HC Deb 04 February 1976 vol 904 cc1217-336

Order for Second Reading read.

4.23 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I deem it a privilege, Mr. Speaker, to open the first debate under your chairmanship, and it is a very happy coincidence that today we are debating education, the field of activity which you left some years ago to come to this House. But, as hon. Members know, you continued to take a great interest in education matters, and it is well known that you were held in great esteem in the education world. I am sure that it is the wish of everyone in education that I express congratulations and good wishes to you. It is perhaps the only time that I can claim to speak on behalf of the whole education world with certain unanimity.

This Bill is intended, first and foremost, to give effect to the Government's policy on comprehensive education. There are other clauses which deal with the expenses paid to members of independent schools tribunals, student awards and school milk, but I have no doubt that most hon. Members will be most interested in that part of the Bill dealing with comprehensive education and, therefore, while I shall refer to the other clauses later, for the most part I shall concentrate on this major question.

The Education Act 1944 laid the foundation of universal secondary education for all. At that time, it was widely recognised that the provision of elementary education for the masses and secondary education for the few was both socially unjust and a waste of the nation's talents. Accordingly, the Act provided that all-age schools should be reorganised. Primary and secondary education was to be provided in separate schools. This was Government policy, and local authorities and the voluntary bodies who wished to be part of the maintained system were required by Law to conform to it.

The Act also said that all pupils should be educated according to their ages, abilities and aptitudes. It was widely held at the time that this end could he secured by the provision of three types of school—grammar, modern and technical—which between them would meet the needs of three identifiable groups of pupils. Such a system seemed to open new opportunities to pupils of all backgrounds and abilities, and the 1945 Labour Government supported and encouraged it.

During the 1950s, educational opinion began to swing away from the idea that pupils could be neatly categorised at 11-plus. Evidence was gathered which showed that a very significant proportion of pupils were wrongly placed in the secondary selection procedure—wrongly, that is, in terms of their potential. It came to be asked whether pupils' potential could ever be assessed so precisely as to justify their being placed on a narrowly defined educational track. It came to be asked also whether there were indeed two or three identifiable types of pupil, or whether each pupil was an individual with his own particular combination of needs and potentialities which could be met only in a school providing for the whole range of pupils and their interests at a variety of levels.

Finally, it came to be asked whether it was desirable to segregate a small proportion of pupils for what was inevitably—however wrongly—seen as privileged treatment. So the ideal of the comprehensive school came into being. With the raising of the school leaving age to 15 and later to 16, selection at 11 was not only unfair and unjust but largely irrelevant. I think that Opposition Members will accept many of the arguments against selection at 11-plus, not least because, for every boy or girl who passed, four or five failed, and failure, at the tender age of 11, determined future career possibilities and in most cases ruled out the opportunity of further or higher education. The only effective means of abolishing selection is to have a system of non-selective or comprehensive secondary schools.

On taking office in 1964, our first step towards this goal was the issue of Circular 10/65. This circular not only gave the first major impetus to our policy but reflected a growing tide of public and educational opinion against a system of selection, the very arbitrary nature of which caused grave disquiet in the minds of all thinking people. The circular requested local education authorities to submit plans for reorganising all secondary schools on comprehensive lines, and between 1965 and 1970 almost 1,000 new comprehensive schools were established.

Despite the issue of Circular 10/70 by the incoming Conservative Government, yet another 1,000 comprehensive schools were established between 1970 and 1974. Indeed, by January 1975, 68 per cent. of secondary pupils in England and Wales were in comprehensive schools and only one local education authority—Kingstonon-Thames—had none at all at that stage. Such rapid progress hardly suggests, as the Opposition often contend, that a substantial number of democratically elected authorities were opposed to our declared policy.

When we returned to office in 1974 we made a formal statement in Circular 4/74 of our intention to develop a fully comprehensive system of secondary education and to end selection. The circular invited all local education authorities to submit to the Department of Education and Science by the end of 1974 details of the successive measures to be taken to complete secondary reoragnisation. Voluntary schools were urged to co-operate with local education authorities. The response of local education authorities to the circular has, in the main, been good. Similarly, the vast majority of voluntary schools have expressed themselves willing in principle to reorganise along comprehensive lines.

Nevertheless, there are seven local education authorities which have declared their intention in principle of retaining some measure of selection. There are also, it would seem, a small number of voluntary schools—nearly all of which are non-denominational—likely to be an impediment to complete reorganisation. As I said in the House on 24th November, I should have preferred to deal with this by agreement rather than by legislation. But we face an impasse. We can progress no further by discussion and agreement towards our declared policy of comprehensive secondary education for all. I have, therefore, introduced the Bill which will, I hope, lead to a determined effort by all local education authorities in England and Wales to bring their reorganisation to a speedy and as efficient a conclusion as possible. I am confident that once the Bill has become law all local education authorities, including the seven which have said hitherto that they intend to retain a measure of selection, will be willing to implement it.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the situation that has arisen in Essex, particularly in the light of the statement made last Friday? Will he make it clear that there is no question of continuing selection in that county?

Mr. Mulley

As I understand the position in Colchester, there was a scheme that was turned down by my predecessor. Revised proposals for the Colchester area to retain two grammar schools were submitted. We have approved these proposals because they are a step in the right direction and will in no way prejudge the question of the future of the grammar schools.

It is to deal with that kind of problem that we are introducing the Bill, and it will in the meantime be of great benefit to the children who will be going to these schools in the next year or two while the new reorganisation is being undertaken when the Bill becomes law. It is by no means ideal, but in the present situation it is the best that can be achieved and it will be beneficial to the children concerned.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for informing the House that these selective schools are to be retained in Colchester. Can he give the same undertaking with regard to two selective schools at Chelmsford and the selective schools at Southend? Are the same principles to be applied to them?

Mr. Mulley

I think that the hon. Gentleman, with his capacity for misunderstanding, has got the Colchester position wrong. The two grammar schools in Colchester are not coming within the comprehensive system because the county's proposals did not include them. At the moment I have no power such as that which I am seeking in the Bill to send the matter back to the county and to ask it to introduce a scheme that will bring the grammar schools into consideration. The hon. Gentleman realises that this is, in a sense, an illustration of the kind of problem that has led us to introduce the Bill.

However, the Bill will not and cannot ensure that all schools will be comprehensive within the next two or three years. We recognise that there are local education authorities and voluntary schools which would like to reorganise but face resource problems. For this reason, I have allocated £25 million specifically for assisting comprehensive reorganisation, and authorities in England and Wales were invited to submit specific projects for consideration against that sum.

I should make it clear that this allocation is additional to the provision of building allocations under the usual headings. Even so, we recognise that some local education authorities and voluntary schools will still be unable to reorganise immediately because of resource problems.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

The right hon. Gentleman used the expression "against the sum of £25 million put aside for this purpose". Is that a sum of money from the Government? I ask that because yesterday the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State told me that capital authorisations are not grants to local authorities but sums within which loan sanction will be allowed."—[Official Report, 2nd February 1976; Vol. 904, c. 483.]

Mr. Mulley

My hon. Friend's answer was perfectly correct. I used the word "allocation" carefully. This follows the same procedure as is used for any building allocation to local authorities. It permits them to have loan sanction. The repayment of the loan and the charges in connection therewith are, like other relevant expenditure, treated as part of the rate support grant. There is no difference in the treatment of this sum of £25 million and of moneys for normal school building. It is on exactly the same basis.

About 70 per cent. of our children are now being educated in comprehensive schools. As reorganisation extends, it reaches into more difficult areas, and in some of those further progress at a time of declining school population is difficult to achieve even when everyone—teachers, parents and local authorities—are all anxious to introduce comprehensive schools.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the situation where teachers and parents are anxious to press ahead with comprehensive reorganisation. What is his policy about those areas where there is no doubt that the majority of parents are against comprehensive reorganisation? Is he aware that in my constituency a recent poll of all parents of children of school age in the town showed that 75 per cent. of them wanted to retain some grammar schools in the town?

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman made some reference to this on a previous occasion, but I do not feel that we can legislate or determine our national policy on the basis of isolated examples.

Mr. Channon

I had always understood that education was a matter for local people to decide in the light of local interest. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Government intend to introduce the Bill to flout the democratically-expressed wishes of the parents involved?

Mr. Mulley

I am taking the same view on national education policy as the hon. Gentleman took when he was discharging housing finance responsibilities when again the views of democratically-elected people were expressed.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)


Mr. Mulley

The opinions of parents on particular schemes are relevant, and if the hon. Gentleman will contain himself a little I shall explain as I go through the Bill in detail how the procedures will be akin to Section 13 procedures for change of status, with the opportunity for everyone concerned to express his view.

Mr. Channon

That has been done.

Mr. Mulley

Clause I will require all local education authorities to have regard to the comprehensive principle, that is, that all secondary education should be provided in schools to which pupils are admitted without reference to ability or aptitude. Excluded from that principle are schools for the physically and mentally handicapped. The Warnock Committee is at present considering the special needs of this goup. Without this specific exemption, of course it would not be possible to have special schools for handicapped children at all.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

Is the Minister aware that this part of the Bill affecting disabled people is causing great concern to organisations for the disabled, since he seems to be enshrining now in legislation the selection of disabled children for special schools whereas all the objectives in the past have been to integrate them in normal schools?

Mr. Mulley

I think that there has been a certain misunderstanding here. There are several experiments going ahead. In my own constituency, for example, experiments are being conducted on the integration of handicapped children in ordinary schools. One wants to encourage that, but we should await the recommendations of the Warnock Committee. However, unless we had this specific general exemption, there would be no possibility anywhere for a special school. It does not mean that all special schools must continue, but there may be some categories of disabled children for whom, because of their special disabilities, it is desirable that they have facilities not available for them in other institutions.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) rose—

Mr. Mulley

I must get on. There are many matters with which I should like to deal, but I suspect that the House will be giving attention to them in the future.

I have also excluded from this principle schools which select by reference to ability in music or dancing. Ability in these fields can be diagnosed early, and its encouragement in special institutions is unlikely to be educationally or socially divisive.

Clause 2 will give me power to require a local education authority to submit proposals within a specified time, giving effect to the comprehensive principle. It would allow me to call for proposals if I felt that further progress was needed in either all or part of a local education authority's area. This clause will also require local education authorities to consult the governors of all voluntary schools affected by their proposals. I hope that they would reach an agreement about the role of the voluntary schools in the reorganisation proposals, but if not, local education authorities will be required to forward to me, with their own proposals, any alternative proposals produced by the voluntary schools.

Clause 2 will also enable me to call for proposals from the governors of a voluntary school, within a specified time, if they have not submitted satisfactory proposals themselves or have declined to do so. If I consider that proposals submitted by local education authorities or governors are unsatisfactory, I am able to call for further proposals to remedy deficiencies. Proposals would have to be submitted to me in such form as I directed, and would have to indicate the proposed timing of implementation.

To sum up, Clause 2 will give me power, if necessary, to call for proposals from local education authorities and voluntary schools, and to indicate the unsatisfactory aspects of rejected proposals. I emphasise, however, that it will not empower me to substitute detailed alternatives to those rejected proposals. The power to design individual solutions for areas remains firmly in the hands of the local education authorities and voluntary schools.

I do not propose to set a date by which comprehensive reorganisation throughout the country will have to be completed, and I think that hon. Members will agree that it is neither practical nor desirable to do so. Any such date would have to take account of local education authorities with the greatest technical and resource problems and would thus be much later than a reasonable date for many other local education authorities. Yet many authorities might feel that, provided they kept to this date, they were meeting the requirement, and the consequence could be delay rather than an acceleration in the rate of reorganisation.

But, of course, as I have said already, the timing of implementation will be an important part of the proposals I shall ask to be submitted, and I shall need to be convinced that the dates proposed are on the basis of proceeding with reasonable speed and due diligence. Equally, I should stress that we shall expect the plans to make good educational sense. If they do not, or if it seems to me the plans submitted represent significantly slower progress than is feasible, I shall not hesitate to point these matters out to the proposers when rejecting them and requiring a fresh submission.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

On what basis would the Minister make a judgment on whether proposals made educational sense?

Mr. Mulley

The first question to which I should address myself is whether they would fall within the scope of Clause 1 of the Bill.

Clause 3(1) will empower me to treat reorganisation proposals likely to be in effect within five years as I would those submitted under Section 13 of the 1944 Act. The normal Section 13 procedures will then be employed. The proposers would be under a duty to give public notice of their proposals, and the usual two-month period for objections would follow. I should have power, after considering the proposals and any objections to them, to approve or reject them.

Clause 3(2) is a special provision to safeguard the position of the voluntary aided schools. The governors of such schools have to find 15 per cent. of the cost of any new buildings, the other 85 per cent. being found by my Department. It would clearly be wrong of me to approve proposals involving new building when the governors could genuinely not afford to implement them. The Churches asked for a reassurance that I should not force aided schools to spend money they had not got in order to reorganise. That assurance I gladly give, and here it is in the Bill. Of course, I should expect voluntary schools to submit realistic proposals which they could afford, and if their proposals were not realistic in financial terms I should reject them and require fresh ones.

Clause 3(3) would mean that where proposals, involving new buildings and submitted under Clause 2, are approved, there would be a duty to produce building plans. Section 13 as it stands assumes that if the plans are approved they must then be carried out. For ordinary Section 13 proposals of this type, such as the establishment of a new primary school, there will still be no duty to submit building plans.

Clause 4 makes amendments to Section 13 which will apply both for ordinary proposals and for those submitted under Clause 2. There will now be a duty to implement all proposals approved under Section 13 which do not involve subsequent production of building plans and specifications.

Clauses 3 and 4 taken together will therefore place a duty on local education authorities and governors of voluntary schools to submit reorganisation proposals at my request under Clause 2 in the form of Section 13 proposals. They will be under a duty either to carry out those proposals which are approved or to submit the necessary building plans for implementation and then to carry out these if the plans are approved. There would be no point in taking powers to require local authorities and governors to produce plans and to treat those plans as Section 13 proposals if, at the end, those who had produced the plans could frustrate Government policy by not implementing them.

I now turn to Clause 5. Local authorities have certain powers and duties with respect to non-maintained schools. For instance, they may give assistance to such schools under Section 9(1) of the 1944 Act, they may take up places at such schools under Section 6(1) of the 1953 Act, and they may also pay on a means test the whole or part of fees and expenses of individual pupils attending non-maintained schools, under the 1945 Regulations made under Section 81 of the 1944 Act. These powers were intended to be exercised with the approval of the Minister, as he then was. But as a result of a relaxation of controls in the late 1950s, I have now no power to withhold approval for arrangements of the second and third kinds.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

I am very concerned about this, because it is retrospective legislation. These powers go right back over the years, possibly to 1944. Will any compensation be payable to any school which suffers loss?

Mr. Mulley

I have not yet completed explaining Clause 5. I am taking power to revoke approvals already given, otherwise I would not have any power. The 1944 Act has been commended so warmly to me by Conservative Members that I am trying to put the position back to what it was in 1944. That is exactly what I am doing, in this matter at any rate—

Mr. Skeet

It is retrospective.

Mr. Mulley

It will not be retrospective in the sense that it will take away fees paid for children who have already been to school, but it will mean, in relation to future expenditure, that arrangements which have been going on will have to be justified. That seems a reasonable situation.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

This is a very serious point. The Secretary of State has said that he would rather do things by agreement than by legislation. In my constituency, ordinary dock labourers as well as members of the professions now have to go to Dubai or somewhere else to work. The maintenance of children according to the religious teaching of their parents is very important. If my right hon. Friend wishes this matter to be done by agreement rather than by legislation, will he continue to have discussions with the voluntary bodies along these lines as he has in the past, with a view to getting agreement?

Mr. Mulley

It is a mistake to give way before I have explained a point. I have a note to say exactly that—that arrangements involving boarding or denominational needs will certainly be approved. Also, we shall be willing to consider any other exceptional case on its merits.

Clause 5 has been included in the Bill to give specific powers to the Secretary of State to restore the position to what it was in 1944. I will have power to revoke any previous approval for existing arrangements and authorities would need to seek approval for any arrangements under Section 9 of the 1944 Act or Section 6 of the 1953 Act. New Regulations under Section 81 would be made, and new arrangements governing general assistance to individual pupils would need my approval; I should have power to revoke existing arrangements. Local education authorities would have a duty to discontinue any arrangements for which approval is revoked.

Where an authority can satisfy me that it cannot provide education of a type suitable for the age, ability and aptitude of some pupils without taking up places in the non-maintained system, I shall, of course, give approval for such arrangements, but for a limited period. I would envisage this occurring where there is a short-term lack of maintained school provision or of special needs such as boarding or denominational provision. I would also of course consider any other exceptional case on its merits. This clause will prevent a local authority from seeking to circumvent Clause 1 and using the take-up of independent places as a means to avoid establishing a fully comprehensive system of secondary education.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will the Secretary of State cut off pupils in the mid-flight of their careers? Will he regard every one of those cases as exceptional?

Mr. Mulley

I might have known better than to give way to the hon. Lady. She has made no contribution. She knows that all this does is ask local authorities to seek approval. It does not in any sense prejudge the answer to those requests. Second, as she knows, in the direct grant schools and in the case of a "cease to maintain" order for a school, we have provided for the continued education of those already at the school. It is wrong for the hon. Lady to go around making that sort of allegation.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I simply asked for an assurance.

Mr. Mulley

I do not normally give assurances about whether I will approve arrangements until I know what the arrangements are. I think that that is a reasonable course to take.

Before turning to the other clauses of the Bill I should like to make a few general comments particularly about voluntary schools. Hon. Members will recall that before the Bill was presented I sent a consultative document to both the local authority associations and to those who have national responsibility for voluntary aided schools. Subsequently my colleagues and I met representatives of these organisations. I should like now to pay a tribute to the reasonableness and understanding that they showed during the discussions and also to the constructive and useful comments they made on the proposals as originally drafted. Those with responsibility for voluntary aided schools were no less frank about what they felt would be acceptable than were the local authority associations.

There was, of course, no coincidence of views among all the parties themselves and not all of them agreed with what had been proposed. While I listened with great care to all they had to say, I was particularly impressed by the views put forward about the attitude to be adopted in the Bill to the voluntary schools. I have no wish to undermine in any way the concordat that was reached with the voluntary bodies, particularly the Churches, and settled in the 1944 Act. My experience of the attitude of those responsible for the provision of denominational schools is such that, I am convinced, any attempt to coerce them along the road to reorganisation is completely unnecessary.

Of the 800 or so voluntary aided denominational and non-denominational schools, all but a handful are willing to co-operate. However, a few are either reluctant or deliberately obstructive. Most of these are grammar schools of ancient foundation many of which hold special positions in the communities they serve. They often enjoy considerable prestige which in no small part flows from the facilities which they provide and which have largely been found from public funds and which enable them to attract good staff who are paid from public funds. They are schools whose facilities make a substantial contribution—facilities for which the people have paid and without which the community would be educationally poorer. Most of them are charitable bodies, founded specifically for the education of the poor in the community.

Because of these arguments I was urged to make it legally possible for local education authorities to submit Section 13 proposals for these schools where the governors were unable or unwilling to do so. Under existing legislation local education authorities may make proposals only to cease to maintain such schools—to eliminate them from the maintained sector. I was urged to allow local authorities to make other proposals—that is, to change the character of the schools by requiring them to admit pupils without reference to academic ability, or to admit girls as well as boys, or to change the age range for which they catered, or to enlarge the number of pupils they provided for.

This I have resisted, partly because any such changes in the law could, potentially at least, be construed as a threat to the independence of the Church schools but mainly because I wish to uphold the dual system and to continue to encourage the Churches and other voluntary bodies to play a full part in our educational system and to bring to it the expertise, the enthusiasm and the resources they have accumulated and developed over the years. What is provided in this Bill was discussed with representatives of the voluntary schools, including the Churches, and was pursued in correspondence with those who wished to have further clarification.

I believe that the solution which is set out in the Bill and which provides for the Secretary of State to require the governors of such schools to produce proposals is not unacceptable to the Churches. I know how highly they value their status as a voluntary and independent partner, along with local education authorities, within the maintained system. I am happy to preserve the balance of this historic partnership which is fundamental to our whole education system. Indeed, I believe the continuation of the religious settlement achieved in 1944 is an essential prerequisite to the successful establishment of a comprehensive system.

I now turn to the other provisions of the Bill. Independent schools tribunals consist of a legally qualified chairman and two other members. They are constituted ad hoc to determine complaints made by the Secretary of State about an independent school, its proprietors or teachers, or to hear appeals over previous decisions. During the past five years, 13 tribunals have been convened.

Section 75 of the 1944 Act states that remuneration and allowances paid to members of these tribunals should be decided by rules. As these fees and expenses have to be increased regularly it means that new rules also have to be laid before the House at regular intervals. Clause 6 will enable the rates and fees to be dealt with administratively as for all the other 70 tribunals for which the Lord Chancellor has responsibility. This change will bring these tribunals into line with the provisions made for all other tribunals in England and Wales.

Under the Education Act 1975, the scope of mandatory awards was extended to cover students on full-time courses leading to the Higher National Diploma. These diploma courses will eventually be replaced by courses for the higher awards of the technician or business education councils and will start effectively in 1977–78. Clause 7 has been introduced to amend further the Education Act 1962 and enables students on these courses to receive mandatory awards.

Clause 8 is designed to revoke the present requirement of the Education (Milk) Act 1971 that the charge made to pupils for milk must cover the full economic cost of providing it. As I have said before, I find this quite indefensible, since it singles out milk as the only food or beverage about which the local education authorities have no discretion as to the price they charge for supplying it and in fact requires that the authorities can offer milk for sale in their schools only at a charge significantly higher than the retail price of the milk delivered to one's door. These arrangements were criticised by both the Committee on Catering Arrangements in Schools and the Nutrition Working Party.

The first step therefore is to repeal these provisions. The second step will be to make new regulations after consultations with the local authorities as to the extent and nature of the discretion they wish restored to them. In present circumstances it is not intended to make mandatory the restoration of free milk to the children who lost it in 1971 and it is unlikely, I think, that the local education authorities will wish to supply milk free, except perhaps in cases of hardship.

