HL Deb 03 November 1976 vol 376 cc1376-433

8.8 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Clause 1 [The Comprehensive principle]:

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 19, after ("pupils") insert ("of compulsory school age").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the effects of the Bill as it stands are to debar local education authorities from placing pupils at schools to which admissions of pupils are made on the basis of selection by ability or aptitude. The Amendment leaves this criterion intact so far as pupils of compulsory school age are concerned. It sets it aside where pupils above this age are concerned. The necessity for this Amendment arises from the need of many local education authorities to avoid building comprehensive schools for excessively large numbers of pupils. Their intention would, therefore, be to obviate this necessity by the building of sixth form colleges. These colleges, unlike colleges of further education and polytechnics, are classified as schools, operate under the same regulations as schools, and provide what is unquestionably a part of secondary education; and they are, therefore, subject to the provisions of the Bill as it now stands. Such schools could not be maintained by the local education authorities under the Bill as it stands unless they operated on the principle that they did not select their applicants for places on grounds of either ability or aptitude.

The Amendment is familiar, since it was tabled at both the Committee and Report stages. On each occasion Her Majesty's Government argued that it was superfluous, and on each occasion I undertook to examine the arguments they had advanced before pressing the matter to a Division. On each occasion I did so, and on each occasion I found the arguments insufficient. This matter has been threshed out and winnowed over thoroughly twice already. We are left with one essential matter at issue. Her Majesty's Government agree that entrance to courses will be selective on the basis of qualifications and that those qualifications will be academic, which is to say that the selection will be by proof of ability or aptitude. This is common ground.

They also say, and here they do not persuade us, that entrance to the college as opposed to the courses will none the less not be selective. Finally, they agree that the range of courses offered will be relatively narrow and will be planned specifically to complement and not duplicate those offered at other institutions to pupils of similar ages. This we expected and accept. It follows, regardless of school-masterly, or should I say schoolmarmly, distinctions between admissions to colleges and admissions to the courses which they offer, that where there are more applicants to a college than there are places in it there will have to be selection, and further that where some pupils have suitable qualifications and others do not there will be rejections, and that both acceptances and rejections will be on grounds of ability or aptitude. Noble Lords opposite argue that these will be rejections from courses but not from colleges.

It is also the case, we argue, to follow the matter closely, that if a pupil was to apply not for a place on a course but a place at a college and had no qualifications suiting him to study there, the rejection with which his application must inevitably be met would demonstrate that entry to the college was selective on grounds of ability or aptitude and thus preclude its use—that is use of the college—by the local education authority in question. This being the case, we regard the Bill as being imperfect in this respect and not in a proper state to be enacted.

There are other considerations, but those to which I have alluded constitute I believe sufficient grounds for discontent with this part of the Bill as it stands, since it will have effects quite different from those which noble Lords opposite seek to achieve; effects which indeed they are anxious to avoid. I am sure that they are sincere in their belief that the distinctions they make between admissions to courses and admissions to colleges are sound, but to us they sound a little like sophistry, and they do ask us to assume that the courts will concur with them in their really very odd interpretation of what appears to us to be reasonably plain English. I notice that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness sit pointing towards me like a double-barrelled gun. There will, therefore, although this is a Third Reading stage, be an opportunity for them to fire twice. The noble Lord looks as though he has loaded only one barrel.

It is essential that he should inform us, then, what it would be his intention to do supposing some untimely litigious person was to bring a case over the rejection of a pupil for not being qualified for courses for which he has applied or, more likely, an application of a student simply to go to the college. I do not think it will suffice for him to say that this is an exceedingly unlikely and hypothetical case. All cases are hypothetical until they arise, and it is the function of Parliament, and principally the revising Chamber, to anticipate them. Therefore, if we cannot persuade him that our interpretation of the Bill is right, and his is at the best dubious and at the worst wrong, he must tell us, should this prove to be the case, what it would be his intention to do other than to close overnight, as it were, a large number of sixth form colleges up and down the country. We must have that elicited without fail at this stage. I beg to move.

8.14 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Amendment, which I did at earlier points when this matter was discussed. At that time the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, disagreed with the figures I quoted. If my memory is right he suggested that there were only some 72 sixth form colleges, and of these the Department felt there were only three that could be regarded as selective. I hope I have quoted him correctly. I have checked the compendium of six form colleges, which lists 88, and gives the names of the colleges and their prospectuses in detail. I have examined carefully those that claim open access, and I find it astonishing if the Department has sufficient naivetè to accept open access as meaning what it says. There are only four of the 88 six form colleges that in my judgment would satisfy Clause 1 in this Bill. The remainder are to a greater or less extent selective, indeed in some cases openly conceded.

I quote from a particular sixth form college, Bilston, which has open access, but finishes by saying: Student entry depends mainly on interview and school recommendation. Is there a grammar school that would not accept the definition of open access if it was allowed to accept its pupils on the basis of interview and school recommendation? When the noble Lord argues that admission to courses is quite different from admission to the institution, if indeed sixth form colleges only offer certain courses—and this is true of almost all of them, and they mostly require evidence of ability to satisfactorily pursue the course—is this any different from a grammar school which offers 0-level and A-level courses and merely seeks evidence that those who are admitted can pursue these courses satisfactorily? I find it difficult to see the difference.

I have already made clear to your Lordships that I accept the principle of comprehensive education. I believe that Clause I can be sustained if it is restricted to pupils of compulsory school age, leaving sixth form colleges to offer courses. Some of them offer rather a wider range than others; some of them essentially offer A-level and sometimes 0-level courses. Otherwise, as I see it, the 88 sixth form colleges will be compelled to become tertiary colleges, a change which I am bound to say personally I would greatly welcome since I have long advocated tertiary colleges. But I do not believe that this is the Government's intention. I believe that the Government assume that under Clause 1 the sixth form colleges could continue as they are. I am bound to put to them that in my judgment any parent, indeed any ratepayer, taking a local authority to court would be bound to win under the terms of Clause 1 on the grounds that these colleges were indeed in breach of Clause 1. I very much hope therefore that the Government might examine this again, and I hope accept the Amendment as being in the best interests of the Bill itself.

8.16 p.m.


My Lords, I find it impossible not to quote from the Hunting of the Shark: Like the Bellman may I say that what I tell you three times is true. I really made the Government's position absolutely clear when this Amendment was discussed in Committee and on Report. In Committee I gave the September 1975 statistics which showed that of the then 64 sixth form colleges, only 14 operated a general selective admissions procedure; at Report I gave the latest statistics for September 1976 which showed that of the now 72 sixth form colleges, only three operate a general selective admissions procedure. These facts speak for themselves. All but a handful of comprehansive sixth form provision is open access, including, might I say, Luton sixth form college.

The misunderstanding over Luton is symptomatic of the basic misunderstanding from which we are suffering. By "open-access" I do not mean, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, suggested, that colleges must provide any courses at any standard for any pupil who wishes to be admitted. The term "open-access" simply means that there is no general academic requirement—such as 5 0-levels—before a pupil is admitted to a sixth form. This type of general entrance requirement, and this alone, is what the Bill seeks to prevent. I do not feel that more argument on this will get us any further, and I am not prepared to accept the Amendment. In answer to Lord Elton's particular question, if a student is unqualified for a course he will be rejected. There is no question of a student applying to a college without simultaneously applying to attend a course, which I think deals with the point the noble Lord raised.


My Lords, I think we are in something of a dilemma here. If the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, says it three times I am sure he thinks it is true, but that does not necessarily mean that we have not got ourselves into a rather tricky position. I think that there is considerable force in the points that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has been putting. On the other hand, I think that his solution is worse than the trouble. I think that if this Amendment was passed we might find ourselves in a situation where the children who want to stay on at school after compulsory school-leaving age is finished, who for years and years we have all been encouraging to do exactly that, and who want to stay in a school atmosphere and not go out into a different form of college, will either find that they cannot do it because a local education authority may set up completely selective sixth form colleges, or may find special schools set aside which are really secondary modern sixth form colleges. That would be a disaster. That is the kind of thing which could happen if the Amendment was passed.

I think everyone has got himself into a muddle over this. I think that the Government have got themselves into the most muddle and it is up to them to produce legislation which makes sense. But I do not think this Amendment is the right answer, and if it were to be pressed to a Division I would certainly advise my noble friends to abstain.


My Lords, the Minister quoted statistics as at September, 1976. May I suggest that I send him a copy of the compendium of sixth form colleges, which lists 88 with their addresses and full details relating to them?


With the leave of the House, my Lords—and we must not have an argument about statistics—I am advised that this list includes sixth-form centres, which accounts for the discrepancy. But we will communicate.


My Lords, I cannot profess myself in any way satisfied by what I have heard, and heard, as the noble Lord rightly says, three times. I am tempted to threaten his life with a railway share. In the first instance, it is plainly open to anybody to apply to the principal, head or whatever of a sixth form college and say, "I want to come to your college for a year or two to improve myself, "but he will be told, according to the noble Lord, "You cannot do that; you can apply only for entry to a course; but you cannot apply to do that because you are not qualified, so you cannot come here". It is sophistry to say that that is not selection.


My Lords, we should not be arguing about this, but surely what happens is that the parents say to the headmaster what the noble Lord has said and the headmaster replies, "What course would the boy like to do?". They discuss the courses and find that he is qualified for one and not the other and the headmaster says, "He can come and do this one but he cannot do the other". It seems to me to be as simple as that.


It may seem simple to the noble Lord but I do not think it will seem so simple to the courts, and our fear is that it will reach the courts. What lie described was, as it happens, a college which is not wholly but partly selective, and those words we shall be referring to later. It is clear, I suspect, from the noble Lord's failure to act at our invitation on an earlier Amendment designed to remove the words "or partly" from the Bill, that it is the intention of his friends at the other end of the corridor to put the words back, and that will have exactly the effect I described, and that is, ruling these colleges out of use by the local education authority. Then it will be too late, because the Commons cannot produce a new Amendment. Therefore we come to this water jump which the noble Lord refuses to leap: what is he going to do then, if the courts find against him?

The noble Lord belongs to a Party which has a goodish track record on this matter. There was the Enfield case, where they found themselves in an analogous if not a similar difficulty, and they went to Parliament with fresh legislation to put things right. Will the noble Lord, regardless of the fact that it will make him look rather silly—because he will have resisted what by then will have been proved to be a sound argument—and his Party take sufficiently swift action to see that the results which otherwise would inevitably follow, to the enormous expense and inconvenience of local authorities, are put right? As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said, we are in a dilemma. We are loath to press things unnecessarily and we are loath to pick unnecessary quarrels, but the noble Lord is at the moment putting us in possession of a Bill which does not say what he wants it to say with sufficient clarity for all to be agreed that that is what it says.

