in paragraph 6 of Schedule 1.
(3) Where the admission authority receive within two months of the date of notification objections exceeding in number a minimum which the Secretary of State shall specify in regulations it shall cause to take place a local public inquiry to he chaired by an independent person of suitable standing, and such an inquiry shall, after hearing such evidence and representations as it considers appropriate, prepare and publish a report making recommendations as to the proposals to which the admission authority shall have regard before determining whether to implement them.").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving the above amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 66. The purpose of the amendments is to put in place of the weak consultation requirements in the Bill a new and different procedure requiring admission authorities and governing bodies to notify parents and other interested persons and, where there is a significant number of objections, to cause a local public inquiry to take place on them.
The consultation requirements on admission authorities and governing bodies are quite astonishingly light under the terms of Schedule 1 and Clause 5. An admission authority or a grant-maintained school governing body seeking, for example, to increase selection up to its threshold need only undertake, as we have heard several times,
such consultation (if any) as appears to them to be appropriate".
As was argued in relation to Amendment No. 29, for example, those consultation requirements have the serious effect of cutting parents out from a proper voice in changes which will be of great importance to them.
§ The proposed new clause seeks to set out a better process whereby interested parties—and I mean all interested parties—starting with all parents of pupils at the school concerned, receive notification as to the changes which the admission authority may wish to make. That requirement is explicitly an addition to the weak requirement for consultation contained in Schedule 1.
§ As with the present procedure for the publication of notices, it is suggested that there should then be a two-month period within which objections can be lodged and, where these exceed a minimum prescribed by the Secretary of State—we do not wish to lay that down; indeed, we are quite content that the Secretary of State shall make a sensible and reasonable decision—then, and then only, should there be a local inquiry chaired by an independent person which can make recommendations. This is a different procedure from the status quo in that the Secretary of State does not determine the proposals to which these amendments apply. On the other hand, the proposal for local public inquiries is aimed in particular at giving parents and the local community the maximum opportunity to make their voice heard and for representations to be received from them. It seems only fair that the community's voice should be heard in a matter of this sort.
§ Without a provision of this kind in the Bill, the parents and the community at large will be seriously disadvantaged both in understanding the future character and shape of the school system and in acting for themselves and for their children in this extremely sensitive area to secure changes where proposals are 1014 unpopular. I am sure that even the Minister will agree that it is theoretically possible at least that some of those proposals might be unpopular.
§ No one who has been involved in such discussions can be in any doubt that the parents of the pupils in the schools concerned, and in the feeder primary schools and others in the area, feel very strongly indeed on such matters. Such feeder primary schools are extremely important to them because these people are looking for the schools to which their children will move on. Many of those people feel very strongly indeed about many of the proposals.
§ Therefore, the proposal for local planning inquiries is deliberately designed to enable views and expertise—indeed, often great expertise—to be deployed at the local level where they may most effectively be able to influence decisions of schools and of admission authorities. I beg to move.
§ Lord Tope
I warmly support this amendment which I think will put in place an infinitely better procedure for considering these matters than that proposed in the Bill. It is undeniably the case that on most occasions when a school proposes significant changes to its arrangements that affects not only that school and the pupils at that school but also neighbouring schools, the feeder schools and the pupils at those feeder schools who have some aspirations to go to the school in question.
This amendment would enable a process to be established whereby such proposals and the effect of such proposals can be properly, clearly and independently considered by the local community. It provides an opportunity for parents, for the school concerned, for other schools which may be adversely or even beneficially affected by the proposals and particularly for parents of pupils at the feeder schools all to have an opportunity to express their views and to enable those views to be properly considered and taken into account before decisions are taken.
If the Government really believe that their proposals are so enthusiastically supported by the vast majority of parents, they have nothing whatsoever to fear from a procedure such as this which gives the parents concerned the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of the Government's words. I beg to differ. I do not think that the Government assess the public mood correctly. But, equally, I am quite willing to have my views put to the test through the process proposed in this amendment.
For all those reasons I think that if this amendment were accepted it would go a considerable way towards allaying some of the concerns shared by Members of the Committee, certainly on this side of the Chamber, and most importantly of all concern expressed by parents and by all those concerned with and interested in education in this country. This is a useful amendment. It is an important proposal and it is one which will go a considerable way towards addressing the shortcomings of the Bill. I hope the Committee will feel able to accept it if it has the opportunity to do so.
