HL Deb 31 March 1980 vol 407 cc1193-222

2.59 p.m.

Bill read 3a (with the amendments).

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Baroness Young) moved Amendments Nos. 1 and 2:

Clause 8, page 8, leave out lines 20 to 22.

Page 9, line 12, at end insert— ("(5A) The local education authority by whom an aided or special agreement school is maintained may, with the agreement of the governors of the school, publish on their behalf the particulars or information relating to the school referred to in subsection (2) or (5) above.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move these two amendments. They are technical, consequential amendments upon the agreement by the House on Report to Amendment No. 22. At present Clause 8(2) provides for the publication by a local education authority of information relating to admissions and appeals arrangements for an aided school where this is done with the agreement of and on behalf of the governors of that school. Before we passed Amendment No. 22, on Report, Clause 8(5) referred back to Clause 8(2) and so extended this provision to the publication of information required by regulations made under Clause 8(5). However, Amendment No. 22, which we proposed at Report stage in the course of fulfilling our undertaking about the publication of information relating to special education, did not repeat the link with Clause 8(2). These amendments merely restore the position concerning publication to what it had been hitherto. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

3.1 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Young.)

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I wish to make just a few comments about this Bill, which I think has been a rushed Bill. It has been rushed in two ways: It has been hurried through to get it on the statute book by the beginning of April and, as a result, a number of important matters which need to be legislated for have been left out of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned Warnock last week when we were at Report stage. The anxiety that many noble Lords on all sides of the House felt about provisions for the handicapped was obvious from the amendments put down.

The education of the 16 to 19 year-olds is another area where we are awaiting a report from the Macfarlane Committee, and where legislation and action is urgently needed. There is nothing for that age group in this Bill. A large number of regulations are still to be drafted—regulations of great importance in clarifying the intentions of the Government. We have seen none of these. I also consider that the Bill has been rushed through your Lordships' House. We have been pressed for time both at Committee and Report stages and this is most certainly not because we on these Benches, or indeed others on other Benches, have made long speeches and held up business. I have myself asked my noble friends on these Benches to exercise restraint, and either not to speak or to speak briefly to enable us to get on. I hope that those who organise the timetable for future Bills will take note of this.

However, the 1980 Education (No. 2) Bill will probably be remembered for that remarkable debate and vote on the transport clauses in which one of the authors of the 1944 Education Act, the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, made such a skilful and influential speech. That debate may well go down in history as the time when the House of Lords really made itself felt. There was no doubt that on that occasion at least this House had very full coverage in the Press. We can claim to have made some improvement to the Bill.

As for the Bill, it makes a number of promises which I, for one, shall he surprised to see fulfilled. Parental choice is supposed to be on offer. How real that will be remains to be seen. I suspect that it is a "con". The LEAs too are supposed to be given greater freedom. Here and there maybe, but in other places burdens are put on them and they have no choice in the matter. They may well have difficulty, as a result of certain clauses in the Bill, in keeping up the standards of their comprehensive schools. The Bill is hard on those who are just above the supplementary benefit and family income supplement level, and I think that those who drafted the Bill have not shown a great deal of imagination about how these people are going to suffer.

Then there is the introduction of the assisted places scheme. That is a slap in the face for those who run, and teach in, the maintained sector. I was reading early in the New Year some paper where a journalist was giving prizes for boobs of the previous year. He gave first prize to Mr. Mark Carlisle for giving a subsidy to the private education industry while pleading poverty to the service which, as Secretary of State. he is charged to uphold. I think that that will be my final comment on this miserable Bill.

3.5 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, at the Second Reading of this Bill, I ventured to describe it from the point of view of my noble friends on these Benches as a deplorable Bill. Now we come to say farewell to it it is less deplorable, thanks to the decision of the Committee to throw out the transport charges, to which the noble Baroness, Lady David, has already referred. The noble Baroness in charge of the Bill was rather insistent after that had happened in warning us of the dire consequences that this might have on other parts of the education budget. In fact, I thought she was rather unduly pessimistic in some of her comments, and I hope and believe that it will not be so bad as she painted.

On the third day of the Committee stage, on 13th March, at column 1300, she actually said—and I may say that I was a little surprised— as a result of the activities of this House today there is likely to be less nursery provision than there was". I recognise that the noble Baroness was upset by the decision of the Committee and perhaps rather shocked at the size of the majority, but I wonder whether I can ask her whether there is any evidence that there is likely to be less nursery provision than there was. It seemed to me to be a slight overstatement of the risk.

Then I looked at the Statement made by the Secretary of State, which the noble Baroness repeated in this House, some days later. It seemed to me, reading that Statement, and reading the discussion that took place upon it in another place, that there was some doubt whether in fact the recoupment—I am sorry, I must not use that word because it has a technical meaning—or rather the recovery of the amount of the savings lost by the deletion of transport really has to come out of the education budget at all. The Secretary of State began by making out on 18th March that the rate support grant had already been settled, and at column 209 went on to say: But this is no way removes the obligation on local authorities to achieve the needed reductions in expenditure in some other way". He referred these to the local authorities. Having spoken of the rate support grant, it seemed to me that he was referring to the local authority budgets as a whole and not merely to the budget of the education authorities. I agree that it is a little confusing because the word "authority" is used several times, and of course the authority may be the local authority or the local education authority.

I suggest to the noble Baroness—and perhaps she could clear up this point when she replies—that it is quite open to local authorities to find the comparatively small savings required in some other field altogether than education. I say "the comparatively small amount" since it is known that a large number of local education authorities were not proposing to charge for transport anyway, and I feel that the total amount is probably less than the figures being talked about when were discussing the Bill.