We have had the Bill since July, the Commons have had it since the beginning of the year and the Parliamentary draftsmen have had it throughout. It is not a lot to ask that a Bill, and a short Bill at that, should at this stage say what the Government want it to say with sufficient clarity to convince us that that is what it means. I have spoken the last few paragraphs at greater length and rather more slowly than is my custom because I hope to tempt the Minister to his feet to tell us, as silence is rather damaging in these circumstances, what they will do if and when this situation arises.


With the leave of the House, my Lords, I will not respond to that hypothetical suggestion.


My Lords, it is with enormous reluctance, and I suspect it will prove with hindsight to be against my better judgment, that in order to gain the goodwill of your Lordships and of noble Lords opposite I will not press the Amendment. But I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, such a letter as he has not received before if such a case comes before the court and the result is what I expect. We shall then take every step available to see that legislation is put through very quickly. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.28 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 20, leave out ("wholly")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is the object of noble Lords on these Benches to be as helpful as possible, and I hope that with this Amendment we have been exactly that. Your Lordships will remember that in Committee we took out the words "or partly" in subsection (1), so that the provision now reads: … local education authorities shall … 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"— originally it was "wholly or partly" but we took out "or partly" wholly on selection by reference to ability or aptitude. Noble Lords opposite and noble Lords on these Benches held that it was a wrecking Amendment. Although conservative noble Lords denied that it was meant to be, I think there can be no doubt that it was. It seems to me that the words "wholly or partly" were unnecessary in the first place, and therefore I hope for the goodwill of noble Lords opposite in seeking to remove the word "wholly" so that the provision would read: … arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based on selection by reference to ability or aptitude.

That would make it absolutely plain, quite clear, very simple and how it should read. I know I shall have the goodwill of noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench because in another place their honourable friends tabled an Amendment to remove the words "wholly or partly", and, having themselves removed "or partly", they cannot possibly object to my trying to remove "wholly". The Amendment would restore the general tenor of the Bill in a way which would make it simple and easy to understand.


My Lords, may I first say that I appreciate the motive that led the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, to move this Amendment. During Committee stage the Opposition persisted in forcing an Amendment to remove the words "or partly" from Clause 1—and hence virtually to destroy the comprehensive principle—even when the wrecking nature of the Amendment had been clearly demonstrated. This Amendment, by removing the word "wholly", restores to Clause I a meaningful comprehensive principle. Clause I would now require admission arrangements not to be "based on selection by reference to ability or aptitude", which seems to me, as to the noble Lord, fairly unequivocal. This Amendment is undoubtedly an improvement, and as such I welcome it. I must, however, reserve my Government's position when the Bill is considered in another place, because we shall have to consider carefully the wording of Clause 1 if this Amendment is accepted. Subject to that, I welcome the Amendment.


My Lords, this Amendment would seem to have its roots in the Committee stage of the Bill. It was then that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, spoke to our third Amendment to the Bill which he has since referred to this evening to remove the words "or partly". He said that it was wrecking in effect if not in intention and that, maybe the answer is that we should go away again—and I speak for noble Lords on all sides of the House—and try to think of an Amendment to the Bill which would allow a little more flexibility. He has gone away and this is what he has come back with—an Amendment that will have the effect of restoring the Bill to almost exactly the condition it was in before your Lordships decided in Committee to amend it. Originally he had said that the schools used by local education authorities must be schools where arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based wholly or partly on selection by reference to ability or aptitude. We, arguing that it was difficult to think of many schools that would not have, perforce, to have some element of selection, sought and found your Lordships' concurrence in altering that phrase to, "arrangements not based wholly on selection". The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, now seeks to make it read, "not based on selection".

"Not based on selection" is simply a weaker way of saying "not based wholly or partly on selection". The difference between the two phrases is very narrow indeed and that between the noble Lord's phrase and "not based wholly on selection" is much wider. So our first objection to this Amendment is therefore that it seeks to overturn a decision that your Lordships have already taken in Committee, which we think is not proper. The noble Lord has adduced no reason sufficiently fresh to suggest that he seeks to do anything else. It is a bad practice to reverse at Third Reading decisions taken in a Committee of the whole House, and that alone is sufficient ground for us to resist the Amendment.

Our second reason is that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, claimed, when speaking against the words "or partly" at the Committee stage, that he was speaking for Peers on all sides of the House when he said that we should go away and think of something better. In my remarks on the Question, That the clause stand part of the Bill? I made it clear that he did not speak at least for us. It was the view of the Government—in which he encouraged them—that this was a wrecking Amendment. We did not then, and we do not now seek to wreck the Bill. It is a detestable, partisan, doctrinaire and contemptible little Bill and untimely to boot, but we do not seek to wreck it because we wish to keep faith with our undertaking to respect the success with which the Labour Party "conned" the public into voting for a Manifesto of which this is an attempt to act as a fufilment.

We invited the Government, therefore, to introduce a phrase of their own. When we took off the straitjacket of "wholly or partly", we invited them to dress themselves in something more comely and more flexible. This they resolutely refused to do on two applications, and therefore, although they did not make the rod to beat their back, they have colluded in leaving it where it is. Moreover, there is an element of the incongruous in the circumstances in which it is the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, who brings this doubtful Amendment before your Lordships. It was he, after all, who persuaded your Lordships to introduce into the Bill the words that now stand as new subsection (3) and which read: Subject to subsection (1) above local education authorities shall have a duty to arrange for the admission of pupils with particular needs to the schools most suitable for them. Whatever the defects of drafting that may present, its intentions are honourable and sensible and they are the intentions of a Party that actively espouses the comprehensive clause. They sit very well with the Bill as it now reads. But the requirement within which they are expressed is a requirement that is specifically stated to be subordinate to the requirements of subsection (1). It is in the noble Lord's own words, "subject to subsection (1) above". Very well; what is the principal requirement of subsection (1)? It is the very requirement that the noble Lord seeks to alter. At present it says that the local education authority shall provide for the education of pupils at schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based wholly on selection by reference to ability or aptitude. That makes sense. It is compatible with our Amendment taking out the words "or partly". It comes close to being the flexible delimitation of our Amendment that the noble Lord set himself to find at Committee stage.

Indeed, when he produced it at Report stage as Amendment No. 2, that is what we thought it was. But now the noble Lord seeks to alter the requirement to which he has made his new subsection subject to a requirement that no school by which an LEA seeks to discharge the function given to it by the noble Lord of arranging for the admission of pupils with particular needs shall be other than a nonselective school—that is to say, a school that cannot meet some of the most important of those needs (the need to have one's own abilities and aptitudes catered for) except by offering exactly the same spread of opportunities as every other school.

It seems to me that this is a set of circumstances that perfectly illustrates the weaknesses and contradictions of the comprehensive system as it is being built up by the Labour Party and welcomed by the Liberal Party. I have yet to find a better. However, we have a principal reason which is that it is bad Parliamentary practice to reverse at Third Reading a decision of a Committee of the whole House and I feel that that is perhaps sufficient ground on which to stand, though I would ask your Lordships to bear the other matters in mind when considering our opposition to this Amendment.

8.37 p.m.


My Lords, I dislike this Amendment, because I dislike what I call the dictatorial attitude that the Bill takes towards all the education committees throughout the country. These committees were freely elected and are responsible for the education in their area. They are, in my experience, generally very knowledgeable about local conditions and about the children in their area. I know that the object of the Bill is to try to make every school in the country exactly the same. What it cannot do is to make all the children the same. They will be different and the idea that we should dictate from Whitehall to all those people who have worked—as we have all worked—very hard in local government on education and other committees and shall say, "You have got to do this. You can't do anything else. There is no method of having any choice of any kind at all", is something I heartily dislike. I dislike the Bill for many reasons but this is the one for which I dislike it most.

If one takes out this word "wholly", that means that one is once again taking out any loophole or opportunity which a local authority might have for dealing with the conditions in its own locality. They are very different and varied. I remember listening to the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, in one of our debates in which he told us that in the area in which he lives—I believe that it is Cumbria—the making of a comprehensive school entails children driving either 12 or 14 miles between two schools in order that the schools should be called comprehensive. Anything more idiotic I can hardly imagine. I cannot imagine being on an education committee and allowing such a thing to happen, but perhaps the education committee on which I sat for many years was more resistant towards dictation from above. The committee in question was not in England but in Scotland, and perhaps there is not so much dictation there. This seems to me to be altogether a most depressing end to the discussions that we have had on this issue, and I very much hope that we shall not allow this Amendment to go through.

Having much old Liberal blood in my veins, I find it very difficult to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, taking out of a Bill the freedom, which we all fought for in former days, to do what one thought was best for one's children or in connection with education. That has all gone by the board. One has to fit into this pattern, a pattern which may be very good or very bad; we do not know. At any rate there is no alternative at the moment. If this phrase is taken out, the situation will be made even more dictatorial than before and I hope very much that we will not agree to this.


My Lords, one thing that the noble Baroness said must not be allowed to go unchallenged. I suppose that it would not have been left to go unchallenged in any circumstances, because it is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and others have made at Second Reading, at the Committee stage, and since. I am afraid, with great respect to the noble Baroness, that it just is not true that the object of the Bill is to make all schools the same. That really is not so. There are many comprehensive schools in this country already and anyone who has been around any number of them knows that they are all completely different. It is said that some are worse than others, which means that some are better than others. It all depends upon the way that one looks at it. My view of education is that all schools of any kind are bad, and some are worse than others. That applies to comprehensive schools as well as to others.

Without being led away on these rather odd educational philosophical topics, I must take up the two points which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, put to me. The question of whether or not by this Amendment I am in fact derogating from the Amendment which I put forward previously, and which was passed, is one of these rather muddled matters, rather like the one we were discussing on Amendment No. 1. I certainly take the view that the words, the arrangements for the admission of pupils". have to do with the general admission of pupils. As the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said on the last Amendment, they are to do with whether there is a general academic standard. They are not to do with whether a particular child, an individual child, cannot go to an individual school because that school has the best facilities for that particular child. If that were done in bulk it would go against Clause 1, but if it is done individually and with sensitivity, and within the comprehensive scheme, it appears to me to be completely allowable and, indeed, what the Bill and the Government envisage—

Several noble Lords

It is not in the Bill.


