HL Deb 05 March 1984 vol 449 cc75-103

7 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Education support grants]:

Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 7, leave out ("and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak also to Amendment No. 3, as No. 1 is simply a paving amendment for No. 3.

Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 10, at end insert— ("; and (c) shall, to the extent to which it has not at the end of a year been paid to local education authorities in respect of expenditure incurred by them in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section, be added to the aggregate amount of rate support grant determined by the Secretary of State as the amount available for grants for that year in accordance with section 54 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.").

At the Committee stage on 14th February, I moved an amendment, which was No. 9, designed to ensure that if funds made available for education support grants exceeded expenditure in this area, the residue should be returned to LEAs. This elicited from the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, at cols. 170–171 of the Official Report on that day, a reply which required some study and I therefore withdrew the amendment in order to study his answer. I have to confess, however, that I am still not fully satisfied by what the noble Earl said.

If I may, I will quote the most significant passage. He said: We envisage that this process of making bids will be completed well in advance of the beginning of the financial year"—

I am leaving out the words in parenthesis— and before the RSG report for that year is laid before Parliament. Hence the estimates of the amount of education support grants made in the RSG report will be able to take account of whether the bids from LEAs are more or less than the figure originally proposed. If their applications fall short of the total originally envisaged by the Government, the estimate in the RSG report would reflect that. Therefore, if local authorities whose bids have been accepted spend at the level at which they had wanted to spend, the total grant set aside for ESGs would not be underspent.

I submit that this does not cover all the possible eventualities. Will any shortfall below the Government's intended figure simply be reincorporated in the RSG estimates? If that is the intention, the Bill does not make it plain.

There is another circumstance in which the amount determined under Clause 2 might not be fully spent, even when it has been awarded. As I understand it, LEA finances fall into three phases: first, the preliminary stage before the determination of a precise amount: secondly, the time during which the amount allocated is being spent: and, thirdly, the final reckoning up of the account which runs well past the year in question, as obviously it must, since expenditure is still taking place up to the last day of the financial year. It is therefore quite possible that the full amount for a scheme might have been allocated but not spent by the end of the year. The fact that it takes so long to close the books seems to me to make it desirable that Ministers should be obliged to return any money allocated but underspent to the RSG, so that it does not just leak out of the system, back into the Consolidated Fund or go somewhere else, and that is the purpose of these two amendments.

This is a complicated field and it is my purpose to be helpful. I am not convinced that the Government have thought through how this grant system is to work out on the ground, and I believe that what I am proposing will be an improvement on the Government's drafting of the Bill. I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to accept the helping hand which I am extending to him. My Lords, I beg to move.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for offering a helping hand, but I think that the helping hand is unecessary. I shall once again try to explain to him just what the situation is, and I apologise for the fact that I was unable to satisfy him during the Committee stage that his amendment is unnecessary.

As I understand it, the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that any money set aside by the Government for education support grants is actually paid to local authorities—paid either as education support grants or, if payments fall short of expectations, as part of rate support grants. I think that there is nothing between the noble Lord and myself so far. In fact, a significant shortfall is very unlikely. To explain why that is so, I must remind noble Lords of the wider arrangements for grant payments to local authorities.

The Bill sets an upper limit on the amount of expenditure which may be approved and on the rate at which grant may be paid on that expenditure. The effect is that, in 1983–84 terms, the maximum amount of education support grant payable in respect of that year would have been about £33 million. That compares with a total amount of grant to local authorities of £8,830 million. The figure of £33 million is a maximum. The total amount of education support grant would not necessarily reach that maximum. Indeed, in the first year or so of the scheme it will be significantly less than the maximum figure.

The amount of grant actually payable will depend principally upon two factors: first, how much expenditure within the upper limit of one-half of 1 per cent. the Government think it appropriate to support through education support grants in the year in question; and, secondly, how local authorities respond to the Government's initiative. They may decide not to apply on the scale envisaged for grants in the areas specified. In that case, the grant payable would fall short of the Government's original intention.