§ Baroness Warnock
I too wish to support this amendment largely on the ground that the assumption 1015 that parents want schools to be more selective has not been proved. I also think it is odd that a Bill which is purportedly aimed at giving parents more choice should at this stage cut out the parental voice altogether and allow the decision to be made by the governing body alone. Although the governing body may know best, as the Minister said in another context, it is likely that it may know best in a rather limited sense; namely, that it knows what it thinks is in the interest of its particular school. On this kind of occasion parents may well not agree, and particularly the parents of children in the feeder schools who may have set their hearts on their children going to the school in question, because it is only the successful, over-subscribed schools that will aim to go selective. It is only they who can decide to select their pupils. Therefore ex hypothesi the school in question will be a successful school which parents wish their children to attend.
I therefore think it would be extremely good, as a kind of exercise in democracy, if the parents could be given a chance to raise an objection. If the objection comes only from parents who have children who are not in the category of those who are likely to be selected, they have every right to have their voice heard too. I refer especially—I say this boringly and repetitively—to those parents who have children with special educational needs, not necessarily with statements. Those parents should be allowed to see how this proposal strikes them, their children and their children's teachers. I warmly support this amendment.
§ Lord Skidelsky
It seems to me extraordinary the extent to which the Opposition parties want to go in order to impede rather minor increases in selectivity, because they are minor. The effects of these amendments—particularly Amendment No. 39, but also Amendment No. 41—would be to prevent any movement on this matter at all. Why is it that they are so frightened of a small increase in selection? The argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, is that only successful schools will be in a position to increase selection and, ex hypothesi, that would mean that other schools would be deprived of pupils; thus it would have a bad impact on other schools.
I do not accept that at all. Schools may be more successful at one point in time than another. The noble Baroness seems to ignore the fact that successful schools encourage other schools to become successful too. Instead of the cut-throat competition referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, there will be another kind of co-operation, through emulation. That will be one of the results of giving schools freedom to select a little more.
The whole attitude of the Opposition parties is based on what might be called a "local authority mindset". Earlier I raised the question of the "community of schools". It is simply defined by the legal status of schools in a certain area: local authority schools, county schools and voluntary schools. The idea that a community of schools might include a larger area, that it might include many schools that are not subject to the local authority, that it might include a large part of the country, seems to be entirely lacking. This is a deeply 1016 restrictive set of proposals designed solely for the purpose of stopping any change whatever in the existing system.
§ Baroness Young
Perhaps I might add to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Skidelsky. I thought that one of the principles that had underlain many of the reforms in education was that of giving schools effective governing bodies which are responsible for the general running of the school. The governing bodies—which always include parent governors, so governors would automatically consider the views of parent governors when coming to a decision on this matter—would be acting quite properly.
Clause 2 places a duty on the governing bodies of LEA-maintained secondary schools to consider each year introducing or extending a selective admission. If the amendment were accepted, one can see only too clearly what would happen at local level. We do not know quite what is meant by,objections exceeding in number a minimum",but there would be a great incentive for those who in principle object to selection to make quite sure that they got a minimum, however that might be defined. There would then be the establishment of a local public inquiry. Going through the inquiry and hearing the evidence and representations would take months. The result would be completely to negate the whole point of the clause, which is to require governing bodies to consider the selective procedure. After all, the clause does not say that schools have to admit selected pupils. It simply says that they must consider doing so. Having given responsibility to governing bodies, one should allow them to get on with doing what their job properly is.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
I do not wish to waste time but I must distance myself from those who are in principle against selection. I am not, but I strongly believe in the community of schools. Anyone who worked in the old direct grant schools, for example, understood the concept. There was enormous co-operation and understanding between the maintained schools, direct grant schools, primary schools that were maintained and primary schools that were independent. I believe it is true that schools take an interest in all kinds of ways, to put it at its lowest, in what other schools have to offer and they wish to co-operate with each other. I include among the community of schools the selective schools.
All I was saying is that not all schools would be wise to think about selection: if they are already short of pupils, they are in no position to select. The governing body of such a school is bound to recognise that fact. If the governors think the school can start selecting pupils, they will be in grave difficulties.
I believe that parents ought to have a say. I am not terribly sold on the details of the amendment and entirely take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it would be easy to whip up an enthusiastic crowd of people who are anti-selection, so as to be sure of getting the minimum every time. 1017 Nevertheless, some arrangement for hearing the voice of parents and not that of the governing bodies alone ought to be introduced at some stage in reaching the decision whether or not to go selective.
