HC Deb 23 March 1988 vol 130 cc429-57
Mr. Fatchett

I beg to move amendment No. 192, in page 32, line 31, at beginning insert 'From the date named in an Order under subsection (1A) below and'.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider also amendment No. 193, in page 32, line 34, at end insert '(1A) The Secretary of State may make an Order giving effect to subsection (1) above in a particular area from a date not earlier than two years after the introduction of a scheme for local financial management in that area, and an Order made under this subsection may specify different dates of different areas.'.

Mr. Fatchett

Those of us who came in late during the debate on the last amendment but one also enjoyed the debate, and it was interesting to see the consensus and concern about a range of issues. Some of us feel scandalised by the guillotine that has just fallen, because we sense that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was set for winding up to a major and well-prepared speech on that amendment. That speech is well worth publishing in another place.

Mr. Straw

In Dartford.

Mr. Fatchett

Perhaps in Dartford. I was about to suggest to my hon. Friend that he should publish it in The Guardian, although given the way in which that newspaper is currently printed he may find it easier to print his speech elsewhere. Perhaps if he printed it in Dartford, it would be more widely read.

If we had some consensus in the debate on the last amendment, I shall try my best to carry it forward into the debate on this one. As the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) knows, I always try to cultivate consensus during proceedings in Committee because obviously that is the best way to proceed. I shall start by looking at the areas in which we have some consensus because the amendment allows me to be consensual and, if I dare use the word, conflictful. I am being like the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss), who spoke about the word "prioritise". I apologise for using such words and upsetting him once more.

The amendment has two basic parts. One deals with local financial management, about which there is some agreement, and the other deals with the provision for opting-out schools, on which I suspect there is very little agreement in the House. On local financial management, I shall try to cultivate the consensus that was apparent in the debate on the previous amendment. We said in Committee that delegated local financial management was something we approved of in principle; as Socialists, we should accept and argue for that. The more people that are involved in decision-making the better, and the more we deplore power the better. The more we have people involved in participation at all levels, the better the way society is run and managed. That applies to our schools just as it should apply to many other institutions.

One of the arguments that we need to note is that the demand for decentralisation and participation is now greater in our society than at any time in our history. It goes against the political grain to advocate centralisation, but it goes with the political grain to advocate decentralisation.

It is interesting to note that, of the local education authorities that currently practise some system of devolved financial management, some will be controlled by the Conservative party, some by the Labour party and one or two by the alliance.

Mr. Cormack

There is no alliance.

Mr. Fatchett

I shall not get involved in that argument.

Hon. Members who served on the Committee will know that I have had sufficient trouble with the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). I am delighted that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) is occupying the place of the hon. Member for Yeovil. I said yesterday that the latter had brought reinforcements in the form of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes). The hon.

Member for Yeovil is absent, but he has provided us with substantial reinforcements in the form of the hon. Member for Rochdale. I understand that he wants to say a few words later about opt-out, and we shall look forward to that.

There is some consensus, in principle and practice, about local financial management. However, we have concerns, which arose in Committee, some of which I shall refer to later. We are concerned about whether it is intended to use local financial management to squeeze resources. If so, we shall oppose it because any squeeze on resources would damage the interests of our children and the provision of education. Experience suggests that, in an authority such as Cambridgeshire, where the alliance was in control, when local financial management has been practised it has been proved more expensive. That may be the price that must be paid for the principle, and it may be a price that we wish to pay.

We are concerned—this matter emerged during the debate in Committee—that the principle of delegated financial management will be used to undermine trade union negotiating rights and pay and conditions. We were anxious about the comments made by the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who seemed to suggest that it would be possible for a locally managed school not to recognise an individual trade union, particularly the non-teaching trade unions. He seemed to suggest that it would be possible for a locally managed school not to pay the going rate for non-teaching staff. Such a move would undermine the principle of local financial management and, again, we would fundamentally oppose that.

We have some practical concerns, and the Government have recognised that it will take time to sort them out. We have learnt from the Government that the process of introducing delegated financial management—this will apply to authorities that are already practising some form of delegated management—will take time. It will take three years to implement those regulations and specifications, during which time many practical issues will have to be faced. Clearly, there will be times when we shall disagree about the implementation of local financial management, but there is some agreement in principle that allows us to support the clauses that permit that principle to be put into practice.

As to grant-maintained schools, the agreement about locally delegated financial management quickly disappears. This subject shows the Secretary of State at his ideological worst. In the last debate we saw him at his pragmatic best, but with regard to opt-out and grant-maintained schools, ideological forces drive him in a direction that we oppose.

We oppose grant-maintained schools for two principled reasons. We feel that they will be divisive because they will lead to selection and the reintroduction by the back door of the 11-plus. We completely oppose such a reintroduction, because there is no argument that the practice of the 11-plus damaged education and was socially divisive.

Those who take an interest in grant-maintained schools will have read a pamphlet produced by Peter Wilby, who is the education editor of The Independent. He advanced a persuasive argument that opt-out must lead to selection, and the only form of selection that would be available would be some re-run of the 11-plus.

I know that the Secretary of State would say that that is not the way that he intends it to work and that that is not the way in which it will work in the first CTC at Solihull. I respond by saying that I would want to look at that CTC over a number of years, because I am sceptical of how its intake will change. The Secretary of State contradicts himself, because he argues that the opt-out school will be popular. If it is, by definition there must be some process of selection. I fear that that process will not be made on any measure other than a simple IQ test at the age of 11.

Mr. Pawsey

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when a school opts out, it will have to apply the same admission procedures and criteria as it did before it left the maintained system? Why does the hon. Gentleman persist in suggesting that some form of 11-plus will be reintroduced? With respect, he knows jolly well that that is not the case.

Mr. Fatchett

The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), came up with what he thought was the answer and accused me of being naughty. There is another answer—I have read the Bill. If one reads the Bill, one will see that there is a provision for the character of the opt-out school to be changed after a period of years with the approval of the Secretary of State.

I understand the politics of Conservative Members, and I know what will happen. The Secretary of State will be under pressure—for example, from the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey)—to allow a school to change its status or character. I can imagine the hon. Gentleman trying to run a campaign on that basis. I can imagine the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth—we all know that he is a keen advocate of the 11-plus and of selection — saying to the Secretary of State, "There is a school in my constituency that would like to change its character." The Secretary of State would say, "It is important to do so because, if that school does not change its character, you might be in some electoral difficulties."

The persuasive methods that the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth would use on the Secretary of State would point only in one direction. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not being mischievous, because there is power in the Bill to permit that change.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Bob Dunn)

We all know that my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) has tremendous powers and is almost superhuman in his regard for his constituency. To achieve the objective that the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) is saying that my hon. Friend would like to bring about, my hon. Friend would have to take a large number of people with him.

Mr. Fatchett

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would try to do that. In Committee we discovered that the Under-Secretary failed to carry Kent county council with him. Every day we received letters from Kent county council criticising the Bill. The Under-Secretary promised that there would be no more letters from Kent county council. With that thread of Stalinism that runs hard through the Tory party, he said, "Leave them to me," yet we still received letters from Kent county council.

Mr. Dunn

They got better.

Mr. Fatchett

They got better because they became more critical as time went along. The grant-maintained school will be divisive because it will lead to selection, and it will be divisive for a second reason.

Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)

The hon. Gentleman suggests that there is no selection at present. Some of us think that selection for education might be based on aptitude and ability, but at present we have selection based on a mathematical formula which says that some children must be from the upper band, some from the middle band and some from the lower band. That is far more absurd and far less rational a method of choosing than selection on aptitude and ability.

8.30 pm
Mr. Fatchett

The hon. Gentleman widens the debate in a direction in which many of us would be happy to take it.

Mr. Straw

I dare you.