The point I want to emphasise to the noble Lord is that both these factors will be taken into account when the Government come to set aside part of the total local authority grant for payment as education support grants. This will be done in the annual rate support grant report in November or December, preceding the start of the financial year. The RSG report fixes the total of Exchequer grant for local authorities; it estimates the amount to be paid in specific grants and it determines how the remainder will be distributed to local authorities as rate support grants.

It is not the general practice to adjust the total of rate support grants to reflect the amounts actually paid in specific grants. If this were done, it would introduce additional uncertainty into local authorities' budgeting, because the total of rate support grants might go up or down. In practice, therefore, the amount determined for rate support grants is a cash figure and it is not adjusted. The effect of the amendment would be to require that if the estimate in the rate support grant report of the amount payable in education support grants proved too high, the balance would be added to the sum remaining for rate support grants.

As I have explained, this is unlikely to be a particular problem for education support grants. The estimate for these grants is not likely to prove significantly inaccurate, since it will be based on the amount of expenditure to be approved for the year in question. Under our timetable for education support grants, local authorities would have submitted their applications for grant and these would have been considered and approved before the estimate of total education support grant was made in the RSG report.

In other words, it will not be a case of deducting, say, £33 million from the total regardless of the amount actually likely to be paid. The sum deducted, particularly in the early years, is likely to be less than £33 million. It will be related to the amount which local authorities have indicated they wish to spend. Therefore, the estimate should be accurate. I hope that I have said enough to persuade the noble Lord that the problem he envisages is, in practice, unlikely to arise and I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

Baroness David

My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask one or two questions. They will probably be stupid ones, because it is very much easier to ask questions after one has read what the noble Earl has said. Am I to understand that if f30 million has been taken out of the rate support grant, and there have been bids but all the money has not been spent, the remainder will then go back into the general rate support grant and be distributed to all local authorities, or will there be any method of carry-over? If authorities have bid but they have not been able to spend all of the money in one year and they wish to carry on with their schemes, will they be able to carry that money over to the second year? How will that be affected?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, with the leave of the House, yes, the noble Baroness's first point is quite true. If £33 million is put aside and only £20 million is put in for by the local authority, that will go back into the rate support grant in general and into the pool. As regards the carry-over, there is a distinction between the grant payable in respect of a year and the grant payable in that year. This is because we envisage that grants will be paid in arrears; for example, at the end of each quarter. This would mean, for example, that the final instalment of grant in respect of 1985–86 would be paid in the following financial year, but this will not affect the total amount of education support grant payable in respect of 1985–86.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his attempt to clarify our understanding of this part of the Bill. It seems to me that he is still very largely relying upon the unlikelihood of certain events taking place. These amendments are designed to plug the gap where something unlikely, in his terms, takes place. It seems to me to be important to establish the principle which the noble Baroness, Lady David, was getting at: that if only £20 million or £15 million are allocated in one year, this is the only amount which is deducted from the totality of the rate support grant. I take the noble Earl's point that this will build up, but eventually we shall presumably get to a period in which the whole of the £33 million, or whatever it may be, will be on offer.

The other point upon which the noble Earl has shed some light is the carry-over, a point which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David. My amendment was also designed to take care of the carry-over. We are almost back to the situation we reached during the Committee stage. In other words. I shall have to read very carefully what the noble Earl has said. If I feel that it still does not meet my anxieties and still leaves me unsatisfied, it will not be improper, as the matter has already been aired and as I should not be introducing a new item at a late stage of the Bill, to return to it at Third Reading and possibly to divide upon it then. However, I beg leave now to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.12 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 8. leave out ("70") and insert ("75")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this, too, is a money amendment; much of the discussion on the Bill has related to money. The purpose of the amendment is simply to increase the maximum grant available under the Bill from 70 to 75 per cent. We discussed the matter briefly during the Committee stage. It was then a fall-back amendment in relation to the principal amendment, in which we asked the Committee to agree that 75 per cent. should be the minimum grant. We are coming back to the point and are asking the Minister to consider increasing the amount available to a maximum of 75 per cent.