As the noble Baroness, Lady David, has said, even with the transport charges removed, we have disagreement on a number of important issues, but I do not think I would wish to say anything more about them today except this: when we discussed the nursery schools my noble friend Lady Seear made the point strongly that it would be so much better if the obligation to provide nursery education was left on the statute book and could then be suspended. I made the suggestion that by using what is Clause 37(1) of the Bill, the Secretary of State could bring different parts of the Bill into operation on different dates. The aim is agreed on both sides of the House. The noble Baroness is quite clear that the aim is to restore, and indeed to improve, the position regarding nursery education as soon as financial circumstances permit. So would it riot be much better to have the provision on the statute book, and then the Secretary of State could bring it into operation by bringing an order before Parliament when circumstances allowed?

When that was suggested, the noble Baroness made great play of the fact that it would lead to pressure in that and other instances where the same procedure was suggested. But surely a Secretary of State could always resist pressure if there was good reason for resisting it? I ask your Lordships to consider what happens under the arrangements we have now. The obligation to provide nursery education has been removed. When the financial situation is better—as we all hope it will be before long—and we are able to return to the position in which we want to make this a duty instead of a power, what will happen? The Secretary of State will be asked, and he will reply, "I quite agree, but the legislative programme is so great that I cannot bring a Bill in". That is the great trap we will fall into unless we are careful.

It would have been so much easier if the Government had thought fit to accept the idea that it should be legislated for at this stage and then the operation of the clause postponed for as long as necessary. I make this point rather strongly now, because I am sure these things will arise with other Bills which the Government will bring forward during this period of financial stringency. If there is some issue in those Bills on which we are all agreed but we cannot deal with them only because we do not have the money, would it not be a good idea to put them into the relevant Bills with a suspending clause, such as we have in this one?

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, this seems a suitable opportunity to make a few comments about the Bill from, as it were, an unofficial source. We have heard from the Front Bench spokesmen of the Labour and Liberal Parties. What are their complaints about? My noble friend Lady David described it as a "rushed" Bill. If by "rushed", she meant sitting up all night listening to noble Lords in Committee moving innumerable amendments and then withdrawing them, then "rushed" would be appropriate. Indeed, I would go so far as to comment that more amendments were moved and withdrawn than were voted upon. What does that indicate? It indicates that the procedural basis of the Bill both in Committee and on Report was, to put it bluntly, absurd, ridiculous, ludicrous and completely unnecessary!

During the procedure to which I refer, I could not understand why we had to stay up all night. What did we accomplish during that period? No doubt it presented a favourable opportunity, intermittantly and perfunctorily and very often deliberately, for Members of your Lordships' House to disappear for the purpose of having a few winks in the Library or perhaps a visit to the Guest Room or Bishops' Bar. Indeed, visits to the Guest Room and Bishops' Bar in certain aspects provided compensation for what we suffered. In my view, the whole procedure was wrong. Before the amendments were tabled they should have been thought out very carefully, which obviously they could not have been because within my hearing, and that of many noble Lords here today, amendments were proposed and after a short, often very short, statement from the Minister, they were withdrawn.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on her conduct throughout the debates on the Bill. It was far from superficial and she used understanding. Of course, she never gave anything away. The noble Baroness is one of the best goalkeepers I have ever met in Parliament. The ball could never pass her and every amendment was turned down. Indeed, we knew before we began that we were defeated. If one wanted to be on the winning side for a change, one had to go into the Conservative Lobby, which I did on one occasion, and I am still awaiting the repercussions.

Should we not adopt a new procedure when debating a Bill of this character, a momentous measure? Perhaps I should qualify the use of the word "momentous", because although I intervened a few times expectantly hoping we would discuss education, the curricula, that did not happen. I thought we should be discussing what education was all about; what was happening to our teachers, whether those teachers would be unemployed, why village schools were to be closed down and so on all—important and pertinent questions—but they were never discussed at all. Hardly was a word said about the basis of education. It was all about managers and governors, the mechanics of the thing, and about education proper hardly a word was uttered. What we were debating seemed to be not an Education Bill but a technological attempt at predicting the kind of machinery that was envisaged by the Government a long time ahead, a time we may never reach for all we know, or some of us may never reach, and therefore we shall not suffer accordingly.

What the Government and Opposition should consider is a better method of procedure when dealing with matters of this sort, and not to ask Members to sit all night to talk and talk without anything being implemented, knowing the Government were going to turn down every amendment anyway. Indeed, that was the assumption of some of my noble friends who, when moving amendments, practically apologised for doing so. It was an astonishing affair. But it is all finished now, at least for the time being, and perhaps one of these days in your Lordships' House we will discuss the philosophy and basis of education, what it is all about and what its purpose is. I hope that will happen, and then our famous educationists, of whom I understand we have many in this House, will come to the fore. I believe that among us there are 13 associates who can add after their names "FRS", Fellows of the Royal Society, one of the most intellectual chambers in the universe.

I do not suppose that there is any other Chamber anywhere—in the United States, or in any other country—in which there are so many Fellows of the Royal Society. In those circumstances, we can discuss education, and what it is all about; and we need to discuss it. I say this because it seems that sometimes we take the wrong direction when we are discussing education. Sometimes I wonder—based partly on my own experience—whether education is really necessary. Some people get on very well without it. Take my case, my Lords. I do not say that I have been a complete success; you might say a qualified success. But obviously it is possible, with a certain measure of native shrewdness, intelligence, and the kind of experience that you pick up on the way, almost to compete with those people who know all about governors and managers, and about how to deal with the local authorities and all those other questions that were discussed in the course of our proceedings. It was all wrong.