Mr. Fatchett

I am not sure that I do dare, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I suspect that you are about to point an admonishing finger in my direction. You may not have the same power over my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) had, but in present circumstances you may well have such power over me.

The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) seems to have let the cat out of the bag. The Secretary of State may not agree, but the hon. Gentleman seemed to be arguing for the reintroduction of selection at 11 and the reintroduction of grammar schools and secondary modern schools. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, many Conservative Members take that view, but they do not have the confidence to go to the country on that basis because whenever they put that proposition to the electorate they are overwhelmingly defeated. Whenever they have tried to move from comprehensive education back to selective education, the Conservative-controlled local authority concerned has been forced to change its position because local parents, including middle-class parents and Conservative voters, have made it clear that they do not wish to go back to selection.

That is why there is so much public and parental fear about testing at the age of seven. Parents know that it is likely to be unscientific if the Prime Minister has her way. It is also likely to be divisive and to create a context in which youngsters are deemed to be failures at a very early age. Those of us who lived through the 11-plus experience know how it divided families and what happened to primary school teaching, and we know the great freedom that was given to primary schools with the abolition of the 11-plus.

Our primary schools now bear comparison with those in any other part of western Europe. We have very good primary education. If Conservative Members do not believe that, let them read the detailed report on primary education produced by the Select Committee in which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) was involved. The quality of our primary school system is clear.

Selection at 11 was divisive. It also moderated standards. The same will happen with a simple system of selection at seven. As the 11-plus generation knows, almost without exception — I recognise that there are some exceptions — people deemed to be educational failures at 11 remained educational failures for the rest of their lives. The same will happen with selection at seven.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Fatchett

I am delighted to see such a queue of Conservative Members wishing to intervene. As always, I will show a bias towards Leeds. I give way to the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson).

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

The world has moved on, and the hon. Gentleman's arguments about selection at 11 no longer apply, as other education systems show. I have just returned from Boston, where I visited some magnet schools in deprived areas in the east and south of the city. There they believe not in selection but in specialisation. There are schools specialising in information technology, mathematics and science in the poorest parts of the city. That is the way in which we should be thinking and moving in this country.

Mr. Fatchett

I agree that testing has moved on, and I respect the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of education. We sometimes disagree about education matters in Leeds, but I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's anxieties and some of his parochial difficulties there and I shall not bring them out here.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West and the world of education may have moved on, but sadly, the Prime Minister has not. The crucial debate on the Bill concerns the form of testing that will eventually be implemented. We have said time and again that we favour diagnostic and differential testing but we do not approve of simple passor-fail testing of the kind that the Prime Minister seems to support. We have moved on, as the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West and, I suspect, the Secretary of State have moved on in relation to testing, but I wonder whether the Prime Minister has.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

The hon. Gentleman is being disingenuous. Testing takes place every day in every school in the country. There are 10 or 12 different reading tests to diagnose pupils' progress. It is not a matter of passing or failing but of whether the child has reached the standard applicable to the relevant age group. If the child has not reached that level, clearly action is needed.

Mr. Fatchett

I think that that intervention was released on Monday in the Conservative party Central Office brief, which received some press coverage. We agree with the Central Office brief, but we are waiting for the Downing street brief, which is likely to be more interesting. We argue, therefore, that grant-maintained schools will be divisive in terms of selection.

It has taken me a long time to reach my second point. Indeed, I believe that Conservative Members are intervening as a matter of policy to try to spin me along on this. I believe that it is inevitable that grant-maintained schools will charge parents. We had a long debate about this in Committee, and the Minister of State was unable to reassure us.

Mrs. Rumbold

You had made up your mind.

Mr. Fatchett

I am a very reasonable person, and I pleaded with the Minister time and again to reassure me that there would be no charging. She replied that she would not discount the possibility of voluntary contributions from parents towards the employment of additional teachers for science or modern languages, so as to enrich the curriculum. The nature of that contribution worried me, because its social context would make it increasingly mandatory. If a mandatory contribution is not a charge, I do not know what is.

For all their disingenuous looks, Conservative Members know that the logic runs in one direction. The grant-maintained school must be different, and it must offer more. That means that it will need more teachers and more resources. Unless the Government change the formula for central Government aid to grant-maintained schools, the only way to obtain additional money to change the character of the grant-maintained schools will be some contribution from parents. Grant-maintained schools will thus be divisive in two respects.

My next point was a victim of the guillotine and of the Secretary of State's great desire to curtail debate on these important issues. We understand why he wishes to do that. As we have said many times in the past two days, as the debate continues, support for the Government's proposals declines. The Government therefore have an interest in curtailing debate in this context.

The Secretary of State seems to be looking for something—no doubt the latest opinion poll. I will let the House into a secret. When we put the statistics to the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Dartford, in Committee, he said that he had a new poll which would go against all those carried out by national organisations. [HON. MEMBERS: "Was it from Kent?"] No, it was certainly not from Kent, because we know what it would have said if it had been from Kent. The poll was organised by and through the Liverpool Daily Post. It showed that in Liverpool 20 per cent. of people agreed with grant-maintained schools, while nationally the figure was 17 per cent. That really is a great achievement.

Tonight we should have had a debate, if we could have had the time, about balloting procedures —[Interruption.] Conservative Members will realise that, on the selection of amendments, that is almost impossible to achieve. We share in interest in a debate and a vote on the balloting procedures.

We have a proposal from the Government that a simple majority can change the status of a school. Reduce to its logical, absurd conclusion, that simple majority could be one parent voting to take the school out of local authority maintained control — [Interruption.] Well, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) makes a sedentary intervention, but if there is a simple majority, a decision could be taken in this place by just one hon. Member. We have argued in Committee—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that balloting comes under Government amendment No. 300. Perhaps he could contain himself until we reach that amendment.

Mr. Fatchett

I always try to contain myself, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I have failed miserably on this occasion. I was trying to say that this is an important item, on which we feel that there should be some debate.

Mr. Cormack

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Obviously one understands why you made that ruling, but the House is placed in a difficult position because this is a central issue on which many hon. Members from all parties have strong feelings. You have been exceptionally tolerant of the hon. Gentleman up to now, but would it be possible to have a slightly more wide-ranging debate on this clause so that points which may not be voted upon, but are felt deeply about, may be aired?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I think I am extremely tolerant in the Chair and I understand the strong feelings of hon. Members. However, this clause is a very narrow one, with the exception of the first subsection. I am being as tolerant as I can. I hope that hon. Members will help me. I must advise the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) that balloting is strictly limited to Government amendment No. 300, but I shall try to make the debate as wide-ranging as I possibly can to meet the interests of hon. Members on this matter.

Mr. Fatchett

I certainly will not challenge your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you understand the views of the House in this respect. You have reflected them very well.

There is a divide on this. We support local financial management, but we have reservations. We totally oppose the principle of grant-maintained schools. Our amendment links the two issues in a way that shows that this Labour Opposition is thoroughly constructive. We are a listening and helpful Opposition. As part of that, we are trying to make the system of grant-maintained schools work more effectively. In the amendment we are trying to suggest that if a school is going to opt out, it should have some experience of managing its own affairs before the process of opting out is debated and balloted on, and the decision taken. That seems a reasonable precondition.

It would be terribly damaging to the image of the Secretary of State if many grant-maintained schools ran into difficulties simply because they did not have the experience of managing their own affairs previously. So along come the Labour Opposition with an amendment which I suspect the Secretary of State will be keen to accept. I think that he will be keen to accept it because the Minister of State told us in Committee that she will accept it.

We know that the Minister of State—this was picked up by some newspapers at the time—is a keen believer in opt-out schools. Indeed, one or two newspapers said that for the first time she showed some real enthusiasm for the Bill. It was almost the glazed-eyed ideological commitment of the Prime Minister, but I know the Minister of State too well by now to say that she quite achieved such levels—or should I say such depths.

