HL Deb 07 October 1976 vol 374 cc1499-646

3.23 p.m.

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

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do again resolve itself into committee.—(Lord Donaldsom of Kingsbridge.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 2 [Submission of proposals for giving effect to comprehensive principle.]:

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 2, line 17, at end insert— ("( ) After any proposals have been submitted to the Secretary of State under this section the authority or persons by whom the proposals were submitted shall forthwith give public notice of the proposals in a manner prescribed by the Secretary of State and any ten or more local government electors for the area and any local education authority concerned may within two months after the first publication of the notice submit to the Secretary of State objections to the proposals.")

The noble Lord said: The previous discussions about consultation in the making of plans for reorganisation of education have been concerned with consultation with selected interested bodies prior to the framing of those proposals. This Amendment is concerned with consultations after proposals have been submitted. It is designed to ensure, first, that the proposals are made public, the omission of which effect, in my view, is a defect in the Liberal Amendment No. 31 and, secondly, that objections to them shall be brought to the notice of the Minister. Where in Clause 3 the Secretary of State opts for Section 13 procedure, it may be the case that Section 13 objection procedures will apply, and we shall be trying to unravel this particular conundrum on the next clause, but so long as his power in that clause is permissive, it is still the case that he may not use it and that those procedures will not apply. Plans for an area which may make specific and controversial reorganisation of individual schools inevitable can, therefore, become mandatory before any discussions in public of those plans takes place at all. It would then be too late to object to individual schemes if the general plan left no alternative to them. In our view, public discussion ought to be introduced at this stage.

As Her Majesty's Government plainly have in view some use of Section 13 procedures and as, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, pronounced himself quite heatedly in favour of such procedures last night, it seems fitting to introduce them into Clause 2 as being a means of getting round this difficulty, arousing the least reflex hostility on the Benches opposite. The only change I have made to the wording of the relevant passage of Section 13 of the 1944 Act is to substitute for the words, "shall forthwith give public notice in the prescribed manner" the words "shall forthwith give public notice in the manner prescribed by the Secretary of State". The reason for that is that in the Bill there is no interpretation clause as there is in Section 114 of the 1944 Act. The 1944 Act says that "prescribed" means in a manner laid down by the Secretary of State. There is no purpose, obviously, in having a new clause to interpret one word in the Bill, and I have therefore inverted the words and left the sense intact.

I think it is clear from what I have said that this Amendment incorporates no attack whatsoever upon any principle dear to the hearts of noble Lords opposite. It is merely intending to achieve what they appear to be trying to achieve by the existing wording in Clause 3 of the Bill, which we fear will not have such effect. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has taken the point that we may to some extent, therefore, in the debate on this Amendment, pre-empt the debate on Clause 3. I beg to move.

3.28 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, this Amendment seeks to extend the provisions for a public notice and objection procedure to which proposals called for under this Bill may be subject. It would require that all proposals submitted in response to a requirement under Clause 2 should immediately undergo what amounts to Section 13 procedure—that is, the publication of notices and an opportunity for 10 or more local government electors to object in the two months following the publication of the notice.

Before I explain why we find this Amendment unacceptable, let me briefly remind noble Lords of the procedure to be followed under Clauses 2 and 3. There are two stages in this procedure: the preliminary vetting of the general proposals for reorganisation under Clause 2, and the detailed examination of specific and relatively short-term proposals under Clause 3. The preliminary vetting, to weed out and refer back any manifestly unsatisfactory proposals really is no more than a preliminary stage, and it would be a waste of time to go through an objection procedure on proposals which the Secretary of State subsequently has to refer back as manifestly unsuitable. It would also be a waste of time and effort to subject long-term proposals to an objection procedure when they are not yet ready for statutory approval.

The procedure we are proposing here is a simple one, which minimises delay while maximising the opportunity for detailed consideration of proposals by the Secretary of State and for the public to express their views before final decisions are made. The sketch map for reorganisation is looked at quickly to spot manifestly unsuitable proposals. No decisions are taken except to refer back those manifestly unsuitable proposals. Within the context of the sketch map, detailed proposals for the near future are carefully considered under Section 13 procedure—with publication of notices and a period for objections—and only then are statutory decisions made.

This Amendment therefore appears to be unnecessary. Where it would apply to proposals which survived to be treated under Clause 3, public notice would in any case have to be given of those proposals by virtue of Clause 3(1). Where it would apply to proposals not falling within Clause 3 no action would follow after publication.

3.31 p.m.


I am not sure that the noble Baroness has carried me as far with her as she anticipates, because she confidently asserts again that when we get to Clause 3(1) you are willy-nilly carried into the channels of Section 13 procedure, which she has declared herself in favour of. As a preliminary to that she said that the Clause 2 procedure was merely the vetting of a sketch map for the reference back of manifestly unsuitable decisions. The first part of my argument was that some of these decisions might not be manifestly unsuitable but they might be quite unknown to the general public, or even the parents concerned, and when the actual power itself came to be drawn up the acceptance of the sketch plan might very well have constricted the room for manoeuvre and in fact imposed willy-nilly a course of action of which they did not approve.

Let us leave that on one side for a moment and look briefly at Clause 3. I do not want to go too deeply into this if we are to come to it again on the clause itself, but noble Lords will see that the first part of Clause 3 says that where any of the proposals submitted under the procedure we have just been talking about under Clause 2 satisfy one of two different conditions, (a) or (b), then, if they are to be wholly or partly carried into effect within five years after the date of submission, and not otherwise, the Secretary of State— …may direct that those proposals (or any of them) shall be treated as if they had been submitted to him by the local education authority under subsection (1),… and then there is parenthetical insertion of that section, which is to say Section 13 that we are referring to.

Leaving aside the thorny problem of whether such a supposition would have the effect of introducing the procedure which it seeks to introduce, we still have the word "may", which we shall revert to on a later Amendment, which enables the Secretary of State not to do this. If it is open to the Secretary of State not to embark upon the course which the noble Baroness thinks will result in Section 13 procedure, it follows that Clause 2 is not assured of producing a plan which will subsequently be subject to public objection. So the second and more important reason for putting down this Amendment is to suggest a way in which it can be made certain that anything initiated under Clause 2 which subsequently surfaces as a concrete proposal under Clause 3, shall have been subject to such a procedure. I wonder whether I have made myself as clear to the noble Baroness as she hoped she made herself to me?

3.34 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

If the proposal is not submitted under the Section 13 procedure it does not become a proposal, a plan, at all. The object of this Bill, and why we are adverse to having the objection procedure at this earlier stage, is that the first proposals that are put forward to the Secretary of State may not be acceptable and may have to come back. It is going to be a time-wasting procedure for the people with whom you are having consultations, for the local education authority and for all those people involved in it, if you move through all the formal objection procedures and then submit a plan which is not going to be satisfactory. If they put the initial plan forward and the Secretary of State then says: "Yes, this is O.K., it is fine, we accept it", and adopt the Section 13 procedure, you go straight into all the consultation, objection procedures and what-have-you; but if the Secretary of State finds something which he is not able to accept, it will be returned to the authority and they will be given some indication of those things which do not measure up to what the Secretary of State wants to see in the proposals.

We will have a chance to look at it again. I am sure that no local authority would even put forward a preliminary plan unless they had had some consultations with the schools concerned, with the governors, with the teachers. I am sure they would not willy-nilly pluck something out of the air and send it to the Secretary of State. Any sensible local authority would know they had reasonable support from the people who were going to work the plan before they put it forward, but we are fairly certain that the procedure suggested by the noble Lord opposite—to bring in the Section 13 procedure with the publication of notices and the period for objections, at a much earlier stage, before the Secretary of State has carried out any preliminary vetting of the proposals—would be time-consuming and might be very frustrating to all those concerned in it.


I take a great percentage of the points which the noble Baroness has made. I hope she will take one from me, and that is this. Her principal objection is that the procedure suggested is not suitable at this stage because it would be time-wasting, and that is to be avoided. Very well, maybe it is not the right procedure, but it does not dispose of the point that there is scope for local authorities' getting far advanced with plans without general public knowledge. Whether that is sensible for them to do or not, we all know of local authorities on both sides of the political spectrum that are not sensible in ther proceedings, and we all can think of examples where plans have got so far ahead in private that commitments are made and then they are opened to the public and they say: "No, we cannot go back beyond this point because we are already committed". It is a familiar gambit and a very unfortunate one, and it rubs people's backs up the wrong way.

Therefore, I think that I have made the point—and I hope that we may bear this in mind and possibly come hack with something different on Report—that it should not be possible for local authorities to exploit that particular kind of tactical advantage which might seem very desirable to a particular, quite possibly Conservative, authority at a particular time and be very unfair on those who do not agree with it and who may subsequently be in a majority. If the noble Baroness will accept that we might like to come back to this principle with something a little narrower a little later I would, with leave of your Lordships, withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.38 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 29: Page 2, line 35, leave out from ("unsatisfactory") to the end of line 38.

The noble Lord said: The effect of Amendment No. 29 has a very close connection with a subject on which many of your Lordships are experts; namely, the responsibilities and duties of local education authorities, which we have just begun to talk about on the previous Amendment. The noble Baroness, in answering the last Amendment, has pointed out that under Clause 2, which we are discussing at the moment, the proposals—because that is the word in Clause 2—will in fact be a sort of sketch map or sketch plan. Why the word "plan" has not been used, as it was used in Section 11 of the 1944 Education Act, when authorities were asked for development plans, I am not quite clear. It has not been used. We are told that what is being asked for is proposals. No consultation is allowed by the Government even though the noble Baroness—and of course I accept it from her—says that it is the intention of Ministers that there shall be consultation. But the Government have firmly refused to allow any consultation to be written into the Bill. I do not know whether it was a Freudian slip or not but even the noble Baroness with all her experience in local government, in giving her assurance of consultation just now, said to your Lordships that there would of course be consultation with the teachers and the schools, but apparently consultation with parents is not to be considered.

Thirdly, in considering what this whole section, these sketch plans, is about, why is there to be this iron grip of the Secretary of State? If your Lordship will look at the words to which this Amendment refers, Subsection (4) of Clause 2, if the Secretary of State does not approve the original proposals or the original sketch plan, call it what you will, he may require further proposals to be submitted; and the last four lines of the subsection read: and the Secretary of State may require those further proposals to fulfil such conditions as he may specify with respect to any matter in relation to which the previous proposals were in his opinion unsatisfactory. Those are the words which this Amendment is seeking to delete from the Bill.

I concede at once that it is not unusual for a Secretary of State to reject a proposal, or a set of proposals, under Section 13, and to communicate the reasons to a local authority. Many of your Lordships may indeed have been on the receiving end, as members of education committees, of a letter from a Secretary of State, saying, perhaps more in sorrow than in anger, that the Secretary of State is unable to approve particular proposals and communicating some reasons. I am sure the Government will be aware that this is normal practice, and that very often from such a letter an authority will be able to deduce from what the Secretary of State has said the sort of alternatives which the Secretary of State would be able to approve. This is the way—I do not think I will be contradicted by any noble Lord on this—in which the partnership between central and local government has existed, at any rate since the war, in education. It is a far cry, I suggest, from the words which this Amendment is seeking to delete, whereby the Secretary of State may lay down conditions on any matter whatsoever and require that those conditions are complied with by the submission of fresh proposals.

I suggest most seriously to the Committee that if the wording is left as it is, it will then make a sham of the Section 13 procedure which the noble Baroness has assured us will be coming under Clause 3. When, as I trust will be the case, the Section 13 procedure occurs for proposals which are designed to be carried into effect within the five year period to which the noble Baroness referred, how can it then make the slightest difference what local opinion really thinks, when the details of the plan have been drawn up specifically at the Secretary of State's direction because of the words which this Amendment is seeking to delete? Just consider for a moment the people who are involved in all this. There is the local educational authority, the voluntary schools, the governing bodies of all the county schools, the teachers, the parents, and the general public, because there may be many husbands and wives who have children who have not yet gone to school but who will be going when the re-organisation proposals have been put into effect. Because of the words which this Amendment seeks to delete, none of their views will have the slightest effect when one comes to the Section 13 procedure, because the matter will have been totally pre-empted; the Secretary of State will have spelled out in the sketch plan or the proposals what it is that she wants. Surely, this is not in line with Government thinking; I really cannot believe that this is the case.

Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred your Lordships to a circular which the Government sent out a year and a half ago, Circular No. 474, requiring authorities to put forward re-organisation proposals, and because it did not have quite the success they expected they have had to legislate upon the subject. That circular talked about consultation, and so have Government circulars always—the famous Circular No. 1065, my right honourable friend Mrs Thatcher's Circular, No. 1070, and Circular No. 474. Always they refer to consultation. The wording as it stands breaches that principle.

It also breaches other principles which the Government, I am sure, fully support. One is that local authorities should be as strong as possible. Why was it that in the 1973 Local Government Act the Government of the day, with Opposition support, went out of their way to see that local education authorities should retain their statutory education committees with their statutory officers and their statutory responsibilities and duties? I am absolutely certain that the Government are in support of increasing autonomy for school governors. Many of your Lordships must be governing schools and will know very well that at the moment the Government, to their credit, are asking the Taylor Committee to look into how governors of schools can have extra powers. I am absolutely certain that the Government approve extra participation for parents. But if this wording remains in the Bill, the strength of local authorities, the autonomy of governors, the views of parents, will be absolutely nothing whatsoever.

The Government may say that this Amendment would wreck the intentions of the clause. May I just say this. If the Government believe that, may I urge upon them the desirability of bringing forward themselves a new form of words which would require the local education authorities to make proposals which they believe are right, but within the context of Clause 1 of the Bill. I am in no way seeking to wreck the general objective of the Bill. But to leave the wording as it stands really is going to cast aside any form of democratic procedure when the proposals for individual schools come to be made under the subsequent clause. I beg to move.


I would say a word in support of my noble friend. What he says bears out the remarks I made on our Amendment No. 1, that the impression given in the Bill is dictatorship from the Secretary of State for Education. I am sure that that is not the impression that we would wish to create or spread or consolidate. This paragraph reinforces what I said then. We do not want dictatorship from the Ministry of Education. We want consultation and working together. Therefore, I fully support the Amendment put forward by my noble friend.


I spoke about this yesterday. Again, speaking as someone who has served for many years on an elected county council education committee, there was nothing we resented more than interference from the Secretary of State. In that case it was Scotland, but it would be the same here. If you are going to have a democratic Government, if you are going to have people elected to county councils and education committees, you simply cannot lay down the law beforehand, saying that everybody must do the same, everything has to be the same, and all the arrangements must have been accepted beforehand by the Secretary of State. If you are going to do that, then scrap local government and do the whole thing from the centre. It would be much easier and it would save many people a great deal of trouble. As an old local government person, I should be very much opposed to that, and, therefore I am very much opposed to this dictatorship from the centre.

3.48 p.m.


In my opinion, the accusation of dictatorship, is really quite ridiculous. What the Government are doing, as a result of Government policy which was endorsed by what was admittedly a minority Government—noble Lords will say it if I do not, but this is the way we run our country and we are not ashamed of doing so—is to introduce a system gradually, to complete the introduction of a system of comprehensive education. I must apologise to the noble Baroness for mentioning this again, but when she rebuked me yesterday I did say that this was what I was here for and I was bound to mention it from time to time in the course of our discussion. The objective of this sentence—over which the noble Lord really made my hair stand on end; one would think that this was the most terrifying series of statements—is simply to say that if a local authority puts up a plan which the Secretary of State cannot accept, the Secretary of State shall indicate what alterations will make it acceptable. Noble Lords may say that this is dictatorship. It is not my idea of dictatorship. It is my idea of co-operation, without which you would get, or could get, the proposing authority putting up the same proposition again and again and having it turned down again and again and leading to great delay.

I repeat what I have said before, that if everybody was absolutely solid in the desire to achieve what the Government are trying to achieve one could omit certain parts of this Bill—not I believe this particular sentence, which I think would always be necessary, but one could treat the whole thing rather differently. But this is not the case. As at present drafted the Bill gives the Secretary of State an opportunity to specify the defects in proposals which are found to be prima facie unsatisfactory before those proposing them proceed to issue public notices under Section 13. In other words, there is no point whatsoever in a local education authority going to the expense and trouble of issuing notices asking for objections when in fact the thing is going to be objected to before those proposals are in a position to be put to the public. It would be merely foolish. The effect of this Amendment would be to produce just that result, to prevent the Secretary of State from telling the local authority why its proposal was not acceptable.

I know that the noble Lord is perfectly sincere in his fear that this power would enable the Secretary of State covertly to dictate to local education authorities the form or organisation which they should adopt, but this is not our intention or hers. The Secretary of State and the Government hold firmly to the view that decisions on how to reorganise rests at local level, and must do so. It is surely reasonable, however, that if a particular set of proposals is found to be unsatisfactory in certain respects the Secretary of State should be able—others may say in a spirit of wilfulness, but I would say in a spirit of helpfulness—to indicate which parts of the proposal are unsatisfactory. The local education authority would then have a clear idea on how to reformulate the proposals.

If they did not have this information surely there would be a silly and time-consuming process whereby local education authorities working totally in the dark as to the Secretary of State's views could submit fresh proposals time and time again until they found by trial and error a set of proposals which eliminated the unsatisfactory aspects of the original ones. This cannot be the way in which any reasonable person would want to proceed and it would not help the cause of open government.


There is such a thing as a telephone.


I am aware of that; its relevance to what I am saying I am not aware of. There is one other side effect of this Amendment. A local authority which is reluctant to reorganize—and this is what I spoke about when I first got up—would be able, because of the inability of the Secretary of State to specify the defects in the proposals, to resubmit similar proposals which did not even attempt to resolve the unsatisfactory elements and thus undermine the Bill's intention. For this reason we cannot accept this Amendment, but I believe that the fears of noble Lords opposite are entirely unfounded and I have no hesitation in saying that there will be no risk of dictatorship if this Amendment be rejected.

3.54 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

I think the noble Lord ought to acknowledge that this is a real change in the relationship between central Government and local authorities. The old Act was based on a partnership. I well remember in Leicestershire a very able chief education officer, Mr. Stewart Mason, putting to me proposals for three levels of schools. At that time the majority of my advisers were against having three levels of schools; they said that we should never get good teachers in the middle level. So they recommended that we should try to find out how to deter Mr. Mason and his education committee from pursuing this proposal. But I said that I did not think we should, even though we might not fully approve of it. Unless there are experiments in the organisation of secondary education we should never come to know as time goes on what is best for various parts of the country.

That has all gone under this Bill because it is only the Secretary of State who can now define what is satisfactory. Under the previous dispensation local authorities also were able to say what they thought was a satisfactory organisation of their secondary schools because in that part of the country they felt that some deviation from the general pattern was likely to produce benefit for the children and they wanted to try it out. They will not be able to do that now because under the principle in Clause 1 there is really only one pattern to which they must work.

I am not now arguing the merits of comprehensive schools; I am simply saying that it is very unwise not to recognise that here is a real change in power as between local authorities and the central Government. Her Majesty's present Ministers are perfectly entitled to say that they do not think local government is fit to make variations in the organisation of secondary education from that pattern which they believe in all honesty is the only good pattern, but I think we have to know what we are doing, and what we are doing is really making quite a serious change.


Of course there is a change. The Bill is making a change; nobody pretends it is not. The change it is making is that pressure is being put on local education authorities to move towards a comprehensive system. As regards experiments by local education authorities, there is nothing here to suggest that they will be turned down by the Secretary of State unless they controvert this principle to which the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, so much objects to my referring. But in so far as there are other experiments—and of course there can be many—the position is simply that there will be a partnership between the authority and the Secretary of State in working out changes, but they will not be changes to delay the objective of this Bill. I cannot take it further.

Viscount ECCLES

I must ask just one question of the noble Lord. Let me take a particular example. Supposing a local authority which has fully accepted the comprehensive principle up to the age of 16 puts forward proposals for selective sixth form colleges and says that, given the scarcity of buildings and the difficulty of organising powerful sixth forms in the comprehensives they have because they are not big enough, they must have a sixth form college and can only organise that with reference to the ability of children in the area who would benefit from it. Under this clause, so far as I can see, if the Secretary of State says it is unsatisfactory that they should have any form of selection for their sixth form college, the local authority can do nothing but obey.


We discussed this yesterday. The answer is, Yes. Under the Bill that is not permitted. It has nothing to do with this sentence. It was something we discussed yesterday at great length and we are at the moment talking about whether a local authority should be told by the Secretary of State what is the defect in proposals it puts forward. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is perfectly correct about the sixth form college. As I say, we discussed it for three-quarters of an hour yesterday. I cannot remember whether or not an Amendment about it was carried, but the Government position is perfectly clear.


The practical difficulty which my noble friend Lord Eccles has pointed out as a matter of principle, and into which this part of the Bill is, I think, going to lead local authorities, is that when they have put forward a general sketch plan in the first instance they will have done so in the way my noble friend has sought to outline. In very many cases, they will have thought hard and long about how they ought to go comprehensive. If I may put it that way, they will have had bright ideas. There have been some remarkable experiments which have gone on in different parts of the country in the last 20 years precisely because chairmen of education committees and members of authorities have been able to use their own heads within the general context if they are thinking of reorganisation of comprehensive schools.

The difficulty will be that they put in their proposals and the Secretary of State comes back and says, "No. I don't like these general proposals. I demand that the following specific points should now be adhered to". How is the chairman of the education committee then to consult, as the noble Baroness has assured us, with the people of the area? Is the chairman of the education committee going to go round with the chief education officer—in the normal way in which consultations are undertaken in authorities at public meetings and meetings in schools—and say, "We are very sorry, but this set of proposals do not happen to be our proposals. They have been forced on us by the Secretary of State. Here they are, you must tell us what you think about them, but they are nothing to do with us". Gradually we are slipping further and further into the mire not of consultation, not of agreement, but in fact of dictatorship.

4.2 p.m.


I think my last word on this must be that that is an exact example of what would happen if there were an authority which was deliberately trying to sabotage the purposes of this Bill. We have never made any bones about this from the beginning, and we come up against it on nearly every heading. Of course, if we let each thing go clause by clause we can be confronted with the situation which has gone on for the last 10 years where a few authorities stand out against the national plan. The whole point of this Bill is to see that they should not. The noble Lord is arguing against the Bill, and not against the clause.


Might I come in on this? I have not said anything so far; I have been biding my time. As an ex-chairman of a county education authority, which I am proud to say is now considered one of the six local authorities which I led into the rebellion, so called, may I say that there is one factor that has not been considered very strongly; that is, the subject of finance. It comes up a bit later on an Amendment I think I can refer to. But, above all, this is the question of the timing of the whole operation, in the sense that if the Secretary of State says we have got to make certain plans, and we are only given a certain time in which to do it; we do not know where we are going to get the money from.

This is a very important factor. Local education authorities at the moment are bedevilled by the question of rates, and the fact that our education budgets have been going up steadily over the years, and we cannot expect the ratepayers to foot the bill any longer. It is getting too much. Unless we can be certain where the money is coming from, it is going to be very difficult to formulate any plans at all without the resources being available. Could the Secretary of State give, us some idea what we are going to do in that respect?


This has been referred to in speeches in the other place three or four times, and by myself here. The Secretary of State is not going to expect local authorities to do such things for which they have not got, or cannot see, the resources. This has been said again and again. If it goes on for a very long time and it is thought that the resources are becoming available, the Secretary of State will, as it were, jog their elbow. This has been a perfectly clear approach from the very beginning. This thing cannot be done overnight. I do not think I can say more than that. If the noble Lord likes to look up the various debates, he will see that this has frequently been discussed at some length.


This is really a fascinating exposure of interpretation of a sentence in a proposed Statute. What we have in mind is the power of the Minister to say in his covering letter rejecting it, "Well, I cannot accept this. It is not right for the following reasons. I am sure you can find a way of putting it right". That we regard as partnership. But that clearly is not how the noble Lord opposite sees it, and he gave this away oddly enough by not understanding the point made by my noble friend Lady Emmet, when she said that there is of course the telephone. We feel that the views of the Secretary of State can be informally, not statutorily put, but what is given here is the power for him to say, "I would accept a plan, provided it is this plan". It is a sort of congé d'élire; you can have any colour provided it is pink." To this we take great objection.

But I think it is an extraordinary thing to find, and one of the basic puzzles of the present political scene, that there are two clear streams of philosophy on the opposite Benches, and they move in opposite directions. In the one you have the stream towards devolution and everybody must take responsible decisions locally, and in the other you have that Big Brother at Westminster must say whether or not it is the right decision; they are in conflict with each other.

We believe passionately in the right of local people to decide their own destinies. On this purely marginal thing of whether an authority shall solve its problem in one general way or another, I would have thought you could rely on the telephone, or possibly the post, or better still both in today's hazardous state of communication. But the noble Lord opposite increasingly gives the impression that the object of this Bill is not merely comprehensive but also centralist, and to this we take objection.


I think there is a real sympathy that we have with the movers of this Amendment. It is a great pity if education is going to become more centralist as a whole. Nevertheless, we have accepted the principle of this Bill, and the principle that there should be in the last resort imposed comprehensive schemes on local education authorities. We have done so with regret. We think it is a waste of Parliamentary time to put through this Bill now when we think in fact it would be achieved without this Bill in the course of time.

But, having accepted this Bill, and not opposing the general principle, it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is right in saying that this sentence must stay in to give the Secretary of State the necessary powers, because without necessarily coming to what I tend to regard at times as the noble Lord's almost paranoia about dark forces of reaction lurking behind the mild-mannered people on the Conservative Front Bench—without going that far—there is a problem, in that there are six or seven local authorities who have been absolutely standing out; this is what this Bill is about. Probably at least one or two of them would try to find every single loophole they could to get out of it. It seems to me that, in the last resort, the Secretary of State must have this power, and the sentence must stay in.


I think that the hole in that argument is that the Secretary of State's power under these words is entirely subjective. The wording of the Bill is that, if the first lot of proposals appear to the Secretary of State to be unsatisfactory, then the Secretary of State may require further proposals. All I would say is that appearances in life are not always the best guide to taking a decision. It is on those subjective grounds that the Secretary of State is going to take a decision under Clause 2 with no benefit of views given by people in the locality—at least no benefit written into the Bill.

I do not think that I should like to say any more on the merits of the Bill, except to thank my noble friend Lord Howe for speaking. If I remember rightly, he was the chairman of the Buckinghamshire Education Authority, and I must say that to listen to noble Lords on the Government Front Bench talking about battles, sabotage and rebel authorities, one cannot but remember, as I did once some years ago, visiting one of the best and most forward-looking of comprehensive schools which Buckinghamshire had set up in a part of the county which they had been able to reorganise. "How do you consult when your proposals have been thrown back in your teeth and you are then, as chairman of a local education authority, having to go round the locality and say, 'These are not our proposals but the Ministers'"? That problem was put to me by an authority which the Government call a rebel authority which has been reorganising its schools slowly, honestly and sincerely since well before Circular 10/65 was ever issued.