I have congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Young—and she deserves it—but at the same time I must congratulate my noble friend Lady David, who showed tremendous courage and sometimes remarkable vigour, which interested me; I am always interested in vigour, particularly on the female side. She did a first-class job, supported by some other members of the party who sit on this side of the House.

I hope that I may be forgiven for these comments, but really, sitting up all night was unnecessary. I do not say that I have suffered from it—not in the least. The only reason I decided to participate in the all-night sitting is that I sleep so badly. Last night I hardly slept at all. This is very often the case, and I will not take narcotics. I am very obstinate and obtuse about matters of that sort. I felt that I should not be interested in the managerial and governing aspects of the Bill, and so I thought that I could slip away. I went into the Library often, only to discover that I could not sleep at all. So I came back again; it was easier to sleep in the Chamber.

I beg to be excused. I am speaking now to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He must be getting a little tired of me by this time; I know that he has been tired of me for years, but I shall not say the same about him. However, I have probably said enough to indicate that I was completely dissatisfied. I do not think that we gained a great deal. It is very interesting, but the procedure was all wrong, and I hope that nothing so improper will occur again.

3.23 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I shall leave it to your Lordships to judge whether the speech that we have just heard—of course the noble Lord is always amusing—has anything to do with either education or the Bill. Education is, as a matter of fact, a very large subject. This is a miscellaneous provisions Bill, which means that there are a number of very different questions raised by it, and to which considerable study must be applied in order to discuss thoroughly whether the text is right. In my opinion the conduct of the passage of the Bill has been very good. I do not regret any of the amendments that were put down. It is your Lordships' right to put down amendments, and I consider that the debates on the amendments have not wasted time. If the credit is due to any single one of your Lordships—and the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, pointed this out—it is due to my noble friend Lady Young. I have taken one or two Education Bills through another place, and I know that they are very difficult. Never previously have I heard from the Front Bench such consistent mastery of the subject, and the same praise is due, too, to the noble Baroness, Lady David. We have been very fortunate in the way in which the passage of what has been a difficult Bill has been conducted.

I support the Bill, and in particular the assisted places scheme. This scheme gives to a small number of able children the right to an education that at the present time they would not receive in any other way; and that is putting children in front of political theory. Since so many of the sixth forms in our secondary schools are of, well, fairly low standard, while in some schools there are no sixth forms at all, then of course it makes sense to help those children who otherwise would not receive the education they need.

Having said that, I found myself in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady David. I must say I regret that the Government did not have time to deal with other major weaknesses in the 1944 Act. During our debates I gained the impression that in some eminent quarters this famous Act is regarded with a somewhat uncritical reverence. On the other hand, the amendments which were proposed from all sides of the House clearly showed dissatisfaction with the way in which the education service—mainly over the last 10 years—has developed within the framework of that Act. We know, for example, that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, with his eye on the 16-year-olds, would like to have an entirely new Act. So would I, but there is one feature of the 1944 Act which we really should try to keep forever: that is the political consensus without which that Act would never have reached the statute book. From the end of the war to the early 1960s we normally worked together, but after that the consensus was abandoned, and today it would take a blind canary not to see the damage that has been done to our secondary schools by the infiltration of party politics.

The spirit of the 1944 Act will never be forgotten. The provisions, some of which we are amending today, are a different matter. There is nothing sacred about them. It would be a surprise if many of them are not now more or less out of date. Think, my Lords, of the moral, social and economic upheavals of the last 35 or 40 years. Parents and children, students and teachers are very different from what they were at the end of the war. They think, talk and act differently from their grandmothers and grandfathers. The point is that their claims and society's claims on the system of education have very greatly changed since the Act was passed.

We know why the Government could not in this Bill deal with all those great changes. Finance dictated their timetable. They were looking for savings on school meals, to which the House gave approval, as part of the attack on overspending. It beats me how intelligent men such as Mr. Denis Healey and Mr. Len Murray can tell the public that we can spend our way out of inflation. Anyone who believes that ought, I think, to go and see a doctor. However, whatever may he the financial situation, it is time to give more thought to the central problem in British education. It is this: the present allocation of resources—that is teachers, administrators, buildings and money—no longer reflects the relative importance of the various branches of the service. Some sections are getting too much: others too little.

The public wants a better balanced system of education, extended over the whole span of life. There are practical reasons why we should think about this now. The number of children of school age is falling and therefore the restructuring of primary and secondary schools offers us a chance to change direction. The Government have set severe limits on expenditure that we must accept, but it follows that the priorities which now require such urgent attention can only be satisfied by readjustment within the system itself. Even if extra money were available, the choices would be very difficult; now money is tight and, as usual, Government and local authorities are looking for economies at the growth points in the social services. There are signs of that in the Bill. What it means is that a larger proportion of smaller resources is likely to be concentrated on the compulsory period between the ages of 5 and 16 years.

Not so long ago we might have thought that no bad thing. There were many eminent educationists who believed that almost every child in the maintained system could learn all that he or she ever needed to know while in full-time schooling. That doctrine is no longer tenable. Since my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, George Tomlinson, Florence Horshrugh and myself were at the Ministry, the claims of education before and after the compulsory period have increased enormously. Today we know much more about how important it is to start learning before the age of five. We know much more about the education of handicapped children, for whom the two noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Darcy de Knayth are such formidable and popular champions. We see all too clearly—as I think the noble Baroness said from the Benches opposite—that we are not doing nearly enough for the young people between the ages of 16 and 19. Also, more leisure and a longer expectation of life call for more help with hobbies and with cultural interests of all kinds. Television was unknown in 1944. Now it both stimulates the demands for adult education and can satisfy some of them, as we see from the Open University.