My Lords, it is in the Bill; noble Lords are wrong here. The phrase, the arrangements for the admission of pupils", does not, I submit, mean anything which covers just individual cases in detail like that. It is about the arrangements which will be made for the general admission of pupils. That is what it says. All right, I have put in the word "general", but even that I do not think adds very much. It seems to me that the Government are absolutely on safe ground here and so am I. Now, the noble Lord, Lord Elton—


My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me to intervene for a moment because I am not quite sure that I follow his argument. He is saying that if one pupil is rejected on grounds of ability or aptitude, that is not a breach of the general principle. Presumably, if 50 are rejected it is a breach of the general principle. Will he kindly tell us how many one can breach the general principle of and get away with it?


My Lords, why not take the situation of accepting a child? That is what we are talking about. In anything that I have said—in the Amendment that we passed at the last stage; indeed, at no stage—I have not been talking about rejecting children. I was talking about accepting children with special needs—that is the point—and I think that one can, so long as there is a comprehensive system with not a general degree of acceptance, or rather not general acceptance of all children, say, of a particular I. Q., of a certain ability, of a certain aptitude. I hope that the noble Lord is listening instead of giggling. If we have that, I think it is perfectly admissible to make the kind of provision that I talked about on the last occasion for people who need a special course, which was a matter which was raised when we were talking about sixth form colleges, people with a special artistic aptitude which can be catered for in a particular school. It does not seem to me that this is a breach of that at all. I do net know whether the Government want another opportunity to comment on this matter; they have probably had enough of it. But I maintain that this is the common sense of what we are saying.

We get to the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Elton; that it is, in fact, a bad thing and against the custom of your Lordships' House that at this stage we should go back on a decision made in Committee. I have known it done; it is not inviolable. I should have thought that there were two very strong reasons for doing it tonight. One is that the Conservative Front Bench have brought this on themselves by saying that this is not a wrecking Amendment when it quite obviously is, or by going on to say, "Well, if it is a wrecking Amendment, it isn't meant to he", which is somehow meant to make it all right. If they did not mean to pass this Amendment to wreck the Bill, they should not have passed it. Let us put them back on the right track. If they meant to pass it, it was a wrecking Amendment and they should not have passed it. That is a very good reason why this Amendment should be passed, because it is not the ordinary course of an Amendment as it usually conies up in your Lordships' House to be reversed as a minor Amendment in a Bill—it is a wrecking Amendment. I do not think that it is improper to reverse a wrecking Amendment in this way, particularly when noble Lords think that it is not a wrecking Amendment—


My Lords, I should like to say that I agree with the points he has been making in his last two or three sentences. I certainly think that it is a wrecking Amendment; I have always said so. I think that there would be a case here, if this were the last opportunity of dealing with it. for going against the custom of your Lordships' House. But as our Amendments have to be considered in another place, this Amendment and the original wrecking Amendment, will certainly be among those which will be considered. I think that the noble Lord has done valiant service to us in raising the points he has which will be studied. But I think it is probably unnecessary to breach this general, though not final, convention at this stage because there is another opening later.


My Lords, I accept rather reluctantly what the noble Lord says. Why I accept it rather reluctantly is, I hope, a reason with which the Conservative Front Bench might have some sympathy; namely, that I think it would have been much better if we had been able to find a way past this wrecking Amendment in this House by our own decision, rather than to send it to another place for the Government to put back what was originally in the Bill. It would have been much more sensible; it would have been much more acceptable. But I accept that one has to have very strong grounds to breach the conventions of your Lordships' House. Frankly, at this moment I feel that there are very strong grounds, but since we may be able to look forward, we hope, to a rather more constructive future on the remainder of the Third Reading of the Bill, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.49 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 21, after ("arrange") insert ("as far as is practicable").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an Amendment which I inserted after listening to and reading the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, at the point where we put in this subsection (3) which deals with the duty to arrange for the admission of pupils with particular needs to the schools most suitable for them. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, made the same point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on the last Amendment: that once you open the door at all and say that one person can go in, then there is a duty to put everyone in and the whole thing becomes unmanageable. I know I am paraphrasing the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, and I know that he will put me right, but if we put in this Amendment, the words "as far as is practicable", it would give a saving clause which might help to get round that particular difficulty which the noble Lord foresaw. I do not foresee it myself but obviously noble Lords did. I hope this Amendment is drafted properly to qualify the subsection so that it is a greater safeguard for local education authorities. I beg to move.


My Lords, I greatly appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has tried to meet the point which I raised when this matter was previously discussed and I particularly regret that I do not think he has solved the problem I had in mind. I had hoped that the Amendment he might move would be simply to delete "a duty" and insert "the power". That seemed to me to be the essential problem. If a local education authority has a duty to make arrangements for individual children according to their individual needs, the first thing it has to do is to ascertain the individual needs of all the children in its area. It follows, therefore, that not only would it be necessary to restore the 11-plus but a super-plus would have to be devised, to establish not only the differing academic abilities or aptitudes of the children but also any other needs they might have. Its practicability was what worried me.

On the other hand, if a local education authority had the power there would be an entirely different situation, in that you could give effect to the full significance of parental choice. I accept the conception of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that comprehensive schools will vary a great deal one from another. Indeed, I noted with great approval that the Secretary of State in his speech made the point very clear that they would in fact vary and perhaps offer different courses and opportunities. That is inevitable. Therefore it would be very desirable to have a degree of flexibility where a local authority, if a parent approached them on the subject or indeed if the head of the school drew their attention to a particular child whose needs did not fit in with that particular comprehensive school, could say, "This child would be very much better placed in another comprehensive school where his or her needs would be more adequately met." If, therefore, the power was there, this could be done. But to place a duty on an authority to do it seems to me to place them in an extraordinarily difficult position.

As a relatively new boy in your Lordships' House I am very ill-informed on procedures in these matters and I gather it is not possible to move what I believe is technically called a "manuscript Amendment" at this stage. I am not sure whether the other place when this Bill goes back to them can alter Amendments we have made or can only either accept or reject them. But I hope that when this Bill comes back, if the Government are sympathetic to this degree of flexibility, it will be possible to find an Amendment which gives a local authority the power, without placing a duty on them—which would in my opinion place an impossible task on them and indeed would be utterly contrary to the intentions of Clause 1. I am, however, most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for seeking to meet the point I made.


My Lords, our position can be stated very shortly: we did not agree with this clause which was imposed upon us. We think, however, it is the better for this Amendment.


My Lords, I must say that that is pretty cold comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. I am one of those in your Lordships' House who, although I differ in my view with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on the effect of what the Conservative Party did to the words wholly or partly "in Clause 1, believe that we supported the Liberal Party in the insertion of this subsection, and we understand the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. We hoped that the Government would give at least some cognisance to what someone of the noble Lord's experience has put to the Government. That reply is extremely disappointing and we shall wait with interest to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, is going to do with his Amendment.


My Lords, it is quite clear what I am going to do with my Amendment. The Government Front Bench think it improves the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, thinks we made such a mess of it anyway by passing the previous Amendment that there is not much we can do at this stage—if I understand him rightly he does not object to this Amendment; he just thinks it will not do very much. I imagine that the Conservative Front Bench support this Amendment. Therefore, my Lords, I hope your Lordships will pass it.

Clause 5 [Committee of Inquiry]:

8.57 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 4: Page 4, line 43, leave out ("and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House if with this Amendment we discussed Amendment No. 5. This is a brief point which I want to make. It is important, if we have this inquiry which, as your Lordships know, we on these Benches think would be an extremely good thing, that we study the experience gained by other countries of the comprehensive system. Your Lordships will know that I have quoted twice already, and in order that your Lordships shall accept it as true, as apparently you do from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, I will say it for a third time, that what is wrong is not a crisis of the comprehensive schools; it is a crisis of the secondary school system and it is common throughout the whole of the Western world. It is for this reason that international comparisons are very important, and the study of international practice, some of it going back a long way further than ours, is important. I say to noble Lords on the Conservative Benches that it is important in making up your mind one way or the other. I am certain that a lot of the evidence will be just as conflicting in other countries as it is in this country. It is important though that we look at it. I am sure the Government will tell us that the Amendment is unnecessary and that the Commission will do exactly that, but I should feel happier if it was, so to speak, put down in the Bill as part of the terms of reference. I beg to move.


My Lords, the clause to which the Amendment applies was added to the Bill on Report against Government advice, and on that occasion I gave the Government's reasons for resisting a Committee of Inquiry. I do not intend to repeat those reasons today. To extend the terms of reference, as this Amendment suggests, in no way ameliorates our fundamental objections to this clause; hut your Lordships have added it to the Bill and as it is there I must look at it. Of course we should expect the experience of other countries to be considered by any such Committee of Inquiry, but multinational comparisons are notoriously difficult. To pay particular regard to the experience of other countries would not necessarily be the most profitable way to proceed in an examination of our own system. However, if the noble Lord presses his Amendment we shall not vote against it. The Government reserve their position to consider the whole clause in another place.

9 p.m.


My Lords, it is a rare and perhaps agreeable experience to follow the noble Lord so closely in some of the things he said. We also feel that this is a superfluous Amendment. It is not our function to draw up the complete terms of reference on such a committee, only to ensure that those of future contemporary national concern are included. I hope that this short debate will help serve to remind noble Lords—not least those on the Liberal Benches who persist in helping Her Majesty's Government to ram their obnoxious nostrums down the throats of an increasingly repentant electorate—that just about every other evolved nation that has embarked on an advance to the comprehensive principle is now in rueful retreat therefrom. One could hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, would be on the Committee to learn these lessons at first hand rather than at the expense of the taxpayer and the public—almost, but not quite. In the meantime, I can only advise your Lordships that while I am not seeking to dissuade your Lordships from voting for this Amendment if it comes to a Division, I can find little reason for your Lordships to make a great effort to support it.

A Committee such as this as is required by the Bill could scarcely function without reference to foreign experience. In that it is superfluous to particularise. On the other hand, given the chance, it would not be permitted to look at matters such as size, discipline and mixed ability teaching. If you doubt me, my Lords, read what noble Lords opposite said with great animation when resisting the insertion of the clause when we put it in. In that it was necessary to particularise. So I would not seek to get your Lordships to resist Lord Beaumont's Amendments; I would merely reflect in passing that it is his Party which is using to no good purpose the time which Her Majesty's Government are so fond of accusing my Party of wasting.