§ Lord Henley
Following that intervention from the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, I am more confused than I was at the beginning of the discussion on the amendment. I suppose that that is not unusual. Earlier, the noble Baroness said that parents do not want more selection. I refer her to the survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers which was published in January last year. The survey made clear that, overall, of the order of 54 per cent. agreed with the following question: whether they agreed or disagreed that the Government should return to a fully selective education system with grammar schools, secondary modern schools and 11-plus examinations. There were 37 per cent. who disagreed.
The noble Baroness told us that parents do not want more selection. As a result, I received the impression that she herself was opposed to selection. It is one of the advantages of the Committee stage that one can have repeated interventions and we have now heard that she is not against selection per se. I believe that selection is an important factor to bring into our education system and it is something that we should all seek. A little more selection is no bad thing. I mentioned that some 5 per cent. of the pupils at secondary stage benefited from the grammar or fully selective schools and we would like to see more. We are not saying that all schools should go selective—far from it, we are saying that all schools should consider such matters as appropriate.
I know that Members of the Committee opposite do not want selection. They feel that they know best. They normally say that they do not want selection but we have heard from Mr. Blunkett that if we read his lips there will be no selection of any kind whatever. However, that was moderated and revised recently as a result of the by-election taking place on Thursday in the Wirral. We believe that selection plays an important role and that it should be recognised that children have different talents, interests and needs. It is difficult for a single type of school, particularly at secondary level, to serve the full range effectively and stretch the most able, help the least able and develop particular talents.
We also believe that parents want the appropriate good education that suits the individual talents, interests and needs of the particular child. That is why the Government's aim is to promote a much better match between what parents want on the one hand and what the schools provide on the other. As we know, because we discussed it at earlier stages, that means greater diversity for schools specialising in teaching particular subjects. We have still not heard from the noble Lord, Lord Morris—perhaps he will address it when he sums up—what his party's views are on selection in specialist schools or on the type of pupils in schools. I shall press him on the matter.
1018 Selection also means that schools should look at what the parents themselves want and not at what the teachers or the local education authorities think they should want. As I said, we know that there are many parents who want to send their children to selective schools. I cited as an example the evidence from the survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. I also mentioned the very high ratio of applicants to places, typically around four to one, although I understand that in one or two schools the ratio can be up to five to one.
We believe that selective schools can stretch able pupils and enable them to realise their full potential. We believe that the ambition to send children to selective schools is widespread among all groups and is by no means confined to individual social or ethnic groups within the country. We also believe that research carried out and, I believe, published in July last year, by the London School of Economics—an organ well represented on the Benches opposite—shows that pupils with assisted places at selective independent schools achieve better A-level results than pupils of similar ability at maintained schools. It is reasonable to assume that most of the maintained school sample attended non-selective schools.
Citing again the evidence from Northern Ireland, we do not believe that some schools being selective and some being non-selective has a bad effect on those who are going to non-selective schools. I suspect that that is possibly one of the reasons why in Northern Ireland we see that the results achieved in GCSE are significantly ahead of those achieved in this country. Similarly, it is why we see in those areas where there is a high proportion of selection in this country a higher level of success and a lower level of failure in GCSE than in other areas.
These amendments are rather peculiar. They run completely counter to the deregulatory intention of the Bill itself. They would impose radical new duties on the local education authorities, duties which I am sure those who represent the local education authorities would feel that those authorities ought to be spared. They also impose new and radical duties on the governing bodies of those voluntary aided and grant maintained schools which wish to respond to local demand in a positive way. Dare I say to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that to some extent they undermine the role of the LEAs themselves?
LEAs and governing bodies will already be required by the Bill to consult those whom they consider appropriate. On an earlier amendment I spoke at some length about how we considered that consultation ought to take place. As I said, guidance will be issued on that matter by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who will consult as appropriate, as my department always does, at great length and with great thoroughness on the detail of that guidance. That is substantially the same procedure as applies at present to proposals requiring the statutory process.
The purpose of the relaxations in the Bill is to allow schools and authorities to respond to the wishes 1019 of parents. The consultation process may reveal the fact that the proposed changes are not popular with the parents and others. That is the point behind the consultation process and why, as the noble Lord, will know, we have changed so many things. I cite, for example, the announcement that we made only last week on teachers' pensions. There will need to be very careful consideration as to the best way forward in the light of those circumstances. It is undeniable that a school which implements unpopular policies will discover very rapidly that parents vote with their feet. That is the appropriate sanction on those particular schools and I am sure those schools will take that into account.