All these multiplying factors compel us to rethink the whole range of educational priorities. We are bound now to regard education as a process continuing from birth to death. That is why we need a new Education Act; it is not that the 1944 Act said nothing, about education before and after the compulsory period, but what it said is now either out of date or has been disregarded and requires substantial revision.

Let us suppose we could start afresh, with a clean slate. How should we replan education over the whole span of life? In Cmnd. No. 7841, the Government propose to curtail expenditure on this service by some 6 per cent. That, of course, is less than the fall in the school rolls, but it is a sombre outlook for the sections of the service before and after the compulsory period. Therefore, there is all the more reason to think carefully how every available pound should be allocated, right from the under five-year-olds to the old age pensioners.

This is a great and urgent question. I leave it with your Lordships, and simply say that, whatever resources are available, the time has come to devote a larger proportion to education before and after the compulsory period. The major changes which are now of great urgency in the national interest could not be carried through without broad agreement between the political parties and with goodwill from the local authorities and the teachers. That, of course, is what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, had and what we have not got today.

In conclusion, may I say that until inflation is defeated the pace of reform will be in the hands of those employed in the education service. They can choose: by showing restraint in their demands they would help to defeat inflation so that rapid progress could be made in many directions. If they prefer not to exercise restraint, then progress will cease. Nursery schools and adult education, for example, would have to mark time, or even be curtailed. This is the problem raised by the Bill, by our financial situation and the new demands for different kinds of education.

I end, therefore, by asking whether it is possible for this House, in which so many noble Lords and right reverend Prelates are very interested in education, to give a lead in trying to remake the political consensus that we have lost. If we could do that, we would render great service to the British people.


My Lords, the noble Viscount said that we could not do anything but simply fight our way in dealing with inflation. Before he sits down, may I ask him whether he can tell me how we can cut our way in order to improve and expand the quality of our education at this particular time, when we have only to improve and expand it?

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, with the leave of the House, if I may answer the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, in some other debate in the course of the passage of this Bill I suggested a large saving should be made by reducing the total number of teachers and then spending a good deal of that money on doing the one thing that is wanted; that is to say, to recruit and train a number of teachers of higher quality.


My Lords, if the noble Viscount will forgive me, and before he sits down would he mind answering one question that I think is important? Is there really any answer to the problem of the 16 to 20-year-old other than some form of compulsory national service? I do not see it. Does he?

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, again with the leave of the House, I think that there is. There is a possibility that some special arrangement should be made for those of 16 to 19 years of age. They are very much in the mind of Lord Alexander of Potterhill and, if he means to speak, he will no doubt tell us about it.


My Lords, that is an invitation that I could not possibly refuse. As I indicated on the Second Reading of this Bill, I found myself almost totally opposed to almost all of its provisions, and I still find myself greatly regretting that the Bill is to find its way on to the statute book. Having said that, however, may I join the the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on her wonderful performance in negotiating a Bill with so much opposition and so much criticism, so successfully?

As to the future, I so much share the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. The last time I spoke before this Bill was introduced into your Lordships' House was on this subject. When we had political consensus for a substantial period of from 1945 until, certainly, something like the middle 1960s, we made more progress in education than at any time in the history of this country. But then we ran into this problem of party political differences—due essentially, in my judgment, to a mistake made by local authorities in expanding the provision of grammar school places until it could no longer be defended, either educationally or on any other ground. When it was a limited percentage admission it could reasonably be defended: when it went to 20, 25 or 30 per cent. it could not possibly be defended on any grounds. Therefore, the emergence of the pressure for comprehensive schools was in my judgment inevitable; and I think it still is inevitable, in the long run. It is now 11 years since I wrote a little booklet, Toward the new New Education Act, in the faith which Lord Eccles expressed.

The 1944 Act has lasted longer than any Education Act in the history of this country, and I think it is time to look at the position again rather carefully, and very much along the lines which Lord Eccles indicated. In the 1944 Act our whole concern was secondary education for all, and we really did not worry unduly about the after-provision. It is true that certain sections provided for it, but it was not a major concern. Now the whole pattern has altered. I do not believe that the unemployment of 16 year-olds leaving school is transient or temporary. I think it is permanent, as it is all over Europe and in America. I believe we must face the fact that full-time education and training—and I emphasise "and training"; I am not talking about raising the school-leaving age to 18—up to 18 will become essential.

For myself, because of the need for schools of limited size and because also of the fact that sixth forms in comprehensive schools will be neither educationally nor economically viable, I think the removal of sixth forms from the schools is inevitable. Therefore, recognising the importance of combining academic education, technical education and commercial education, I would be concerned to see an Act which provided for tertiary colleges and provided a new stage in the educational process from 16 to 19. That is perhaps the answer to the problems posed by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby. If you would like to call it national service, fair enough; but it would be national service undertaking training and education, so that these young people of 18 could enter the world, which demands higher standards of education and training, in a technological society which is very different from the society of which we were thinking in 1944.