It is a small amendment. Nevertheless, it would provide an extra 5 per cent., which might be an added incentive. The noble Earl said that in the first few years it is anticipated that we shall build up to the maximum grant available. In other words, he suggested that bids might be a little slow in coming forward. If there were the possibility of this extra 5 per cent., local authorities might be encouraged to come forward with their bids. The local authority associations support this amendment. They are of the opinion that the money, which we are told is being redeployed at the margins, lies within the discretion of the Secretary of State. Therefore, the view of the local authority associations is that all of this money should come from the Exchequer. If, however, that is not to be, our hope is that at least the maximum can be 75 per cent.

When we looked at the matter earlier it was pointed out that many local authorities, in particular many of the county authorities, are moving into the penalty area. Some of these authorities are spending on education at a level lower than that at which the Government themselves expect them to spend in order to provide the necessary services. This being so, the extra 5 per cent. from the Exchequer could help some of these authorities to keep out of the penalty area. It is a small concession for which we are asking, but it would be salutary for the local authorities.

I do not know whether the noble Earl has seen The Times Educational Supplement of 2nd March, whose editorial, headed "It Takes Two to Co-operate", refers to some of the issues which in recent months have been a matter of contention between the Government and the local authorities. It instances the education support grant as one of the issues over which local authorities believe that the Government are taking unto themselves greater powers than hitherto—in recent years, at any rate. If the Government were to look sympathetically at the amendment, it could be a means of bridge-building between the Government and the local education authorities. The amendment is worthy of being given consideration by the Minister. I hope he will do so sympathetically. I beg to move.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I must begin by disagreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, who said that this subject was touched on briefly at the Committee stage. I seem to remember that the rate at which the education support grant should be paid was discussed at length during the Committee stage. I stressed then that setting the rate involved striking a balance between different considerations. In the Government's view, an upper limit of 70 per cent. would strike the right balance. The noble Baroness may prefer a different figure, but at the end of the day the choice of an upper limit is a matter of judgment and is necessarily arbitrary.

Before I discuss the prospective merits of 70 per cent. and 75 per cent., I should like to remind noble Lords and noble Baronesses that these represent upper limits on the rate of grant. The actual rate of grant to be paid on particular activities will be specified in the regulations so that local authorities will know how much grant they will receive when they consider applying for grant for particular activities. But the possible activities supported by education support grants are likely to vary widely—more widely, I suspect, than the range of activities supported under the urban programme. The appropriate rate of grant may be different for different activities, though, as I have said before, I think it unlikely that the rate for any activity would be below 50 per cent.

As to whether the upper limit should be 70 per cent. or 75 per cent., it was suggested during the Committee stage that the analogy of the urban programme would suggest 75 per cent., yet the urban programme is only one of many specific grants paid to local authorities. The police grant is paid at 50 per cent., and the transport supplementary grant, in 1984–85, at approximately 55 per cent. No single rate is appropriate for every type of grant.

As I said earlier, it is a question of striking a balance. The grants are intended to encourage local authorities to redeploy their expenditure into areas to be specified in regulations approved both here and in another place. The rate of grant must be sufficiently attractive to encourage local authorities to participate. At the same time, the final decision about the deployment of expenditure will remain with local authorities themselves. The rate should not be so high as to eliminate the authority's own contribution.

One point which I made at the Committee stage and which I should like to repeat is that the balance of expenditure which is not met by an education support grant will attract block grant. Hence, if the rate of grant for an activity was 70 per cent., the 30 per cent. contributed by the authority would itself be supported by block grant, except for any authority which received no block grant. In fact, if some authorities redeploy their expenditure into activities supported by education support grant, they may find themselves receiving more grant than they would otherwise have done. Taking all these considerations into account, an upper limit of 70 per cent. on the rate of grant seems to the Government to provide an appropriate balance. As I have said, I believe that this is a matter for judgment. The Government judge that 70 per cent. is the right sum, and that view was supported by your Lordships in Committee. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness David