The Minister of State was deeply committed to the notion of an opt-out school. 'We know that the right hon. Gentleman is somewhat less committed—[Interruption.] Well, the Minister of State says that it was another of the Secretary of State's ideas. This man has more ideas than most of us, but I suspect that none of the Secretary of State's ideas will bring a great deal of popularity to the Conservative party. I wonder whether he will be running up and down the country in the next 18 months saying, "I am the man who invented the poll tax."

8.45 pm

We know that the Secretary of State had some reservations, because he said first that he would like a few schools to opt out. Then, when the Prime Minister said, "Thousands," in a typical Secretary of State word the right hon. Gentleman said that he would like "some" to opt out—not too many, not too few, but just enough to keep the lady of Downing street happy. He just pitched it right—

Mr. Pawsey

Just right.

Mr. Fatchett

—so that he was saved from the Left, from the Right, and above all from Downing street.

Therefore, we know that the Secretary of State has reservations, but not the Minister of State, who, during the debate on grant-maintained schools, said of opting out: Experience of financial delegation is absolutely essential before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is likely to consider an application." — [Official Report, Standing Committee J, 26 January 1988; c. 893.] To make sure that we had got the message correct, a couple of columns later, at column 895, the Minister of State—I can understand why she is now hiding herself in her papers — stated that there would have to be reasonable experience of local financial management.

All that our amendment seeks to do is to put on the face of the Bill the commitment that was given by the Minister of State. It is a commitment that was given by the believer and it should be important to the Government. I suspect that the Secretary of State will not want to distance himself from the true believer in this context. Our amendment simply seeks to give the Government the opportunity to make sure that it is the Minister of State who carries the day in terms of opt-out schools and the need for local delegated management.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

The ability of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) to skate on thin ice would have won him a medal at the winter olympics. When we are faced with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is justly popular in the country and the Conservative party, and who is also perhaps the most skilful tightrope walker in politics, we have a marvellous gymnastic contest.

You have been exceptionally tolerant, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall certainly not seek to strain your patience. We are talking about grant-maintained schools, the importance of those institutions and the importance of this innovation. Because of the constraints of the timetable, we are not going to have an opportunity to discuss matters that you would rightly rule out of order and which, were I Chairman in Committee, I would rule out of order myself, so except to say that balloting causes concern, I shall leave it at that.

In a brief contribution I should simply like to say that the concept of grant-maintained schools has caused a great deal of concern and apprehension throughout the country. However, I personally believe that my right hon. Friend is entirely justified in including these provisions in the Bill because I believe that it is right that parents in parts of the country where the local education authority behaves strangely should not feel that their children are imprisoned in schools, and in some cases in systems, that are totally repugnant to them. To that degree, I warmly endorse my right hon. Friend's innovative concept and applaud what he is seeking to do.

However, it is important that where a school opts out it should do so only because there is overwhelming desire that it should opt out. The Bill is deficient in two major respects. First, there is not that opportunity to demonstrate that it is the overwhelming desire of parents to opt out, and secondly the Bill gives enormous powers in that respect, as in others, to the Secretary of State.

I have great trust and faith in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which may be touching concept for Opposition Members, but it is a genuine feeling on my part. However, I do not feel that I should necessarily have the same confidence in other people who might occupy that job, from whichever party they were chosen. I also believe that one of the cardinal principles of government in a democracy should be that one does not take powers to oneself that one is unhappy about one's opponents exercising.

If there is one single fault that runs through much of the legislation that the Government have introduced since 1979, it is that far too often Secretaries of State, in Act after Act, have taken powers to themselves that they would be very unhappy to see in the hands of Labour Secretaries of State or even, if one has that delightful, charitable flight of fancy, a Liberal Secretary of State. Therefore, in the weeks and months ahead when the Bill goes to another place, where their Lordships are not constrained by the timetable that inhibits and restricts us, I hope that my right hon. Friend will show the pragmatism, the breadth of mind, the depth of understanding and the intuitive sympathy that he showed when he replied in that magisterial speech to the debate on religious education to become contagious within his cranium.

Mr. Dalyell

Would this little homily and lecture apply to editors of The House Magazine who pulp pre-Christmas issues?

Mr. Cormack

If I answer that mischievous intervention, you will rightly rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. When the hon. Gentleman has a hobby horse, he will ride it, wherever he may be. I am only surprised that I was not asked about references to the Belgrano.

Dr. Hampson

Will my hon. Friend draw the attention of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he considers the matter and, indeed, those in the other place, to amendment No. 83, which was not selected? It shows a broad range of opinion, led by our hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi). A wide range of knights and others in the Conservative party are expressing exactly the same sentiment as my hon. Friend.

Mr. Cormack

I believe that I have reasonably good company in the sentiments that I am expressing. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State takes a little time between now and when the Bill comes back from the House of Lords to reflect on the general sentiment that I am seeking to express, I think that he will find that it is echoed in many parts of the Conservative party as well as in many parts of the country.

I leave it at that. I say to my right hon. Friend that the concept is admirable, but the manner in which he is seeking to execute it leaves a great deal to be desired.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

I have sat in the Chamber since approximately 4 pm and I have listened to many speeches. I consider that this clause is the most important part of the whole Education Reform Bill now before the House of Commons and shortly to go to the House of Lords. It is the most important part because it eats and digs away at, and destroys, the roots of local government and its influence on education. We should not underestimate, or deal flippantly or jocularly with, a clause that is doing what this clause will inevitably do to the education system throughout the land. It is extremely important. We should not minimise in any way the importance of what we are being asked to do.

I have heard many hon. Members extol their record in education. In all matters, I always hide my light under a bushel, but I was a member of an education committee for 23 years and chairman of an education committee for over six years. The education system that we developed in Rochdale was a system of which we can be and are proud.

When I listened to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) extolling the virtues of the system in Wigan, it went through my mind that since he was educated in the system in Rochdale that I introduced while I was chairman of the Rochdale education committee, the qualities of that system have washed off on him and he has passed them on to the Wigan education authority. I interviewed the hon. Gentleman for a scholarship when he was 18, in my capacity as chairman of the committee. All that that does is to show what a young man the hon. Gentleman was when he took an interest in those matters.

There are education authorities that leave much to be desired, but they are few in number. I have never been in favour of taking sledgehammers to crack nuts. That is what the Bill is all about. It is about taking a sledgehammer to crack a small nut. At present my education authority is seeking to reorganise education and, indeed, to destroy excellence in Rochdale's education system, which I deplore and shall oppose. However, I do not believe that the system of opting out is the way to deal with such a situation. I still believe that local influence and local authority planning over a wide geographical area are vital elements in planning the education system for the whole area. I do not believe that one can achieve the overall pattern and system of education and the overall quality of education if one allows certain parts of a geographical area to opt out of the system and leaves the others to paddle their own canoe.

I listened to the Secretary of State's reply on Catholic organisation. I was delighted to hear his concessions, but I say with great respect, perhaps at some cost to ultimate decisions—who knows?—that my experience of the right hon. Gentleman is such that he does not follow parents' wishes. A matter was placed before him concerning the reorganisation of Catholic education in Rochdale. Because the bishops urged the right hon. Gentleman to support the scheme, he did so and approved it, although 97 per cent. of the parents who had children in those Catholic schools had objected to and opposed it.

I read with great interest the articles in the Sunday Express—indeed, I would have been tempted to put pen to paper had it been a respectable newspaper. The experience of the right hon. Gentleman's approach to parental objection, as outlined the Sunday Express, was similar to mine.