My Lords, if this House could give a lead, which I very much hope it will, it would be a very wonderful thing. It would be a wonderful thing if this House could find political consensus on what the future required of the education service, from the age of two or three to very much later in life—65 or beyond—recognising the relative importance of its different stages. Let us make no mistake about it, adult education has been grossly neglected in this country, and we cannot afford to continue to neglect it. I do not know enough about the procedures, but perhaps this House could set up a committee, or do something to bring the political parties together, calmly and sensibly, to sit down and examine the problems, recognising the contribution which education could make to the settlement, the resolution, of these problems, and perhaps produce some document which would be a lead to the other place in the promotion of an Education Act which would provide for the next 40 years as effectively as the 1944 Act has provided for the last.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, it had occurred to me that we had already spoken so much on this Bill that possibly this stage might be comparatively brief; but, as one who has always had an interest in education, it is gratifying to find how much new thought has been injected into the debate. I am tempted, first, to make a brief comment on what was said by my noble friend Lord Shinwell. It is not for me to say what the procedures of this House ought to be—I have not been here long enough to know that—but I think it is true of procedure generally in any legislature that an Opposition is entitled, if it is deeply suspicious of a Bill and dislikes its whole nature, to press and harass the Bill at almost every point, and to move a great many amendments in the hope that some, at least, will be successful; and we have had some little success.

It is true, as my noble friend Lord Shinwell pointed out, that, sometimes, amendments we had planned to move were withdrawn; but perhaps I may draw his attention to the fact that we knew that only a certain amount of time in all could be devoted to the Bill, and that when, as sometimes happens, noble Lords come in and make long speeches that no one expected them to make, not always germane to the subject under discussion, you have to decide that so much time has been used up in that way that you will have to sacrifice certain other amendments. I am very ready to believe that my noble friend's contributions during the debates were a good deal more interesting than what we might have said on the amendments, but it does explain why we had to withdraw some of the amendments. He, if I may say so, had eaten up the time that might have gone to them.

I noticed also his criticism that we were engaged in the mechanics of education. But may I with respect remind him of the time when he and I had to answer for the War Office in another place? Very few of our speeches dealt with discussion of the actual nature of warfare, or the glories of war, or even the horrors of war: we were of necessity concerned with the mechanics of it—with recruitment, with weapons and with all the nuts and bolts. That, after all, is the essence of a legislature, as distinct from a philosophic assembly. Of course, this House can sometimes put on the philosopher's gown rather than the legislator's, and I would certainly welcome a debate on the general philosophy of education and what the contents of education ought to be. But we cannot wear the philosopher's gown all the time. We are a legislature also, and we were engaged in these debates, inescapably, on the mechanics of education; and I do not think we can be criticised for that.

My noble friend Lord Shinwell took up the phrase which my noble friend Lady David used, that this was a rushed Bill. So it is, but I do not think that my noble friend Lord Shinwell had quite paid attention to what my noble friend Lady David had said about its being a rushed Bill. It was rushed in its preparation. The Government could have stopped and thought. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, who began by telling the Government to go away and think again, and then amended that to say that they should go away and think. I quite accept that. If they had thought a bit more, they might have delayed any Bill of this kind until they were prepared to act on the Warnock Report. I wonder, for example, what my noble friend Lord Shinwell feels about that—a discussion on how to adapt the process of education to children with the terrible misfortune of being handicapped. Is that a discussion on the philosophy of education, or on the mechanics? Whatever it is, it is a discussion which ought to be undertaken, and we were not able to undertake it because this Bill had been bustled on in order to save a certain amount of money on milk, meals, buses and the rest.

The other deficiency in the Bill that my noble friend Lady David mentioned is that it does not really approach the problem of the 16 to 19-year age group. She herself moved an amendment to that effect, which, as always, the Government would not accept. May I turn in that connection to what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles? He argued, if it understood him aright, that we ought to be considering now how to allocate the total resources that we devote to education among the various stages of the educational process. He was broadly arguing that, at present, less is needed on the staturory period and more on the period before and after. As things now stand, I think I would agree with him. This allocation of priorities is something which must be continuously done all the time in education and, for that matter, when dealing with any spending department. It so happens at the present time that probably the right emphasis is that we should be spending a larger proportion of the total on the period before and after the statutory school age.

It is particularly depressing to find that this Bill is going to cut down on the nursery stage before the statutory age and is offering no encouragement for the 16 to 19-year-olds. The very points to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, wanted greater attention to be paid are the points which are either injured or cold-shouldered by this Bill. That is why I could not fully understand his support of the Bill as a whole.

On the subject of nursery education, I welcome what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon: that if we cannot afford to do all that we want to do now, the Bill at least ought to be framed to enable expansion to come when we can afford it. That is very true. It applies also to an amendment which we moved over school milk and meals. If it is really true that we can afford free milk and meals for only a limited number of children now, could we not have given at least the Secretary of State a power in the Bill to widen the range of children for whom free meals and milk would become available as the country's economy improved? But the Government would not even do that. Similarly, with regard to nursery education, the provisions in the Bill which discourage nursery education do not contain any provision that would enable them to be quickly lifted as the economy improved.

On the whole, the Bill does not seem to commend itself with great enthusiasm to anybody. It is true that we have effected one considerable improvement to it in the process of our debates. It reminded me of the phrase used by a famous diarist who said of a lady at the court of King George III that he believed that, after a number of years, the first bloom of her ugliness was wearing off. I wondered whether we could say that of this Bill in view of the disappearance of the transport clauses. I suppose that possibly we could go as far as that; but certainly not any further.

Let us look at one theme which runs all through the Bill. At the begininng, there were the elaborate arrangements for the appointment of governors, for parental preference, for appeals and there was on it that stamp of excessive bureaucracy which, rather surprisingly, seems to be the hallmark of Conservative legislation as witnessed by what they did to the health service and to the reform of local government. The effect of so over-formalising parental preference and the appeals procedure is to make it very much easier for parents to get what they want if they are the kind of parents who are themselves well-educated, articulate and with ready access to legal advice. The general trend of that clause of the Bill, to put it bluntly, is in favour of middle-class parents and weighing against the children of parents with fewer advantages. It is, in that sense a divisive Bill.