My Lords, we did not in fact vote on this particular amendment; we voted on 75 per cent. being both the maximum and the minimum. This amendment would give the Government greater flexibility, and I am therefore very surprised that they are not accepting it. I thought that the Government would be glad to have the extra room to manoeuvre. We cannot do anything if that is what the Government have decided, because we know that they have the voting power—or I imagine so. As my noble friend has said, this amendment would give local authorities a little more encouragement to make bids for these projects. I suppose that it is no use asking the Minister to think again, but this is an area where there could have been some flexibility on the part of the Government. There has been very little flexibility during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House so far.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, like my noble friend Lady David I am sorry that the Minister is not prepared to be more flexible. We all understand, as he has said, that we are talking about an upper limit of 70 per cent. The noble Earl has advised us on a number of occasions that he does not believe the lower limit is likely to go below 50 per cent. One would assume that the major projects which the Government want to encourage would carry the 70 per cent. grant. This amendment would have increased the grant to 75 per cent., thus making it more possible for some local authorities to move into areas of Government priority—because we are talking about Government priorities.

I am sorry that the Minister has taken the view that he has. I had hoped that he would give a little encouragement to local authorities on this occasion. But as he seems to be so intransigent on this point, I have no alternative but to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

7.22 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 4.

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:

("Financial provision for specified areas

In any year in which educational support grants are made there shall be included in the regulations provision for projects in the following areas:

  1. (a) the integration into schools of pupils with special needs;
  2. (b) nursery education;
  3. (c) projects on environmental education;
  4. (d) improving the standard of mathematics teaching in schools; and
  5. (e) improving the standard of science teaching in schools.").

The noble Baroness said: At Committee stage we had a number of amendments suggesting that a certain percentage of the education support grant money should be put aside for various different provisions. That caused a certain amount of criticism. Sums were done by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, who added together 20 and 20 and 20 and 20, and made the result 100. So we thought we ought to try to find a different method of tackling the problem at Report stage. That explains the form which Amendment No.4 takes. I will introduce this amendment and speak to (a), the integration into schools of pupils with special needs", and (c), projects on environmental education".

Some of my noble friends will then speak on other aspects.

We had quite a discussion at Committee stage about integrating pupils who had been in special schools into ordinary schools. There was a good deal of support all round the Committee for that being one of the projects. As I said then, so far only 11 per cent. of children with special needs are in maintained ordinary schools. Already, 42 special schools have been closed. No applications have so far been rejected, so it is likely that there will be a considerable move over. No doubt there will be problems, and a great many matters to be considered and things to be done.

It is accepted, I believe, that it is very expensive to integrate children with special needs. Since Committee stage I have received a guess of what it will cost to implement the 1981 Act if it is to be done properly. This estimate came from the Leeds City Council. The estimates were made in a note from the officers to the chairman of the education committee. I shall read a little of the note and give some of the estimates that the officers made: The real problem … is that the financial commitment in implementing this Act really has no limit and in the end, local authorities will simply do what they feel they can afford. The following, nevertheless, is based on what we might realistically be expected to do if the terms of the Act are taken seriously".

There then follows a list of the items on which the local authority ought to spend money if it is going to integrate the pupils properly: Each school should have a co-ordinator of special needs and each person given this responsibility is likely to need a course of training".

It is reckoned that that might cost £300,000. Then: Secondly, it is important that all teachers should have some training in the meeting of special needs as defined and recognised by the Act. If this were to be done with due care, it could involve a one-week residential course for every teacher in an ordinary school. In Leeds, therefore, we could be talking about a bill for £480,000…. If special schools are to be centres of excellence, they are bound to need extra resources in addition to staffing resources; even at £1,000 per school per year, this is £26,000. Similarly, the need for the reinforcement of the non-teaching support in ordinary schools is likely to grow as more handicapped pupils stay in the ordinary schools".

The estimate for that was £60,000.

