§ Further considered on Report.
§ Debate on Amendment No. 23 continued.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am very sorry if my explanation of the Government's intentions under Clause 8(5) which 541 we discussed in Committee has not satisfied the noble Baroness, Lady David, and her colleagues. We must, I think, agree to differ about publication of examination results. We, on this side, believe that this is information that parents want and should have. As I explained in Committee, I cannot tell the House the precise detail of what the regulations will require local authorities to publish, because that will only be settled after very full consultations with all concerned. For the rest, again the detail will only be settled after full consultations. I would repeat that our present view and intention is that the basis of what the regulations will require will be the 20 or so points set out in the department's Circular 15/77, to which the noble Baroness, Lady David, referred. This covers items ranging from the simplest factual information about individual schools to matters of fundamental importance in the life of the school, and also refers to aspects of local education authority general policy, such as transport and meals and award arrangements.
The effect of the amendment would be to leave the information to be given to parents as a basis for the choice of schools in which their children should be educated entirely to the discretion of local authorities and governors. That is exactly what the situation is now, and this House and the country know that this is not entirely satisfactory. Indeed, the provisions under Clause 8 are put into this Bill at the request of many parents and others who are very concerned at the lack of information about schools. This subsection of the Bill is similar in every essential respect to a comparable provision, Clause 10(5), of the last Labour Government's Education Bill. We believe, as did the last Labour Government, that parental choice can only be exercised effectively on the basis of information. Clause 8 of the Bill provides for this to become available for parents. I hope that the House will agree with me in rejecting this amendment for the reasons I have given.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, I think the answer is very much the same as last time. I am still not at all happy about the publication of exam results without the LEA taking the initiative about this. But I see that I am going to get no other answer, and I do not think it would be profitable to pursue this to a Division. 542 I should like to say that we are extremely anxious about the effects of what the Minister suggests will be done, and I hope that the consultations at any rate will be extensive. I should like an assurance on that point before deciding to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to give an assurance to the noble Baroness that, of course, it is very important that we should consult very fully with our partners in the education service, with the local education authorities, in this matter, and that we should, I hope, reach agreement on all the points. We accept that this is not an altogether straightforward matter on which to devise regulations, and that is why we accept that there must be full consultations before agreement is reached on this.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, with that assurance, I am prepared to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 24:
Page 9, line 24, after ("publication") insert ("at such time or times and").
Lord STEWART of FULHAM moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 9, line 22, at end insert ("which shall include a schedule of capitation and all other recurring financial allocations and staffing quotas in respect of each type of secondary school or each secondary school maintained by that authority").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 25. We discussed this matter in Committee, but what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has just said about the desirability of parents being able to make an informed choice, encourages me to press this matter again. We are suggesting that among the various items of information provided to parents should be the surely very important fact arising from "How much money per child do you spend at this school and at that school?" One would have thought prima facie that that was a reasonable matter for parents to want to know.
§ When we discussed this matter in Committee I was, of course, assured that we must understand that there is not 543 a direct proportional relationship between the amount of money, per child, spent in a particular school and the quality of education. Of course, that is so. In a school that has a higher proportion of children staying on to the sixth form, the average cost per child will be higher than at the school where most of the pupils leave at the statutory age. It is also true that the study of some subjects, although quite as important to the people and to the nation as other subjects, are not as expensive because some subjects require more in the way of equipment than others. Therefore, clearly the mere bald statement that at one school more is spent per child than at another, does not by itself prove that one school is being unduly favoured or that one school is better than another. However, I urge that it is one of the pieces of information to which the parent is entitled.
§ Parents should not be regarded as fools who cannot understand the information given to them. It may well be that to begin with, when such information is published, unfair deductions may be drawn. But the result would be public discussion: the local authority would explain why the amount that was spent on a child in one school was more than that spent in another, and the general level of public information and interest in the matter would rise. The same is true of examination results. If one made a crude judgement from examination results alone as regards the quality of the school, one would be in error. However, when they were published and argued the public would, in the end, begin to see examination results in proper proportion to other facts about a school. The same is true as regards this amendment. If this information were at any rate made available, it would become the subject of public discussion and people would be able to reach more informed judgments.
§ I do not think that one can avoid the following point: in those authorities that still practice separatist education by means of the 11-plus examination, I believe that it will be found that consistency, and as a matter of policy, more is spent per child in the grammar school than in other types of school—more than would be justified merely by the fact that such a school will have more sixth-form pupils, or by other reasonable arguments. 544 If I am right in that suspicion, then the public ought to know about it. We are fairly entitled to ask: Have local authorities anything to hide in this matter? I am not prepared to accept the argument that the information should not be provided merely because ill-informed people would misrepresent it. That can be remedied as public opinion becomes more informed on the matter. There can be no excuse for an arrangement whereby examination results are to be published and the information included in this amendment is not to be published.
§ The noble Baroness tells us that there are to be consultations, but already prior to the consultations, it is the Government's firm policy that examination results shall be published. Will they say that it is also their firm policy that the schedule of capitation fees and financial allocations shall not be published, or will it at any rate be possible for local authorities to publish that kind of information if they wish? I hope that at least that is true, because if some of them publish it, then of course there will be pressure of public opinion on other local authorities to publish it. Therefore, I hope that at least we shall hear that, under the provisions of Clause 8, a local authority could give this information. I see no reason why it should not be required to give it. I beg the Minister to consider the matter carefully. It is a matter upon which we feel very strongly and as the general trend of Government thinking is in favour of giving parents more and more information, it would be inconsistent and illogical for the Government to resist the amendment.
§ Lord DARWEN
My Lords, I wonder if I may make an observation on this amendment, although it may not be too happily received by my colleagues on the Front Bench. I point out that I have had the experience of teaching in a school for the maladjusted, where the ratio of teachers to children is much higher than it is, for example, in a grammar school. Therefore, to infer that a higher capitation charge on grammar school children is necessarily a sign that more is being spent on the more intelligent children than on children of lower intelligence is not necessarily right.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what has been 545 said by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, and by the noble Lord, Lord Darwen. It would, perhaps, be helpful to the House to know that, in fact, Clause 8 makes it clear that a local education authority can publish any information it thinks fit, including, of course, capitation allowances. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, know that capitation allowances for schools and the information that goes with them is the type of information that anyone can get from a local authority. It is nearly always shown somewhere or other in its published accounts, and therefore there is nothing particularly secret about it. The reason why we have not included that in the provisions under Clause 8 is, firstly, that we are allowing local education authorities to publish this information, if they would like to do so; and, secondly, that it is available to members of the public should they wish to find it. But what actually concerns a parent is the nature and quality of the education provided and how successfully the school achieves its objectives. That is not always measured, as the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, has quite rightly said, by the amount that goes into capitation allowances or other allowances in the schools.
Under those circumstances, although I listened with great interest to what has been said, I do not believe that we should be justified in requiring local education authorities to assemble and publish this information school by school, especially as some of it may well change during the course of the school year. In other words, a local education authority, in publishing its forward budget at the beginning of the financial year, may make various proposals, but a key factor in a school may be key members of the staff who, in the course of the year, may leave and perhaps not be replaced. All sorts of factors may enter into the matter which, in practice, could not contribute very constructively to what the parent might see as a result of looking at the information about capitation allowances and other allowances, and the amount of money that is spent in one school versus another.
However, as I have said, once it is recognised that, in fact, a local education authority can, if it so wishes, publish this information and, indeed, that the information is available to any parent who seeks 546 it, I believe the amendment becomes unnecessary.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, I am absolutely amazed by one comment which the Minister made. She said that parents can find it should they wish to find it. I thought that the great point about all this was that information would be freely available. I really disapprove of that. We want to have the information where parents can easily find it. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that capitation is probably something decided by the local education authority and that will probably be the same for all schools within the authority. But "all other recurring financial allocations and staffing quotas" may differ, and I think that these are very important. Therefore, I am not at all satisfied with the Minister's answer.
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTER-HILL
My Lords, I am sorry but I find myself in total opposition to this amendment. A wise administrator dealing, for example, with capitation allowances, undoubtedly with the approval of his authority, normally fixes capitation allowances either on age ranges or on a basis—
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, that is exactly what I said. I acknowledge that capitation allowances are spread over the whole range.
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTER-HILL
My Lords, yes, but the important point is that it is not necessarily what any particular school gets. A wise administration normally holds monies in reserve against capitation allowances, so that if in any particular school there is a special need or a special reason, it can be provided. For example, new staff appointments may be made and as a result an additional supply of text books may be required in order to meet the needs which are being pursued, and additional money is made available. Alternatively, it may be that a school is relatively new, which means that increases are necessary in order to set it off on a proper footing. Therefore, even if the allowances were published, it would not necessarily mean that the actual information in relation to a particular school was given. I do not think that the amendment would be helpful.
§ Lord STEWART of FULHAM
My Lords, I believe that my noble friend Lord Darwen mentioned a school that dealt with maladjusted children. I can well accept that a school facing those difficulties would have to spend more per child than a school with the more usual problems. I think that the public as a whole would expect that. But is there any reason why the facts should not be made known? The reason for it is not difficult to explain or understand. The whole point of my argument is that the information ought to be there; then people can argue about it and see, if there are differences, why there are differences and to what extent they are justifiable.
We have had a collection of rather contradictory arguments against the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, disliked the amendment because he did not want local authorities to have to make this information known. But the noble Baroness, Lady Young, tells us that it is "already available". Honestly, "already available" is not good enough. To have information available somewhere in the council's archives so that a very diligent person can dig it out is not the same as publishing information. The Government do not regard that as being satisfactory in many other fields; therefore, they should not regard it as satisfactory in this field.
The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, spoke of the differences that can occur over the year and said that the wise local authority makes this or that provision. All these are matters that can be explained. If a local authority has to publish the figures, in its own interests
§ and in the public interests it will want to publish an explanation of them. I am saying that the information—the sheer facts and their explanations—will be valuable to the public and will increase the parents' opportunity to make what they believe to be a wise choice. I must say that the more cagi ness I find about providing this information, the more convinced I am that it ought to be made public, and I urge my noble friends to press this amendment.
§ Lord HYLTON
My Lords, if this amendment were to be agreed, there would be some danger of misleading information being published. Let me take the question of staffing quotas. If the information is about a previous year, it may be quite inaccurate for the current year. If it is a forecast of what will happen in years ahead, it may never be achieved.