The present Milk and Meals Regulations would remain in force until replaced by new ones.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We are grateful to learn that the Government do not intend to change the position, which was established by the 1971 Act, concerning children over the age of seven. However, may not this clause be interpreted as giving power to local education authorities, which they do not possess at present, to charge for milk up to the age of seven years?

Mr. Mulley

I give the hon. Gentleman up as a bad job because the purpose of the Bill is precisely to repeal the outrageous provisions of the 1971 Act with which the hon. Gentleman was associated.

Mr. St. John-Stevas rose—

Mr. Mulley

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's comments in my own way, if he does not mind. The 1971 Act required a school to charge schoolchildren more for a pint of milk than I pay the milkman when he delivers it to my door. That is the present situation which we shall change. As a normal arrangement we shall consult the local authorities but I dare not consult them until I have the power to change the regulations otherwise the hon. Gentleman will talk about legislation by conference or by circulars. When the Bill is passed we shall talk to the local authorities and on that basis, as I have just said, we shall make new regulations. The present Milk and Meals Regulations will remain in force until they are replaced by new ones. The Bill does not change the law in any respect except that it permits us to make regulations on a different basis because at present we are restricted by the 1971 Act which is now to be repealed.

The Bill has no special commencement provisions. It would become effective in its various measures upon receiving the Royal Assent.

Hon. Members will have noted that there are no specific provisions for enforcement in the Bill itself since by virtue of Clause 10 (3): This Act shall be construed as one with the Education Act 1944". This has the effect that the enforcement provisions of the 1944 Act and in particular, for example, Section 99 of that Act, can be invoked to provide legal sanctions by mandamus to enforce directions given under the powers to be conferred by this Bill. The section applies not only to local education authorities but to the managers and governors of county and voluntary schools.

I have sought to summarise the provisions of the Bill and to set before the House the cogent reasons why we attach importance to the enactment in particular of the powers to make general and more rapid progress towards the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines, thus ending the heart-aches and injustices which flow from the 11-plus and similar selection procedures.

We believe this to be a fundamental feature of any educational system designed to provide reasonable educational opportunities for all children whilst at the same time ensuring the maximum utilisation of the talents of our young people for the benefit of both our society and our economy in future years.

5.8 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

So many congratulations have been rained upon Mr. Speaker that perhaps it has been overlooked that you, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are worthy of congratulation on your election to your present position. I offer these congratulations in both justice and in anticipation of favours to come. I should like also to join the Secretary of State in this one moment of co-operation and agreement in congratulating Mr. Speaker on his election and saying that, like the Secretary of State, I feel that it is a privilege to be partaking in the first debate over which he is presiding. I can wish him no greater success than that he should be a worthy successor to his great predecessor, Thomas More, who had the unique twin distinctions of being beheaded and canonised, in one of which precedents I hope that Mr. Speaker will follow him.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this badly drafted, negative and destructive Bill is that it has been introduced in to the House of Commons at this particular time. The education service is facing unprecedented problems. We are facing drastic cutbacks in the rate of financial growth. We are seeing the demolition of the nursery programme which was so assiduously and farsightedly planned by my right hon. Friend who is now the Leader of the Opposition. We are seeing closures in colleges of education, cutbacks in the number of teachers and rising teacher unemployment. We have seen the demoralising of the universities and other institutions of higher learning and the collapse of confidence among millions of parents over standards of learning and discipline in our schools. This is an extraordinary time to put forward a partisan, doctrinaire, and unwanted measure.

The Secretary of State, at the North of England conference on 9th January, repeated words which I had used in my first speech as Opposition spokesman 18 months ago. He reaffirmed for the first time the importance of the three Rs and of learning these basic skills as a priority in education. I thought that he had suffered a Pauline or at least a Rhodine conversion. But, less than a month later, we find him at the Dispatch Box giving as his first priority in educational matters the introduction of a Bill which embodies all the worst dogmatism of Socialist attitudes to education.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will my hon. Friend give way for one second?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

For two seconds to my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is my hon. Friend aware that I was at that conference which was addressed by the Secretary of State and that a prominent Labour member of the university said that Labour had totally lost confidence in the Government and asked whether they hated universities?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's testimony. I realise that the conference was even more distinguished than I thought.

This Bill is an insult to the intelligence of all parents and is contemptuous of the anxieties that they feel. Parents are concerned not with how schools are organised but with how their children are taught within those schools. They want something simple and basic: a disciplined and ordered learning environment in which their children can learn to read, to write, to spell, to add up, to express themselves in good clear English, and to confirm the moral values and attitudes which they have learned in the home and which have been built up in this nation over generations. That is what parents want, but the Bill offers them nothing. They are asking for bread but the Secretary of State is handing out a stone.

The Secretary of State is failing in his duty because he is responsible—nobody else can discharge the responsibility— for initiating a rational, balanced and constructive debate on education. It should centre on how to improve our schools instead of forcing the whole of the educational discussion back to the sterile conflict between grammar and comprehensive schools.

I should like to quote from a paper which is not normally a supporter of the Conservative Party regarding education or any other matter—The Guardian. In its leader on 17th November last year, headed Mr. Mulley decides on a dogfight", it states: The most profound peril this Government runs, is, increasingly, one of irrelevancy—and the most immediate peril that of a long, bitter, parliamentary session filled with party bickering which at no stage touches the fundamental plight of the country. It is in this context that Mr. Fred Mulley's expressed intent to abolish the eleven-plus by law deserves a severely sceptical, even despairing response. That is the judgment of an impartial newspaper which, if anything, is favourable to the Labour Party.

Thus, the first indictment of this Bill is its essential irrelevance to the promotion of educational values and standards.

The second count is that, if the Bill is irrelevant to education, it is very relevant to political objectives. It is a further instalment of the policy which has informed the Government's approach to all our social services—that is, to increase the power and control of the State and to exclude from effective influence individuals, voluntary bodies, local authorities, and all who can express an independent point of view.

How else can we explain the phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman in the debate about the voluntary schools relying on their legal rights when he castigated them for deliberately obstructing the Government? The right hon. Gentleman said that they were being deliberately obstructive. They were not. They were relying on rights conferred upon them by this House, and they are entitled to do so until those rights are taken away by this House.

This is a major attempt to destroy the harmonious balance between the Department of Education and Science, the local education authorities and the voluntary schools which was created by the Educa- tion Act 1944 and has been sustained by every educational statute since.

Mr. Mahon

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House in any way at all. It is wrong to suggest that the voluntary educational bodies are not to a great degree supporting Her Majesty's Government on this Bill. I am and have been for many years a member of the Catholic Education Council of England and Wales. It is my strong belief that the hon. Gentleman is erroneous and is misleading this House by suggesting that voluntary bodies are not prepared to co-operate to a great degree in what the Minister said this afternoon.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I must treat with great weight any intervention by the hon. Gentleman. However, we differ in our assessment of the situation. Whatever the fine words which may have been used by the Secretary of State this afternoon, the voluntary schools have found the pressure brought to bear upon them such that, on the whole, they have had to go along with these proposals whether they wanted them or not.

It is clearly right that central Government should be satisfied that any proposals submitted by local education authorities which involve major changes in the character of their schools should not only make good educational sense, but have been adequately discussed with parents, teachers and other interested parties. That is why the Secretary of State has the veto.

However, it is equally clearly wrong for central Government to say that local education authorities, which have conscientiously decided that a particular type of organisation is right for the schools and children in their areas, must submit proposals for reorganisation in one way only—a comprehensive way—regardless of their judgment, parental wishes, local conditions, or available finance. That is precisely what the Bill sets out to do.

At the root of the bad practice in the Bill is a bad principle which was well expressed by the Secretary of State in the debate on the Gracious Speech on 24th November when he said that it was the Minister who determined national policy and the local authorities which executed it."—[Official Report, 24th November 1975; Vol. 901, c. 520.] That is to reduce the role and status of the local education authorities from that of partners and co-operators in the educational service to that of agents. That is completely different from the view contained in the Education Act.

Whether he knows it or not, the Secretary of State is elevating himself—I do not intend this as a compliment—into a species of educational pope. He is destroying the balance carefully constructed by Lord Butler and the late Mr. Chuter Ede in various sections of the 1944 Act—Section 8, which lays down the rights and duties of local authorities, Section 36, and Section 76, which protects the rights of parents. The purpose of that settlement was to harmonise in a careful balance the rights and duties of parents, local authorities, voluntary schools, Churches and the Secretary of State. It is that balance which this Bill upsets, whether the Secretary of State will admit it or not.

The Bill constitutes a general breach of an agreed settlement. It is being breached unilaterally by the Government. It is worth remembering that it is a particular breach of the words and the pledge of the Prime Minister. I remind the House of what the right hon. Gentleman said in answer to the question: Will the Labour Party abolish all grammar schools? He said: The answer to this as a former grammar school boy is 'Over my dead body. There may be some people who think that's worth it. I don't.' Today we have the worst of both worlds because the Prime Minister's body is marching, or rather lurching on over the spread out corpses of the grammar schools which he was pledged to protect. I wonder how he will get his carcase off this particular hook.

I turn to consider the clauses of the Bill. Like the Secretary of State, I shall not devote a great deal of time to the miscellaneous provisions in the second half of the Bill. The Bill is a rag-bag, stitched together roughly—I do not accuse the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State of that—by the officials in the Department of Education and Science. It is hardly the stuff out of which a great educational Act will be fashioned. Clause 6 deals with the remuneration of mem- bers of independent schools tribunals and Clause 7 is concerned with the awards for higher diploma courses. Clause 8 deals with provisions for school milk and provides the Government in general and the Under-Secretary in particular with a cover-up for their acceptance of the changes in the 1971 Act.

Some of us may recall the passionate denunciations which were made by the Under-Secretary of State when those changes were introduced, when she swooped in and out of the debate like a kind of frenzied valkyrie. How strange that she sits here today so meek and mild in acquiescence: she is like Lavinia with her tongue apparently torn out. I shall leave the hon. Lady to her conscience.

The substance of the Bill and its venom lies in the first five clauses, which embody the attempt to impose comprehensive schools throughout the country against the wishes of those who are most concerned.

Mr. John Ovenden (Gravesend)

Who are they?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Gentleman asks "Who are they?" I shall tell him. Among the many are those who have been in the van of the comprehensive crusade. The Bill has been condemned by one of the most distinguished supporters of the idea of comprehensive schools, namely, Professor Judge. It has also been condemned by the editors of The Times Educational Supplement and The Guardian, who have consistently supported the idea of comprehensive schools. It has been condemned by Lord Alexander, who is possibly the most distinguished figure in the administrative world of education. I should have thought that that list was enough to show that there is strong resistance on educational grounds to the Bill.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

What about the parents and the teachers? The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned them.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am very willing to mention the parents and teachers. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) indicated that the majority of parents in Southend were opposed to the proposals in the Bill. He said that they wanted to retain the exist- ing system. What comfort did they get from the Secretary of State? They were told that they were a minority and that minorities, by definition, have no rights.

I was asked "What about the teachers?" In a recent poll in The Times Education Supplement 70 per cent. of teachers in every category of school said that they supported the continuance of grammar schools and did not wish to see them abolished. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Flannery rose—

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have answered his question.

It is strange that at a time when there is disillusionment about the panacea of comprehensive schools and when confidence is sagging among educationists such as Professor Jenks and Professor Cohen, the Government choose to decide that only one type of school shall be provided for every type of child within the maintained system and so impose a uniformity which will rule out variety and severely curtail the possibilities of innovation.

How much better it would have been had the Government heeded the plea of the Opposition, which we advanced in our manifesto of October 1974, for an impartial inquiry into the successes and failures of comprehensive schools. If the Government had only done that before proceeding to compulsion! They should have examined such vitally important questions—which will remain long after the Bill is forgotten—as: what is the right size for a comprehensive school, what is the right type of comprehensive school, should it or should it not be on the 11 to 18 all-through basis, the 11 to 16 basis with sixth-form colleges, or on the middle school concept; what are the merits and demerits of the mixed ability class and what is the case for streaming within the comprehensive school? Those are the questions which need to be answered. They are not answered by the approach embodied in the Bill.

The Government should concentrate their energies and resources on improving existing comprehensive schools, to which the majority of secondary school children go, instead of dissipating resources in altering the whole character and concept of schools which already have high academic standards. That is the point of difference between the Government and the Opposition on this vital question. We need an honest, painstaking and thorough educational assessment—not a political short-cut by the Secretary of State waving a big stick in order to bludgeon into submission the seven authorities which have decided, as they are entitled to decide, that it is in the best interests of children to retain selection, and the 30 other education authorities—carefully not mentioned by the Secretary of State—which have told him that they will have to retain selection unless greater resources are made available than are at present.

The Secretary of State, in a moment of greater wisdom than that he has shown this afternoon, said, "I cannot abolish selection at a legislative stroke". An examination of the relevant clauses in the Bill amply confirms that judgment because those clauses are highly unlikely to attain even their stated object. What they will do is to create confusion, uncertainty and conflict throughout the educational world.

Clause 1 states: …local education authorities shall, in the exercise and performance of their powers … have regard to the general principle that such education is to be provided only in schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based (wholly or partly) on selection by reference to ability or aptitude. One thing is very clear. It is clear and has been clear to every Minister in the Department of Education since the passing of the 1944 Act, that it is virtually impossible to enforce a general principle through the courts. That point has been established in the courts in relation to Section 76 of the Act. Let me remind the Secretary of State what that says. It lays down, in the same words, the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.

Mr. Mulley

In all fairness, the hon. Gentleman has been exceedingly selective in some of his quotations. He might at least read the rest of that rather short section. We shall then know exactly what he is getting at.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am perfectly willing to do that. I do not have to read the section. I can remember it. Section 76 says that pupils shall be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents—subject to the non-incurrence of unreasonable expenditure, et cetera.

Mr. Mulley

Could we have the "et cetera"?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The rest of that section? If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that there is a point of substance here, I am glad to help him. In the exercise and performance of all powers and duties conferred and imposed on them by this Act the Minister and local education authorities shall have regard to the general principle that, so far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. I fail to see that those additional words, which the Secretary of State has insisted on having read out to the House, add to the argument. My argument is that a general principle as such does not give rise to a cause of action in the courts. That was the ratio decidendi of Watts v. Kesteven. Here we have the Secretary of State using exactly the same language in this clause. The practical conclusion that one draws from that is that the keystone in the arch of the whole Bill is shaky. If that is so, so are all the other provisions which it upholds.

Local authorities are bound to obey the law. The Opposition espouse that principle. We wish that the Government, when they were in opposition, had been equally forthright in their support of that principle. Local authorities are bound to obey the law as enacted by Parliament—no more, no less—and as interpreted by the courts. That is very different from following an arbitrary fiat of the Secretary of State, who may think that people are being what he calls "obstructive", or who is relying on the shaky legal opinions of his advisers in his Department.

How will local authorities decide which of two general principles to follow when they have equal status in the Act and when they wish to follow one and not the other? Which takes precedence? We have the example—which was so cavalierly dismissed by the Secretary of State—given in the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, who showed that in the Southend area a majority of parents want to retain their existing system. Now the local authority has to give effect to the general principle of the wishes of parents. If the Bill becomes law, it will also have to give effect to the principle that there is to be no education in the selective schools which those parents want. How will there be any mediation between those principles unless it is by litigation in the courts?

Mr. Channon

I should like to interrupt my hon. Friend in case he should underestimate the case. No fewer than three-quarters of parents there support the retention of some grammar schools in the system.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps I may add a further gloss to the gloss that he has added to what I said. It was a very high poll, and 65 per cent. of the parents who were eligible took part in it. They amounted to over 17,000 voters. Therefore, it is an extremely apt, relevant and weighty example.

What will be the position, if the Bill becomes law, of those authorities which band children into ability groups, as the ILEA does with children of average, above average and below average ability, so that the bright children are not concentrated in a few schools? I do not know whether this is so, but it was reported in a newspaper that the ILEA has been advised by officials of the right hon. Gentleman's Department—perhaps the Under-Secretary will be able to give us some information on this matter when she replies to the debate—that if the Bill becomes law these arrangements of banding will be illegal.

We welcome that as a prevention of bussing, which has been so disastrous in the United States of America. The educational achievements of the United States are constantly being lauded by the Secretary of State. Let us hope that he is not creating a situation here in which we have to resort to that kind of expedient, which has caused so much social dislocation and educational upheaval. However, if this interpretation is right, it would mean the creation in our urban centres of wholly neighbourhood schools, which would deprive the disadvantaged child of the very opportunities which that child so desperately needs.

There is the further absurdity that has been touched on in the debate in the intervention of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens). That is that at the very moment that the Secretary of State is busily outlawing selection in the Bill, he is equally busy approving selective schemes within the County of Essex, and has done so for Colchester. He has been rebuked by hon. Members of his own party, not only the hon. Member for Harlow but also the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman).

All this muddle has come upon the Secretary of State because he has ignored the warning which was given to him so clearly, by The Guardian and others, that the law is likely, in this matter of delicate educational structures, to get him nowhere very fast. With this Bill the Secretary of State is rather like a frightened woman with a gun—aiming it at every target and hitting only the target at which the gun is not aimed. That is exactly the position into which the right hon. Gentleman is getting himself with this badly drafted Bill. [Interruption.] It is not a Freudian slip. It is a quotation, as a matter of fact, and it will come as no surprise to the House that it is a quotation from Walter Bagehot.

What I have described is a fairly good measure of the confusion and uncertainty that will be created by this Bill—and we have so far reached only its first clause! However, the second clause makes the situation worse. It requires local authorities to submit proposals to give effect to a general principle whose legal status is in itself dubious. What kind of muddle will they get into when these proposals are put forward? The Secretary of State referred to the proposals having to be put forward within a specified time. That is not being frank with the House. The Bill has no specified time. The only time specified is that which is to be arbitrarily fixed by the Secretary of State himself.

There are inadequate cash resources for these projects. The £25 million which the Secretary of State heralded with such a fanfare now turns out to be a mere allocation of resources in the form of loan sanction, so there will be no grant as such to these schools. This loan sanction, inadequate though it is in form, is even more inadequate in substance. When we last debated this matter, in November of last year, the Secretary of State told the House that already it had been three times over-subscribed by 85 local education authorities. Thus, the only certain result of this part of the Bill will be a multiplication of botched-up schemes, of split-site schools, which this very week have been condemned in very clear terms by the Assistant Masters Association. This clause also upsets the settlement with the voluntary schools. It takes away the long enfranchised exclusive right of the governors of voluntary schools to initiate proposals for reorganisation and confines them to such matters as staff appointments—and this at the very time when the Secretary of State should be considering ways of increasing the powers, the effectiveness, and the representative character of school governors. Instead, he is moving in the opposite direction.

As if all that were not enough, the Secretary of State is arrogating powers to himself, not in name but in effect, to amend schemes, because he is saying that he will in practice take powers to issue detailed directives to local authorities and to governors of schools of whose plans he does not approve.

There is another basic change in Clause 5. This lies in the power which he is taking to control the right of local authorities to take up places outside the maintained school system if he judges it wise so to do, and also retrospective powers of revocation.

By some inferior form of casuistry, the Secretary of State is trying to maintain that he has aways had these powers under the Act. Of course, that is true in a nominalist sense, but under Section 81 of the Act the power given to the Secretary of State to issue regulations is a mandatory power. He is told that he has to issue regulations in order to empower local authorities to take up places. Now the Secretary of State is proposing to take powers to stop them from doing so.

What in effect the Secretary of State is doing in the Bill, starting from bad principles, is creating in practice a legal morass in which he and others less culpable than himself will flounder for a long time to come, unless of course he is rescued from this folly as his predecessor was rescued in 1970, not by the General Election as is sometimes supposed but by the defection of Labour Party supporters in the Standing Committee so that the central clause of the Bill was lost.

Meanwhile, the Opposition, if we do not defeat the Bill today—we might have a chance to do that if we had some support from the Liberal Party—will endeavour to improve it in Committee. We will do our best to be constructive and to clarify it. We will do our best to remove its arbitrariness. We will insert safeguards for children at existing selective schools who may suffer interruptions in their courses.

Nothing was more significant than the Government jeers which greeted the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), concerned as she was with the effect of the Bill and other legislation on children who are undergoing education at schools which arc at present organised on one basis and who will find themselves in schools organised on another basis at the end of their course. That is important to the Opposition, because we regard children as rather more than painful prerequisites for schemes of comprehensivisation. We believe that every child has a right to the best education that is available according to that child's age, aptitude and abilities.

In Committee we will include constructive proposals about all those aspects of Conservative policy which we have been developing over the past two years about parents' rights, about the importance of providing national tests for literacy and for numeracy, and about monitoring standards so that we know what is going on in our schools. We will include proposals to make teachers a more professional rather than a less professional body.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gerry Fowler)

I have been following the hon. Gentleman's series of new proposals with great fascination. His party was in power for nearly four years. He was a Minister in the Department of Education and Science. What happened to these exciting proposals then?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am referring to the debate on educational policy as it has been developing over the past two years. It is typical of the totally petty and unworthy approach of the hon. Gentleman, who has just been appointed Minister of State, that he should seek to make some kind of party political point out of a vitally important discussion for parents.

Mr. Mulley

This is rather important because, by inference, the hon. Gentleman was criticising the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. She was responsible for education in the four years which have just been referred to. I wonder whether there is any connection between this and the hon. Gentleman's alleged comment in the Business News of the Sunday Times when, by some inference, he recognised her as somebody else's grandmother. This is a serious matter.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That intervention shows merely that the Secretary of State is even more unworthy of holding his office than the Minister of State is of holding his.

Some good may come from this foolish, dangerous and unnecessary measure if we can turn it into a constructive statute. But what an indictment it is of Government education priorities that they find time for this Bill while after a year we have still not even had one day devoted to a debate on perhaps the most important post-war education report—the Bullock Report, with its 330 proposals to improve literacy and standards of learning in our schools.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

Why not a Supply Day for it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is not a subject for a Supply Day. It is the Government's duty to provide time for a debate on the Report of a Committee which was appointed by the predecessor of this Secretary of State.