In addition, there will of course be central administrative costs. These are already arising in getting the estimates prepared and all that this involves. A figure of £36,000 was estimated for that item. I have added all those up, and they total £1,112,000. It will be very difficult for any local authority to raise anywhere near that sum of money. So it would seem that a project from the education support grant would be a very sensible thing to do, so far as these particular children are concerned. There will be a lot of experimentation and a lot of expense. I hope very much that the Minister will think this is a good cause to support.

The other project I wish to talk about is that concerning environmental education. This was not moved in Committee because we appeared then to be in a rush towards the end and it seemed better not to discuss it at that stage. In the Second Reading debate I asked that environmental education should be an activity supported by the new grants, and I shall elaborate on that theme now. People in general are beginning to appreciate how much the quality of human society depends on that of the natural environment, and how easy it is to destroy, by the carelessness of pollution or by the greed of short-term exploitation, the natural resources without which humanity's future will be nasty, brutish and short. For the most part, people are still only superficially informed, and there exists a great gap between education and public understanding. The process of education in environmental issues cannot start too soon in a child's life; it should certainly permeate the primary school.

Such education is surely fundamental, particularly in modern conditions. Its purpose, as defined in Environmental Education: A Review, published by the DES in 1981, is to help people understand something of the processes of the physical world and to gain a basic knowledge of ecological principles and relationships; to understand something of the economic, technological, planning and political processes which affect man's use of the environment; to develop insights into other people's environments, life styles and problems; to understand something of the interdependence of peoples; and to develop a concern both for their own environment and for the environment of others.

We are now, it appears, in a period of unprecedented change in the educational provision for the 12 to 18 age group. An opportunity exists for extending and consolidating environmental education and so correcting the mismatch between the curriculum of schools and public understanding. The young, whose future world we older people have already shaped and in some part already destroyed, are entitled to an education which will help them to see further and more clearly ahead than we have done. The curriculum needs for environmental education have been detailed over the past two decades, nationally and internationally, through government and non-government conferences and seminars. The knowledge of what needs to be done is there. What is lacking is the will and, consequently, the finance.

Members of the present Government have, in the past, emphasised the crucial role that education has to play. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, then a Minister in the DES, wrote in 1981, of a new urgency in our concern for the state of the environment and the condition of life within it—a concern which recent disturbing events in our towns and cities have done nothing to diminish.".

The noble Baroness said that at the time of the Liverpool riots. Mr. Michael Heseltine, on Second Reading of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, said: We believe that for the countryside in general the best practical way forward is a positive policy of environmental education, discussions and debate.".

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who I had hoped might be here, has recently retired as President of the Council for Environmental Education. Miss Sheila Browne, now the principal of Newnham College, but lately the chief HMI. has taken his place as president of that council. So I hope that that shows there is enthusiasm in the DES for this project. She has shown a great deal of interest in it.

There are a number of other noble Lords who have been very involved: the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, who is chairman of the all-party conservation group; the noble Earl. Lord Cranbrook, chairman of the EC Sub-Committee on the Environment; my noble friend Lady White, whose name was down to my amendment in Committee, and my noble friend Lord Melchett who we all know is very concerned. So I think there would be, if only they were here, a good deal of support round the House for this amendment—perhaps they intended to be here and found it was rather late. A lot of work has been done but it certainly needs a good push. I hope that the Secretary of State and his Ministers in their innovations and experiments with the curriculum (which, after all, are the raison d'etre for this Bill) will be willing to make environmental education one of the activities which they decide to support.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I support my noble friend in this new clause—

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the Question has not yet been put.

Baroness David

My Lords, I beg to move.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Aylestone)

The Question is that this clause be inserted.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I am sorry, my Lords. To start again, I support my noble friend in this amendment and will speak particularly on how it relates to nursery education. First, I should like to remind your Lordships that it is now 10 years since the Plowden Report and White Paper set out the Government's aim regarding nursery provision. That aim was that nursery education should become available, without charge within the limits estimated by Plowden, to those three and four year-olds whose parents wished them to benefit from it. Plowden estimated that provision would be needed for 90 per cent. of four year-olds and 50 per cent. of three year-olds. However, the sad truth today is that, those 10 years having elapsed, there are in fact places available for only just over 40 per cent. of all three and four year-olds put together. Therefore, there is no doubt that there has been only minuscule progress made in the direction that the Prime Minister, who was at that time Secretary of State for Education, had hoped for.