§ Viscount ECCLES
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, is trying to obtain information about the grammar schools and compare it cost for cost with that for comprehensive schools. That is not fair. The sixth form students in the comprehensive schools cost as much as the students in the grammar school. Therefore, we would be misleading the public; they will not understand those things. I am very much against the amendment.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 25) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 46; Not-Contents, 94.549
|Aylestone, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Oram, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Howie of Troon, L.||Parry, L.|
|Birk, B.||Jacques, L.||Peart, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Janner, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Jeger, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Chitnis, L.||Kaldor, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Collison, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|David, B.||Longford, E.||Stone, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||McCarthy, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Mishcon, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hale, L.||Northfield, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Glendevon, L.||Monson, L.|
|Alexander of Potterhill, L.||Greenway, L.||Morris, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Grey, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Gridley, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Auckland, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Halsbury, E.||Norwich, Bp.|
|Barrington, V.||Hampton, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Hanworth, V.||Onslow, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Harvington, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Henley, L.||Renton, L.|
|Blackburn, Bp.||Hill of Luton, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Bolton, L.||Holderness, L.||Romney, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hylton, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Cockfield, L.||James of Rusholme, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Kimberley, E.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Sharpies, B.|
|de Clifford, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Simon, V.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Long, V.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Loudoun, C.||Stuart of Findhorn, V.|
|Eccles, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Lyell, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Elton, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Faithfull, B.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Forester, L.||McNair, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Mansfield, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Galloway, E.||Margadale, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Young, B.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 8.34 p.m.
Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 26:
Page 9, line 24, after ("publication") insert ("at such time or times and").
§ [Amendment No. 27 not moved.]
Viscount INGLEBY moved Amendment No. 28:
After Clause 8, insert the following new clause:
§ "Parental rights regarding sex education
§ (".—(1) It shall be the duty of the head teacher of any school at which sex education is being or will be given—
- (a) to give notice in writing of that fact to the parents or guardian of any child to whom sex education is being or will be given;
- (b) to explain fully to the parent or guardian the nature of the sex education and enable him to inspect all books, visual aids and other material which will or may be used in the sex education:
- (c) to enable the parent or guardian to question the person who is giving or will give the sex education; and
- (d) to give notice of that fact to the governing authority of the school and give them such information relating to the sex education as they may require.
§ (2) The head teacher of a school shall perform his duties under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1) above—
- (a) in relation to a child who is receiving sex education, as soon as practicable; and
- (b) in relation to any other child, at least one month before the sex education begins;
§ and the head teacher shall perform his duty under paragraph (d) of that subsection as soon as practicable.
§ (3) After receiving the information specified under one or more of the provisions of subsection 2(1) above, a parent who wishes to withdraw his child from a proposed or existing course of sex education may give notice in writing to that effect to the head teacher, who shall then ensure that the child does not attend the course of sex education.
§ (4) In this Act "sex education" means any teaching or instruction (by whatever name called and whether or not forming part of another course of teaching or instruction) which is intended to or does transmit knowledge about sexual intercourse between human beings or about their sexual behaviour.")"
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should first of all like to correct any false impression I may have given at the earlier stages of this Bill; any impression that I am in favour of 551 compulsory sex education. This is far from being the case. The object of my amendment is that at schools where such a course is proposed the parents should have the right to know in advance that they will be able to see the books, films, film strips or other materials which are going to be used, and finally as a last resort to withdraw their child if they feel that such material is morally corrupting.
No doubt sex education varies a great deal in different schools. No doubt in some schools it is very well done, and in some I would suggest it is very badly done. I have a letter here from a mother in Suffolk who tells of a certain doctor who gives sex education in the local schools in the Ipswich area. I quote:
One parent told me how [this doctor] had spoken to her 17 year old son, in a mixed class of boys and girls at the Ipswich school. The boy was deeply embarrassed. The doctor had blown up condoms and let them fly round the class like balloons. Re never referred to marriage or even making love"— only "having sex". Re gave them all the contraceptive advice and where to get them. He ended his short lesson by saying, And if all else fails, there's always abortion! ' ".
§ I would suggest that the best way to counter this kind of sex education is for the parents to become more involved, and that is the purpose of my amendment. The parents should have advance warning, at least a month in advance. They should be able to see the material, particularly films, or film strips which are going to be used. They can then discuss them with the head teacher. If they are still not satisfied they can write to their county councillor. If that does not work, I suggest that they should write to their Member of Parliament or a Member of this House. Finally, if all else fails, I feel that they ought to have the right to withdraw their child. We talk a tremendous lot about human rights, but surely it is an absolutely fundamental human right to withdraw your child from the kind of education which you feel may be morally harmful and which may affect the whole of their lives.
At an earlier stage the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, referred to the difficulty of finding suitable people to teach this subject. I would entirely agree with him. We might just ask ourselves who is qualified to teach this subject. Someone whose words we would all respect said:
Blessed are the pure in heart".
§ A friend of mine said to me, "Those who teach this subject should surely be at least as pure in heart as the young people they are teaching". I suggest, also, that they should not be people whose salaries are paid by an organisation which benefits from the sale of the contraceptives about which these young people are told. In 1978 the Family Planning Association benefited to the extent of £116,000; the profit on sales covenanted back to them by Family Planning Sales Limited. I suggest also that sex education must be given in the context of marriage. It is no kindness—in fact I would suggest it is very harmful indeed—to give advice which in any way encourages young people to have sex outside marriage.
§ I come back to where I started; the right to withdraw as a last resort. This is already allowed on a voluntary basis in some schools. This amendment would make legal what already exists; give legal form to the best practice. I appreciate of course that parents would be very reluctant to take this step, which would only be a final step, and indeed I would suggest that to be really effective it would need a group of parents, but if they all acted together it could be very effective indeed. I appreciate what I know the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will tell us later in the debate. I know she is with us in spirit and I know she will go as far as she feels she can to meet the purposes behind the amendment. I beg to move.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I read with great interest the Official Report of the debate which took place on this subject in Committee and I wish to make a brief contribution because, some time ago, I was for some years chairman of the Health Education Council and was extremely concerned, as part of my work, with the whole question of sex education in schools. I believe that a great deal of what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, today and what was said in Committee is true—that people are indeed worried about this subject, that it is important to have the co-operation of parents, and that we must at the same time underline the great ignorance that exists among so many young people—but I am not happy with the idea of writing such provisions into a statute. I believe that to 553 do so would add more taboos to a subject which is already very much taboo to many people; that it would restrict it and introduce a degree of inflexibility, which would not be good for the parents, the children or the schools. I feel that it would not do anything to encourage schools to cope with and initiate education in human relations, which is really what we are talking about, sex education specifically being part of that.
What, then, are we left with? Children are not static creatures or objects; they will learn anyway, and they will learn from their peer groups. I think it is unrealistic as well as rather unfair to say that parents should deal with this problem, because often, with the best will in the world, parents are unable to do so. Many parents find it difficult to communicate with their children at this level and many youngsters feel far less embarrassed discussing the matter with or listening to somebody who is more of a stranger than their own parents.
I set up a number of conferences when I was chairman of the Health Education Council at which we had people from the schools, from different voluntary organisations and from the Schools Council, which did a lot of work on the curricula in the whole field of human relationships, including sex education, in the whole of the much larger context in which the subject is set. It is clear from what was said by the different people involved that many parents are very embarrassed by the whole subject and find when their children come home and ask questions that they are often asked things they do not understand. The most successful work occurred when parents were brought in at an early stage. I do not mean that the whole school was full of parents but that parents attended particular forms, because this must be done at different levels; it must be an ongoing course, under whatever heading it comes, throughout the child's school career. When parents were brought in and shown some of the films that the children would see and given an opportunity to discuss the matter without being made to feel inadequate, that seemed the best way of dealing with the issue.
I would say with respect that what seemed to be missing from the debate in Committee was any reference to the tremendous amount of constructive, posi 554 tive and very productive work being done in their different ways by many schools all over the country. I would not like to see a rigid standard applying everywhere, because we are here dealing with human beings; the children, the people dealing with the matter and the people concerned with the schools are all human beings, and therefore what is the right approach for one group of people will not necessarily be right for another. Therefore, when talking about getting a curriculum together, that must be done in the very broadest sense.
I say with great respect, therefore, that at this stage the Government should not set up a working party or commission of any sort. I would prefer them to gather in information about what is being done all over the country. We shall then see the different experiments that are going on, be able to judge the different processes which are being successful, and see those areas which are not doing as much as they should. From there I hope it may be possible to produce guidelines, or perhaps the department or somebody else could initiate a series of conferences where people could pool their knowledge and discuss the difficulties.
I am very much against dealing with the issue, although we may agree on so many aspects of it, in a rigid way. But whatever we do, let us not forget that the young people of today are not like they were some years ago. It is no good burying our heads or theirs in the sand, otherwise they will do the very things which it may be unwise for them to do and will not get the help and support, spiritual and physical, which those concerned with them are anxious they should have.
§ Baroness MASHAM of ILTON
My Lords, while I do not want to disagree with my noble friend Lord Ingleby, I wish to query subsection (4)—The definition—and ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young, whether this proposal would not be rather difficult to implement. Would it not be difficult in connection with the teaching of biology, especially human biology? Perhaps the Minister would say whether it would be possible for the Government to ban some of the obscene books such as Make it Happy.
The Lord Bishop of NORWICH
My Lords, I wish to give general support 555 to Amendment No. 28, moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, because, as I see it, it is designed to be a fail-safe provision to take care for the time being of some of the very real problems which the noble Viscount shared with us, and I note that the opening lines of his proposals reads:It shall be the duty of the head teacher of any school at which sex education is being or will be given …".It is not a provision designed necessarily to promote a whole new area of sex education; it is designed to give a measure of liberty to parents, protection to children and guidance to head teachers, who I believe need guidance in this way and may themselves need to have the support of a provision of this kind when literature of the rather offensive sort about which we heard in the very good debate in Committee is placed in the school.
I take much comfort, as I am sure many other noble Lords do, from the way in which, at the end of that long week of discussion on education, we spent a long time on this subject in Committee, where there was a general sense of agreement that the underlying purpose of the provision was right, positive and useful. I am sure in particular that we must not lose sight of the valuable point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, about the need for a group to form a sort of agreed syllabus.
I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, and rightly, that the only real agreed syllabus is in religious education and that religious education stands by itself in a particular situation of great importance. However, there is a certain parallelism in this particular area, and I hope that that idea will not be lost sight of. I was encouraged by the words of the noble Baroness, the Minister, as reported at column 1393 of the Official Report of 14th March:If there is some way forward which would be possible, I should like to have the opportunity, perhaps on Report…to discuss this matter".One can well understand that the Government might find it difficult to swallow a great big clause like this, but one very much hopes that the noble Baroness will be able to give considerable encouragement that in the spirit and atmosphere of 556 this clause we are moving in the right direction; and as such I should like to support what the noble Viscount has said to us.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, we are now discussing the substance of an amendment which was moved in Committee only 10 days ago. Unfortunately on that occasion I was occupied in another part of the building and was not able to take part in the debate. I am not sure that we have in fact given the Minister an opportunity to give the consideration to the matter that she promised to give—only 10 days ago. I cannot accept this new clause; I most strongly oppose it. My noble friend Lady Birk has given some wise words to the House on this difficult subject, but surely the House will pause before writing into an Act of Parliament provisions of the kind which are contained in this new clause. The matter surely needs more consideration, which the noble Baroness the Minister promised to give it, and it needs full consideration, too, by other people; and there must be consultation as well.