We believe that schools are part of the community they serve. We trust the governing bodies—those in the schools, those running the schools and those most closely involved with the schools—to know what is in the best interests of their pupils and their schools, how the schools should serve the community and how to act responsibly. We do not believe that we need a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
The idea was put forward of public inquiries. I was briefly a pupil at the planning Bar and saw a number of public inquiries. Members of the Committee know how long they can take, how expensive they can be and how much effort they need. It is not appropriate that public inquiries should be used for these matters. There are occasions when public inquiries can play an important part in the decision-making process, but I do not believe that they are appropriate for changes such as these. I suggest therefore that the noble Lord withdraws the amendment. If he does not, I advise the Committee to reject it.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
I find the Government's long and careful response totally unsatisfactory. At one point I thought we were getting somewhere when the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, was speaking to both Amendments Nos. 39 and 66 under one heading. He was right; the two amendments are a package and the Minister responded to them in that way.
The amendments set out a common principle across the county, voluntary and grant-maintained sectors in relation to areas where the publication proposals do not apply. They are two amendments rather than one simply because of the structure of the Bill. Amendment No. 39 deals with the county and voluntary sectors; Amendment No. 66 deals with the grant-maintained sector and is consequential upon it.
Just as the consultation duties in the Bill are identical, so are the proposed new duties on the admissions authority or governing body to notify parents and others the same. The consequences under the amendments are also the same in either sector, where, but for the Bill, proposals would fall under the tried and tested publication procedure. It is for those reasons that I feel these amendments are too important to leave undecided and I must ask the Committee to express an opinion.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 39) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 111; Not-Contents, 94.1021
|Division No. 2|
|Acton, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Addington, L.||Kirkwood, L.|
|Alderdice, L.||Lester of Herne Hill, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||McNair, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||McNally, L.|
|Blease, L.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Borrie, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Calverley, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Carter, L.||Meston, L.|
|Castle of Blackburn, B.||Methuen, L.|
|Chandos, V.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Paul, L.|
|David, B.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Peston, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Plant of Highfield, L.|
|Desai, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Dubs, L.||Rea, L.|
|Eatwell, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Richard, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Rochester, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Rogers of Riverside, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Russell, E.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Sewel, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Shephered, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Grey, E.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Haskel, L.||Tope, L. [Teller.]|
|Hayman, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Healey, L.||Varley, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Wallace of Saltaire, L.|
|Hollick, L.||Warnock, B.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||White, B.|
|Hooson, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Howell, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Jay of Paddington, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Judd, L.||Winston, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Addison, V.||Balfour, E.|
|Anelay of St. Johns, B.||Belstead, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Berners, B.|
|Astor, V.||Birdwood, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Blatch, B.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Lucas, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Lyell, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Butterfield, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Cadman, L.||Mackay of Drumadoon, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Carnock, L.||Marlesford, L.|
|Chadlington, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Chesham, L. [Teller.]||Mersey, V.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Clark of Kempston, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Coleridge, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Courtown, E.||Northesk, E.|
|Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]||O'Cathain'B.|
|Cross, V.||Palmer, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Peel, E.|
|Denton of Wakefield, B.||Pender, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Pilkington of Oxenford, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Rees, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Feldman, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Saatchi, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Hanson, L.||Skidelsky, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Harris of Peckham, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Hayhoe, L.||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Henley, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Hogg, B.||Trumpington, B.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Tugendhat, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Ullswater, V.|
|Howe, E.||Wakeham, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Wharton, B.|
|Laing of Dunphail, L.||Wilcox, B.|
|Lindsay, E.||Wise, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Long, V.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 10.35 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon moved Amendment No. 40:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
CHANGE IN CHARACTER OF PRIMARY SCHOOL RELATING TO NURSERY EDUCATION
(". After section 41 of the Education Act 1996 there shall be inserted—
"Change in character of primary school relating to nursery education.
41A.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), references in section 41 to a significant change in the character of a school do not include, in the case of a primary school, any change resulting only from persons beginning or ceasing to he provided with full-time or part-time education suitable to the requirements of junior pupils who have not obtained compulsory school age.