In the past two weeks I have had occasion to see the Secretary of State about another matter and I was accompanied by all four of the governors elected by the parents of the two schools in question. I have not yet received his decision about that matter, but it will be extremely interesting to see whether he upholds the views of the parents in that case or, once again, overrules them. I am not entirely happy with the suggestion that we have a Secretary of State who is always keen to uphold the views of parents. Whether he upholds the views of parents or not, I am certain about one thing—opting out is not the answer.

9 pm

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) said that opting out would lead to divisions and the reintroduction of the 11-plus. When he said that, I turned to the hon. Member for Wigan—we have known each other for a long time—and said, "That is not the key issue. The key issue is ability to pay." The hon. Member for Leeds, Central developed that argument later, and I agree with everything that he said.

It is not a matter of charging pupils to go to schools that have opted out. Pupils may go to those schools free, but there will be trips to Germany, France and here, there and everywhere. They will be charged for music lessons after school. If they want to learn the violin, they will have to pay. If they want extra tuition, they will have to pay. Ultimately, class divisions across an authority will emerge and those areas where the parents have the ability to pay will opt out. The other parents will be left with the maintained sector because, much as they would like to send their children to a school that has opted out, they will feel unable to do so because they will be unable to keep up financially with the other parents.

Mr. Stott

I am following the hon. Gentleman's speech with a great deal of interest. He has already pointed out that we have many shared experiences and I admired what he did when he was a chairman of the education authority in Rochdale. The systems of Rochdale and Wigan are similar.

At the moment, schools are not simply places on the campus—education is in the round in Wigan, as it is in Rochdale. In Wigan, we supply the child psychology service, the reading services, Outward Bound hostels and many music facilities such as the Wigan jazz orchestra, which is similar to the Rochdale brass band. If schools were to opt out of the local authority, would it be able to charge schools for the remedial reading services, the child psychology service or the Outward Bound activities, which the schools and their pupils now enjoy as a right? The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right—all those things will cost money.

Mr. Smith

That is a valid point. The local authorities will be able to charge for such services. Indeed, because of the political complexion of some authorities, they will try to charge at a point that forces schools into difficult situations. I do not believe that the Secretary of State has thought this through and worked out all the implications.

Another important consideration—I do not want to be misunderstood, but it must be faced—is that there are schools—I have such schools in my authority—where more than 90 per cent. of the children are Asian. Will the Secretary of State refuse those Asian parents the right to opt out? If he does so, he is in difficulty, but if he does not he is also in difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman may smile, but he is walking into a minefield of racial hatred that can develop in local authorities where such problems exist. He should not underestimate the scale of that problem, because there may be serious repercussions.

If one school opts out, it can only do so at the expense of another. I believe that to be a fact and I do not see how it can be otherwise. It should also be remembered that children leave school. I accept that, to an extent, that factor is covered, but I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has thought it through. Those parents who, in one year, wish to opt out and vote to do so may not be parents at that school in two or three years' time. Parents change and the school—given the time period in the Bill—then has to start to try to get back into the local authority maintained sector.

What is more important is that head teachers change. From my experience of education, the headship of a school has as much to do with the quality of a school as anything else—if not more. I could quote schools in Rochdale where, at one time, we had a problem persuading children to go to them. If one changes the head, it changes the whole style of the school. I could quote a school where we literally had to keep pupils out because it was bulging at the seams. The head moved from one school to another and the kids followed him.

Mr. Carttiss

Like the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said and I agree with some of his points, or did so at one time. Is it not the case that school governors will be much more involved in the appointment of heads than has been the case with local education authorities—I was a member of an LEA for many years —which sometimes impose a head who does not fit in with what the school governors want? The Bill provides parents with greater representation than they have at present, so the governing body will be that much better equipped to ensure that a successor to a good headmaster reflects the ethos that he has created and will not bring about a revolutionary change, as sometimes happens when LEAs force on schools heads whom they do not want.

Mr. Smith

With great respect, is it not a fact that under the Bill parents have only 30 per cent. of the governorship of the school? At present, a local authority may impose a head on a school. That has never been my experience, but I admit that Rochdale is a progressive authority and balloted parent governors 25 years ago. There is nothing new about that—only the numbers have increased. Only 30 per cent. of governors will be parents, so while at present the LEA may impose a head on a school, under the Bill the governors appointed by the Secretary of State will do that because they will make up 70 per cent. of the board.

Parents change, head teachers change and, although I do not wish to frighten the Minister, Ministers change. The right hon. Gentleman may not be the Secretary of State in a month. To be fair to him, I should think that he will be, but I would not put as much on 12 months. He will certainly be the Secretary of State until any reshuffle, and probably thereafter.

Ministers change. It is all right putting power in the hands of one Minister, but those powers apply to every Minister from then on until the powers are changed. I have almost 16 years' experience of this place and I know that, once a Minister has power, he does not come to the House to give it up. No way. He sticks to it and uses it. It is extremely rare to have a Minister come to the House asking it to withdraw his power; he always comes to increase it.

While some parts of the Bill may be commended, this clause compels me to vote against the Bill on Third reading, as I shall do on Monday. The clause is disastrous. It is a fundamental error. It will remove from LEAs their ability to plan for a geographical area. That ability is absolutely vital to maintain standards of education, to plan maintenance and the allocation of teachers, and so on. The ability to organise exchanges between schools because in one school five pupils wish to study Latin and four something else, and to merge schools for particular subjects will disappear. The ability to plan centrally will be removed.

While I deplore what some LEAs have done — I deplore what the Rochdale authority is trying to do—I still believe that that is a better alternative than allowing schools to opt out and get away from the basic roots of the system of educational organisation that we have come to know.

I said earlier that the Bill is destroying local government, and it is. Local government is about providing necessary services for people who cannot afford to pay for them individually. People are brought together, they chip into a kitty and they elect people to run the services and spend that kitty. If chunks are allowed to opt out, as is proposed, the very basis of local government will be destroyed. Opting out is a gross irresponsibility.

I shall support the amendments not because I think that they are the ideal solution but because they are better than what is in the Bill. The amendments help to obstruct opting out. Anything that makes it more difficult to opt out is worth supporting. I do not believe that the clause has been thought through, or that the Government fully understand its implications. I forecast that the Government will rue the day that they put the provision in the legislation.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I represent a constituency in the letter-writing county of Kent. The county has responded positively to the proposition for opting out. The chairman of the education committee has said loudly and clearly that she sees opting out as a challenge to which she intends the local education authority to respond by maintaining schools of such a standard that none will wish to opt out. That seems to be an entirely appropriate response to the proposition that we should have increased variety in the educational system. So I am in favour of opting out.

I want to ask my right hon. Friend a simple question. Will there be assistance, particularly for primary schools, in carrying the burden of financial delegation? There is much more anxiety about local financial management in primary schools than in secondary schools.

Dr. Hampson

Kent seems to have every conceivable system that God has created — including, I believe, middle schools. In Leeds, all middle schools are categorised as primary yet they have more experience than most primary schools. They cater for the 9-to-13 age group. Unfortunately too many of them come below the threshold of 300. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) feels, as I do, that there should be an acknowledgement of that by the Front Bench and that they should adjust the Bill accordingly.

Mr. Rowe

I see this great reform Bill as the beginning of a long period of evolution. We are bound to learn by experience. I hope that that point will emerge quickly and will be dealt with speedily.

In the debate on the financial memorandum, I queried whether what is left to the local education authority for financial management is not too much. I have an edgy feeling that, if we are not careful, the first result of the legislation will be a massive increase in administrative expense because we have not devolved sufficient financial control from the local education authority to enable it substantially, reduce its administrative staff, while at the same time we are laying upon schools such extra administrative burden as to require additional administrative input. My right hon. Friend should consider carefully whether he should not take more financial control away from the local education authority and devolve it to the schools.