If I may say so with respect, there is probably some doubt as to how qualified this House is to discuss this subject at all. The weight of years which rests heavily upon many Members of this House is not alone a qualification for pontificating on the subject of sex or sex education. In most cases noble Lords have had both, and I believe that in a feeling of humility towards the young of today your Lordships might approach this matter a little more tentatively, instead of dogmatically.
What have the head teachers to say about this? They are referred to in the clause, they are directly concerned. Does anyone know what they think? Has anyone tried to find out whether head teachers wish to have, or will accept willingly, the duty which the clause would impose upon them? And what of the local education authorities, whose responsibility this matter at present is? What have they to say about it? The Bill was designed to relieve local education authorities of some of their statutory obligations and to provide greater flexibility in the discharge of them, but this new clause moves in entirely the opposite 557 direction. As my noble friend Lady Birk said, it is negative and restrictive, and it surely has an undertone of displeasure. Somehow or other noble Lords are frequently displeased with the subject of sex. I do not know whether they feel guilty about it, or whether they are working out some deeply hidden conflicts in their own experiences of life. I do not accept the literal contributions of many Members of this House on this subject, without examining what is the background to it in relation to their own experience and their own minds.
I think it quite wrong to make the law into a busy-body on this subject in schools, without defining the position of this House in relation to sex education as a subject in the curriculum of our schools. I thought that the manner in which this matter was introduced in your Lordships' House only 10 days ago was particularly unpleasant. I ask your Lordships to read that debate. I thought the sarcasm and pomposity in some of the speeches quite uncalled for. Some of your Lordships in various parts of the House, and the noble Viscount who today moved the new clause, have made attacks on the Family Planning Association and the Brook Advisory Centres without I think understanding the full nature of the work that they are trying to do. The Family Planning Association has 11 Members of your Lordships' House as vice-presidents, and I happen to be one of them—not that that adds anything to its lustre, nor commends it particularly to some of the other noble Lords in the House. But it just shows that there is the weight of opinion in this House behind—
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
No, I am sorry, the noble Earl may not. As I was saying, it just goes to show that there is the weight of opinion in this House behind the work of the Family Planning Association. It is all very well for those who do little or nothing in this field to condemn those who are doing their best. I have read many pamphlets on this subject and many contributions from various sources of moral welfare. Of course they are all in favour of moral responsibility, they are all in favour of the great virtues in life, but so far as I 558 can tell, they do very little indeed towards carrying out this difficult, explicit task of sex education—
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, is the noble Lord ready to give way now? Does the noble Lord consider himself qualified, uniquely qualified, in this House to speak on sex education? Does he think that no one else has a right to a view? He has certainly expressed one.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, I would admit any disqualifications or qualifications that I have when it comes to speaking on this subject, but at least they are as good as most other people's, including those of the noble Earl.
I want to refer in rather stronger terms than those of my noble friend Lady Birk to the responsibilities of parents. We are discussing sex education only because of the failure or the unwillingness, or the incompetence, of parents to undertake this themselves. After all, this is not so much a matter for the education system as it is a matter for the relationships between parents and their children. I believe that today many parents are shedding far too many of their responsibilities towards their children, and I think that this is one of those responsibilities.
The Brook Advisory Centres referred in one of their recent publications to a book entitled, My Mother Said, by Christine Farrell, which was published in 1978. It was discovered that 79 per cent. of parents thought that children should be given sex instruction by their parents, but only 30 per cent. of them had made any attempt themselves to do it, which shows that many parents think that this ought to be done by parents, yet they do not do it.
I can quite understand the delicacy of the relationship between many parents and their children, but if parents cannot communicate with their children, what is their standard of fitness to have children? They should really apply their minds towards trying to communicate with their children. Is it not strange that after more than a century of compulsory education, and despite all the help and support given to parenthood these days, we are still groping around for the best way to tell 559 children the facts of life? I think that this is a serious reflection upon the standard of the competence of parents to discharge one of the important duties of their station of life.
If we conclude that sex and a loving relationship should go together, as we do, who is going to teach children about loving relationships? Why should not their parents try to give some guidance on loving relationships? Why should they not demonstrate to their children what a loving relationship is'? After all, parents know all about sex and, hopefully, can demonstrate to their children what a loving relationship is; and I think it should be unnecessary for many parents to go outside the home to fulfil this particular need of young people. I believe, too, many claims are made upon the schools today. I fully accept that, with life as complicated and as difficult as it is, with children exposed to the hidden persuaders of television advertising, of television films and all the rest of it, parents have a difficult job in maintaining their children in the state of Victorian ignorance and rectitude which I think many noble Lords are hankering after in this new clause. They would really like to go back to the Victorian era, to when they were children, when they were told nothing and found it all out in smutty stories at school, and that kind of thing.
I think the teachers need some protection, in present conditions, from ill-judged parents who may make complaints about the sex education which is given to their children, and this new clause certainly attempts to provide that. Nevertheless, I think that the real issue is whether sex education is to be taught in schools; and, if so, is it to be regarded as inseparable from the religious instruction and taught by law—the second subject compulsorily included in the curriculum, added to religious instruction—or what is it to be? Is it to remain voluntary? Is it to be in the hands of the local education authority? is it to be in the hands of the head teachers? Is it to be monitored by the State? Until Parliament decides on these matters, I think it is not right to interfere with this part of the curriculum above all others. My noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, in the debate the other day, made some sugges 560 tions as to how this matter might be dealt with, but I think there are other ways, too. I think the noble Baroness gave the right answer last time, and if she sticks to that I will support her. If she goes any further, I probably shall not; but I await her statement with interest.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred just now to the weakness of subsection (4). I hope the sponsors are going to explain more fully what the implications of subsection (4) are, and whether the sexual activities of Henry VIII would be included within subsection (4). I guess that if all the things that could be included under subsection (4) were to be included, then we would make our educational system the laughing-stock of Europe. But in the meantime, my Lords, I think more care, more attention and a longer time is necessary before we can resolve the dilemmas of this situation, and I hope sincerely that the House will give the Minister full opportunity to give it that attention.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, there seems to have crept into your Lordships' discussion tonight a certain degree of hilarity, if I may say so. I think we have got to face the fact that we are dealing with a very serious matter. My noble friend Lord Houghton takes the view that we are tending to pontificate. I think he is one who has often been guilty of that in your Lordships' House, as we all have at some stage or other. But this is part of the Houses of Parliament. It is for us, when we are considering a Bill like this Education Bill, to assume responsibility for the education of our young people. Are we going to say that education stops at a particular point, and does not include other matters which will lead to a full and satisfactory life after one has left school?
I think that this is a matter which we have got to consider. It is not a matter which we are going to resolve this evening, or even next week, or next month, or next year. All I am concerned about is that we can persuade the Government to do something that perhaps other Governments have not done, and that is to look at the matter, regardless of the length of time it will take, to see whether a satisfactory syllabus cannot be prepared, 561 which will be of value to schools, so that this can be included in the curricula. If we look at what is happening in the field of relationships among young teenagers today, we see the vast numbers of girls of 11 years of age who become pregnant and have children; girls of 12, 13 and 14, faced with that kind of responsibility when they should be enjoying all the various things that teenagers should be enjoying.
It is a problem. I am in sympathy with the movers of this particular amendment, but as they may realise from what I said on a previous occasion, I would find myself in some difficulty in supporting it in the Division Lobby if it was brought to the test. It is all very well to suggest that this is the role of the parents. It is the role of the parents: they ought to be able to do it; but in point of fact the vast majority of them fight shy of doing it. They run away from it.
My Lords, may I interrupt to ask the noble Lord whether he would agree that most parents would believe that religious education is not within their ambit; and, going on from this particular point, that parents have the right to withdraw their children from religious education in the schools, if they wish? The substance of this amendment is not very different.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am not dealing with the wording of the amendment. I am dealing with the general principle behind it. I have said clearly that there are reservations in my mind. But what I am concerned about if we reject this amendment, or if the noble Lords who have put it before the House decide to withdraw it, is what is going to be put in its place; because I believe that society has a duty and a responsibility to meet this need in the schools. If parents do not do it, one cannot say that the Churches will do it; because—let us face it!—the Churches have no control over or influence upon the vast majority of young people in this country; and the right reverend Prelates would be the first to agree.
But every child, at some stage, goes through our educational system. If this is a matter of concern, it surely ought then to be the concern of the educational 562 system. I can understand why parents fight shy of this. I do not mean this facetiously. I think that the average teenager is years in advance of his parents on the matter of sex. I do not think that there is any doubt about it at all. What I am concerned about is this. Who is going to give this sex education in our schools at the present moment or in the foreseeable future? Is it going to be left to the head teacher to invite anybody whom he or she thinks has some competence in this field? If they decide that this is something to be introduced into the curriculum, will they invite somebody who is going to look at it from the point of view of instruction and divorce it from a relationship?
I think the noble Viscount said a moment ago that this is something that must be seen within the context of marriage. If this is true, then marriage involves the majority of people in three relationships: there is a personal relationship, there is a sexual relationship and, for the vast majority of married couples, there is a parenthood relationship. One will see from that, that the success of all three relationships depends—I was about to say "largely"; but perhaps I ought not to say that—to a large extent on the sex relationship. If noble Lords do not think that is so, then let them look at the statistics for the break-down of marriages. Look at any statistics one likes in this connection and one finds that this plays a very much greater role than many people would care to admit. All I am concerned about is that the educational service at some stage from the age of 5 to 15 or 16, 17 or 18 is going to embrace all our young people. Can there be a better opportunity to deal with this particular matter than through the educational system?
What I am concerned about is who is going to do it. Will it be left to the headmaster or the head teacher to invite anybody who has been recommended to him or to her to do this? If so, what is the content going to be? Is it to be solely on the physical side or on the emotional side or is to be taught as a relationship? I think we ought to know. I think that my noble friend Lord Houghton is right when he says that we do not know enough about it. We ought to be thinking in terms of collecting information, and 563 collecting information from a very wide field.