That is true also of those parts of the Bill which strike at comprehensive secondary education. But, before developing that, I should like to take up a point raised by both the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, about what is said to have been a period of consensus in educational policy from 1945 to (they say) the 1960s. To be plain about this, you could speak of a period of consensus from 1945 to 1951 on one of the points which has become a great matter of dispute: how could secondary education best be organised? The Butler Act deliberately left that to the choice of local authorities; and they were beginning to exercise the choice—one, one way; one, another. From 1951 onwards, from the tenure of the office by Florence Horshrugh onwards, the central Government, in Conservative hands, waged war against those local authorities that were trying to develop comprehensive secondary education.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord realises that I, myself, gave authority for 161 comprehensive schools and wished them every success.


Yes, my Lords, I remember that; but I also remember the noble Viscount speaking to a conference of the National Union of Teachers at which he expounded the view that the basic philosophy of comprehensive secondary education was un-Christian. The fact is that he could not in all cases refuse to let comprehensive secondary education be established, for even Conservative Ministers could not always find a plausible reason if the local authorities wanted it. But, wherever there was a plausible reason, it was used. Conservative Ministers encouraged people to draft and prepare petitions so that they could have the chance of turning down proposals for comprehensive secondary education. Even the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, caused great agony to the people in Leicestershire by telling them that abolishing the 11-plus was illegal—a proposition that I do not think can be properly defended.

This period from 1951 to 1964 could be described as a consensus if you mean by "consensus" what people usually mean by it: a state of affairs in which the Conservative Party has nine-tenths of its own way. That is what "consensus" has usually meant. I say seriously in reply to the appeal of the noble Viscount. Lord Eccles, that if we are seriously to think of consensus, then the party opposite will have to drop its hostility to comprehensive secondary education because, despite all the discouragement it has received from central Government, despite the hostility of the Press and the media, it has steadily made way. If we are to have consensus this time, it has really got to be consensus and not an acceptance of nine-tenths of the ideas of the Conservative Party. I think it is just possible that one might attain such a consensus; but that cannot be attained on the basis put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.

My Lords, I return now to the contents of the Bill itself. I do not think that what I have been saying has been more irrelevant to what we are discussing than have several of the previous speeches. And I must say that I think they were all the better for that. One need not be too pernickety of what is immediately relevant. The Bill damages the development of comprehensive secondary education, first, by deliberately giving the separatist system of education priority over parental choice. It is laid down quite clearly, and we argued it several times, that, whether the parents like it or not, if you have got a separatist system of education the child will not go to a grammar school unless it satisfies the mumbo-jumbo of the 11-plus examination.

There again, we all know that, in fact, the separatist device at what is called the 11-plus but is really about the age of ten and a half, is inescapably and inevitably tilted in favour of the middle-class parents and their children. That is basically what they intended to do. It hits also at the comprehensive school in the clause dealing with the information that schools have to provide. We were told quite unashamedly,"Yes, they will certainly be told to publish their examination results, but they certainly will not be obliged to tell the public whether they spend more on one kind of school than another ". So the way is made easy for the kind of local authority—and, unfortunately, there are still some—who will practise a deliberately twisted and biased system of separate schools, and favour, in allocations of money, the favoured grammar school to which again it is mainly children of middle-class origins who will attend.

Finally, it injures not only the development of comprehensive secondary education, but the development of the State system of education itself in the assisted places scheme. The purpose of this is to make sure that no school in the State system will be able to show outstanding academic achievements. If there is a sign of children likely to bring real distinction on a school, they are to be shifted out if it can possibly be done. We say that if we talk in that language we are not talking about consensus. There ought to be a consensus to build up the nation's own schools and to be proud of them. So long as we have this assisted places system, we cannot seriously say that there is consensus of any kind on education policy.


My Lords, where is the money?


My Lords, that is what we are wondering. We are told that £55 million is to be spent on the assisted places scheme. We can start by using the money there. I am not quite sure that the noble Lord has grasped what is happening. It is his spendthrift Government that are proposing to spend £55 million on educational snobbery. If he is asking, "Where is the money coming from?" let him talk to them.

I do not think that it is necessary to deal further with the other evils of the Bill. I have mentioned the discouragement of nursery education and the meanness of the milk and meals provision. There again, whatever view one may take about how much the country can afford, one of the great evils of these arrangements is that they are going to increase the number of people who are exposed to what is called the poverty trap. The very poorest will be protected because they come within the definition of receiving social security benefit or family income supplement. It will be the people just above that level who will be hardest hit by these provisions. The Conservative Party used to say that a situation has been created in which it pays people to live on benefit rather than to work. That was never true in any but a very few cases. The effect of the milk and meals clause—as the transport clause if it had gone through—will be to increase the number of people of whom that might be said to be true.

Therefore it has been an ugly, nasty, Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, was congratulated by my noble friend, Lord Shinwell, as being a skilled goalkeeper. She was indeed. My noble friend Lady David was also a skilled goalkeeper—particularly necessary when some noble Lords kick into their own goal. At the end of the day it is a rather squalid story. There is precious little here that will genuinely improve the quality of the educational system as a whole. There is a great deal to make it meaner and more divisive.

4.4 p.m.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, I was going to say a few brief words and they have already almost all been said. I was going to talk about the handicapped children, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, has said that we are waiting for Warnock. It is a pity that they have been segregated and not integrated in this Bill. I should like to second Lord Stewart's remarks about school meals. It is a pity that our children have no safeguard that they can have a hot meal or a hot drink. The workmen of this country would not work if they could not have their mid-day cup of tea. The children just above social security level will miss out. There will be trade in the free 50p dinner tickets which are going to be given by local authorities. I was at a school on Friday and the headmaster said that he was having problems regarding where the children who were going to eat their sandwiches would sit because there were no chairs.