I do not want to put a wrecking Amendment to the Committee, but I must remind noble Lords, especially those who were here through yesterday's long session,

that there has so far not been any give on the Bill by the Government. We have a new Secretary of State whom everyone in education and in wider circles enormously admires. It was hoped by many of us who are taking part in these debates that the right honourable lady would at least look with a fresh eye to see whether some parts of the Bill could be made a little more flexible, if only for one good reason; namely, to see that her partnership with her own LEAs could be made more fruitful and reasonable. For that reason, if the Government are saying that it is totally and absolutely impossible to bring forward on their own account fresh wording which would allow some discretion to authorities when the Secretary of State has come back to them and said that he does not like their proposals, but within the context of Clause 1, then I am afraid that we can do no other but to put the matter to a Division.

4.12 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 29) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 102: Not-Contents, 66.

Adeane, L. Exeter, M. Marley, L.
Airedale, L. Faithfull, B. Merrivale, L.
Aldenham, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Monck, V.
Alport, L. Gainford, L. Mottistone, L.
Amory, V. Garner, L. Northesk, E.
Ampthill, L. Gore-Booth, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Arran, E. Goschen, V. Nunburnholme, L.
Barnby, L. Gray, L. Penrhyn, L.
Belstead, L. Greenway, L. Piercy, L.
Berkeley, B. Gridley, L. Rathcavan, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Redesdale, L.
Caccia, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Roberthall, L.
Cathcart, E. Harvington, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Clancarty, E. Hatherton, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Clitheroe, L. Hawke, L. St. Davids, V.
Clwyd, L. Hives, L. Sandford, L.
Cole, L. Howe, E. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Cottesloe, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Selkirk, E.
Craigavon, V. Ilchester, E. Sempill, Ly.
Craigmyle, L. Inglewood, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Cranbrook, E. James of Rusholme, L. Somers, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Jessel, L. Spens, L.
Daventry, V. Kinloss, Ly. Stamp, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Kinnaird, L. Strang, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lauderdale, E. Strathclyde, L.
Dudley, E. Leconfield and Egremont, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L
Eccles, V. Long, V. Strathspey, L.
Effingham, E. Lothian, M. Trefgarne, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Loudoun, C. Vernon, L.
Elton, L. Lyell, L. Vickers, B.
Emmet of Amberley, B. MacLeod of Borve, B. Vivian, L.
Enniskillen, E. Malmesbury, E. Ward of North Tynes de, B.
Erskine of Rerrick, L. Mancroft, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Amherst, E. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Pannell, L.
Amulree, L. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Pargiter, L.
Avebury, L. Gray, L. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)
Aylestone, L. Hale, L. Phillips, B.
Bacon, B. Hampton, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Banks, L. Harris of Greenwich, L. Platt, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Henderson, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L
Birk, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Rhodes, L.
Brimelow, L. Hunt, L. Sainsbury, L.
Brockway, L. Jacques, L. Seear, B.
Buckinghamshire, E. Janner, L. Shepherd, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Kirkhill, L. Snow, L.
Byers, L. Kaldor, L. Stedman, B.
Champion, L. Leatherland, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Collison, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Darling of Hillsborough, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Summerskill, B.
Davies of Leek, L. McCarthy, L. Weidenfeld, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Maybray-King, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Melchett, L. Wigoder, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Murray of Gravesend, L. Winchester, Bp.
Gladwyn, L. Norwich, V. Winterbottom, L. [Teller.]
Gordon-Walker, L. Oram, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.

Resolved in the affirmative and amendment agreed to accordingly.

4.21 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 30: Page 2, line 40, leave out from ("direct") to the end of line 42.

The noble Lord said: I wonder whether the Government would be able to tell the Committee what is the intention behind the words: …and shall indicate the times when they are respectively to be carried into effect. If the intention is to make it clear whether proposals are due to be put into effect within five years or after five years have passed, I accept that intention, for otherwise Clause 3 would need to be redrafted. If the intention is for the proposals to reveal exactly when money will be needed for reorganisation, again, I accept that intention, for both the Department and the local education authority will need to be clear about when resources will have to be made available. In addition, the public always wants to know what date is set for reorganisation because it is very important for parents to know whether their children are or are not to be in a reorganised school and what will he the local situation at a given time.

However, the difficulty as I see it, is that at the moment we are approaching the point made by my noble friend Lord Howe, although we have not yet reached the Amendments that he indicated, which were, I believe, Amendments Nos. 44 and 45. The difficulty is that the rolling programme of school building has been discontinued. Therefore, it is not the case that the words which the Amendment seeks to delete are really not necessary for, so far as the provision of resources is concerned, the school building programme is, as I understand it, being allocated on a year-by-year basis.

Therefore, I wish to know what is to happen if it is simply not possible for a local education authority to indicate the times when proposals are to be carried into effect—for that is the effect of the words which would be deleted if the Amendment were to be carried. It seems unsatisfactory to write into a Bill words which may possibly have no meaning. I hope therefore that the Government will either be able to set my fears at rest or will reconsider the wording of subsection (5). I beg to move.


This Amendment would allow local authorities and the managers or governors of schools to submit proposals without any indication of the times when the proposals were to be put into effect. This would defeat the purpose of the Bill and, as we shall see when we come to consider Clause 3, it would make inoperative the machinery which this Bill establishes for the consideration of proposals. Under Clause 3, proposals submitted are divided into those where the authority or governors expect to be able to implement them within five years and those that there is no reasonable prospect of implementing within that period. The procedure to be adopted in dealing with each of these proposals is to be different. But an essential feature is that the Secretary of State should receive from those making the proposals their best estimate of how long it is likely to be before the proposals can be implemented. Additionally, without this information the Secretary of State cannot judge whether or not the local authority is making a genuine attempt to reorganise schools on comprehensive lines or is exaggerating difficulties and deliberately dragging out the process to the detriment of the children's education and the unnecessary and continuing disruption of the Education Service.

In effect, a local authority which could not see for certain when it would have the funds to bring a plan into effect would go into the second category, of something beyond five years, and would be asked to make an estimate. This is not unreasonable. I hope that the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press this. In point of fact, in nine out of ten cases or, indeed, in ninety-nine out of hundred, these things are discussed on Lady Emmet's telephone between officials who say, "Well, we'd better not say 1977 because…" and then they ask, "What about 1978?". The matter is discussed in a perfectly sensible and intelligible way and, if the noble Lord strikes this out, it seems to me to suggest that all negotiations between willing and unwilling local authorities will be done on a basis of lack of trust. I really cannot accept that, so, though I do not think it a wrecking Amendment, I feel that it is an Amendment which, if adopted, would open the way to wrecking by certain authorities, and I cannot accept it.


I shall certainly not press the Amendment, but it is extraordinary what comes to the surface when one starts to probe. What I am still worried about is that, up to about a year and a half or two years ago, if the Department and the local authority got in touch with each other on the telephone, they would have been talking in the context of a three-year school building programme and the local authority office would have been able to ask the Department, "Can you tell us what resources you are making available to us in the preliminary list for three years to come?" Alternatively, the local authority office might have asked, "Can you give us a confidential piece of advice as to what you will be making available in the forthcoming preliminary list?"—which might mean that the resources were going to be made available even further ahead, perhaps even three and a half or nearly four years ahead. Clearly, this was extremely helpful to all concerned.

The question that I put to the noble Lord is this: when an authority is working on a year-by-year building programme, with the most appalling economic blizzards assailing the Education Service from time to time, will it not be the case that it will be extremely difficult for any local authority to be able to, … indicate the times when proposals are respectively to be carried into effect That is the problem.


Of course it will be difficult and the longer the blizzard goes on the more difficult it will be. I believe that it still has to be done, however. It is perfectly clear, and has been said again and again, that the Secretary of State will not expect authorities to do things for which they cannot find the money. I do not think that we can take it further than that. It is a perfectly decent situation on both sides and, by "both sides", I mean that of the noble Lord's Amendment and that of my refusal.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.29 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 31: Page 2, line 42, at end insert— ("( ) The Secretary of State shall order a local enquiry into any scheme for comprehensive secondary reorganisation if he is satisfied that a substantial body of opinion representative of teachers, parents or students concerned object to the said scheme on grounds other-than opposition to the abolition of selection.").

The noble Lord said: This is another Amendment about consultation and inquiry. I perfectly take the point made by the Conservative Front Bench that it may possibly lack something in not including a clause or sentence about publication. However, I believe that it also adds something which is not in any other Amendment, nor in the Bill itself. That is consultation by all the interested parties with the people concerned as a whole, not just the local education authority and the teachers but also with parents and even students.

The Amendment seeks to establish the principle of opening up a degree of public participation in considering schemes for comprehensive secondary reorganization—a degree of public participation which has not existed in the past, except where there was a really militant group of parents or teachers who could make themselves heard. We want more than that. We want to go further than that in order to involve where we can those who are less articulate and less militant. We propose placing a requirement on the Secretary of State to order a local inquiry into a scheme if he is satisfied that there is a substantial body of opinion representative of teachers, parents and school students within the area that object to the scheme which is being put forward.

Such an inquiry would be similar to procedures available under planning legislation or slum clearance schemes under housing legislation. The guidelines would make it clear that the principle governing all secondary education, the ending of selection at 11, would not be a matter for debate. In other words, such an inquiry would he within Clause 1 of the Bill and anything further than that, no matter what might be said about it, would be out of the context of such an inquiry.

But what would be open to inquiry would be the specific proposals for reorganisation advanced: how resources are to be allocated, the size of the school and its sixth form, the type, its setting, and whether or not it is on a split site or is purpose built. Naturally this would also provide an opportunity for expert local advice and evidence to be given about the current state of education in the area, which could be broadly relevant to the scheme. Such a degree of openness about educational schemes would in itself be a very great asset.

The difficulty so far has often been that there has been a degree of defensiveness by educationists and teachers in the maintained sector about both problems and deficiencies. When we point out problems and deficiencies we are too often told, "Oh, you are attacking the comprehensive system." This is said to some of us who have been maintaining and defending the comprehensive system for years and years. It is right that objections of this kind and difficulties should be brought into the open. After all, as the educational experts from the OECD said to me recently, there is not a problem of the comprehensive school in Britain; there is a crisis of secondary schools all over the world. These problems, which we must cope with, could be easily aired and talked about in this open forum of a discussion, of an inquiry.

We believe that for this type of an inquiry an inspector should be appointed to hear and collect the evidence and present it to the Secretary of State who would—as we showed we believed in the last Division—retain the right to make the final decision. I do not think that it should be assumed that local opinion and the LEA would necessarily find itself in agreement on any of the schemes put forward. For instance, in Kingston the council ignored a large majority favouring the abolition of the 11-plus, resulting from a consultative process initiated by themselves, and instead submitted proposals for a 13-plus and the maintenance of grammar schools. This was rejected by the Minister, subsequently re-submitted by Kingston, but the majority of parents, teachers and local organisations were all on the side of the Minister and all favoured an all through 11 to 18 system. Had there been a public inquiry all that would have come out—and come out rather fruitfully.

Lastly, I think that the proposal for a public inquiry system should be seen as part of a movement towards greater participation by the public in the whole educational system. We believe very strongly in the "democratisation" and the decentralism of educational decisions. As we have said again and again, it is with a very heavy heart that we find ourselves, in choosing whether to support or oppose the Bill, ultimately supporting it. But in supporting it we want to make as much as we can of any devolution of authority within the principle of Clause 1.

There may be drafting errors and all kinds of defects about setting up an inquiry of the kind proposed, but I am sure that those problems can be overcome. We feel that to have such an inquiry would be a notable step forward in letting people have a much greater say in the education of their own children and of themselves and of the people in their own area. I beg to move.

4.35 p.m.


I rise to support the Amendment. It is very important that as many people as possible should be involved in the decisions which affect the lives of local people and children. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, a question. He has stated in the Amendment the people whom he wants to be consulted— …a substantial body of opinion representative of teachers, parents or students… et cetera. Why has he left out the local authority, the education committee? In his speech the noble Lord said that he was very anxious to have as much devolution of authority to localities as is possible and that was one of the reasons he has put forward the Amendment. I entirely agree with all that.

It is extremely important that as much responsibility as possible should rest upon the local people. Equally, in controversial questions it is most important that local people should be consulted. But I fail to understand why the noble Lord leaves out the local education authority, a democratically elected body of people. In some areas this belongs to the Labour Party, in some areas our Party, and in some areas the Liberal Party.

I do not want any Government legislation to undermine the democratically elected representatives who give up a great part of their lives in order to sit on local committees, who keep in touch with local people and who know the schools, the locality and the problems far better than anyone else; otherwise they would not be there. I am aware that there are many people in the Government who have spent years working on local authorities—the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, is one of them. They are marvellous people who have given an enormous amount of service to local government.

If we are to allow Bills to be passed, in this House or elsewhere, which will undermine local authorities in exercising their responsibilities—indeed make it almost impossible for them to carry them out—because somebody does not like the fact that some of them are Labour, some are Conservative and some are Liberal, that surely is not the right way to approach local government. I hope that if this Amendment is passed the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, will ensure that at the next stage of the Bill he proposes that the local authority should be consulted in addition to all the other people mentioned in his Amendment.

4.39 p.m.


I share a great part of the enthusiasm of my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood for aspects of the Amendment. We are at one in wishing to have a greater degree of local consultation and influence upon the Bill, and we have already said this categorically. However, I have reservations. The first is that it makes an inquiry and this kind of collusion on planning discretionary and the discretion is put in the hands of the Minister. It is noticeable in this case that we on this side of the Committee are anxious to guard against an unreasonable Minister, and the noble Lord opposite is anxious to guard against an unreasonable local authority. It may be that our collective experiences differ in this respect and perhaps we ought all to guard against everybody being unreasonable. But that being as it may, we are afraid of unreasonable Ministers, and I am not sure that the discretion is properly left in the Minister's hands.

I think that the word obviously intended but not inserted in the Amendment after the word "local" is "public". It should be "a local public inquiry", should it not? That is certainly what has been intended, and I suppose should be specially mentioned. But my principal reservation is this, that in our discussion on Amendment No. 26, we have felt that this whole question of whether it should be mandatory or discretionary for there to be inquiry and consultation is one which is a good deal more complicated than we had anticipated, that it is one which is profoundly important and that we should take our proposals away and look at them. I rather hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, may do the same, and then possibly the telephone of the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, can be brought in on the act again and, after two or three calls, according to how many sides of the Committee are involved, we might arrive at something that we could at last agree, because it is conspicuous that there is nothing whatsoever in this Bill on which the Government are prepared to agree with us at the moment.


Before this Amendment is possibly pressed to a Division, may I ask why bodies of governors of schools, who are obviously going to be involved heavily in any decision of this kind, are also left out? I do not know whether there is some reason that Lord Beaumont can give us why he has left out the governors of schools, or whether he would be prepared to see that they are included at a later stage.

4.42 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, will doubtless answer the questions put to him when he replies to this short debate. I am uncomfortable at having to stand at this Dispatch Box and appear, through I think the ill-focused glasses of noble Lords opposite, as somebody who is against an extension of consultation. I believe profoundly in it. I believe profoundly in the importance of local authorities making their own decisions, subject to Governmental policy. It is, therefore, not always the easiest thins to detect the weaknesses in a proposal which in this case is certainly not a wrecking proposal and which is clearly intended to do the sort of thing which I personally, and I think my Secretary of State, would rather like to see done. In our view, local opinion is an important aspect of decision-making, but we must consider here whether this Amendment really will add anything to the present procedure; because, as I have said two or three times already this afternoon and am going to say again, we regard the present procedure as highly efficient in this particular way.

Let me say a word about this. Let us clarify the order of events involved in action under Clauses 2 and 3. If the Secretary of State considers that a local authority or voluntary body needs to make further progress towards the comprehensive principle, she will call for proposals to that end, that is under subsection (2). Circular 4/74, already referred to by noble Lords opposite, outlining the Government's policy on secondary re-organisation, drew attention to the need for local education authorities to explain their proposals fully to the parents and teachers involved, and to consider any views expressed by them, while proposals are being formulated and before they are submitted. It is far better for proposals to be discussed locally before they are finalised and submitted, and this gives the opportunity for greater participation in the planning process. Parents and teachers both, obviously, have an important contribution to make here.

It should also be remembered that it is the local authority, not the Secretary of State, who are making the proposals, and they are the elected local representatives for this purpose. If, upon receipt of these initial proposals, the Secretary of State considers them satisfactory and intended to be implemented within five years, she will refer them hack to the authority to treat as Section 13 proposals. Notices would then be published, and a period for objections would follow. At the end of that period for objections the Secretary of State would pay particular attention to any objections she had received, as well as considering comments from the local authority and from Her Majesty's Inspectors. Her decision whether to approve the proposals would be made in the light of all these factors; and I would assure noble Lords that before decisions are reached on Section 13 proposals both sides of the question are fully examined and note is taken of whether consultation has been adequate. While accepting the opposite fears to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred—he of the Secretary of State, I of a local authority—you would need to have a very prejudiced Secretary of State and his entire Department (it is not a question of one man; it would be his entire Department) before you got real unfairness in the consideration of the kind of objections and proposals put up. I must say that I consider that most local authorities have carried out fairly full consultation before submitting responses to Circular 4/74.

Returning to this Amendment, I do not want to make detailed criticism—I could; there is some lack of definition, and things of that sort—but I think that is not really what we are discussing. The point is that when making proposals an authority must bear in mind many factors, such as resources, as well as local opinion. It would not be right for the Secretary of State to overrule an authority and demand specific proposals which had local support—for example, a brand new sixth form college—if the authority, who after all have to foot the bill, clearly had not enough money to do it. Authorities must retain the right to make their own proposals.

Essentially, I think the Amendment seeks to introduce a safeguard into the Bill to ensure, firstly, that interested parties are given a chance to air their views; and, secondly, that Ministers are properly influenced by a consensus of local opinion. But we do not believe that a local inquiry would be the best way to achieve this. As I have just outlined, the Section 13 procedure, with its safeguards for consideration of local opinion, already serves the same purpose. It already provides adequately for what this Amendment intends to ensure by introduction of a procedure for local inquiries; namely, that the Secretary of State should view both sides of the case, that of the proposer and that of any objectors, and on that basis reach the decision which it is properly for her to reach.

Thus, to have a local inquiry at the same time as proposals are undergoing Section 13 procedure would certainly be superfluous. It may be, however, that the Amendment seeks to allow for a local inquiry at an earlier stage, when the authority have submitted proposals but the Secretary of State has not decided upon their prima facie suitability for treatment under Section 13. This is the point we discussed under an earlier Amendment, I think. Not only would there be the difficulty of ensuring adequate publication of plans and procedures for objections at this stage, which would later be duplicated in Section 13 procedure, but the Secretary of State would be placed in the position of ordering a local inquiry into initial proposals she had not yet studied and which she might well later find unsatisfactory on grounds other than local opinion. Furthermore, of course, there would be the possibility of further inquiries each time the authority resubmitted proposals.

I think we must emphasise that even one inquiry would involve local authorities in considerable expense. There would inevitably be a tendency to use the occasion to digress from specific local issues, and, in spite of the terms of the noble Lord's Amendment that the objection should be "on grounds other than opposition to the a abolition of selection", there would be a tendency to debate in general the principles of comprehensive education and the relative merits of various forms of reorganisation—for example, all-through schools and sixth form colleges—and it is easy to imagine this same debate being repeated endlessly at inquiry after inquiry around the country. A local inquiry is a costly and time-consuming procedure, and to embark upon it unnecessarily is an unwise use of resources. I believe that in the Section 13 procedure we have already a sound and well-tried method of enabling the Secretary of State to pay close attention to local opinion. I hope that what I have said will persuade the noble Lord that his suggested solution is not the right one in this case.


The answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot—and, I think, also the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke—on the question of the local authority and the governors being able to call for a local inquiry, is this was not put in because it was thought that in the whole of the rest of this clause they are already fully involved in the consultation process. This may be a mistake. It may be they should be put in. If we come back and put something in on Report stage, I will bear that in mind.

I have one reservation about the local education authority which I shall come to in a minute. The answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, will not do. Quite a lot of it was "nitpicking". In answer to the question about money, I think he should have read out the answers he gave to the Conservative Front Bench recently about money. It would have been the same. Obviously, the Secretary of State will not go through with ordering plans for which there are no resources.

But there appears to be a lack of appreciation of the real radicalness of what we are suggesting. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and his Secretary of State should look at this again. I know that in principle, as he said, they would be sympathetic to this approach. We are trying to say that the decision-making in education in this country is too linear and that it is not necessarily even the right kind of line, because the local education authority is very much determined by who are elected as local councillors. The local councillors are not necessarily elected for educational reasons. Sometimes good educational people are elected and sometimes not. There are wards and parts of this country where someone wearing the right label goes on being elected year after year and it is rarely that a particularly educational subject sways an Election. It has happened a few times during the whole comprehensive selection debate in this country, but it is rare.

What we want to bring in far more in decision-making are the interested bodies—the parents as parents, the teachers as teachers, the parents of the children who will be going to the schools in the future. This is very important. There is a quite interesting difference of results in the approach to comprehensivation from parents of children who are already in the system from the parents of children who are going to go into the system. We want them involved on purely educational matters. We think this kind of public inquiry is a very good way to do it. If we are going to have throughout the country inquiry after inquiry debating endlessly the different forms of comprehensive education all through the sixth form colleges, what a wonderful thing this would be for education in this country! It would be the best thing to have happened in education for years.

I know that there are points of detail which are wrong with this Amendment. I should like to take it away and look at it—and I shall be grateful if the noble Lord would write giving me details of the kind of faults that he found so that we may put things right and improve it—and, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.54 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 32: Page 2, line 43, leave out ("at the passing of this Act").

The noble Lord said: This is an Amendment to subsection (6) of Clause 2. This subsection provides for the continuation, where it exists, of a system under which a partial selection by ability takes place if the Secretary of State so agrees. But it is conditional not only on the agreement of the Secretary of State but also on its being in force at the time of the passing of this Act. If this is a desirable method of getting over the difficult transitional period between selection and comprehensivism before the passing of this Act, we find it difficult to understand why it should be an unacceptable method of bridging the gap after the passing of the Act. That is one reason why it is suggested in this Amendment that the words, "at the passing of this Act" be deleted.

But it is not necessary to look at this only in the light of a bridging operation. My noble friend Lord Eccles referred yesterday to the great question which hangs over the great comprehensive plan in this country as it crystalises in the minds of the Government: whether they see this as a means of covering the country with a large number of neighbourhood schools or whether they expect to achieve in those schools some sort of homogenisation of society. I regard this as an area of some importance. I have appreciated for many years one of the principal intentions of the comprehensivists among noble Lords' friends and among my own friends, too. This is seen as a means of doing away with undesirable class barriers in the communities within our society. The harriers are divisive, they are damaging and if they can be dissolved or removed this is to the common good.

But it is confirmed by experience that if there is to be no continuation of reference to ability and aptitude in selection in the method which I take it that this subsection has in mind, which is banding—that is, the allocation of such a proportion of children out of the first, second and third bands of ability to a particular school so as to get a mix—what happens? Let us take two schools in one urban situation. One is at the centre of the middle-class dormitory suburb, the other on the edge of the council estate in which most of the shirt-sleeved workers live. When those schools go comprehensive you will find that, by a process of attraction, the value of property around the dormitory estate will rise and the school population at the other end of the town will, in academic and social terms if we are looking at this on a vertical scale, decline.

This was manifestly true and specifically illustrated in our debate on the ending of the direct grant list. It is also, clearly, going on already in the experience of friends of mine who live in the neighbourhood of such schools now. There are "in" comprehensives and "out" comprehensives. The result is—and this is the tragedy of the situation—that the remedy that has been introduced in order to overcome the polarisation of society finishes up by intensifying that polarisation. You concentrate the well-to-do at one end of the town and the poorly-to-do at the other. Unless you are going to do something in order to eliminate this—and banding is an obvious and probably the only practical solution beyond simple bussing of children out of perhaps alternate children in the same family on geographical grounds—it is difficult to see how this is going to be overcome.

It is a tragedy which was evidently implicit in the scheme when it was advanced in its entire form. I would ask the noble Lord in his reply to give his mind to this problem, which is a very real problem, of how, if the comprehensive system is to achieve the benefits which it sets out to achieve and which nobody would wish to bilk it of, he is going to overcome this apparently irreversible polarisation between good schools and those which under the force of circumstances inevitably incline to become (dare I say?) large secondary modern schools, rather run down because of their size and their unpopularity.

5 p.m.


I should like to make a very brief Second Reading speech on this matter because it is important. It arises only on this particular clause and one should face up to it and say a few words about it. In principle the idea of the neighbourhood school must be the right one, a school with its roots in the community, where the community actually governs the school, where the community uses the school buildings, its library and facilities, both educationally and for sport and recreation. The school is involved in the community. Obviously this works and can work extremely well in prosperous middle-class areas. It does not work nearly as well in slum areas. The neighbourhood school, if you apply it consistently throws up the polarisation about which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, so rightly spoke.

In the long run this is not a bad thing because the various methods of mixing up the areas, of getting a mixture in the schools is a cosmetic. It disguises the real nature of the problem. One of the reasons why over the past few years we have not tackled inner urban deprivation as well as we should have done is that a great many people—I am afraid I was one of them for some time—kidded themselves that comprehensive education might do the trick for us. Comprehensive education will not and should not be used to do the trick for us. Those of us who support comprehensive education should support it because it is best for the children as education. If it is not, we should abandon it. I think it is, and I support it. We must not use it as a means of social engineering.

The answer to the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, put is the running of our country in such a way that we do not have slums and do not have, immense areas of deprivation. This is much easier said than done. Successive Governments have been trying to deal with the situation for years. Nevertheless, that is the problem, and do not let us try to disguise it by any kind of educational manoeuvre which somehow manages to persuade us not to tackle the real nub of the matter. In the end, we have to tackle urban deprivation and rural slums, too, for that matter. In the end, neighbourhood schools are the right answer. A school should grow out of its community and give back to its community. This is the right answer, too. In the meantime, it may be right that we should go on with temporary expedients like banding, but let us not lose sight of what the aims are; and that is what I believe the aims are.

Baroness BACON

I cannot support this Amendment because it seeks to extend subsection (6) which was out in the Bill during its passage through another place. I am sorry that the then Secretary of State for Education—because of the pressure by the Inner London Education Authority—decided to include this subsection in the Bill. I think it would have been much better to leave the Bill without this subsection in it. I do not now want to repeat the speech which I made in the debate on the direct grant schools; but I, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, see nothing wrong in a neighbourhood school. Indeed, we see that villagers are always protesting about the closure of their schools because, by a school's going from the village, the village will lose something. It is the same for schools in urban areas.

I believe that a school should be like the area around it. It should be the focal point of the community. I cannot see that taking children by bus from their own neighbourhood to schools in other neighbourhoods is going to achieve anything at all. In the past every secondary modern school has been a neighbourhood school. Nobody in the past ever thought of having banding in secondary modern schools. Only recently has this problem arisen. I believe that in the past the distinction was that in the good areas there was a good school, in the poorer areas there were poorer schools with poorer facilities.

I firmly believe that if we can bring all schools in all areas up to the same standard there will not be the necessity to move children from one area to another. I know people will say: "Yes, the school may be all right and the facilities might be there, but it is a social mix that we want". This is sometimes over-emphasised. I could not agree to this Amendment, but I must say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that I am very sorry indeed that subsection (6) was included in the Bill.

5.7 p.m.