I have been agreeably surprised at the success in this field of an organisation with which, as your Lordships know, I am associated—the National Marriage Guidance Council. When invited to do so, they teach sex education and do not just give sex instruction. It is taught in terms of a relationship, emotional as well as physical; and you cannot teach one without the other. It is supremely important, if you are going to do this, to teach it in its entirety so far as it affects the two people concerned. The noble Baroness the Minister, knows my views on this. I do not think we can do very much in the foreseeable future and I do not know that this particular amendment will help us very much.
I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, will not feel that I am unsympathetic; for I am anything but that. I do not want to see go into the Bill something which is piecemeal, which is left to individual discretion, which in some cases may well be good, but in others may do more harm. When I was a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security we, with the Home Office, set up a working party to inquire into marriage. This group consisted of representatives of all the organisations working in marriage guidance. It included some very able members of both the DHSS and the Home Office, as well as other people who had been very carefully selected.
They produced a document called Marriage Matters. Your Lordships can put your own interpretations on the word "Matters". Marriage does matter. That document is regarded as having made one of the most significant contributions of recent years in the understanding of marriage difficulties and problems and what society needs to do to help people who want to overcome them. It did not take very long. I am hoping that the noble Baroness may be able to say: "We will do this in the Department of Education: we will set up a similar body and we will bring on to it experts." I use the word "experts" not as being people who know more and more about less and less. They should be experts drawn from a very wide field of responsibility, knowledge, experience and competence.
564 We shall have to wait for the report. It has to bring in, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, says, people in the educational field who are doing this. It has to bring in people from outside who have a contribution to make. I sincerely ask the Minister whether some real consideration could not be given to this particular point. This is of supreme importance. This is up to us, as people responsible for legislation. There is no other body but Parliament which can give a lead in this matter. In the last analysis, the Department of Education is a part of Government; and Government have to agree. We cannot allow Government departments to go off on frolics of their own; they have to be controlled. It is very difficult sometimes, but they have to be controlled, and the lead has to be given by the Houses of Parliament. That is why I feel that this is very much our responsibility; and we ought not to run away from it.
At the same time, we ought to recognise that a satisfactory curriculum in this field is not going to be devised in a few months; it is going to take some time. I should like to see the Department of Education deal with this. There is a lot of skill involved. We poke fun at departments, and we get a certain satisfaction out of doing so; but in every department, as noble Lords who have been Ministers know, there is a tremendous amount of skill, competence and expertise; and we ought to draw on it because I am sure that they could give a lead.
§ 9.17 p.m.
My Lords, I will say two things. Many of your Lordships want to speak and, above all, we want to hear what the noble Baroness is going to say, after an exhausting time. I want to say how strongly I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in one thing—I am afraid it was only one thing—when he said that this is a very difficult and a very delicate question. I strongly disagreed with him and agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, when he said that this House was not in a position to pontificate. My Latin is very rusty but "pontificate", as I understand it, means bridge building. Is that not right? "Pons" means a bridge, and if any House in the world is here to build a bridge in Parliament, I should have thought that it was this House, between 565 the Queen and the Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would not deny that parents have some rights. If the children's food was being poisoned I think that he would agree that the parents would have some right to protest. Of course, one cannot go too far. Whether vegetarians can withdraw children from meals which are not made entirely of vegetables is another matter. But this is what we are here to talk about.
The reason why this is a difficult subject is because half of it is spiritual—like one side of the House—and half of it is secular. Sex has the two sides to it. I strongly support this amendment. I support something of the kind, and the reason I do so is in order to try to build this bridge so that parents know what their children are being taught and, as an emergency exit, if I may put it like that, if they really thought their children were being taught "poison", they have the right to withdraw them from that class —just as they might withdraw children from a swimming class or a music class if they thought that what they were being taught was damaging. The noble Baroness has said there is as yet no syllabus on this matter. That is a valid point. I think the sooner we can get a syllabus on this, the better. My Lords, I am sorry I have talked for so long; I did not intend to talk at all.
The Lord Bishop of BLACKBURN
My Lords, I am sure we all have sympathy with what lies behind this proposed clause, because the prospect of withdrawal from classes on this subject is really alarming and could be the thin edge of the wedge in regard to all sorts of other things.
I note with satisfaction that the amendment talks consistently about "sex education" and not about "sex instruction". I am sure we would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that most certainly this should be within the context of human relationships and marriage. That overlaps with religious instruction, and some of it is given under biology and some under personal relationships. It would be very, very difficult to apply a withdrawal clause, let alone to have the principle of a withdrawal clause, on a subject of this nature.
I am quite sure that our colleges of education will know that this debate is 566 taking place, and I am quite sure also that if they take their subject seriously they will be concerned that there will be not so much a syllabus as a supply of teachers fit to teach it. You can have all the curricula under the sun, but a curriculum on this subject will depend on the quality of the teacher who implements it. It would seem that in our colleges of education we should be trying to supply teachers who are so qualified and so sensitive that the whole idea of withdrawal would be unnecessary.
§ Lord JAMES of RUSHOLME
My Lords, as a schoolmaster who has tried to tackle this subject in his time, it seems to me that we are trying to deal with a most difficult subject in far too short a time. This is a Report stage debate. Here we are talking about things that we ought really to have thought about a great deal more at an earlier stage: at least some of us ought to have thought about it earlier. There are documents which we have not read. Both the Home Office and the DHSS have produced documents on this subject and I am not sure that all of us have read them. I cannot but believe—perhaps this may be an improper suggestion to make—that this is the kind of thing we ought to have a debate about, or a short debate about, so that we can think about it instead of hurrying it into a Report stage at this time of night, when we are really talking about the nuts and bolts of a new Bill. It is too important for that. I would just put that thought into your Lordships' minds.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I think perhaps it might be for the convenience of the House if I said something at this stage. I recognise we have had a long and very serious discussion on this subject. I have listened very carefully to what has been said this evening, and I have also read again the account of our debate on the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, in Committee. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has said, I believe that the discussion in this House, both in Committee and again this evening, has clearly indicated the concern that many people feel about whether or not the arrangements within our schools for the treatment of a subject which is so sensitive and personal as sex education are fully satisfactory.
567 I understand and sympathise with the worries that have been expressed. A good deal of guidance has already been given by my department, as the noble Lord, Lord James, said, on some issues of concern, notably in a circular issued at the end of 1977 covering an advisory booklet on Health Education in Schools. A substantial chapter in this was devoted to the treatment of sex education, and the circular indicated that authorities should take parents into their confidence about the way in which this matter was expected to be treated in their schools. I believe that, in practice, the great majority of teachers are highly responsible in their approach to these delicate matters. recognise, however, that the worries expressed by your Lordships are basically concerned with the extent to which good practice is followed in individual cases.
I continue to believe, however, that the situation is not one requiring legislation imposing special arrangements, as was done for religious education in the 1944 Act. The provisions of the 1944 Act for religious education were part of a settlement arrived at after much discussion with a clearly defined group of interests represented by the Churches, and relate to a distinct curriculum area more susceptible to special treatment than sex education which, as has been indicated, may extend across subject boundaries. Indeed, all our advice has been that sex education should be seen and treated in a broad context, including health education, moral education and social education. I think that this point was quite rightly made both by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell.
Within such a framework, legislation requiring formal local agreement on sex education syllabuses and providing a statutory right of withdrawal would be inherently undesirable. I think this point was made very well by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, because, as he made clear, and as I think others who consider the matter will recognise, there is something that is quite separate and distinct about the arrangements that are made under the 1944 Act for religious education, and no one, I think, would wish to alter those.
If we come to consider sex education 568 and the question of the right of the withdrawal of children from these classes, one opens up the whole question as to whether parents will then ask for the right to withdraw from other classes. Various methods have been suggested, but it is easy to think, for example, of lessons in civics, which might cover political opinions with which people disagreed, or social opinions with which people disagreed, or indeed other subjects on which there could be a very real measure of disagreement between the parent and the child. Therefore, I believe that we should have to think very carefully before we accepted a new principle—and it would be a very new and major principle—of agreeing that parents should withdraw their children from particular lessons.
Having said that, in view of the feelings which have been expressed from all sides of the House this evening, as indeed they were at the Committee stage, I fully accept that we should not simply leave matters as they stand. I also believe that there are positive steps that we can and should take to safeguard the position of parents and the interests of pupils, in respect of the way in which the subject is treated.
There are several possibilities. First, I believe that we should expect school governors to play a significant role in establishing how the subject is dealt with in the curriculum, and in ensuring that the views of parents are taken into account. The Bill which is at present under consideration makes specific provision for parent governors, and I see this as one of the areas in which they could make a very real contribution to the content of education, in examining the approach to personal and social development, including sex education, within the school. I believe that the measure to require parent governors to be appointed is, therefore, a significant step forward in this as in other respects.
It has been put to me that parent governors will be reluctant to raise this matter on governing bodies, and could well feel that if they did so their children might in some regard be discriminated against by teachers. I believe that this will not be found to be true. If parent governors are going to make the valuable contribution which I and I think every Member of your Lordships' House hope, they must be willing to speak on matters upon which 569 they feel strongly and which they believe to be right in the presence of the head of the school and the other governors; and to be effective on any committee, whatever kind it is, I believe that it is important to be able to speak out. I am sure that once parent governors are there and their importance is recognised, they will feel that this is one of the areas in which they have a real contribution to make.
Secondly, I recognise the importance that should be attached to ensuring that parents are given adequate advance information about the way in which the main components of sex education are dealt with in school. Under the present Bill the Secretary of State is seeking power to require by regulation the publication of certain items of information about schools by local education authorities. I propose to give very careful consideration to the way in which these regulations can be used to embrace a requirement for local education authorities to publish, and to draw to the attention of parents, the arrangements that exist within individual schools for the provision of sex education. I believe this would be a new and an important step forward, and I should like to give an assurance to the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, to those who have signed his amendment and, indeed, to those who are interested, that we shall be happy to discuss with them at an appropriate stage what the regulations might contain.
Since the recent Committee proceedings I have taken the opportunity afforded by our consultations on the framework for the curriculum to discuss these possibilities with representatives of the local authorities, and I have received an encouraging response. I hope that your Lordships will agree that emphasis on the role of parent governors and a specific reference to the subject in regulations under Clause 8 of the present Bill would be valuable safeguards. In addition we shall give further thought, in the context of our discussions on the curriculum framework as a whole, to whether any fresh guidance from the department, or Her Majesty's Inspectors, on the treatment of sex education within the curriculum would be helpful. I must emphasise that we do not wish to dictate what schools should teach, but a more general lead from the department might be of value, and this is certainly a matter which we shall look at further.