The purpose of this new clause is to prevent the numbers from slipping even further. We believe that the educational support grants should be used in various different ways. First, they should be used to encourage the conversion of surplus primary school accommodation into nursery schools or classes; secondly, they should be used to encourage local education authorities with a poor record of provision: and, thirdly they should be used to encourage the establishment of nursery centres. As the Minister will know, these centres are established to meet the needs of parents and children on a flexible basis throughout the normal working day, and they provide children with a very caring environment which also meets some educational need.

There can be no doubt that nursery education provides both an educational and a social advantage. I am governor of a small ILEA nursery school in Chelsea and I am constantly amazed at the real educational value to these small children—a fact, of course, which has been proved by educationists. Certainly, from the point of view of nursery schools in the more deprived areas, they are there to counter the pressures at home which are particularly felt in one-parent families and in households where the mother is working—in fact, in those households which have been most hit by the present economic climate. Furthermore, the need to safeguard nursery provision will become even more critical if the rate capping legislation goes through, when non-statutory provision will be seriously threatened.

Finally, it is a fact that the spread of nursery schools over the country is very uneven and it seems extremely unfair that some parents and their children should be penalised purely through the accident of where they live. Therefore, the new clause would do a great deal to ensure that resources are made available to develop nursery education throughout all parts of the country and in this way help those children who are at present deprived. I hope that the Minister will look at this favourably and in the light in which I have tried to present it.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I appreciate that this amendment is a composite version of several previous separate amendments and as such succeeds in avoiding some of the logical and practical difficulties previously encountered. I have very great sympathy for the areas recommended for special consideration. I very much hope that pupils with special needs will be helped in the ways indicated and that there will be more provision of nursery education, the need for which I wholeheartedly respect and recognise. I also hope that standards of teaching in science and mathematics will be improved. For example, I have on a previous occasion drawn the attention of your Lordships to the sober fact shown in recent research that British schoolchildren are two years behind their German counterparts in mathematical attainment. That is an inexcusable situation and surely merits urgent attention.

However, I am afraid that I cannot accept the basic principle of the amendment, which in effect earmarks certain portions of money available for the education support grants. It is unacceptable for three reasons concerned with freedom, flexibility and fragmentation. First, it is unacceptable because the whole purpose of this legislataion is to give the Secretary of State the freedom to decide on educational priorities. This amendment would reduce that autonomy which the Bill is designed to ensure. Secondly, the identification in advace of categories for special provision on a year-by-year basis reduces the flexibility which is an important feature of the whole education support grant idea—that grants should be available for projects as they meet changing educational priorities. Thirdly, there is a danger that a predetermined commitment to an excessive number of projects will lead to a fragmentation of funding, with insufficient money to do justice to all the projects deemed appropriate for financial support.

Indeed, perhaps some of the examples of the use for which money is required for children with special needs which were enumerated by the noble Baroness, Lady David, make that point precisely. Although I do not wish to indicate any lack of support for the areas mentioned, I suggest that the amendment is incompatible with both the spirit and the logic of the Bill.

7.40 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I, too, should like to support the amendment. As my noble friend Lady David said, it is different in form from the various amendments that we had at the Committee stage. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, indicated, in its present form it is perhaps more acceptable, although I am sorry that she did not find it sufficiently acceptable to give it her support. The amendment enables us to see more clearly the different and competing demands on the education system—competing certainly in terms of finance but very often complementary in terms of educational needs, as I think both my noble friends Lady David and Lady Ewart-Biggs have indicated.