My Lords, this Amendment, particularly paragraph (c), has been brought in several years too late. Comprehensive schools have been in action all over the country since about 1949. There have been various comparisons and studies made; headmasters and headmistresses from secondary modern schools have been to America and other countries to study this for the past 20 years. To quote one instance, a diplomat I know in this country, representing one of the East European countries, has one of his children at a well known comprehensive school in London. One of the complaints that he has registered is that the classes are too big and the discipline is not as strict as it would be in his country. In their schools—which are presumably all run by the State—classes are much smaller and discipline is much stricter. While I am sure that this Amendment has been put down with the best of motives, it would be very difficult to put into action. The Commission will have enough to do as it is. As I said earlier, it is my presumption that all this has been a progressive situation since comprehensive schools started and presumably will continue. No Amendment of this kind seems to be necessary.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is overoptimistic if he assumes that inquiries of this kind will necessarily look at foreign practice. It is one's experience over a long period of years that if an Englishman or English body can ignore anything which happens outside these shores, he or it will certainly do so. When we come to discussing education in this House, very often the only comparison with anything abroad which is ever mentioned is that noble Lords on the Conservative and Cross-Benches raise for us the experience of Russia, and the example of Russia, as if it were a good example to follow the example of a totalitarian country in moving to selectivity away from comprehensive schools. I take the point that one should not over-particularise in this matter as to what the Commission should look at. I hope that this debate will have made its point. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.6 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 6: Page 5, line 4, leave out ("two") and insert ("three").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is going to be a very difficult and a very complex inquiry indeed. Noble Lords have said that the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, into teacher training was carried out in a very short time and was an admirable piece of work, as indeed it was. It was simplicity itself—and it was complicated enough—compared with this particular inquiry. We have already said—and it has just been said on all sides of the House—that of course we will look at international comparisons. That will be an enormous task in itself in addition to looking at what we are going to consider at home. It will be very difficult to draw conclusions. I cannot see that we can possibly have a full report within two years. Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that there was nothing to say that it should not be an interim report, and I take that; point. I also see a very good reason in speeding up the sitting of bodies and giving them target dates. It seems to me that for an inquiry of this enormous size the Conservative Front Bench was being harsh and tough in limiting it to two years. I should have thought that three years was a con5iderable improvement. I put it forward as one of my little peace offerings. I beg to move.


My Lords, it is always interesting to examine peace offerings. The Red Indians had a habit of burying them, I seem to remember. The suggestion is that we have here an inquiry of such complexity and size that it cannot be expected to report effectively within two years. Leaving aside the matter of whether or not such a report at the end of two years would be an interim one, whether it, would be proper to term it as such or whether a new report would have to be prepared, I would point out to the noble Lord that the James Report—a rather smaller matter—took one year to run to completion. The Bullock Report—a highly complex, sophisticated, statistical analysis over a very wide field outside the schools as well as in them—took barely over two years to complete.

I do not therefore think that the requirement—though it is stiff—)s one that cannot be met. Your Lordships will recall the history of the inclusion of the requirement for this inquiry in the Bill. It came as a Siamese twin to an Amend- ment which precluded the enforcement of this Bill until the inquiry had reported. As a more substantial peace offering, and one which I suspect took the noble Lord opposite by surprise, I threw the other twin away and said, "Very well: let's have the inquiry". Obviously one could not make so large a concession without considering what was entailed. It seems to me that the setting up of the reorganisation which is envisaged by this Bill will go on apace, but I hope it will not be precipitate because, if it is, pupils and teachers will suffer. I would have thought that an inquiry which reported in two years and the shadow which its advancing report would spread before it would form official opinion sufficiently to have some effect on all but the most immediate results of this Bill. I think if we were to defer that for three years a great many wrong decisions might be taken simply because the Bill had not been published before those decisions were taken. I accept, therefore, with gratitude from the noble Lord that this is a peace offering. I hope it will not be necessary for me to accept it in order for peace to supervene, but I am afraid I cannot advise your Lordships to accept this Amendment.


My Lords, the Government's position is the same as it was on the last Amendment. The clause is not acceptable, but were it to be acceptable the extension from two years to three years would no doubt be sensible. I therefore accept the Amendment as it stands but, in so doing, must reserve the Government's position to consider the whole clause in another place.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in rejecting my little peace offering is in fact very, very much understating the complexity of this inquiry. If we are really going to look at the changes in standards of schools against the background of complete change in the philosophy of education over the period and against a background of a complete change in our civilisation over the period, then I believe that if one says the Bullock Report was one of great complexity and took two years, this one would probably take six years. It is, I consider, three times as complex; and if the noble Lord put forward the demand for the inquiry which we supported in the first place, thinking it was not going to be as complex as that, he has made a mistake. However, the proposal was offered merely as an amelioration of what the Conservative Front Bench were putting forward. If they do not want that amelioration, so be it. I beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Duty to implement approved proposals as to maintenance or change in character of school]:

9.10 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 5, line 17, at end insert— (""Provided that the necessary resources for building and equipment have been made available to give full effect to the Secretary of State's approval of the proposals."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7 and, if I may, I should like to take with it Amendment No. 8. I have put down these two Amendments again for two reasons. First, I believe that local authorities must be assured that they will not be forced to reorganise their schools without having the necessary resources to do so. Secondly, although I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for seeking to assist me at a previous stage, I have reservations about the assurances he was able to give me. Clause 6 lays a duty on local education authorities to implement comprehensive proposals which have been approved by the Secretary of State without any proviso that the necessary resources will be provided. It is this proviso which is incorporated in these two Amendments.

I think it is fair for me very briefly to remind your Lordships of the resources which are available for secondary reorganisation. Hitherto, only £25 million has been allocated specifically for reorganisation, and that was immediately oversubscribed three times and is being spent at the present time. There is at the moment virtually no secondary improvements programme and, with the rapid decline in school population which is forecast by the Department of Education and Science for the next 12 years or so, the basic needs programme will he reduced yearly. With that will also be reduced the programme for minor works, which is so often so useful to local authorities when reorganising their schools.

All that is encouraging news for public expenditure, but it leaves very little opportunity for the expensive rebuilding programmes which are demanded by reorganisation schemes. In addition, expenditure by authorities on equipment, which is also mentioned in the Amendments, is under great pressure. We read continually of authorities being forced to economise in a variety of ways, from the number of teachers employed to the quality of school meals being served. In the media and in the Press during the last few days we have been hearing and reading of warnings of further impending economies in local authority expenditure. This is fully understandable at the present time, but I must say it leads me to the conclusion that it is a delusion to believe that the necessary resources for building and equipment to enforce reorganisation within the foreseeable future are going to be available. I hope the Government will take notice of the warning which was delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, on Report stage that authorities will be encouraged to comply with the provisions of this Bill only if they can be assured that resources will be available for them to reorganise properly. So I do not believe that these Amendments are in any sense wrecking, because where resources are not available proposals ought not to be made, and approval should never be given.

The effects of these Amendments would be to prevent the Secretary of State from forcing an authority to propose a botched-up scheme which is never fair, either to staff or to pupils. But the really gaping loophole which these Amendments would plug is the crisis situation, which can occur when proposals have been conscientiously costed, proposed and approved in good faith by all concerned, and then the economic blizzard strikes, the school building programme is cut, local authority expenditure is reduced and an authority is left with the duty under Clause 6 to implement the proposals without the resources to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has given an assurance that, in that event, under the Education Act 1944 the Secretary of State could use the discretion granted by Section 99 not to force a local education authority to implement approved proposals. I hesitate to question the Government's legal advice, but I must say that on rereading Section 99, it still appears to me to allow the Secretary of State to enforce a duty, not to relieve an authority of discharging a duty. I recognise that if the Secretary of State believed that an authority had insufficient resources, then he or she could choose not to enforce the duty to implement by not invoking Section 99, but that would be entirely at the Secretary of State's discretion and it is not written into the Bill. Even then, it would presumably be open to a third party to complain to the Secretary of State that it was unreasonable not to invoke Section 99.

If I am right in the train of thought which I have followed, this seems a most unsatisfactory way to leave the drafting of the Bill, hoping that the Secretary of State will be able to turn a blind eye and, indeed, will he left free to do so. That situation would leave local education authorities in peril of court action under Section 99, if they found themselves without the resources to implement Section 13 proposals, and it would leave the Secretary of State liable to the kind of case about the meaning of the word "unreasonable", which occurred recently over the Tameside situation. To leave Section 99 as the only remedy would appear to be most unsatisfactory, whereas these Amendments make the duty to implement reorganisation proposals, subject to the necessary resources, absolutely clear. I hope that on those grounds the Government may be able to accept these two Amendments. My Lords, I beg to move.

9.17 p.m.


My Lords, I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that the Government might look at this sympathetically. There are very real problems involved in reorganisation. The worst thing that could happen is that this is done badly. That is the worst thing that could happen in the interests of the Bill. The noble Lord referred to the falling birth rate. Some of the small comprehensive schools that are now being established will not be viable within five or six years, because within that period they will have lost at least a quarter of the pupils they now have, and they will continue to go down. So that we are talking of comprehensive schools of 200 or 300.

The Secretary of State has said that she will be reluctant to approve a school of more than 1,000—a view which I readily share. But if you have a school of very much less than 1,000, then, again, within a measurable period of time it will be a school not of 1,000, but of 700 or even 600. These are problems which require careful thought and planning. Those who were most resistant to the principle of comprehensive education would be reassured by this Amendment that they would not be forced to do it badly, and that would be helpful. It is also true, as can be seen if you examine some of the arrangements which have already been approved, that we are endangering the principle because of them being done badly and causing a good deal of reaction.

From the Government's point of view, there is no harm in this Amendment, since the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has virtually sought to give an assurance that no Secretary of State would be so unreasonable as to require an authority to carry out proposals, when, manifestly, they could not be carried our satisfactorily. If that is so, then I hope that this Amendment might be accepted.


My Lords, I spoke in support of this Amendment at some length at the Report stage. I intend to speak only briefly tonight, but I do so because I believe that it is necessary to include this Amendment in the Bill and I hope that my noble friend will press it to a Division. Today I was handed a copy of a joint release by the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Transport about the proposed bypass to the west of Cambridge which they have decided to go on with during the first half of 1977. However, they have qualified their decision by these words: … subject to the availability of funds at the time. If the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Transport can put in those words, surely something similar can be included in this Bill. The noble Lord said that it might not be possible to do all these things because they would cost a lot of money. I suggested that I had heard mentioned the figure of £70 million, and it was not refuted. However, the noble Lord said that we ought to get the plans ready. Plans alter as time goes on and it seems to me to be a waste of time to make plans if no funds are available to carry them out. Therefore, I strongly support the Amendment.