570 On the other hand—I say this after further reflection over the Committee debate and, indeed, after having listened to the debate this evening—I am far from convinced that we should go down the road of attempting to bring together a national working party to formulate such guidance. I have listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has said on this matter; but having thought it over, such a working party, given the widely differing viewpoints held by many interests, would be extremely difficult to compose, let alone conclude its deliberations. It would seem to me that, if further guidance is desirable, it would best be prepared by enlarging on the views which have already been expressed in previous departmental publications. The possibility that such guidance might supplement what we propose to say in the regulations is a matter to which, as I have said, we shall be giving further attention.
I hope that I have said enough to put at rest some of the fears which the House has expressed. I believe that we can move forward, but at the same time we should not be precipitated into unnecessary legislative action. I would ask your Lordships to take into account what I have said, and to await developments along the lines I have indicated. It is essential that we should consider carefully all the implications of such action before setting out firmly our precise intentions. When that stage is reached, I will of course report those intentions to your Lordships' House, and would welcome an opportunity of discussing them.
With these assurances, and I hope the positive proposals that I have made, I hope very much that the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, will agree to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord NUGENT of GUILDFORD
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend and myself and, I think, on behalf of the whole House, I should like to thank my noble friend Lady Young very much for the very forthcoming speech that she has made. It has made a most valuable contribution towards meeting the great anxieties which have been expressed on all sides both today and during the Committee stage. The proposals which she has put before us give two pieces of solid comfort. It will do so, first, through 571 the good offices of the parent governors who will be appearing on every school governing body; and, secondly, in what my noble friend will be doing in her regulations by requiring publication by all schools of what sex education covers, what the arrangements are to be and generally how such education is to be carried out. This will ensure that everybody can know about it, the governing bodies in particular and, through them, the parent-teacher associations and all parents.
This goes a long way to meet the anxieties which we all feel in this difficult area. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, expressed the views of many of us. The general view taken in Committee was that, although we want to see parental responsibility acknowledged and parents given the chance to look after their children in this way, we all equally acknowledge that a great many parents cannot or do not carry out this function themselves. At the end of the day the schools must provide this; it is an essential part of their responsibility. We are concerned to see that sex education should be provided in a proper and decent way which will be of help to the children for the future.
I thank the Minister for offering to consult with my noble friends and others who are interested before she publishes the draft regulations. On the occasion of publication the House will have the opportunity to debate the subject again. Clearly, noble Lords on all sides of the House are very interested in this very important matter. If we as a House of Parliament are not able to give a lead and to exercise our imagination in understanding what is needed in this respect, I suggest that nobody else can. We should do the best we can to see that this is done in a sensitive, positive and proper fashion. We thank my noble friend the Minister for what she has done to meet us. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Viscount Hood)
My Lords, I now call Amendment No. 29. If this amendment is carried, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 30 and 31.
§ Clause 9 [Nursery schools and special schools]:
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lord RENTON moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 9, line 35, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
(" (2) None of the provisions of sections 6 and 7 above have effect in relation to special schools or children in need of special educational treatment.
(3) The provisions of section 8 above, other than subsection (1) paragraph (b) thereof, shall apply to the giving of information about special schools and about other educational facilities for children in need of special educational treatment.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I tabled this amendment not with a view to prolonging discussion, but in order to ask my noble friend Lady Young, whose reply when we discussed this matter earlier gave great satisfaction, not to overlook the advantage of redrafting Clauses 8 and 9. Those provisions must be understood by parents, teachers, school governors, local education authorities and others and, as now amended in a rather complex way, they are not clauses of which we as a revising Chamber can be truly proud. I should like my noble friend to consider this matter.
§ My noble friend said, by way of an implied reason for not having redrafted them, that the amendments had been implanted upon clauses which were never intended to achieve the purpose of her amendment. That is true, but it does not excuse us from getting the drafting as clear as we possibly can. Perhaps without committing herself now, I hope the Minister will see to it that the draftsmen will examine the matter between now and Third Reading.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, when we were debating my amendments, which my noble friend Lord Renton agreed met the point he raised, or part of it, he asked whether one could trust the Government or the Minister. There is one general rule to which I have always subscribed and that is I never give promises which I know I cannot fulfil and I must tell him quite honestly, as I must tell the House, that at this stage it would not be possible to redraft Clauses 8 and 9 to iron out all the difficulties in them and bring the whole matter together on Third Reading. I 573 accept that it may sound complicated and it may not be the most perfect drafting but I believe that in public life there is a lot to be said for getting at least half a loaf if not the whole loaf and even if it is not the freshest and the best of bread it is at least part of what is required under these circumstances. When we discussed my amendments I said that they must be seen in relation to the further legislation which we shall be bringing forward on the Warnock Report and at that stage I hope we shall be able to put right the difficulties that may arise.
We shall of course take this point if we consider issuing a circular about the Bill and an explanatory memorandum on it, but I hope the noble Lord will accept that at this stage it would not be right for me to promise something which I could not fulfil and although it may not be perfect I hope it goes some way towards meeting the important points—points I believe to be important and which we have tried to meet in this Bill, even if the result is not as satisfactory as the noble Lord would wish.
§ Lord RENTON
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I do so with deep regret but with respect for my noble friend's integrity.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 30 not moved.]
Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 31:
Page 9, line 35, after (" sections ") insert (" other than subsections (5) and (6) of section 8 ").
§ Clause 12 [Establishment, discontinuance and alteration of schools by local education authorities]:
§ 9.43 p.m.
Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 32:
Page 12, line 12, after (" school ") insert (" or nursery unit ").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, an amendment very similar to this was moved at 1.24 on the morning of 12th March by my noble friend Lord Mishcon. That is not perhaps the right time of day or night to discuss something which we consider to be extremely 574 important, and therefore we are bringing it forward again to give the House the opportunity to consider it again and also to see whether we can get a rather better answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, than we did from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, although his was a very courteous answer.
It is generally considered that the provision of nursery schools is a legal duty on local education authorities. This Bill, however, takes away the legal duty and substitutes a discretion to provide nursery schools. The fear that existing nursery schools might be closed down, which would be an additional deprivation to the service, as well as fewer probably being opened, was met by the Government pointing out that there was a provision in the Bill setting out the procedure which must be gone through if there is a proposal to shut down a nursery school. However, nursery classes and nursery units are exempted from this procedure, which is called, in shorthand, the new Section 12 procedure, and in Committee my noble friend Lord Mishcon quoted from a letter written by the secretary of a Cornwall group of nursery parents which said:
Throughout the country there are more units than schools, so this intended safeguard will not, in fact, safeguard many children".
In replying for the Government the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said:
'…a proposal to close a nursery class might in any case become the subject of Clause 12 procedures if it fell within the terms of Clause 12(1)(d)—that is to say, if the closure made a significant change in the character of a county school and, as I understand the Bill, if, paying regard to Clause 15, it significantly reduced the size of a school".—[Official Report, 11/3/80; col. 943.]
§ There seems to me to be a certain amount of confusion here. In the Bill itself the changing of the character of the school is listed and it seems to me it can be considered separately from the changing of the size of the school. If you take away a nursery unit—and this time the noble Baroness will note that the amendment proposes the insertion of a nursery "unit" and not a "nursery class"—this would surely change significantly the character of the school even if it did not have an effect on the size, which in fact it probably would.
§ The noble Lord went on to say that he did not think it would be reasonable 575 to make the discontinuance of a nursery class within a primary school subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. Well, we believe that in fact taking away a nursery unit must change considerably the character of the school and put in peril many of the existing nursery classes or nursery units. He then went on to say that he was doubtful whether such a step would be in the long-term interests of increasing nursery education provision, that "local authorities might well be discouraged from starting nursery classes in primary schools, in surplus primary school accommodation, if there was likely to be opposition to putting the accommodation back to its original use".
§ I find that very difficult to accept. We are very short of nursery places. This has run through all Governments for many years, so I think we all share collective blame for this. To be saying now that one should not take this safety-net step to safeguard existing nursery units because local authorities might not want to open them, even if there was a demand for them, in case they had to be used in the future for something else, does not seem to make a great deal of sense. Therefore, I hope that the Government will now accept—as this is early in the day and we are not so sleepy as we were on the last occasion—that this should be inserted in the Bill to give this extra safeguard. As my noble friend Lord Stewart pointed out, since Clause 24 no longer makes it a duty for the local authorities to provide nurseries, then without this procedure there is an even greater undermining of the possibility for nursery education. I beg to move.
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Baroness in pressing this amendment on the Government. I do so in the hope that it may commend itself to the Minister, as her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, promised on more than one occasion when we were discussing it at an early hour in the morning that he would take it away and have another look at it. I hope the amendment now moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will have the support of the Government.
I also found it very difficult to accept the argument that was put forward by the 576 noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that local authorities would be discouraged from starting nursery classes in primary schools because they would have to go through the procedures if they were put back to their original purpose. After all, if they formed more than one-fifth of the total accommodation, this procedure would have to be gone through in any case. I did venture to draw the attention of the Minister on the previous occasion to the ridiculous state we seem to be getting ourselves into, that, where the nursery accommodation formed less than one-fifth of the total, local authorities would be free to scrap it at will, but, where it formed more than one-fifth, they would have to go through these procedures.
If I may venture to repeat the argument that I put forward on that occasion, it struck me as ridiculous that there could be two nursery schools in, for example, neighbouring villages in Cornwall—I say "Cornwall" because I know that it is a matter of particular interest to the people of Cornwall—and one of them might be a nursery unit which formed just under one-fifth of the total accommodation, and in the neigbouring village there might be nursery classes forming just over one-fifth of the total accommodation. In the one case the local authority would be able to close that accommodation without going through any of the procedures, but in the other it would have to subject itself to the inquiries provided for in another clause. Therefore, I think that the amendment which the noble Baroness has tabled is a very reasonable amendment. I certainly do not think that any local authority will be discouraged from making provision for nursery accommmodation by virtue of this minor change in the law.
As the noble Baroness has said, it has been difficult enough to persuade local authorities to increase the provision of nursery accommodation anyway, and I really do not believe that the argument that the Minister advanced to us the other night holds water; namely, that many of the local education authorities are really going to sit round a table and say, "We had better not do this; we had better not provide this nursery unit just in case we might decide that we want to close it down later, and it may be made more difficult for us by the amendment." Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness, in view of 577 the time that she has had to look at this matter since it was raised the other night with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has come round to this point of view and will give us this small concession.
§ Lord PARRY
My Lords, the case has been well put. There is no need for me to elaborate except to set into the context of the discussion the particular situation of the Welsh language nursery school classes which are seen to be such an important part of the education set-up in Wales.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I should like to assure all noble Lords who have spoken and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that I spent quite a lot of time thinking about nursery schools and how we can do better with the resources that are available and make the best use of those resources. I have looked again at the debate in Committee and I hope I can assure the House that we have gone as far as we can with regard to the application of Section 12 to nursery schools.