I personally have great sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, said. On the whole, I am strongly opposed to these artificial banding arrangements, but I feel that this is one of those many circumstances in which by imposing the measures that are enshrined in this object—I use the word "object" in a derogatory sense—or in this Bill, we have utterly failed to take cognisance of the long and deep experience of the United States. The United States has had years of experience of comprehensive education. There have been many research studies published on precisely this problem of the neighbourhood school. I recommend the Minister to get his advisers to look at a book published a number of years ago on an analysis of the results in the city of Quincy, Illinois.

If you go to any big American city, as I am sure the noble Lord has done, and look at the schools—because it is the duty of anyone who supports comprehensive education to do that—in a city like Denver there will be schools in a number of categories such as A, B, C, D and E. The number of people going to university from school A, from downtown, is virtually nought a year, even in America. At the other end of the scale, it is 100 per cent. This is what makes the neighbourhood school—ideal though it is—in a smallish town like Banbury absolutely all right. It is a disaster in a big city for some children.

I entirely agree that—and this is where I agree with the noble Baroness—for the majority of children we have to face the situation and say, "Let us have this kind of indigenous neighbourhood culture". For the child who is potential university material, I do not see how in that environment and in that school he is to get the kind of preparation that he should have for university. That is why a minority of children have to be shifted, not by banding—and of course here I shall be accused of destroying the purposes of the Bill—but by actually putting the children into a suitable school. That is my own view. I share entirely the general position of the noble Baroness. I do not think banding is the answer; but I think we have to face the difficulties of the neighbourhood school with certain merits for a minority of children. Above all, if this makes us look at American experience and research, and even go there to look, I think it will be worth a little delay.


This is a good instance of how controversial Bills can occasionally become non-controversial. I do not think that there is any difference between noble Lords in this Committee as to the reality of the problem. It is a very difficult problem and I am very sympathetic towards the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that the comprehensive system is not a part of social engineering and will not solve the problems which bad social development have thrown up.

I should like to say two things by way of a Second Reading discussion. We hope that we in this country will not run into the neighbourhood problems which have been so disastrous in America in an urban sense. We are clearly taking risks. There is the danger of the centres of cities emptying and becoming slums, but I do not think that the problem is so difficult here as it is in America. Therefore, although one must take account of any information which they have, one must relate it to this country.

If I may turn to my second point, I apologise for quoting my own experience, but it is interesting. I went to a comprehensive school, situated in an artisan working class area, which had tremendous pride. It was far from upper class and far from middle class. It was not a school that contained university material but it was jolly good and very proud of itself. Noble Lords should not be too frightened of the neighbourhood school. If certain adjustments are made, I think that the neighbourhood school will be all right.

When it comes down to it, the only point of this discussion is whether banding, which I think most of us regard as an unsatisfactory permanent solution to the neighbourhood school, should continue to be used in relation to the present situation. The decision of the Bill, if it becomes law, is that it can continue for the moment where it already exists, but local authorities may not start new examples of banding.

This is a middle course which makes absolute sense, and I do not believe that words here are going to help. There is a very real problem. A decision has to be made as to whether or not a solution, which most people think is not a permanent solution, should begin to be phased out. We take the view that it should and subsection (6) of Clause 2 says so. I should be very sorry indeed to go back on that. I have here quite a long speech which I am not going to make. We have had a very useful and interesting discussion and I do not think there is any more to be said on the matter.

Viscount ECCLES

During the Second Reading of the Bill, I did my best to show that banding would not work. In fact, I think that banding will annoy many parents. Then you are left with the neighbourhood alternative. It makes a great deal of difference whether you anticipate that school rolls will increase, remain stationary or fall. In London the school rolls will fall. If that fall is combined with a reasonable choice between schools—which the noble Lord and his Secretary of State say that there will be, since travelling distances in London are not all that great: a couple of miles by public transport one way or the other for secondary school children—the better schools will get better and the worse schools will get worse.

I am not here to say how that problem should be tackled but it is going to happen as a result of the Bill and Her Majesty's Government will have to think very hard about it. I do not know any way of running down an area more quickly than by warning the parents who live in it that one school to which they can send their children is not so good as another. They do not always have to move house in order to send their children to a certain school if the school places are there—which they will be in the centre of our big cities. Out of the comprehensives that are available, they will, I hope, be allowed to choose to which school to send their children. This will throw up some really bad schools in the areas where we have most difficulty over law and order.


This is perfectly true, and I do not believe that the problem is peculiar to the system we are trying to introduce. It is inevitable and I believe that the system we are trying to introduce is not designed, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said, to deal with the social engineering which is certainly required. I hope that the Committee will support me in feeling that this is not a moment to continue with a remedy which nobody believes should be permanent. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord will not feel that it is necessary to press the Amendment.


I should like to use this opportunity to support the Minister. I am delighted to know about this feeling regarding banding. For some time now I have been the chairman of a small denominational comprehensive school in the Inner London Education Area, and anybody who is in the same position will know about the nonsense with which one is confronted when parents make a deliberate choice. Then you have to consider first banding and secondly the sex ratio. In the end you are back to square one where the parent does not have any great say in the choice.

With all humility as an ex-teacher, I would only say to the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, that all of us know that the quality of a child's education is largely determined not only by the school but by the kind of home from which that child comes and that this will not necessarily be affected by the neighbourhood in which he lives. The school of which I have the privilege to be the chairman of governors—a secondary modern school—was regarded six or seven years ago as a "residual school", but by sheer dint of dedication on the part of the staff it has now become a school which people seek out. It is a neighbourhood school.

We have learned the error of our ways: that you do not have the problem—which is, from what I have seen, part of the American problem—if you keep your numbers relatively small. I have lived long enough to see that these vast comprehensives are now being reckoned to be not workable and happily we are returning to a sensible size of entry. I am delighted to support the Minister. The artificial mixing of people, whether they be young or older people, never works.


In three sentences may I also support the Minister. Probably I am the only Member of this House at present who has had practical experience of banding in my own family. It was a very curious experience and it occurred in America about 16 years ago when my son was eight. He was banded 30 miles each day. I will not tell your Lordships about the circumstances and the locality, which are rather curious. However, 30 miles is quite a long way, although he is a hardy creature. As my noble friend Lady Phillips has hinted, banding somewhat interrupted home life. I had to get up at 7.30 in the morning which is not my style.


Because of the pressure of work on this House it is becoming the style of us all! We are very close to the centre of the matter, even if this is a Second Reading style debate. One or two quite surprising and interesting things have come out of it. For instance, I was under the impression that the initial intention of the comprehensive system was social and this is now disallowed. Therefore it must be an educational intention. Therefore the intention must be to improve education across the board in order to avoid deprivation, and we come back to raising all our schools to the same level, which may or may not be possible if we have a full or a curtailed spectrum of ability. However, these are matters which we must take away and ponder.

I should like to echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said, for she made two eminently sensible comments. The first is that a school is largely dependent upon the dedication of its staff and that is something for which one cannot legislate, other than by making their conditions tolerable and recognising the status they deserve because of the importance of the work that they do. The other is a matter which we adverted to yesterday; namely, the crucial influence of size on the quality of a school and the humanity of a school. As your Lordships will have divined it is not my intention to press this Amendment but I think your Lordships may agree that it has served a very useful purpose in establishing where we stand on these matters. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.21 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 33: Page 3, line 6, at end insert— ("(7) Where the Secretary of State does not accept proposals submitted to him under this section, he shall inform the local education authority of his detailed reasons for non-acceptance.").

The noble Lord said: I do not think this Amendment needs a long introduction from me. I suppose it is reverting to the argument about unreasonable authorities, unreasonable Secretaries of State. I do not think we should assume that there are necessarily going to be either, but there is no harm in inserting reasonable safeguards against either. It seems to me to be only common sense that where the Secretary of State turns down a plan submitted to him or her under this clause, he or she should inform the local education authority exactly why and in great detail, because sometimes, if only a very broad reason is given, it may be difficult for a local education authority to think of some of the variations that might be used, whereas although we have spoken of the DES as a monolithic body and we have said that we do not want it to have too much control, nevertheless it has an enormous amount of wisdom and experience stored up, and a great deal of advice. I am not at all criticising the DES on this account. I am absolutely certain that such advice and help is given, but I think it would he a very good thing if it were written into the Bill and that detailed reasons for any disagreement to a scheme should be given to the authority concerned. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN

I have a great deal of sympathy with the principle behind this Amendment; but I am advised that it is both defective and unnecessary. Of course it is entirely right that, when my right honourable friend has required local education authorities or voluntary school governors to make proposals, and when she finds those proposals unsatisfactory, she should tell the proposers what her objections to them are. If this were not so, authorities could in theory submit proposal after proposal, completely in the dark as to what would win the Minister's approval. But of course it would not happen like that.

In fact Clause 2(4) already provides, in effect, what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, is asking. If proposals are unsatisfactory, then my right honourable friend may require fresh proposals to be submitted. If she does so, she may require those fresh proposals to fulfil such conditions as she may specify with respect to any matter in which the previous proposals were in her opinion unsatisfactory. So Clause 2(4) assumes—and common sense would also assume—that she will tell the proposers what in her view was wrong with the original proposals, and require them to avoid that error on the second attempt. I cannot conceive of a situation in which she would not need, in the interests of progress, to inform proposers of her reasons for "non-acceptance" as the Amendment puts it.

It is not—and I would emphasise this—my right honourable friend's intention to tell proposers in detail what proposals to make. If that were done we would certainly be accused of dictating to the local authorities. That must be for their discretion, provided that the proposals represent genuine compliance with the comprehensive principle. She will not treat proposals as unsatisfactory at the initial stage unless in her view they clearly represent excessively slow progress, for example, or excessive expenditure; and if conditions such as these obtain she will certainly express her views to the, proposers and ask them to come up with a solution which does not share these manifest drawbacks. She may also, of course, reject at a later stage—after the Section 13 procedure—proposals which were prima facie acceptable but which, on further investigation and consideration of all the relevant factors including any objections, proved unacceptable; in such cases, as indeed in the case of ordinary Section 13 decisions to reject proposals, my right honourable friend would give reasons—once again, it would be in her interest to do so, in order to start the next round of the search for a solution without wasting any time through misunderstandings about what might or might not be acceptable.

In the light of Clause 2(4), then, and in the light of the facts of the situation—the desire of my right honourable friend to give such guidance as may be necessary to avoid wasting time, without herself imposing specific patterns of reorganisation—we think the Amendment is unnecessary. I am advised that it is also defective, but while that is perhaps of lesser importance I would certainly have to advise against the passage of a defective Amendment. However, I hope that I have clarified the situation and that the noble Lord may be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.


No, the noble Baroness has not clarified the situation. I will revert to that in a moment but, in deciding what to do with this Amendment, I think it is important that we should he told in what way it is defective. I know that the noble Baroness was trying to save the time of the Committee but the first argument adduced by the noble Baroness does not convince me. The second one may well convince me, but will she please deploy it?

Baroness STEDMAN

I should have to take advice on that.


I have the greatest admiration for the noble Baroness, but for her to tell me it is defective and then, when I ask in what way it is defective, she says she will have to take advice on it—well, we will not pursue that point!

I am far from satisfied that Clause 2(4) really covers the ground, and it seems to me that in at least two places in what the noble Baroness said she was mixing up the idea that the Secretary of State should or should not give detailed instructions as to what should be done, with the idea that she should give detailed objections to what should not be done. Those are two very different things, and I quite agree that the Secretary of State should not give detailed instructions as to what should be done, but I think she should give detailed reasons as to the things she disapproved of. In the last part of Clause 2(4) it says that she may require—and of course it only says "may"—to fulfil such conditions, and it goes on to say what should be done.

I want it to be absolutely clear that the authority has a right to know in detail what things are objectionable so that it may make up its own mind within the widest range of other possibilities. I do not think the noble Baroness answered that. Without having been given any reasons I accept that the Amendment may be defective; I look forward to receiving correspondence from the noble Baroness on this subject and certainly I shall return to it at Report stage.

Before giving the noble Baroness a chance to speak again on this I will just say that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and the noble Baroness might find this one of the occasions when they could escape from the charge that has been levelled at them, that they are not giving a single inch on this Bill. If we actually drafted this Amendment properly and if we now find out in what way it is defective, I think this is something on which they might well give way.

Baroness STEDMAN

May I save some correspondence and give the noble Lord the advice that I have now received, which is that the principal objection to the new subsection is that it is expressed in terms of acceptance and non-acceptance of the proposals which have no counterparts in the clause itself. The difficulty of putting it into acceptable form derives from the same defects.

Clause 2 does not envisage the non-acceptance of the proposals simpliciter, but only in the context of the submission of fresh proposals. In that context, which includes the power to require further proposals to fulfil specific conditions with respect to any matter in relation to which the original proposals were unsatisfactory, a statutory duty to provide detailed reasons for non-acceptance is quite pointless. That, I am advised, covers the point about defectiveness, and I hope we have saved a little correspondence.


I will take that away and wrestle with it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Approval and implementation of proposals submitted under s.2.]:

5.31 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 37: Page 3, line 21, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: We now come to the Section 13 procedure which we have been assured is embedded in Clause 3. The objective of Amendment No. 37 is to discover whether the wording of Clause 3 does indeed provide that the Section 13 procedure will be used for all proposals to establish, close, enlarge or reorganise schools within a five-year period.

From this side of the Committee, we have already been critical of the procedures in Clause 2 because we have claimed that those procedures disregard so much of the democratic process provided for in Section 13 of the Education Act 1944. I do not think I am misrepresenting the replies of the Government when I say that, in essence, Ministers opposite have replied that, if the procedures in Clause 2 are somewhat coercive, they are but a preliminary to Clause 3 which provides that reorganisation proposals will be subject to the Section 13 procedure.

Let us then look at Clause 3(1) to see whether that is the case. There, we find, and I paraphrase, that where any proposals are submitted to the Secretary of State under Clause 2, either proposals by a local education authority or proposals by the managers or governors of a voluntary school being proposals to be wholly or partly carried into effect within 5 years after the date on which they were submitted, … the Secretary of State may direct that those proposals (or any of them) shall be treated as if they had been submitted to him by the local education authority …", or the managers or governors of a voluntary school under Section 13 of the Education Act 1944. Perhaps what we need on this Amendment is a lexicon rather than a Minister, but do those words mean that the Section 13 procedure is provided for in Clause 3? That is what I am asking in moving this Amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN

This Amendment could result in a great waste of time and money, and I trust the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is not going to press it, or that the Committee would reject it. The power in Clause 3(1), enabling my right honourable friend to direct that short-term proposals shall undergo Section 13 procedure, must be looked at in the light of Clause 2. That clause does not contain any provision for approval of proposals; but it does empower my right honourable friend to refer back proposals which are, even on a first examination, manifestly unsuitable, because they do not in fact represent reasonable progress towards implementing the comprehensive principle. Where, however, proposals are not manifestly unsuitable at this stage, they may proceed to the Section 13 procedure involving more detailed examination and an opportunity for the public to object, leading to a statutory approval or rejection.

The Amendment, if carried, would mean that all proposals (even if they were so unsuitable that they did not pass the first scrutiny) would, if they fulfilled the other conditions set out in Clause 3(1), have to undergo the Section 13 procedure. Notices would have to be published, a two-month period for objections allowed, detailed investigations initiated—even though the proposals were clearly such as my right honourable friend would not and could not approve. This would be a wasteful farce. Noble Lords opposite are anxious that all the authority's proposals should receive a fair hearing and not, as it were, be suppressed from public view at the whim of the Secretary of State. I would make two points on this. First, no proposals could be implemented—and hence actually affect the local situation—without passing through the Section 13 procedure. Secondly, if proposers felt their proposals were being suppressed, they could always publish them of their own volition in the usual way under Section 13. Therefore, we see no case at all for this Amendment, and I hope the noble Lord will not press it.


Can I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, a question? I listened to her answer, which is rather complicated, and I will read it tomorrow in Hansard, but does it really amount to this? The Secretary of State reserves to himself the right to say what proposals shall go through the Section 13 machinery, and what proposals he thinks are unacceptable, and therefore, he can say "No", and that if he does, there is no appeal against the fact that he has said "No". Therefore, in my opinion, it again amounts to the overruling or undermining, or whatever word you like to use, of the authority of the elected representatives of the local education authority.


May I also ask a question? I wonder whether perhaps the drafting here is not somewhat defective. Could we not get over the difficulty by inserting some words to indicate that in the case where the Secretary of State is not referring back the proposals, he shall direct that those proposals shall be treated as if they had been submitted under Section 13?

Baroness STEDMAN

Where the proposals are suitable and acceptable, then the Secretary of State will send them back for action under Section 13 procedure.


If I may rudely interrupt the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, here, where does it say that in the Bill?

Baroness STEDMAN

The power in Clause 3(1) is that which enables the Secretary of State to direct that the short-term proposals shall go under the Section 13 procedure.


I do not want to be discourteous to the noble Baroness because she is trying to be as helpful as possible. But this is a serious drafting point, and we want to know the words which lay the duty on the Secretary of State to do that. There is no disagreement over what the Government are saying the Secretary of State is trying to do; namely, to see that the Section 13 goes forward. I may not like this Bill, but I am not disagreeing with that on this Amendment. I am trying to make sure that the wording really provides for what the noble Baroness is assuring my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn is the case.

Baroness STEDMAN

In Clause 3(1) we see: … proposals to be wholly or partly carried into effect within five years after the date on which they are submitted or transmitted, the Secretary of State may direct that those proposals (or any of them) shall be treated as if they had been submitted to him by the local education authority under subsection (1), or by the managers or governors under subsection (2), of that section, as the case may be. Then it goes on to speak about the approval of proposals under Section 13.


That is permissive.


May I just say that there is a difficulty which noble Lords have raised which I believe not to be a real one. The position is that the Secretary of State, if he receives proposals and does not take this action, is simply ignoring the proposals put up by the local authority which he has instructed them to make. It is an inconceivable situation, but I think my noble friend and I will be quite prepared to talk to our advisers to see whether there is a legal gap of some kind. I am quite convinced that there is not, but, such is my legal ignorance, that I am unable to convince the noble Lord, which I should like to do.


In withdrawing the Amendment, because that is what I am going to do, and certainly accept what the noble Lord has offered me and thank the noble Baroness for the help she has endeavoured to give us, may I suggest, arising from what my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn has said, that it might have been possible to have altered the drafting of the very first line of the clause. In other words, it seems to me that that is the problem we are considering because it is there that the clause is saying that—as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn pointed out—if some distinction could be made between proposals put up under Clause 2—but proposals put up under Clause 2 and which the Secretary of State is absolutely satisfied are all right, I think the drafting would flow easily. If something along those lines cannot be done, I would suggest to the Committee that the wording which the noble Baroness read out is permissive wording and that it does not lay a duty upon the Secretary of State. With those few words, although I think the noble Baroness wants to say something before I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, nevertheless I do so ask.

Baroness STEDMAN

May we look at that point also when we consider Lord Drumalbyn's point and deal with it by correspondence at the same time?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.42 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 3, line 25, at end insert— ("() Where proposals submitted under section 13 in conformity with the requirements of section (2) above include proposals to cease to maintain a voluntary school, the local education authority which has made such a proposal shall provide education at the school under the powers conferred upon them by section (6) of the Education Act 1953 for every pupil registered at that school on the day immediately preceding the day on which that proposal comes into effect until such pupils cease to be registered at that school.").

The noble Lord said: In considering Amendment No. 40, it may be necessary also to consider Amendment No. 47. Your Lordships will recognise that while Amendment No. 40 is an Amendment only to this Bill and deals with only one specific point, Amendment No. 47 proposes an addition to this Bill of two Amendments to Section 14 of the Act of 1944. Of these, only the second is cognate to Amendment No. 40, but for the sake of proper draftsmanship it was correct to put both Amendments to Section 14 of the Act of 1944 together in one new amending clause; and since our discussion of Amendment No. 40 would not he complete without our considering the second part of Amendment No. 47, it then becomes necessary also to discuss the different but equally important principle involved in the first half of Amendment No. 47.

I propose, therefore, subject to your Lordships' agreement, to deal first with Amendment No. 40 to the Bill jointly with the second Amendment to the Act of 1944 proposed as Amendment No. 47. This is the passage that begins at (3) and says: "After subsection (5) there shall be inserted…" When we have disposed of that we can, if the Committee wishes, turn our attention to subsections (1) and (2) of the new clause contained within Amendment No. 47. If the Committee decides to treat the two principles embodied in Amendment No. 47 differently it may be necessary to redraft it, since half of it is consequential to Amendment No. 40, or closely analogous to it, and half of it is not, and it would I think be to the convenience of the Committee to establish this or otherwise before we take a decision on whether Amendment No. 40 should or should not be made to the Bill.

The principle in Amendment No. 40 is that where there is a cease-to-maintain order made under Section 13 upon a voluntary school, the careers of the children at that time in the school shall be protected until they come to their natural conclusion. We are greatly concerned by a growing impression that some authorities regard themselves as being absolved of their responsibilities for every one of their children in a voluntary school immediately, or soon after, they have issued a Section 13 order against it. I think some sort of evidence exists already with some of my noble friends, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, gave specific instances in the debate on Amendment No. 17 last night.

It is our contention, first, that the local education authorities' responsibility to the children in their area cannot be shrugged off like this, and for them simply to say that alternative accommodation will be offered, rather in the manner of a local authority executing a slum clearance order, that accommodation be found somewhere else, is bizarrely inappropriate. A place at another school, which this implies they are able to provide, which would be in another locality, with a different staff, different customs, a different curriculum almost certainly, quite possibly working to different examination boards, would be a dreadful jolt; and an academic career should be like a railway train, [...] that it moves from rail to rail with audible but otherwise imperceptible clicks. In this Amendment we are seeking to avoid a gap that could result not merely in discomfort but in derailment.

Section 13, as your Lordships know, deals with notices originating; with the authority. Section 14, which is the subject of Amendment No. 47, deals with notices originating from the schools. The notice referred to in Amendment No. 47 is a notice given by the managers or the governors of a voluntary school to discontinue. This notice must, according to the Act, have a minimum duration of two years and at present it is in the power of the Secretary of State to refuse leave to discontinue. But we shall come to that later.

In normal circumstances, I think that noble Lords opposite could argue that this Amendment was superfluous. One would have supposed that a school that decided to discontinue its service to a community should be under an obligation itself to complete the education of the children already in its care, or else transfer them to schools that were not discontinuing and which would guarantee to give a direct continuation of the curriculum a child was engaged upon; and, since we are looking at voluntary and in these cases selective schools, of course they are distinctly academic careers that we are considering.

That might have been the case when the 1944 Act was drafted but it is not the case now, because in many areas, London among them, there is a sustained campaign by some authorities to force schools entirely against the good sense of the governors, the interests of the pupils and the wishes of the community they serve, to change their size and character so sharply, so much to the detriment of the aims of their foundations, that they are opting to go independent simply as the only alternative to being sucked into and absorbed by a quite different system of education—rather like a fly being taken in by a carnivorous orchid. In such cases—and there are a number of them already—it is the apparent duty of the governors to discontinue their maintained status, and that duty is forced upon them willy-nilly by the local authorities. In that, the authorities, of course, are greatly strengthened by the Bill that we are now considering.

I must emphasise that, regardless of the fact that it is Section 14 and not Section 13 which is being invoked in this Amendment, it is upon the initiative of the authorities therefore that such discontinuations are taking place, and they are taking place in breach of the understanding that was reached between the schools and the authorities under the 1944 Act. We feel that these children must be protected, and since the initiative to interrupt their education, or at least the life of the school in which they are being educated, originates, whatever the form that is filled in, with the authority, then that duty must rest with the authority, and these two aims are achieved by two new subsection in the second Amendment.

"After subsection (5) there shall be inserted '(5A) While any such notice is in force with respect to a voluntary school the school shall, until the expiration of the notice be maintained in like manner as it was immediately before the serving of the notice'.

There are so many ways in which the natural life of the school can be brought to an end or interrupted, and one of these is simply to stop sending children to it so that it grows older and dies from the bottom upwards, like a tree struck by drought. The children who are technically maintained in that school until their last year are getting something which departs further and further from a proper education the more the places they have vacated in the form below are not filled. Incidentally, too, the staff is diminished as the burden upon them diminishes.

The second new insertion, (5B), says: The local education authority upon which any such notice is served shall provide education at the school under the powers conferred on them by Section 6 of the Education Act 1953, for every pupil registered at that school on the day immediately preceding the expiration of the notice until such pupil ceases to be registered at that school. We have deliberately chosen the authority which has induced the cessation of education as that which shall maintain the education, because it is not, after all, the out-county boroughs who have taken up places in these schools who have made the decision that it shall cease; it is the local authority of the school itself. This seems to us to he the just thing to do.

Your Lordships will see that powers already exist for payments to be made for the latter of these purposes under Section 6 of the 1953 Act, and the function of this part of the Amendment is simply to ensure that they shall be used to that end. There remains a further consideration. What about pupils in schools for which Section 14 notices have been issued or are in operation when those pupils have been placed there by the out-county boroughs. I have unwittingly repeated a point which I have just made. We have felt that it is the local authority which induces the cessation which should pay.

So our priorities are these: the completion of a child's educational career is as important to the child in a voluntary school that is ceasing to be maintained as it is to a child in any other sort of school. The decision to change the status of the school, even if it was precipitated by the parents of the child, is not the responsibility of the child and the child should not suffer from it. The threat to interrupt it comes not from the placing authority but from the maintaining authority, and the latter should pay. I think those are the three aspects of these Amendments which your Lordships should consider at the outset, and I am particularly anxious to establish whether or not the Government recognise the duty that must exist towards these children who are the innocent victims of a change of political circumstance. I beg to move.


I rise at this point to support my noble friend. I am not interested at this moment in what is happening in the future, but what has happened in the immediate past. As the chairman of the governing body of a voluntary aided girls' school, I happen to have been at the receiving end of a Section 13 notice, and I can elucidate a little to your Lordships as to exactly what happens under that. The major local authority which is responsible for the girls in that school has been extremely generous, imaginative and helpful. That is the ILEA. We have had long negotiating sessions with them, and the outcome has been that, although we would rather do anything than what we are having to do, we are agreed on the mode in which we shall cease to be maintained. Another borough which sends a considerable number of girls to our school, one of the out-county boroughs, Richmond, is being equally imaginative, generous and helpful.

But we have four boroughs in the out-county zone who are only going to maintain the girls they have allowed to come to our school in September of this year for the duration of one year. Our school has been chosen by the parents of those children. Whereas in the past those boroughs have taken them right through to the end of their education, they are now only going to be responsible for them for the period of one year. After that, I imagine, they think that the parents will either move the child away or pay the fees which are going to be levied on anybody coming into the school from September of next year. If the noble Baroness would be good enough to help over this, what I should like to know, is whether the Secretary of State could use any existing powers or could introduce any into this legislation whereby the minority of boroughs who are sending children to a school on which a Section 13 notice has been served by the local authority will be required to maintain them for the duration of their school period. This has been done by the major authority. Could powers be taken to see that the other authorities do so, too, because, as my noble friend said, it is not fair on the children to start them in a school and then rudely interfere with their course of education.

5.56 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

I have listened to the reasons advanced in support of the noble Lords' Amendment to Section 14, but I do remain somewhat unconvinced by their arguments. Section 14 is entitled "Restrictions on discontinuance of voluntary schools by managers and governors". It is, therefore, a restrictive and not an enabling provision, giving the Secretary of State power, in those cases where public money has been expended on the premises for purposes other than repair, to decide whether managers or governors may give not less than two years' notice of their intention to discontinue the school.