I come to my conclusion. I say to the Secretary of State and his colleague the Minister of State that yesterday's men are bad enough, but yesterday's nostrums and yesterday's obsessions are considerably worse. We will do our best to defeat the Bill today. If we do not succeed in that we will do what we can to improve the objectionable clauses. If we are prevented from doing that, we will, when the moment comes, repeal them, because they constitute a threat both to liberty and to learning.

5.47 p.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Seldom have hon. Members had to listen to such pseudo-educational claptrap as the speech which has just emanated from the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). The hon. Member's fatal facility for words—or should I say "verbiage"—not merely had most Government Members lost at times but I am sure that it had many Tory Members completely lost.

If the Tories did not have at their disposal the majority of the Press and other media, Heaven knows where they would be if it came to honest argument and educational knowledge about the subject under discussion. The Tory Party will, as always, play its traditional role of holding back human progress and, in this instance, educational progress.

In the course of his peroration the hon. Member quoted The Times Educational Supplement. Thank God we do not regard The Times Educational Supplement as the last word in educational knowledge.

Indeed, when the hon. Gentleman refused to allow me to intervene in his speech he well knew that I had been a member of the national executive of the National Union of Teachers which has within its membership more teachers than all the other teachers' organisations put together. I do not for a moment decry the other teachers' organisations. Not only the National Union of Teachers but most of the other teachers' organisations are in favour of comprehensive education. Therefore, no matter what The Times Educational Supplement in its chaste columns says, that is the reality.

Indeed, it is time that all of us, including hon. Members opposite, some of whom are still in the middle of the last century, welcomed this long overdue Bill. It is time that they realised that the vast majority of the parents they say they represent actually welcome comprehensive education and have approved it, no matter what happened in Southend, West. If hon. Members opposite came to my constituency and others in the city of Sheffield and talked to working people, they would jolly well soon find out that they, like people throughout the country, welcome this Bill, which is long overdue.

Mr. Channon rose—

Mr. Flannery

I will not give way. I wish to make a series of points. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave way to the hon. Member for Chelmsford more often than I would have wished and regularly in mid-sentence.

This Bill is a major step on the road to the further democratisation of the education system in our country. The point is well taken when hon. Members opposite laugh. Comprehensive education and the democratisation of education will go from strength to strength, no matter how loudly they laugh, how many quotations they use or how many newspapers they have at their disposal. The British people want comprehensive education.

This view is taken not only by parents who support the Labour Party. Hon. Members opposite should have seen many of the areas in better-off parts of our cities when the 11-plus was in existence. Sadly, a number of people were deeply ashamed that their children had not passed this dreadful examination and were accused of being failures. How dare we accuse children of that age of being failures? But it was repeated into the ears of these young children, and the Tory Party was blowing the trumpet, as it is today. When that iniquitous examination has gone for ever, it will be one of the greatest days our educational system has ever seen. In places where the examination has gone, they would never dream of returning to the selective examinations wanted by the Conservative Party.

I have said before that the Conservative Party wants privileges in every direction. It has taken me to task for saying it, but I repeat it today. Tories want private beds in hospitals and private schools for themselves so that they may have a select, elite group in education. We are totally against that in principle and in philosophy and we believe that the people of this country are with us. The Tories want education according to the depth of the purse, not even according to ability and aptitude, much as we deplore that as well.

Comprehensive education is incomplete as long as grammar schools exist. If the Prime Minister said that grammar schools would go only over his dead body, he was not stating the policy of the Labour Party. Our policy is the abolition of the 11-plus. What my right hon. Friend meant was that the best aspects of grammar schools—and there were good aspects—would be incorporated within the comprehensive system, and that is what we intend to do. But as long as grammar schools exist as elitist institutions, it is idle nonsense to talk about comprehensive education running in parallel with them.

Between 5 per cent. and 20 per cent. of children in an area are creamed off and sent to elitist schools. The rest go to schools which not even the Tory Party has defended. I have not received a single letter defending secondary modern schools as institutions, even though the teachers have done their best, in difficult circumstances, to educate children. Parents do not agree with secondary modern schools, but they agree that all children should have access to education in comprehensive schools.

Sir John Hall (Wycombe)

I cannot allow that point to pass unchallenged. It is untrue that parents condemn secondary modern schools and do not want their children to go to them. In my constituency, the secondary modern schools are excellent and many parents welcome the opportunity of sending their children to them.

Mr. Flannery

I said I had not received a single letter from a parent. I was not speaking of parents throughout the country. I cannot prove how they feel. In the same way as we are told that 70 per cent. of people in the Southend, West constituency support elitist education, they also support an MP who is in favour of it, which I deplore in exactly the same way. No doubt the two things are inter-linked.

Mr. Channon

Will the hon. Member give way? He has referred to me.

Mr. Flannery

I wish to get on. I have already taken a considerable time.

Mr. Channon

Give way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) does not desire to give way, he canot be pressed to do so.

Mr. Channon

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While I of course accept your ruling and bow to it, is it not a convention of the House that when one lion. Member refers to another he then gives way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a matter which the hon. Member concerned must decide.

Mr. Flannery

One point which is not often made in education debates is that our State primary schools are comprehensive. Children from a particular neighbourhood, no matter who their parents are, go to the same primary school. Those of us who taught in primary schools know that as soon as the blight of the 11-plus was lifted from us, a great cloud disappeared from the education horizon. It meant that, instead of catering for that examination, we were able to teach our children properly without having to look over our shoulders to consider how many children we would get through the examination. Virtually no primary school teachers who have had experience of the 11-plus would want to reintroduce it, and that is an important factor.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford talked about streaming. Many of us want streaming abolished not merely in primary schools but in secondary schools as well. He said that we should be discussing the size of comprehensive schools and their age range. What, in heaven's name, makes him think that we are not discussing the size of comprehensive schools, their age range and whether there should be streaming? We are discussing all these matters, and to pose them against the struggle for comprehensive education was typical of the tenor of the hon. Member's speech.

Many so-called comprehensive schools are often condemned after a creaming-off process has taken place. What is being condemned in these cases is a secondary modern school. The creaming-off process takes place and then the schools are open to unprincipled attacks launched against them by people who want to retain grammar schools. They say that these schools are comprehensive when, in reality, they are not.

The motives of the anti-comprehensive lobby are clear. They are basically elitist.

We expect the Conservatives to condemn comprehensive education. Many of us would worry if they did not. In time they will undoubtedly move over to it because it will be a vote winner.

They make numerous unprincipled arguments. Every weakness in our society is laid at the door of the teachers and blamed on comprehensive education. One is led to think that a school is an organisation for rectifying the evils of the capitalist society. It is not. It is an organisation which tries to do its best within the framework of a society which is still based on privilege. The Labour Party is doing its utmost to make inroads into that society by trying to make it more benevolent and by utilisng aspects of it in the interests of the working people who have been oppressed by it for so long.

There are normal difficulties in every school, and those difficulties are caused not by the teachers but by the system. There are financial problems in every school. The Conservatives give the impression that the Labour Party loves to make cuts in education. I am compelled to ask what public expenditure the Conservatives would cut. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asks the Leader of the Opposition what she would cut, the right hon. Lady fails to give a clear answer. We have, however, been told clearly that the Conservatives will not cut education expenditure. I deplore education cuts and we are told that the Conservatives take the same view.

In a speech at Ilkley on Saturday—obviously without his hat—the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), who is secretary of the Conservative Education Committee, said that it was necessary to go back to 1931 to find an equivalent savaging of the education system. He said that more was to come in next month's White Paper. One gets the impression that the Conservatives would never dream of cutting education. They must think that we are daft—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

We do.

Mr. Flannery

They must think we are dreaming. We know that they would cut everything affecting working people if they could get away with it, but they would cut nothing for themselves or their children. We are defending and democratising education, and the Bill is one of the methods of doing that. It embodies a great advance and it will and should be attacked by all educational black paperites, backwoodsmen and elitists.

While the attacks are continuing against the Bill, the voters will be looking on. When we proposed comprehensive education in Sheffield, we won the biggest vote ever. That is reality, and the Conservatives should think carefully before they attack a proposal which is supported by most of the people. The Bill will be supported by millions of Tory voters who want better and better education for greater and greater numbers of our people.

6.4 p.m.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

I have the privilege of being the governor of a direct grant school which as a result of the actions of the Government has been forced to go independent. I am also the director of an independent school. In my constituency there are two fine grammar schools which have served the community extremely well over many years. I therefore have a considerable interest in the Bill.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) that the Bill has nothing to commend it. It is one of a series of bad Bills produced by the Government. It is the product of blind ideological prejudice and basically serves no educational purpose. As a piece of so-called social engineering it will prove highly counterproductive. It is a measure which, if it is to achieve anything, must add substantially to public expenditure at a time when the need is for the very opposite. The fact that the Government are pushing it through at this time—or at any time—shows how far removed Ministers have become from the feelings of ordinary people and the realities which are properly their concern.

Among the worst features associated with the Bill are the strong-arm tactics which the Government have been using to try to browbeat councils into conformity with their requests. Refusing to sanction expenditure on buildings not forming part of a comprehensive scheme constitutes nothing less than naked blackmail.

The declared aim of the Bill is to abolish selection. Is that what this measure will achieve? It will certainly not achieve the ending of selection within schools. I assume that even this Government are not attempting to end competitive selection within the schools.

Whether or not that is the intention of the Bill, it may well come near to doing so. The great educational worry is that the opportunity for competitive streaming within schools will be diminished and that this will lead to a general lowering of educational standards in the schools that are to be created. Selection goes on to a considerable extent in comprehensive schools. That is certainly so in other countries which have systems organised on the basis of neighbourhood or locality schools. It is true of France. There is a considerable degree of selection and competition, particularly in relation to aptitude and ability, in schools in Russia. If selection is ended completely the result will be gravely damaging in educational terms for it will leave little opportunity to seek out those children best qualified for further encouragement and advancement.

Worst of all in its immediate effects, however, will be the damage that this measure will do to good existing local schemes. I give the House a brief summary of the system which operates now in my constituency. It is taken from details which were sent to me. The system is based on the belief that every pupil is entitled to develop his abilities to the full, both for his own sake and for that of the nation. To achieve this the system provides that about 16 per cent. of an age group be allocated to grammar schools at 11 years, nominated by their own primary school teachers based on continued assessment, their school record and the knowledge of their teachers. Additionally, the teachers allocate to a GCE or CSE course, without limit, such pupils as they think would benefit from such a course in the bilateral school of their area or in any other school of their choice in the same town. Over the years the primary schools have found this initial allocation to have worked well bearing in mind the all-embracing provision of subsequent adjustment built into the system. This subsequent adjustment is a special feature of the Bournemouth system which has proved to be extremely successful.

Once the allocation is made, should any errors be discovered a pupil can be transferred, whether it be from grammar school to bilateral school or vice versa, or from non-GCE courses in a bilateral school to a GCE course within that school or to a grammar school. Moreover, the bilateral school is free to allocate to its GCE course any pupil not recommended by his primary school if his record suggests that to be appropriate.

At 16, pupils have the choice of continuing at the bilateral school or, for those with suitable qualifications, of working for A levels at the grammar school or for A levels and equivalent qualifications at the college of technology. That is a brief summary of the Bournemouth system.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

What proportion of children in the country have this wonderful choice which the hon. Gentleman recommends?

Sir J. Eden

I was not referring to the country as a whole. This is a system which has been developed and pioneered within my constituency. It has operated over many years and has shown itself to be extremely successful.

If the Bill gets on to the statute book, that successful system will have to come to an end. It is a retrograde step which offers no educational advantages. The educational advantages of the Bournemouth system have been proven over many years by the outstanding successes it has achieved. It is small wonder that the district councillors in my constituency passed the following resolution: At a time of financial stringency and when much national concern is being expressed about the decline in educational standards, this council reaffirms its confidence in the present Bournemouth system of education, and urges the Dorset County Council to retain it. That resolution emphasises the strength of feeling in the area.

I endorse in relation to Bournemouth what my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) said about his constituency. Parents and many others associated with education wish to keep to the present system. I hope that the county councillors who may have devised different schemes and different systems appropriate to the county district will note what my hon. Friend said. The Bill is not law. It is not on the statute book. There is no compulsion to change to another system or to depart from the system already devised which has been found to be appropriate for the particular environment unless the law requires it. There is a long way to go before the measure becomes law. I am encouraged by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford openly declared himself as seeking to prevent the Bill's becoming law and committed the Conservative Party to repealing it at the first opportunity should it get on to the statute book.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Simon Mallon (Bootle)

I welcome the Bill, though not, perhaps, in its entirety. I have already voiced my appreciation of the work done by my right hon. Friend the Minister. When I look round the Chamber these days I find that I am a little more mature in age than are other hon. Members. I look back at my modest career as a local and national politician. Having been scurrilously attacked by newspapers for statements that I have never made, I should like to take this opportunity of saying that during my lifetime I have had nothing but the highest possible regard for the endeavours made by grammar schools, direct grant schools and others. As a member and one-time chairman of an education committee, I regarded it as a privilege to be able to send to grammar schools children who otherwise would have been deprived of the opportunity of a first-class education.

I went to an Irish Christian Brothers' school. It was not a grammar school but a central school. At the age of 14, I went to work on the Liverpool dockside, but it was always a passion with me to see that other children in the working-class area in which I had the privilege of being born had the opportunity of a first-class education. I pay tribute to the religious orders and the teachers who work in direct grant schools. The Minister rightly said that those schools were founded for the education of the poor. Today, "poor" is a relative term. One of my hon. Friends spoke about sickness. I have always found it difficult to make a comparison between the "poor sick" and the "sick poor". That is how I have to think, representing as I do the town of Bootle.

In spite of that, the direct grant system is not satisfactory. It cannot match the educational demands of the people I represent. For many years I was on an examination panel of a local authority. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. The meeting that adjudicated over the educational lives of many of my constituents in those days was over in five minutes. We were told that 300 places were available at local grammar schools, direct grant schools and religious establishments. The line was drawn at 300, and it mattered not what happened to the rest. When Labour took control, I was able to stop that regrettable practice.

I have been accused by ill-advised people of founding two grammar schools. I gave assistance to founding two grammar schools, one of which is the St. John Bosco school, which is the Salesian college in Bootle. Both schools, of their own volition, have gone into the comprehensive system, without any prompting from me, because they thought it was best to do so. Most of my right hon. Friends who grace the Government Front Bench would not have been able to do so had they not had the opportunity of a grammar school education.

We should be churlish not to pay great tribute to the sense of vocation shown by many teachers. I do not wish to get rid of those qualities; I want them to remain in a new system of education that gives a better opportunity to more people. In Merseyside most direct grant schools are coming into the comprehensive system of their own volition. I appeal to the others to do so. As one who has championed voluntary schools all my life, I believe that if ever a country, or the world, needed the influence of these good teachers, this country and the world need that influence in education today.

The problems have been rightly outlined, but those facing children today were not even part of the scene when we were at school. I would not want to be a young child today. The problems that parents, children and teachers have to face are tremendous.

We must recognise that the comprehensive system will not alway prevail. The motto on which I was elected in the town I represent is that of looking to the past, the present and the futureRespice Aspice Prospice. In due course another system will be demanded. Of necessity, we have to educate children according to the needs of the country, whether they are educated at direct grant schools, comprehensive schools, or any other schools. That is what is demanded of Parliament, and God help the parliamentarian who will not fulfil the wishes and ambitions of this great nation and the people who produce its children.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

The hon. Gentleman's remarks have been extremely interesting, especially his reference to the probability that the comprehensive system will be superseded, but if this Bill becomes law how will another system even begin to evolve? We must remember that the Bill provides for only one system. Is it not making progress very difficult if we have to pass an Act of Parliament each time we want to introduce changes to the system?

Mr. Mahon

I do not think so. My right hon. Friend rightly said that he would much rather make progress by agreement than by legislation. He said that this afternoon. It is better that we make progress by natural evolution and development.

When the churches first started educating people there was very little State contribution. It was only in the 1870s that we had our first Education Act. We have had all kinds of Education Act since then. Some of those measures have been brilliant in their conception. It was said yesterday that we berate ourselves too much. I think that that is the case. Let us say something about the good that we do and have done. Very often we are criticised by the Americans, and at the moment many Americans are sending money to Ireland to attack Britain. They would be better employed putting that money into their own education system. In America no contribution is made to voluntary schools, but we assist any Church that wishes to build a school. That point has not been made often enough from either side of the House. Let it be appreciated that 85 per cent. of the capital cost of any religious education establishment is paid by the State.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

By the taxpayer.

Mr. Mahon

Yes. The taxpayer pays 100 per cent. of teachers' wages. He pays, for example, for the books and the internal painting. If the direct grant schools, which I favour very much for their past contribution, come into the system they will at least benefit financially. If they decide that they have their own educational point of view, I shall not disagree with them. If they want to stay outside, that is all right.

I am always talking about hastening slowly. In education, that should be our approach. My right hon. Friend said that there will be no undue haste in pushing this scheme further than it can go. I am just as anxious as anyone else to see that the boys and girls in the county borough of Bootle and the urban district of Litherland—an area that I have the pleasure to represent—enjoy first-class opportunities. Bearing in mind all the difficulties that the comprehensive schools have faced since their embryonic days, a tremendous improvement has already taken place.

Everyone knows that I believe in the right of parents to educate their children according to their own religious beliefs. That right must be maintained at all costs. We are living in an extremely difficult world—a world in which that right would be denied by many people.

I believe that my right hon. Friend will be having discussions about children who might be attending boarding schools. We must recognise that all children are different. It is hard for any child when he or she is deprived of a parent. In my youth, when a child was deprived of a parent it was usually because the mother or father had died. In these permissive days it is not unusual for a child to be deprived of its parents for other reasons. It is very hard for one parent, whether it be the mother or father, to educate a family. Almighty God knew what he was doing when he gave a child a mother and a father. But if that cannot be, we must give aid and succour to the children of one-parent families, irrespective of the circumstances. In education matters those children must be given further succour and assistance.

We cannot have class barriers. If we provide assistance at one level, we must provide it at all levels. In these days it is not unusual for my constituents, and for people throughout the country to have to earn their livings by tearing their homes apart and travelling to many parts of the world. It is essential that by means of this Bill we find financial succour, in the education sense, for children who are deprived of their parents for various reasons. Such children must be maintained in a way that the people demand.

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for taking rather longer than I should have done.

6.29 p.m.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I feel that I am privileged to be called to speak after the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon). For the first time in this debate the hon. Gentleman removed party politics and introduced concern and compassion for children. I think that all of us, however fervent we are about our own party political approach to education, agree that it is the children who should come first.

Once more I reiterate my party's support for the principles of comprehensive education. In principle we support steady progress towards a non-selective system. I do not think that this is one of the great measures to come before the House, but I think that the Secretary of State gave us reasonable hope when he said that he was willing to consider any exceptional case on its merits. In Committee we can certainly hammer it out and make it into a very much better piece of legislation.

The Education Act 1944 divided secondary education into three classes—grammar, technical and secondary modern. It is absolutely right that we should appreciate that we cannot today categorise secondary schoolchildren in that way. We cannot look at a child and say that he is grammar school material, technical school material, or a failure—or whatever euphemism we may care to employ in relation to secondary modern education. We therefore agree that it is absolutely right and proper for comprehensivisation to be introduced, or for selection to be abolished.

In education it is extraordinarily simple to find statistics to bear out whatever argument we may have. In the Bill seven authorities are mentioned I am sure that most people in this Chamber with a concern for education will have received letters, as I have, from all seven authorities, or from people living within them. I also have statistics from which I have been able to prove absolutely anything that I have ever wanted to prove—because that is what educational statistics are about.

I have here a letter from a headmaster in Buckinghamshire. Far from saying that the whole of Buckinghamshire is behind the local authority, this man writes in reasonable terms and says that 14 years ago in his school there was a GCE 0-level group that provided no problems, and a slow-learning group that provided no problems. There were 180 pupils who lay between those two extremities and provided so many social and disciplinary problems that affected the academic standard of the school that the staff decided to do something about it.

They decided on a mixed ability group. It was tried with a one-year group, and an evaluation was made on three criteria—social attitude, discipline and academic achievement. A distinct improvement was found in social attitude and discipline, and no change was found in academic achievement.

One could go on in this way, because headmasters and educationists will use whatever material they have to prove whatever they want to prove The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and I appreciate that what was done at Southend, West was done decently and properly—the sample was a large one—but I still maintain that if the questions that the parents were asked had been phrased differently they would in all likelihood have presented different answers.

Parents differ, people differ, and, above all, children differ. That is why we have always felt that the 11-plus examination, the 12-plus examination, or any other form of selection, is grossly unfair.

In the course of one or two hours of a child's life, his entire academic future lies in the balance. No one has ever taken much notice of the promises of new bicycles or lollipops, or of all those tensions that build up in children who are just not good at exams, however good they are at other things.

I do not believe that this debate is really about comprehensivisation, selection, or non-selection. It is not even about statistics. It is really about compulsion. Is it right for the Secretary of State, or the Department of Education and Science, to use compulsion to force unwilling local authorities to do what the duly and democratically elected Government of this country want them to do? The answer has to be "Yes", otherwise, what on earth are we here for? If we in Parliament cannot come to an overall blanket decision and ask authorities to implement it in their own areas, I wonder what we are here for.

I put it to the Conservative Front Bench that when the councillors of Clay Cross behaved as they did, nobody said, as has been said of the people of Sutton, Buckingham, Manchester and so on, "What a fine example of an upstanding, independent council." They said, instead, "This is absolute lawlessness" and the law was the law that this House of Commons—

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

It is not the law. What is the hon. Member trying to say?

Mr. Freud

In the case of housing finance, it was simply a matter of taking away from the local authority the right to come to its own decision about the rents of houses.

We have spoken about the main issues of education. We shall, in Committee, no doubt, speak of them again, and make this into a better Bill. Many of us, at some time or another, have urged the Secretary of State to make selection illegal. He has not asked to do it overnight. He has not asked to do it without consultation, or even without notice, because everybody has been given a great deal of notice. If the Secretary of State wants to do this, my party will support him, and we shall be in the Lobby with him.

The Bill is not an ideal one, but it can be made very much better in Committee. I therefore support the Secretary of State.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

I am very glad to have the opportunity of speaking immediately after the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), because what I have to say will in a way be exactly relevant to the remarks that he made—and, indeed, to some remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who, I am sorry to say, did not give way to me. I did not wish to attack him in a partisan sense. I only wished to put one point to him.