It might be helpful if I reminded the House that, for the first time ever, separate nursery schools will be subject to the Section 12 procedure—what was always known as the Section 13 procedure, but which will become the Section 12 procedure—if an authority wishes to close a nursery school. That is a new provision in the Bill and one which I think is very important. It will be a very real safeguard to the provision of nursery schools at a time when local authorities are bound, and have been asked, to look for economies, and in an area of education in which there is no compulsion to send one's children to school under the age of five. Therefore, we have written into the Bill the provision that Section 12 should apply to nursery schools. If I understand it correctly, the amendment is asking that nursery classes should be subject to the Clause 12 procedures. I should point out—and this is just a technical point—that the expression "nursery unit" is not, in fact, known under the Education Acts and I assume that it means a nursery class.
What we have said as regards nursery classes—and my noble friend Lord Bel-stead made this quite clear in Committee—is that where Clause 12 (1)(d) applies, if 578 there is, because a nursery class is closed, a significant change in the character of the school, it too becomes subject to the Section 12 procedures. The amendment is asking that in any case, where a nursery class is closed—whether or not the school is closed—this should become subject to the Section 12 procedures. With the two measures that I have described, I think that we have gone as far as we can in striking the right balance in the present situation between what the local education authority thinks it must do for the education in its area and what it is right for the parents to have by way of right of objection when some facility which they had previously had is considered for closure. I cannot give an undertaking, and it would not be right, that the closure of any and every nursery class would be subject to Section 12 procedures.
I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, what my noble friend Lord Belstead meant when he said in Committee that, if an amendment similar to this one was carried, it would mean that there might be fewer nursery classes. The reason that there might be fewer classes is that local education authorities do not have to provide nursery classes. Many do, and there is quite a considerable provision of nursery classes—something which I believe to be important, which I very much support and which we want to encourage. However, we do not want so to safeguard the provision that an authority, when considering introducing a nursery class for the first time, decides, because for some reason it may have to discontinue it and it will accordingly be subject to a Section 12 procedure, not to start it at all. It is for that reason that we believe that, at the end of the day, if this amendment is carried, there could be less incentive for local authorities to provide nursery classes than there would be otherwise.
Therefore, I hope that, with those two safeguards on nursery schools—the Section 12 procedure applying, first, to nursery schools and then to schools in which there is a nursery class and the consideration whether, if closure of the nursery class is considered, it would constitute a significant change in the character of the school (which is much more widely drawn, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will appreciate, than the rather narrower 579 definition based on numbers in the school) —I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I am not at all happy about the answer which the noble Baroness has given. There is one point in this amendment which has not been mentioned. When the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was speaking to a similar amendment during the Committee stage he said at one point—and I could understand what he was getting at:I would say that one has to look very carefully at whether one should, or indeed could, pull out nursery classes and say they shall be heated in a special way compared with all other classes in all other schools".—[Official Report, 11/3/80; col. 9131Although he is quite right that there is perhaps no great difference in principle in considering nursery classes and other classes, surely there is a completely different effect both upon the pupils and upon the parents.
If, as we understand happens widely in Cornwall, nursery classes are used rather than nursery schools, and if a nursery class is to be closed, what happens? If another class is closed, the school continues and, no doubt, the children are distributed among other classes. But if a nursery class is closed without full investigation, the children will be sent home. Undoubtedly their mothers will have made arrangements and ordered their lives to have the children in nursery classes, which I think both sides of the House agree is good for the children. The mother may be doing part-time work she may even be doing very valuable part-time work in the local hospital while her children are at school. Yet if they are turned away without a proper investigation being conducted under Section 12, the mother may have to throw up her job and make some arrangements to look after the children at home. It seems to me that this is quite different from closing another class in the school, which is the comparison given by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. Therefore, that is a point that should be considered in this connection.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Viscount ECCLES
My Lords, I wonder whether there is not another point that 580 supports my noble friend on the Front Bench. School rolls are falling, and noble Lords must know places near where they live where the number of children coming to school is going to fluctuate very much over the next few years. In circumstances like that a local authority might well be less anxious to establish a nursery class knowing that the numbers coming to this, or that, school might he very much reduced.
I am afraid I was looking at your Lordships' Library at the time when this was discussed on Committee stage so I did not have the benefit of hearing my noble friend Lord Belstead, but it appears to me that he made a good point.
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, has the noble Viscount observed the Office of Population and Census Surveys' recent statement that the number of births in 1979 was larger than in 1978, and 1978 in turn was larger than 1977, with the result that, if my calculations are correct, in three years' time the numbers entering primary education will start to increase again?
§ Viscount ECCLES
My Lords, maybe in some places, but it is not so in others, if I heard the noble Lord aright. I do not hear very well at that distance. One wants to encourage local authorities where a primary school has more space, but perhaps not very much. to take on a nursery class; but if you say to them, "Once you have taken it on you cannot close it without going to the Minister", a great many of them, looking for economics, will not do it.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was kind enough to quote my speech at Committee stage on an amendment similar to this, and I am obliged to her for quoting the better parts of my speech and not the worse parts. I failed to see the logic of Lord Belstead's reply to me, and I fail to see the logic of what the Minister is now saying. I could understand it if the Government, in thinking about this matter and knowing what a crying need there is for nursery classes, had come back and said, "We do not wish to discourage schools from opening new nursery classes, and therefore as from this date, if there are new nursery classes opened, they shall not be subject to 581 the Section 12 procedure". I understand the logic of that. "But", I should have expected the Government to say, "because we are so anxious that existing nursery provision shall not be made any less, any school which at the moment has a nursery class shall not be able to get rid of that nursery class without going through the Section 12 procedure". If the Government had said that, then the logic is apparent. I am not going to say that I necessarily would have agreed with any such provision, but at least it would have gone some way to meet the situation.
Instead of that, the Government are saying something quite different: "We will permit the closing down", they are saying, "of existing classes without schools having to go through the Section 12 procedure, because of the possibility that in the future schools might be discouraged from opening nursery classes because they would then have to go through the Section 12 procedure ". I invite the noble Baroness the Minister to have another thought about the logic of what she has said, and to at least come forward with this proposal; namely, that there shall he a difference in procedure between new nursery classes opened after the date of the Bill coming into operation and those already in existence before the Bill comes into operation.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I wish to correct something the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said because it was not true. I think he said the Bill would permit the closing down of nursery classes. In fact, the Bill does not say that. It says in Clause 12(1)(d):to make any significant change in the character, or significant enlargement of the premises, of a county school; orThe essential part of that provision is, "any significant change of character", and where the closure of a nursery class would involve a significant change in the character of a school, then of course it is subject to Clause 12. Under our proposals under paragraph (e) nursery schools are subject to Clause 12, and under paragraph (d) it is where the closure of a nursery class means a significant change in the character of the school. The noble Lord has three-quarters of what he wants and we believe, for the reasons I have 582 given, that this is the right place to leave the matter, because we believe this is in the best interests of the local authorities and the provision of nursery schools.
§ Lord MISHCON
With the leave of the House, my Lords, I make only one comment in answer to what the Minister said.
§ Several noble Lords: Order!
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes to ask a question he can say, "Before the noble Baroness sits down but the leave of the House may be given only to a Minister.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, I am grateful for that information and I apologise to the House if I offended. May I therefore put this in the form of a question?
§ Several noble Lords: Wrong!
§ Lord MISHCON
Again, I am corrected, and I will get it right this time, my Lords. Before the noble Baroness sits down and she has obviously not sat down yet—may I ask her to consider the fact that her whole argument has been based, as it was before, on the closure significantly affecting the nature of the school'? Would she not agree that the plea that is being made is to save nursery classes from extinction without having to go through the Clause 12 procedure where they may not form a significant part of the school?
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I cannot accept the amendment for the reasons I have given, and I do not think now is the time to repeat the arguments.
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, I regret the Minister has been unable to meet us on this. The arguments for the amendment have been quite unassailable and I must therefore press the amendment.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 32) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 77.583
|Avebury L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Howie of Troon, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L..[Teller.]|
|Blease, L.||Jeger, B||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Listowel, E.||Simon, V.|
|Collison, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|David, B.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Longford, E.||Stone, L.|
|Denington, B.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Mishcon, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||White, B.|
|Grey E||Oram, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Parry, L||Winstanley, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Peart, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Gowrie, E.||Reigate, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Gridley, L.||Renton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Balerno, L.||Harvington, L.||Romney, E.|
|Bellwin L.||Henley, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Holderness, L.||St. Just, L|
|Bessborough, E.||Hood, V.||Sandford L|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hylton, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||James of Rusholme, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Cockfield, L.||Kimberley, E.||Sharpies, B.|
|Cullen of Asbhourne, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Spens, L.|
|de Clifford L||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Long, V.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Loudoun, C.||Stuart of Findhorn, V.|
|Dundonald, E.||Lyell, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Swmton, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Tranmire, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Mansfield, E.||Trefgarne L|
|Elton L||Margadale, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Faithfull, B.||Monk Bretton, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Morris, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Galloway, E.||Mottistone, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Mountgarret, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Young, B.|
|Glasgow, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.585
§ Clause 12 [Establishment, discontinuance and alteration of schools by local education authorities]:
§ 10.16 p.m.
Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 33:
Page 12, line 25, at end insert (" excluding pupils who will not have attained the age of five years within six months after their admission ").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 33, and I wish to speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 34, 35, 36 and 37. It may be helpful if I begin by speaking to Amendment No. 36. My noble friend Lord Ridley will recall that we agreed to reconsider the amendment that he put down at the Committee stage of the Bill, which would have the effect of excluding primary schools where the standard number in the transfer age was fewer than 20, from the requirement placed by this clause on authorities or the governors of a voluntary school to publish proposals where they intend to restrict admissions to these schools. My noble friend argued very cogently on that occasion that his amendment was necessary to save administrative costs in areas where schools are relatively small and where a 20 per cent. reduction in admission could be reached simply by the removal from the district of two or three families. The principle of this amendment received widespread support from your Lordships, and we have now brought forward these amendments to meet it.
§ Like my noble friend Lord Ridley, I stress that nothing in these amendments will make it any easier for a local education authority to close any school. I would further suggest that, where a school is admitting fewer than 20 pupils, it is most unlikely that the local education authority or the governors are likely to wish to restrict the admissions. Such schools, as my noble friend pointed out, may most frequently be rural schools and the authority is likely to wish to encourage 586 admissions to them, rather than the other way round. I therefore hope that the House will support this amendment.