With the greatest respect, I think the noble Baroness is replying to the part of the Amendment which I have not yet come to.

Baroness STEDMAN

I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I was taking the two Amendments together, but the noble Lord had only dealt with the parts referring to (5A) and (5B). If I may first deal with the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke, with regard to her school, presumably the parents of the children taken in this year, if a notice had been given, would know that the school was intended not to continue in its present form. If this was not so, I would have thought the parents would have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. We had a case in Surrey with the Reigate Grammar School, when that ceased to be maintained as a voluntary school; an independent school opened in the premises in September. It ceased to be maintained at the end of the summer term and opened asan independent school in September. The authority who were concerned with that school initially are paying the fees of existing pupils on their O-level courses, now aged 12 to 15, and of those pupils who had already entered the sixth form before the school ceased to be maintained. But the authority refused to pay for the pupils aged 16 who wished to stay on for further sixth form work, on the grounds that they have suitable provision for then in the Reigate authority's sixth form college.

The parents wrote to the Secretary of State and alleged that the authority were acting unreasonably. They were told by the Secretary of State that she sees no need to intervene; there is nothing wrong with a break in a child's education at 16, provided they have been through their O-level courses and provided that, if they have started their A-level courses, they are allowed to finish them There appears to be nothing wrong with that if the authority are able to offer comparable A-level courses in their sixth form college. If Lady Brooke's parents did not know about the closure—I suspect they did—they ought to make their appeal to the Secretary of State, so that each case can be judged on its merits. If the facts are as she says, and if they did not know anything about it, I am sure they will get a sympathetic hearing from my right honourable friend.

On Section 5, subsection (3) of the proposed clause, which would add two subsections (5A) and (5B) to Section 14, I think we need only point out that subsection (5A), in requiring the school to he maintained in like manner as it was immediately before the serving of the notice, would conflict with subsection (3) of Section 14, which enables the local education authority to conduct a voluntary school as if it wore a county school if the managers or governors are unwilling or unable to carry on until the expiry of their two years' notice.

Turning to the proposed subsection (5B) and looking also, at this point, at the parallel amendment to Clause 3 to the Bill, the noble Lords have given their reasons for attempting to require authorities to maintain pupils in schools which cease to exist as voluntary schools and in whose premises are established new independent schools. The Government are often accused of removing discretion from local authorities but the effect of these two Amendments would be to determine by statute something which can sensibly only be decided locally in the light of all the facts.

If an independent school were created in the circumstances already described, the Secretary of State would, of course, expect the Authority to pay special attention to those pupils whose education had already begun before closure took place—as she did in the Reigate issue which we were just discussing. There is nothing unusual about a break in education at age 16 so that it is not unreasonable for the Authority to refuse to pay fees for six-formers wishing to stay on at the independent school in the circumstances of this particular situation. As I have indicated, each case needs to be looked at in the light of local circumstances by those most competent to do so. The Government would not wish to impose a blanket requirement upon local education authorities removing their discretion in these matters.


I am obliged to the noble Baroness. I regret if my approach to this problem seemed to her sufficiently tortuous as to diverge from it. Let us look now principally at Amendment No. 40 which she distinguishes so sharply from Amendment No. 47, to which we shall, after all, he returning a little later on the Marshalled List. In connection with the school in Reigate, Surrey, she implied that the local authority was under an obligation to the children, at least until they finished in the fifth form. She then parted company with this by saying that they were not under a similar obligation in the sixth form because, although the children had gone to that school, it was quite normal for them to be "booted out" of the school at the end of the fifth form and to go to another. I am not sure that that is a common experience, but—

Baroness STEDMAN

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. What I said was that where they had started their sixth form course the authority had been asked to keep them on. It was where they have not started their sixth form course but have finished their O-level course that there is this natural break, as we know it in other fields.


I had understood that point. I was referring to fifth-form pupils whose parents found themselves faced with the problem of finding fees or sending their children to another school giving an education of a different sort from that for which they had contracted at the beginning of the children's school career. It is our conviction that this contract was entered into in good faith and the education career was planned. Quite often tutorial bonds and bonds of respect and understanding are formed by children in the fifth form which are invaluable in the sixth form. For them to be peremptorily broken as a result of a local political decision seems to me to be entirely wrong, and I do not see why the local authority should be relieved of the burden of paying for the education which had been embarked upon in good faith.

I think the noble Baroness should remember that we are not talking about very many children. We are not putting forward an endless perspective of people with hats in hand held out for money. We are not perpetuating privilege. We are simply asking that contracts entered into in good faith should be honoured. Therefore I am not with the noble Baroness in the argument that she has made, that it is up to the Secretary of State alone to determine where this need or need not he done. I think that when a local authority decides to terminate the life of a school it should do so in so far as lies in its power without interrupting the educational career of the children entrusted to it, and that the very small expense of doing this should he laid firmly upon their petty cash box. Perhaps the noble Baroness wishes to come back on that.

Baroness STEDMAN

There are, of course, provisions in the various Education Acts for the possibility of independent schools becoming maintained. They contain no specific provision to enable a maintained school to become an independent school. The Statutes exist to sustain and regulate the public system of education, and it would not be in keeping with these aims if a provision existed partially to dismantle this system by facilitating the transfer of schools maintained by public funds to the independent sector. What we are anxious to ensure is that where authorities are paying fees for children at these schools now, for various reasons, the authorities should honour these obligations until the child is 16; or, in the case of the Surrey school, where they had started their sixth-form work, they should see them through in the period 16 to 18. But it is unreasonable, particularly in these times of

shortage of public funds, and we think it is an unnecessary use of public money, if authorities have the provisions within their own buildings in sixth-form colleges and similar establishments, that there should not be this break at 16 and that the children should not be educated in the maintained sector.


With respect, I think that was a very mean answer. The noble Baroness has conceded the point right up to the end of the fifth form from the third—if we use the old terminology from 11-plus up to 16—and we are just talking about a handful of children, those now in the last year in the school, completing their education. Not the duty of the Government to facilitate the continuance of voluntary schools as independent schools! The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, agreed yesterday—he is looking apprehensive—that there should be an independent sector, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, pointed out that we are under a international statutory obligation to maintain one. There is nothing wicked about this. Most of us are convinced that the schools we are now discussing are among the best in the country. That is something that some people find as a reason for their discontinuance. We do not think that this is money badly spent. We think that it is money that the local authorities should be required to spend, out of common decency, humanity and illumination.

6.8 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 40) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 47.

Aldenham, L. Cathcart, E. Garner, L.
Amory, V. Clitheroe, L. Goschen, V.
Auckland, L. Clwyd, L. Gray, L.
Avebury, L. Colville of Culross, V. Grey, E.
Banks, L. Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Hampton, L.
Barrington, V. Daventry, V. Harvington, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Denham, L. [Teller.] Hawke, L.
Belstead, L. Eccles, V. Hives, L.
Birdwood, L. Elibank, L. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Blackburn, Bp. Ellenborough, L. Howe, E.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Elliot of Harwood, B. Hylton-Foster, B.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Elton, L. Ilchester, E.
Byers, L. Emmet of Amberley, B. James of Rusholme, L
Carrington, L. Faithfull, B. Killearn, L.
Kinnaird, L. Norwich, Bp. Somers, L.
Lauderdale, E. Norwich, V. Stamp, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Nugent of Guildford, L. Strathclyde, L.
Long, V. Penrhyn, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Loudoun, C. Platt, L. Strathspey, L.
Lyell, L. Rathcreedan, L. Trefgarne, L.
MacLeod of Borve, B. Redesdale, L. Vernon, L.
Mancroft, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly. Vickers, B.
Meston, L. St. Aldwyn, E. Vivian, L.
Molson, L. St. Davids, V. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Monck, V. Sandford, L. Wardington, L.
Mottistone, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.] Wigoder, L.
Norfolk, D. Sempill, Ly. Wise, L.
Northesk, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Oram, L.
Aylestone, L. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Pannell, L.
Bacon, B. Hale, L. Phillips, B.
Birk, B. Henderson, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Brimelow, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Shepherd, L.
Brockway, L. Jacobson, L. Stedman, B.
Brown, L. Jacques, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Burton of Coventry, B. Janner, L. Stone, L.
Champion, L. Kaldor, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Collison, L. Kirkhill, L. Vaizey, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Leatherland, L. Wall, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Wigg, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Melchett, L. Winterbottom, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Milner of Leeds, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Gordon-Walker, L. Murray of Gravesend, L.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

On Question, Whether Clause 3, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

6.16 p.m.


I should like to say a word at this stage because I am content with the consultation arrangements that we have and I do not feel noble Lords on the other side are convinced. I should like to take the opportunity, when we are leaving Clauses 2 and 3, which are the ones which lay down the consultation arrangements, briefly to say a word about them. The submissions under Clause 2 of this Bill might be a mixture of proposals which, either because of their nature or because of the time scale involved, may not be appropriate for immediate Section 13 procedure. particularly those which are very detailed indeed, for example, to enlarge school A by 300 places in 1976, to reorganise school B in 1979, and so on, would fall into this category. The Secretary of State would look at these proposals as a whole, as a sketch-map of the ground to be covered. She would refer back at that stage only proposals which appeared to be out of accord with the comprehensive Principle—if the noble Baroness will forgive me mentioning it—or to be blatantly unrealistic in terms of time-scale or resources, whether too fast and too cheap, or too slow and too expensive.

Many proposals would be for implementation within five years. The Secretary of State would then direct under Clause 3(1) that they should proceed to Section 13 stage without further ado, and that is when detailed consideration would take place in the light of all relevant information, including objections. At this second stage some particular proposals could well be rejected, even though they had passed the first scrutiny.

Noble Lords can thus be reassured that the Section 13 procedure represents a genuine opportunity for detailed consideration of proposals and for taking into account views expressed by those concerned locally. Indeed the Government consider that Clauses 2 and 3 taken together provide a way of dealing with the matters at issue which minimises delay and wasted effort and at the same time maximises the opportunity for the public to express their views and for detailed consideration to be given before final decisions are made.

To dot the i's and cross the t's I will give an example of a typical but hypo- thetical situation. Suppose there is a compact urban area with a prospect of declining secondary numbers in the 1980s, but at present provided with large grammar and secondary modern schools. On the passage of the Bill, the Secretary of State will use Clause 2 to require the local authority to submit proposals for reorganisation. After due deliberation and consultation, the local authority comes forward with a plan in, say, two parts. The first part, for immediate implementation, proposes that as an interim step the county schools should become a mixture of 11 to 16 and 11 to 18 comprehensive schools. This would enable reorganisation to be achieved without a heavy demand on resources. The second part, for implementation when numbers have fallen sufficiently to enable some old buildings to be taken out of use and when major building work is possible, envisages the closure of the 11 to 16 schools and the enlargement of some of the 11 to 18 schools.

The Secretary of State judges that the plan meets the requirements of Clauses 1 and 2. She directs that the first part of it—for the 11 to 16 and 11 to 18 schools—should be treated as Section 13 proposals. Notices are published. There are strong objections to the proposals for one of the schools on the grounds that it should become an 11 to 18 comprehensive school rather than an 11 to 16 school. The Secretary of State approves under Section 13 all the proposals except those affecting this school, and calls for fresh proposals relating to it. In due course revised proposals for this school are received and also approved under Section 13.

That is the procedure and an example of the procedure under normal circumstances and normally applied. We have talked round this so much that I thought that I would justify or try to justify my own and the Government's belief that this is a thoroughly good procedure which meets the consultation requirement.


I did not know that we would be—indeed I do not think we are—debating the clause stand part and I am therefore grateful to the Minister for those remarks. There are three points that I can make briefly. First our apprehensions still are that one of the problems is that the procedure under Clause 2 does not spell out the criteria for looking at proposals which the Secretary of State will adopt. The noble Lord explained what the present Secretary of State will be looking for; she will be looking at the general principle of the Bill when she is looking at proposals and at some other things besides which the noble Lord identified. But that is not to say that a subsequent Secretary of State will not look at very different criteria, and that is a weakness of the Bill which I am surprised the Government have not taken into account.

Secondly, there is, whether or not the Government like it, no written-in consultation in Clause 2, and I am surprised that they have not taken to heart the fact that the similar provision in Section 11 of the Education Act 1944, Mild called for general development plans, laid down a statutory right to make objections. There is another problem in Clause 2 in that the procedure, when proposals have been returned to a local education authority, will be obscure to say the least; that is, the procedure which the LEA will have to adopt. For reasons which I gave when we discussed a previous Amendment, it will put the chairman and chief education officer on an LEA in a very difficult position in explaining locally that the new proposals under Clause 2 are not the proposals of the authority but those of the Secretary of State.

The third difficulty which we see, but which the Government have kindly said they will examine, is a drafting one; although we keep saying that section 13 exists in Clause 3, at the moment I am convinced that no duty rests on anybody to see that the Section 13 procedure should be provided under that clause. Those are still the problems and, having made those remarks, perhaps we can now move on to the next Amendment.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

6.25 p.m.

Baroness PHILLIPS moved Amendment No. 42: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:

Amendment of Education Act 1944 c. 31

". For section 33(2) of the Education Act 1944 there shall be substituted the following subsection:— (2) The arrangements made by a local education authority for the special educational treatment of pupils of any such category shall, so far as is practicable have regard to the general principle that their education is to be provided in ordinary schools maintained by a local education authority, but where that is impracticable, the arrangements may provide for the giving of such education in special schools appropriate for that category or in an ordinary school not maintained by a local education authority other than one notified by the minister to the local education authority to be, in his opinion, unsuitable for the purpose".

The noble Baroness said: This proposed new clause is concerned with the policy of integration. As noble Lords will know, the Education Act 1944 gave a very clear preference to educating handicapped pupils in special schools over giving them special education in ordinary schools and the original section, as amended by the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953, reads: The arrangements made by a local education authority for the special education and treatment of pupils of any category shall, so far as is practicable, provide for the education of pupils in whose case the disability is serious, in special schools appropriate to that category, but where that is impracticable or where the disability is not serious, the arrangements may provide for the giving of such education in any school maintained by a local education authority or in any school not so maintained, other than one notified by the Minister to the local education authority to be in his opinion unsuitable for the purpose. The proposed new clause reverses this priority; where practicable, local authorities should seek to provide education for handicapped children in ordinary schools and only where it is impracticable should they be sent to special schools. The priority in the 1944 Act has been questioned, especially in recent years, and it is clear that the law as it stands does not accurately reflect the practice of the Department of Education or many local authorities. It may still be true that current practice is nearer the priority in the Education Act than in the proposed new clause, but I hope noble Lords will agree that it is more sensible to have on the Statute Book the position that we intend to move to rather than the situation from which we are moving.

A very similar clause to the one which I am offering was introduced in July on Report in another place by Mr. Jack Ashley. The slight changes which have been made follow the objections by the Minister both in the debate and in a subsequent letter to Mr. John Hannam, MP, the Secretary of the All-Party Disablement Group. I do not suppose that this will make a lot of difference. My experience of Ministers is that whatever modifications one makes they will find another reason why one's proposal is unsuitable or even unnecessary.

I wish to emphasise that I am not recommending the abolition of special schools which, for a minority, will always continue to be necessary, but I believe that there are many disabled children currently in special schools who could receive as good or even better an education in ordinary schools, given adequate support, and whose handicaps are now being aggravated by their separation from their able-bodied companions. There are in general two main advantages of integrated education, academic and social. I am not making., the wild statement that all special schools provide a standard of education lower than ordinary schools. However, it is evident that the passage of children into higher and further education from special schools is very poor and very small in number.

If a disabled child is able to go to an ordinary school down the road instead of having to be boarded in a special place, perhaps many miles away, he enjoys many distinct social advantages and I think your Lordships have all agreed that we see the future in the neighbourhood school. First, he is able to remain with his family. There are some families which find it a strain to care for a handicapped child with inadequate social support and would prefer special education, but when this was raised in the debate in another place with a fear that this proposed change in law would be too much strain on the parents, it was pointed out that this did not justify the remaining of these children in special schools but, rather, more adequate support for the parents. The children in an ordinary school are able to mix much more naturally with their able-bodied contemporaries and it was stressed many times in the debate in another place that this brings advantages not only to the handicapped but to the able-bodied children with whom they mix. For a child to mix only with those with a similar handicap is no preparation for the adult world. Those of us who have seen the remarkable and dedicated work carried out in these schools would not in any way wish to depreciate the work of the staff, but I believe that your Lordships will agree that the world is not made up of people all of whom have the same disability and that such a life is a very poor preparation for the world in which a handicapped child will have to live.

"Integration" is a very easy word to use and perhaps I should explain what is required. The children we are discussing will, by definition, still want some form of special education, but we believe—and I refer to those of us who are concerned in the All-Party Disablement Group—that this would not necessitate their total removal from the life of an ordinary school. I do not want to cover the points that those who will follow me wish to make, nor do I want to make a Second Reading speech, but I should like to refer to the objections which the Minister made to the new clause when it was introduced in another place. He said: The defect which arises in the new clause, as opposed to its policy is that it is not a step by step new clause but an overnight, immediate new clause which would bring in an overnight reversal of policy of a kind for which we have neither the resources nor, I fear, the good will on the part of many authorities to implement. This is the danger of the new clause. I fear that we should be very unwise to attempt to bring about this kind of reversal by such an abrupt change in the law. Nevertheless, though the present Education Act gives very clear preference to special schools, there are 18,000 handicapped children attending special classes in ordinary schools at this point of time in England and Wales. That is of course in addition to those who are in special schools. It is therefore no very new principle but rather the consolidation of a movement forward.

I hope that your Lordships will appreciate that it is not in any way the intention of the sponsors of the new clause to bring about the kind of situation that the Minister described when he said that, if we watered it down slightly by using the words, "having regard to the general principle" rather than the more direct, "provide for education in ordinary schools", we should not achieve our object. We have attempted to meet the points made by the Minister and I believe that much of the hostility to integration which has been expressed by the special schools to the Warnock Committee arises from their fear of bad interpretation. I welcome the pilot projects which the Minister announced, though I deplore the fact that the Department of Education has so far not provided any additional funds for their monitoring nor even for their basic costs. I ask noble Lords to accept that the new clause is to take account of the movement into the future and, since we so rarely debate education, one must use every opportunity to press forward a claim of this kind I beg to move.

6.35 p.m.


I should like to follow my noble friend in supporting this Amendment. Much of what she his said will, I believe, be very convincing to your Lordships, but I should like to add a few points which, in turn, will be added to by my noble friend Lady D'Arcy de Knayth. In the history of education in this country, there has been a tremendous achievement in the education of handicapped children. I feel that it is very important to note that the Inner London Education Authority and its predecessors the London County Council and the London School Board in particular, as well as some very great authorities in the north—Bradford and Manchester, for example—have a very long history going back into the 19th century of identifying individual handicaps and providing particular schools to cope with the children whose handicaps were identified.

The 1944 Act gave a big boost to the process in adding to the number of handicaps which could be identified and to the variety and range of special schools which are now available to the community at large. However, in the last 15 years or so, much educational opinion has swung to the view that this process has gone too far and that the balance of argument lies in the direction which my noble friend Lady Phillips has indicated.

There are obvious advantages in dealing, for example, with deaf children in a school which is specially equipped with aids for the deaf. There are obvious advantages in dealing with partially sighted children in a school where the children are all able to make use of the facilities which are available for the partially sighted. However, we think that those facilities can be provided particularly in the larger secondary schools, especially as these are becoming even larger.

As against the advantages which come from the specialisation of these schools, there are the very grave disadvantages of social, educational and cultural isolation to which my noble friend referred. It is now public policy in most major educational authorities to move away from the over-provision of special schools to attempts to meet the needs of handicapped children in the ordinary schools. Moreover, by and large, it has been the policy of the Department itself, through its advisers, for a considerable period of time to accelerate this movement. One of the problems is that there is an infinite gradation in handicap and the whole purpose of the present Amendment is that the, so to speak, clear break in this gradation which is now imposed by the Act should if possible occur only at the point of extraordinarily severe handicap where the ordinary schools cannot cope.

It may be advanced against us in moving the Amendment that there is a committee under the chairmanship of Mrs. Warnock which is considering the problems of special education. Mrs. Warnock is a very old friend and colleague of mine from my days as a don at Oxford. She was appointed chairman of the Committee by the right honourable Lady the Leader of the Opposition when she was in the humble post of Secretary of State for Education. The members of the Committee were appointed by my right honourable friend Mr. Reginald Prentice who now has a different job, and, interestingly enough, the members so appointed did not include a single disabled person. I feel that this is a rather strangely constructed committee in some respects. It is a characteristic of all committees, particularly those chaired by eminent philosophers, that they take a very long time and it may very well be that Mrs. Warnock's Committee will survive the life of the present administration if she goes on at the present pace. This is the last opportunity that we are likely to have for some considerable time to amend the law with regard to the treatment of handicapped persons. It would be amazing to me if the Warnock Committee came down on the opposite side to that which my noble friend Lady Phillips and I have been recommending today.

It is usually extremely unwise to regale your Lordships with pieces of autobiography, but I believe that I may perhaps be allowed to do so since I think that I am probably the only member of this House who was educated at a special school. I was forcibly reminded of this when I was reading the autobiography of the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, which came out a few days ago, for I had the same problem as he. I was from the age of 14 to the age of 17 in a hospital where I did my own education to O-level and beyond. I am eternally grateful to the remarkable woman who taught me at that time. But I came out, with great difficulty, and I went for a final year into an ordinary secondary school here in London.

I will not pretend that it was an easy process either for me or for the school, but it was an essential and an important process. I use this example, though I am somewhat embarrassed to bring up autobiographical evidence in this debate because general principles are obviously much more important. But it is possible for people suffering from serious handicaps to go to ordinary schools and to benefit from them. Furthermore, I think that it is in accordance with the general philosophy which underlies the Bill which the noble Lord is recommending to the House. The objection to having handicapped children in schools is not only that they require special facilities in special schools, but also that if one does have a handicap one is liable to be bullied. First of all, more and more teachers of ordinary children are being trained in the general problems of dealing with children with disabilities of all kinds—social disadvantages, mental disadvantages, physical disadvantages. So I think the tone of the schools is changing.

Surely it is extraordinarily important that the ordinary children, those with the immense advantages of whole bodies and minds, should be taught in their own midst the importance of practical compassion and help to the disabled. I greatly hope that your Lordships will accept the Amendment. From what the noble Baroness has already told your Lordships about the proceedings in another place, I am convinced that when the Bill goes back there it is likely, if we are fortunate enough to have this Amendment carried, that it will be accepted.


I should like to support this proposal very strongly. In the education committee over which I preside we had the opportunity to build one or two new schools. I insisted that there should be accommodation in the schools for the handicapped children. Some of them were able to go into a class of ordinary children almost immediately; some of them were not. Some of them had to have special classes. But they were all integrated into the school so that the children who were in the special class in order to get to a point at which they could go into an ordinary class, had only to walk across a corridor into another room and there they were.

Before that there had been a special school for the mentally handicapped. It was quite a long way away in one of the towns for which I was responsible, and the children found that it was much too difficult to come into the ordinary school because they had to make a kind of transition. But if they were in the ordinary school, while there would have to be some special classes, they could make that transition into the ordinary classes very easily indeed. I think that this is an extremely important matter.

I have not read what the Government had to say in another place, but I think that all that has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and by Lord Vaizey, is most convincing. I have actually had the experience of getting an education authority involved in this and in getting the money and everything else for building new schools and equipping them with classrooms which could cater for the handicapped and so transfer them to the ordinary classes quite easily; and this has worked extremely well.

That was in Scotland, so perhaps I should now say something about my experiences in English authorities. I am, among one or two other things, particularly interested in, and associated with, autistic children. Many education authorities in England who are concerned with this particular handicap have now agreed to have small classes in ordinary schools for these children. One thing that has happened—the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, mentioned this—particularly in the primary schools, among the young, is that the non-handicapped children are tremendously keen on helping the handicapped children. While this integration cannot perhaps take place in the class-room because autistic children are difficult to teach, it takes place in the recreation room and everywhere where the children run about together, where they have their school meals or school milk. I think that that is extremely important.

I hope that the noble Lord, who I am sure is very sympathetic, will accept the Amendment, because what is proposed here can be done and in fact is being done. It cannot be done overnight; it takes a little time. But if we make up our mind that this is to be a policy then it can be put into effect. I strongly support this proposal.


I, too, should like to support the Amendment most warmly. It has been so fully and so expertly covered that I will say only one or two words in support. If you are physically disadvantaged it seems particularly important to develop as fully as possible mentally and emotionally, and unfortunately it seems that disabled children from special schools are less well developed socially than their abled-bodied contemporaries, and educationists have ascribed this to their having been segregated in special schools.

It is terribly important for the physically disabled child to be educated to make the full use of his mental ability. As my noble friend has said, the rate of children from special schools progressing into higher education is very low. This under-expectation of the disabled child's performance is a very important point. It certainly exists. I heard recently of a headmaster of a very go-ahead special school which had just opened its doors to 15-year-olds from other special schools, and he found that they were not educated up to anywhere near the level to which he knew they were capable. The first thing he had to do was introduce the idea of doing homework.

There was a report of a study by the National Children's Bureau in 1969, called Handicapped School-Leavers, and that stated that out of 783 surveyed children from special schools, only eight progressed to higher education—that is 1 per cent.—and yet not one of those 788 was severely mentally retarded. I admit that that was seven years ago, and it is true that now more and more physically disabled youngsters are progressing to higher education. But I am sure that they would be much better prepared to make this change if they had benefited from non-segregated secondary education with their able bodied contemporaries. As my noble friend said, the Amendment would only underline the policy of successive governments to educate the disabled children where possible in ordinary schools, and I support it most warmly.


I wish to support the Amendment and make three points. First, I was responsible and stood in loco parentis to one of the worst thalidomide children which Mary Marlborough Lodge in Oxford has dealt with. We realised that this child was suffering tremendous deprivation, having no arms and no legs. We boarded the child out in Buckinghamshire—and I am very pleased that the chairman of the Buckinghamshire Education Department is here because that child attends an ordinary school. That meant a great deal of difficulty and a great deal of trouble, but it brought out the compassion in the other children. That child is now not noticed, is now in the neighbourhood, and forms part of the district.

I should like to make one other point which the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, made. It is very distressing that the Warnock Committee, which I think was appointed two years ago, has still not reported. The Committee has a very great deal of work to do, but I think it was said yesterday that it would not be reporting for another 18 months, which brings the period up to three and a half years. Meanwhile, we are having great changes in education, and this will mean that we are therefore not planning for the education of the handicapped children in normal schools if we are to wait for the Warnock Committee. While I have the greatest admiration for Mrs. Warnock, and while I know her, as does the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, I think that nevertheless it is most regrettable to have to wait three and a half years for a report on handicapped children when we are planning the future of education.


In the intervals between attacking the com prehensive principle I am chairman of the Personal Social Services Council and so I have an interest in this subject, as regards both handicapped and children. I should like to support this Amendment as heartily as I possibly can, and simply say that it is in accord with what I should regard as the most rational and advanced thinking on the treatment of handicap of every kind; that is to say, that you integrate the person as fully as you can into the normal life of the community. If that is to be done, the right time to do it, in so far as you can—I know there are difficulties; I know there are some cases where it is impossible—is in childhood. So I should support this 100 per cent.