We in Britain have a reputation for looking after our animals better than our children and this Bill illustrates this point in relation to food and milk. I hope that local authorities will take up the point stressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, about Common Market milk. When children have pains in their stomachs because they are hungry it is very useful if teachers can give them a cup of milk. It is a safeguard. Therefore, I should like to end by saying that maybe the Government will be saving on education but certainly they will be increasing the bill on the Health Service.

Viscount INGLEBY

My Lords, I should like to ask two questions in connection with our amendment which, noble Lords may remember, was concerned with the right of parents to know what kind of sex education was being given, or was being proposed to be given, to their children and, as a last resort, the right to withdraw their children. I should like to say how much I appreciate the concern that the noble Baroness, who is going to reply, has shown in this field and the undertakings that she gave at Report stage.

The two questions that I should like to ask are as follows. Surely it must be wrong for anybody engaged in sex education to profit—even indirectly—from the provision of contraceptives. Surely the objectives of education and commerce are incompatible in this field, and should be kept entirely separate. The second question I should like to ask is this: I know this cannot be answered this afternoon, but I should like to know how far bodies engaged in this field are supported by public funds. This is a very controversial matter, and it is important to know the answers to that question.

The final part of our amendment concerned the right of parents, as a very last resort, to withdraw their child from sex education classes if they felt so strongly that these would be harmful to their child. It may interest the House to know that this question was debated on Granada Television on Thursday last. Living in the North of England, I could not see it, and I do not know whether the noble Baroness or any other Members of the House were able to do so. They take two votes on these occasions: one before the debate, and one afterwards. The vote before the debate was that 48 people—48 per cent.—felt that parents should have the right to withdraw their children; 38 were against and there were 14 abstentions. At the end of the debate, the figures were as follows: 70 per cent.—70 people—were in favour of parents having the right to withdraw and 30 were against, with no abstentions. Two of those who had been speaking against the right to withdraw were teachers engaged in the sex education aspect in schools. It transpired after the debate that they were using the book, Make it Happy and felt there was no harm in it. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to assist me in finding the answer to the questions that I have asked.

4.10 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, we have had a short and useful debate this after- noon. I should like to thank all those noble Lords who have made kind references to me. Also, my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden has told me that he much regrets he is unable to be in his place this afternoon.

I believe that this is likely to be the last occasion on which your Lordships will discuss this Bill. I will not detain the House for long, but I should like to say a few words about what I consider to be the Bill's positive achievements and also to say a brief word about the transport clauses. As the House will be aware, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that the Government will not seek to reinstate in this Bill the clauses relating to school transport which your Lordships, against the advice of the Government, decided to delete. I should, however, like to take the opportunity to correct what I said at Committee state on what was then Clause 23. I should like to make it clear that the representatives of the Anglican Churches wrote to the Department in July and in November expressing their concern at the transport proposals. I think we can hope that Members of another place will not wish to disagree to the other amendments made by your Lordships, as these are mainly clarifications and improvements, and I hope they are of a non-controversial nature.

Turning now to the Bill itself, first the Bill advances the Government's policy of involving parents more closely in the choice of school their children will attend and in the running of those schools. The clauses on school government (1–5) provide in particular, for the election of parent and teacher governors. This is a major extension of local democracy and parental involvement, made in the belief that decisions should be taken as nearly as possible to the people they most affect, and that the links between home and school should be strengthened. These clauses will also allow the Secretary of State to require the eventual introduction of a single governing body for almost all primary and secondary schools. This was clearly intended by the spirit, if not the letter, of the 1944 Act and is something to which I attach great importance as a means of fostering a community of interest among all those concerned with the life of each school.

The school admissions clauses of the Bill (6–11) give parents important new statutory rights in relation to decisions about the schools their children should attend. The 1944 Act laid down the general principle that children should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents, but it also recognised that the interest of the individual parents had to be set against the interests of parents collectively and those of the taxpayers and ratepayers. What was lacking, because everyone recognised the inherent difficulty of providing it, was an administrative framework which tried to provide how the conflict of interest to which this would give rise should be resolved; and the result has been that in many areas parents have had little or no real say in the education of their children. This was a problem which we felt needed to be tackled and it is something which today's parents expect, and a step which they welcome. I believe that we have gone some way towards meeting those wishes.

During our discussions of these clauses of the Bill, much regret has been expressed that they do not extend to children in need of special educational treatment. I have explained to your Lordships the very real difficulties about this and given firm assurances, which I repeat today, about the Government's intention to introduce its promised legislation to create a new statutory framework for the education of the handicapped following their consideration of the Warnock Report. In the meantime, however, the Bill has been amended in your Lordships' House to extend its information provisions to special schools and children in need of special educational treatment, so that authorities can be required by regulations made under Clause 8 to publish information about their policy and arrangements in respect of such matters. This I regard as a significant improvement to the Bill in a sensitive area, and I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Renton and to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham and Lady Darcy de Knayth, and their noble friends for what I may perhaps call their understanding persistence.

Baroness MASHAM of ILTON

My Lords, may I just for one moment, on behalf of my two colleagues, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for what she has said: I forgot to so do earlier.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for those words. The clauses in the Bill relating to the establishment, closure and alteration of schools (12–16) will, I think, both clarify the procedures which schools and authorities have to go through in these matters, while reducing the degree of detailed control exercised by the Secretary of State. Clause 15 establishes a new procedure designed to provide for public consultation where authorities wish to reduce admissions to schools as part of their planning for the fall in the school population. These clauses have, I think, been usefully clarified and amended by your Lordships and I hope that the amendment first proposed by my noble friend Lord Ridley taking very smal schools out of Clause 15, will have the effect of further reducing the administrative burden on authorities.