§ I now turn to the other amendments in this group. The effect of Amendment No. 37 is to restrict the application of Clause 15 mainly to children of compulsory school age. The clause will, however, continue to apply where it is the normal practice to admit children who are coming up to their fifth birthday. The reason for this restriction is that Clause 12 already provides adequate protection of nursery education provision. The Government introduced a new provision in another place, now Clause 12(1)(e), to make the closure of nursery schools subject to the publication of proposals and liable to the approval of the Secretary of State. The closure of nursery classes was already subject to this procedure under Section 13 of the Education Act 1944 in certain circumstances, and Clause 12 retains this provision, in that under Clause 12(1)(d) local education authorities are required to publish proposals to make a significant change in the character of a county school, and Clause 13(1) places the same obligation on the governors of a voluntary school.
§ Wherever, therefore, the closure of nursery classes constitutes a significant change in the character of the school, the publication of proposals will be required. If, therefore, where circumstances require it, the closure of nursery classes is covered in Clause 12, I see no reason to leave them within Clause 15, which is really concerned with the size of a school. I believe that the safeguards for nursery classes as they exist now and as they will continue to exist after this Bill becomes law are adequate, and I therefore hope the House will agree to Amendment No. 37. Amendment No. 33 is a corollary to Amendment No. 37 and brings Clause 12 into line with the proposals for Clause 15. My Lords, I beg to move the first of these amendments, which I hope will be acceptable to the House.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 15 [Reduction of school places]:587
§ Baroness YOUNG moved Amendments Nos. 34 to 37:
§ Page 15, line 19, at beginning insert (" Subject to subsection (1A) below")
§ Page 15, line 19, after (" where ") insert (" (a)")
Page 15, line 25, at end insert (" and (b) in the case of a primary school, the standard number is twenty or more.") line 25, at end insert—
("(1A) Where the age group in question includes children who will not have attained the age of five years within six months after their admission, those children shall be disregarded both in determining the number of pupils who are to be admitted and the standard number applying under this section.").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ 10.20 p.m.
Lord STEWART of FULHAM moved Amendment No. 38:
After Clause 16, insert the following new clause—
§ Local education plan
§ (".—(1) (a ) It shall be the duty of each local education authority to prepare and maintain a local education plan for primary and secondary schools, hereafter referred to as an education plan, which shall estimate the immediate and prospective needs of the area in respect of primary and secondary education and which shall have regard to the provisions of this and former Acts and any Regulations made there under relating to primary and secondary education;
§ (b) Each local education authority shall publish and submit to the Secretary of State all such education plans, or proposals for amendments thereto, in such form as he may direct or by Regulation require;
§ (c) All education plans, together with any proposals for amendments thereto, shall show: the action taken by that authority, and any action that the authority proposes to take, to ensure that there shall be sufficient primary and secondary schools available in the area to fulfil the duties of the authority, and in particular those duties prescribed by section 8 of the Act of 1944; that such schools together provide efficient education and ensure the efficient use of resources and; successive measures by which it is proposed to accomplish those purposes.
§ (2) A local authority before submitting to the Secretary of State an education plan, or proposed amendment thereto, shall
- (a) specify which of the said schools the authority propose should be county primary schools, county secondary schools, voluntary primary schools, and voluntary secondary schools, respectively, and, in relation to every such school, give particulars of the proposals of the authority as to the nature of the education to be provided in the school and as to the ages of the pupils to be taught therein;
- (b) specify what alterations are required in the premises of any school either a county school or a voluntary school;
- (c) specify what additional county schools and voluntary schools, if any, will be required for their area;
- (d) include information as to any arrangements proposed to be made with respect to schools not to be maintained by the authority;
- (e) give particulars of the arrangements made and proposed to be made by the authority for meeting the needs of pupils who have not attained the age of five years and of pupils who require special educational treatment;
- (f) give particulars of the arrangements made and proposed to be made by the authority for the provision of boarding schools maintained by them;
- (g) include information as to any other measures which the authority propose to take in fulfilment of their duty to secure the provision of primary and secondary education, such as the making of general arrangements for the transport of pupils to and from school; and arrangements made with other local education authorities in respect of admission to schools in their respective areas;
- (h) contain such other particulars of the proposals of the authority with respect to schools for providing primary and secondary education for their area as the authority think necessary, or as the Secretary of State may require.
§ 3) A local education authority shall, before submitting their education plan to the Secretary of state, consult the governors, or persons representing the governors, of all schools other than county schools, whether within or without the area of the authority, which would in the opinion of the authority be affected by the execution of the plan, and shall, after submitting the plan to the Secretary of State, forthwith furnish to the governors of every school such particulars relating to the plan as are sufficient to show the manner in which the school would be affected by the execution thereof.
§ Where an education plan has been submitted to the Secretary of State under this section he shall, if he is of opinion that no particulars or insufficient particulars of the plan have been furnished to any person who, in his opinion, would be affected by the execution of the plan, give such directions as he considers expedient for securing that sufficient particulars are so furnished.
§ (4) After considering any objections to an education plan made to him within the period of two months after the date on which he is satisfied that all necessary particulars have been furnished in accordance with the last foregoing subsection, and after making in the plan such modifications, if any, as after consultation with the local education authority he considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of securing that the plan makes proper provision for the immediate and prospective needs of the area with respect to primary and secondary schools, the Secretary of State shall approve the plan, 589 and shall give such directions to the local education authority as he considers desirable for the purpose of giving to the governors of every voluntary school affected by the plan notice of the approval thereof, and otherwise for giving publicity to the plan as approved by him.
§ (5) The approval of the education plan submitted by a local education authority shall not, of itself, affect the duties of the authority, hut in so far as the Minister considers it expedient to impose duties upon the authority for the purpose of securing that effect will be given to the plan as approved by him, those duties shall be imposed by the local education order for the area made under the following subsections.
§ (6) After approving the education plan for the area of any local education authority, or any amendment thereto, the Secretary of State shall make a local education order for that area designating the local education plan, or any amendment together with any plan already approved, as the authorised education plan for the area, or he may, to such extent as the Minister considers desirable, define the duties of the authority with respect to the measures to be taken by that authority in the discharge of their duties in respect of primary and secondary education.
§ (7) Where the Secretary of State has made a local education order, other than that approving, or approving an amendment to, an education plan the local education order for that area shall continue to regulate the duties of the local education authority in respect of the matters therein mentioned and shall be amended by the Secretary of State whenever, in his opinion, the amendment thereof is expedient by reason of any change or proposed change of circumstances.
§ (8) Provided that, before amending the local education order for any area in such manner as to vary the duties of a local education authority in any respect not either provided for by the development plan approved for the area or by proposals approved by him or occasioned by the discontinuance of a voluntary school under the provisions hereinafter contained relating to those matters respectively, the Secretary of State shall give to the local education authority, and to the governors or other proprietor of any school which, in his opinion, would be affected by the amendment, notice of the amendment proposed to be made and shall consider any objections made to him by the authority or by such governors or proprietor within two months after the service of the notice.
§ (9) If a local education authority inform the Secretary of State that they are aggrieved by an order or by an amendment of an order made under this section, the order or amendment shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may he thereafter, and if either House of Parliament within the period of forty days beginning with the day on which any such order or amendment is laid before it resolves that the order or amendment be annulled, the order or amendment shall cease to have effect, but without prejudice to anything previously done there under or to the making of any new order or amendment.590
§ (10) In reckoning any such period of forty days, no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.").
§ The noble Lord said: Your Lordships will see that this is a somewhat lengthy amendment, but I do not think that my speech need be as lengthy as the amendment. The length of the amendment is inescapable in view of the general idea that I want to put forward. It will be apparent to your Lordships that much of the amendment is drawn from the 1944 Education Act. If the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will forgive me, I shall deliver another short account of a provision of the 1944 Act. It required local education authorities to prepare education plans which, after discussion, had to have the approval of the Secretary of State. That was clearly necessary at that time, since we were embarking upon a great new chapter in education. It had also the merit that it secured the harmonious working together of the voluntary and the county schools; and subsequent measures which have given increasingly generous financial provision to the voluntary schools have ensured that good relations continued, so that today about one-quarter of our primary school children and one-sixth of our secondary school pupils attend voluntary schools.
§ We are faced now with two facts. One is the special advantage possessed by the voluntary schools under which they can control who shall be admitted to them. The joint judgment of the head teacher and the governors can decide that; and for any child who is not admitted (even if the parents want it to be) education must be found in one of the county schools. This could result—and I do not say that it has resulted--in considerable strain between the local authorities and the voluntary schools. It will be possible for the voluntary schools to operate their own kind of 11-plus selection, either on an intellectual basis or, even less desirably, on a social or even a racial basis or, more generally, by declining to take children who, for one reason or another, do not take particularly kindly to school. They could leave most of those children to be catered for by the county schools. I am afraid that it is true that in some areas this happens. In the great majority, it does not; because a good modus virendi is reached between the local 591 authorities and the voluntary schools. But I have had a number of cases come to my knowledge (and other people have had the same) where a boy whose parents belonged to the relevant church was (shall we say?) difficult; he did not take kindly to school. The voluntary school decides that it will no longer have him there; and, in the end, the county school must deal with him.
§ In that situation, there is a danger of producing a result whereby some schools are generally felt to be better than others simply because they have adopted a policy of picking the best pupils for themselves. I do not believe that that is a desirable result. It has not occurred generally because of the common sense and goodwill that have prevailed between the voluntary bodies and the local education authorities; but, in the situation of falling rolls, this difficulty could re-arise. We could, as I said on an earlier amendment, arrive at a situation where, increasingly, some schools are felt to be the good schools that you want your children to get into; and others are felt to be the schools from which the wise parent will try to keep his children. Some people will say, "This is what we want. Then free parental choice will result in the schools which are thought to be good being full and the others becoming empty and being closed". But it will not work like that if the voluntary schools exercise their right to refuse admissions. You will have a combination of parental choice at one point and the power of the voluntary schools to refuse admission at the other. That is the problem with which we may be faced.
§ An answer is the answer found in 1944, the recreation of the idea of the local education plan that can look ahead, consider what the needs of the locality are likely to be, and, finally, after approval of the Secretary of State, get a local education order made. It will determine what kinds of schools there are to be in the various localities. It would be a flexible programme. My amendment provides for local education orders to be amended by the Secretary of State; and my amendment, as drafted, would take account also of the conflicting claims of the central Government, local authorities, the general public and Parliament by providing that where 592 a local authority is aggrieved by an order or amendment of an order made by the Secretary of State, the matter can then be put before Parliament.