I will take only two minutes of your Lordships' time because the case has been dealt with cogently, but there is the fact that I believe we ought to realise the social obligation that the adult world has to children. We are living in a world where there are more acres of concrete than there are of playing fields. I do not want to present a tragic story, but when one thinks of the number of children injured and killed, damaged and maimed for life, on the roads of Britain, to think that we could not, to the best of our ability, provide them with the maximum of opportunity for education and integration with normal children is to me a sad thing. Consequently, without boring the Committee any further, I say that I whole-heartedly support this Amendment.


I also support this Amendment. From my personal knowledge, I feel that teachers in these schools, if they take in what we term the ordinary child with the disabled child, have to be rather special. I have knowledge of this in that a niece of my own is practically stone deaf. She can only lipread. She was sent to an ordinary school in the South of London, and we all thought that she was not awfully bright. The teacher and her mother took exceptional care of her and educated her to the best of their ability. The teacher took the trouble always to stand in front of her, and she sat in the front of the class. She came out with nine O-levels.


I, too, have no hesitation in lending my fullest support to this Amendment, and I would make a special appeal to my noble friend Lord Donaldson to accept it. We all of us know that his heart is in the right place, even if his mental processes are at times somewhat difficult to follow. I would also, if I may, add a word to what was said by my noble friend Lord Vaizey on the dangers of segregation.

I am quite convinced that on this matter the dangers of segregation where physically and mentally handicapped children are concerned are certainly no greater than the dangers of segregation when dealing with children who have special aptitudes for music and dancing. That has been accepted in principle by my noble friend and the Government, despite, apparently, the opposition to it in principle by my noble friend Lady Bacon. I am quite convinced that on this matter we shall be not only giving our fullest support to the Warnock Committee but also, so far from clipping their wings on this issue, just jerking them slightly in the right direction if, as I am completely convinced, the unanimous opinion of this Committee on this issue is made clear beyond any doubt to the members of the Warnock Committee. Having delayed this Committee for perhaps three or four minutes, I have no hesitation whatsoever in pleading with my noble friend Lord Donaldson to accept this Amendment.

Baroness BACON

I agree with everything that has been said, and I hope that the Amendment will be accepted. If we read the Amendment, we see that it says, "so far as is practicable". Therefore, it does not mean that we are putting an obligation on all local authorities to do this, or even to do it immediately. I do not want to repeat anything which has been said, but I want to make one point. One noble Lord referred to the fact that a very small percentage of handicapped people were going into higher education. That is so, but it is also a fact that higher education, particularly the universities, is making it possible for handicapped students to attend universities.

I am a member of the court and council of Leeds University, and last year we set up a committee in order to see how it would be possible to make life easier for the handicapped people who would be coming to the university. I see my noble friend Lord James here: I think they have been doing the same kind of thing at York University. It seems to me that it would be a much greater transition for a handicapped person to go from a special school to a university than to go from what one would call an ordinary school to a university. I think that to accept this Amendment would be a step in the right direction.

6.54 p.m.


I hope that after listening to all the speakers, from all parts of the Committee, the Government will feel it possible to accept this Amendment without a Division; because evidence has been given by those of very great experience in the educational field and by those with personal experience, and I feel that the weight of that evidence is such that really the case has already been accepted by the noble Lord's Department. If I may be allowed to quote what the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Miss Margaret Jackson, said on the 12th April, I think he will find it very difficult to disagree with her. She said this: My Department's view has long been that no handicapped child should attend a special school if his needs can be met by an ordinary school, and I am anxious to further this policy. Then she went on, in the debate referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, at column 717 of the Official Report of the House of Commons on 1 it July, to say this: … it is a fact that integration is already possible under existing education law and under the Bill. However, the effect of the new clause, whatever its intention, is that disabled pupils should clearly be educated in any ordinary school unless that school is specifically designated as unsuitable by the Secretary of State. This is almost a reversal of the existing situation. However, I think the evidence that has been brought before your Lordships' Committee this evening is such to demonstrate that the very large numbers of those already attending special classes in ordinary schools—and I believe the figure of 18,000 was mentioned—must be coupled with a great desire among local authorities to co-operate. I think it was mentioned in the debate on the 1st July that the two principal objections were, first, that local authorities might resent a sudden reversal of policy from the existing state of the law; and, secondly, that there would be a lack of resources to devote to this end. I think it is true to say, if we can go back to the 1944 Act, that my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, who, together with Mr. Chuter Ede, was responsible for drafting quite a large number of these clauses himself, said this—and he spoke these words in your Lordships' House during one of our debates on education: If the spirit is right, everything else will follow. I believe that both the spirit in the Department of Education and Science and that further amply demonstrated this evening by all speakers has proved the fact to the benefit of the Amendment.

Baroness STEDMAN

If I have interpreted their views correctly, the sponsors of this Amendment feel that the education of handicapped children is at present tilted far too much towards the special schools, and they would like wherever practicable to make ordinary schools instead of special schools the normal provision for handicapped children. I wholeheartedly sympathise with the object of the clause; and I understand it has long been the policy of the Department of Education and Science and local education authorities that no child should attend a special school if his needs can be met in an ordinary one. But given that the existing system includes provision in special schools, practical considerations would preclude immediate substantial change, if indeed such change were thought to be desirable. The tide is already moving slowly in the direction of integration. Perhaps it is not moving fast enough for many of us in this Committee.

There are more handicapped children being admitted into ordinary schools, but at present informed educational opinion is firmly against any wholesale or precipitate implementation of this policy. This is partly because of the practical difficulties in providing in a large number of ordinary schools the specialised staff and equipment that would be needed and are at present found in special schools and, even more important, because of the effect on the children. I know, as chairman of a board of governors of a special school, of the difficulties in trying to place a handicapped child in a regular class in an ordinary school. It generally requires a great deal of planning and support. A placement in a special class or unit in an ordinary school, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, might appear to be easier to arrange. But it sometimes is the worst of all worlds for a handicapped child if the school has not got the range of facilities provided in special schools; he has little contact with the other staff of the ordinary school and is not always accepted as an equal by the other children. The attitude of the children and the staff are quite crucial.

More and more people are coming to accept that a wider measure of integration is possible and is potentially valuable. The DES, which has been referred to, is examining and monitoring all kinds of different projects about the integration of handicapped children in ordinary schools, either in regular classes or in special classes in ordinary schools. Proposals for other schemes are also being considered. Clearly, if these developments are to succeed, we must have full and proper consultation with the local authorities and the teachers who will be involved.

The Government feel that it is right to proceed in this systematic way to obtain a much clearer picture of the changes needed if ordinary schools are to cater successfully for more and more severely handicapped children and the best way of deploying resources in terms of staff and equipment for this purpose. We have some knowledge, but we do not have enough; and we think it would be wrong to make haste too quickly in the way in which the proposed new clause would seem to imply.

I used yesterday, in urging the rejection of another Amendment, the fact that there were certain things being considered by the Committee of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Mrs. Mary Warnock. I know that this Committee's report is not expected for about 18 months; but I am sure it will be wrong to make such an important change in emphasis in isolation from other recasting of the provisions of the 1944 Act dealing with special education.

I should like to be helpful and accommodating over this but, although I have the feeling that I am on a hiding to nothing, I will ask the sponsors of this Amendment whether they might not perhaps—on an assurance from this Dispatch Box that as soon as the Warnock Committee Report is received we shall return to this Amendment and would have a look at it to see how far we could go—be willing to withdraw their Amendment.


I should like to thank the Minister for her reply. Her instinct is quite correct. I think that she is on a hiding to nothing. I hope so. I do not say that in any direct personal reference. I think it was a very dangerous argument to deploy, if I may say so humbly to the Department, in a Bill which is concerned with a major change in education. If we are to drag our feet on one aspect of it, surely those who are opponents of the major changes that we have been discussing might argue that this is also good for that. Throughout my Parliamentary and political life one has always been "waiting for Godot". One is always waiting for a Committee or a Royal Commission and if Ministers do not wish to carry something into effect they can always refer it to such a body—and sometimes they even set up a Committee in order to defer a decision.

I do not know Mrs. Warnock, but I cannot imagine that she would feel irritated if your Lordships expressed their views in this very reasonable and rational clause. There is nothing very revolutionary about it. It is full of options, but it changes the emphasis. This is what we are concerned about. I do not know what the other sponsors of this Amendment feel but, reluctantly—and I should like to say that with their consent—I feel that we should press this to a Division.


I think this would be a convenient moment to break for dinner and I suggest that the Committee reassembles at ten minutes before eight o'clock.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.6 p.m. till 7.50 p.m.]

Baroness D'ARCY DE KNAYTH moved Amendment No. 43: After Clause 3 insert the following new clause:

Amendment of Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 c. 44

". For section 8(1) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 there shall be substituted the following subsection— (1)A local planning authority, when considering a planning application for the provision of a building intended for purposes mentioned in subsection (2) below, shall, in the event of planning permission being granted, make such approval subject to a condition that the applicant, so far as it appears to the local planning authority both practicable and reasonable, males provision for the needs of persons using the building who are disabled in accordance with the recommendations of the British Standards Institution code of practice C.P. 96 Part 1 (General Recommendations) or such subsequent codes of practice as the Secretary of State may direct".

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this Amendment is to try to close the loophole in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 relating to access and facilities to educational establishments, primary, secondary and tertiary. Section 8 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act states very broadly that any person undertaking the provision of such a building should provide access and facilities for the disabled where practicable and reasonable. The new clause is much more specific, because it would require the local planning authority when granting planning permission—for, for example, a school—to grant it on condition that the needs of the disabled are provided for. It will be noted that the words, "practicable and reasonable" are still in, but that is because we are being very moderate in our demands. The reasons for sending disabled children to ordinary schools were very well aired in the previous Amendment. I should like to reiterate the importance of having the same educational opportunities and how much easier it is to integrate into the adult, able-bodied world if you have been educated during your school life. Non-disabled children also profit, because they understand that disabled children are really "kids" just like themselves with many of the same problems and also, of course, with different problems.

It is not just children who suffer from not being able to get into ordinary schools. Disabled adults are also affected: lecturers, teachers, administrators. All their jobs are affected, and disabled members of the Association of Disabled Professionals can testify that it is inaccessibility to schools which is a very important factor in limiting their employment opportunities in places of education. Disabled adults may be prevented from attending evening classes, and disabled people can be prevented from participating in various community activities. These days, many schools are used in holiday time and out of school hours for various other activities, too, so they are effectively debarred from taking part in community activities.

Surely, no child in our time should be debarred from attending an ordinary school for reasons of bricks and mortar alone. But this is happening; there are some disabled children in special schools who are really there for no other reason than that there is no accessible school in their area. A school can hardly be called a comprehensive if it cannot open its doors to a section of the pupil population. Is it not a strange comprehensive system which avoids selecting pupils according to ability or aptitude, but which allows selection on the basis of a physical disability to get into a school?

I should like to quote some recent figures from the Disabled Student, which is a report published in September of a survey undertaken for the National Union of Students. Of a total of 228 institutions, no less than 47—that is, 21 per cent.—stated that they could not accommodate either the physically handicapped or the sensory impaired, or even both, in any circumstances. In all, 96 per cent. of that 47—that is, 20 per cent. of the entire sample—stated that the reason why they could not accept any disabled students was that there were considerable difficulties relating to the nature of the buildings themselves which may, for example, have no lifts or ramps.

The researchers went on to say that, in addition, 38 per cent. of these institutions (8 per cent. of the entire sample) suggested that the nature of their sites and environments were prohibited features. Consequently, the vast majority of this group which felt unable to accommodate the disabled, revealed that the most telling problems were those associated with physical access and mobility. This is frightening. This really should not be so. Prejudices are not eroded overnight, and attitudes can be changed only slowly. Bricks and mortar are easier to deal with, and until schools are built physically accessible, disabled children will not be able to be sent there even if the will to send them is there.

It is cheaper and easier to make buildings accessible from the start. Subsequent adaptation can be very expensive indeed. I should like to tell your Lordships of an example of a large secondary school in Sweden which took five years to build, and one year prior to its opening it was decided to integrate into that school a group of very severely disabled children with multiple handicaps. The only adaptation necessary in that school was the installation of automatic door openers. The bricks and mortar were right and this enabled them to be able to make this decision to give the children this opportunity. We should be able to do this too. If the Government accept this Amendment—which applies only to new buildings—it will involve little, if any, extra expense now. It will result in enormous saving in the future, when it is recognised that handicapped children must be offered the same educational opportunities as their able-bodied contemporaries. I hope that noble Lords will support this Amendment. It is very mild and reasonable, and will result in immense future savings. It is a great opportunity for the Government to show willing by accepting it. I beg to move.

7.57 p.m.


The noble Baroness has moved the Amendment in terms which are so compelling and arguments so persuasive that I cannot imagine that the Front Bench on my side of the Committee will dare raise their voice against her. I should like to support the noble Baroness by saying that this Amendment involves no new expenditure at all, either by public or private bodies. It merely imposes a duty upon architects to meet certain requirements which the local planning authority can enforce. It is amazing that in this country in the past 30 years, since the end of the war, we have lived through perhaps the greatest period of building in our history. The buildings which have been put up are to a great extent totally inaccessible to one section of society, notably the handicapped. I work at a university which is built by an architect who is confined to a wheelchair. The building consists entirely of steps. The land was excavated and built up at enormous expense; steps were put here, there and everywhere. It was as though the architect were trying to prove to the world that his own handicap did not prevent him from moving about and thus making it more difficult for other people. Perhaps that is unfair; but it is one of the most hideous buildings that I have ever seen in my life. It is the most extraordinary thing.

What we are seeking to do in this Amendment is make this activity illegal. It does not raise costs at all; it closes certain options and stops architects building steps and inaccessible things. The National Union of Students, which gets a great deal of "stick"—often rightly—from sections of the community, is amazingly well informed in this area, and is usually, in my experience, absolutely correct. They have carried out this survey to which the noble Baroness referred, and they have revealed a situation which, quite frankly, is scandalous. That is a situation that we want to stop. Unthinkingly, the whole country is prejudiced against the disabled. In the Race Relations Bill Committee stage, which we have recently completed, we were concerned to prevent unthinking discrimination against the racial minorities in this country. If you go to the magnificent exhibition of Dutch art at the National Gallery which opened last week, they have built—doubtless at vast expense—a whole series of special galleries with access steps. That means that not one single person who is physically handicapped can go to that exhibition.

It is that kind of behaviour which we are seeking by this Amendment to make illegal and impossible. It is pure thoughtlessness. Indeed, we would have saved the National Gallery a great deal of money if this kind of law had been in force across the whole field of museums as well as schools and colleges. Therefore I hope very much that the Government will accept this Amendment as, perhaps reluctantly, they accepted the last Amendment. Then they will be able to go back to their civil servants and say that the great force of public opinion, as expressed in your Lordships' Committee, is in favour of this kind of progressive legislation.

8.1 p.m.


I rise to support the Amendment moved by the noble Baroness because I took part in the discussions on the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill in 1970. I remember very well that the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, moved Amendment No. 17B. I will give the references to the noble Baroness who is to reply because it will save the Government time in research. The debate to which I refer took place on 30th April 1970. At col. 1181 of the Official Report we started the discussion on two Amendments, Amendments Nos. 17B and 18A. Amendment No. 17B was parallel to the Amendment we are discussing now relating to future buildings, and Amendment No. 18A dealt with the conversion of existing buildings.

It is interesting to note once again what was said during those discussions. There is a certain feeling of déja vu about this Amendment because the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, said this at co. 1182: I am also anxious that all arch tects should have a copy of the document CP. 96 which is the code setting out requirements. That is the very document which is referred to in the Amendment. On that occasion the Government, which was the Government of the Party opposite, took exception to the drafting of those two Amendments, saying that the Amendments were unnecessary or too widely drafted. It is interesting to note what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who supported the Amendment. It had previously been suggested that all of this could be achieved by Ministerial circular. I believe that the noble Earl killed that argument straight away, and I should like to quote what he said at col. 1183, because he is not here this evening to say it once again: It can be argued that in various parts of the Bill the purpose to be achieved would be fulfilled just as well by some kind of Government circular which might be rather more flexible than actually putting something into the Statute. But here I am bound to say that a circular would not be adequate. From the full height of his mature judgment on a subject of this kind, and from his very long Parliamentary and Ministerial experience, the noble Earl felt that the purpose could not be achieved by a Ministerial circular. I do not feel that the Government, when examining it, will be on very good ground if they say to the noble Baroness, "We do not think that a change in the law is satisfactory because we have a circular in mind."

I hope that the Government will consider the matter most carefully because in their approach to this problem local authorities vary enormously. Certain local authorities—and alas! they are very few in number—have considered the problem and have instructed their architects to adopt CP.96. Other local authorities, unfortunately, either for reasons of economy or possibly out of disregard of the position which the noble Baroness has outlined, have thought fit not to implement any of the proposals contained in CP.96.

I think that there is a clear indication here and I support the Amendment. I believe that this clause should be written into the Statute, and as this is the second time round I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter most carefully.

Baroness STEDMAN

May I say first of all that I wholeheartedly agree with the intention to see that the needs of handicapped persons are fully taken into account in the design of all kinds of buildings, not only schools. I have considerable sympathy with the aims of the Amendment, but I do not think that it would better serve the interests of the disabled persons to amend Section 8(1) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 in the way proposed.

First, there are practical considerations. The planning system is concerned with the use of land and of any buildings on that land, and not with the people who need those buildings. It is not intended to deal with the internal design and fittings of buildings. I think it would be wrong in principle to try to use the development control system to promote the interests of a particular section of the community, however much sympathy we may feel for the people concerned and however great their need. So far as educational buildings are concerned, there is great variety in the incidence and nature of those needs and in the ways in which they may be met. It would be a complex matter to devise a code of practice for educational buildings and could tend, especially if given a statutory basis, to restrict unduly the discretion that local education authorities and other providers have in meeting their responsibilities.

More importantly, perhaps, the Amendment proposes a major shift of responsibility. Section 8(1) as it now stands places responsibility squarely where it belongs, on the person undertaking the provision of a building. It is right that the responsible providing body should consider the needs of disabled users alongside those of all the other users right from the outset in the planning and design of educational buildings. They are best placed to identify and assess these needs overall and to say what is reasonable and practicable having regard to their provision as a whole as well as to the pressures on resources. They are the people who have to strike the appropriate balance between the several demands and constraints. They are also responsible for the best use of scarce capital resources. It would not be right to place the onus of determining what is practicable and reasonable in a particular situation, which involves an educational judgment, on another authority not competent to make that judgment or accountable for the expenditure involved. For these reasons I do not think it would be right to amend the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

Despite what I have said, I know from my own personal experience that many of the schools, with the encouragement of dual use of the schools and use by the community, have either been adapted for the use of disabled people or are built with the needs of disabled people in mind. Despite the statement of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in the debate before I joined your Lordships' House, and the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, upon it, just before he spoke I conferred with my noble friend the Minister and we agreed that if the noble Baroness would be prepared to withdraw the Amendment we should speak to our officers and advise them to send out a reminder—a Ministerial circular, if you like—to local authorities reminding them of their duties under Section 8(1), which provides that: Any person undertaking the provision of a building intended for the purposes mentioned in subsection (2) below shall, in the means of access both to and within the building, and in the parking facilities and sanitary conveniences to be available … make provision, in so far as it is in the circumstances both practicable and reasonable, for the needs of persons using the buildings who are disabled. That includes universities, university colleges and colleges, schools and halls of universities; schools within the meaning of the Education Act, teacher training colleges maintained by local education authorities and other institutions which provide further education. While I cannot at this stage advise the Committee to accept the Amendment, I am willing to offer that we shall discuss the means of sending out a Ministerial circular in order to strengthen the hand of local authorities.


May I ask a question on these very important Amendments that we are discussing. I am in favour of most of the Amendments that have been proposed; but whatever may happen as a result of the discussion, could the noble Baroness say what will happen in the case of those local authorities that have not yet provided registers of the disabled within their areas? I hope that some of the proposals will be implemented. While some local authorities will carry out alterations of all kinds in favour of the disabled, what will happen in those areas where local authorities have not yet provided a register of the disabled?

This is tremendously important, because unless every local authority provides a register of the disabled the position will be that the disabled in some parts of the country will have nothing at all, and in other parts of the country where there are progressive local authorities the disabled will get as much as can possibly be provided.

I should like the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, to take some action. I should like to see some of the local authorities banged on the head for not providing registers, and I think it is up to this House to see that local authorities provide registers of the disabled. As a rule I am not in favour of such compulsion, but in this case I think it is necessary.

Baroness STEDMAN

I should love to join the noble Baroness in knocking the heads of some of the recalcitrant local authorities who have not done what they are supposed to do. But it is rather outside the scope of this Bill and I am afraid I cannot give her much help on this, except to suggest that she should table a Question to the noble Lord who is responsible for health and social services, and I am sure she will be able to get some information and some help from him.


I thank the noble Baroness.


As it may possibly help and influence the noble Baroness, Lady D'Arcy de Knayth, to reach a decision on her Amendment, I wonder whether the problem might be considered from a slightly different angle. I accept the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, that it is wrong to use planning law to influence building design in this particular instance and I have been advised by my noble friend Lord Sandford, who of course has long experience in this particular field. It occurred to me, however, that the circular may not be the best way of furthering this case, although I do not by any means rule it out. However, there might yet be a further method of securing the aim which the noble Baroness desires and that would be an alteration to the 1965 building regulations. I wonder whether the noble Baroness would consider that within her Department and might be able to come back at a later stage to see whether an Amendment to the 1965 building regulations might secure what we all have in mind.

Baroness STEDMAN

I think that the matter of the building regulations really comes under the Department of the Environment, and I will certainly take it up in that Department. I am wearing two hats tonight. It is not quite within the scope of this Bill, but I certainly hope that the Department of Education might be able to send out a circular and I will take it up with my right honourable friend in the other Department to see whether anything can be done, and I will then write to the noble Lord.


I should like to thank the noble Baroness for her reply and also for her offer of a circular, but with my memory refreshed by the noble Lord, Lord Sandys—for which I am very grateful—I am not totally enchanted by the idea of a circular. It was thought that putting the responsibility upon the Department of Education and Science was the answer and indeed a great deal of correspondence was carried on by a Member of another place about this, but in fact they would net go any way towards meeting us. I believe that there was a suggestion that questions should be included on the form that architects have to fill in; that is, (a) what facilities are you including for disabled people? and (b) if you are not providing such facilities, state the reason. But it was decided that it should be tied to the planning authority instead, because we met with failure on the other count.

In my view, it is alarming if we cannot do something now to tighten this up. I gather from an Answer to a Parliamentary Question in another place on 25th June of this year that there were 422 primary and secondary school major building projects in England which local education authorities planned to start within their allocations for 1976–77, and I feel that if the Minister cannot guarantee that these will be built so that they are accessible to, and convenient for the use of, disabled people we really ought to press this Amendment. Building a school which is accessible from the start does not involve any great extra expense, whereas alterations would involve enormous costs later on. With regard to the remarks made by the noble Baroness concerning building regulations, can she offer me any hope that something may come of this?

Baroness STEDMAN

With regard to the first question about the building programme for the coming year, I cannot give any guarantee without going back to the office and seeing the kind of plans that they have had in. I know from my own experience in an education authority that there is very close co-operation at the planning stage with the territorial officers from the Department of Education and Science. I am sure that those officers are aware of their responsibilities under Section 8(1) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act and I am sure that they draw the attention of county architects and other people to the need to provide these provisions. I cannot give her the guarantee because I have not got the information available as to how far they have progressed with those building projects. If I can find out anything, I will certainly write to the noble Baroness. With regard to the second point, what I can offer at the moment is that I will take it up with my right honourable friend in the Department of the Environment.


I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act has been proved not to be working effectively and therefore I feel I have no option but to ask noble Lords to divide on this Amendment.

8.20 p.m.


The Question is that Amendment No. 43 be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion say "Content". To the contrary "Not-Content". I think the "Contents" have it. Clear the Bar.

Tellers for the "Contents" have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 50(3). A Division therefore cannot take place, and in accordance with Standing Order No. 50(3) I declare the Motion not agreed to.

8.21 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 44: Page 4, line 5, at end insert ("Provided that the necessary resources have been made available for school building starts within five years from the date of publication of the proposals.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 44, and with the leave of the Committee, I will also speak to Amendment No. 45. The effect of these two Amendments is to ensure that a local education authority must be allocated the necessary resources to enable an authority to carry out the proposed buildings which are part of proposals under Clauses 2 and 3 which will be put into effect within a five-year period. It would appear that, unless Amendments along these lines are written into the Bill, Clause 4 will lay a duty on authorities to implement approved proposals wholly or partly within five years, even though the necessary resources have not been allocated. If I may say so, I think that these Amendments are fully justified by the record of the last few years.

First, we no longer have the three-year rolling school building programme which was in force in the early 1970s. Circular 13/74 of the Department of Education and Science stated the intention of covering starts up to 1978–79, but by 6th August 1975, Circular 8/75 had brought school building back to a process of annual starts. This was the circular which followed the Statement of the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 15th April last year, which had included reductions of the order of 10 per cent., in capital expenditure for this year. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer had exempted certain services, such as the provision of essential school places, from those cuts, so the total school building programme was reduced only from £216 million to £186 million for the last school building year, and £25 million was set aside for comprehensive reorganisation.

The worrying feature of Circular 8/75 was the wording in paragraph 6, which reminded the reader that it is possible to, expedite the transformation of many existing schools into parts of a coherent and comprehensive system without special building allocations. True in some cases, but coming rather close to being a policy of bricks without straw. Having said that, I do not in any way criticise the Government for this progressive tightening of capital allocations. In public expenditure terms, I cannot see that the Government have had any other option open to them. But the fact of the matter was that worse was to come.

In February of this year the public expenditure White Paper, Cmnd. 6393, cut capital allocations for primary, secondary and particularly for nursery education. In addition, as your Lordships will know, some local education authorities have simply not taken up their full allocations for some projects. An example of this is the refusal of some authorities to take up allocations for nursery education building. Really, who can blame authorities when the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, for perfectly understandable reasons, criticised authorities for overspending and, indeed, said that his criticism included overspending in the education sector? Doubtless the Government will fill in any information which I have omitted, but I think this evidence points towards two conclusions.

The first conclusion is that progressively money for capital expenditure in education is becoming tighter and tighter, far more so than when the Department of the Environment Circular 88/75 of a year ago declared there would be no scope for increasing expenditure in 1976–77. My second conclusion is that forward planning, therefore, is becoming increasingly difficult. We know that the financial situation today is infinitely worse than it was a few months ago. In addition to that, of course, any, components for a building of a school which have had to be imported, like imported steel, for instance, will be more and more expensive.

It seems to me that it is a straightforward administrative precaution in the present circumstances not to lay the duty on authorities under Clause 4 which they may not have the money to pay for. I assure the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench that there is no political intention in these two Amendments whatsoever. It simply appears o me that it is an administrative impossibility to lay a duty on authorities for which they may not be able to pay. It is for that reason that I have put down these two Amendments.

8.27 p.m.