(2) Where the governing body of a primary school propose to make a change which, by virtue of subsection (1), is not a significant change in the character of the school they shall—
(a) before implementing their proposals carry out such consultation (if any) as appears to them to be appropriate and in doing so shall have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State, and
(b) where the school is a Church in Wales school, a Church of England school or a Roman Catholic school, before implementing their proposals obtain the consent in writing of the appropriate diocesan authority.
(3) In this section "appropriate diocesan authority" has the meaning given by section 311(1).".").
§ The right reverend Prelate said: In moving this amendment, I should like also to speak to Amendment No. 218. I must take a moment of the Committee's time to explain what lies behind these amendments. When I spoke to Clause 4 at Second Reading, I made the point that voluntary schools might possibly wish to obtain a similar power to that which was being given to grant-maintained schools under this clause. This clause enables grant-maintained schools other than those requiring special measures, to add or remove nursery, sixth form or boarding provision without having to publish statutory proposals or seek central approval.
When I spoke at Second Reading on this matter the Minister was not dismissive of this suggestion, but he made the point that the Roman Catholic Church might not be so supportive of my suggestion as the Church of England. I have consulted with the Roman Catholic Church and the proposal that comes before the Committee in this amendment has the strong support both of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. It is an amendment that does not touch either sixth form or boarding provision, but only nursery education. It is in the form of an additional section to Section 41 of the Education Act 1966, which sets out the conditions under which voluntary schools may make proposals for the establishment of new proposals for the school, including making,
a significant change in the character of a school".
The amendment which we are considering excludes from that significant change in character any reference which refers only to those under compulsory school age. It requires a governing body which proposes to make such a change to carry out consultation. It does not have to go through the statutory procedure, nor does it have to apply to the Secretary of State, but the consent of the appropriate diocesan authority must be obtained.
§ There are two technical points here. The new Section 41A, which this amendment seeks to insert into the Education Act 1996, contains in subsection (3) an interpretative provision for the expression "appropriate diocesan authority". I have quoted earlier in Committee exactly what that provision is. Section 41 does not contain an interpretative provision for a Church in Wales, a Church of England or a Roman Catholic school. So this amendment is adding clauses to the Education Act, whose provisions concerning defined expressions will apply.
§ Section 580 of the Act contains an index and in that the Church in Wales, Church of England and Roman Catholic schools are defined for the purposes of the Act. However, for some reason "appropriate diocesan authority" is defined only for the purposes of Part III of the Act, whereas this new clause is added to Part II. Hence it is necessary to include in this amendment a reference to "appropriate diocesan authority". Amendment No. 218 is simply a consequential amendment.1023
§ When I spoke at Second Reading I made the point that I did not wish to drive any wedge between county schools and voluntary schools. We value our partnership with LEAs, at both national and local diocesan level. However, with regard to the establishment of nursery provision, the voluntary schools are disadvantaged. They will be heavily disadvantaged in relation to grant-maintained schools, but they are already disadvantaged in relation to county schools. If LEAs wish to add a nursery class to a county school, they are required to follow the statutory publication procedure, but they will have been able to commit the necessary finance before they do so. Therefore, as soon as the publication procedure is completed, those schools will be able to implement the proposals. Moreover, in most cases where there are no objections, the proposals for a county school do not have to be approved by the Secretary of State.
§ In contrast for voluntary schools, governing bodies which wish to add a nursery class must publish proposals which have to be approved by the Secretary of State. In that sense, there is an additional hurdle to go through and the particular difficulty is that the publishing of proposals and the gaining of approval by the Secretary of State take a long time. The schools have to obtain funding - and that is far from easy given the department's priorities for capital grants. Often where funding is available the voluntary schools cannot take advantage of it because they are burdened by that cumbersome statutory procedure. It sometimes happens that towards the end of the year there is spare money in the minor works allocation. It takes so long that by the time the procedure is completed, the year end has passed and the money is no longer available.
§ In this particular regard, the voluntary schools feel disadvantaged. They frequently lose pupils to a county school which is able to have a nursery class where a voluntary school finds itself unable to do so. I hope that the Minister will continue to listen sympathetically to this case. I shall be most interested to hear his response.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
We have a great deal of sympathy with the difficulties facing both voluntary and county schools with regard to sensible and good planning of nursery provision. However, we feel that this amendment would still not rectify the position where there is an imbalance. Over the years, many LEAs have attempted to try to plan across the voluntary-aided and county sector together. All too frequently, particularly as the GM system was developed, the voluntary-aided capital budget has been raided to provide the funds for GM schools.