I have no objection whatsoever to comprehensive education. I believe that there are many examples in this country showing that comprehensive education works extremely well. There are many places where it is successful on educational grounds. There are, unfortunately, also many places where it is not successful, but that is a different matter.

I am not saying that on principle I am against it. What I believe, however, above all in education—I am sorry that the Liberal Party does not take this view—is that parents, in particular, have the right to choose for themselves what system they would like to see.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough said that the people of Sheffield were delighted with their experiences of comprehensive education and wished it to continue. As far as I know, no one has the least intention of wishing to remove their opportunities in this respect, if comprehensive education is what they want. If it is working well in Sheffield, I am delighted to hear it. But the hon. Member might at least also allow my constituents—and those in the rest of Southend—the right to decide for themselves what their system of education should he. I agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Ely that that, in effect, is what this debate is all about.

Mr. Freud

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there is no chance of seeing how good a comprehensive school is unless it has a chance to be truly comprehensive? Our great objection is that, while children in that part of the country can be creamed off into other types of education—in a way that does not apply in Sheffield, Hillsborough—there is no way of seeing what comprehensive education would be like there.

Mr. Channon

The hon. Member for Isle of Ely is saying, in effect, that against their will the parents of Southend should adopt a system they do not want in order to discover whether, at the end of the day, they like it or not. With respect, that is not a view that I, as the elected Member for the area, can possibly support.

I ask the Secretary of State to give this matter serious consideration. In my own constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden), at the instigation of the Essex education authority we had a referendum of all the parents of children of school age to see what they wanted the system of education to be. The questions were in no way loaded, as the hon. Member for Isle of Ely appeared to suggest. Parents were offered three schemes. The first was a system of comprehensive schools for pupils between the ages of 11 and 18, which would have resulted in the abolition of the selection procedure. The third was a scheme retaining two selective schools, with the remainder going comprehensive for pupils aged between 11 and 18. The third was the existing system. The percentage taking part in the referendum was every bit as high as in a parliamentary election. In fact, I think it was higher than in the last election. Of those taking part, 51.46 per cent.—8,995 out of 17,000—said that they wished to keep the existing scheme of education in the town. A further 4,479, or a little over 25 per cent., expressed a preference for a comprehensive scheme. The preference of 3,916 was for the intermediate scheme, which would have resulted in two selective schools, with the remainder comprehensive.

An overall majority of the parents of children of school age in the town wanted to continue the present system, and of those who did not want it in its entirety, a further 22 per cent. wanted to retain two selective schools in the town.

It was an enormous poll. It was not a flash in the pan. It resulted in a large majority. I believe that to be a convincing demonstration of local will, freely and democratically expressed.

Mr. Mulley

It is important to take note of the parents' views, and the hon. Gentleman has explained the views of the majority of his constituents. But I understand him to be arguing that although Southend represents the minority view in the nation as a whole the majority view in the town should prevail. What about the minority among his con- stituents? How are we to take care of them?

Mr. Channon

The Secretary of State told us in a previous debate that he had a First-Class Honours degree. Surely he must see the fallacy of that argument. Until now, education has always been based on the principle that it is for local people to decide the system of education that they wish to adopt and that the Secretary of State, at the end of the day, has the right to refuse any scheme that is put up to him. Here is an example of a town that used to be a county borough with an education authority, with good schools of all kinds, which, by a perhaps surprising but convincing majority, has made a definite choice. If the Secretary of State were in my position I am sure that he would fight just as hard for the principle of allowing the people of my town, who have expressed their views by such a convincing majority to choose the system of education that they want.

Mr. Mulley

The 1944 Act was based entirely on the opposite premise, which was to lay down a national system and to require by law, no matter what the local authorities thought about it, the separation of schools between primary and secondary, and to abolish all-age schools. In that sense, the idea of a national system of education has been with us since 1944.

Mr. Channon

It would be foolish of me to argue with the Secretary of State about the 1944 Education Act. However, it was my understanding that it was for the local authority to nut forward a scheme of education, which the Secretary of State had the power to reject or approve. I have never been told until now that the Secretary of State's view is that in the future there will be a national system of education, imposed from Whitehall and implemented in every town regardless of whether the majority of parents want it.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North) rose—

Mr. Channon

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have promised to be brief—

Mr. Bryan Davies

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on this point?

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I say that I am under great pressure? Almost every hon. Member who attempts to intervene also wishes to sneak in the debate. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has promised to be brief. I hope that we shall all encourage him.

Mr. Channon

The arguments on education grounds are mixed. Many people support comprehensive schools. Many people are against them. I have seen good comprehensive schools. I have seen good grammar schools. The standard of education in Southend is very high, as it is in many other parts of the country.

I am violently against this Bill, because in my view the Secretary of State is wrong to say that in a situation in which the majority of parents in a town have expressed their views so clearly he wishes to coerce them against their will.

We are told that there are only seven education authorities in the country without a system of comprehensive education. If it is so universally marvellous, as we have been led to believe, and if it is so universally popular with electors, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough told us, why do we not leave those education authorities to continue as they are, in the belief that in due course they will be converted by the brilliance of the system elsewhere—if that is the case being made by the Secretary of State? I suspect that it is not, however, because we know that there is a very strong case for saying that there should be an inquiry into the present system of secondary education.

As a constituency Member, I think that I am entitled to say that when the Government of the day attempt to ride roughshod over the wishes of parents in my constituency it is my duty to oppose this Bill.

6.47 p.m.

Mr. John Ovenden (Gravesend)

I begin by agreeing with one of the remarks of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). He said that we ought to move along the road in our education debates and start discussing some of the other education issues that matter—the size of schools, streaming within schools, and the value and purpose of education in our society. I have no doubt that we shall come to these matters eventually. This Bill takes us just a little nearer to the day when we can put behind us this sterile argument about selection and get down to discussing the real education issues that confront us.

The fact that we are still having to argue the case against selection long after—decades after—the overwhelming body of education opinion has been convinced of the failure of selection, is evidence of the fact that in many areas of the country, unfortunately, education policy is entrusted to people whose decisions are based not on the merits of educational arguments but on a rigid adherence to their own prejudices.

In our last debate on comprehensive education, I claimed that we had advanced no further towards understanding the position of the Conservative Party on the issue of comprehensive education. I fear that that is equally true in today's debate. The Opposition's greatest dilemma, apparently, stems from their wish to avoid upsetting their many Conservative colleagues in local government who saw the light many years ago and accepted comprehensive education while giving moral support to the more reactionary Tory authorities which, even now, are fighting any challenge to the system of privilege in education.

It is a great pity that Opposition spokesmen cannot rise above their obsession with their own internal party problems, declare precisely where they stand on this issue, and fight for the policies in which they believe.

Perhaps it is a tribute to the strength of the arguments for comprehensive education that we now hear so little direct argument against the principle. Even the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) could find nothing adverse to say against that principle. It is obvious that the main argument is widely accepted and that all we have to deal with in debate after debate on comprehensive education are these bogus and petty debating points that are still used.

First, we are told that, whatever the merits of the argument, local education authorities must still be free to decide. The logic of that argument is that although we should accept that comprehensive education is a superior form of education—as has been accepted by so many hon. Members on the Opposition Benches—at the same time we should condone the deliberate act of some local education authorities in denying the benefits of that system to the children in their areas.

If we fail to approve the Bill we shall be elevating the principle of local independence above our duty to ensure the best possible education for our children. On an issue such as this, the issue of local independence and autonomy must take a back seat to what we believe to be the proper established system of education—the system that we believe to be educationally more beneficial for our children and to have been proved in practice.

In any event, there is no evidence—though some Tory Members try to suggest there is—that the composition of local education authorities is the best reflection of local needs. My constituency provides an example of the fallacy of that argument, and is in almost direct contrast to the Southend, West constituency. The Tory-dominated Kent Education Authority has set its face against reorganisation, but it is not included in the seven because it is far too subtle and devious in its opposition to comprehensive education.

Although the county has set its face against reorganisation, eight of the 11 county councillors who represent areas in my constituency were elected on a policy of comprehensive education, and the constituency is represented by a Member of Parliament who was elected in two successive General Elections on a manifesto committing the Government to secondary reorganisation. In addition, the overwhelming majority of local teachers, and, on the best evidence available, the majority of parents, are in favour of comprehensive schools. It is a distortion of the argument about local democracy to maintain that because such an area has the misfortune to be included in the area of a county council that is composed of a majority of the most reactionary Conservatives it should be denied the benefits of reorganisation.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The hon. Gentleman does not believe in democracy.

Mr. Ovenden

I do. I believe in the right of electors to decide this issue, but if they claim this right to stand against comprehensive education I ask them to take a stand against those Conservative authorities which are defying local opinion and refusing to go comprehensive.

The debate on this issue in recent years has been dominated by the spurious argument—fortunately we have not heard too much of it today, but we shall no doubt hear it later—over freedom of choice. It is a myth to pretend that there is any choice in our present education system. Selection means that the choice is made for children, often by an archaic and inaccurate method of assessment. Under our present system, no parent and no child can claim any right of entry to a grammar school if he or she fails the selection process. The only people in our society who can exercise any educational choice are those who can afford to buy their way out if it fails to provide their children with the opportunities they desire. If that were not so, perhaps more interest would be shown by some of those parents and by Tory Members about the way in which the State system functions.

I often think that it might be a good idea to ban from service on local education authorities those parents who send their children to private schools, because by their very actions they demonstrate their lack of confidence in the State system and a lack of confidence in their own ability and decisions to fashion the shape of the State system.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Sameness and drabness are all that the hon. Gentleman wants.

Mr. Ovenden

Why should those who have chosen to opt out of the State system retain the power to make decisions over the education of other peoples' children?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Because they were elected to do so.

Mr. Ovenden

I suspect that if they had not lost confidence in their own abilities they would be prepared to subject their children to the results of the decisions that they make in the State system.

The fierce arguments that still rage over comprehensive education appear to be confined to such areas as Southend. They still rage in those areas where there is no comprehensive education. They do not rage so fiercely in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) where there is a system of comprehensive education, and this proves—

Mr. Channon rose—

Mr. Ovenden

I shall not give way at this point. I shall do so later. I suspect that the lack of fierce argument implies that in those areas where comprehensive education has been seen in practice and tried the opposition has waned. Opposition to the idea of comprehensive education has died within a few years of its being introduced and its values being seen in practice.

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman referred to my constituency. He may like to know that it has two comprehensive schools which are very good.

Mr. Ovenden

It is unfortunate that Conservative Members insist on misunderstanding the nature of comprehensive education. One cannot have a comprehensive school in the midst of a selective system. It is the system that we are talking about, not what label one attaches to a certain type of school. One does not produce a comprehensive system of education by renaming secondary modern schools as comprehensives. I know that doing that often benefits the argument of Tory Members, because they can label secondary modern schools as comprehensive, give them a limited ability intake, and then point to their failure to achieve the academic standards of the grammar schools. This is continuing but it will not wash as a comprehensive system.

I hope that when the Bill reaches the statute book, which I trust will be very soon, the Secretary of State will give some priority—perhaps the first priority—to securing complete reorganisation in areas such as my own, where schemes that were introduced many years ago, as an intermediate step towards comprehensive education, have become entrenched as a permanent system. More than 10 years ago the 11-plus examination was ended in what was then the Thames Side Division in Kent. It was replaced by a strange system of high schools and upper schools, which succeeded only in deferring selection from the age of 11 to the age of 13. It was an administrative convenience to ease the transition towards com- prehensive education. It was never intended to be any more than a transitional phase, because it could never be a viable system in the long term. It could never be viable, because it involved selection, at the age of 13, of 25 per cent. of high school pupils to upper schools, and it therefore ensured that the high schools could never be in a position to provide the wide range of courses that were necessary for pupils who remained in those schools.

The maintenance of that system in my area has been brought about by the dogmatic, doctrinaire determination of the Kent County Council to see that the original aim of comprehensive reorganisation never comes about. It has been denied by that council that the scheme was ever intended as an interim scheme, but that statement does not fool the people who were involved in the discussions at the time of the reorganisation. It is the obvious aim now of these areas of the Kent Education Authority to persuade other areas of Kent to accept this inadequate and educationally inefficient system. They want to do so to head off the moves towards comprehensive education. They want to offer this as a halfway house, with no intention whatever of taking any further steps towards reorganisation.

My own area is being forced to accept a system that it does not want—the failure of which it has witnessed—so that the system can be foisted on other areas that have never seen it in practice. I ask the Secretary of State to look at these areas in particular and to take what action he can to ensure that in those areas reorganisation goes ahead very quickly, as originally intended.

Within my own area, it cannot be claimed that reorganisation would be a costly business. The initial step having been taken 10 years ago, reorganisation can be brought about without the expenditure of vast amounts of money. I suspect that my own education committee realises this, and that is why it has refused throughout to submit a scheme for reorganisation. It knows that once the scheme is prepared and costed there will be no argument about further progress towards comprehensive education, and there will be no way in which it can prevent the move. The main argument about the cost of change will be taken away, because the scheme will prove clearly that comprehensive education can come about quickly and easily and at small expense.

I want to say a few words about the mechanics of the Bill. I accept that it will be difficult for the Secretary of State to introduce systems of comprehensive education in an area in which the local education authority is reluctant to see them implemented. We cannot run away from that, or delude ourselves. I think it a pity, seeing the job that lies ahead in reorganising education on comprehensive lines, that the Conservative Party so foolishly abolished the system of local administration through divisional executives. That would have provided a good opportunity for the Secretary of State to ask for plans and views from the local areas, from the people at the grass roots, where local education authorities were refusing to co-operate.

However, although we no longer have the divisional executives, in most areas we have the education advisory committees on a local basis. I should welcome any move to give more substance and a few more teeth to these bodies. I am sure that there are many areas where local education authorities are refusing to co-operate where the education advisory committees would be more than happy to submit direct to the Secretary of State their proposals for reorganisation. I hope that the Secretary of State will be prepared to accept their views and to bring them into the process of decision-making on the future shape of education in their areas.

Mr. Speaker

May I make a plea to the House? If hon. Members make 10-minute speeches, all who wish to do so will have the opportunity to be called.

7.3 p.m.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

I shall do my best, Mr. Speaker.

This Bill is shorter than the infamous "Short" Bill of 1970, but it is none the less unpleasant. In fact, it is rather tougher than that Bill. In marked contrast was the 1944 Act, which was notable for the bipartisan atmosphere in which it was debated. Since those days, our discussions have been somewhat sterile.

Although the Secretary of State may be right in saying that his present Bill is in a form similar to the 1944 Act in altering the structure of schools, I argue that it is definitely against the spirit of that Act, and, needless to say, it is out of all proportion to the problem which it is designed to cure. One has the strong impression, therefore, that this is a bone thrown to the dogs of the Left whom the Prime Minister was so keen on licensing not long ago.

The nature of the situation is unmistakable. The boundaries between local government and central Government have been sliding and are continuing to slide. This Bill will accelerate that slide, so that the boundaries virtually disappear. How the Minister of State, who, one suspects, is keen on regional government, will reconcile that change in the balance of authority with his proposals for the English regions, I am not sure. The key point is that local education authorities will now be sent back their proposals and be forced to alter them at the whim of the Secretary of State—not at the choice of the courts according to law but at the sole discretion of the Secretary of State. Hence, we see a massive widening of the Secretary of State's authority in secondary education just as we have seen it in higher education over the reorganisation of the colleges. Plainly in character, the Government are exerting their authority, through Whitehall and through Ministers, with Big Brother attitudes all down the line.

The universality of Clause I must be opposed because it is clearly against the spirit of the 1944 Act. Section 1 of the Act called for a Minister to secure a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area. There is now a totally different approach. The Minister is trying to establish something which is precisely not a varied and comprehensive education service in every area.

Mr. Flannery

The hon. Gentleman speaks of the 1944 Act as though it was one of the tablets of stone brought down from the mountain, as though it was eternal. Does he not realise that the process represented by the various Bills which have been passed, as I hope that this will be, is one of change which proceeds steadily within that framework?

Dr. Hampson

That is exactly my point. The pattern of schools has continued to evolve. In fact, it was established not by the 1944 Act but under the first post-war Labour Government, and the basic reason why we condemn this Bill is that it uses force to produce a different pattern, and the Secretary of State is doing it merely in order to push around what he regards as a few recalcitrant Tory authorities—forgetting that some, for example, Leicester and North Yorkshire, were in the forefront of reorganisation.

The Secretary of State's scheme will have widespread and fundamental repercussions. It will change the balance established under the 1944 Act, and not just the balance between the Government and local authorities. The cardinal point of the 1944 Act was that it placed a duty to educate children not on the local authority—certainly not on the Secretary of State—but on the parents. The duty of the local authority was to provide schools so that parents could carry out that duty.

I remind the House of what was said during the debates on the 1944 Act. The then Member for Kilmarnock asked the President of the Board of Education: Does this include a choice of schools as well as curriculum? The reply was "Yes". Another Member asked, with reference to Clause 8 of the Bill which became Section 76 of the Act, whether the Minister will indicate what machinery he will create so that the voices of parents … will be co-ordinaed and brought together."—[Official Report, 15th February 1944; Vol. 397, c. 142–3.] There are two cardinal points to be remembered here. The intention was that there should be discretion and variety in each area, and that the discretion should be that of the local authority. As Lord Butler said, referring to what was then Clause 8, … the variety and scope of the provision must depend on local initiative".—[Official Report, 19th January 1944; Vol. 396, c. 209.] That was the essence of it. But there was a second crucial aspect: the role of parents in exercising choice and having their say. Ever since then, however, no Government have established that machinery to give the voice of parents the influence it should have, and now with this Bill the possibility of any such machinery—even the little there has been —will disappear altogether.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

The hon. Gentleman said rightly that no Government had ever established that machinery. Will he tell us his own proposals for that machinery so that the House may judge the views of his party? Although he is speaking from a Back Bench, the hon. Gentleman is the Front Bench spokesman—

Mr. St. John-Stevas

No, he is not.

Mr. Bryan Davies

He soon will be.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

Let the hon. Gentleman give us his proposals so that we may judge what machinery his party would put into legislation, were it ever to return to power.

Dr. Hampson

If I have the opportunity to serve on the Standing Committee, the Minister will hear our proposals, because we shall certainly advocate some constructive machinery.

The irony is that in the infamous "Short" Bill of 1970, parents were mentioned. There was to be consultation with governors and managers and with teachers, and there was a throwaway line to the effect that parents would be informed. But in this Bill parents are not mentioned. They are not even to be informed of what will affect them. Why is not the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) complaining about his own Secretary of State for ignoring the teachers? They were involved in the consultation process of 1970, but there is no mention of them in the present Bill.

Plainly, two critical categories are ignored—parents and teachers. All hon. Members must recognise that the quality of education depends not on the structure which we adopt—it is easy to muck about with structures—but on what happens in the classroom and on the quality and nature of the teaching. Yet, as I say, those cardinal aspects of the education process are forgotten, and the parents themselves are being given a particularly shoddy deal under the Bill.

It is easy to misconstrue the nature of one's own time, let alone of the future. We have neither the knowledge nor the imagination to visualise what our future society will be.

Therefore, in planning the provision for the future in educational terms, surely we should plan for uncertainty. That I would define as having a flexible and diversified system, the sort of thing for which Stuart Maclure, the editor of the Times Educational Supplement, argued a year ago when he suggested that we might have a comprehensive system up to the age of 14 and then permit a rich variety of post-14 solutions both in school and in further education". He said that schools could specialise in mathematics or language teaching, that there could be technical specialist or academically specialist schools.

The needs of academically able pupils must be considered, particularly in the inner city areas. As hon. Members know, I have always supported the principle of comprehensive education in the sense that I am against the 11-plus—I have always believed that it was too rigid—but one must admit that the comprehensive schools in so many inner city areas do not offer a challenging, sharp academic environment, through no fault of their own. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, who has just come into the Chamber, was saying herself only yesterday how the constraints of the family, the neighbourhood and background are critical to the quality of students and the nature of the school.

In these ghetto inner city areas, comprehensive schools will have great problems. We have also got the scale of comprehensive schools wrong. There are many difficult aspects to be considered. The theory is fine, but let us get down to the human scale, the reality on the ground, which is what hon. Members opposite so often forget.

We should have flexibility and diversity so that, if there are, in the inner city working-class areas, academically able working-class boys and girls, there will be a way out for them—an escape route, if one likes—into an academic school. That was the great thing that the direct grant schools provided. If Ministers had not been so dogmatic, they would not have forced our best academic schools in the inner city areas of Manchester, Newcastle, Bradford and Leeds out into the private sector, where only the wealthy can enter them. They could have been incorporated into the system if Ministers had had any flexibility of attitude. By taking this pigheaded approach and driving on relentlessly they are denying the flexibility that I should have thought we wanted for our children's future. Yet there is a tremendous and ironic illogicality in what the Secretary of State keeps saying. Only a week or so ago, he yet again urged priority for the 16–19year-olds. In the process, he said that we must change the attitudes of our ablest students, because he wanted more people to take science, engineering and technical courses.

On 9th January, he said: I have in mind not just the disadvantaged child —I think that the Bill refers only to the disadvantaged children unless they do music and dancing— but some other forms of differentiation and discrimination as well. So what is this Bill all about? The Bill is in marked contrast to that in 1970. Apart from music and dancing, it allows no discrimination or differentiation at all. In fact, it is so hard and fast in what it says, that the right hon. Gentleman, as he said himself, had to insert a special clause about disadvantaged children or no special schools could have been provided for them.

This is a narrowing and stultifying Bill if ever there was one. On the one hand the Secretary of State acknowledges that the ablest exist and that we need differentiation to help them, while on the other he is killing the chances of local authorities providing it. That is one of the worst features of the Bill, its limitation of diversity, flexibility, openness and initiative.

Let us take a hypothetical situation. It is artificial to fix on the 15–19-yearolds, since attitudes towards the outside world are formed long before 16. I would argue that the ages of 14, 15 and 16—the last two years at school—are all-important. What happens if a local authority decides, breaking new boundaries of structure and planning, that it wants—some are already working towards this—to set up some specialist schools for those aged 14 to 16? The Bill will put such constraints on them as even to stop them.