§ This is a large subject, and I have only sketched the outline of it because the hour is getting late and I do not want to be too lengthy. I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to accept that there is a problem here; if we do nothing about it, we may get a very unsatisfactory distribution of children between schools, resulting in the end in neither a real parental choice nor the general welfare of the children. I ask the noble Baroness to consider whether this may not be the remedy or, if she does not consider this is the remedy, what her own views would be about the problem. I beg to move.
§ 10.27 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, in presenting this amendment, said that it is an amendment very largely borrowed from the 1944 Act. How right he is! It is lifted virtually wholesale from Sections II and 12 of the Act. In so doing, he rather seriously misled himself—I am sure inadvertently—when he said that the Act of 1944 provided for the making of education plans. This is just not so. In the 1944 Act the term used is. "develoment plans". This is the key. If one looks at the preamble to the 1944 Act, it is clear that it is an Act to reform the law relating to education in England and Wales. The fundamental difference between this Bill and the 1944 Act can be seen in the preamble to this Bill. It says that it is an Act to amend the law relating to education.
The development plan proposals under the 1944 Act were developed for that reason: namely, that the local education authority should inform the public of what plans they have for the provision of education. They were in their very nature of course transitional arrangements. Section 12 of the Education Act 1944 provided for the local education orders and appeals there from, inter alia.
In this amendment, noble Lords will have realised that the term "education plans" runs throughout the amendment which is purely changing from the original Act whether you use "development plan". In some parts of the amendment certain 593 provisions have been cut out which did not seem to suit noble Lords opposite. For instance, under their amendment in subsection (2)(b) it states that the local authority before submitting to the Secretary of State an education plan, or proposed plan thereto, shallspecify what alterations are required in the premises of any school either a county school or a voluntary school".They chose to leave out something rather important, namely:…and furnish estimates of costs of those alterations".If we look at it carefully there are other amendments which are more or less subtle than that. I firmly believe that the provisions under Clause 12 of this Bill which cover this very point, namely, the establishment, discontinuance and alteration of schools by local authorities, is well and truly and very simply covered in this Bill.
§ The Earl of SWINTON
My Lords, may I begin by thanking my noble friend for those last amendments. I had not realised that we had finished before we had scarcely started. I did support my noble friend Lord Ridley: I have not spoken to him, but I am sure he will be as grateful as I am for the amendments the noble Baroness has moved.
As regards this new clause, I hope she will resist it with a great deal of strength. I was involved in just such a plan in—dare I say it?—the halcyon days of education, when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was Secretary of State for Education, and we had got the comprehensive reorganisation over and we thought it was time we had a look at a plan for primary schools in our country. We went to endless meetings, meeting parents and deciding which schools should remain and which should close; we toured the length and breadth of the county, mostly attending meetings at night, and they were very well attended. We eventually produced a plan, which met with a great deal of opposition because obviously it necessitated the closing of many primary schools. It did absolutely nothing but upset everybody in all the villages where the school was likely to be closed. They went on writing about it for years. Then, as economic circumstances and local government reorganisation overtook us, 594 we have never been able to implement any of it. It was extremely time-consuming, excessively costly and an absolute waste of time.
I think that to place something of this kind at the present moment before local education authorities, who will have to go through the same procedures, only more so, with all the schools and the voluntary organisations, will take an immense amount of time and work, and it will be mostly evening work, because that is the best time to meet local people. Officers will have to go out in the evenings and so will members. It will take ages and ages and ages, and, like all plans, it will be subject to the financial contingencies of the day. I think it will be nothing but an enormous white elephant, and I hope the noble Baroness will resist it.
§ Viscount ECCLES
My Lords, I want to add only a few words. Of course, these plans were very much to the fore under the 1944 Act, at the time when we were reorganising the old elementary schools. We then had quite a lot of money—never enough, of course, but quite a lot—and the real problem was how to arrange the priorities between one local education authority and another, and, inside each local education authority's capital programme, to agree that it had something like a sensible order of new school building.
That stemmed from the enormous changes which were made in the 1944 Act. We are not in that situation today. First of all, I am not quite sure that the point which the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, was worried about could be catered for under this clause; but there is so much more in the clause besides that perhaps important but limited point, that I really think we ought not to put all this work, as my noble friend Lord Swinton has said, on to local authorities in present circumstances.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (The Earl of Mansfield)
My Lords, if I may say so, it has been a case of "reculer pour mieux: sauter" for my noble friend as far as the Opposition is concerned, and I trust that your Lordships will bear with me. My noble friend put the matter succinctly on 595 Second Reading when this matter was debated, in columns 1012 and 1013 on 25th February. She said in effect that the Act of 1944, which was framed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, proposed a massive transformation from the pre-war system of education into what we now know as primary and secondary education. At any rate, the task was completed without any local education order being issued; nor have development plans been used for the last 15 years or so.
Sections 11 and 12 of the 1944 Act have both served their purpose and, as my noble friend put it:their honourable discharge in this Bill leaves unaffected the present balance of responsibilities between central Government and the local authoritiesI should have thought that that effectively encapsulated what my other noble friends have been saying, to the effect that those were the reasons which made us decide to repeal Sections 11 and 12. They are, basically speaking, the same reasons for not accepting this new clause, which more or less re-enacts Sections 11 and 12 of the 1944 Act and which Schedule 7 repeals.
As I have already said, we have had experience of development plans, yet not a single local education order was made by a Secretary of State. The reason is plain. Post-war population growth and movement changed things so quickly that development plans were out of date almost as soon as they were drawn up. This is the situation, that one set of circumstances loses its relevance when circumstances change, and circumstances can change extremely quickly. If one stops to think for a moment, there is nothing which is more calculated to cause a loss of morale than, for instance, to publish a plan covering a number of years, perhaps a decade, listing schools to be closed, and then to find that circumstances change and the schools are not closed. The threat of closure hanging over a school for many years is the most effective way of making sure that parents send their children to other schools, creating, in effect, a dying school, which is had for teachers and for everybody else; not least, parents and pupils.
There is a further hint of what I might call the 1976 Act about this amendment, 596 in the sense that this new clause could, I suggest, be used to coerce local education authorities to organise their schools in a way in which the Government of the day consider to be desirable. The point is not so much that noble Lords opposite want to control voluntary schools; we welcome the variety that they bring to the education system. It is a question, perhaps, of standardisation against diversity.
I should have thought, taking the example that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, gave, that the organisation of local schools should be, and should continue to be, a local matter. There is no reason why good sense and goodwill should not continue to prevail. This clause, if it were passed into the Bill, would give an additional power to the Secretary of State at a time when we are seeking to remove unnecessary controls and to leave more decision-making in the hands of local education authorities. If this amendment were accepted, the effect might be to disturb the delicate balance between local government and central Government in a way which we do not consider to be necessary or justified.
In the circumstances, I hope we all accept that the educational needs of an area change; local education authorities, if they change their political complexion, change their minds; plans which are dependent on buildings may have to be modified, if building resources are not available; plans based on growth in numbers are no longer valid, if the numbers fall and so on. Any plan has to make assumptions about the level of resources, and economic circumstances can force radical change in plans. All this is obvious, but it casts doubt on the wisdom of calling for plans which, if they are to mean anything, will have to be regularly monitored by the Secretary of State simply to ensure that they are up-to-date. So for all these reasons, and not least for all those which have been put forward by my noble friends, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Lord PARRY
My Lords, before that happens and before the Minister sits down, would he not accept from me the suggestion that the written analyses to the county development plans have been basic to development, both in education 597 and in county planning, ever since they were introduced in the relevant legislation and that progress in education since the 1944 Education Act owes a very great deal to the structure planning of that time? While it might be convenient at this stage in the debate—late in the evening—to dismiss the whole concept of a planned structure of education, surely what this Education Bill is ceasing to do is to advance that very plan?
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
No, my Lords, I do not agree. One accepts that the arrangements contained in this amendment when they were passed right back in 1944 were extremely necessary to ensure the reformation, if that is the word, of our educational system, but they are simply out of date now.
§ Lord STEWART of FULHAM
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the arguments which have been advanced on this amendment and I do see the force of some of them: the difficulty of preparing plans. It might be a valid criticism that I have proposed something too elaborate to deal with the particular problem that I have in mind. However, some of the other arguments which have been advanced against the amendment do not seem to me to carry conviction. The noble Earl has just pointed out that if you make a plan of any kind you may have to change it because of altered circumstances. But that is true of almost every department of human life. It is true of making any decision about what you hope to do next year or the year after. If we followed that line of argument, it would be impossible to reach any decisions as
§ to how to carry out education policy; so I do not find myself convinced by that line of argument.
§ It seems to me that none of the speeches against the amendment addressed themselves to the problem I had put; that we had, in the framework set up by the 1944 I Act, something which had, among other merits, the great merit of getting as good a working relationship as possible between the county and the voluntary schools. The present Bill, partly through its overelaborate proposals for parental preference and appeals and partly because it is being introduced in the circumstance of falling rolls, has given us a situation where that good relationship, so far, between county and voluntary schools may he upset, to the detriment of the children.
§ The noble Earl spoke of diversity or standardisation. I can understand an argument that says that we want there to be some diversity in schools, in that perhaps the ethos of schools—and with secondary schools the subjects to which they give great stress—differs one school from another. But I do not think we want the kind of diversity which means that some schools are obviously better than others as a permanent feature. That is a recipe for injustice in education. None of the arguments advanced seem to me to answer the point I was making. I feel, therefore, that l cannot withdraw this amendment.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 38) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 28; Not-Contents, 81.599
|Birk, B.||Kaldor, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Blease, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|David, B.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Mishcon, L.||Stone, L.|
|Denington, B.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Eiwyn-Jones, L.||Parry, L.||Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Peart, L.||White, B.|
|Jeger, B.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Avebury, L.||Beaumont of Whitley, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Balerno, L.||Bellwin, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Barrington, V.||Belstead, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Harvington, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Henley, L.||Romney, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Holderness, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Cockfield, L.||Hood, V.||St. Just, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Sandford, L.|
|Darcy de Knayth, B.||Hylton, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||James of Rusholme, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Kimberley, E.||Sharpies, B.|
|Dundonald, E.||Kinloss, Ly.||Simon, V.|
|Eccles, V.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Spens, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Long, V.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Loudoun, C.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Elton, L.||Lyell, L.||Stuart of Findhorn, V.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Mansfield, E.||Swinton, E.|
|Fortescue, E.||Margadale, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Galloway, E.||Masham of Ilton, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Gisborough, L.||Morris, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L,|
|Glasgow, E.||Mottistone, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Glendevon, L.||Mountgarret, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Gowrie, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Norfolk, D.||Winstanley, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Renton, L.||Young, B.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Moved, That further consideration on Report be now adjourned.—(Baroness Young.)