I particularly want to address one other crucial issue which has been touched on in this debate and in the previous debate and which should have more consideration. I was disappointed that the Committee did not give it sufficient attention. When we consider the eligibility of a school to opt out and the criteria which the Secretary of State will demand, it is likely that many groups will wish to opt out for wholly respectable reasons. But the consequence of their opting out will be to create a school of one religion, cultural group or ethnic group in such a way as to deprive the children in that school of the broadening influence of other groups.

9.15 pm

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is entirely right to say that there are safeguards against a school changing its nature in the first 10 years. But if a school with 80 per cent. Moslem pupils and 20 per cent. Christian pupils—as is the case in a school that was drawn to my attention—is given the opportunity to opt out, it is almost certain that the 20 per cent. of Christian pupils will have disappeared long before the 10 years are out. Schools that wish to opt out on those terms have a strong basis in principle for doing so, because there have always been Roman Catholic and other religious minority schools.

But there has been a significant change. As the world has shrunk in terms of communication, through travel and television, groups can identify much more actively with the causes of their fellow religionists or others of their race all round the world. For example, it would be easy for a school that had a substantial percentage of Tamil pupils to become a centre of Tamil sentiment and to identify closely with the problems of Tamils overseas.

I do not wish to over-dramatise the position, but I believe that not enough consideration has been given to the balkanising effect on British society of the understandable and wholly respectable desire of a range of groups to use the opting-out mechanism to create and maintain in perpetuity schools that will be narrowly focused. The problem would become much more dangerous if there was a substantial downturn in the economy and it was perceived locally that one group was being preferred over another—for example, in obtaining employment.

On the day when two soldiers are being buried as a result of an incident in a country that is rent by religious strife, compounded by disadvantage of one sort or another, I hope that my right hon. Friend will pay careful attention to the large number of requests to opt out to create the sort of school which I believe may be undesirable.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

We debated this important and interesting point at length in Committee. I can give my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) some reassurance. The problem will arise whether or not the school opts out. I have made it clear that a change of religious ethos or character of a school is a major change of character.

Just because a certain proportion of children happen to belong to one foreign religious faith, a school does not become a school of that faith. That applies to grant-maintained schools or to schools that remain local authority-maintained. Should there be a desire to change the religious character of a school, it must go through the full process of clauses 12 and 13—a process of public examination and debate. So a school could not suddenly slip into the hands of a minority—

Mr. Fatchett

Or a majority?

Mr. Baker

—or a majority, and I want to reassure my hon. Friend that there are safeguards.

Mr. Rowe

Of course, I take reassurance where I may find it and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for it. I do not feel there is a great danger of schools slipping into the control of minorities; I am concerned about schools slipping into the control of majorities who, not necessarily at the time but in years to come, will draw many of their cultural and other priorities from outside these shores.

I admit that I am ambivalent about this. At one level I do not see why people should not be allowed to establish schools in which they can pursue their own moral, cultural and religious traditions. At another level, it is Government's job to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom. As there are already examples within our shores of areas in which it has become impossible to recreate that integrity, the same may well happen in other parts.

One last example, and I shall shut up. Let us take an extreme one. Suppose that there are enough Sikhs in Southall who firmly believe in the establishment of Khalistan and they found a school in which that becomes part of the historical instruction, and so on. The national curriculum will protect against that only to some extent.

I am not being alarmist. This was an issue that we discussed up hill and down dale on the Swann committee for five years and found great difficulty in resolving. We came up with proposals that separated the teaching of religion from the teaching of sectarian religion, but that was not a satisfactory solution. So I have reservations about opting out, but this is my only serious worry. On the whole, it will produce a valuable element of competition, but it needs a great deal more thought than it has been given thus far.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Several hon. Members have pointed out that this is an extremely important part of the Bill and is principally designed to undermine the work of local authorities. It is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut and, worse, it will deepen the divisions that already exist in education.

One of the insidious things about this part of the Bill is that it seeks to strengthen privilege by the DES providing for parents who would not, perhaps, usually think of going to the expense of sending their children to private schools, but who will receive a private education for them on the cheap in this way. In doing so, they will be causing local authorities untold difficulties of organisation.

What will happen when parents suddenly discover that the attractions of an opted-out school are taking other children away from their children's school, with the result that the local authority will say that it is costing far too much to keep the first school open and children in it will have to be transferred to other schools in the area? That may not cause too many difficulties with, for example, transport in a populous area, but in rural areas it could be a disaster. It is just one example of the way in which the opting-out provision will adversely affect many parents and children.

What will the admission procedures be in schools that opt out and are then over-subscribed? Will the headmaster say that, in the first instance, children who already have a brother or sister at that school will have first choice? Will he then say that those children living within a mile of the school will have automatic right of entry? What about the other children? We need to know exactly what the admission procedures will be when a school is deemed to be full. I hope that the Secretary of State will give a detailed explanation of what will happen.

Some schools have special units attached to them, which often use a wide range of specialist services provided by the local authority and also some of the facilities in special schools. A school in my constituency, in which my wife works, has a unit for children with special needs. The school, which is at Brackla, uses the swimming pool of a special school in Bridgend. It is an integral part of the service provided by the Mid Glamorgan education authority, which is one of the leaders in providing for special needs and in seeking to integrate such pupils into the mainstream system. If that school opted out, should it have to pay for the services of the swimming pool? The education authority will have to decide whether to make a charge based on the marginal cost of running that school, or whether it would have to charge the whole cost of the time spent in the swimming pool.

The headmaster might decide to cut specialist provision because he is finding it difficult to make ends meet.

Mr. Stott

Unless the Government provide funds.

Mr. Griffiths

Yes. Will the Secretary of State specifically provide funding for special units within mainstream schools that opt out? Will he tell us his exact intentions? Children with special needs have very different funding needs within the education system. The right hon. Gentleman will have to set up a complicated system of provision to cover all those different needs.

This part of the Bill is a disaster for the British education system and a disaster for our children. Parents in schools that opt out will have education on the cheap at the taxpayers' expense. The Government would be far more honest if they dropped the clause and instead devoted their attention to the proper funding of the whole of the maintained sector. They must ensure quality of education, through a decent, flexible national curriculum, in all our schools, including those in the independent sector.

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) waxed eloquent on the dangers of this part of the Bill. I agree with much of what he said, but the logical conclusion to be drawn from his remarks about the behaviour of some local education authorities was that opting out as a matter of last resort was beneficial.

One of the peculiarities of the guillotine procedure is that not only can we not vote on the most important matters in the Bill but we cannot speak about them, because of the rules of order. I do not want to trespass beyond the rules of order— I am probably less skilful than my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson).

If opting out is a matter of last resort, as I think it should be, it follows that the procedure to opt out should not be made as easy as possible, as it is under the Bill. There should be a hurdle to jump before it can be carried out. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider this matter seriously. He knows that there is a considerable body of opinion that thinks along these lines. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that a proper hurdle is built.

9.30 pm
Mr. Flannery

We are discussing the fundamental part of the Bill. If this group of clauses were missing, the Bill would fall apart, because they are at the centre. In an intervention, the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) said that the world has moved on. The implication was that the Opposition had not moved with it. But the Bill takes not just a few steps back; it goes a great way back.

It is sad to see the docile way in which Conservative Members fall into line, even those who struggled for some time against the Conservative leadership and lost their positions for doing so.

Mr. Stott

With honourable exceptions.

Mr. Flannery

I am not bothered about the exceptions. I want to get on with the opting out.

There is no basis for this opting out, except crude dogmatism about education. It is selection by the back door. It springs from the long vendetta against comprehensive education and especially against the elected local education authorities. There is determined opposition to the Bill throughout the country. When one looks at one's postbag, one wonders who supports the Government, apart from the docile Conservative Members. I think that virtually all LEAs are against the Bill.