At the moment, 13 education authorities run selective sixth form colleges. Will the right hon. Gentleman stop them? These were exempt in the 1970 Bill. Will he now ask them to close the colleges down or to alter their nature? This is the very essence of our approach as against the approach of the Labour Party. We want to see a widening of opportunities and experimentation with the sixth form type of institution or the 14-plus type of institution and we are frightened that the Bill will strangle that sort of initiative and experiment.

That is what the Bill is. It may be an amending Bill, but it is certainly not an improving Bill: it is a strangling Bill. It prevents this country from providing that multi-dimensional educational system which is the only way in which we can effectively prepare our children for the pluralistic society that this country will see in the next century.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Mike Noble (Rossendale)

I wish to give a cautious and qualified welcome to the Bill. It is a step in the right direction, towards an opportunity of equality rather than what the Opposition have frequently called for—an equality of opportunity. It will bring a broadening of education opportunities in areas in which reactionary local education authorities have been delaying progress. I hope also that it will help to eliminate the dual standards in secondary education described by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden), in which grammar schools are allowed to exist alongside so-called comprehensive schools. But as a reform, the Bill is limited in scope.

Two main principles are involved in the Bill. The first is the extent to which central Government should interfere in the affairs of local government. One thing that used to distress me, as a local councillor, was the hypocrisy displayed by opposition parties in throwing up their heads in horror whenever the party in government said that it would take a step that would in any way limit the rights, powers and functions of local authorities.

After all, the last Conservative Government limited the functions of many education authorities far more than this Bill will, when they reorganised local government and, by putting them into large county areas, took away the rights of many county boroughs.

Mr. Montgomery

The Labour Party did not vote against it.

Mr. Noble

We did locally, and would continue to do so.

We recall also the interference in local government affairs under the Housing Finance Act and the Education (Milk) Act, under the latter of which local authorities were even prevented by the present Leader of the Opposition from raising a rate, for their own purposes, to spend on milk.

We recall the frequent intervention by the Conservative Secretary of State in the years 1970–74 to prevent local authorities from proceeding with reorganisation plans that had been drawn up and agreed locally. So many of the arguments for not intervening in local government have now gone by the board. In the circumstances of this Bill, the interference projected is fully justified.

The second question is whether the Bill is sufficient to achieve the aims of those who have been pressing for change. The answer is that it will do so only partly. We know that the Bill requires local education authorities to submit schemes in line with the principle that secondary education shall be provided in schools only where there are no arrangements for admission on the basis of selection. We know that the Secretary of State can require proposals on this, but that begs a number of questions.

The first is the kind of schemes of educational reorganisation that will be allowed. For example, I should like to know whether Scheme 3 in Circular 10/65 will be allowed to continue. That scheme was based on guided parental choice. Children went to the secondary school from the age of 11 until the age of 13, and when they reached 13 their parents were given guidance by teachers to determine to which school they would go. Ultimately, in theory, the choice resided with the parent. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, the pressure from the school authorities meant that the parent had very little choice.

In many cases the 11-plus examination was replaced by a far more stringent form of social selection. It meant the introduction of a grammar school stream into the junior high school and the maintenance of separatism at the age of 13. This type of scheme is one of the reasons why there has been so much criticism of the so-called failures of comprehensive education. I ask my hon. Friend, in the light of the Bill, whether such authorities will have to furnish further schemes.

There are two further weaknesses. First, there is nothing whatever in the Bill about the internal organisation of schools. In my view this is the nub of the issue. The real problem in modern secondary education—a problem that has existed since the reforms of the nineteenth century—is the need to protect the child from the occupational structure of society that the child will face when he or she leaves school. This issue has led to streaming, selection, and the rigid pushing of children, so that round pegs are forced into square holes willy-nilly, depending on the results of a selective examination. It has led to the comprehensive movement, which was, of course, devised to end the labelling and categorisation of children but which, regrettably, has not done so. In my view much of the reorganisation of secondary education has been a massive confidence trick. The old divisions remain within schools. The disadvantaged often remain disadvantaged.

There is a danger that the appearance of change in secondary education—putting new names above old school gates—will make the arrival of a genuine nonselective system that much less likely. If real change is to be introduced in education we need to attach the value systems inside schools and not simply to their structures. That means that in some way influence must be brought to bear inside the schools.

What have we now? I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) has left the Chamber. He used to be head of a school and, indeed, has written a book about it. I think that the school was called Highbury, but in any event it was certainly a London school. He was very proud of it, but in my view it is a highly efficient meritocracy—nothing more. One sees from the book that it operates at the expense of the less gifted and less able children, because, generally speaking, resources are pushed towards those with greater ability.

As a Socialist I suggest that we should ensure that resources are concentrated on those with less ability. We should not simply pursue the meritocratic idea. The hon. Member for Brent, North condemns the view that schools are vehicles for social engineering. Every school that has been created is a laboratory of social engineering. Every school creates value systems, and the schools which receive most support from Opposition Members—the public schools and schools in the private sector—are the most advanced forms of social engineering in education that this country has ever seen. That is true of all schools, because they create value systems.

Although this reform may take us partly along the way, will my hon. Friends please look at ways and means of assessing the value systems in schools to ensure that what we are trying to replace is not simply lumped inside an old building which is given a new name?

I noted earlier that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned cash—£25 million. Frankly, that is not enough. The first secondary school that I taught in was one of the so-called split-site schools. It is schools of that kind that give comprehensive reorganisation a bad name. We must ensure that if we will the means, we will the end and that we make sufficient capital investment available for these schools to be created.

At present certain authorities are facing particular difficulties. In many cases they are halfway through the process of introducing a new and reorganised system of education. I quote the example of Tameside. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) is present, and knows the details well. Plans have been submitted for reorganisation. They have been approved by the Secretary of State. Public notices have been issued and objections are being considered. Final approval is about to be given and the indicated implementation date is 1st September this year. Moreover, the old selection procedures have been abandoned and the staff are now in the process of being appointed to posts in the comprehensive schools.

However, in the present climate there remains a substantial degree of uncertainty. It is possible that the plans could, at some stage, be rescinded by the local education authority. That could create educational chaos, cause grave damage to the future of the children involved and generate uncertainty among the staff. Therefore, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend, when she concludes the debate—perhaps, if she cannot answer now, she will write to me—would say whether the Bill can include provisions to ensure that where plans have been approved prior to the Bill becoming law, they will be carried out in those cases where the date has already been indicated by the Secretary of State.

I give the Bill a cautious welcome. We have a long way to go and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider the attitudes which prevail within the schools as well as the structure of education.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. William van Straubenzee Wokingham)

The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) will understand that although I accept entirely the sincerity with which he put forward his argument and agree with him in certain respects, there are a number of other matters which, from the point of view of Opposition Members, are controversial. As I recall, the hon. Gentleman asked the extent to which, within the context of the Bill, central Government should interfere with local government. That matter was ably examined in the effective speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas).

There are two possible views of the administration of the education service. It can be regarded either merely as one of a number of local government services or, as I prefer, as a national service but locally administered. There are powerful voices in the local authorities who are profoundly anxious about the shift of power represented not only by this Bill but by other aspects of successive Governments' policies.

Much mention has been made of Sheffield. We may take as an example of what I mean the very powerful speech of Mr. Michael Harrison, the Chief Education Officer for Sheffield, and the incoming President of the Society of Education Officers. To summarise his presidential speech, he warned that education under local government reorganisation is not being well administered and that this could lead to its removal from local government. I firmly wish to see education retained by local government. I adhere firmly to the principle of the balance of power between central and local government. That leads me to look critically at the Bill.

In this we should have the support of the National Union of Teachers. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who has been a regular attender throughout the debate, is temporarily absent from the Chamber. When Mr. Max Morris gave evidence to the Expenditure Committee he delivered himself of a splendid maxim: The power of the Department of Education increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. If anyone should be on the side of looking critically at the Bill it is Mr. Max Morris. I believe that in the maintenance of this balance—I realise it is not an easy matter—the onus of proof is on the Minister who would shift it.

I believe that broadly it should fulfil three criteria. First, preferably it should be bipartisan. Mention is often made of the 1944 Act in this connection. That Act was a supremely good example of a bipartisan approach. For example, the elementary schools were at least legally abolished by that legislation.

Secondly, it should be capable of precise definition. The school leaving age is an example of what I have in mind. That is capable of absolutely clear and precise definition. However, no one could say that the introductory words to this Bill were capable of precise definition.

Thirdly, it should be demonstrated beyond doubt that this shift to the centre from the circumference is overwhelmingly necessary. Here the roving and bright mind of the returning Minister of State assists us. His speches are nearly always worth reading. However, I thought that he let the cat out of the bag somewhat entertainingly in a recent speech at a seminar on higher education finance held by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. I commend that speech to hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Gentleman drew extensively on a study by Dame Kathleen 011erenshaw—a name with which to conjure in anything to do with figures; that is, statistical figures—and showed how, because of the way that expenditure was committed on existing schools, only about 4.7 per cent. went on areas which could be influenced by policy. His conclusion was that there was not much room left for differences on party lines. That is true, as anyone who has been inside the portals of the Department knows. The room for manoeuvre by Ministers in the terms of this Bill is minuscule. That is the limitation on Government policy. That is why the Bill is unnecessary.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

As the hon. Gentleman has referred to a lecture which I gave, I am sure he will accept that I was making two points. The first concerned the distribution of expenditure. I said that very little difference could be made along party lines within a short period. The second point was that, in so far as there was a sharp political difference in the policies advocated by the two major parties, it lay along the comprehensive issue.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Yes. I noted that. I was about to move to that point, but necessarily shortly.

I wish to put a serious point to the Under-Secretary of State, to which I hope she will reply in her usual courteous way. I want to meet head on the assertion by the Secretary of State that he has made £23 million—I think that is the figure for England—specifically and additionally available for secondary reorganisation. I suggest that there is enough time for her to obtain advice about these figures.

I have great admiration for those who advise education Ministers. They are possibly equalled only by the Treasury as the ablest public servants in the business. However, they are also very skilled in the presentation of figures. One of the difficulties in cracking an argument like this is that necessarily all Oppositions are less equipped than Ministers. The allocation of £23 million is part of a total of £177 million for the whole of the school building programme. The £23 million represents only 13 per cent. of that capital allocation, and it is at the most expensive end. The allocation covers all types of schools, and we are talking about the most expensive provision.

That is not all. The proportion of secondary school pupils in comprehensive schools, according to a recent speech by the Secretary of State, has now risen to 58.8 per cent. Clearly the £23 million does not apply to them because they are already reorganised. Therefore, it follows that 13 per cent. of the school building programme allocation is allegedly to be made available for 41–2 per cent. of secondary school pupils who are not in reorganised schools. That illustrates the small amount of money which is available and shows conclusively that the Secretary of State has merely taken out that cohort from the money which in any case would have been allocated to 41.2 per cent. of pupils and made the most splendid song and dance about making additional money available.

I do not know whether I have cracked the nut, but I suspect there is a nut there to be cracked if anyone has greater skill than I in getting at it. I hope that I have illustrated sufficiently that additional money is not available in real terms for meaningful secondary reorganisation.

I turn now to party attitudes. Some will remember the words recently written by Lord Alexander of Pottenhill, who is obviously much in our minds tonight in view of his recent bereavement, in Education on 2nd January: I have always been concerned to avoid the education service becoming a sharp issue of party politics. I fear this Bill will inevitably lead to precisely that situation. That there is quite strong consensus of opinion in favour of the principle of comprehensive schools is not in doubt. What is in grave doubt is whether we have yet established how best to organise schools on the comprehensive principle, and that is a subject which requires very careful examination. Those are powerful words from a very powerful administrator. Therefore, it is important to establish, as was established so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), that the opposition is opposition to compulsion, not to the comprehensive system as such.

I acknowledge that large numbers of comprehensive schools were established by Tory local authorities without coercion from the centre under Tory Governments. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough was right to point out, though some of my hon. Friends will not agree, that large numbers of Tory parents deeply resented selection at an early age. I do not think that anyone in this House is absolutely wedded to the principle of selection at the age of 11, except in terms of party propaganda. However, there is still real anxiety on that score among many who work and vote for the Tory Party.

I beg my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), when winding up the debate for the Opposition, to devote a section of his speech to the encouragement of large numbers of Conservative voters who teach in, administer and are parents of pupils in successful comprehensive schools as well as to those with children in schools which have grave problems. Will he make it clear that the next Tory Government, as part of their responsibilities, will want to sustain and particularly to understand the problems of, comprehensive and other schools in difficult areas?

In 1970, on Second Reading of the Education Bill, I quoted a phrase from a textbook on taxation which young lawyer students have to learn: Dogmatism in taxation is only given to those whose knowledge of the subject is slight."—[Official Report. 12th February 1970; Vol. 795, c. 1570.] I believe that exactly the same applies to education.

Major questions are still unanswered. What is the smallest viable size of a comprehensive school? What are the social problems of large comprehensive schools? What is proving to be the preferable organisation? Is an 11-to-18 all-through school wise? Are there good grounds for identifying only music and dancing for selection purposes? Is the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) right when he states dogmatically that we cannot have a viable comprehensive system if there is any other type of school in the immediate area?

Dogmatism, when I hear it in matters of education, I suspect is given only to those whose knowledge of the subject is slight. Humility requires us to look with the greatest care and with criticism at this Bill.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

I am more than pleased to speak after the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), with whose fairness and open-mindedness in matters of education the whole House will identify. That, I suppose, is the reason he is sitting on the Opposition Back Benches.

Other speakers have begun their remarks by giving their qualifications for speaking in this debate. Perhaps I may be allowed to give mine. I was one of those—often patronised by Conservative Members—who, at an early age, won a scholarship from what was then the elementary school to the grammar school. I pay tribute to both the elementary school and the grammar school to which I went. If I had got one or two marks less at the 11-plus examination I should probably not have been able to follow my educational career. Subsequently, I went to university and then into teaching. I taught in a secondary modern school, which then became a comprehensive school.

I welcome the Bill because its intention is to provide a universal system of comprehensive schools in the maintained sector.

Another reason for taking part in the debate is that my constituency is part of the borough of Redbridge—one of the recalcitrant seven. I well remember the long fight which I, as a member of that authority had, in trying to persuade the council to adopt a comprehensive system. I am afraid that I was not very successful. With the help of the more moderate Conservative members of the council we managed to get a scheme that provided for a system of comprehensive secondary schools, with the retention of two grammar schools. Even so, the council still persists in sending some 30 boys to the Bancroft's School, which, until recently, was a direct grant school and is now independent. That is in deference to the wild men and women on the Redbridge Borough Council who would very much like to return to the old tripartite system. At a time of financial stringency, when Redbridge Borough Council is cutting education expenditure left, right and centre, it is spending £100,000 each year on providing 30 places per annum in the direct grant schools. At the same time, it is cutting expenditure in other sectors—in the provision of nursery schools and ESN schools, and in staff.

From listening to Conservative Members it would appear that the Committee stage of the Bill is likely to be protracted and that it may be late in the Session when the Bill becomes an Act. I had hoped that Clause 5 would be operating, because that might have stopped the Redbridge Borough Council in its tracks in terms of this year's entry into independent schools.

Although noises have been made this afternoon, the argument for and against the comprehensive schools is over. There may be those, the troglodytes, who still hark back to the tripartite system, but in the main the idea and the ideal of comprehensive schools is accepted, if only in principle.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that there can be no question of going back to the tripartite system, but there is still a sharp division of opinion between those who want a compulsory and universal system of comprehensive schools and those who believe that there is room, within a predominantly comprehensive system, for a certain number of selective schools. That is the issue.

Mr. Shaw

I was about to deal with that. I just cannot appreciate a system of comprehensive secondary education which contains an element of selection and, therefore, of the grammar school. If the comprehensive school and the grammar school were to exist side by side, the comprehensive school would be regarded as second-best. It would not necessarily be second-best, but it would be so regarded.

I assure hon. Members that the rat race is still on for admission to those grammar schools which still exist in my borough. Many parents are still prepared to spend a lot of money to have their children coached in passing verbal reasoning tests, or the like. I am certain that that is happening in other places where grammar schools still exist.

Those who oppose the Bill also say that a universal system of comprehensive schools does away with the element of choice. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) pointed out that that choice has never existed. He said that there is the possibility of the power of the purse being used to buy privileged education, but apart from that the only choice that the child or the parent had depended on a test at 11-plus which was a test of the ability of the child to pass the test at that time. It is also said that the objective of those who support the Bill—the objective of ending in equality cannot be obtained by the establishment of the neighbourhood school. Schools gain reputations that are good or bad according to the social background in which they are situated. It see no real objection to the neighbourhood school. Given the fact that such a comprehensive school is served by a number of primary schools, by the very nature of things there would be some social mix. Even then there is still much to be said for the neighbourhood school—the sort of school on which the parent can look as his own, where, if the parent is sufficiently involved, it can only be good for the school, for the children in the school and for the staff who serve in it.

A school does not have to be a sink because it happens to be situated in a disadavantaged area. So much depends on the inspired leadership of the head teacher and the staff to make something of that school. This has been and is being done, irrespective of the area in which schools are situated. In this matter, too, the Government can do so much. I am aware of the present economic circumstances, but much can be done by putting more resources into those areas where there is social disadvantage.

It has always been a regret to me that more money has not been put into the comprehensive schools. I did not quite follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Wokingham concerning the £25 million. However, I welcome the fact that this money has been put into the kitty, is likely to be taken up, and will be of some help. I can only hope that when the economic clouds roll back and we see again the blue sky, one of the first objectives of the Government will be to put more money into the comprehensive sector, so that we can see the fruition of the objectives of the Bill.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

I should like to make what I hope will be short speech—because I realise that many of my hon. Friends wish to speak in the debate—against what I can only call a squalid Bill. I can remember all too well when in 1970 we had the forerunner of this Bill. Its Second Reading was moved by the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the House, and the attack on that occasion was led by my right hon. Friend who is now the Leader of the Opposition. I am delighted to say that on that occasion virtue triumphed, because for various reasons the proposed legislation never reached the statute book. That was because of a misunderstanding in Committee on that Bill.

I had hoped that after that, perhaps the Labour Party would conveniently forget its hatred of the grammar schools and agree that local education authorities and parents should have some say in the type of schools in which their children should be educated. I am afraid, however, that the Labour Party never learns. Here we go again with another proposal to compel all local authorities to submit plans for comprehensive schemes.

My constituency is in the area covered by the borough of Trafford. Trafford is one of the local authorities that has stood out against the blandishments—if that is the right word—of the Secretary of State. In May 1975 we had local elections. In Trafford we have 21 wards. Education was a great issue at those local elections. In Trafford 20 Conservatives were elected, out of 21 wards. I should have thought that that was a fairly good indication of how people in Trafford felt about the system of education that they should have in their area.

However, I am afraid that this Bill is reminiscent of the phrase that we heard all too often between 1945 and 1951 when the Labour Party was in power. The phrase was "The man in Whitehall knows best". I do not believe that the man in Whitehall does know best. I believe that people are much better at deciding the type of education system that they should have in their area. Otherwise, why do we bother to have local education authorities at all?

The attitude on the Government Benches is one of amazing conceit and arrogance. What Labour Members are saying is that they and they alone know what is right in education, and that anyone else who has a contrary opinion is a fool. The argument being adduced by the Government is that by a complete system of comprehensive schools we shall have some form of equality. That proposition should be very carefully considered.

First, in any comprehensive school we should know how the intake is to be decided. For example, are we to have nothing but neighbourhood schools? As I understand it, the Bill now forbids banding, which is a policy which has been pursued by the ILEA, no doubt to try to achieve a social and an academic mix in schools. However, if we are to have neighbourhood schools—the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw) seemed to be very keen on them—we must ask what is the fairness in the type of school that will be attended by a child who lives in a good residential area as compared with that attended by a child who lives in a city ghetto? What equality is there there?

In Wolverhampton there is an excellent comprehensive school known as Tettenhall Regis School. Over the years it has produced first-class results. However, the catchment area, in the days that I knew it, consisted very largely of middle-class families. The children who attended that school came from homes where there were books to read, where there was conversation, and where there were parents who cared very much about the education of their children. If a comprehensive school could not flourish in that area, it could not flourish anywhere. However, because the school had such a good reputation the value of property in its catchment area increased. Houses in other parts of Wolverhampton would be considerably cheaper than comparable houses in the catchment area of that school. This has been a great selling point for estate agents in the Wolverhampton area.

Therefore, the power of the purse, so often condemned by Labour Members, becomes all-important. How does that affect the bright child who comes from a family that has only a small income. The direct grant schools offered opportunity for him, but that gateway has been closed by the Labour Party, and now Labour Members want to see the complete destruction of good grammar schools that have proved their worth over the years.

One has only to go to the United States to see the differences in neighbourhood schools, the schools in the high-income suburbs that have everything—marvellous buildings and equipment—and schools in the city ghettos which are absolutely deprived. No doubt that is why the United States Supreme Court ruled that there must be a balance between schools. The net result of that is a system of children being bussed from one end of a city to the other. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) touched on that point. We have all read what has gone on in Boston, where angry parents have protested about the bussing of their children. I cannot honestly believe that that is the sort of situation that hon. Members want to see occurring here.

There is also something rather fraudulent about the Bill, because the aim is to get comprehensive education on the cheap. We shall not have purpose-built schools. What is envisaged is the merging of two schools some distance apart and then saying "Hey, presto! Now you have a comprehensive school"? To join together a downtown secondary modern school with a grammar school, built probably in the 1930s, the buildings will have to be shared. Many children will still have to be taught in the less favoured school buildings. Let us not pretend that everyone in that school will have equal access to the best teachers. It is not Bills and circulars that promote educational progress, nor just changing the name of the school; resources and careful planning are far more important.

I wonder why the Government could not take the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford and leave things alone for a time so that we could have a full, impartial inquiry into the relative merits and methods of the selective and comprehensive systems. I should have thought that this made good educational sense. Grammar schools are not built up in a year or even a decade. They are built up by devoted staff who build up a tradition of hard academic work and high standards year after year. It is easy to destroy a school like that overnight but it is a much longer business to build it up. That is why I ask the Minister to give thought to the suggestion that we look at this situation coolly and objectively, instead of going ahead with his plans to destroy good schools.