Regarding the clauses relating to the assisted places scheme (17 and 18), all I shall say at this stage is that we on this side of the House continue to believe that it is right to try to restore in a modified form the extra dimension of opportunity that was available to parents and children through the direct grant scheme. We very much hope that, as the scheme gets under way, even those who now criticise it will realise that it is capable of making a positive contribution to the education of our children. I was very pleased to hear what my noble friend Lord Eccles said on this matter and perhaps I might say to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that the Secretary of State is charged with promoting the education of the people of England and Wales, and not just the maintained sector. The 1944 Act extends his duties beyond the maintained sector.

Turning now to Clauses 22 and 23 relating to school milk and meals, the more I reflect on our debates of last week the more I am convinced that the time is long overdue for us to get away from the attitudes developed during the war (and rightly so at that time) which led to the development of such a heavily subsidised school meal service. It seems to me inconceivable that, if we were starting from scratch today, we should not accept that democratically accountable local authorities ought to be able to take responsible decisions about the kind of school meals service needed in their area, and indeed to provide one that caters for the tastes of a far more sophisticated school population of today. There has been some discussion on the economic background surrounding our proposals for the savings to be made on school meals and on milk. I think it is important to reiterate once again that the Government hope that major savings will come from these non-educational areas within the education budget, allowing what money there is to be spent on the fabric of the education service itself.

I should also like to reiterate that the clauses in the Bill relating to nursery education (24 and 25) are not expected or intended to bring about any diminution in such provision, but merely to bring the law into line with what has in fact been the policy of successive Ministers since 1944.

At the same time I should like to draw attention to the fact that, as well as the provisions of Clauses 24 and 25, Clause 12 makes the closure of nursery schools subject for the first time to the approval of the Secretary of State. I should also like to draw attention to the fact that the Government's expenditure plans for the next three years include provisions for a small nursery building programme. I must also make it clear that as regards the closure of nursery schools in Scotland, it would be inappropriate to apply Clause 12 to Scotland since Scottish legislation already requires authorities to seek the consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland to any such closures.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asked two questions on nursery education. The first was whether I thought there would be a diminution of nursery education because of the decisions on transport clauses within the Bill. The result of that decision is that the £20 million saving that we expected local authorities to be able to make in the current financial year (1980–81) will not be able to be made in that particular area. Savings inevitably will have to be made somewhere else. We know now that 20 authorities were proposing to make some charge for school transport, and inevitably they will have to find those savings elsewhere. I would ask your Lordships to remember that it is not just £20 million for one year: it goes on year after year. What I said—and I stand by my remarks—is that £20 million would buy quite a lot in the education service; not only would it represent the salaries of 4,000 to 5,000 teachers but it is part of the nursery programme and part also of all the other programmes that schools have to consider. One reason why I regret the decision is that I fear savings may come in other areas which we may all dislike very much indeed.

The second question put forward by the noble Viscount was: why not keep it as a duty? Why not leave it as it is so that when the economy picks up there can be an expansion in the programme'? When, as we confidently hope, the economy does pick up, there is nothing to prevent there being an expansion of the nursery school building programme when it is within the power of local authorities. I would remind the House that even though it has always been a duty to provide nursery education ever since 1944, and we have lived through much more prosperous economic times than we have today, local authorities did not provide the schools—not, I think, because they were unwilling but because even then there were not the resources to do so. I believe that once the resources increase and the economy improves, so there will be more nursery schools in the country

I believe that the Government have had the courage to tackle many important reforms at the same time—to bring to a conclusion, for example, the long debate on school government, in which we have been greatly helped by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and his committee; to provide the means of resolving locally, where it should be resolved, the conflict between parental preference and the availability of schools; to end the longstanding confusion over nursery provision while offering protection to what we have; to recognise that, while our first commitment must be to the public sector of education, effective choice of school in the private sector ought not to depend on the size of one's purse; and to give local authorities increased discretion in a number of areas, but principally over the provision of school meals.

To my noble friend Lord Ingleby, who asked me a question at the end on the amendment that he moved, may I say that I will write to him on the two points that he raised about the profits from certain organisations being spent on contraceptives; and I will, of course, take note of his point about the Granada Television programme, which I regret to say I did not myself see.

At the conclusion of this stage of the Bill, I should like to thank particularly my noble friends Lord Belstead, Lord Mansfield and Lord Bellwin, who have helped me. I should also like to thank particularly my noble friend Lord Eccles and the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme. Despite what may have been said in the course of our debates, and indeed again this afternoon, I should like as well to thank those Members of the Opposition who have worked so hard on this Bill, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady David, the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. We may not always have agreed—indeed, on most occasions we have not agreed—but I welcome very much the spirit in which the whole debate has been conducted. I should also like to pay my tribute to the very many Cross-Benchers, not least the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, who have played such a major part in this debate, particularly during the very tiring and lengthy Committee stage and the all-night Sitting.

This is the longest amending Bill that there has been since the 1944 Education Act. That does not mean—nor have we ever claimed—that it is in any sense an attempt to rewrite the settlement of 1944, or to revise in any substantial way the main framework of our public education system as it was then established. But I believe that in the years to come the Bill will be recognised as having made a substantial and positive contribution to the continued process of organic change that must be part of any living system, particularly the education system.

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