If I may intervene at this stage, my reference to financial resources a short while ago was a little too soon, and for that I apologise. I moved too quickly. I am afraid I am apt to move too quickly on four wheels, but this time I inserted my views on the financial side a little too soon. As has bee I said by my noble friend Lord Belstead, we are facing serious financial problems as a country. Whatever our views on additional expenditure for educational purposes, frankly, we cannot afford it. Parliament should not be seen to be suggesting that we can. In most cases, secondary reorganisation would involve more expenditure, at least initially, and until local authorities know what resources are likely to be available, they cannot say when they intend to implement any plans, and they should not be asked to say so, in my opinion.

By the time resources are available, and this is important as well, tie base on which plans should be drawn may have altered considerably. I do not want to be parochial, but one cannot help referring to this. For many years I was chairman of the County Education Authority of Buckinghamshire, referred to earlier, and now considered to be a rebel county. My annual budget was growing at a tremendous rate, quite an alarming one. As the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, will know, we received a block grant from the Government which had to be spread thinly over all local authority departments, but all the time education is the big spender. That is the one thing that worries the ratepayers, who have hardly been mentioned in this debate so far, and others who, in the present constitutional arrangements for taxes, have to pay for any work we do educationally.

Frankly, I want to know—and I asked the noble Lord this question and he gave me an answer—what sort of a special grant we are to receive for the schooling reorganisation, to force all children into a different type of schooling which, in my county at least, is most unpopular with the vast majority of parents, teachers, governors and managers. If the ratepayers—and I am sure this will be the answer—are once again to foot the bill, they will not like it and, to coin a phrase, they will be squeezed until the pips squeak.

We shall have not exactly a riot on our hands but serious trouble in the county, because education is one of the big problems at the moment and there will certainly be no dancing in the streets of Aylesbury if this horrible Bill is put on the Statute Book. The question of increasing public expenditure with the Bill is surely the kingpin of all arguments. It certainly is so far as local government is concerned. I myself will support this Amendment because I feel that although it is not all I would like, it is a move in the right direction.

8.31 p.m.


If I may take that just a fraction further, of course we do not expect the Secretary of State to be given a licence to print money, nor to force borrowing, nor indeed to print rate demands, but I have asked at a number of stages in this Bill for a convincing estimate of the cost of implementation of the Bill. The Bill was introduced with a quite mystifying Explanatory Financial Memorandum on the front of it which implied that really there would not be much cost, yet we know that the £25 million which the noble Lord's Government originally allocated for the implementation of this reorganisation vanished like snows in summer. It was oversubscribed three times in a matter of three weeks, I understand. I have quoted an estimate from Kent, a more or less official estimate, that it will cost them £40 million to implement. I have a slightly less official, but I do not doubt as accurate, estimate that in the Bourne-mouth, Poole and Christchurch areas it will be £15 million. That is £55 million just for those two little patches of the countryside, and this is to go over the whole of England and Wales. I should like to know how much this is going to cost eventually, and where it is going to come from.

8.32 p.m.


I absolve the noble Lord opposite from making a political point. I think the question he is asking is perfectly serious and perfectly sensible and I shall try to make my reply to him in a serious and sensible way.

The Amendments would release the proposers from any duty to maintain, cease to maintain or change the character of the school if necessary building resources have not been made available. The Amendments are inherently defective and, unlike on an earlier occasion, I will say why, in that they do not make it clear what school building resources are in point. I must illustrate this. Quite clearly, a proposal to close a school has no direct school building implications. It may have indirect implications, but those are likely to be covered by other proposals, perhaps for the enlargement of another school. In considering such proposals my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would have regard to the resource implications and would consider carefully any objections that lack of resources would compromise the implementation of the proposals.

I said during the Second Reading that our resources were limited and it must be quite a number of years before reorganisation of secondary schools can be wholly and satisfactorily completed, but my right honourable friend will not approve of botched-up schemes on a half-baked principle. But even in our present strained circumstances we have a very large building programme, and my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State announced in August that local education authorities in England may start school building projects totalling just over £126 million in the next financial year, 1977/78. That follows a programme of similar size in 1976/77; and £10 million of this allocation has been earmarked for replacing old primary and secondary schools and for improving secondary schools with pre-1950 temporary accommodation.

In addition there is, of course, the £23 million in England and £2 million for Wales which has been set aside specifically to assist reorganisation in the current, 1976/77, building programme which should enable reorganisation to proceed which could not be implemented in any other way or enable reorganisation to be fully effective in educational terms. The special allocation for assisting reorganisation covers more than 200 projects and will he spent during this year and next.

We all, I think, realise, and I do not think any of us really blames one side or the other for it, that we are in a very difficult financial situation indeed, but what I have just read out I think shows that the financial situation is not as yet one which would justify the complete closure of progress in the object of this Bill, which is to produce comprehensive education throughout the country as soon as possible.

There is money. It is not enough, it may even be cut again, but there is money and a good deal is capable of being done. I personally feel that local authorities who are confronted with a situation of the kind that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, was telling us about, can still make plans and can ask where the money is coming from and say, "We can do this if we get the money." This is a step towards it. I do not think there is any justification for his saying that there is no money so we are not going to do anything.

I can assure noble Lords that if an authority were submitting proposals for giving effect to the comprehensive principle which are patently extravagant or quite unrealistic in the view they took of the resources likely to be available, my right honourable friend would not hesitate to bring this to their attention under the various Section 13 arrangements we have been talking about and ask them to reconsider the proposals in terms of their resource implications.

The Bill provides that proposals under Section 13 of the Act, once approved, are implemented, but it does not make available in any particular year resources for their implementation where, capital expenditure is entailed. This must be the function of Government and Parliament in annual public expenditure reviews and not the subject of legislation. The legislation is permissive legislation to allow people to get on with making their plans. The allocation of money is something for Parliament, which has to be dealt with year by year. I think really this is understood by us all.

The point I am making in relation to this Amendment is that there is no reason for local authorities to hold hack in making their plans on financial grounds. The plans should be made and the financial arrangements have got to look to the future; and the worse the future looks the longer they may have to wait, but it still does not relieve the local authority of making its plans.


With great respect to the noble Lord, I do not follow that argument at all. If we have no money and it means forcing rates up higher in order to raise sufficient money to carry out proposals and we cannot do it, what do we do? Do we just drop the Bill so far as the individual county is concerned and carry on as we are at the moment?


The position is not that we have no money—we have some money.


How much?


I have told you. I went into it in some detail: £126 million plus £25 million, which is not nothing, and there will he more. How much, I am not at this moment able to tell your Lordships, but I do not think there is a defence for doing nothing about the request of the Secretary of State under Clause 2, to do something about comprehensives, on grounds of grant.


May I come to Lord Donaldson's assistance and attempt, though I may get it wrong, to explain to my noble friend, Earl Howe, what has happened? As I see it, there was a programme of £126 million for school building in the year 1976–77 repeated in 1977–78, I gather, and while that was rolling it was decided that the requirement to go comprehensive before the implementation of the Bill would be met at least in part by a further allocation of £25 million. So the intention was that new building should be compatible with the comprehensive aim and that as extra new building would be required that would be £25 million worth, which vanished in, I think, three weeks and was oversubscribed twice more.

So presumably this was an allocation of a third of what the implication of the comprehensive programme was for one year prior to the passage of the Bill. To put it another way, if the Government continue to allocate £25 million each year, it will be three years before the plans which were mature last year are paid for out of that cash. What the figures the noble Lord has given us do not reveal is how long that programme of £25 million will have to run to achieve the objective and whether in fact these are 1975, 1976 or 1977 prices. We begin to get a picture of a very long period of considerable expenditure, which must not, of course, take precedence over maintaining viable conditions in schools which are not yet ready for reorganisation because the funds do not exist. So we see that what we are facing here is not an overnight transformation but a long and slowly continuing process for which, at the best, only a third of the necessary funds can be available in any one year.


I thought we had always said that it was not an immediate transformation. We have said again and again that it has got to wait on the availability of resources. What I am saying is that the Secretary of State expects sensible plans to be put up, which may have to wait if resources are not available. That, surely, is the position.

Viscount ECCLES

There are two points here. One is that the money has to be borrowed; it does not come in the form of grant. We have just seen another 2 per cent. added to all interest rates today. Really, it is asking a great deal of local authorities. They will probably have to pay 15 or 16 per cent. for this money, if they are prepared to borrow it to carry out these schemes. What I am frightened of is something quite different, which is that there are local authorities—and I think I may easily refer to the ILEA as one—which puts up these schemes with totally inadequate capital to make their grammar schools into anything viable when they become mini-comprehensives. Authorities which are 100 per cent. Comprehensive-minded are putting up schemes which for the sake of the children should never be implemented without considerable building, to make room for the greater range of ability and different kinds of equipment and all that sort of thing, changing over from a grammar school to one which has to have a whole range of ability. They are putting up these schemes with inadequate financial provision. What happens then? I think the Secretary of State has a duty to see that those schemes which come before her which she wishes to implement are not put up with inadequate financial provision, and the present squeeze on money is going to make that more likely than ever.


May I support that most strongly from the point of view of the practising teacher. There are many schemes in England today where people are expected to teach in absolutely intolerable conditions. In my own valley, Wensleydale in the Dales, there are two halves of a comprehensive school and they are 14 miles apart. Can you imagine what that means in terms of staff time and pupil time in moving from one to the other? I do not mind that; it is a lovely ride; it is a beautiful valley. What I do object to is when this happens in a city and it is a three-quarters of a mile walk to bus routes. What effect does that have on discipline? What effect has it got on the staff? It may be said, of course, that this is not going to be implemented at once. We have not got the money. It is just a threat hanging over people's heads, or an aspiration.


A hope, a promise.


It is not a hope or a promise to many people on the staff. Let us try to think of pupils and staff rather than organisation and ideology and the are of the covenant that we must must not question. You have staff who are not sure when they are going to he reorganised; who know that when they are reorganised the odds are that it is going to be in unsatisfactory buildings not designed for that purpose. We have an utterly wasteful use of buildings. You have, for example, a highly selective school with a very high proportion of laboratories, very often built at its own expense, for advanced science. You want to turn it into a comprehensive school. What happens to those buildings? Do you turn them into places to teach needlework? If it were not that the schools have the guts to go independent, if they did what this Bill wants them to do, you would have a monstrous waste of capital equipment.

I am just a schoolmaster. I cannot describe the effect on morale when it is known what economies are having to be made; economies in the mere essentials of literacy, economies in books, economies in writing paper. And here we get £25 million, which we know is grotesquely inadequate, to do something that more than half the teachers do not want. They do not know when it is going to happen. It is a constant threat of change; instead of giving them hope of certain stability, hope of encouragement to do the basic jobs of education, they are offered this ambiguous doctrine that willy-nilly they must follow.


May I make one other point in addition to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord James. In the two areas I am thinking of at the moment where there has been a real interest in comprehensive education and there have been split sites and all the other things Lord James has described, whereas before they were pro-comprehensives they are now anti-comprehensives because they had to work in these conditions.


May I remind the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that the reason for putting down this Amendment is because there is an absolute duty laid on authorities under Clause 4 of the Bill to implement within a period of five years proposals which have been approved under Clause 3. In moving the Amendment, I said that there really was not any political intention in this at all, and [...] think the noble Lord accepted it; it was to try to prevent what could be an administrative nonsense. I had hoped that wording my Amendment, "the necessary resources…for school building starts" would make it clear that what was at issue was whether there had been the necessary allocation to the authority or authorities concerned.

Although I realise that I am not a draftsman and I might well be Old that my drafting is faulty—and I accept that perhaps it is faulty, and for that reason alone I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment—little did I think when I moved it that I was going to find noble Lords in different parts of the Committee supporting me not only on grounds of allocations for school building programmes but also agreeing, as the noble Lord, Lord James, has agreed, that there are problems of recurrent expenditure. My noble friend Lady Faithfull made the same point, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, reminded us that interest rates are spiralling, that one can have the problem that even if the allocations are made to authorities the authorities may not take up those allocations. In reply to the Amendment earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said "It is true that the money may not be enough to implement proposals. It may even be cut again…" Those were the words which the noble Lord used and those were the reasons why I raised this Amendment. Then the noble Lord went on to say that this was no argument for authorities to do nothing.

This is not the argument behind the Amendment. If an absolute duty is laid by the authorities under Clause 4 to implement proposals which have been approved under Clause 3, it is a total impossibility, if the noble Lord will forgive me for saying so, for the Secretary of State to take the exit line which he suggested in his speech, which was that if suddenly a worse economic is blizzard came across the educational scene, the Secretary of State could go back to the authorities and say, "We realise that there is not enough money for you to implement your proposals within 5 years; therefore under Clause 2 we will look again at your proposals".

I think that if the noble Lord would care to look at the Bill he would find that statutorily that is not a possibility, and that is the reason for which my noble friend Lord Howe, with all the problems that he has had in the past as chairman of the education committee in Buckinghamshire and which he is still seeing in his position on the county council there, gets up and says, "What are we to do if the money is not actually there?" It seems to me that we are in the situation of a one-year building programme. That alone is enough to damn the provisions of Clause 4. We are in a situation where we have got increasing money interest rates. We are in a situation where the only special allocation which the Government have made has been a £25 million allocation of resources which was immediately three times over-contributed. Yet here is this absolute duty to implement within five years.

I will certainly withdraw the Amendment, but I must say to the Government that I certainly will take advice and I should be more than happy to take advice from the Department if they would be so good as to talk to me. But I beg the noble Lord to look at these as a genuine pair of Amendments, and to see whether it may not be necessary, at a later stage, to bring back Government Amendments which perhaps a new Secretary of State might think would be a suitable addition to the Bill.

8.53 p.m.


The noble Lord speaks very reasonably. My attitude towards the matter is perfectly simple. One cannot stop everything because there is a monetary crisis. In my real life, which is as Minister for the Arts, I am being threatened wherever I look that the only way to deal with the crisis is to chuck the whole thing, and I am fighting against this right and left. The same applies here. We are making a move towards the finalisation of a comprehensive system of education in this country in which there is a 25 per cent. gap to fill. This Bill is about that and I am not going to agree to say, "All right, nobody do anything because we are in money trouble". I am simply saying, "Carry on, get the plans agreed and see what happens".

If the noble Lord would like to consult with my Department over any points, as he suggested, we should be very happy indeed to do this. but I hope he will not press the Amendment because it really amounts to saying that unless one can see the cash then one has an excuse for doing nothing. This I cannot accept.


In withdrawing the Amendment may I just say that I hope the Department, if they think there is anything in what has been said in this debate, might take it upon themselves to take the initiative in consulting me. If they did that I should be extremely grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

8.55 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 46: After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:

"Committee of Enquiry

—(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint an independent Committee of Enquiry into the operation and results of non-selective schools having particular regard to—

  1. (a) the experience so far gained of the effect of the size of schools upon the quality of education, the turnover of staff and the discipline within such schools, and
  2. (b) the effect of classes of mixed ability on the quality of education.

(2) The said Committee of Enquiry shall report its findings to both Houses of Parliament within two years of the passing of this Act."

The noble Lord said: We come now to what I regard as a somewhat crucial and very interesting Amendment. It requires an inquiry into the effects of two of the normal corollaries of comprehensive reorganisation and it may be convenient to your Lordships to consider it in conjunction with Amendment No. 68, which I think the noble Lord agreed would be a sensible grouping, which requires the provisions of this Amendment to be completed prior to the implementation of the whole of the Bill.

The Amendment lays upon the Secretary of State the duty to appoint an independent committee of inquiry into the operation and results of non-selected schools in the light of experience so far gained, first of all of the effect of size upon these schools and, secondly, of the effect of classes of mixed ability. Your Lordships will be aware that an increase in the size of schools has until very recently been a nearly universal feature of comprehensive reorganisation and is still a very common phenomenon. I have taught in a comprehensive school with 1,400 pupils, and I noticed at first hand that the effects of that were not only directly upon the education but also indirectly on the administrative and pastoral aspects. Administratively, truancy is facilitated, communications are rendered more difficult, filing and correcting become more cumbersome and the volume of work seems to multiply beyond the direct ratio with the size of classes taught. In pastoral terms, with those large numbers of people bullying is more difficult to detect, and unhappiness is less easy to remedy. As a result of all these factors the quality of education declines.

Beyond this I think there is a stress factor not yet fully understood but under investigation by psychologists, a factor resulting simply from the concentration of large numbers of people in one place. Your Lordships will have read of the extraordinary results of having large numbers of rats in laboratories. As a farmer I am familiar with the fact that there are limits to the number of chickens one can have in one place without a sort of inexplicable and suicidal hysteria assaulting them. I am not saying that this is what takes place in the schools, but a stress factor is discernible although it is difficult to describe. It produces a strain, not only on the children but also on the staff, which may be compounded of noise, motion and the constant necessity of recognising innumerable individuals. I do not know.

I think it would be as well at this point to look into the possibility of a correlation between the size of the staff and its turnover. A large staff is in any case necessary in a large school and it is less cohesive; it is less efficient, for fairly elementary but perhaps not immediately obvious reasons, such as that the number of occasions on which one chances to meet somebody who also teaches a, pupil one teaches and wishes to discuss is greatly reduced because of the large number of teachers there. I have been in schools where there has been a turnover of 25 per cent. per annum, and that is not the highest.

To take the example with which I am familiar, it means that when any child has been in the school for only two years, half the staff has been replaced. The child is then, if it is a secondary school, 13-plus, and that is rather an early age at which suddenly to begin to recognise that the permanent, lasting and stable human feature of the school is not, as it should be, the staff, why are in a way in loco parentis and should he fixed; it is the pupils. The staff charge and the psychological results of this are very considerable indeed and shoal be taken note of and investigated.

The Secretary of State and the noble Lord will be aware of the work of Mr. R.W. Baldwin in his paper last year comparing the academic results of selective and nonselective schools in Manchester. It was a very fortunate choice of area of research because, as noble Lords will know, the Roman Catholic schools there had not reorganised and were still grammar and secondary modern, and the secular schools had reorganised and were comprehensive. Between them each took approximately half the school population.

I will not recapitulate the figures because they have been bandied about frequently, but I will ask the noble Lord, if he has not already done so, to look at the paper submitted on 28th September of this year by the same Mr. Baldwin, chairman of the Manchester Grammar School governors, which bears out and endorses the findings of the former paper. These would not be relevant if it were not that 14 out of the 20 comprehensive schools in Manchester have over 1,000 pupils, and three of them have 1,500 and over. There is at least a prima facie case here, without looking further, to ask whether there is some effect of size which is deleterious to education, quite independently of subjective conclusions which a great many of us with teaching experience have long ago come to.

The second paragraph in the first Amendment lays upon the Secretary of State a duty to look into the effects of mixed ability teaching. Here again is a method of which many of tri have an immediate, instinctive, and subjective mistrust. If all was otherwise well in the educational world, if we were achieving every year higher and better standards of the product of the industry, as it were, or if we were indeed maintaining our position, one might perhaps regard this as an experiment that might continue and be expanded without too much concern, but that is not the situation.

I must say for myself that I have an extraordinary feeling of déjà vu when I come to the mixed ability group system of teaching, because its adherents say how good it is socially and from the point of view of behaviour for the brighter children or the more experienced or learned children to help on those who are less bright or less learned or advantaged. But is not this the 19th century monitorial system of teaching being reinstituted? Have we not been here before? Was it not a way of inculcating educational drills by overworked teachers with classes too big for them? Do we want to resuscitate both the problems and solutions of the 20th century in the same classrooms? If this is not indeed what is happening, then I would have thought it was incumbent upon the Government to make sure that it is not happening before they encourage its spread.

Your Lordships have generously devoted time in the last year to consider educational standards of one sort or another, and particularly do I recall a debate on the national standards of literacy and the interest focused as a result of the Bullock Report. We have now illuminated a terrible situation where you have functionally illiterate adults numbered in millions in this country, to the stage where we have to give time on the national television network to providing for adults an educational service they should have received as children.

This is not an indictment of the comprehensive system but it is an indictment of the educational system that has preceded it and from which it has evolved, and I do not think that we can afford to go on training the branches of this tree into whatever patterns may delight whichever political Party, whether my own or the noble Lord's, without actually discovering what ails the tree and whether this training increases or decreases its effects?

It is relatively late in our proceedings, though we have come into the regrettable habit of thinking of nine o'clock as rather early lately, and therefore I shall not expatiate unless it proves necessary to do so at greater length on grounds with which I think most of the noble Lords whom I see in the Chamber are familiar. I do not think it is necessary to speak again to the second Amendment since the effects of it are quite simply to say that we must not proceed with the reorganisation until we are certain that it does not carry within it the seeds of a further weakening of the educational process. I would rather at this stage sit down and hear what other noble Lords have to say about this Amendment.

9.5 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

I consider this an important Amendment. On the last Amendment we were discussing money, and it was obvious that there is not going to be anything like enough money to turn those selective schools which now have to become non-selective into viable comprehensives. There is going to be a considerable period—I hope not too long—many years, I should think, before the financial resources are adequate. That poses by itself a delicate problem of organisation. How are you going to organise schools which have been selective, and which probably very seldom contain more than 500 or 600 pupils, when they become non-selective? It is that delicate problem that really adds to what I think would be there anyway, which is that the public feel the time has come for them to know more about the results of the great comprehensive experiment.

This is an old subject so far as I am concerned, and I must refer to the time when I was Minister of Education and I welcomed the comprehensive experiment. I authorised between 100 and 200 comprehensive schools. Some of them were excellent from the start. Kidbrooke, I suppose, is the most famous example. There you had an exceptionally fine head teacher, backed up by quite exceptional administrative assistants from the London County Council, and able of course to recruit an intake from what you might describe as a good neighbourhood. Dame Molly Green made a tremendous success of Kidbrooke and we all salute her, but it was not long before we realised that this was an exception that proved the rule.

Then there came to me from all quarters pressure to have an inquiry into the results of operating the 100 or 200 comprehensive schools that were then in existence, and the main burden of complaint at that time was the rapidity of the turnover in staff; I cannot remember the exact figures, but it was well known that the length of time which teachers stayed in the new comprehensives was significantly less than either grammar schools or secondary moderns. Many of my expert advisers, HMIs and others, said that it was a serious matter and people asked for an inquiry. For three years, from 1959 to 1962, I refused and stood out against an inquiry into comprehensive schools. I did so because I thought they had not had time to settle down and that it would be unfair when teething troubles, which are quite natural to new institutions, were probably at their worst, and when I left the Ministry there had been no inquiry into comprehensive schools.

That was 15 years ago and times have changed. Now 75 per cent. of our secondary school children are in non-selective schools, and at the same time it is quite undeniable that there is widespread anxiety both about the standards of education in secondary schools generally and about the standards of discipline. Therefore it is of the greatest public importance to discover whether there are any reasons which are due not to non-selection particularly but to size and perhaps methods of teaching in these large schools. It is well worth remembering that those experts in education who in my time advised me that a comprehensive school, to justify its existence, must be large enough to contain almost a fully-fledged grammar school within it, have had to abandon that, but they have not abandoned it for educational reasons; they have abandoned their doctrine because the administrative difficulties of managing a very large school are so great and because it is so difficult to find head teachers who can manage a staff of 80 or 100 teachers, let alone get to know 1.500 pupils or whatever the number might be.

We do not know nearly enough about this conflict between the large school, where one can offer a big range of options to the children but at the price of great administrative and disciplinary trouble, and a much smaller school where one cannot offer the range of options to the children but where one may he better able to manage the staff and disciplinary problems. This is a real educational conflict which has nothing to do with politics; it is to do with human nature and how one organises people.

I will give the Committee just one example of what is happening in comprehensive schools. Quite recently a review was made of secondary education in Haringey. Haringey became comprehensive in 1967. The review revealed a drop of 22 per cent. in O-level passes and 35 per cent. in A-level passes in the last five years. As usual, the schools in Haringey which have the greatest number of pupils from low income homes—that is indicated by the percentage of children taking free school dinners—are the ones in which the lowering of standards has been the greatest. When the chief education officer was asked for his comments, his main answer was that the borough was exporting its best pupils instead of importing them from other authorities. Then we looked at the figures and those in the review showed that the export of pupils followed the drop in standards. If the export of pupils had been the cause, it would have taken place five years before the O-level drop and seven years before the A-level drop.

I do not know whether Haringey is a unique case. None of your Lordships knows. It is extremely difficult to get information from chief education officers or education committees about the real state of education in their particular area. All I am asking is this: we are now embarking on a Bill which is going to cause a very rapid change in the structure of secondary schools in respect of some 20 to 25 per cent. of all children. Ought we to do it when there is such uncertainty about the methods of organising a nonselective school? I am bound to say that, if I were the Minister, I would not look at it and would simply say, "Unless I knew what I was doing, I would not go forward with this". However, if you have a theoretical view about education and it does not really count with you whether or not the particular type of organisation and administration that you are forced to put into practice has or has not a beneficial effect on the pupils, of course you will go ahead. I do not believe that that is the way we ought to deal with the children of this country.

I am not at all wedded to the second part of the Amendment which ties up the review with the date of coming into operation of the Act. I think this ought to be done by any Minister who cares about the children for whom he or she is responsible. It is not right to go on in the dark, as we are now, about the way in which secondary education should be organised within a school. It may well turn out that non-selection has nothing to do with it and that 90 per cent. of the factors which have dragged down the standards in our schools are quite different, but for goodness sake! let us know that and let us know what is the effect of size on the capacity of our present teaching force to organise their schools in an efficient manner. That is the crucial question and we do not know the answer.

Finally, your Lordships must not be put off if the Department says, "We are making a Departmental inquiry." I am afraid that you cannot trust that great Department any longer. I am sorry to say that they will select the schools in any inquiry they make for the purpose of that inquiry. It may be a fact that they are now comparing, say, 200 comprehensives with 100 grammar schools, or something of that nature. Do not trust such an investigation unless the selection of the schools is done by an outside body and unless the inspection of their results is similarly carried out by an outside body. The Department cannot be trusted any more. It is a very sad thing for an ex-Minister of Education to have to say that you cannot trust the Department not to be biased.

9.17 p.m.


I welcome the Amendment, not only because it gives me a chance to make a Second Reading speech—and that is the only kind of speech that one can make on the Amendment—but also because, in some ways, I think it the most important Amendment before us, because it is the most fundamental. The only thing that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that I disagreed with—and I thought him very wrong to say it—was that he was very grateful to their Lordships for the time that they had spent during the past year in talking about education. He had no reason to be grateful. It is a question of squalid self-interest, if they only knew it. Compared with what we are discussing tonight, the plain fact is that the time we spend talking about economics in a broad way is wasted. How much more important is it to be getting down to the nitty-gritty of the organisation of the education of the people on whom the economic prosperity of the country will depend.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has spoken from the point of view of the very distinguished educational administrator to whom we are all grateful. I want to say a few words from the point of view of the teacher. Let us just think exactly what we are doing. Grammar schools have existed in this country for just about 1,000 years, give or take 50 years. It is a staggering thought—and people may say that it is a sign of our innate conservatism or, on the other hand, that it is a sign of the great tradition of Western culture—but there has been a recognisable thing called a grammar school for all that time.

We are in the process now of dismantling it with the greatest possible speed, with the authority of 39 per cent. of the electorate of this country behind us. That is a sobering thought. It may be right, but it is a sobering thought. We are told that we must not question it. If we question it, if we attempt to alter anything, we are told, "You must not do that. It is altering the whole purpose of the Bill on which we have decided, with 39 per cent. of the electorate behind us." An irreversible decision.