The teachers' unions were unnecessarily pushed into taking disruptive action for two years. Eventually, the money which could have been given to them two years before and which could have stopped all the nonsense, came forward.

Mr. Ashdown

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Flannery

Not just now, Paddy. I think that the hon. Gentleman has had a good deal today.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Give way.

Mr. Flannery

I want to continue. I shall not give way to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown).

Mr. Ashdown

I gave way.

Mr. Flannery

The hon. Gentleman gives way only to people whom he thinks are important. He does not bother giving way to people like me. The hon. Gentleman is not as important as he thinks he is.

Mr. Ashdown

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Flannery

Stop interrupting and let me get on with what I want to say.

Mr. Ashdown

Give way, briefly.

Mr. Flannery

It will not be a brief intervention.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should return to the subject.

Mr. Flannery

This fathead will not shut up.

I should like to list the bodies that are against the Bill. Virtually all the LEAs, all the teachers' unions, except for one particularly servile little organisation, all the parent-teacher associations, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association—all the people who make the education system work on an organised basis—are against the Bill and especially this part of it.

As I said in Committee, this is a step in the dark. The Government do not have the faintest idea where they will go. It is obvious to anyone who has worked in education what will happen. Nearly all Conservative Members went to private schools and do not understand the complexity of dealing with the education of millions of our people. While the practical effects of the Bill are being worked out and its provisions are producing chaos, Conservative Members' children will still be going to private schools. It is our children that they are flinging into this mess by disrupting an education system worked out patiently and democratically over 100 years or more.

Mr. Ashdown

According to the Whip, the hon. Gentleman has two minutes.

Mr. Flannery

The voucher system came first—

Mr. Ashdown

Two minutes.

Mr. Flannery

Shut up. I think that I have done my best against the ugliness of the hon. Member for Yeovil, so I conclude by saying that the Bill is unworkable. Opting out is a wild plan inspired by sectarian hatred of the present democratic system of education built up so patiently over the years. It is a veritable leap in the dark and it is bound to cause chaos. There is no precedent for it. The Government have no idea where they are going. The provision will be extremely expensive. It has now become public that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have fallen out over that and we understand that their difference is going deeper. The courses needed to train people in how to do their best with the provision will be extremely expensive and will take people out of school.

The Conservative party, dizzy with success, does not know where it is going. Conservative Members are carrying out what their mistress told them the Friday before the general election, when she got totally carried away. The reality is that the provisions are a major leap in the dark. The Bill will not work, and opting out is something that nobody sensible could possibly have conceived of.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

Although I strongly support the principle of opting out, I believe that a majority of all parents should have to make the decision. The decision to opt out is an extremely important decision for a school to make. If a school wishes to opt out, well and good, but it should not be done by the decision of a minority of parents. I am a consumer of state education. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) seems to think that all Conservative Members went to Eton or Benenden and that we send our children there. We send our children to state schools. We believe in state education, but we also believe in the right of parents to choose. We believe that parental choice should be solid and clear. I support the amendment and believe that the decision must be made by a majority of all parents and not simply by those voting. A decision to opt out will then be the parents' decision, and that is right.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

I have found the debate fascinating. In the interests of consistency, I shall continue to talk about process, as I tried to do throughout the Committee stage. Process is the essence of education; it is at the centre. In a sense, this debate has highlighted the problems that the Government have with process, which arise largely from the woefully inadequate consultation that they have allowed on the Bill and the woefully poor response to what consultation there has been.

It is not insignificant that we are now discussing what many of us consider to be the most important part of the Bill in such a short debate. Our proceedings are to be guillotined and we have not had an opportunity this evening, or at any time during our proceedings on the Bill, properly to deliberate or to hear all the views. We have heard some interesting views tonight, particularly from Conservative Members. There is great anxiety in schools and local authorities and among parents about these measures and about the role that they will play.

I was at a school on Saturday—yes, Saturday—and two teachers had been there all day with a group of children who were producing a school magazine. They asked me where that would come in the national curriculum, and I was not quite sure how I should answer them. They told me that three of their school governors have already said that they will not stand again after this year because they fear the proposals on local financial management. I am concerned that a lack of consultation has failed to reassure parents and governors and has failed to give them confidence as to what it is all about.

It seems to be my lot to keep speaking when our sergeant-major tells me that I have only half a minute. To have only one and a half hours on the serious issue of opt-out is bizarre.

Two aspects of opt-out are problematical. One is the massive centralisation and the other is the essential divisive nature that it adds to our education system. If education is going to do anything, it should enable the children of our country to begin to know one another, to begin to know and understand the nature of our society and how they as individuals will contribute to that society and work within it. The tragedy of opt-out is that it cuts to the very heart of what I see as the benefits of education. It celebrates and encourages divisions. It does not work towards eradicating divisions and does not help us to learn how to work together in our society.

There are many other things that I would like to say but I have been told to wind up and I shall do so. I hope that the Secretary of State, if he does not listen to us, will at least begin to listen to some of his hon. Friends, and that he will recognise that the Government have got this wrong and that they need to think it through again and that they need to take people with them in doing so.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

This has been an interesting debate and has ranged widely over the issue of grant-maintained schools. I shall try to reply to the various points that have been raised. I should like to express my disappointment at the fact that there has not been a direct debate or vote on the balloting procedures. I am not criticising the selection of the Chair, but I am disappointed for the simple reason that I had prepared a long and effective speech on that matter which I shall now save for another occasion. However, I shall touch upon it and draw from it from time to time.

I shall reply to the points made on the amendments by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) because he did touch on the amendments at the end of his speech. I do not criticise him for dealing with other matters. I shall obviously recommend my hon. Friends to reject the amendments.

The purpose of the amendments was to delay the process of the grant-maintained status coming through until schools have had financial delegation. I intend that the first grant-maintained schools should be able to start their new lives from September 1989. It would be quite wrong to raise expectations of freedom only to say that schools will have to wait three or four years until they have clearly identifiable budgets under local authority schemes of financial delegation. I mean to ensure that greater choice for parents and greater autonomy for schools are realities by the end of this Parliament.

I accept that the first grant-maintained schools may come from local authorities that have not, at that stage, implemented financial delegation. Initially, we shall have to make estimates of the appropriate maintenance grant based on historic funding levels and the funding of comparable schools in the area.

Local education authorities are now required to publish statements of their expenditure on individual schools and the contents of those statements will be more carefully defined as a result of the Bill. The better the figures are, the less scope there will be for argument about the appropriate level of funding for grant-maintained schools.

As soon as financial delegation is in place, the determination of the school's maintenance grant will be based on the formula that the local authority has developed for allocating resources between schools. There will be necessary additions to allow for the grant-maintained school's share of the resources that it can spend on central services.

9.45 pm
Mr. Fatchett

The Secretary of State has moved considerably from what was said in Committee. The Minister of State said: Experience of financial delegation is absolutely essential before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is likely to consider an application for opt-out. Was the Minister of State right, or has the Secretary of State now shifted his policy?

Mr. Baker

I was present during the debate, which was about primary schools, which are not subject to financial delegation. The interpretation of that debate is entirely compatible with the statement that I have read. At the end of the debate my hon. Friend the Minister of State said: I do not want to commit my right hon. Friend now on such a broad question." —[Official Report, Standing Committee J, 26 January 1988; c. 893–96.]

Mr. Fatchett

The Secretary of State will recall that during that debate Conservative Members asked questions about the category of school that could opt out. Those questions were about numbers and not about whether the schools were primary or secondary. In response to that, the Minister of State spoke about the need for experience of delegated financial management. The Secretary of State's assertion that the Minister of State was simply dealing with primary schools does not hold water. She was either wrong then or the Secretary of State is now shifting policy.