However, this amendment would further the division in a different way. We hope that the right reverend Prelate will not at this stage seek to press the amendment to a vote, but will seek to ensure that we try to agree a new system that will allow an equality of opportunity across both sectors for good planning.
§ Lord Henley
I am interested to find myself in at least partial agreement with the noble Baroness: this is not a matter to press to a vote.
1024 At Second Reading the right reverend Prelate gave what I might perhaps describe as a tantalising hint that he saw some attractions in extending to all church schools—whether Church of England schools or Catholic schools—all the freedoms which the Bill proposes for GM schools. He correctly suggested that the GM deregulation clauses reflect the Government's belief that such schools are sufficiently independent and well governed to be able to make more decisions about their character without needing central approval, and he raised the possibility that the same approach might apply to church schools.
We would have seen some force in such an argument and we believe that schools should have as much power as possible to make their own judgments about their own development without the need to jump through lots of hoops. That reflects our general commitment to deregulation and our faith in the ability of schools to make those decisions for themselves.
But church schools have traditionally enjoyed more autonomy than county schools in making their own decisions. Had the right reverend Prelate's amendment provided just for church schools to enjoy the full benefits of deregulation and self-government he might well have been knocking at an open door. Sadly, his amendment does not do that. His amendment picks out just one small element of the grant-maintained deregulation package—that relating to nursery classes—and applies it to church schools. We cannot accept that amendment on the grounds of principle and its financial implications. As a matter of principle, we do not believe in cherry-picking of this kind from the range of freedoms that grant-maintained schools have. If the churches believe in deregulation, trusting church schools and giving them more freedom to make their own decisions should apply across the board in the same way as for grant-maintained schools. I believe that it makes no sense in terms of the principle of this Bill to slice off just one element while refusing to allow such schools to enjoy the benefits of self-government in other areas. Even in the limited area covered by the new clause what is deregulated with one hand is then re-regulated with the other, since church schools would still be obliged to obtain the consent of their diocese.
The amendment would also have rather important financial implications for LEAs. This may be what the noble Baroness Lady Farrington is driving at. Voluntary schools, like county schools, are funded through LEA schemes for the local management of schools. Those schemes set out the formulae and factors that must be used to calculate each school's budget. The addition of nursery classes to church primary schools would place a new burden on LEAs who would automatically have to fund those places in accordance with their schemes even though under the new clause the LEA would have no say in whether or not the new nursery provision should be introduced. That could be very expensive for LEAs. We believe that it would be wrong to place such a burden on the LEAs through such a new clause. I hope therefore that the right reverend Prelate will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
I am grateful to both the noble Baroness Lady Farrington and the Minister. I take comfort from the fact that the noble Baroness recognised the strength of the case that I make and that it may be possible to talk together about whether there are other ways in which the point may be met. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 41:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT REPORT ON GOOD PRACTICE
(" .—(1) Before bringing into effect the provisions of this Part relating to increases in selection in county, voluntary and grant-maintained schools, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report setting out the results of a survey of good practice undertaken by local education authorities, together with any statement arising from it which the Secretary of State may wish to make as to the role of local education authorities.
(2) The statement referred to in subsection (1) above may refer to the following areas—
§ The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 41 seeks to insert a new clause after Clause 2. Its purpose is to examine the role of the local education authority in the light of the selection changes that Part I introduces. Part I has potentially far-reaching changes for local education authorities on specific selection issues, although the LEA remains the admission authority for the schools. Governing bodies of county schools are to be required annually to consider the benefits of selection and its increase within their schools. The Bill incorporates a divisive proposal, along with others, on selection and the effect on the community could place many county schools under great pressure as GM and specialist schools expand selection at a rapid rate.
At this juncture it may be thought right to consider and reassess the role of local education authorities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, said at Second Reading, there is a lack of understanding of the role of the democratically elected authority in education as regards expressing the views of the community in a vitally important service. The noble Baroness Lady Warnock spoke of
the slaughter of the powers of the LEAs will turn out to be one of the worst things that this Government have done".—[Official Report, 10/2/97; co1.46.]
She specifically attacked the new powers given to the FAS to start up new grant-maintained schools in an area and the threat from increased selection in existing grant-maintained schools in the range of LEA provisions. Rumour has it that the Government are
considering among other proposals for their manifesto for the forthcoming election the total removal of the education function from local government.