On what evidence are we basing this? We are not doing it for reasons of social engineering. I always thought that we were. I always thought that we were doing it because the schools were socially divisive, or something. We have been told that often enough. But tonight we were told that it had nothing to do with that; we were told that it is purely educational. If it is purely educational, then this is the question that educational investigation can answer.

How much have we done? How much have we done to bring about a change, to alter a tradition of 1,000 years in five or six? We do not wait fully to see what the few great comprehensive schools that were founded some years ago have developed into. We go on. We take pride that we have got 75 per cent. in 10 years, or whatever. And because we have not got 100 per cent. we have this Bill.

What would we do if, for instance, a dangerous drug were put on the market after only three years trial? Think of the row that is made because the drug companies do not go on and do experiments for years and years. It is said that they are very irresponsible. Yet we are being forced in this House—no, not in this House, thank goodness, but we are going to be forced—to alter the whole secondary educational pattern of this country with fewer years experiment than one would give to something which would be given to cows for tuberculosis. Can this he a proper thing to do?

We have not even looked at the experience of other countries. I know that we occasionally send a HMI to the United States, but how much serious work has been done on the comparison of our country's educational system with that of the United States? Jolly little. How much have we learned? How much evidence is there?

As the noble Viscount said, it may be absolutely splendid, just as Bemax may be good for you. But you do not know until you have looked at it properly and as scientifically as you can. Two big problems have been mentioned in the Amendment. There is the question of the size of the school, which I find interesting because I was in charge of a school of 1,450 boys which will no doubt be mentioned as an example of how successful a big school is. But it would not be fair to do so because I think it was too big, for one thing. It is a very highly selective homogeneous school, homogeneous intellect-wise, but not as regards class; there it was as heterogeneous as you like. It also had an exceptionally gifted and exceptionally stable staff, but it was still too big.

I may be wrong. I may feel that some of these schools are too big—a school, for instance, where the headmaster just laughs when you ask him how much teaching does he do, and where he has to have two non-teaching senior masters under him. That does not seem to me to be a school at all. However, that is what they are like. They may be all right, but let us find out. Do not let us rely on the hunches of James against them and on the other side the hunches of people in some university education department who have never really taught for the last 35 years.

What about the question of mixed ability? I know that I could not do it, so I am against it. The biggest range I ever had was a chap who was going to get a 50 in A-level and one who was going to get a Cambridge scholarship. I found that rather a big spread to handle in one class, but I managed. But what does "mixed ability" mean? I agree we are rediscovering the great lessons of the Lancasterian system in the early 19th century. We are rediscovering other educational techniques. You ask: how do you teach this? They have worksheets. You give them sheets of work and go round and help them; and if you work that out you find that each child gets one and a half minutes per lesson from the teacher. That is not what I call teaching or education. What are work-sheets? "Open your book and get on with the next exercise", we used to call it. I may be absolutely wrong; mixed ability teaching may be smashing; and a lot of theoretical educationalists tell you that, properly organised, especially if it is clone with three teachers at a time and a class of 100, when it is called team teaching, that is absolutely okay. I do not believe it.

But let us really try to find out. We will not find out in this way. I think this is wrong and the time schedule. It says two years. I think two years is probably too short. I think most committees take too long. I had the distinction of having been in the chair of the shortest of all educational committees, which reported on the training of teachers within a year. I think two years is a bit short; but, nevertheless, let us try. But it is a very difficult enterprise. The mere recognition of the difficulty, the mere recognitior of the magnitude of what we are in fact engaged on, the recognition of how vast is the sea on which we are sailing uncharted, unexplored, must really make us pause when we look at what we are doing here tonight. It is not only the details we have to consider: we cannot get away from the essential core of the Bill, because every tiny detail we can suggest is bound up with the untested presupposition on which the whole thing rests.


I must confess that I enjoyed the Second Reading speech of the noble Lord, Lord James, this time rather less than the one before last, but at least he has made clear to us, as many of us knew before, that he is totally opposed to this Bill lock, stock and barrel. This we have to accept. It is a fact of life. He is one person, with some experience; there are other people, with equal experience, who differ from him. I do not think we want to be over-influenced by that.

This Amendment is a direct negative to the Bill. I said in my Second Reading speech that I was not going to discuss the philosophy of the comprehensive schools—pace my noble friend Lady Elliot—whenever it came up. The decision, of a philosophical kind, had been made in another place, and it seemed to me absurd that on every Amendment we should discuss whether or not it was right to go comprehensive. I have not been very successful in deterring noble Lords from doing this, but now and again we have made a little progress. I am not going to take up the general argument at this stage.

So far as I am concerned, the decision has been made to bring in a Bill, which noble Lords have a perfect right to reject, to persuade the remaining (what is it?) 25 per cent. of the educational authorities or the schools in this country to adopt the system which has been adopted by the other 75 per cent. Of the 96 local education authorities in England, 95 have some comprehensive schools; fewer than 10 of the 95 are determined to retain grammar schools. It is a fact that the majority of those concerned with education are in favour of comprehensive schools. They may be wrong. The noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, may be right. I think that education is a most mysterious subject and my own view is that very few people know anything about it at all.


The noble Lord cannot deduce from what I have said that I am opposed to it root and branch. He can deduce that he ought to try them; and that is why the noble Lord really cannot oppose this. I am simply saying, "Try them!" That is all.


With respect, I deduce from what the noble Lord has said over the last twenty-four hours that he is against it. If I am wrong, too bad; so many others are wrong half the time. The position is that there are two propositions in this Amendment. One is a perfectly sensible one which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, put forward strongly that at some stage or other—he did not say when—there should be a really careful examination, though not necessarily a Departmental one. Accepting the slightly derogatory suggestions in his voice, I think that there is a case for having a non-Departmental one into the best form of education here. This is obviously something we ought to do.

The second part of the Amendment says that until we have done that, we drop the Bill. I am not with that and I am not going to argue it in detail. Your Lordships know my reasons. I have been giving them again and again on each Amendment. I do not think I need to say more. You know why I am in favour of the Bill and why I think it is fundamental for the benefit of the children of this country. I do not think it necessary for me in relation to a direct negative of this kind to argue the case. Of course, at some stage or another there must be a detailed research into how things work. I agree with this.

Baroness SEEAR

I do not follow this Amendment, Amendment No. 46, as an attack on comprehensives. Those in favour of comprehensive schools could still be very concerned about the size of classes and their effectiveness. These are not intrinsic parts of the comprehensive idea; they are different ways of doing things within the comprehensive system.


The attack comes in the second half of the Amendment which says that nothing should be done until this has happened.


It does not say that. It says, after the passing of the Act—not before. The noble Lord has it wrong. Perhaps he is on the wrong Amendment. It says that it should be done after.


It says that the Secretary of State: …shall not appoint a day, or days as the case may be, under subsection(1) of this section until both Houses of Parliament have considered the report… Is this what I have said; or is it something different?


As this Amendment is in my name, might I intervene? It might save a little time. The noble Lord has already pronounced himself on the first of these two Amendments. He has said that the first is perfectly sensible. He has said that it is something we ought to do in due course. What he takes exception to is its being tied to Amendment No. 68. I am perfectly willing to give ground, perhaps more generously than the noble Lord himself has shown so far. In view of the fact that it is really essential to allay the alarm of the general public about the way our children are educated under whatever system, I am prepared to forego the second Amendment. I am prepared to ask whether he will accept Amendment No. 46 on its own; and I cannot see after what he has said how he can resist that.


My abilities are considerable in this direction; but, in fact, I do not particularly want to. My own view is that inquiries into how things work are a proper part of Government. I am quite prepared to take back this Amendment—I should rather not pass it as it is—and talk to my colleagues about whether when we have passed this Bill we should not set up a monitoring arrangement of a kind which can be further discussed. This seems to be perfectly all right. I am prepared to do that, if the noble Lord will allow me to do it in that way. I will not accept, "After Clause 11 insert the following new clause—do nothing until both Houses have considered the answer." I do not know whether that gets us anywhere.


I am not entirely clear now what is being offered. What I have offered is perfectly clear. I have offered Amendment No. 46 on its own. Amendment No. 46 inserts a new clause after Clause 4 which requires the Secretary of State to appoint an independent Committee of Inquiry. My noble friend Lord Eccles matte it clear that many of us feel that this is an essential feature of the operation and results of non-selective schools, having particular regard to the two areas the noble Lord has discussed at some length and with some asperity, and we have set a time limit upon his Report—which might prove to be an interim one—as to when it comes to Parliament. That is what I have offered; the noble Lord appears to be offering something slightly different at Report stage.


I am trying to work out what I have been offering in the course of conversation. I have not discussed this with my Secretary of State because we have always taken the two clauses together, as indeed they were represented. Together they were a direct negative. I would have absolutely no objection, and would certainly recommend to my Secretary of State that we bring in something in the form of your first Amendment. I see no objection to it at all. There may be difficulties; I do not know what they are. If you leave it to me to put this up to my Secretary of State and come back to you, irrespective of the other Amendment, I will be happy to do so.


I can scarcely forebear to cheer. This is the first time that we have had the glimmering of a gift in the noble Lord's eye, at least to this Dispatch Box, and I am very glad to rest upon his assurance, but I shall wait with great interest to see what materialises at Report stage. We are not abandoning this point of an inquiry, I want to make to it perfectly clear. In view of what the noble Lord said, I will not tie this to the second Amendment. I will allow both of us the opportunity to come back to this at Report. I can see the noble Lard wishes to say something more. For the moment, I will not withdraw the Amendment.


What I want to say is nothing to do with what the noble Lord has said. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw Amendment No. 68 in relation to my agreeing to Amendment No. 46.


I thought I had made this clear, yes. Therefore, with a sigh of relief, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.39 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 47: After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:

Regulation of transfer of voluntary aided schools to the independent sector

".—(1) Section 14 of the Education Act 1944 shall have effect with the following amendments, being amendments to regulate the transfer of voluntary aided schools from the maintained to the independent sector.

(2) In subsection (1) for the words between "their intention to do so" and "(a) in regard to "there shall be substituted" where expenditure has been incurred in respect of the premises of any voluntary school otherwise than in connection with repairs by the Secretary of State or by any local education authority or former authority the Secretary of State may impose such requirements as are reasonable".

(3) After subsection (5) there shall he inserted: (5A) While any such notice is in force with respect to a voluntary school the school shall, until the expiration of the notice be maintained in like manner as it was immediately before the serving of the notice. (5B) The local education authority upon which any such notice is served shall provide education at the school under the powers conferred upon them by section (6) of the Education Act 1953, for every pupil registered at that school on the day immediately preceding the expiration of the notice until such pupil ceases to be registered at that school "".

The noble Lord said: We have dealt with part of this Amendment. I am under the impression I am now speaking to Amendment No. 47; the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, seems to think I am speaking to Amendment No. 48. I think she is wrong.


Amendment No. 47 was dealt with together with Amendment No. 40.


No, it was not. We embarked upon it and we agreed that we would deal with only half of it. There is an important principle involved in the other half of it. This is the first of the two Amendments to Section 14 of the Act of 1944. This Amendment alters the effect of a subsection in Section 14 of the Act of 1944. The wording in subsection (2) suggests that it has the effect only of removing from the Secretary of State the option of refusing to grant leave to a voluntary school wishing to initiate Section 14 procedures in order to go independent.

We have given the matter fairly prolonged thought and, as I outlined during my earlier speech on Clause 40, it seems to us that the onus in such cases rests more upon the Secretary of State and the local authority than might be apparent from the fact that the initiative is being taken by the school in question. As I then said, the majority of these, if not all (and I think it probably is all) such cases are now transpiring because local education authorities, pursuing the comprehensivist plans that were urged upon them by the Government, are forced to go independent, which they would not have done had not this initiative been taken by the local education authorities at the instigation of Her Majesty's present Government.

We do not feel that we can leave such schools between the two halves of a nutcracker. We do not feel that we should have a local education authority which would say, "We are going to make life intolerable for you if you stay in", and a Secretary of State who would say, "I am not going to allow you to get out". Therefore, although we have left all the provisions for ensuring that such an escape clause is operated fairly between the voluntary school and the community which it serves—and this has been done at some cost in our preparations for this debate—none the less we feel that this is the least that we can ask for.

We have touched upon the second half of the Amendment, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be patient with me when she replies. I should like to revert to it because I confess that I did not entirely take the points that the noble Baroness made before. At the risk of irritating some of your Lordships I hope that, having had an excellent but not too soporific dinner in the interim, I shall be better equipped to take on the second half of the Amendment at the second attempt. Perhaps, though, the noble Baroness would like to speak now to the first half of the Amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN

Section 14 is entitled: "Restrictions on discontinuance of voluntary schools by managers and governors". It is therefore a restrictive, not an enabling provision giving the Secretary of State power, in those cases where public money has been expended on the premises for purposes other than repair, to decide whether the managers or governors may give not less than two years' notice of their intention to discontinue their school. If such permission is granted, the Secretary of State can impose such requirements as she thinks just relating to the repayment of public money and the future use of the premises. It is important to note at this point that Section 14 does not provide for the giving of any public notice of the governors' proposal to discontinue, or indeed of any public expression for or against the proposal.


May I interrupt the noble Baroness? She says that there is no requirement to give any length of notice, but the first words of subsection (1) of Section 14 of the Education Act 1944 are: Subject to the provisions of this section, the managers or governors of a voluntary school shall not discontinue the school except after serving on the Minister and the local education authority … not less than two years' notice of their intention to do so. I think that I must not have followed what the noble Baroness was saying.

Baroness STEDMAN

I am sorry; we seem to be getting into a real muddle. I am advised that Section 14 does not provide for the giving of any public notice of the governors' proposal to discontinue or, indeed, of any public expression for or against the proposal. Section 14 is designed to ensure that the local education authorities have a duty to see that there are enough schools for their area and that they are not arbitrarily deprived of the places that are available at the particular school without consideration being given to the propriety of the governors' action in all the circumstances. As we see it, the effect of this Amendment would be to remove this important safeguard and to give managers and governors the right to take their school out of the public system within two years without even consulting the local education authority which has for many years maintained the school.

The purpose of the 1944 Education Act and all the legislation which has followed it has been to sustain and develop the public system of education, and for this reason the Act envisaged a situation in which an independent school can make application under Section 31(2) to become maintained by a local education authority as a voluntary school. But there is no provision for any change of status in the opposite direction and I am surprised that the noble Lords opposite should regard it as appropriate to put forward a new clause to regulate the transfer of voluntary aided schools from the maintained to the independent sector. Legally there can be no such transfer. If a school were to be discontinued under Section 14, it would cease to exist on the day following its closure and its governing body would cease to exist with it.

Although Section 14 could be used in circumstances when the local education authority are willing to continue their maintenance of the school, but the governors have good reasons for wishing to close it, it is very seldom used in practice. Governors are, after all, statutory bodies appointed to conduct and sustain the school within the maintained system. If closure becomes necessary, and the local education authority as the maintaining body agrees, then a proposal by the authority under Section 13 is the proper method of dealing with the matter, affording as it does the opportunity for local comment before a final decision is reached.

To conclude my comment on subsection (2) of the proposed new clause, I note that in imposing requirements as regards the possible recovery of public expenditure the phrase "as are reasonable" has been substituted for "as he thinks just". In the context of Section 14, what is required is a fair assessment and adjustment of the liabilities and entitlements of the parties, taking into account their respective contributions over the years. We feel that the Amendment could narrow the Secretary of State's jurisdiction in this respect in a way which might not always operate in the interests of the managers and the governors.


I am much obliged to the noble Baroness for the very complicated reply she has given to me, some of which I find surprising, and I think we should return to this at the Report stage. There are one or two points I should like to pick up on the way so that our deliberations in the interim may be more fruitful. There is, of course, provision for notice to be given both to the Secretary of State and to the local education authority, which may not have been apparent from the reply made by the noble Baroness, although that notice need not be public. I should have thought it was not confidential and the remedy for this would lie in the hands of the chief education officer and the Secretary of State.

I am afraid I completely failed to follow the sentence in which the noble Baroness appeared to say that there could be no legal transfer from the maintained to the non-maintained sector, because that would appear to be what this clause is regulating, and I should have thought that it could not regulate something that is illegal: it would prohibit it. I found that a little difficult to follow. I hope that the noble Baroness has taken note of the concern we feel for schools which are being effectively driven out of the maintained sector, reluctantly—and I can say that in all honesty—and who are at the same time in a position where they may be prevented from doing so by the Secretary of State. As I said earlier, it is our concern always to protect people from Secretaries of State and it is her concern to protect the Secretary of State from everybody else. If we were sitting on opposite sides of this Table it may be—although I hope this is not the case—the roles would be reversed.

In view of the complications and the very ramified implications of the two points I have already alluded to, and the fact that I need to study what she said in the earlier debate on the second half of this Amendment, I think it might be to the convenience of the Committee if I took away and digested the quite large meal I already have, but I am afraid that that must be on the understanding that I may find it necessary to come back with a slightly different Amendment on my plate at the Report stage. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.50 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 48: After Clause 4 insert the following new clause:

Appeals Board

(" .—(1) An Appeals Board shall be established by each local education authority comprising one member of another local education authority, one teacher not employed by the local education authority establishing the Board and one other person of local standing not being a member of any local authority.

(2) It shall he the duty of the Appeals Board to ensure that proper regard is had to the provisions of section 76 (Pupils to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents) of the Education Act 1944 by the said local education authority.

(3) A parent may, if dissatisfied with the maintained school place allocated to his child by the local education authority, appeal against it to the Appeals Board established by that authority.

(4) The Appeals Board, having considered the submissions of the local education authority and of the parent in such a case shall direct either (a) that the allocation shall stand or (b) that another shall be substituted for it, and it shall be the duty of the local education authority to comply with that direction.

(5) The direction referred to in subsection (4)(b) of this section shall, except under exceptional circumstances, name the school at which the said child shall be allocated a place.

(6) Where a parent is dissatisfied with a direction given by the Appeals Board under subsection (4) of this section, he may appeal to the Secretary of State.").

The noble Lord said: We now come to an Amendment to insert a new clause relating to an Appeals Board to adjudicate in cases where parents of pupils feel that the pupils have been incorrectly allocated to places. I should like your Lordships to consider briefly again a point I raised earlier; that is, that where there is choice between schools, it really verges on the inhumane not to consider the feelings of parents in allocating those places. I can see that the noble Lord agrees with me.

It may be that a parent feels himself or herself aggrieved on behalf of the child over the allocation of school. Those of your Lordships who remember the poignant days of youth will recall with what conviction and dependence a child looks to its parent for protection in distress, and they can now see how it hurts a parent not to be able to alleviate distress. Whatever the rights of the case, if a child is placed in a school from which it comes back frequenly with scratches, bruises or in tears, and attending which it loses its appetite and so on, it is natural for the parent to wish to extend protection to the child other than by breaking the law and preventing the child's attendance at school altogether. Until some independent judgment has been brought to bear, it is very difficult to convince the parent that justice has been done. It may well be that justice is not what the parent expects, but it must be done, and it must be seen to be done. This Amendment suggests a method by which it can be done.

The noble Lord can argue that there is already an appeal to the Secretary of State, but this is the sort of remedy which is so awe-inspiring to most people that they simply do not ever consider having recourse to it. We want to make justice approachable by the common man. We do not want to involve people of great administrative experience in London—incidentally whose time is of enormous value and should not be spent on individual cases miles from where they live. It ought to be judged by people familiar with the locality but not prejudiced by it; it ought to be judged by people familiar with teaching, but not under the authority of the LEA whose judgment is in question, and of local standing.

We have suggested a board with three members (and the noble Lord may well wish to suggest improvements) which will comprise a member of another local education authority, preferably one adjacent, a teacher not employed by the local education authority, and one other person of local standing. Your Lordships may think that that is not enough. There may be denominational issues and racial issues concerned. The difficulty may he arriving at a number and a composition, but I think it will do a great deal for the happiness of parents and children if something of the sort could be set up at no great expense, if any.

The Board would then have the duty of seeing that the provisions of Section 76 were, in so far as is practicable—and that proviso is included in the section itself—were observed. It would be right that the Board should normally say that the child should go either to one school or another, but it is possible to envisage circumstances when it might simply say the child should not go to this school and may go to others. That is why subsection (4) is included. Of course, we do not want to block off the appeal to the Secretary of State in the final resort because it may be that in certain circumstances, which we cannot foresee, there may be something in the nature of a test case lurking in the future when we have no choice of school left, when I suggest that this Amendment might then be altered to have Section 67 policed or enforced within the schools rather than between the schools. That is a slightly wider issue. We have nearly reached it, but not yet. I beg to move.

9.55 p.m.


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, with whom I discussed this matter this morning, has every sympathy with the general principle that if a parent is dissatisfied with the school allocation proposed for his or her child he should have an opportunity to have the matter reviewed, but I do not think the machinery proposed in this Amendment is appropriate for the purpose. All local education authorities already have some form of review procedure, some more formal than others. If, after review, a parent thinks the authority's proposal is unreasonable he may complain to the Secretary of State. Over a thousand parents do so every year, and in a not insignificant number of cases the decision is changed. If it appears that the authority's decision involved maladministration, the parent may complain to the local commissioner for administration, the "local ombudsman", and in a number of cases, details of which have been published, parents have been supported by the ombudsman.

It must be noted that local councillors and Members of Parliament very often play an important part in ensuring that the fullest consideration is given to individual cases. The Amendment would add to the present arrangements, which are already quite complicated and time-consuming, yet another element with features that many would find repugnant. First, there is the idea that the LEA's decisions should be reviewed and perhaps upset by a body of people without any responsibility for the administration of the authority's education service. This is particularly inappropriate, because most "choice of school" cases arise nowadays from the fact that the school preferred by the parent is full. The Appeal Board, however wise and just, cannot make it less full, nor would they have any power to review the general allocation arrangements which resulted in the school's having been filled by other children. Their decisions would in the nature of the situation be arbitrary and, in the strict sense of the word, irresponsible. Have the Opposition consulted the local authority associations about the clause, I ask?

Second, the Amendment provides for the parent a right of appeal not only to his local board but also, if still dissatisfied, to the Secretary of State. There is no provision for appeal by the local education authority. They are the body responsible for providing the service, for raising a substantial part of its finance, for deciding its policy within the overall framework of national policy, and for carrying out the unenviable task of trying to satisfy everybody. Moreover, they are the democratically elected representatives of the local community, representing indeed the general body of local parents whose interests have to be weighed very carefully in relation to that of the parent who is dissatisfied. Surely we do not want to substitute a nominated body for an elected local authority?

Third, the proposed hoards would be expensive if they were to work properly. One hundred boards would need staff and services, and this is the last moment to add to public expenditure, however good the cause. Last, there is no provision to ensure some consistency of decisions between different boards, or even by the same board.

My Secretary of State and myself want to see parents' rights safeguarded and even extended. We do not think this is the way to do it. I can, however, assure the Committee that my right honourable friend will examine beyond the present Bill and, in consultation with all the interests concerned, including noble Lords opposite, what might be done to improve the arrangements whereby school places are allocated and how parents' views can be properly considered. I would not exclude even the possibility of future legislation. This is an area in which we can all work together to good effect. I hope on that assurance, the assurance that my Secretary of State recognises the importance of this, that she believes that this is not the way to do it but that a way could possibly be found, the Amendment will perhaps be withdrawn.


The purpose of putting up the wrong solution is to precipitate the right solution. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his assurance. I do not think I need reply to his criticisms of the original Amendment. I accept his assurance that it is in the mind of the Secretary of State to have consultations, which will include ourselves, with the possibility of legislation in mind, and more particularly that the interests of the children and parents in this context are and remain in the forefront of the official mind. How gracious the noble Lord is becoming! I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Approval for arrangements for non-maintained schools]:

10.2 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 49:

Page 4, line 19, at end insert: ("Provided that there shall be no legal or financial liability resting with the local education authority or with the schools in question, and that appropriate education can he afforded in maintained schools to the pupils concerned.")

The noble Lord said: I am not going to move this Amendment. If it is for the convenience of the Committee, I would not move this Amendment or Amendments Nos. 52 and 53, so that we might proceed to debate the Question, That Clause 5 stand part of the Bill?

On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?


The Education Acts not only allow, but also lay duties upon, local education authorities, and parents on certain occasions, to take up places outside the maintained sector. The effect of Clause 5 is to empower the Secretary of State to prevent these arrangements, and, as I understand it, it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to carry that intention into effect. Speaking on the effect of Clause 5 yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who is always moderate and helpful in the way that he seeks to answer the debates in Committee, none the less was so downright as to say these words, at col. 1420 of the Official Report: I said earlier that there is an element of battle here, and this is something to prevent the sabotage of the objects of the Bill So the Government are looking on Clause 5 as an instrument by which local authorities can be prevented from sabotaging the provisions of the Bill; although I am bound to say in this debate on Clause 5 that I think the noble Lord's ideas on this are misconceived. It must be rare to the point of being unknown for an authority deliberately to take up places, particularly sixth form places, in independent schools, when the authority would have the price of being able to provide those places themselves if the finance was available.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes the finance is not available, and so we find some authorities having to fulfil their duties under Section 8 of the 1944 Education Act, which is now written into the Bill as a result of the first Division which we had on this Bill, to ensure that the schools which the authority are providing are sufficient in number, character and equipment. There are very real problems of school building resources in all this. When the Government take the attitude that independent education should be allowed to continue only on sufferance and then should he decapitated in some way by Clause 5, I hope that Ministers will take into account the very substantial capital costs which independent schools are saving the taxpayer.

There are also the rights of parents involved in all this. As things stand at the moment, the ways in which independent and maintained schools are run are distinct and they are different. Maintained schools are financed and therefore controlled by the local education authority and this control is an important: part of an authority's powers and responsibilities. But, of course, it means that the governing bodies of maintained schools do not have the responsibilities which are necessary if people are going to become really interested in serving as school governors. This is a problem which the Taylor Committee is looking into at the present time.

I think one must accept as a conclusion that many parents feel that they have some real influence once they lave placed their child at an independent school because the governors there are totally responsible and answerable to the parents. There is also the whole question of parents wanting a place at a boarding school. The arguments about this are so familiar that they do not need repeating. Suffice it simply to say that my estimate of the numbers of boarding places taken up by local education authorities and by grants by Government Department is something in the region of 16,000 places. In addition to that there are, of course, as many places again taken up in day schools in the independent sector.

It is probably for these considerations and for others that the Government have now signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which expressly requires the signatories to: undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents to choose for their children schools other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to minimum educational standards laid down or approved by the State, and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions". But the intentions of the Government as they are seen in Clause 5 really do run contrary to the provisions of that international covenant.

Yet, if we look round the world, what do we see? We see the British tradition of partnership in education being fostered and developed. One has only to look at Australia, New Zealand, Holland or Denmark, just to mention four countries where in different ways either aid is given to independent education or parents are encouraged to choose to send their children to State or private schools. In some very interesting figures which no less a person than the noble Lord, Lord Butler, gave in a debate in this House some two years ago he showed very clearly that in many other countries besides the take-up of places independent education was very much higher than it is here.