Mr. Baker

Primary schools are related to the fact that under our proposals, all secondary schools, as well as primary schools with more than 300 pupils, will be allowed to opt out. That is entirely compatible.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) said that, when schools were allowed to opt out, it would be impossible for local authorities to plan. I think that that was the nub of his argument. I accept that local education authorities will be operating in a more uncertain climate once schools have the chance to opt out. If they are doing their best to provide the sort of service that parents want, they will have little to worry about. They might even welcome a little healthy competition, which would be welcomed by many local education authorities.

There is no reason why sensible proposals for the rationalisation of local authority school provision should slow down. Local authorities already have to take account of the existence of schools that they do not maintain in their planning of their area's educational requirements, and grant-maintained schools will not change that. I say to hon. Members who are concerned about the role of local education authorities after all our reforms are passed that there will still be a substantial role for such authorities after the implementation of financial delegation, open enrolment and grant-maintained schools. The Coopers and Lybrand report brought that out strongly and it itemised the roles and responsibilities of local education authorities.

First, and perhaps most important, local authorities will continue to be responsible for making decisions about the shape and resourcing of their school provision as a whole, and they will decide how much collectively has to be spent on education in their areas. That is a key and important role. Secondly, they will need to continue to monitor the performance of the entire system and will be responsible through their inspectors for the delivery of the national curriculum in their schools. That is an important and regular inspection review and a fundamental responsibility for local education authorities.

The LEAs will continue to have responsibilities in connection with the welfare of their pupils. Those are the statutory responsibilities of local education authorities. It is important to note that they will retain for all the pupils in their area the responsibilities that they were given under the Education Act 1981 in respect of children with special needs. Of course they will be greatly involved in the planning of further education in their areas. I suggest to hon. Members who have expressed anxiety about this matter than there will still be a considerable role for local education authorities after our reforms have worked through.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Secretary of State agree that this is a residual administrative sweep-up role and that the opt-out arrangements that we are discussing will give encouragement to certain education entrepreneurs and that gifted head teachers may be encouraged to do the very thing that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) spoke about? They may set up on their own because of the greater freedom. Is that not one of the dangers for comprehensive local authority coverage?

Mr. Baker

I am sure that some gifted head teachers will want to opt out, but many will not. It will be for the parents and governors to decide in each case.

An accusation has been made that there will be financial discrimination between grant-maintained and local authority-maintained schools. Grant-maintained schools will not be allowed to charge fees; they are explicitly denied the right to charge fees. If the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) had been on the Standing Committee on the Bill he would know that we have introduced complex changes in relation to charging in all schools. I assure him that grant-maintained schools will have to conform to the new system of charging that applies to all schools. The system will be the same for local authority and grant-maintained schools.

As for differential funding, I reassure hon. Members that the amount that will be available for the education of a child in a grant-maintained school will be the same as that in a local authority-maintained school. There is no question of a bias in the money going to grant-maintained schools.

My hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) asked about the degree of support that should be shown for opt-out schools. I remind my hon. Friends that the process of opting out is a three-tier process. The governing body meets and decides whether it wants to consider opting out. It will debate the matter and decide by a vote. They then wait 28 days to reconsider and reaffirm that decision. There is that safety check at the beginning because such a change is important and should not be undertaken lightly; the governors will be taking on substantial additional responsibilities.

If the governing body decides that it wants to continue further, it puts the matter to a secret ballot of all parents. We believe that a simple majority is a sufficiently high hurdle. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham asked whether the hurdle should be high. I suggest to him that a simple majority is a high hurdle indeed. No Government since the war would have been elected on the suggestion that he made. Tremendous commitment is required to obtain a simple majority.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I am glad that my right hon. Friend is not remotely shy about the proposition that he is advancing. At present, education in many of our inner cities is run by local education authorities who have been elected as on as low a turnout as one third. I encourage my right hon. Friend not to be remotely shy about this issue.

Mr. Baker

I am glad to receive my hon. Friend's support and I assure him that I am not remotely shy. I believe that the hurdle is sufficiently high, and it will require a considerable commitment. I do not believe for one moment that when a ballot occurs for opt-out there will be a low turnout.

Mr. Cormack

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Baker

I ask my hon. Friend to restrain himself. I shall give way to him shortly because he was quite polite to me earlier.

It is fanciful to suppose that there will be a low turnout. When there is a ballot for a school to opt out, the local education authority will almost certainly campaign hard against it. It will stir up the parents, and those who are committed will have to run a strong campaign.

It is sometimes put to me, "Suppose only 10 parents vote and six agree but four disagree?" No Secretary of State could accept that as an expression of opinion. That decision would almost certainly be set aside at judicial review.

Mr. Cormack

I cannot understand what my right hon. Friend is afraid of. I remember when he and I enthusiastically supported the Dalyell-Cunningham amendment on devolution. I do not see why we should not build on that precedent.

Mr. Baker

As an alternative precedent, there was no particular hurdle in the referendum on the European Community. Devising fancy franchises with targets of 40 or 50 per cent. leads to dreadful muddles. For instance, if one stipulates 50 per cent. and 499 out of 1,000 parents vote yes, that is a tremendous body of opinion but it would fail for the lack of one vote.

The main Opposition arguments against the measure have been that it will increase privilege and give a greater chance to the lucky ones and that there is a hidden agenda designed to take out lots of good schools. Nothing could be more fanciful.

The proposal for grant-maintained schools is popular. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central chided me about opinion polls. I have a very good one here. Indeed, I have several. On 25 January The Times reported that 34 per cent. answered yes when asked whether they supported the Government's policy to allow state schools to opt out. There was also a very good poll in the Liverpool Daily Post. [Interruption.] Labour Members should not joke about that publication. I remember meeting Harold Macmillan in the Smoking Room one day. He was giving advice to various young people—he was very good at that—and he told me, "Two papers that you must read every day, young man.… my boy …", and so on, "are the Yorkshire Post and the Liverpool Daily Post." I have followed that advice ever since.

The Liverpool Daily Postpoll found that 54 per cent. wanted to opt out, so the proposal is clearly popular. Yet Labour Front Bench still talk about privilege, as the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) did today. I do not regard it as privilege to give choice to parents.

The House will know that letters between Ministers are sometimes leaked. I am glad to say that something has been leaked to me—the views of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). They came to me in a brown envelope from a well-wisher because that is how he usually gets them. I opened the envelope with great interest, only to find that the hon. Gentleman's views had been leaked to The Guardian. In today's edition there is an article by the hon. Gentleman entitled, Will Labour be able to manage? [Interruption.] The question is rhetorical, I believe. Clearly, the article is the opening shot in the leadership campaign which I see has been announced tonight. The hon. Member for Blackburn stands on the revisionist side of the Labour party. He is one of the young Members who are trying to bring the Labour party into the 1980s and we wish him well, although some of his Front Bench colleagues do not.

The article seeks to persuade the Labour party that consumers are important. The hon. Member for Blackburn writes: First, we must recognise that a nation of consumers enjoying relatively high living standards becomes literally much more choosy, much more interested in choice and variety. I see the hon. Gentleman nodding away. The article gets even better. It continues: The expectation of choice—of independence—is one reason … why owner-occupation is so much more popular than the tenanting of a property. Here we have it: The aspirations of choice are now spreading from consumer goods to public service". That is what we are offering. We are offering choice in public service. We are offering choice to parents and governors who wish to exercise it to run their own schools. I say to the hon. Member for Blackburn, "Don't stay halfway—come right over!" By the way, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has moved on from education to the general policy of the Labour party. He has now recognised that the Labour party must move with the times and recognise the importance of parents as consumers in education. We are doing that. We are offering choice and variety — the choice and variety of grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges, and a whole range of schools. That is what will emerge from our Education Reform Bill. That is why it is popular, and why it must go on the statute book.