§ LEAs have adapted well to the massive structural and bureaucratic changes of the past decade. As was pointed out on Second Reading, an elected authority has both the status and the knowledge to balance resources across an area and to provide for specialist needs and expertise in support of the primary activities of schools and other institutions.
§ It was with sadness that I heard in answer to the previous amendment the Minister refer to one of the features of grant maintained schools being that they were better governed than other schools. Ministers and the Secretary of State do not hesitate to refer to that level of governance of schools as being somehow superior to the commitment, quality and dedication of governors of non-grant-maintained schools.
§ Contrary to the Government's assertion, and in my experience contrary to the knowledge, determination and skill of parents who wish to raise issues, many of those schools see a value in being part of the LEA and the local community. It is my experience across the shire counties—the noble Lord, Lord Tope, may speak for metropolitan authorities—that there exists more often than not, and more frequently than between those same schools and central government, at local level a balance, an agreement and a concern for all.
§ LEAs have an important role also in discretionary areas of education provision—adult education and community education—and a wide range of other issues; above all, the quality of special needs provision for non-statemented pupils. I shall read Hansard with great interest, but I have not noticed the Minister respond to what could develop from the Government's proposals, which is LEAs with minimal responsibility for a small number of schools forced to take on an ever-increasing percentage of children who have non-statemented special needs but who represent a particular and very demanding challenge for teachers and governors of the schools in which they are educated.
§ In summary, the point of the amendment is to draw attention to an important juncture in terms of the significance of the Bill's provisions to the coherence of the system in which LEAs play a central part and to warn that the weakening of their role could represent an enormous lost opportunity to improve the service for all pupils.
§ Since the Government have lost political control at local level of so many of the authorities which they controlled for so many years, it has become fashionable in some government circles to denigrate and attack local government. The British people have a long history of electing a degree of balance. With a change of government at national level, the Conservative Party could live to regret its attempt to demolish true local democracy and accountability for the education service in the areas which historically it controlled and which its many ill-considered and rushed through legislative changes have damaged, which has led to parents looking to authorities with Labour, Liberal or no overall control 1027 for protection. Not being able to control education at local level now should not cause the Conservatives to railroad us towards damaging that important part of local democracy. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
We on these Benches support the amendment. I cannot add to the extremely comprehensive speech of the noble Baroness. I agreed with every single word, and I shall therefore sit down and let the Minister respond.
§ Lord Skidelsky
I understand that the purpose of the amendment is to prevent the provisions of this part of the Bill from coming into effect. However, it is hard to understand the mechanism. The Bill provides that,the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report".Who will compile the report? Will it appear by magic from somewhere? It is a vague phrase and there is no elucidation.
The amendment provides for good practice. Is there an assumption that there is a single good practice which will be contained in the report? There are many types of good practice. The way it is used here suggests that there will be a national inspection of good practice, as though that were an uncomplicated concept.
As regards the areas to which the statement is to refer, the provisions combine extreme vagueness with the assumption that local education authorities are the only guarantors of local education provision. Every single subsection mentions local education authorities as though they must have the sole responsibility for education provision in their areas. The Bill and the whole thrust of the Government's reform has been to challenge that.
Local education authorities already have a great deal of power over individual schools, unless the school has opted out. They are there the whole time. On the whole, governors are not well equipped and well briefed and governing bodies need to be strengthened. These are modest provisions to strengthen the powers of governors against local education authority control, as the noble Baroness said.
It seems to me symptomatic of the attitude of the Opposition that any increase in flexibility and in the freedom of schools to decide their fate, and any increase in the definition of local education provision, produces united opposition in defence of local education authority monopolies. I hope that the amendment will not be taken to a vote. Leaving aside any ideology, the clause is badly drafted because of its vagueness and unclarity of intention.
§ Lord Monkswell
I hesitate to rise because of the lateness of the hour, but I feel that I must. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the Minister will respond positively to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. The noble Lord asked how the Secretary of State will produce the report. That suggests a poor perception of his Government if the Secretary of State cannot produce a report on education in the different localities in the country when it is the Government's plan to charge the Chief Inspector of Schools to examine a number of LEAs and to report back on how they are performing.
1028 Logically, this amendment is building on what the Government are already proposing. Far from the Government not being able to produce the report, they are planning to do just that. I felt that I had to say that because I am sure that the Government would not have argued against the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in favour of this amendment.