The Education Act 1944 aimed at the concept of a partnership between the local education authorities and the Government. No doubt the Government will maintain that that is still what they believe in, but what the Bill is trying to do is to say that one partner should be more dominant than the other. That cannot be a good thing. I have always believed that the Secretary of State should have reserve powers and the right to try to persuade, but there is one thing he has not the right to do: he has not and should not have the right to compel a local authority to submit a proposal for secondary reorganisation involving existing schools in which that authority does not itself believe.

I cannot help thinking that what we should be debating today is not the imposition of comprehensive schools throughout the country but the quality of education in existing schools. I do not think that parents care particularly what a school is called. What they are anxious about is whether their children are being taught properly—whether they are being taught to read, to write, and to do arithmetic. They are also concerned about the decline of discipline in our schools.

We read recently of trouble in a comprehensive school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I know the area very well. A few years ago there were a boys' grammar school and a girls' grammar school there. They were merged to form a new comprehensive school. The headmaster of the school was the man who had been the head of the boys' grammar school. That man has earned the respect and admiration of many people in the Newcastle area. He recently found himself in a difficult position, because some of the women on his staff felt that certain unruly girls in the school should have some form of corporal punishment. In Newcastle the system of corporal punishment adopted is to be hit across the hand with a leather strap. The headmaster decided to implement that policy. There was a riot in the school. That received great publicity.

I was astounded to read a report of the Secretary of State saying that the headmaster must have taken leave of his senses.

Mr. Mulley

I said no such thing. I held a Press conference at which a large number of journalists were present. Had I said such a thing, is it conceivable that the report would have appeared in only one newspaper when such a large number was represented at the Press conference? I repeat that these matters are primarily for the local education authority and the teachers concerned.

Mr. Montgomery

I am sorry that it was not made perfectly clear, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will admit that some newspapers reported him as having uttered that phrase.

Mr. Mulley

In defence, let me say that I quickly learned that if one were to spend one's time denying every inaccuracy about one's Department that appeared in the Press one would have that as a full-time occupation. Further, if by some inadvertence one were to forget to deny one inaccuracy it would then be taken to be true. Therefore, I do not take up every reference to myself that appears in the Press.

Mr. Montgomery

I am glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman says.

There is a complete lack of understanding on the part of some people of the difficulties many teachers have to face from an unruly minority of children. This is a cause of concern for many parents. That is why I think that our time today could have been better spent trying to find ways of improving the situation in our classrooms instead of getting on with this nasty little Bill.

The Government must realise that if one takes a big stick to people, if one threatens them and demands 100 per cent. of what one believes to be right, one hardens the position. That is common human experience. It makes it more difficult to get a sensible solution of what should be an issue of practical educational administration, and turns it into a hotly contested arena of political controversy. It then becomes the responsibility of the Government if they proceed with the Bill. In that way they are preventing a compromise and conciliation. They are hardening the lines and, in the process, they are doing real damage to education.

I can only express the hope that history will repeat itself, that we shall have a General Election in the not-too-distant future and that that General Election will ensure that the Bill does not go through Committee and that this time it will be buried once and for all.

8.4 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

It is a signal advantage to catch the eye of the Chair so late in a debate. It enables an hon. Member to reflect on the contributions which have already been made to the debate and also to reflect on his own position.

I approached the debate and the Bill with some sadness. The great problem about the Bill is that it is concerned with issues that should have bean settled some time ago. The major arguments have been chewed over for more than 20 years in public debate and in the Chamber. I regret that some of the contributions which have been made today have gone over so much old ground.

I also approached the debate with some reservation when I appreciated that of the two Front Bench spokesmen for the Opposition one would be an advocate and would quote liberally from Bagehot and another an aficionado of Richard Cobden and that they would both present their views overwhelming within the context of the nineteenth century. Surely we are concerned with education in relation to contemporary society. We must concern ourselves with the issues which face educationalists in the third and fourth quarters of the twentieth century.

The Bill has not been brought forward with undue haste. It is the result of a long drawn out debate. The element of compulsion which some hon. Members have suggested is new has a long heritage. Do hon. Members opposite remember the extent to which the 1944 Act abolished one sector of our education, namely, elementary schools, and clearly established a different framework of schools and school structure within our society? So in introducing the Bill my right hon. Friend is merely following the outlines of the 1944 Act.

What is being changed is the central definition of schools, but that, as I have already emphasised, is on the basis of widespread debate throughout society and is not necessarily a principle that hon. Members opposite would wish to oppose as such. They recognise that many local authorities under the control of their own party have been prepared to introduce comprehensive education.

For those reasons, my right hon. Friend need not worry about defending the commitment in the first part of the Bill to a central definition, a national definition, of the structure of schools. What is more, in defining schools he is reflecting a widespread recognition that academic selection at the age of 11 proved fallible and was unacceptable to the people as a social selector.

My worry about the Bill is that the debate on the comprehensive question has been defined in all too negative terms. The argument has been in terms of the 11-plus and the necessity for its abolition. Hon. Members opposite and others who are concerned about these issues rightly call for a greater definition of the nature of comprehensive schools. I plead for a recognition on the Tory benches that the national imposition of comprehensive schemes is not a suppression of diversity. It is certainly the suppression of selection at 11-plus, but it is that on good grounds.

A myriad of schemes has come forward from local authorities—sixth form colleges, middle schools, the 11-to-18 all-through schools in some areas. That diversity of pattern which we already have is not threatened by the Bill.

We must recognise that, although schools cannot be complete moulders of society as some theorists have advocated, as if in some way social change can be brought about simply by the mechanism of educational change, nevertheless schools clearly have an important part to play in the transition of values. They certainly provide trained manpower and the qualities and qualifications which individuals need to make a contribution to society.

We must recognise that there are substantial callenges to the two positions adopted by hon. Members opposite. Indeed, the positions themselves are in substantial conflict. First, they seem con- cerned—and we have had echoes of this in the debate—that selection in secondary schools, particularly if there is a fee-paying element attached, is under threat from this Bill. Clearly it is, and I welcome the part of the Bill which seeks to reduce the capacity of local authorities, without first submitting their position to the Secretary of State, to take up places at independent schools. When they defend that system of education, hon. Members opposite should recognise that they are defending something which is quite different from their attitude towards State education.

The argument of the Opposition on State education is that the academic element is at issue. When they talk of preserving grammar schools, they are concerned with producing an intellectual elite—the triumph of the meritocracy. But the Conservatives have another dimention to this position. It has an honourable tradition, going back I imagine to the days of Disraeli, of concern for something other than rule of the meritocracy. They are concerned with the concept of one nation. It is on this basis, one presumes, that they first postulate their defence of independent schools where, clearly, academic criteria are not the only measure of efficiency. They are prepared to defend this structure where intellectual merit is not the sole criterion, whereas, within the framework of the State system, the defence of the grammar schools is solely in these terms. Both these postulates—the creation of intellectual or social elites—are under challenge in our society.

We should recognise the nature of this fundamental challenge. Our society has been facing a situation of considerable economic decline over the last 30 or 40 years. We have lost an Empire and still not found a role. A whole range of ideas in public policy are under challenge. It would be surprising if, in these circumstances, very sharp questions were not postulated about our education system.

The kind of question we ought to be considering is whether our past position of producing a social elite from the privileged private sector or an intellectual elite through direct grant or grammar schools in the public sector has not left us with problems which have helped and contributed to the present discontent in society. In considering the problems confronting us as an economic society, we can see that too much talent has been directed down narrow academic channels. We have been too little concerned with the development of talents of a different kind. In particular, we have over-committed our resources to the favoured few in the public sector—the grammar schools—and committed too few resources to those who have displayed abilities of another kind.

Within our society the claim is made, not just by supporters of the Labour Party, that in the development of our industrial and economic life we are lacking in trained manpower. Too many people have followed the all too traditional rôle of going to grammar schools, into the sixth form, on to university and then into the public service or teaching. It is claimed that the grammar school ethos has directed too little of the talents and abilities of young people into the industrial and manufacturing part of our economy where they are desperately needed.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to bring in a Bill which emphasises the necessity of a national definition of comprehensive education. I would be appalled if the development of comprehensive education did not provide significant opportunities for academically able children to do well. Despite the fact that, in most education authorities, there is still a system of creaming-off to direct grant or grammar schools, the comprehensive schools still manage to send a fair proportion of their children to university. It is important to provide opportunities for the educationally qualified, but comprehensive schools will provide a service to our society, at least as necessary, if they promote concern for the development of children whose abilities and attributes go beyond the narrowly academic.

At comprehensive schools there should be no rigid selection and rigid definition of failure at an early stage. In the early years, they should have a general common course for children to follow.

Moving on from the general issue of the values underpinning the element of compulsion in the introduction of comprehensive education, I should like to consider the two parts of the Bill con- cerned with the rôle of the voluntary schools and the position of local authorities taking up fee-paying places in independent schools.

The Opposition argue that diversity can be maintained in our education system only if maintained schools have both grammar and direct grant possibilities as well as comprehensive education. They must recognise that where a local authority introduces a comprehensive pattern in which a substantial number of places are taken up at independent and voluntary-aided schools, the comprehensive schools' position is gravely weakened. It is no help to the development of comprehensive education and the confidence of parents in the development of the State education system if local authority representatives are continually arguing that they require a certain number of places at fee-paying schools for their more gifted children. This would be less ridiculous but for the fact that it is imagined that all pupils at independent schools are gifted. In fact, they are the children of parents who can afford to pay the fees.

Again we have this mixture of one set of criteria for the vast majority of children and a separate set for the privileged sector. Members of the Opposition should recognise that when my hon. Friends and I express ourselves with a degree of passion and concern on these issues, they stand under a charge themselves. It was reflected in the columns of the Sun newspaper, which I have never looked upon as a major sociological treatise in this country. A very high proportion of hon. Members opposite are products of the privileged sector and they send their children to that sector as well.

The situation still exists in which the BBC News is read by the person educated at a public school and the weather forecast is read by the person from the grammar school. The emphasis in many positions is still upon social quality and not upon academic or intellectual ability. While that persists, the Conservatives cannot challenge us over the issue of equality of opportunity.

Education has its limits in bringing about change in the move towards a fairer society. Even this limited contribution is prejudiced while such situations still persist.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. Before he left the Chair Mr. Speaker told me that he had made two appeals for brevity and that there would be no need for me to make such an appeal. I respect his wishes. It only remains for me to indicate that the winding-up speeches will begin at 9 o'clock and that 15 hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate.

8.21 p.m.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

I shall be brief and therefore not take up the points raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies). My brevity, however, in no way reduces the strength of my objection to the Bill. In spite of the modest tones in which the Minister presented it, it is in many ways a dangerous Bill, because it risks causing permanent and irreparable damage to our society through a reduction in standards of education.

In this debate we are not concerned with the principle of comprehensive education. There are good comprehensive schools. I have a comprehensive school in my constituency. We know that 68 per cent. of pupils undergoing secondary education attend comprehensive schools. There is at present, however, a flood of opinion flowing from research carried out on the effectiveness or otherwise of comprehensive schools compared with other schools. I concede that the evidence is conflicting. I believe that it tends to show that a reduction in standards is taking place, but even if I am wrong the conflict clearly exists. So long as that is so, there cannot possibly be justification for forcing the whole country to return to a system of compresensive education against the wishes of the local authorities and the parents. There is no justification for breaking up good established schools in pursuit of unproven political and educational theory.

One of the basic problems of comprehensive schools is their size. Either they are too big, in which case they carry that terrible present-day malaise of impersonality into the classroom, or they are so small that streaming often cannot be carried out. That leads to mixed ability classes, which, on the whole, produce lower standards. The hon. Member for Enfield, North said that he favoured the comprehensive system because it avoided social division. I believe that the neighbourhood comprehensive, which is what the Bill creates, is in many ways socially far more divisive than the system that it seeks to replace.

I know that the Under-Secretary cares very much about this subject and is genuine in her beliefs. Can she not see that when the Bill is combined with the Government's approach to the abolition of the direct-grant school it is the bright pupil in the deprived area who will be hit hardest? It seems extraordinary that a Labour Government and Socialist philosophy should seek to remove from that child the opportunity of lifting himself out of that deprived area and possibly enjoying the education at, say, the Manchester Grammar School or another good grammar school.

I turn briefly to the effect of the Bill upon my constituency. At the moment the Cheshire County Council, clearly in the belief and on the advice that the Government's views leave it no alternative, is considering turning every good existing grammar and secondary modern school into a comprehensive. It is doing it against the wish of the people. In one area of my constituency the people have raised a petition, with 4,002 names, against a Section 13 order. I am told that 80 per cent. of those whom they approach willingly sign that petition. It has not been worked out who is to pay the cost of that reorganisation.

I apologise if I misunderstood an answer by the Under-Secretary yesterday. I believed that the Government were putting up a fund to the tune of £25 million to help with the reorganisation. My mistake was shared by many other hon. Members on both sides—a mistake that was largely encouraged by the terms of Written Answers about the division of funds.

I believe that the Government have their priorities wrong. It is tragic that at a time when local authorities such as the county council in my area are being forced to pare down their educational spending they should be required to undertake loan sanction of £500,000 to cover expenditure resulting from the ideological and political views of the Labour Party.

8.28 p.m.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

As a former pupil at a public school and a former teacher, I am strongly committed to the principle of comprehensive schools as firmly enshrined in Clause 1. I do not want the abolition of public schools, grammar schools or direct grant schools. I want to transform them into something bigger and better, something better able to serve society.

I must warn my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to be on her guard against insidious attempts to infiltrate the grammar school principle through the back door once we have turned it out of the front door. There is a proposal to move Parmiter's School from Tower Hamlets, Bethnal Green, to Watford. It is a three-form voluntary-aided boys' grammar school. The Inner London Education Authority has over the years been trying to persuade the school to conform to the existing pattern of London education, but without success. Parmiter's is obstinate, so ILEA has given it its walking papers and told it to be out by 1977.

Parmiter's has been sniffing around to find somewhere to "maintain the traditions" of the school. It has recently lit on Watford, where there is a seven-form entry mixed comprehensive school called Francis Combe. The county officials are playing ball. The idea is that Francis Combe—which has an upper and a lower school built on either side of the playing fields—will be split to provide two five-form entry schools, one on the site of the lower school and one on the site of the upper school, buildings being added to the upper school. The schools will thus be on the same site, separated only by the playing fields and—what is most undesirable—serving the same catchment area.

Parmiter's will sell its existing buildings to the ILEA, ask the Department for a grant, buy Francis Combe school from Hertfordshire County Council and pay for the building of the new classrooms and the maintenance of the buildings. The ILEA is glad to pay Parmiter's to get out. Hertfordshire County Council will get extra places without paying for them and will also receive money from selling a building which is not surplus to its requirements. Very nice, financially, for the county council, which will be able to save between £80,000 and £90,000 a year on loan charges.

However, educationally the scheme will be disastrous. The parents, governors, headmaster and staff of Francis Combe school, Langleybury school and adjacent schools are vehemently opposed to it, as is the Educational Advisory Committee and the National Union of Teachers. I am informed that the County Education Committee has also come out against it.

All these people saw the effect which the continuing existence of the boys' and girls' grammar school in West Watford had on the local comprehensive schools, and they do not want that experience to be repeated in their area. For a long time they have fought for Section 13 notices for the grammar schools, for which I pestered my hon. Friend many times. Having achieved the Section 13 notices, they feel that this scheme is a back-door device to bring back the grammar school by allowing the ILEA to export its educational problem to Hertfordshire. It will inevitably result in a creaming off of the brilliant students because it will draw pupils from the same catchment area as will the three neighbouring schools. Parmiter's—a voluntary aided school—has superior facilities and. therefore, more parents will opt to send their children to Parmiter's than can be accommodated therein.

Officially, the school will have an all-ability intake, but the decision as to which pupils the school will take will rest with the headmaster, and if there are more applicants than he can take he will naturally choose the bright ones. Students in other schools will suffer because there will be smaller sixth forms and it will be impossible to run some courses because there will not be enough students to make them viable. In fine, having thrown off the burden of creaming off, Watford will be saddled with it for a second time. I urge my hon. Friend to resist this attempt to reimpose the grammar school system on my constituency.

8.33 p.m.

Sir John Hall (Wycombe)

Remembering the power of your rebukes on previous occasions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall endeavour to obey your request to be brief and I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not follow the speech made by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck).

I find this a depressing Bill and the debate is also depressing, except for the contributions made by my hon. Friends. It is a depressing Bill because it makes no contribution towards the problems that face our schools. It is depressing because it seeks to impose a particular system of schooling on the nation as a whole, and the Government have forgotten the distinction between schooling and education. It is depressing because excellence in education where it now exists is to be sacrificed for the sake of an educational concept which is being seriously questioned both at home and abroad. It is depressing because local authorities, who are to be put under considerable pressure to reduce local expenditure, will find it impossible to implement the Bill effectively without increased cost and effort which would be better devoted to solving the problems of the jungle schools, the indiscipline in schools and the failure of so many children to reach accepted standards of literacy.

I find the Bill alarming because it is another example of the increasing concentration of power in the centre—of which all Governments have been guilty to a greater or lesser extent—and because it overrides local needs and local choice. I thought that the great four-day devolution debate was concerned with that.

I have little doubt that the Government's determination to force all local education authorities to toe the line by persuasion, financial pressure, and finally the threat to introduce this legislation, has defeated many authorities. Many authorities will have taken the view "What is the use of fighting? The Government are bound to win in the end. Let us give up now and do the best we can with a heavy heart." Many of them have decided to follow the Government line.

Buckinghamshire, as might be expected, being the county of John Hampden, has refused to bow to pressure. It is a county which has never accepted very readily the view of monarchy or Parliament. The people of Bucks have met throughout the county. In letters to their county councillors and their Members of Parliament they have made it crystal clear that the overwhelming majority wish to maintain their present excellent and varied schools.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

We shall soon have a Bucks National Party.

Sir John Hall

They do not want outstanding schools of known educational excellence to be destroyed in favour of an amalgam of schools that are called comprehensive, the value of which has still to be proven.

My opposition to the Bill is not based on any dislike of comprehensive schools. In Bucks, as the Under-Secretary of State will know, there are four comprehensives in the north of the county. They are located in areas in which it cannot be said that the cream of the available students finds its way to grammar schools. Students in the areas of the four comprehensives have to go a long way to get into a grammer school. My county had a comprehensive in Slough—before that area, unfortunately, was taken from us in the local government reorganisation.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Joan Lestor)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know to which school the hon. Gentleman is referring. If it is the Warrenfield School, that was never a comprehensive. There was merely a change of name.

Sir John Hall

I was referring to schools in Newport Pagnell and Wolverton.

Miss Lestor

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was referring to Slough.

Sir John Hall

No. I was dealing with the position in my constituency. I quote a paragraph from a letter written by the Wycombe Parents' Association, which reads: Reorganisation along comprehensive lines would do away with many good secondary modern schools as well as many grammar schools. Schools in both these categories have excellent records in developing to the full the particular abilities of individual children according to their needs and there is no evidence that a comprehensive system would do this better. That is the view of the Association, and in my constituency that is absolutely true. We have many good secondary schools which educate their pupils to O-level standard, schools which try to ensure that the late developer who will benefit from further education is transferred to a grammar or high school at the appropriate time. They undertake that transfer most effectively. They bring out in their pupils many of the qualities which are often present in those who are not necessarily academically gifted. I believe that we place too much stress on academic qualities without realising the many other skills which should be developed.

On 24th November the Secretary of State said: …over the country as a whole the great majority of parents have utterly rejected the divisive system of selection that imposes a sense of failure on the majority of our children."—[Official Report, 24th November 1975 Vol. 901, c. 520.] Presumably that is the basis of the Government's support for comprehensive schooling. But let me make it plain that the majority of parents in my constituency do not share that view. With few exceptions, the parents who consult me about the entry of their children to secondary schools after going through the primary stage are mainly concerned about getting them out of a neighbourhood school. They do not complain that their child has not reached a grammar or high school. They are concerned in many cases that their child has to go to a certain neighbourhood secondary school. Unfortunately we have one or two problem schools in my constituency. Very often parents want their child to go to another secondary school. Many such schools in my constituency enjoy high reputations. If we had comprehensive education there would be no question of getting out of neighbourhood schools. They would be there and people would be stuck with them.

In the county there are some very fine grammar and high schools, including the Royal Latin School in the north and the Aylesbury Grammar School, near my own home, and many others.

In my constituency, apart from two very good girls' high schools, we have two grammar schools—the Royal Wycombe Grammar School and the Sir William Borlase School in Marlow. They were both founded more than 400 years ago, and they share one other thing in common.

When Sir William Borlase School was taken over by the State in September 1910, it was clearly agreed—and was recorded at the time—that the then Board of Education and the Bucks County Council guaranteed that there would be no radical change in the nature of the school.

Exactly the same promise was made to the Royal Wycombe Grammar School when that was taken over and became a voluntary controlled school. That promise, quite clearly, was a major influence in the decision of those schools to enter the State system. The Bucks County Council has been trying to keep that promise. It falls to the Secretary of State to break the promise given by his predecessor.

The case for resisting the Bill, as it applies to Buckinghamshire, rests not on promises made but on the educational advantage of the present variety and educational excellence of the schools we now have, as against the unavoidable disruption which would be caused by the introduction of a total comprehensive system throughout the county. It rests on the knowledge that there are fashions in education—the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) referred to this—as there are in most things. The play and plasticine method of teaching in primary schools is subject to some criticism at the present moment, and the Secretary of State has had to draw attention to the importance of learning the three Rs adequately.

Previous dogmatic assertions about the size of comprehensive schools are now open to debate. There are debates on whether to stream or not to stream, and on whether there should be all-ability classes. Are there sufficient teachers of the right calibre to teach in all-ability classes? Not many teachers—and we have many good ones—can adequately and efficiently teach in all-ability classes. If there are not enough teachers of that kind, what will happen to the very dull child, or to the very bright child? Frequently it is the very bright child who is neglected and not recognised, certainly in the earlier stages of educational development.