9.21 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has said, this is not a wrecking Amendment and I do not accuse the Opposition of putting one forward. However, we have discussed this point twice—and this is the Bellman's third. I mentioned it at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report and I made it absolutely clear that the existing law allows for such eventualities as the noble Lord has postulated. I explained the Secretary of State's discretionary powers under Section 99, which the noble Lord is not happy about, but my information is that he need not worry about them. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, I gave an assurance that authorities would not be required to reorganise before resources were made available.

I do not know how often one has to repeat oneself to get a point into the heads of people who think differently. My previous Secretary of State said the same thing during the debate on the Queen's Speech on 24th November 1975, and again at Second Reading in another place on 4th February of this year. My honourable friend Mr. Fowler, then Minister of State, said it again in Committee in May. Finally, I say it once more. No authority or governing body of a voluntary school will be penalised by the Secretary of State for failing to implement its plans under Section 13 if it can convince the Secretary of State that the resources to do so are not available. I do not think that I can say more than that; nor do I think that it is necessary to put into the Bill an Amendment which assumes unreasonable behaviour by a Secretary of State. I hope very much that what I have said will satisfy noble Lords in all parts of the House.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, it is not only the Secretary of State who might want to carry through a scheme when the resources arc not there. What about some of the local authorities? For example, let us take the Inner London Education Authority. They may very well want to push on with one of their schemes for amalgamating a grammar school with another school of a different character and that scheme may be very poor unless money is spent upon it.

May I stress the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. If this reorganisation is done badly, it will reflect for ever on the comprehensive system. While these things are being thought about and while money is very short one must consider the attitude of the staff of the grammar schools. I know one or two grammar schools, and the senior staff in those schools either are already deciding to leave or arc very uncertain about their future. I know one girls' grammar school where the staff have domestic obligations. They are afraid that if they do not accept the comprehensive solution they may lose their jobs, but they all say the same. If the money is not forthcoming to make the job reasonably possible for them to do, then they will not stay.

What I think we want is a clear statement in the Bill which will mean that neither the Secretary of State nor a local authority can press on with one of these "botched-up" schemes, as they are usually called, unless there is adequate money for the minor works and the equipment. I venture to say to the noble Lord opposite that he will get a better reception from the staff of grammar schools if this is in the Bill than if he just says, "Oh, it need not be in the Bill; you can trust us". I am not sure that they do.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Eccles for explaining so clearly what our worries

are on this Amendment. I do not know whether any of your Lordships remember that at a previous stage of the Bill my noble friend Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, explained how the school of which she is Chairman, the Godolphin and Latymer school, which was a girls' non-denominational school, at the instigation of the Inner London Education Authority was to be joined up with two other schools to form a mixed Church of England school on a separate site. When that met with united opposition, the next recommendation was that Godolphin and Latymer should be joined up with another school of totally different traditions and objectives, the two sites to be separated by well over a mile and by busy main roads. That is the sort of thing that we are worried about and to which my noble friend Lord Eccles was referring.

With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, if I may say so his discretionary powers under Section 99 are really not good enough. We must try to see that something is written into the Bill and I think it would be right for another place to look at this, considering that the very situation which I warned about in my opening speech—the intervention of an economic blizzard—may be just the situation in which we find ourselves, so far as education is concerned, within the next six weeks or so.

For those reasons, I ask the House to agree with this Amendment, on the grounds that I believe that the elected Chamber ought to look at the problem of resources as they touch this Bill, before it becomes law.

9.28 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 49; Not-contents, 35.

Airedale, L. Faithfull, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]
Alexander of Potterhill, L. Falmouth, V.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Gainford, L. O'Hagan, L.
Auckland, L. Gough, V. O'Neill of the Maine, L.
Balerno, L. Gray, L. Rankeillour, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Greenway, L. Rochdale, V.
Belstead, L. Hampton, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Bridgeman, V. Hanworth, V. Sandford, L.
Broadbridge, L. Hives, L. Sandys, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Hornsby-Smith, B. Selkirk, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Inglewood, L. Shuttleworth, L.
Denham, L. Kemsley, V. Strathclyde, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lauderdale, E. Vickers, B.
Eccles, V. Long, V. Ward of North Tyneside, B
Elles, B. Mansfield, E. Wolverton, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Young, B.
Elton, L. Merrivale, L.
Ardwick, L. Hamnett, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Birk, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Shackleton, L.
Blyton, L. Kirkhill, L. Stedman, B.
Champion, L. Lee of Newton, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B
Collison, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stone, L.
Davies of Leek, L. McCluskey, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Davies of Penrhys, L. Maelor, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Murray of Gravesend, L. Vaizey, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Oram, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Fisher of Camden, L. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.) Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L. Winterbottom, L.
Hacking, L. Popplewell, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

9.36 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD I beg to move Amendment No. 8:

Page 5, line 24, at end insert— ("Provided that the necessary resources for building and equipment have been made available to give full effect to the Secretary of State's approval of the proposals.").

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 10: After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

Effect of marital status on attendance at school

. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 35 of the Education Act 1944 as amended by section 1 of the Education (School-leaving Dates) Act 1976, a school child, having attained the age of 16 and who also achieves marital status, shall be permitted to leave school at his or her discretion on or after the date of the marriage.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we come to the last of the Amendments at this stage of the Bill before it goes to another place. This raises a new matter but one which I think stems from the removal of the old Clause 10 at the last stage. I gave notice to noble Lords that I should be moving this Amendment. Noble Lords will remember that the old Clause 10 took away from the parents the responsibility for seeing that a married child of 16 went to school and gave that responsibility to the spouse. In the course of getting the clause right a terrific paraphernalia built up so that it took up a large proportion of the Bill. Noble Lords quite rightly took the view that this had become so complicated and complex that it should be done away with. All sorts of problems might have arisen which we did not get round to examining; for example, the suggestion made to me by the association for technical teachers that possibly it destroyed the whole of the in loco parentis situation for teachers in dealing with anything concerning that particular child. I think we were right to take that clause away but we did not solve the basic problem.

The basic problem is quite simple. It is that if a person is 16 and married it is ridiculous that there should be a legal obligation on that person's parents to see that he or she goes to school. It is not easy to see quite what to do about it. Of course the number of cases involved is small. I have no doubt about what is usually done about it. The fact is that the local education authority and the school turn a blind eye to the proceedings. That is a common sense solution, but I do not think it reflects very well on the law that we should have a situation w here it is clear that there is a bit of total non-sense to which everyone agrees to pay no attention. I do not like it wherever it happens, and I think that where it happens one ought to do one's best to put it right. If that is so—and I see several heads nodding—and it is agreed that what is done is one of the sensible things to do, perhaps we ought to regularise it and make it clear that if a person of 16 is married, frankly he or she is free to leave school. If the whole point about school leaving was a watertight barrier, and if you breached it in one place it would be tremendously important, I could see the argument; but I think more and more people are beginning to agree that there is a certain flexibility in the whole question of enforcing the school-leaving age to the last rigorous moment and in the last rigorous respect. I was particularly encouraged by the mild, but nevertheless it seemed to me thoughtful, answer by Miss Margaret Jackson yesterday in another place (at col.1180 of the Commons Official Report). I am not depending on this. I am merely saying there are signs that everyone is moving towards the idea that there should be a little more flexibility. This would seem to me the right place to apply flexibility.

It has been argued by an honourable friend of mine in another place that if you let children off school when they were married, if they were 16 they would all promptly go and get married in order to leave school. I do not think there is all that much in this; I do not think really there is anything in it at all. People get married for the silliest reasons, but I do not think they get married for anything quite as silly as that. If they do not want to attend school they will not attend school. We know from the truancy figures that a great many of them do not. They do not need to go as far as that. I am merely concerned that we should, if possible, tidy up the law, in order that it should be held in respect and actually apply to the cases to which it is meant to apply. I therefore beg leave to move this Amendment.

9.42 p.m.


My Lords, flexibility is fine, provided it does not mean replacing order by chaos. Noble Lords will remember that many Amendments to the Education (School Leaving Dates) Bill were debated, all intended in one way or another to introduce flexibility into the matter of when children might be entitled legally to leave school. But in the event no exceptions were made. It is a principle now embodied in the 1976 Act that there should be only two leaving dates, one at Easter and one in May. There is nothing arbitrary about the thinking which led to that result. The Government are firmly committed to the principle that every child should have the benefit of a full five years of secondary education. To allow children to leave school piecemeal not only undermines that principle, it increases the impatience to be gone of those who feel that they are no longer deriving benefit from education and who are freed to enter into commitments which they may be too immature fully to understand; and it disrupts the life of those who remain.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, would have us excuse those who marry at 16 from continuing their education until they attain school-leaving age. Marriage does not j release people from their obligation to observe the law. And it is not self-evident that those who are married have no further need of education. Experience has shown that many young people obliged by law to remain at school when they might have preferred to leave have gone on to take examinations and obtain qualifications, thereby enhancing their prospects of obtaining worthwhile employment. In these days when so many married women go out to work, girls as much as boys are well advised to get the maximum benefit from their time at school.

However, the requirements of the law can be met by provision of suitable and efficient education other than at schools. We hope that local education authorities will apply common sense in considering with the parents, on whom the law places responsibility for its observance, whether an acceptable alternative to school attendance may be practicable, particularly when the girl is pregnant or has given birth to a child. We think it is far better that difficult questions of this kind should be left to the people on the spot to deal with rather than to incorporate in a Bill of this kind an exception to the law. So, although we acknowledge the anomaly which the noble Lord has pointed out, and appreciate his effort to put up a solution, we do not feel inclined to accept this solution and we think that common sense will probably provide a better one.


My Lords, let us not protract unduly the proceedings. Sophisticated arguments have been advanced in favour and against this Amendment. I think that the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, at the conclusion of his remarks coincide remarkably closely with my own instinctive feelings. Here is an occasion where it is up to the common sense of those handling the case to deal with it, because the cases will not be numerous but extremely different one from another. They will, what is more, be what I: think is now called distressful cases of people in a high state of emotion. Therefore, they should not be dealt with by an inflexible machine, or an inflexible rule. Inflexibility has been the noble Lord's cry throughout this stage.

Furthermore, the interim between the earliest possible marriage and the earliest possible date of leaving school is sufficiently short to mean that even when it is not common sense there will be a very swift release from the problem. I therefore concur with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and it gives me great pleasure to do so at this significantly final stage of the Bill.


My Lords, the way of a radical is a hard one in Britain. A typical English solution: close a blind eye, muddle through. Do not treat the law as if it were at all important. Do not try to get to the root of the trouble. In fact do not try to do anything which might be decisive and which might demand intellectual exercise. Lord Donaldson's brief on this particular matter—because I do him the credit of thinking that it was a brief—was as full of holes as a fish net, and I should be delighted at any time to take him aside and point out some of the problems. I shall not do it in your Lordships' House because it is getting late, and we all agree that we want to get to an end. As for the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who accuses me of inflexibility—


My Lords, to be fair, I do not think "accuse" is the right word. I congratulate him on his cry for flexibility throughout this stage and indeed the previous stages, but the solution he seeks to impose his flexibility with is itself inflexible.