§ 11 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
I may need certain things at certain times. One thing I do not need is advice from the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, as to how to reply to my noble friend. I shall do that in my own way in my own time, as is appropriate. However, I can give an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that we have every intention of bringing in the inspection of LEAs by Ofsted, as is right. I believe that that has been accepted by his own party, although I never quite know, because his party's policies change so quickly that even the noble Lord probably finds it difficult to keep up with some of those policy changes.
The noble Baroness expressed the matter in terms, "rumour has it that", and then went on to fantasise about what might or might not be in my party's manifesto. The Committee will understand if, at this time of night on day of the week, I do not expound what might or might not be in my party's manifesto. I merely throw the question back at her and ask when the noble Baroness and her noble friend Lord Morris will respond to the question which I have put to them on a number of occasions as to what is their policy in relation to selection for specialist schools, now that they have finally come round to welcoming that concept.
Let us look at the new clause. At first sight, it looks like a red herring or yet another device to delay the implementation of important parts of the Bill which Members of the Committee opposite particularly dislike. We know that they dislike selection, or, at least, we think we know that they dislike selection because that is what they say some of the time, though some of the time they say otherwise. I suspect that there is more to it than that and, as the amendment concerns the role of LEAs, I shall deal with that issue because that is what the noble Baroness focused on.
The Government's views on the role of LEAs was set out in our White Paper of June of last year about the self-governing of schools which my noble friend has beside her at this moment. I shall clutch a copy as my exhibit number 1. Our starting point was that LEAs should perform only those functions which schools cannot perform for themselves. The White Paper identified seven main functions for the LEAs. They are: (a) organising education which takes place outside school, including units for excluded pupils and the Youth Service; (b) planning and regulation, and that includes securing the supply of school places alone or in conjunction with the Funding Agency for Schools and dealing with appeals and complaints against LEA schools; (c) allocating and monitoring LEA-school budgets; (d) providing pupil-specific services such as home-school transport or special educational needs support; (e) supplying support services for schools such as professional advisory services and in-service training 1029 for school staff; (f) quality assurance, which, for the great majority of schools, should be confined to supporting self-improvement; (g) co-ordinating networks such as School Business Links.
It is clear that some LEAs do those things much better than others, and I shall not refer for the umpteenth time to Islington. But I do not think we need a survey to tell us that. We need a mechanism for improving the performance of LEAs which do not support schools and pupils effectively. As I mentioned in my earlier remarks, Clauses 54 to 57 of the Bill, which provide for the inspection of LEAs deal with that. It is that, rather than a survey of good practice, which I believe will drive up standards. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Perhaps I may say in conclusion that the noble Baroness implied that I said earlier that grant-maintained schools were better governed. I am not sure that those were my precise words but I shall look extremely carefully at what I said. In the main, I imagine that most of them are better governed, but the point that I was trying to make was that grant-maintained schools have greater freedom; that is, greater freedom to control their own affairs. For that, they should be grateful. That is why we are pleased that so many schools have gone grant-maintained and why we hope that many more will follow that process in the future.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
I thank the Minister for his detailed reply. We have reached the stage in our deliberations tonight when people say, "I didn't say that or, if I did, it wasn't what I meant to say". Perhaps, therefore, the Committee will forgive me if I say to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that I can only think that I intended to say "control" with reference to the Government's attitude towards local education authorities and schools. It has certainly never been my 1030 belief, my policy or my interpretation of the facts that LEAs control schools. Long before the Government's proposals began with regard to changing in statute the role of governing bodies, the authority in Lancashire County Council, for example, had parent governors. Indeed, we believe in co-operation and partnership.
It is perhaps too late for the Committee to wish me to go through a detailed debating session with the Minister. I certainly feel tonight that our policy on these Benches does not change as often as the Government's legislative proposals are turned down by this Chamber. However, having said that, now is not the time to start to deal with that aspect.
In the list contained in the Government's document I was struck by the item that deals with their perceived role in local government and with LEAs having a responsibility for planning and dealing with school places and adequate provision thereof. The proposals in the Bill will affect the capacity of LEAs to carry out that planning in the same way as happens at present; or, indeed, as was happening at the stage when the Government produced the report.
It is extremely important to recognise that we are not, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, implied, seeking to prevent the operation of this part of the Bill simply by requiring a report to be made to study the impact that the Bill's proposals would have on the role of the Secretary of State. Bearing in mind the DfEE's willingness to consult, I am quite certain that it would be able to produce a report very speedily for the Secretary of State and Parliament to consider, before further changes are enacted. However, in view of the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at eight minutes past eleven o'clock.