Parents are worried about reports that, instead of broadening the opportunities open to pupils, the subjects available for sixth form study have been reduced rather than expanded. Parents are concerned, as the Under-Secretary of State will know, at disturbing reports about both falling academic standards and poor social behaviour at some comprehensive schools.

It is a little unfair, perhaps, to make a judgment about comprehensives at this stage. They have not been going quite long enough for us to be sure of the results they will achieve. It is true that they have not figured very largely in The Times league table of success in the Oxford and Cambridge University entrance examination, but it is perhaps unfair to judge at the moment.

If experience proves the Government wrong—if this is just a fashion, as I mentioned earlier, and if time shows that comprehensive schools do not provide the opportunities and advantages which their adherents claim—what then? Ancient schools with fine traditions and excellent academic records, like those in my constituency, will have been destroyed, and they cannot be resurrected.

I would not venture to speak for my hon. Friends who are Members for the other Buckinghamshire constituencies, but I believe they would agree that the people of Buckinghamshire do not wish to deny to any other local education authorities the right to have the system of education best suited to the needs of the children in their own areas. We in Bucks, with a record of willingness to experiment in education, wish only to retain the system which we have found best suited to the needs of our children and which the great majority of our people in the county wish to retain.

For this reason, although we shall accept the Bill if it becomes law—we are very law-abiding people in Buckinghamshire—we shall fight it to the end.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)

The hon. Member for Wycombe (Sir J. Hall) will not be surprised if, unlike him, I do not find this Bill an occasion for depression. I welcome the Bill because it states, clearly and categorically, a principle for which the Labour Party has stood for many years, namely, the introduction of comprehensive education. The essence of this approach is that it means that a stance has been taken publicly once and for all against the principle of selection.

I was brought up in a city that has been the centre of a great deal of debate on this matter. In Bristol we had a system of public school education, grammar school education, and secondary modern education. I well recall the effect and consequences of the 11-plus examination in the city of Bristol—the effect that it had upon families and upon parents desperate that their children should pass into Bristol's grammar schools. I also remember the devastating effects that selection at 11-plus had upon the children of Bristol.

I notice that the Opposition are very concerned about the effects of our education system upon parents. But what about the children? What is the effect upon them of selection at 11-plus? What is the effect when they are regarded as failures at that age? I think that we have to face the consequences of the perpetuation of this system upon the social fabric of our society. Whether we agree that the education system has produced the divisions in our society, at least it has to be acknowledged that it has cemented those divisions and to a great extent accentuated them.

I find attitudes of Opposition Members to this debate on education somewhat difficult to follow. As I understand it, they believe in a competitive society, yet they send their children to public schools. I am not arguing the merits of the standard of education that is produced at public schools; it could well be argued that the standard of education produced there is of the highest order. But to say that there is competition to get into these schools is a gross distortion of reality. In the first place, entrance to such schools is governed by money. In the second place, there is a common entrance examination, but I am told by prep school headmasters that it is easy to get a child into any one of the leading public schools at present.

I suggest that the Opposition want a selective, competitive system for the rest of society but want to provide for themselves a system that removes that competition. It seems to me that under that system advantages accrue which enable the products of the system to start in life well ahead of children in the rest of society. This is the philosophical attitude that the Opposition adopt. They say that we should have competition in the rest of society, but they do not want it in that area of the education system which they themselves use.

I pass on to the question of comprehensive schools. We have to acknowledge that there are genuine criticisms, and they have been put cogently by Opposition Members. There are problems about the neighbourhood comprehensive and the difficulties that accrue there. Again, I remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that I went to a grammar school in Bristol. The children in Bristol's grammar schools bussed across the city. There was bussing all over Bristol. There is no reason why, if that system was not good enough for children who went to grammar schools, it should be good enough for the children who go to comprehensive schools.

There is a serious argument about the problem of size. We need to investigate and study the implications of the size of our comprehensive schools; but one objection that I find insupportable is the argument that comprehensive schools are a massive, grey mediocrity, and that they are identical models of educational incompetence. I object to that because, on going round my constituency, it seems to me that there is a tremendous variety of education and educational opportunity within those schools.

We have to face the fact that standards in our schools have to be examined, but at the same time we must beware of placing at the door of comprehensive schools the faults that would have existed whether or not we had these schools. Truancy existed before comprehensive schools came in; it exists now. What is more, it will continue to exist. We have to face that problem, but we must realise that it does not arise from the fact that these schools are comprehensive.

The Bill sets out the principle that we seek to end the inequalities of selection at 11-plus. We cannot tolerate such a system. The Bill will encourage and promote the cause of equality, and for that reason it has my warm support.

8.52 p.m.

Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)

I thank the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) for making such a brief speech, because it gives me time to make a few points.

My first point is that what parents are basically worried about in our schools is falling standards, both of learning and of conduct. That is why, in increasing numbers throughout the country, they will revolt against legislation such as is proposed tonight. That is why there will be a mass of signatures to the petition that one hears is going round the country against the provisions of the Bill.

The parents' judgment is reinforced by reports such as that of the Bullock Committee, which the Government have not had the guts to debate. It is reinforced by the alarm bells ringing throughout the media, and especially the educational Press. I invite the House to listen to what one education authority has said. I quote the Director of the Oxford University Department of Educational Studies, Dr. Harry Judge: It is idle to pretend that there survives, in secondary schools, in colleges and departments of education, in local education authorities, even in the hearts of bruised sociologists, any powerful conviction that the present phase of comprehensive planning will bring great educational improvements, or even be worth doing at all. It is falling standards that have caused the main anxiety of parents over the choice of school for their children. It has sharpened their anxiety often to the point of desperation. It is the kind of desperation which, in extreme cases, leads them to uproot their families from among their friends, sell their houses and move to the catchment area of a school which will, in their judgment at least, better meet the needs of their family.

This anxiety has been well shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) in his analysis of parents' rejection of the sort of uniform pattern that this Government are trying to impose upon them. But the anxiety of parents is being shrugged off by the Secretary of State and his Government.

The Government have their priorities dead wrong. They are spending money on dislocating schools that work well when they should be using every penny to improve the existing primary and secondary schools and those schools that are most in need of improvement. The Secretary of State has taken no note of the growing disillusionment with the overall pattern of comprehensive education. It is the imposed universality to which people object. They do not reject the good comprehensive schools. All of us rejoice in them.

There is disillusion with the comprehensive pattern even within the Soviet orbit. There is disillusion in America: the Secretary of State will, no doubt, have had drawn to his attention two recent reports—of January 1976—from the Texas area showing how comprehensive schools there were falling in standards. There is growing disillusion in this country also about the standards of comprehensive schools. I shall not quote Lord Alexander to the right hon. Gentleman, because he should know that passage already.

What should the Secretary of State be doing now? He should focus all the brains, effort and money within the education system on improving standards in our existing maintained secondary and primary schools. The restoration and development of standards will take time, but it must start immediately or it will take even longer. The right hon. Gentleman should set in train immediately a basic inquiry into the whole maintained sector, with special reference to the standards of learning and conduct. This should include the size of secondary schools, teacher training and parental involvement in the guidance and support of schools.

In the meantime, I pray that the Secretary of State will stop harassing selective schools that are meeting the real needs of many young and of their parents. He would, I believe, have widespread support throughout the country in establishing such an enquiry because he would have listened to what parents are saying and would have recognised their deep anxieties for their children. If he and his Government press ahead with the measures set out in the Bill, and in other recent measures tending in the same direction, he will do lasting damage to our education system, he will reduce parental choice, and he will, by hindering selective schools, reduce the intellectual drive in the country at a time when this quality is vitally needed for our survival. I suspect that the only good that the Secretary of State will do by pressing this Bill is to contribute to the rejection of his Government at the next General Election.

8.59 p.m.

Dr. Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

Two matters arise on Clause 1. The first is the effect of recruiting pupils without any reference to ability or aptitude in an attempt, such as is made in our cities, particularly London, to have balanced comprehensives around an area. This is something that the Inner London Education Authority tried to do because its early research showed that certain areas had proportionately six times as many children in the higher ability groups as others.

If cities had only neighbourhood comprehensive schools, the schools in socially and academically good areas would be grammar schools with CSE streams, while in the poorer areas they would be just large secondary modern schools with a few pupils sitting GCE and CSE. I am sure that it was never the intention behind the Bill to put at risk the attempt to balance intake. If that happens, we shall have neighbourhood ghetto schools in our cities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) said, the opportunities of the bright child from the deprived home will obviously be less than they were under the bipartite system.

Banding was an attempt to overcome that problem. Without banding, what shall we do? Shall we have a word with Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon to see whether we can establish direction of teacher labour? The problem will not be solved by pouring in money. That has been done in city centres for years, with little result.

On the question of bussing, when parents are voluntarily prepared for their children to travel, as once was the case, that is not bussing but a free decision of parents about where they send their children. Bussing means taking children up as conscripts from every third or fifth house in the morning, taking them to other areas and bringing them back in the evening. If we are to have a balance in city areas, that is the sort of threat that we shall face.

I have here a letter passed to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) from the Association of Disabled Professionals, who are very worried about the provision in the clause for separate schools for pupils suffering from disability of mind or body. There has been a long movement towards involving children with such disabilities in normal schools so that they can later fit into normal society. We must be careful that that welcome trend is not halted. I know that it is probably not the Secretary of State's intention, but the clause will have to be amended if it is not to happen.

Turning to voluntary aided schools, when Church schools have existed next to the church they have been part of the community. If now they have to become comprehensive schools, there will be no room for them to expand. They will have to move to other areas, and that close link between church and school which is part of the roots of many of our towns will be destroyed. That is seriously wrong and I hope that it does not happen.

The most amazing feature of the Bill is that it contains no mention of parents and parental choice. Parents and children are considered as pieces on a chess board to be pushed around by the mandarins of our present society. This Government use such phrases as "participation" and "worker democracy". But we see the reality in the Bill. They are just phrases to be used between elections. People are pushed around after the elections have been won.

Labour Members say that the choice was limited. It was. Only 20 per cent. of children went to grammar school. It may have been even less in some areas. But at least at that time there was some choice. One does not argue about choice, as some Labour Members do, and then destroy it all. If they had turned their minds not to re-running the debate that they have conducted for 15 years, with the same old weary phrases, but to discussing what we can do about increasing choice and producing a maturer and freer society, they would have won much more respect from this side of the House.

The Plowden Report was published some years ago and made the specific point that next to the academic ability of the pupil the most important factor was the involvement of the parents and the family. We shall never get involve- ment if we simply direct children to neighbourhood schools. The decision must be made by those parents who have committed themselves to a certain school. The more people who take part, the more involvement we have and the higher the standard of our schools. There is no mention of that from beginning to end of the Bill.

My fourth detailed point concerns ballet and music. How was the decision made? Obviously the Government have introduced this because they have a guilt complex. Did it grow from the school curriculum? Was it an attempt to identify subjects not linked with intelligence? If so, those of us who were no good at languages would suggest that languages should also be exempted. Should it also apply to sport? These subjects are accidental gifts which are given to us. Languages and music involve speech and hearing, ballet involves the movement of the body.

I have been concerned with the education of boys for over 23 years. In almost every case there was a link between music, chess and mathematics. Therefore, if a mathematical family want their child to be brought up with a leaning towards mathematics they should give him a tin whistle while he is in the perambulator. Their only chance is to get him trained in music and the flute. If we get all these children into the same school—a music school—we shall save the mathematical standards of this country as the seed corn for the future.

My hon. Friends the Members for Wycombe (Sir J. Hall) and Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) said that the Bill is irrelevant in many ways to our present education problems. I am referring to teaching in the infant schools and the ability of children to read. I appreciate that 80 per cent. of our schools are better than ever before. I am not making a blanket condemnation. However, any Labour Member who has the ability to read—I hope that literacy abounds in the House—will know that there is great concern among thousands of working-class parents that their children are not taught to read in certain schools, that they play at school, and that reading has to be taught at home. Therefore, the first major area of concern is literacy in the infant schools. If hon. Members do not realise that there are problems, there is nothing more that I can do. I am trying to help with my normal generosity of temper.

The second area of concern is the non-structured primary schools. In this respect the irrelevance of the Bill is clear. I have received three messages asking me to telephone the Press. I have not done so, but I have found out what those calls were about. The education correspondents have contacted me not about the debate today but about the William Tyndale School. It has been discovered that at one stage a teacher sent three letters to me and the education correspondents want my comments on the William Tyndale School, not on the Bill. If that does not show the great waste of time that has taken place during the preparation of the Bill, I do not know what does.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for mentioning my notorious William Tyndale School. The far-too-long-drawn-out investigation of the William Tyndale School will come to a close in a few days' time. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the parents of the children at that school are absolutely appalled at the possibility that the teachers who have been examined during the investigation may be allowed by the Inner London Education Authority to return during the interim period between the end of the investigation and the time when the Inner London Education Authority takes decisions about the results of the investigation? I hope that all hon. Members will oppose any attempt to allow those teachers to return to the school during the interim period.

Dr. Boyson

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I completely agree with what he said. It was a feed school for Highbury Grove, which is in his constituency. It would be a disaster if those teachers returned before a decision was made, and it would upset all the parents. The hon. Gentleman's intervention indicates the concern which is felt throughout the length and breadth of the country.

There is the question of teacher quality and getting a suitable curriculum, which we do not have at the moment, for less academically inclined children between the ages of 11 and 16 years. That is a major problem.

Another problem is to make comprehensive schools work in areas where they are not working at the moment. There are many good comprehensive schools throughout the length and breadth of this country.

Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

We thank the hon. Gentleman very much.

Dr. Boyson

There are a number. I was the head of one. I was the head of a comprehensive school in a Labour-controlled area with Labour governors. They knew where to send their children. Some comprehensive schools just are not working in certain areas. Something must be done about them, otherwise they will destroy any hopes of comprehensive acceptance in widespread areas.

The Robert Montefiore School in the East End, of which I had the honour to be headmaster for five years, has been mentioned in the newspapers. When it was a secondary modern school it had pupils going to university from very good fifth and sixth forms. There was then as high a percentage of immigrants as there is now. The number of immigrants is the excuse given now for the low level of results there. Last year there was not one O-level pass. People tend to put the 11-plus on one side and have bleeding compassion on the other for such schools as that attended by children in working-class areas. There are schools where German, Spanish, Russian and classics are taught, but physics is not taught to the standard required to offer pupils future opportunities. At other schools the General Certificate of Education has been sacked in favour of the Certificate of Secondary Education. The GCE is a tighter academic examination.

Some of my hon. Friends has referred to the results of comprehensive schools in Manchester. Those figures were put out by Mr. Baldwin, a member of the Manchester Education Committee. They have not yet been answered. If they are right, they are a serious indictment of comprehensive schools in one of our biggest cities. That situation needs to be investigated. I should welcome the opportunity of accompanying the Minister and other hon. Gentlemen opposite to find out what is happening.

Sheffield has also been mentioned. Its comprehensive system is by no means good, according to The Times Educational Supplement. It did not rise parallel with the national rise. The same comment applies to Liverpool.

We must find out whether the comprehensive system is working in our cities. I do not think that it is. Is the system to be fashioned rather like tower blocks which were designed by men with compassion for others? What a disaster they have proved. I suggest that some of the big schools will prove to be similar disasters.

The worst philosophical point about the Bill is its attempt to seek an ideal the Bill is its attempt to seek an ideal Europe in the 1930s, "a final solution". In human nature there is no final solution. If this is to be the final system, if everyone must have the same, we shall have dull, arrogant stagnation evermore. This is the most terrible aspect of the Bill.

Mr. Flannery

No one in this debate has said that comprehensive education is the final solution. In fact, the opposite has been said. We on this side of the House believe in an evolutionary process. This is a step forward from what the hon. Gentleman believes.

Dr. Boyson

I am glad to have heard that this is not the final solution. Apparently it is a temporary measure until we have new legislation next week. I thought that this was an attempt to make education the same for everybody. I have obviously misunderstood. Under the 1944 Act all schools had to be grammar or secondary modern. There was no movement towards a comprehensive system. This system is the result of evolution, because authorities were allowed to organise their schools as they wanted. That is now coming to an end. If that is not stagnation and a final solution, I do not know what the Bill is about.

The choice is between a totally comprehensive system—a monopoly situation—and a predominantly comprehensive system—which we now have—in which 73 per cent. or 74 per cent. of schoolchildren are in comprehensive schools. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said, we do not want to unscramble the comprehensive schools that at present exist and we are not saying that if local authorities, with the agreement of parents, want to build up comprehensive schools they should not do so. We are saying that comprehensive schools should not be planted all over the country until an assessment has been made that they are academically and socially more desirable.

No one can say that there is no way of assessing them. Approximately 75 per cent. of schoolchildren are now in comprehensive schools. About 40 areas have gone totally comprehensive. We must compare those areas with other areas of the country which are not comprehensive. Upon that assessment we should judge the future organisation of schools in this country.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

What about the criteria? With what is the hon. Gentleman comparing them?

Dr. Boyson

We are comparing the "O" level and "A" level results over a period in areas which have gone comprehensive with areas that have not. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, there is no point in my explaining it further.

We have to assess the future on three or four criteria. Labour Members have spoken about the iniquitous 11-plus examination. I accept that there was a fear of the 11-plus. According to the National Foundation for Educational Research there was a 10 per cent. misplacement at the age of 11. There was also variation in the percentage of grammar school places available throughout the country. There was 5 per cent. in one place and 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. in another. However, time has moved on and so has this side of the House—if not the other side.

Another three problems have to be assessed. First, is the bright working-class child in a deprived area being given the same opportunity now as he received before for grammar school selection? I do not think he is. Secondly, if there is increasing illiteracy among 15 and 16-year olds, which seems to be the case, is it due to the way in which those children are dealt with in comprehensive schools in our cities? It may be. Thirdly, in many areas we are removing selection by examination and replacing it with selection by the purse. In other words, the impression that the council tenant makes on the housing manager may decide the flat which he is allocated. We are not moving to a new Jerusalem. Certain of these things will be more reprehensible to hon. Gentlemen in the secrecy of this Chamber tonight than even some of the previous objections to the 11-plus.

It has been said that in certain areas houses increase in price according to the catchment area of the local schools. This is a new form of selection. There is also the question of assessing the results. I quote the speech of the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science. He is present today and we welcome him. He said: The results in comprehensive schools have been at least as good as, if not better than, those in grammar schools."—[Official report, 1st May 1974; Vol. 872, c. 1177.] Time has gone on. On 24th November last year the present Secretary of State said: …. there is not evidence one way or the other to show that there is any loss as a result of the introduction of comprehensive schools into the system."—[Official Report, 24th November 1975; Vol. 901, c. 518.] There was no claim then that they might improve. The most we can claim is that they will be static. In two years' time, will another Secretary of State say that there is evidence of some academic decline but that other factors will make up for this? We are in a serious situation unless we can find some proof for this.

Labour Members also mentioned an elitist complex within the Conservative Party. Like most, if not all, of my hon. Friends, I have been concerned with the mobility of children from all classes all of my life. For 23 years I have taught in schools and have been the head of schools, all in working-class areas. I spent 10 years in secondary modern schools, where I built examination courses and transfer courses in an attempt to enhance the mobility and academic choices of working-class children. My children have also attended State secondary schools, so I hope that no one will throw back at me the suggestion that what I am saying is a defence of a narrow sector. That is an easy slogan which will not work. Something else had better be tried. I believe that the bright child from the poor home in a city ghetto area is now likely to be more deprived, particularly if he attends the Robert Montefiore School, than he was 10 or 15 years ago under the previous system.

The Government side of the House has no monopoly on compassion. Compassion exists on both sides of the House. We have to assess the results of what is being done. I do not doubt the motives of Labour Members. Generally, people doubt others' motives when they have no arguments. However, I doubt the results of what the Bill might do in many cases. I do not want to see the ladders of social and academic advance coming down. I want to see more of them. I am worried that if the Bill is passed we shall have in certain areas fewer than we have had in the past.

If the Under-Secretary is thinking of quoting any of my remarks about comprehensive schools—and I welcome the textual analysis that takes place regularly on the Government Benches—I hope that she quotes from my more recent remarks and not those of seven years ago. Some of us develop our views when we see certain things happening, and there is no stagnation.

Mention has been made of the money difference between the two sides of the House, and of the Government cutting money—and a Government who are likely to cut money more. All of us can have arguments as to where it should be cut. I wrote an article representing my view about this only last week. However, it is far better for people to work out what they are going to do than to stagger from lamp-post to lamp-post, as happened last year.

There is another point: the Secretary of State is like Father Christmas, with £25 million, but apparently that must be taken from something else—possibly books and writing paper, and other things in desperately short supply. If ever something needed to be centralised, it is the purchase of books and stationery. That should without doubt be done on a central capitation allowance basis.

I conclude by addressing, first, the empty Liberal Benches. The Liberals may have their problems. As I recall the statement made by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), it seems that the Liberals will support the Government tonight. They will be voting for 95 per cent. of children to have no choice of school—except for the neighbourhood comprehensive—while they themselves, in many cases, can have for their children the choice of 5 per cent., the independent schools, through their long purses. If that has anything to do with Liberalism, I do not know what it is. If any of the nineteenth century Liberals saw those Benches now—that does not include the Chief Whip—and if they heard the speech of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely, they would apply for membership of the Carlton Club tonight. The present Liberal Party represents no choice or liberty as it once did in the nineteenth century.

I believe that at one time in the Parliament of 1970–74, before I had the honour of becoming a Member of this House, there was an argument about the then Housing Finance Bill and that a group of Members now on the Government Benches but then of the Opposition actually wanted local option and felt it wrong that nationally they should be told what they should do. They even continued the argument after that Bill became law.

We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) about the vote to retain the standards in Southend, and we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) about his area. I can only express the hope that if these Labour Members have any consistency they will act as they acted in the debate on unemployment last Thursday, thereby showing that they believe that local option is better than central direction. Otherwise we shall be forced to the view that they have rather adaptable consciences and only mild, impartial martyrdom rather like instant, mild, coffee—tasteless, painless, and popular.