My Lords, on the contrary, the solution is a flexible one, and what noble Lords on both Front Benches are defending is an inflexible law. That is the inflexible law; that is the inflexible machine; and the fact that no one pays any attention to it does not really make any difference. It is flexibility that I am trying to introduce. However, as I say, the way of a radical is a hard one, and I beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. The main purpose of the Bill is to give statutory effect to the comprehensive principle. As the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said on Second Reading, there is now a consensus in the country ill favour of comprehensive education. Three-quarters of maintained secondary school pupils attend comprehensive schools. The great majority of local education authorities and voluntary school governors wish to complete the process as soon as possible and only in a few areas is there still resistance to the comprehensive principle.

The most charitable interpretation of the Opposition's views—and not everyone is as charitable as I am—is that they believe co-existence to he a viable option. We do not. I regret that we have not been able to convert noble Lords opposite to our point of view, but we stand where we began; we believe in comprehensive education and we believe that the retention of selective schools has an adverse effect on comprehensive education. This is why we have introduced this Bill; to ensure that reorganisation is completed as quickly and as efficiently as possible and that all children are given the best possible secondary education. However, I do not think our discussions have been entirely wasted. Major changes invariably throw up difficulties, to which the Opposition have drawn attention—some real, some imaginary. Some of the Amendments which their built-in majority has carried have been frankly undermining the whole approach to the achievement of comprehensive education; but some have been serious and worth discussion and more of this they will get in the other place.

On Second Reading I explained the function of each clause. Clause 1 spells out the comprehensive principle and admits of certain exceptions. Clauses 2 and 3 make provision for progress to he made to giving effect to the comprehensive principle where, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, such progress is desirable and possible. Here I would reply to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on Report which my noble friend Lady Stedman dealt with in correspondence. Subsection (5) of Clause 2 states that proposals prepared and submitted under Clause 2 shall be in such form as the Secretary of State may direct and shall indicate the proposed timing of implementation. When the Secretary of State calls for these proposals she is asking authorities how they intend to complete reorganisation. She will ask that their replies distinguish between long-term and short-term proposals within the overall sketch plan for reorganisation. Where the proposals are short term, which means to be implemented within five years, she will expect sufficient details to be furnished to judge whether the proposals can subsequently undergo the full Section 13 procedure; where proposals are for the longer term, she will at this stage, after considering whether or not they are at first sight satisfactory, merely note them.

Looking at the miscellaneous section of the Bill, two clauses have been deleted and three added. We shall be seeking the restoration of the old Clause 5 in another place. We have given many assurances about the workings of this clause but they have not been accepted. I am content that time should prove us right. Old Clause 10, concerning married pupils of compulsory school age—which we have just been discussing—has been deleted in order that another place might have the opportunity to debate it. Clause 11 has been added at the Government's wish to meet the very real concern felt by noble Lords of every political persuasion that handicapped pupils be given every opportunity at school in order that they should find their place in society.

In conclusion I should like to refer to the excellent debate during Committee on the subject of banding. I said on that occasion that it was a good instance of how controversial Bills could occasionally become non-controversial. During that debate, however, Lord Elton seized on and has made altogether too much of one remark of mine. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said that comprehensive education could not solve the problems of inner urban deprivation. He supported comprehensive schools on their educational merits and not as a means of social engineering. I expressed myself in sympathy with those remarks. I, too, believe in comprehensive education for its educational merits and too, do not believe that the comprehensive schools can by themselves solve the complex problems of urban deprivation by social engineering. But my Government support comprehensive education not only for its educational merits but also for its social and psychological effects. If a desire to give children equal opportunity in education—and to avoid the social divisiveness of a fairly arbitrary system of segregation—is to be called "social engineering", then I am very happy to be a social engineer. And if this label is to be attached to those who believe, as I do, that it is morally wrong to condemn four-fifths of our children as failures at the age of 11, then I am proud to wear such a label.

My Lords, we have had quite a constructive debate on an issue which divides us deeply. I am grateful to noble Lords opposite for their moderation and for some of their purple passages and I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lady Stedman for spending so much time in the firing line on our behalf and carrying herself so bravely under fire. The issue is integration or segregation, equality of educational opportunity throughout a child's school education or only to the age of 11. I repeat, the comprehensive system is not compatible with the selective creaming off of the brightest children. It is one or the other. We choose unequivocally the one and this Bill is to put it into operation. It is on these issues that the Bill rests and I beg to move that it do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

9.55 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has seen his sorry work on this Bill through with his customary charm. We are grateful to him and to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for the competent way in which they have performed their regrettable task and for the numerous letters that they have written to us to ease the communication between us. I am also deeply grateful to noble Lords in all quarters of the House who, with wisdom born of experience arid concern, have assisted us in trying to make the operation of the Bill perhaps less damaging than it might have been. Of course I am also deeply grateful to my noble friend, Lord Belstead, who will be seeking an opportunity to speak later.

I believe that we ought at this stage to look briefly at the work that we have done, and perhaps the masterly oversimplification of the purport of the Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has treated us is a fitting introduction to it. It was in the otherwise agreeable month of July that the noble Lord laid this Bill before your Lordships. We received it with reluctance and examined it with distaste. It owed its birth to a union of dogma and fantasy. The dogma states that if one passes all children through the same educational process one will finish with a population without social division. The fantasy supposes that the resources exist in both cash and teachers to reconstruct our educational system on these lines and that this can be done without damage to either the process or the pupils.

The Bill's single and doubtful redeeming feature did not become more noticeable during the debates. This was that some of those who fathered it supposed it to be a means of achieving a very proper ideal—the ideal of a system that educates each to his full capacity and at the same time produces a cohesive society. How very greatly we now stand in need of a cohesive society! That is, therefore, an objective that we share, but it is increasingly clear to us that those opposite who seek to lead us to it not merely have very short sight but are also holding the map upside down.

In these circumstances, there was some temptation amongst those opposed to the Bill to throw it out altogether. It is, after all, expressly intended to enable Whitehall to overrule the wishes of democratically elected local authorities. If the local education authorities were all in agreement with the Labour Party there would be no need for the Bill, but the Party that controls Whitehall does not control all the local authorities. Hence the need for the Bill and, since the Government now begin to feel their grip on Whitehall slipping with the approach of the impending by-elections, hence also the need to get it on to the Statute Book before the Prorogation.

However, two considerations weighed against our natural wish to throw out this misconceived Bill altogether. The first was that it was necessary not merely to say but also to demonstrate, since it was as difficult for us to impart to the noble Lord certain items of importance as it has appeared to be for him to impart them to us, that our Party is not opposed to the comprehensive system as such but only to its blind, doctrinaire and universal imposition, which can only be at the cost of a huge waste of talent in the rising generation.

The second consideration was a constitutional one: the constitutional theory is that the declared policy on which the ruling Party in the Commons is elected continues to carry the endorsement of the electorate until either the Government falls or Parliament is for some other reason dissolved. The theory may be shaky and the percentage of the electorate voting for the Party in power may have been derisory—and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, will probably want to make something of that—but even that proportion may long since have realised that it was terribly misguided in its choice. No doubt the returning officers will have something to say about that tomorrow.

However, any Constitution must rest to some extent upon a fiction if it is to work for any length of time. The fiction that we observe is that what the' Government are doing in this Bill is the will of the people and not, as we know it to be, that of their own Party theoreticians and dogmatists. We therefore prepared to amend the worst features of the Bill rather than to reject it, and in so doing we took pains—in spite of what the noble Lord said—not unnecessarily to damage (if indeed we damaged it at all) its fundamental principle. We wished only to remove its more obviously unworkable or unjust features. Specifically we have, by two Amendments in Clause 1, made binding on the Government their undertaking that the Bill would not act to the detriment of the rights of parents set out in Section 76 of the Act of 1944 or the rights of children set out in Section 8 of that Act.

In the same clause we have stipulated that the principle of the Bill shall not be enforced in such a way as to prevent children profiting to the greatest possible extent from the talents of our diminishing numbers of qualified teachers of mathematics. We have protected in Clause 3 the continuity of education of children in voluntary schools which are forced to go independent under Section 13 of the Act of 1944 as a result of the passage of this Bill. We have required local education authorities to make details of the schools in their charge generally known particularly with a view to secure for the children in those schools the advantage of the protection of the informed interest of their parents.

We have required the Government to hold what in the person of the Prime Minister they loudly protest that they wish to hold, an independent inquiry into the performance of the secondary sector. We have removed from the Bill the retrospective and draconian powers which it would have given to the Secretary of State in old Clause 5—and I am sorry to hear that the noble Lord wishes to drag it back in again. We have also relieved him of the absurd and tempting duality of function originally in Clause 2, which had the effect of making him both judge and jury in his own cause in planning matters, and we have removed from the Bill entirely Clause 10, which we have already averted to, and which had not been discussed at all in the House of Commons.

We have prevented the Government inadvertently debarring local education authorities from placing next year the 11,500 boarders at present in nonmaintained schools supported by them and indeed other children supported by them for similar purposes, but not boarding. Finally, we have ensured that plans will not be embarked upon until the cash to complete them is to hand. It would I think be difficult for Her Majesty's Government to argue in either House with any conviction that any of these Amendments is in any way either an attack on the principle of the Bill or an affront to the other House. Our Amendments elucidate its meaning, inhibit its misuse, or enable the Commons to discuss matters they have not yet touched. Otherwise they merely enact the stated aims of the Prime Minister.

There are three possible exceptions to this rule. An Amendment on the publiccation of particulars was debated in another place, but it was defeated. But it was defeated by only one vote, and there should be an opportunity for the other place to consider anew an improved version of it, and that is not an affront or a challenge. The omission of the words, "or partly" from Clause 1 has been blackguarded frequently as a wrecking Amendment. I have said before that it is not intended so. I have also told your Lordships that we have invited noble Lords opposite to say what they meant and they have turned down the opportunity. They will have it in another place. The implications of Clause 5 were I think wider than has been recognised in another place and the hostility evinced for it in this House came from a much wider spectrum of your Lordships than I think the noble Lord probably in all conscience expected.