We are not moving Amendments, but for that reason I have four specific questions which I should like to ask the Government, and if the noble Lord is not able to answer them perhaps he would be so good as to write to me later. My first question is this. I am not a lawyer, but I expect the Government's legal advice is that the offer or take-up of a free place in a non-maintained school does not constitute a legally enforceable contract between the local authority and the parent. However, there may be a contract between the local authority and the school. The Government will remember, I am sure, the case in 1973 of Birkenhead Corporation against Birkenhead School when it was held that a three-year period was necessary for the termination of notice of the taking up of places by the authority. It would be interesting, therefore, if we could have a word before this short debate is finished about the legal and financial effects or responsibilities for the local authority and the schools when the Secretary of State comes down with a revocation.

My second question is this. My own interpretation of Clause 5, for what it is worth, is that existing arrangements for the taking up of places are going to continue unless the Secretary of State takes action and says that he is revoking any arrangements. May I simply ask whether that is correct, or are we to understand that the Bill, once it is passed, is going to prevent the take-up of places, and the taking up of them again in the future can be allowed only if the Secretary of State then gives the green light, as it were. My third question is: Will the Government be able to indicate this evening the period of notice for a revocation? I trust that the Government are not going to resist the spirit of that question absolutely and that there will be some notice.

My last question is this. Do the Government believe that the 1953 Act, which is the Act used most frequently in the take-up of places, implies any prohibition for authorities to take up free places unless there is a shortage of places at maintained schools. My own advice is that this is surely not so, and that the powers in the 1953 Act are in addition to, and not instead of, the powers of the 1944 Act. But as the Secretary of State is the Minister who is taking revocation powers, as I am asking these questions of the Government I think this is the moment to have a clear statement on that particular question.

I hope that the noble Lord will not think me discourteous if I end by saying that despite the questions that I felt I ought to ask there is a particular difficulty which we have, and it is the familiar one of finance. On the Second Reading of this Bill a man who has spent his life in education and whose knowledge of local government finance must be greater than probably anyone else's in the whole country, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, referred to this clause as economic nonsense—and well he might. I have already suggested to the Committee that the figures as I know them are some 16,000 boarding places being taken up in the independent sector, with as many places being taken up again in independent day schools. What would be the cost to provide those places if all those schools were suddenly to shut? I wonder whether the Government really do have a figure for the total cost of replacement.

What an extraordinary reward for these schools, when all they are trying to do is make a contribution towards the education service, to be told that they are going to be allowed to continue to receive pupils while their places are needed and then, as soon as possible, the provisions of Clause 5 will be brought into effect. Really this is no way to legislate for the future of our educational service, a service which depends upon partnership and understanding for its progress. I am going to listen very carefully to the answers which the noble Lord is going to be able to give me, and I am going to listen most carefully for an answer to the very last point, the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. Then I am going to make up my mind how I shall vote on this clause.

10.13 p.m.


As will be seen from the Marshalled List, I had hoped to move a slightly more limited Amendment earlier on because it is in fact subsection (2) to which I object rather than the others. But, on reflection, and not entirely because of the lateness of the hour, because by these present standards in your Lordships' House it is not particularly late, I came to the conclusion that there was no point, if I may put it vulgarly, in mucking about with this clause. It really must go. I admired the last words of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, when he said how carefully he would listen to the Government before he made up his mind how he was going to vote.

I will listen carefully, but I must say that it will take a very great deal to move me on this particular clause, and for rather different reasons than those which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has produced. I think this is right, because we approach it from slightly different points of view. Some noble Lords will remember that I am as vehement as anyone on the Government Front Bench in saying that you cannot have grammar schools and comprehensives together. They are incompatible. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and I have crossed swords on this matter before now, and it is true that it is an abuse of the English language to say that you can. But that is not to say that you should not have flexibility in individual cases, and that you should not be able to exercise that flexibility even sometimes when you are wrong to do so.

Noble Lords may also remember that yesterday I spoke in favour of a Conservative Amendment which would have made it a duty for LEAs to consider the needs of particular children and to make them pre-eminent even over the principle of the Bill. I go along with that still and that is why I want to see the clause taken out of the Bill, for there is no other way to show our flexibility unless we can adapt the educational system, which stands in danger of becoming over-rigorous with the comprehensive system. There is no other way we can use it for the benefit of individual children with individual problems unless we give LEAs the greatest possible freedom to deal with individual cases. To take away from LEAs the right to use their money to administrate—admittedly, money given to them by the Government; admittedly, money taken from the voters in rates—and to deny them the right to use that in individual cases would be entirely wrong.

I appreciate that this may be abused. It has been said, I know not with how much truth—if I slander them I am sorry—that it has been abused by the County of Surrey. If it is abused, then that is a matter for the district auditor, and if people think that she district auditor is inadequate, I would remind noble Lords that the last Secretary of State for Education gave that very advice when he said that people could go to the district auditor if they thought that this facility was being abused. Frankly, I do not mind if it is being abused. I am in favour of the comprehensive system, as I have said time and again, and so is my Party. Reluctantly I believe that we should deal with the so-called rebel authorities because they deal with a large number of children. However, we should not take this to the extreme of forbidding LEAs from using their discretion in individual cases.

My Party is lucky to have a very distinguished educational panel; noble Lords must not judge my Party's educational expertise by its performance on this Front Bench because behind it lies a great number of experts of one kind or another. I was very interested to note as we came to discuss the Bill that we range, as do all Parties in your Lordships' House, from the Right-Wing of our particular philosophy to the Left-Wing, but the one thing they were all absolutely certain about, including the most rabid comprehensivists, was that this clause must go because it was real compulsion, real tyranny, unjust, and must be got rid of. I will of course listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has to say. I hope that he has something wonderful to tell me which will change all our minds, but I very much doubt it. What is more, if we throw the clause out of the Bill I hope that we will never let it back in, whatever the circumstances and whatever pressure may be put on us.


Perhaps the reaction of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was a little emotional over this, though I bear him no for that, and the fact remains that this is a very important clause. I will come in due course to the questions which he asked. The purpose of the clause is to ensure that the Secretary of State can use, in order to ensure that the LEAs have proper regard to the comprehensive principle, certain powers which Parliament intended her to have under previous legislation but which, for various reasons, cannot at present be exercised effectively. They are powers intended to enable her to control the circumstances in which LEAs provide or support the provision of education in non-maintained schools in three different ways—by giving grants to a school, by taking places at full cost without regard to parents' means, or by giving income-related help to parents to pay the fees.

The point is simply and solely that any of these methods could be used by a local education authority as a way of avoiding their duty to work as quickly as possible towards the provision of education without reference to ability or aptitude. I do not suggest that many authorities would seriously contemplate doing this, but it is a field of obvious temptation. We shall shut the gate and erect a notice saying, "No entry without permission". We shall consider very carefully who should be allowed in and for how long.

It is my right honourable friend's intention on the enactment of the Bill to revoke, in relation to arrangements not already made, the general approval given by a Conservative Minister in 1959 to all arrangements that had been made or might be made by local education authorities to take places in non-maintained schools under Section 6(1) of the 1953 Act. She will also take steps to ensure that local education authorities are not covered, in respect of arrangements not already made, by any similar approval given by a former Minister for assistance at non-maintained schools under the Scholarships and other Benefits Regulations 1945. I emphasise that these steps will relate to arrangements not already made: they will ensure that future arrangements are not made without her express approval.

My right honourable friend will then call for details of arrangements already made by LEAs for taking places, for helping with fees or for giving grants to non-maintained schools; and she will consider any proposals they may wish to make for continuing arrangements already made or for entering into new arrangements. After careful consideration, my right honourable friend will revoke the approval given by her predecessor in respect of any existing arrangements which she herself is not prepared to approve, and she will give approval to new arrangements only where she considers it appropriate to do so.


May I ask the Minister what criteria the Secretary of State will use in deciding those weighty matters?


That is not laid down in the Bill. I believe that the basic criterion will be the availability of maintained places in relation to the non-maintained places which are being subsidised in one way or another. I take it that that is what will normally be in the mind of the Secretary of State. I do not believe that I can take it further than that.


Will the categories of boarding need also be considered?


Certainly. My right honourable friend will of course allow a reasonable period of notice if she revokes approval for an arrangement which could not reasonably be terminated forthwith and she will be aware that in some circumstances an authority may need to act quickly in order to meet an unforeseen situation. Approval would not be revoked so as to make necessary an upset in a child's education.

I cannot at this stage lay down the exact lines on which my right honourable friend will decide which arrangements to approve; as always, careful consideration will be given to every case. In general—and this will perhaps answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—she will not approve arrangements except where she is satisfied that the taking of places is necessary because of a shortage of places in maintained schools, or that assistance with fees is desirable—I shall return to this later. In particular, she will need to be satisfied that the arrangements will not be used to avoid or delay comprehensive reorganisation unnecessarily. We accept that comprehensive reorganisation cannot be completed overnight, and we accept that it may be in the public interest for LEAs to continue, at least for a while, making some use of non-maintained schools where they can usefully supplement the resources of the maintained system without prejudicing the success of comprehensive reorganisation. She will also consider the need for denominational education and, as the noble Lord said, for boarding places. Our concern is to ensure a proper justification for such use in terms acceptable to the Secretary of State and consistent with proper regard for the comprehensive principle.

There are several categories about which I will say something a little more specific. The first is special education. I shall also speak about music and dancing (music, of course, including singing), and about hoarding. I shall also mention religious preference. The provision of special educational treatment for handicapped pupils is expressly excepted from the comprehensive principle by Clause 1(2)(a). The controls about which we are now talking will therefore not be used to restrict special education for handicapped pupils at non-maintained schools. Schools which select pupils wholly or mainly by reference to ability or aptitude for music or dancing are also excepted from the comprehensive principle, by Clause 1 (2)(b). The Secretary of State will therefore not use the powers conferred on her by Clause 5 to restrict arrangements relating to education in non-maintained schools of that kind. Consistently with this, she will normally be prepared to approve arrangements made in respect of education in non-maintained schools, including choir schools, other than those excepted by Clause 1 (2)(b) if she is satisfied that the pupils concerned will be chosen by the local education authority on the basis of their ability in music or dancing.

As we indicated at an earlier stage, boarding education will also be given special consideration on similar lines. I am sure that local education authorities will continue to make the greatest possible use of available maintained boarding schools, but it is clear that for a long time to come many children will have to be educated in non-maintained hoarding schools. The general principle on which the control will be administered in this field will be that the desirability of the child's being educated as a boarder should be established without reference to his ability or aptitude, except, of course, aptitude for music or dancing. If the desirability of boarding has been established in this way the local education authority will be free to take a place for the child, or to help with his fees, at a non-maintained boarding school which they consider appropriate.

My right honourable friend hopes that once the desirability of boarding has been established in a particular case, the local education authority will give fill weight to any desire by the parent than the child should be educated in a school of a particular religious denomination. Moreover, where day schools are concerned, a local education authority's wish to help parents to have their children educated at denominational schools will normally be accepted as a basis for approving arrangements for income-related assistance with fees, even though there may be no absolute shortage of provision in local maintained schools.

More extensive and precise guidance will be issued in due course about the basis on which my right honourable friend will operate the controls which are being reactivated by this clause. I hope I have said enough to indicate the general lines on which it will be administered. The clause is necessary in order to ensure that the purpose of earlier clauses is not frustrated. It will be operated with firm purpose, but with humanity and realism.

I should like to sum up what I have just said. The possibility of local education authorities exercising their existing rights under the three headings of providing places or money et cetera for pupils in non-maintained schools will be controlled and approved by the Secretary of State. The criteria which she will use I have discussed—denominational, boarding, et cetera. This will be done as a partnership—something for which noble Lords are always asking. It restores the original position of the 1944 Act, because this was the case there and it was altered afterwards. My own view is that there is nothing to fuss about. Clearly, this is bringing the Secretary of State into a position of influence which did not exist before, but to my mind this is not objectionable. It seems to me totally desirable when there is the risk of groups who disagree with Government policy working against it.

The noble Lord asked me four questions. I hope—


Before the noble Lord leaves that point, he has given us, in some ways, an almost moving description of how the Secretary of State will apply various criteria. This I am sure we accept, with his Secretary of State. But is it not true that there is not a single thing in the Bill about any of these criteria? There is no guarantee whatsoever that, if the next Secretary of State was, say, Mr. or Mrs. Wedgwood Benn, these criteria would be applied in a particular way. If these criteria were written into the Bill, I should be a great deal happier than I am. But is it not true that the noble Lord is speaking only for the present Secretary of State, and cannot speak beyond that?


There is a sense in which this is true. It is true in so much legislation. That it is not new here. It is not customary to tell Secretaries of State how to behave. What is customary is to discuss in Parliament the normal criteria which will be observed. This is not a new thing in this Bill. This happened to me in the case of the PLR Bill. The same thing arises every time anybody brings up a Bill. The Opposition want to see written down every single move that the Secretary of State might make. This is not the way legislation can be done; it is not the way legislation ought to be done. I maintain there is absolutely nothing wrong in this. I think that the general intention here is good, can be seen to be good and can be thought to be bad only by people with very suspicious minds.


The noble Lord has given a lengthy and precise description—I should say a clinical description—of the state of the moribund partnership between the State and independent sectors of education. I do not think that that is unfair because, whereas he regards every dole paid out by the Secretary of State, according to his criteria, as a new breaking forth, I see it as a drip feed which will be disconnected when eventually it is no longer necessary for there to be a partnership. There has been no rapprochement. There has been no mention of the imaginative scheme advanced by the Direct Grant Joint Committee for assisted places. It is simply a picture of the widening fissure between the two systems.

This clause seems to us, as it does to noble Lords on the Benches adjoining ours, to be entirely hostile to the freedom in education. It gives powers to the Secretary of State; and the noble Lord has said, as I have said earlier in this debate and as others have said, it cannot bind his successors. It gives powers which will no doubt be used, and can be used, to say to a local education authority, "You cannot provide the education suitable for this child, or for this group of children. I know that an independent sector can; I know that they are willing to do so; I know that they will do so at a price you are willing to pay, but you may not pay it". Anything more wickedly partisan it is difficult for us to imagine. The noble Lord wishes to intervene?


This cannot be said unless there are alternative arrangements available; and, as I have said, if there are not, that is exactly what the Secretary of State will do. He will say, "You may pay it". This is the whole point.


Here we come to the difference of emphasis. The noble Lord says: "We shall go on doing it as long as it is necessary; and when it is not necessary we want to depart from the independent sector". This is where we part company. It seems to me to be very like saying: "You may cure only provided that you

Resolved in the negative, and Clause 5 disagreed to accordingly.

10.43 p.m.

Lord VAIZEY moved Amendment No. 54: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

Restriction on schools for whose benefit payments designated for the education of a child may be made by a public body

(" . No allowance or other payment in whole or in part designated for the education of a child of school age paid by or on behalf of a Minister of the Crown or body established by Statute to any person or persons shall be payable unless the school to which the payment is ultimately made shall accord with the general principle established by section 1 of this Act.")

use home-produced drugs". It reminds me of the Harry Lime theme: this practice belongs to the nether regions of Vienna and not to the open air of our own country. I hope that my noble friend will press this point. In fact, I will do so in his name.

10.37 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 31; Not-Contents, 48.

Ardwick, L. Hirshfield, L. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)
Birk, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Jacques, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Castle, L. Janner, L. Stedman, B.
Champion, L. Kaldor, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Collison, L. Kirkhill, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Davies of Leek, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Vaizey, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. McCluskey, L. Wall, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Morris of Kenwood, L. Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]
Evans of Hungershall, L. Murray of Gravesend, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Oram, L.
Amory, V. Elliot of Harwood, B. Mancroft, L.
Auckland, L. Elton, L. Monson, L.
Avebury, L. Faithfull, B. Mottistone, L.
Barrington, V. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Newall, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hampton, L. Norfolk, D.
Belstead, L. Harvington, L. Redesdale, L. [Teller.]
Birdwood, L. Hives, L. Sandford, L.
Boyd of Merton, V. Hornsby-Smith, B. Sandys, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hunt of Fawley, L. Seear, B.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Inglewood, L. Stamp, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. James of Rusholme, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Chelwood, L. Killearn, L. Swansea, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Kinnaird, L. Vickers, B.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lauderdale, E. Wardington, L.
de Clifford, L. Long, V. [Teller.] Wigoder, L.
Dudley, E. Lyell, L. Wolverton, L.

The noble Lord said: The first three clauses of this Bill are concerned with the integration of maintained grammar and secondary modern schools. It is common between the three Front Benches that that movement is something which has been going on for a good many years, and is desirable and irresistible. The arguments between the Front Benches have largely been arguments of detail rather than of principle.

The major division in our society has not been the division between the ex-secondary modern schools and the grammar schools; it is between the public schools and the maintained schools. The evidence which was produced in the first report of the Public Schools Commission, published in 1968 (the Commission which was chaired by Sir John Newsome) produced very impressive evidence that there are in the major professions of our society, the Diplomatic Service, Civil Service, legal profession and medicine, an overwhelming preponderance of people who have been educated in the independent sector, and there is no evidence whatsoever that the significance of this independent sector in our national life is diminishing.

It seems to me that Clause 5 upon which we have just divided was precisely about this issue, but in my view it was not addressed to the substantive issue, and I wish in my Amendment to bring the substantive issue to the attention of your Lordships' Committee. I am sure that when my noble friend replies to my Amendment it will be said that I am making a Second Reading speech. With respect to the Committee, I do not think that it is a Second Reading speech. The point I am making is one of substance. One could take steps at present which would have a long-running and important contribution to make to the future of our society which would be wholly beneficial.

It was absolutely apparent from the economic debate on Monday that the divisions in our society, the class war which is still raging in our society (the only major industrial power where the class war is still raging) must be healed. It seems to me that when a Bill of this kind comes before your Lordships' House we ought to ask ourselves how far we can take steps in the Bill to end the class war. The Labour Party has consistently taken the view that it attaches importance to the ending of the independent sector's prestige and importance in our national life. Unfortunately this has never been implicit or explicit in the policies adopted by Labour Governments, although I hope that when my noble friend replies to the Amendment we shall hear that there has been some progress on this front. There are very few people in this country who would wish to remove from parents the right to educate their children as they wish—with fees or without.

I do not want to get hung up on that problem. It may be that the United Nations Convention applies to us. The fact that the United Nations Convention has been signed by the Soviet Union and its satellites suggests to me that the United Nations Convention may not be quite so important as many people who are defending the survival and existence of the independent sector sometimes argue. I am arguing a different case; that is, that on the issue of the integration of the independent and the maintained system there is an enormous amount of agreement in our society. The Fleming Committee, which was established by the Coalition Government, reported in 1945 and produced a perfectly practicable scheme for the integration of the independent and the maintained systems, a scheme which has been adopted in a number of other countries which do not suffer, either from this divisive system that we have in our educational structure or from the class war from which we undoubtedly suffer.

Furthermore, for many years the Liberal Party has held as part of its platform in Election after Election that this was one of the major issues upon which progress ought to be made. Furthermore, not only have the Labour Party and the Liberal Party supported this view but the Conservative Party has frequently said that this kind of division in our society is not acceptable and that we ought to take steps to erode it. However, it is not merely something which has, as it were, been agreed between politicians. The Headmasters' Conference, which represents the headmasters of the leading independent schools together with the few maintained schools, has for years been concerned about the fact that its schools are largely populated by the children of well-to-do parents and has sought to expand the role which it can play in educating the children of the less affluent sections of society.

It may be fashionable to sneer at the Headmasters' Conference and its role in society, but many years of discussions with headmasters and headmistresses in the independent sector have led me to believe that the Headmasters' Conference is perfectly sincere in its wish to broaden the scope of its schools. I may say they are supported in this by the Governing Bodies Association, which represents the governing bodies of the independent sector. Therefore I think there is a widespread feeling among the people concerned in our schools and a widespread feeling among politicians of all Parties who are concerned with education, that something ought to be done about this particular trouble.

When this was discussed in Mr. Wilson's Government in 1964 and also in 1966, the rock upon which the ship of integration was wrecked was the issue of finance; that is to say, the Government took the view at that time that they were in favour of ending the division in our society—a very painful division: painful for the parents and painful for society at large—and the problem which faced them was how to pay for the integration.

Frankly, in my view, if one thought this was sufficiently important it seems to me this would be an expenditure of public monies which one would raise above a number of other expenditures which now occur, but that may well be a minority view, particularly in face of the catastrophic economic news which we have had today. But I have asked some questions to bring up to date the information which was available in the Public Schools Commission, and it is very interesting information indeed.

The Department of Education and Science does not monitor very carefully what goes on in the education system but it is able to say that there are 25,750 children whose parents receive allowances from public funds for the payment of fees. About 20,000 of these children are in independent schools; just under 2,000 are children of parents in the Diplomatic Service, just under 2,000 are children of parents in the Home Civil Service and about 20,000 are children of people in the Armed Forces. The fantastic thing about this is that these fees paid by Her Majesty's Government are the major source of income for the independent schools.

Just to give some kind of indication of the scale of allowances I tabled another Question to bring up to date some of the information which was published in the report of the Public Schools Commission. Members of the Diplomatic Service are paid allowances in respect of their children at hoarding school in the United Kingdom with specified maximum rates per child. The maximum rates are really very interesting. They are unbelievably sexist:£1,404 per boy; £1,348 per girl, and there is a slight reduction of abut £40 for children at preparatory schools. The interesting thing about joining the Foreign Office is that you not only get these children's allowances when you are serving abroad, you get them when you cone home, for five years, and beyond that time in exceptional circumstances. It may be argued of course that if these allowances were not paid people would not join the Diplomatic Service, which would presumably accelerate its rate of decline.

As to the net effect of the total payments, I have done some calculations which are similar to those done by the Government, but on the whole I rather prefer my own arithmetic. In 1966 something like £6 million was paid by the Diplomatic Service and the Home Civil Service to the independent sector, and something like £22.5 million was paid by the Armed Forces to the independent sector. Now we have just heard a speech from my noble friend Lord Donaldson about the fees which are being paid by the local authorities to independent schools We are dealing here with between £25 million and £30 million a year paid by Central Government to the independent schools.

The purpose of my Amendment is a simple one. It is to say that I am not at all opposed to paying these allowances. It is quite right and proper for Government-employed people serving in Northern Ireland, or people who are slogging away in Washington, Paris, or other unspeakable cities where there are no education facilities available for their children—slaving away in these unpleasant climes, Rome, Stockholm, and so on. I am all in favour of paying more in fact. I am saying O.K., that what is desirable at home is desirable abroad; that is to say, if it is illegal for Kent County Council to pay for children to go to an independent school because that school is independent or selective, then I am all in favour of the children of eminent diplomats getting a broader experience in the comprehensive schools of our nation.

The simple solution is that £25 million to £30 million a year which is now paid by Her Majesty's Government should be paid only to those schools subscribing to the principles embodied in Section 1 of the Act. There is no increase in Government expenditure at all involved in this; it is a purely technical question of designating certain schools, schools which have recorded their agreement to become local authority schools under Section 1 of the Act, and which are prepared to make special arrangements for children whose parents are suffering agonising problems in our enormous mission in Washington. That is the purpose of my Amendment; it saves Government money and it helps us to take one gigantic step to integrate our society. I beg to move.

10.57 p.m.


In replying to my noble friend, I am in some embarrassment because some of my best friends are diplomats. A point which the noble Lord seems to have missed is that the rather lengthy explanation I gave a few minutes ago on Clause 5 explained that the Secretary of State would authorise the payment to independent schools for places where places required of that kind were not otherwise available. I think that probably in most cases for the diplomats and the Services—among whom I also have friends (equally embarrassing!)—the alternative is not really there. But it is rather a pleasure, after a roughish two days, to find myself having to defend myself from the Left!—an agreeable change. I do not wish to be in any way ungrateful to my noble friend. I think that, honestly, he goes a little too far.

We are having a good deal of difficulty in convincing our friends of the middle and the Right, if I may so describe them, to go along with us as far as having this Bill at all, and if we start making it more difficult and taking away from the independent section, which admittedly parts of the Bill visualise diminishing, I really think we shall not carry them at all. It is rather late, and the noble Lord made a very interesting speech which I shall read with the greatest interest. I do not feel competent at this moment to criticise it in detail, but broadly I think he is going too far in the other direction, and I really think we cannot accept the Amendment.


It is a great pleasure to have the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, in the Committee, and I hope we hear a great many more speeches like the one he has just made, because it is time that some of the bubbles were pricked. Before I comment—very shortly, I promise, your Lordships at this late hour—on what the noble Lord said, I should just like to correct one bit in the history. The noble Lord was very kind in what he said about the programme of the Liberal Party on this matter. It is true that we were the only Party wholeheartedly to support the first Report of the Public Schools Commission. It is, I think, not true, although I admit it is a matter for argument, that the reason why the Labour Government of the day did not accept it was because of the lack of money; that was the excuse they gave.

In fact Mr. Pardoe and I produced a pamphlet which showed a perfectly viable way of paying for it out of the taxation of the rest of the private sector, which was commended by Sir John Newsom, to use his own words, as, … the best comment indeed, the only sensible comment, on my Report". The reason why the Labour Party did not accept it was that there were too many real Left-Wingers who wanted to see the public school system destroyed utterly. It is the usual thing that we meet time and time again in Parliaments elected by our system and that you get a ganging up of the extremists of the Right and the Left making certain that the moderate Centre does not get something through. That, I think, is the background.

What the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, has said explodes a very great deal of the humbug that is talked by a great many of us on these kinds of subjects and that all Governments go in for. I do not exclude any of us. I do not exclude the Liberal Party. Of course, we make exceptions for the Services. It is absolutely right that people who are working in horrible and dangerous and frightful conditions should have the best we can guarantee for them while they are doing it. It is also quite obviously nonsense that we should strain at allowing Surrey to send a few children to Dulwich and happily send the children of the staff of our Paris Embassy to public schools at the expense of the same Government which is passing this Bill, and for five years when they come back.

The solution is not to abolish these allowances for diplomats; the solution is integration. We have run away from this problem, and this is one of the things which is going on dividing our society. I am sure at this time of night the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was right lightheartedly to say that he will go away to read what has been said and think it over. I hope he reads it very carefully and I hope the rest of the Government do, also. I hope when they have finished reading it they are no longer smiling, because I do not think they should be.


It has been a very useful discussion; at least I made a very interesting speech, Lord Beaumont made a very interesting speech, and Lord Donaldson made his usual charming rejoinder, for which I am extremely grateful. I think it is a very serious issue, and I agree with Lord Beaumont that the Labour Government have run away from it. With great respect to my friends on the opposite Benches, I think it shows the shallowness of the Brighton Conference. They talk of a unified society, opportunities for all. This is a very deep divide, and one which puts enormous pressures on a very important group in our society, the managerial and professional class, agonising about the choices they make about their children's education. I think we could have reached a compromise along these lines 10 years ago which would have been immensely valuable. At some stage a compromise in the British class war has to be achieved if we are going to get out of this nightmare situation.


Instead of which the Party to which the noble Lord belongs has destroyed the direct grant schools, which represented the best compromise we had.


I do not defend my Party in every action it has undertaken. I think on the whole one is born into a Party rather than elects for a Party. This is the Party where I feel at home and where, on the whole, my allegiance lies, though I must confess I have been rather naughty in the last few days, and I shall no doubt pay the penalty in some penance in Heaven, or something of that kind. Having said that, I think Lord Beaumont is right in saying there is humbug on this issue. But I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Donaldson for his reply. With the leave of the Committee, I beg to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.