Their attitude seems to be that this Government must be obeyed because it is their Government, but when other people—including members of the working-class—vote another Government into power, that Government must not be obeyed. That shows what great democrafts they are. It is rather like the Communists who always want a democratic vote to get them in government, but once they are in there is no record of people ever being allowed to vote them out.

We on this side and people in the country are aware of the great damage that has been done by this Labour Government. We are aware of the weight of taxation which is killing people's initiative. We are aware of the amount of foreign borrowing which is keeping the Government afloat. This measure is different for its effect will be difficult to measure. But in the long run it can be even more disastrous for the people, because the Government are driving on regardless, without any proof.

It rather reminds me of a play which some Labour Members as well as some of my hon. Friends may have seen. It was by Joan Littlewood and I saw it at Stratford—"Oh, what a wonderful war". She portrayed the First World War generals—rightly or wrongly—as sending wave after wave of young men over the top to their death, eventually winning the war, but at what a cost! The Government are sending Buckinghamshire and the other recalcitrants over the top. This will bring about the physical destruction of our young people and it could be the intellectual destruction of the seed corn of our country if the Bill goes through.

It must be realised that nobody on this side wanted a return to the 11-plus. Hon. Members opposite obviously prepared their speeches before hearing any Conservative Member speak. It is a choice between a predominance of the comprehensive system and assessing whether that is right or wrong and, on the other side, a complete monopoly, as was made very clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford.

A leading article in The Times said about the Bill that when an armistice should have been offered, unconditional surrender was demanded. Education needs a healing armistice so that people can come together and see what the problems are. Instead, we have this highwayman's gun demanding unconditional surrender.

I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford state that if we return to power—as we shall, whether it be in three months' time or whether we have to wait a little longer than that—we shall repeal the Bill if it has gone through by then. We shall fight the Bill in Committee, but if it goes through we shall repeal it for six reasons.

First, we are concerned about standards for the deprived child in working-class areas. Secondly, we see no proof anywhere in the country that comprehensive education has led to improvement. Nor has this happened in other countries—for example, in Eastern Europe—where the experiment has been tried. Thirdly, there is no parental choice catered for from beginning to end in the Bill. Fourthly, we believe in the right of local option. Fifthly, we believe in minority rights. Sixthly, education, like so much else, wants some peace so that it can sort itself out before we can decide where we are going. The Bill will not provide that.

I ask my hon. Friends and those hon. Members opposite who are honourably inclined to act tonight to throw this Bill out by declining to give it a Second Reading.

9.30 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Joan Lestor)

Listening to the disappointing winding-up speech of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) convinced me that heads of comprehensive schools should believe passionately in what they are doing. The success or failure of a comprehensive school rests, to a very large extent, on the commitment of those running it.

Several Opposition Members have spoken of their concern that the Bill will compel local authorities to submit plans to the Government to enable them to go comprehensive in line with Government policy. They said that this was a denial of the freedom of local authorities to administer education in the way they wished. But the 1944 Act, which was passed by a war-time coalition Government, did just that—it put on local authorities a legal responsibility to reorganise secondary education along lines decided by the Government.

Some of my hon. Friends have mentioned the Housing Finance Act, which denied local authorities some of the freedom they had in relation to fixing rents. Comprehensive reorganisation was spelled out in the Labour Party manifesto. It has been argued in the House in the lifetime of previous Governments, and everybody who voted Labour in the last General Election was fully aware of our intentions on comprehensive reorganisation. This was not so in relation to the Housing Finance Act, which the last Conservative Government introduced. That was not spelled out in their manifesto.

The justification for compelling local authorities to fall into line with Government policy was given by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who said that if a certain number of local authorities refused to co-operate with Government policy we had the right to say that we had told the electorate that we would introduce comprehensive education and, in order to keep our election promises, we would compel education authorities to fall into line. I also agreed with the hon. Member when he said that what happens in primary schools has been and is distorted where comprehensive education does not exist. Primary schools have to dance to the tune of "Who will go to the grammar school?" The bribing of parents to get their children through the 11-plus examination and the methods used by independent schools to coach children to pass the examination distorts all that many dedicated primary school teachers are trying to do in introducing the comprehensive principle in primary education.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) referred to the question of parents—he is not a parent; I am a parent, though that has nothing to do with it—wanting to see the values taught in their homes reflected in the education system. To a large extent, that is correct. The majority of the electorate believe much more in co-operation in our schools than in competition. They do not believe in a system that makes decisions about their children far too soon in life and results in frustration and disappointment.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford likened me to Lavinia. I gather that she had her tongue torn out. He said that had been silent on the issue of free school milk. The hon. Gentleman is very literary, and is familiar with Shakespeare. I am sure he will not object to my reminding the House that Lavinia was raped, that her eyes were put out, that her tongue was torn out, and that her arms were cut off in order that she would be unable to identify her assailant. I am sure that the House would want me to make clear that the hon. Member has in no way been my assailant and that, in spite of the anti-discrimination legislation, I am not likely to take the initiative in respect of him.

With the Bill, we shall manage to make things a little better in education, but I remain convinced in what I have said about milk for children in primary schools and beyond. I hope that when the economic climate improves we shall be able to reintroduce free school milk. I am as disappointed as anyone that we have not been able to do so yet.

Mr. St. John-Stevas rose—

Miss Lestor

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman likes to dish it out, but he does not like to take it.

Some hon. Members felt, quite rightly, that some schemes being adopted by authorities were better than others. We have taken into account varying local conditions, the facilities and the schools that exist, when judging the schemes that local authorities produce. We are concerned that schemes should fit into the framework that we are trying to establish, which is based on certain principles. These are that selection should be abolished and that there should be equal opportunity in secondary education for all the children in the area. It is only right that local authorities should have some leeway when they propose schemes to us. If we feel that a scheme does not meet our requirements, we have the right to say that it does not comply with the principles outlined in the Bill.

Dr. Hampson

Will the Under-Secretary reply to the question I put to her? What will happen to the 13 out of 30 authorities that run sixth-form colleges? Will these be approved as part of the comprehensive system, in view of the Secretary of State's desire to abolish selection at all ages?

Miss Lestor

I promise the hon. Member that I shall deal with his question in due course.

Hon. Members referred to banding, and the position of the Inner London Education Authority. We believe that banding is a form of selection. There was justification for it when comprehensive schools were being introduced alongside grammar schools. If the grammar school had been allowed to cream off what were judged to be the academically more able pupils, the comprehensive schools would have been left with an unbalanced intake. Steps were therefore taken to ensure a balance. When selection disappears, however, there will be no possible justification for banding. It will be inappropriate under the new legislation.

There is some confusion about the concept of neighbourhood schools. It is a subject that needs a great deal more discussion. In talking about neighbourhood schools, some people imply that working-class children in deprived areas are less able than children in materially better-off areas. They go on to argue that if neighbourhood schools are located in less well endowed areas the children who attend those schools will perform less well than they would at a similar school in a materially better-off area.

Under the selective system of education, children have been selected as much on social class as on ability, and the result has been to prove that argument. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Before hon. Gentleman say "Nonsense", let me take the only good point made by the hon. Member for Brent, North, who said that whereas in many parts of the country 5 per cent. of the children go to grammar schools, in other areas, 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. go to grammar schools. The selective system has to some extent fulfilled a prohecy that was made. The investment made in children judged to be successful was far greater than was the investment made in those who were said to be failures. We know that to be true when we consider the amount of money spent and the way in which it was spent.

One does not improve the opportunities for a child in a run down and deprived neighbourhood merely by sending him to a school in another area. What has to be done is to improve the environment, not move children away from their environment and make them ashamed of the conditions in which they are being brought up.

Even more important, we must not fall into the trap of assuming that working-class children perform less well than do middle-class children. The hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) referred to a recent speech of mine in which I spoke of deprivation and the problems associated with it. In that speech I also said that deprivation was not only associated with the lack of material well being; the child of the overambitious parent suffers just as much from deprivation as does the child from a materially badly endowed area.

The problem of deprivation and neigh bourhood schools is much more complicated than is suggested in the argument that, because an area is deprived the children will perform badly and that we should, therefore, send them to a school in a better area so that they can live up to the standards of middle-class children. That is an argument that we have yet to resolve.

Mrs. Lynda Chalker (Wallasey) rose—

Miss Lestor

No, I shall not give way. I have already given way on one occasion. The hon. Member for Brent, North gave way twice. I shall later choose the lucky person to whom I shall give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) made a moving speech. He underlined many of the concerns and aspirations of working-class parents on behalf of their children, and referred to the many problems that are associated with broken homes and one-parent families. He made an argument for increasing boarding school provision. Many people hold that view, and I have a great deal of sympathy with it. Possibly we could keep many children out of care if there were better boarding facilities. However, many people hold the view, with equal conviction, that it is far better to assist the single parent to stay at home with his or her child than to force the child away from its home when it is living in an already deprived family situation.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) asked about the financial assistance that will be given to areas that go comprehensive. What my right hon. Friend said about the £25 million is correct; that sum will be additional to the programme for other purposes, such as roofs over heads, nursery education—incidentally, that has not been finished—and other matters. In many cases only minor modifications are required to enable secondary schools to be reorganised. The £25 million will assist reorganisation in well over 200 schools. In addition, a large part of the basic needs programme will facilitate reorganisation by enlarging grammar or secondary modern schools that will be part and parcel of the new comprehensive system. Whatever may be the misunderstandings, my right hon. Friend's statement about £25 million being additional is accurate.

Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby) rose—

Miss Lestor

I shall not give way for the moment. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has only just entered the Chamber.

Many people feel deeply about the desirability of consulting parents about the school which they wish their child to attend. This matter, which is dealt with in Circulars 10/65 and 4/74—both deal with comprehensive reorganisation—is not part of the law and, therefore, it is not in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) talked about guided parental choice within the terms of Clause 1. If guidance were to be selection under another name, it would be contrary to the spirit of the Bill. We all hope that parental choice, guided by experienced teachers, will always play a part in determining the education of children.

Mr. Noble

Does my hon. Friend accept that this guided parental choice must be associated with transfer at the age of 13 into some kind of senior high school, and that in those circumstances it will inevitably lead to streaming in the junior school to prepare children for a GCE course? In that sense I believe that it frustrates the intentions of the Bill.

Miss Lestor

If that interpretation were placed on this question, I agree with my hon. Friend that in many ways it would distort the intention of the Bill. That is not the intention. It is as I have already outlined.

The hon. Member for Ripon asked about selection for sixth form colleges, and whether this would continue. This is a very important issue in comprehensive education. The position is that most sixth form colleges are open-access, and provide a wide variety of courses for students of varying abilities. A small number—I accept what the hon. Member says—are selective in one form or another. Some of these are happily moving towards more open access, and I hope that others will follow suit. This matter will have to be watched very carefully indeed as comprehensive education "rolls on"—if I may adopt a phrase that has already been used.

Two or three hon. Gentlemen asked about discipline, corporal punishment, and similar items. I believe it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) who said, during one of the big education debates, that in the 19th century the riot squad had to he brought into certain public schools where difficulties had arisen. That does not happen today, I am happy to add, it is unfair to associate the question of discipline in schools with the question of the development of comprehensive education. Perhaps this House is not as well behaved as it might be. Some of the worst offenders have not been to comprehensive schools.

It is often said that young people reflect the example given to them by many adults. I accept that in some schools there are discipline problems, but this is by no means just in comprehensive schools. I have already said that I accept that in some schools there are some problems. I should have thought that we need to look a little more closely at the sort of society in which we are living—the changes that have taken place in family patterns, the break-up of families, the one-parent families, the rate of divorce, and a host of other things that have transformed the fabric of our society.

The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn talked about standards, size, the organisation of schools, and so on. I am told that Eton College, which is in my constituency, is a comprehensive school. It is not comprehensive in terms of social intake. It is certainly comprehensive in terms of ability intake. It is a large school, but I have never yet heard any Opposition Members who went to that school attack it because of its size.

What is important in secondary education and in comprehensive education—this applies to all secondary schools—is the organisation of the school and how it is administered, not its size.

In the months during which I have been in the Department of Education I have seen large schools magnificently run in many parts of the country, and I have seen small schools very badly run. When they are badly run, small schools have many of the problems that exist in other schools. So I think that this is a matter at which we shall have to look—

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West) rose—

Miss Lestor

If I gave way to the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), I might be accused of favouring previous members of my constituency, and that would never do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck) asked about the future of Parmitter's School. Although I cannot comment on what my hon. Friend said, since it has not happened yet, if the school moved to Watford the local education authority would be required to publish notices to maintain the school. Such proposals would require the approval of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I have no doubt that he would examine them very carefully.

Mr. Channon rose—

Miss Lestor

So that I can calm the passions of hon. Members, I shall not give way any more, because I do not have time. I said that I would give way to someone later on in the debate, and I did so.

I want to align myself with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies), who dealt in some detail with the elitism of our education system and the virtues of moving away from the narrow and rigid constraints of academic education towards a widening of educational opportunity to meet the needs of all members of our society. I believe that that is right. We are bringing in this Bill because we are prompted by a concept that is based fundamentally on a belief in the virtues of a community of people with different abilities and different aptitudes, all of which are of value to our society. We believe that this community should be given the opportunity to respect these different abilities in each other and to provide their children with opportunities to exploit them to the full.

A lot of hard words have been said tonight about those of us who wish to introduce this Bill. As I stand before you, Mr. Speaker, with my gently waved hair, my faint touch of lipstick and my multi-coloured jersey dress, I hope that I look like a woman who wishes to change our education system. That is what we intend to do. [Interruption.] I knew that Opposition Members would not be able to take that. That is what we intend to do. That is the purpose of the Bill. That was one of the promises in our election manifesto, and we intend to

keep it in the face of opposition based on prejudice, elitism and the guarding of people's privileges.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The House has listened to one of the most incompetent—[Interruption.]—and disgraceful speeches—[Interruption] The only honourable part—[Interruption,]

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a debate about education.

Mr. Gow rose—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish) rose in his place and claimed to move. That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put. put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly. That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 296, Noes 255.

Division No. 51] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Abse, Leo Coleman, Donald Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Allaun, Frank Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen Ford, Ben
Anderson, Donald Conlan, Bernard Forrester, John
Archer, Peter Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)
Armstrong, Ernest Corbett, Robin Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)
Ashley, Jack Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Freeson, Reginald
Ashton, Joe Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Freud, Clement
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Crawshaw, Richard Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Atkinson, Norman Cronin, John Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony George, Bruce
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Cryer, Bob Gilbert, Dr John
Bates, Alf Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Ginsburg, David
Bean, R. E. Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Golding, John
Beith, A. J. Davidson, Arthur Gould, Bryan
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Gourlay, Harry
Pennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Graham, Ted
Bidwell, Sydney Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Grant, George (Morpeth)
Bishop, E. S. Deakins, Eric Grant, John (Islington C)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Grocott, Bruce
Boardman, H. Delargy, Hugh Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Booth, Albert Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Hardy, Peter
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Dempsey, James Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Doig, Peter Hart, Rt Hon Judith
Bradley, Tom Dormand, J. D. Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Douglas-Mann, Bruce Hayman, Mrs Helene
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Duffy, A. E. P. Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Dunn. James A. Heffer, Eric S.
Buchan, Norman Dunnett, Jack Hooley, Frank
Buchanan, Richard Eadie, Alex Hooson, Emlyn
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Edge, Geoff Horam, John
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) English, Michael Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)
Campbell, Ian Ennals, David Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)
Canavan, Dennis Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Huckfield, Les
Cant, R. B. Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)
Carmichael, Neil Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Carter, Ray Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Hunter, Adam
Carter-Jones, Lewis Faulds, Andrew Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)
Cartwright, John Fernyhough, Rt Hn E. Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)
Clemitson, Ivor Flannery, Martin Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Janner, Greville
Cohen, Stanley Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Jeger, Mrs Lena Molloy, William Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Moonman, Eric Snape, Peter
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Spearing, Nigel
John, Brynmor Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Spriggs, Leslie
Johnson, James (Hull West) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Stallard, A. W.
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Stoddart, David
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Newens, Stanley Stott, Roger
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Noble, Mike Strang, Gavin
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Oakes, Gordon Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Judd, Frank Ogden, Eric Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Kaufman, Gerald O'Halloran, Michael Swain, Thomas
Kelley, Richard O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Kerr, Russell Orbach, Maurice Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Kinnock, Neil Ovenden, John Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Lambie, David Owen, Dr David Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Lamborn, Harry Padley, Walter Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Lamond, James Palmer, Arthur Tierney, Sydney
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Pardoe, John Tinn, James
Leadbitter, Ted Park, George Tomlinson, John
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Parry, Robert Tomney, Frank
Lever, Rt Hon Harold Pavitt, Laurie Torney, Tom
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Peart, Rt Hon Fred Tuck, Raphael
Lipton, Marcus Pendry, Tom Urwin, T. W.
Litterick, Tom Perry, Ernest Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Loyden, Eddie Phipps, Dr Colin Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Luard, Evan Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Lyon, Alexander (York) Price, William (Rugby) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Radice, Giles Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Ward, Michael
McCartney, Hugh Richardson, Miss Jo Watkins, David
McElhone, Frank Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Watkinson, John
MacFarquhar, Roderick Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Weetch, Ken
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Roderick, Caerwyn Wellbeloved, James
Mackenzie, Gregor Rodgers, George (Chorley) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Mackintosh, John P. Rodgers, William (Stockton) White, James (Pollok)
Maclennan, Robert Rooker, J. W. Whitehead, Phillip
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Roper, John Whitlock, William
McNamara, Kevin Rose, Paul B. Wigley, Dafydd
Madden, Max Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Magee, Bryan Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Mahon, Simon Rowlands, Ted Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Sandelson, Neville Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Marks, Kenneth Sedgemore, Brian Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Marquand, David Selby, Harry Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wise, Mrs Audrey
Maynard, Miss Joan Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C) Woodall, Alec
Meacher, Michael Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Woof, Robert
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Mendelson, John Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Young, David (Bolton E)
Mikardo, Ian Silverman, Julius
Millan, Bruce Skinner, Dennis TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Small, William Mr. Joseph Harper and
Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Mr. John Ellis.
Adley, Robert Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Crltchley, Julian
Aitken, Jonathan Brotherton, Michael Crouch, David
Alison, Michael Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Crowder, F. P.
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Bryan, Sir Paul Davies, Rt Hon J. (Kn[...]tsford)
Arnold, Tom Buchanan-Smith, Alick Dean,Paul (N Somerset)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Budgen, Nick Dodsworth, Geoffrey
Awdry, Daniel Bulmer, Esmond Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Baker, Kenneth Burden, F. A. Drayson, Burnaby
Banks, Robert Butler, Adam (Bosworth) du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Bell, Ronald Carlisle, Mark Dunlop, John
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Carson, John Durant, Tony
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Chalker, Mrs Lynda Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Benyon, W. Channon, Paul Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Berry, Hon Anthony Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Elliott, Sir William
Biffen, John Clark, William (Croydon S) Eyre, Reginald
Biggs-Davison, John Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Fairbairn, Nicholas
Blaker, Peter Clegg, Walter Fairgrieve, Russell
Body, Richard Cockcroft, John Farr, John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Fell, Anthony
Bottomley, Peter Cope, John Finsberg, Geoffrey
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Cordle, John H. Fisher, Sir Nigel
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Cormack, Patrick Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Braine, Sir Bernard Corrie, John Fookes, Miss Janet
Brittan, Leon Costain, A. P. Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)
Fox, Marcus Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rifkind, Malcolm
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Lloyd, Ian Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Fry, Peter Loveridge, John Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Luce, Richard Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) McAdden, Sir Stephen Ross, William (Londonderry)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) McCrindle, Robert Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) McCusker, H. Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Glyn, Dr Alan Macfarlane, Neil Royle, Sir Anthony
Godber, Rt Hon Joseph MacGregor, John Sainsbury, Tim
Goodhart, Philip Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Goodhew, Victor McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Goodlad, Alastair McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Gorst, John Madel, David Shepherd, Colin
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Shersby, Michael
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Marten, Neil Silvester, Fred
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Mather, Carol Sims, Roger
Gray, Hamish Maude, Angus Sinclair, Sir George
Grieve, Percy Mawby, Ray Skeet, T. H. H.
Griffiths, Eldon Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Grist, Ian Mayhew, Patrick Speed, Keith
Grylls, Michael Meyer, Sir Anthony Spence, John
Hall, Sir John Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mills, Peter Sproat, Iain
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Miscampbell, Norman Stainton, Keith
Hampson, Dr Keith Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Stanbrook, Ivor
Hannam, John Moate, Roger Stanley, John
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Molyneaux, James Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Havers, Sir Michael Monro, Hector Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Hawkins, Paul Montgomery, Fergus Stokes, John
Hayhoe, Barney Moore, John (Croydon C) Stradling Thomas, J.
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Morgan, Geraint Tapsell, Peter
Hicks, Robert Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Higgins, Terence L. Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Tebbit, Norman
Holland, Philip Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Temple-Morris, Peter
Hordern, Peter Mudd, David Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Howell, David (Guildford) Neave, Airey Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Hunt, John Nelson, Anthony Townsend, Cyril D.
Hutchison, Michael Clark Neubert, Michael Trotter Neville
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Newton, Tony Tugendhat, Christopher
James, David Nott, John van Straubenzee, W. R.
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Onslow, Cranley Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Jessel, Toby Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Viggers, Peter
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Page, John (Harrow West) Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Wakeham, John
Jopling, Michael Paisley, Rev Ian Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Pattie, Geoffrey Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Kaberry, Sir Donald Penha[...]gon, David Wall, Patrick
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Percival, Ian Walters, Dennis
Kershaw, Anthony Peyton, Rt Hon John Warren, Kenneth
Kimball, Marcus pink, R. Bonner Weatherill, Bernard
King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Wells, John
King, Tom (Bridgwatar) Price, David (Eastleigh) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Kitson, Sir Timothy Prior, Rt Hon James Wiggin, Jerry
Knight, Mrs Jill Pym, Rt Hon Francis Winterton, Nicholas
Knox, David Raison, Timothy Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Lamont, Norman Rathbone, Tim Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Lane, David Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Younger, Hon George
Langford-Holt, Sir John Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Latham, Michael (Melton) Rees-Davies, W. R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Lawrence, Ivan Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Mr. Cecil Parkinson and
Lawson, Nigel Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Mr. Michael Roberts.
Le Merchant, Spencer Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Letter, Jim (Beeston) Ridsdale, Julian

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).