So much then for this miserable Bill. It is a partisan, undemocratic, untimely, and absurd little document. It is partisan because it seeks to enforce a universal principle for doctrinaire reasons. It is a Parthian and vindictive shot fired by a Government retiring, we hope, from Office. It is undemocratic because it seeks to crush the will of democratically elected local authorities from the centre. It is untimely because it will cost untold, literally untold, millions; we have asked frequently to be told them, but we have not been told; and it comes limping on to the Statute Book when our cash resources are at an historic low and may, as my noble friend Lord Belstead said, get lower very rapidly.

Above all, it is utterly and totally absurd that it should reach this stage in Parliament simultaneously with the Prime Minister's much publicised cry of joy and aspiration of at last seeing the last educational light. How, when he has trumpeted forth from the mother of universities his grave alarm that something is sadly wrong with our secondary education, his own Government can force through a Bill committing the whole secondary sector to one form of organisation which is widely suspected of being in part to blame for this decline, I cannot find it in me to explain.

If the future of all our children was not hound up with it, it would be a farce, but they are, and it is a tragedy. It is a tragedy that noble Lords opposite should allow their idealism to be so blinkered by the ideologues in their Party, and I earnestly hope that they will honestly endeavour to stop their friends in another place from rejecting all our Amendments in a mere blind and destructive jerk of political reflexes. Given cool heads and an honest appraisal they will find—and there was something of an intimation of this in what the noble Lord said, and I welcomed it—that they can accept much, if not all, of what we proposed without too much effort.

If they do not, then they will be very much lessened in my estimation and bear a grave and unwelcome responsibility towards the children who in the end will be the unwitting judges of their work. I hope that although heads are hot, as they always are at the end of a Parliament, it is not the intention of the friends of noble Lords and Baronesses at the other end of the corridor simply to say that these are Conservative Amendments and, therefore, they are bad. "Let us filibuster, let us harangue, let us guillotine but let us not accept." It is important that they should be accepted or rejected on their merits and then we shall see where each Party stands. With these acid words of farewell, I await the return of this Bill from another place.


My Lords, there are many frustrations in being the spokesman of a smaller Party, but there are some reliefs and one of the reliefs is that I feel under no obligation, your Lordships will be relieved to hear, to repeat as do spokesmen of the major Parties, all that we have heard over the last few months since July. It has been on the whole a fruitful and useful series of debates that we have had, marred I suppose by two minor things; first, that the Conservative Front Bench has never been quite clear whether or not its serried ranks behind it—when there have been serried ranks—really support them. Every time the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pledges his devotion to the comprehensive principle, there seems to be a sidling out towards refreshments from those behind him who do not want to hear quite so much about that.


Would the noble Lord substitute "toleration" for "devotion"?


To make up for that, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, makes "Worra-Worra" noises at the opposite Benches like Tigger, which is all very entertaining. On the other side the problem has been slightly more serious. We were met at the beginning of this Bill with a rigidity and an inability to accept, while all of us genuinely wanted to approve this Bill, which I know did not come from the heart or head of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and later that of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, but came from the nature of the Secretary of State at the time, the fact that neither of the Ministers dealing with the matter were dealing with the Bill ab initio in their own Department. We have seen a very hopeful change of attitude just recently. Not quite hopeful enough so far, but with the new Secretary of State in whom we have, almost ad nauseum, said how much hope we have got with the very welcome interest of the Prime Minister in educational affairs; and with a certain amount of increased flexibility—if I am allowed to use that word—on the Government Front Benches we have moved a bit further towards making a better Bill of what was not completely satisfactory to start with.

I join with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in saying that I hope the Government will not just reverse all the Amendments in another place and bang them back. There have been some Amendments which obviously I cannot accept, but there have been some very useful ones passed. I hope that the result of all of this labour on all our parts—and I, too, am grateful to noble Lords in all parts of the House for the constructiveness that has gone into our debates—will be met now with a certain understanding on the Government Benches. If so, then we will have done a very good job.

10.10. p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that we have had some good debates. Personally, I have learned much in the course of these debates which I did not know before. Your Lordships have spoken from experience and with economy and have fully justified the time that has been taken. The Bill leaves us imperfect but better than it was. I imagine all on both sides of the House can now see more clearly what a tremendous amount of practical work remains to be done before the comprehensive system can be expected to operate reasonably well in the interests of the greatest number of our children.

In another place, the Bill was contested all the way to the very end and my honourable friends put up a notable, well-informed and stubborn resistance, led by the indefatigable Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas, but they were defeated. So we started our consideration of the Bill by accepting the basic principle of non-selection—not that we liked it but, speaking for myself, we thought it was the right thing to do when a principle of that kind has been endorsed by another place and sent to us to consider the practical methods of putting it into action. That is a consolation, because it has enabled our debates to concentrate on the application of the principle which we have made much more flexible, and much less likely to do harm to a great many children, I agree with the two noble Lords who have spoken from this side of the House, that if all our Amendments are removed as a matter of politics, that will be a great pity. Many of them make the Bill better for those who believe in a comprehensive principle.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said about the argument for comprehensive schools of social engineering. I am sure that he was wise not to shy away from that argument. Society shapes the system of education, and the system of education shapes society. That is true and always has been true. The things which politicians care about, the unity of the nation, how far people share a sane view of the world in which they live, how far they have learned to talk to and treat other people as equals—all those social objectives have their roots in education. On any side of the House we should he very foolish not to recognise that.

But it does not follow that the comprehensive system is a good instrument for bringing about this social cohesion which we all desire. On Second Reading, I tried to show that the effects of the Bill are more likely to be divisive than socially cohesive. I pointed out that a system of neighbourhood comprehensives means that the good schools will get better and the poor schools will get worse.

The Bill is going to create a new class system within secondary education. It is going to be one which will be even harder for the parents to understand than the division between grammar schools and non-selective schools. The Bill is also bound to widen the jealous gap between the maintained and independent schools. That is going to be divisive. It will be dangerous because, as it becomes starkly obvious to everybody that the education in the independent schools is superior to that in the decapitated comprehensives, the envious political Left will raise the cry: "We cannot match the independent schools, so let us go out and murder them". That is what is going to happen as a result of this Bill.

The Government made no answer either in another place or here to our doubts about the social benefits that they have advanced as part of the reasons for the Bill. I cannot understand why the Government dropped the argument of social engineering in between the Bill leaving the other place and coming here; it may be they saw the light in your Lordships' House. Having dropped it, we are left with only the educational argument; and that argument does not now stand up since so many non-selective schools will have to be too small to do justice to the able children. It may well be found that the strains of coping with mixed ability are too great to do the best by any category of children. That is something we need to know a great deal more about, and that is why we put down the Amendment concerning the independent inquiry.

These are doubts which are shared much more widely than many complacent authorities and Ministers realise. What should the Government have done to set these doubts at rest? Obviously, they should have considered more carefully and made public the experience to date in non-selective schools. Now, very late in the day, they are starting up all kinds of inquiries—almost, it seems, in a panic—but I suppose they want to get this Bill through first before the results of those inquiries are available. As the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said last week: Public anxiety has grown to such dimensions that only a politically independent inquiry will he accepted as satisfactory.". Those misgivings about standards in secondary schools were brought to the surface by the Department's Yellow Book—that well-leaked trailer to the Prime Minister's speech at Ruskin College. That the Prime Minister himself should say what he did has changed the background to this Bill. Once the Downing Street cat had been set among the pigeons of Elizabeth House, our Amendments to this Bill, for which my honourable friends had argued in vain in another place, became not just worth reconsideration by the House of Commons, but plain Prime Ministerial common sense. The appointment of the new Secretary of State is another excellent thing that has happened since the Bill left another place and came to your Lordships' House. Mrs. Williams is bound to take a more thoughtful line than the uninspiring Mr. Mulley and his textbook colleagues, who appeared to believe that all would be well in all non-selective schools.

No one can be so complacent now. Fortunately, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are what the Americans call "very close"; and we take our cue from their recent speeches and are quite confident that they will not remove from Clause 1 the reference back to Section 76 of the 1944 Act. Not to accept that Amendment would, in the light of what they have both said about bringing parents into the picture, be an inconsistency too glaring ever to be forgotten by parents or by the public as a whole. Secondly, after the Prime Minister's strong and sensible words about the deficiencies in mathematics, the Government must welcome the Amendment made to allow the inadequate numbers of qualified teachers we have to be matched with the pupils best able to profit from their teaching. That is clearly in the national interest.

Thirdly, if the Prime Minister meant what he said—and I am sure he did—that an economy in as much trouble as ours and exposed to such fierce competition cannot afford an education system that sacrifices excellence to some notion of equality and new style methods of teaching, then his right honourable friend must welcome the Amendment to allow sixth-form colleges to select their entry on grounds of ability. If they are not allowed to do that, the standards of sixth-form work—already falling—will fall much faster.

Before I finish, I want to turn to two aspects of our debate which cause me great regret. The Bill compels sweeping changes in voluntary-aided secondary schools. Those of us who wish to safeguard the sixth-form standards of the grammar schools have received no help from the Church of England. On Second Reading, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn was obviously in a quandary, for he told us that the Church is so divided on the main issue of the Bill that his brethren had decided to do nothing about it. All through our debates we have hardly seen one Bishop. The Bishops' Bench is empty now, as it has been practically through all the stages of this Bill.

If the Church decides to abandon her interest in voluntary aided schools, that is her affair. Her leaders may think the financial problems too great a burden, or that the State will educate children equally well when denominational influence wanes, as it must do when aided schools are merged with controlled schools. Nevertheless, to keep silent about the destruction of sixth-form standards, and to give many devoted teachers the feeling that they are being let down by their Church, and to turn a deaf episcopal ear to the appeals of thousands of Christian parents, marks a definite retreat from a great position in secondary education held for so long with such distinction. Many famous aided grammar schools, which have served Church and State well, now go to the chopper without a single protest from the Bishops' Bench at any stage in this Bill.

If the attitude of the Church has been depressing, that of the universities has been inexplicable. The universities know very well that non-selection has been partly responsible for the decline in sixth-form standards. Yet I wonder how many vice-chancellors and principals have read this Bill, or even glanced at the first three clauses. Only last week, the noble Lord, Lord Todd—and he ought to know—told me of a university which is so dissatisfied with some of the new intake of science students, that they are talking about a year's remedial teaching to make up for the deficiencies in the secondary schools. That would mean lengthening the course from three years to four years.

In our debates, the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, speaking as a schoolmaster rather than as a vice-chancellor, and the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, made notable speeches. But no other noble Lord with university experience has said one word. One might think that the quality of their raw material, the standard of their students when they arrived, was a matter of no consequence. This in-difference to a Bill which, for example, in the first clause lays down that there shall be no selection by ability for sixth-form colleges, I find inexplicable but not surprising.