Mr. Fatchett

I cannot delay the House for long on this occasion. However, it is clear that Conservative Back Benchers were not happy with the proposal. Every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has had reservations. If the Secretary of State is so certain, why does he not allow parents to have a real ballot so that the majority of parents can show their support? He is not prepared to do that.

We feel strongly about the issue and shall seek to divide the House on that basis.

It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Orders, [1 and 17 February] and the resolution this day to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 212, Noes 309.

Division No. 229] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Bermingham, Gerald
Allen, Graham Bidwell, Sydney
Alton, David Blair, Tony
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Boyes, Roland
Armstrong, Hilary Bray, Dr Jeremy
Ashdown, Paddy Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Ashton, Joe Buchan, Norman
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Buckley, George J.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Caborn, Richard
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Callaghan, Jim
Barron, Kevin Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Battle, John Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Beckett, Margaret Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Beith, A. J. Canavan, Dennis
Bell, Stuart Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cartwright, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Kirkwood, Archy
Clay, Bob Lamond, James
Clelland, David Leadbitter, Ted
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Cohen, Harry Lewis, Terry
Coleman, Donald Livingstone, Ken
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Livsey, Richard
Corbett, Robin Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Corbyn, Jeremy McAllion, John
Cousins, Jim McAvoy, Thomas
Crowther, Stan Macdonald, Calum A.
Cryer, Bob McFall, John
Cummings, John McKelvey, William
Cunliffe, Lawrence McLeish, Henry
Dalyell, Tam McNamara, Kevin
Darling, Alistair McTaggart, Bob
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McWilliam, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Madden, Max
Dewar, Donald Mahon, Mrs Alice
Dixon, Don Marek, Dr John
Dobson, Frank Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Doran, Frank Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Douglas, Dick Maxton, John
Duffy, A. E. P. Meacher, Michael
Dunnachie, Jimmy Michael, Alun
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Eadie, Alexander Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Eastham, Ken Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Evans, John (St Helens N) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Morgan, Rhodri
Fatchett, Derek Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Faulds, Andrew Mowlam, Marjorie
Fearn, Ronald Mullin, Chris
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Murphy, Paul
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Nellist, Dave
Fisher, Mark Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Flannery, Martin O'Brien, William
Flynn, Paul O'Neill, Martin
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Parry, Robert
Foster, Derek Patchett, Terry
Foulkes, George Pendry, Tom
Fraser, John Pike, Peter L.
Fyfe, Maria Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Galbraith, Sam Prescott, John
Galloway, George Primarolo, Dawn
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Quin, Ms Joyce
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Radice, Giles
Godman, Dr Norman A. Randall, Stuart
Golding, Mrs Llin Redmond, Martin
Gordon, Mildred Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Graham, Thomas Reid, Dr John
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Rhodes James, Robert
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Richardson, Jo
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Grocott, Bruce Rogers, Allan
Harman, Ms Harriet Rooker, Jeff
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Rowlands, Ted
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Ruddock, Joan
Heffer, Eric S. Salmond, Alex
Henderson, Doug Sheerman, Barry
Hinchliffe, David Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Holland, Stuart Short, Clare
Home Robertson, John Skinner, Dennis
Hood, Jimmy Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Howells, Geraint Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Hoyle, Doug Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Snape, Peter
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Soley, Clive
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Steel, Rt Hon David
Ingram, Adam Stott, Roger
Janner, Greville Strang, Gavin
John, Brynmor Straw, Jack
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Turner, Dennis Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Vaz, Keith Wilson, Brian
Wall, Pat Winnick, David
Wallace, James Wise, Mrs Audrey
Walley, Joan Worthington, Tony
Warden, Gareth (Gower) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Wareing, Robert N.
Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N) Tellers for the Ayes:
Wigley, Dafydd Mr. Frank Haynes and
Williams, Rt Hon Alan Mr. Frank Cook.
Adley, Robert Day, Stephen
Aitken, Jonathan Devlin, Tim
Alexander, Richard Dickens, Geoffrey
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Dicks, Terry
Allason, Rupert Dorrell, Stephen
Amess, David Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Amos, Alan Dover, Den
Arbuthnot, James Dunn, Bob
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Emery, Sir Peter
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Atkins, Robert Evennett, David
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Fairbairn, Nicholas
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Fallon, Michael
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Farr, Sir John
Batiste, Spencer Favell, Tony
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fenner, Dame Peggy
Beggs, Roy Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bellingham, Henry Forman, Nigel
Bendall, Vivian Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Benyon, W. Forth, Eric
Bevan, David Gilroy Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fox, Sir Marcus
Blackburn, Dr John G. Franks, Cecil
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Freeman, Roger
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas French, Douglas
Bottomley, Peter Fry, Peter
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Gale, Roger
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gardiner, George
Bowis, John Gill, Christopher
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Glyn, Dr Alan
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brazier, Julian Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bright, Graham Gorst, John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gow, Ian
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Gower, Sir Raymond
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Buck, Sir Antony Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Budgen, Nicholas Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Burns, Simon Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Burt, Alistair Grist, Ian
Butcher, John Ground, Patrick
Butler, Chris Grylls, Michael
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hampson, Dr Keith
Carrington, Matthew Hanley, Jeremy
Carttiss, Michael Hannam, John
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Chapman, Sydney Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Chope, Christopher Hawkins, Christopher
Churchill, Mr Hayes, Jerry
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hayward, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Heddle, John
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Conway, Derek Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hind, Kenneth
Cope, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cormack, Patrick Holt, Richard
Couchman, James Hordern, Sir Peter
Cran, James Howard, Michael
Critchley, Julian Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Patten, John (Oxford W)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hunter, Andrew Pawsey, James
Irvine, Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Irving, Charles Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jack, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Jackson, Robert Portillo, Michael
Janman, Tim Powell, William (Corby)
Jessel, Toby Price, Sir David
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Raffan, Keith
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Kilfedder, James Rathbone, Tim
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Redwood, John
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Renton, Tim
Kirkhope, Timothy Riddick, Graham
Knapman, Roger Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knowles, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Knox, David Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rost, Peter
Lang, Ian Rowe, Andrew
Latham, Michael Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Lawrence, Ivan Ryder, Richard
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Sackville, Hon Tom
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sayeed, Jonathan
Lightbown, David Scott, Nicholas
Lilley, Peter Shaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb1)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lord, Michael Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
McCrindle, Robert Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Shersby, Michael
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Sims, Roger
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Maclean, David Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McLoughlin, Patrick Soames, Hon Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Speed, Keith
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Speller, Tony
Madel, David Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Major, Rt Hon John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Malins, Humfrey Squire, Robin
Mans, Keith Stanbrook, Ivor
Maples, John Stanley, Rt Hon John
Marland, Paul Steen, Anthony
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stern, Michael
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mates, Michael Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Maude, Hon Francis Stokes, John
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Sumberg, David
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Meyer, Sir Anthony Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Miller, Hal Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Mills, Iain Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Miscampbell, Norman Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Temple-Morris, Peter
Moate, Roger Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Monro, Sir Hector Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thornton, Malcolm
Moore, Rt Hon John Thurnham, Peter
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Morrison, Hon Sir Charles Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Morrison, Hon P (Chester) Tracey, Richard
Moss, Malcolm Tredinnick, David
Neale, Gerrard Trippier, David
Nelson, Anthony Trotter, Neville
Neubert, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholls, Patrick Waddington, Rt Hon David
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Waldegrave, Hon William
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Walden, George
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Oppenheim, Phillip Waller, Gary
Page, Richard Walters, Dennis
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Ward, John
Patnick, Irvine Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Warren, Kenneth Wood, Timothy
Watts, John Woodcock, Mike
Wells, Bowen Yeo, Tim
Wheeler, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Whitney, Ray
Widdecombe, Ann Tellers for the Noes:
Wilkinson, John Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Wilshire, David Mr. Tony Durant.
Wolfson, Mark

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions on amendments moved by a member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at Ten o'clock.

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