My Lords, just to put the record straight, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, both spoke.

Viscount ECCLES

I am sorry that I omitted them, my Lords, I did not hear the noble Lord, Lord Annan. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, I know, was entirely behind the Government. In conclusion, I feel bound to say that for someone like myself who knew our system of public education in better days, and cared for it, and confidently expected it to make steady progress, what is happening now hurts very much. I can only hope that younger men and women will come forward to stop the rot, and return to that policy of raising standards throughout the maintained system which offered us so much hope and could do so again.

10.25 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the speech of my noble friend Lord Eccles puts more clearly than I possibly can the fact that this Bill will not con-tribute to an improvement in educational standards in this country. Now that we have dealt with the Bill in all its stages, I think it is clear that it is very doubtful, to say the least, whether it is going to hope to carry out the Prime Minister's expressed wish for an improvement in standards, for a more practical approach to the responsibilities of education and for the objective which the Prime Minister expressed at Oxford in these words: What a wise parent would wish for their children, so the State must wish for all its children". Those were the words of R. H. Tawnay. I wonder whether Professor Tawnay really would have approved of the whole-sale destruction of good schools in order to enforce a principle which is not based on any findings of fact whatsoever. Let us be clear that the objection to the Bill—an objection which has not come just from the Conservative Benches but from the Liberal and the Cross-Benches as well—in a free society is the insistence of the Government that comprehensive education must he served for breakfast, dinner, lunch and tea, with never any variation in the diet.

I wonder whether, before the Bill leaves us, I may digress for a moment to make this point. If the Government believe that I am merely being Party political, may I remind the two noble Lords on the Government Front Bench of views which were put forward in two articles in the Times Educational Supplement less than a year before the Bill was introduced. In April 1975 Mr. Stuart McClure wrote an article warning that in this country we would do well to learn from the experience in the United States of America. He pointed out that in America education for many people extends well into their twenties and that it is therefore an exceedingly costly service to provide.11 noble Lords recall that article, they will remember that Mr. McClure then professed his belief in the abolition of the 11-plus and in more post-school study but concluded that, with limited resources in this country, it would be a policy of disaster to forbid any selection whatsoever. He recommended as a solution a comprehensive middle school system from 11 to the age of 14 and then some choice of schools and courses for parents and pupils.

One month later, Dr. Harry Judge, one of the most successful of former comprehensive school headmasters, wrote another article in the TES which he claimed to be central and moderate. He gave credit where it was due, referring to the considerable progress in comprehensive reorganisation which has been made under various Governments and local authorities of various shades of opinion. Referring to comprehensive reorganisation, Dr. Judge said: 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 improvement or even be worth doing at all Dr. Judge explained that his misgivings stemmed from the Government's onward rush towards neighbourhood schools in towns and cities and, like Mr. McClure, he concluded that a transfer age of 14-plus could utilise the pattern of schools in this country for the benefit of more, not fewer, pupils.

I digress for this reason. The Government cannot say that they were not warned before the Bill was drafted, yet apparently, totally unheeding, they proceeded to draft a Bill which, as it was originally drafted, is, I think, a disaster. It is disastrous because it allows for no flexibility. Only this evening we have seen the Government resisting the idea of allowing any form of selection for sixth-form work in schools. It is also disastrous because it purports to make policy without providing the necessary resources, a subject which again we have been discussing this evening. I think it is a disaster because it dispenses with the idea of partnership which was so firmly based in the Education Act of 1944; partnership with parents, local authorities and the voluntary schools about which my noble friend Lord Eccles spoke so eloquently.

If the Government arc to have their way, then under this Bill parents will he treated as cyphers, local authorities as agents and the rights of voluntary schools provided by the 1944 Act as of very little account. In addition, when the original draft of the Bill reached the subject of independent schools, never was it more clear that this Government are willing to wound and yet afraid to strike. I should like to put seriously to the Government the desirability of keeping schools which can be looked upon as a yardstick for what is happening in the maintained system.

I have been referring to the draft of the Bill as we received it from another place, but of course during Committee, Report and Third Reading stages various improvements have been made to the Bill. May I add my voice to other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, from the Liberal Benches, that we hope the Amendments which have been made in this House will be looked at and seriously considered. The Secretary of State inherited this Bill, to which clearly the Government had intended to make no alterations except the extraordinary Amendment relating to banding which was inserted in another place, but the Secretary of State now has the opportunity to consider Amendments relating to such things as parental choice, the special case of mathematics teaching, a more equitable procedure for local authorities when they are being required to put forward comprehensive proposals. We have put forward what is a very modest protection for pupils of voluntary-aided schools which may be going independent, and there is a reasonable protection for the local authorities on the subject of availability of resources, which the House has agreed to this evening.

I concede at once that the Secretary of State is of course absolutely entitled to preserve the main principle of her Bill. But the point which it seems to me the Government have not taken on board during the successive stages of this Bill through your Lordships' House is that the principle of the Bill really is not going to be acceptable to those who work in and use the Education Service if the Bill is not a workable instrument, if the necessary resources are not provided, if parents are denied any choice of school, if members of staff find themselves working in schools which, because of the provisions of this Bill, have had to be very hastily reorganised.

I hope especially that the Government will take to heart that the case for total comprehensive reorganisation which should have underpinned this Bill is in no way proved. I found it extraordinary—and my noble friend Lord Eccles referred to this—that the reply to the Amendment for a committee of inquiry at the previous stage of the Bill was that a good deal of research in the Department of Education and Science is now being set in hand. To say the least, I really thought that was setting the cart before the horse and I hope very much that Clause 5 of the Bill, which provides for the independent committee of inquiry, is going to be allowed to stand.

I would not for one moment deny that there is a majority wish in the country today to do away with the selective examination at I-plus. Perhaps it is right for me to say this at the end of this Bill because it was one of the first things that my noble friend Lord Elton said when the Bill started its life in your Lordships' House. The reasons for the dislike of that examination are un-doubtedly there, and I think rightly so, because I-have always thought that II was a very early age for a child to he assessed.

But it is a very different story when specific proposals to reorganise schools are put forward, and particularly so if they are put forward with coercion by the Secretary of State. Once again, reasons are varied, but according to their point of view people do have reasons to object. For some it may be because there is the loss of a good school; for others, the removal of particular facilities. Re-organisation may provide no small school, no single-sex school, no easily accessible school. These objections which are going to be, I would almost say, overridden under Clauses 2 and 3 of this Bill have nothing whatsoever to do with Party politics. Recently in my local education authority a reorganisation scheme for a mixture of 11 to 16 and 11 to 18 schools has been approved by the Secretary of State, but in the teeth of opposition not least from the local Member of Parliament who was a supporter of the present Government, because the alternative which many in the area wanted was a sixth-form college, for which it so happened there was not the available resources. There-fore, it is not just a move by the Conservative Party to have urged an inquiry into the working of secondary schools within this Bill. It would be helpful to teachers, parents and local authorities and a very prudent step for a Government which has introduced a Bill of this kind.

My Lords, I noticed yesterday in the House of Commons that the Prime Minister criticised the Opposition for concentrating on the problems of structure rather than the content of education. I must confess I thought that criticism came a little strangely from a Prime Minister whose Government have introduced this Bill, but let us meet on common ground, and agree that both the structure and the content of education are in need of inquiry and assessment. We still have not really assessed the problems and opportunities of school size, the complex management structure needed in very large schools and the problems of personal identity in such institutions. It is over five years since Dr. Elizabeth Halsell of Hull University drew attention as she saw them to the advantages of the small school—better staying-on-rates, simpler communications, the possibility that smaller schools are more socially cohesive.

At a time when, encouraged by the drafting and the introduction of this Bill, the Inner London Education Authority has been professing its faith in mini-comprehensives so it could reorganise more quickly, we need to know more about the effects of school size, as we do about the problems of split sites, two-tier schools, the effect of removing sixth-form teaching to a totally different institution. We need to take the subject of guided choice for pupils at a certain age out of the arena of party politics into which this Bill has placed it, and look objectively at the proposals which, for instance, Mr. McClure and Dr. Judge made when this Bill was being planned. At the same time, I readily concede that the moment has come to look critically at some of the theories which seemed to take hold in the 'sixties and which one suspects have not been applied with much benefit to pupils.

In The Times of 22nd October, Lady Plowden wrote a letter in which she said that although many people, including herself, had for many years advocated informal teaching methods, she had always also given a warning, "Do not throw out the baby with the bathwater". In her letter she added that it had also been the practical problems of the very rapid expansion of teacher-training during the 'sixties, the increasingly rapid turnover of young women teachers, and the pressures of an increasing population which in reality had created the problems for the over-enthusiastic adherence to informal methods.

My Lords, this Bill which deals solely with the structure of secondary reorganisation has given your Lordships the opportunity to make some valuable Amendments dealing with the content of education, also. In his speech at Oxford the Prime Minister, referring to various aspects of the curriculum, said: These are proper subjects for discussion and debate and it should be a rational debate, based on facts". If the right honourable gentleman really means what he says, I hope that new Clause 5, providing for the committee of inquiry, is to remain unamended in the Bill. I trust the Secretary of State will consider with great care the Amendments made in this House, many of which will make this Bill more acceptable to those who are working in the Education Service.

10.39 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to exercise my right of reply, but I have listened to so much that I find it impossible not to say a word or two. I should like the three noble Lords who have spoken from the Conservative Benches to go home and, tomorrow, to read Hansard when it comes, and to remember that each of these noble Lords have said they are fully in favour of the comprehensive system. I think this will make them realise that they have given an impression which is wildly in the opposite direction.

Secondly, I always have to admit that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, speaks with great charm and great conviction, but quite honestly, it was almost a dirge tonight. Everything is wrong. We know that he has no time whatever for the Department which he presided over with such skill and distinction some years ago. It is new to us to know that he is now going for the Church and the universities. There is practically nothing left but a total depression. I assure the noble Viscount that if he will come with me to two or three comprehensive schools—I daresay he has been to them before—and talk to the staff he will find an energy and a dedication which is extremely exciting and which he ought to be proud to be helping instead of hindering in the way the speeches this evening have hindered.

My Lords, I do not want to end on too unhappy a note, but I could not sit and hear what I have heard without making it clear that two-thirds or three-quarters of the teaching staff in this country are teaching in comprehensive schools. Nearly all of them are dedicated to the work they are doing, think they are doing it in the right way, are excited about it and want help. I do not think they have had it tonight. On that note I should like to ask that this Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed and returned to the Commons with the Amendments.