One of the problems of piecemeal legislation such as we have before us today and such as we have had in some of the initiatives that the Government have taken—for example, the TVEI initiative—is that the education system tends to get a bit out of phase. For example, let me refer again to The Times Educational Supplement of 2nd March. It says: Already it is being quietly hinted that when the time comes for the MSC to hand over responsibility for TVEI to the DES, Parliament will be asked to increase the funds available for Education Support Grants from a half of one per cent. of RSG to 5 or 10 per cent. or whatever sum by then reflects the ambitions and appetites of the DES". That may be a problem that we shall have to face in the future.

One of the problems that we face at the moment in relation to TVEI is that the new batch of schemes that have recently been approved are likely to cause a shortage of technical teachers. In fact, I think it is true to say that the first batch of TVEI schemes poached on some of the technical teachers in the existing educational system. I think that this is particularly so as the TVEI posts often mean appointments at a higher grade.

While we on this side of the House very much accept that innovation and pilot projects are necessary, we believe that it is important to ensure that we are not creating problems bigger than the ones that we are trying to solve. That could perhaps have been said of the way we put forward the amendments in Committee. On this occasion, by putting forward a group of five subjects we are able to see how some of them interrelate.

I want to refer, in particular, to two of the subjects mentioned in the amendment; namely, the standard of mathematics teaching and the standard of science teaching. I talked about the standard of mathematics teaching at Committee stage. The two subjects have much in common. In the first place, the basic ingredient of economic competitiveness in this country will depend on an increasing number of people being trained in mathematics and science. We should take that very seriously indeed. Secondly, there is a shortage of competent teachers in both subjects. In both areas, we are beginning to make an inroad. I understand that the Department of Education and Science has earmarked in the next financial year a small sum of money for in-service training for science teachers, but largely in the area of primary schools and management for heads of department. It is a small beginning. Perhaps the Minister will be able to encourage us by saying that it will be something that will be built on.

At the Committee stage the Minister reminded us that, as part of the new in-service training grant, £2.1 million had been set aside for mathematics in-service training and that another small amount of money had been set aside for research and development projects in the field of mathematics for low attainers. This is all very welcome, but, again, we have to ask whether it is enough. Incidentally, will it be as much as the training programme for technical teachers which the MSC is said to be about to launch? I am not hitting at that training project. If it comes off, it will be very welcome indeed in view of the growing shortage of technical teachers. But, as I said at the beginning, the fact is that by looking at things piecemeal, we tend to get them out of gear.

The third similarity between mathematics and science is that both are regarded as male subjects. I come back to this problem. I have referred to it before. It is a problem that will not go away. No matter how much the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, talks about the need for flexibility, this is a problem that will be with us for some time. I feel that encouraging more girls to take mathematics or science subjects at university level would be an effective way of increasing the number of teachers in these subjects, since a higher proportion of girls go into teaching than into industry. If more of them were coming through the universities, a greater proportion, I believe, would go into teaching. I add, though, that I am not advocating that as a long-term pattern. I should like to see more women in industry and more with technical qualifications going into industry. In the short term, that would have the added advantage of providing not only more teachers but also more role models for girls in the schools in these subjects. That, in turn, might again attract more girls into the subject.

This whole area requires a great deal of thought and attention. In looking at the improvement in teaching mathematics and science, I hope that this matter will not be overlooked by the Minister and his colleagues. By focusing on a wider perspective, I had hoped that the amendment would have brought forward more support from the Government Benches.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, at the Committee stage we had five new clauses which each proposed that 20 per cent. of the expenditure should be earmarked for a particular activity. I think that all the noble Baronesses who have spoken mentioned this. It was of course open to the criticism that all of the expenditure was therefore earmarked. However, I should like to congratulate the noble Baronesses opposite on their ingenuity in devising an alternative procedure which would not involve earmarking 100 per cent. of the expenditure supported by ESGs. I think, however, that it would be inappropriate to build the proposed new clause into the Bill, and I hope that the amendment will not be pressed. I believe that fundamental difficulties remain in specifying the purposes of the grants in this way.

In opposing the amendment, I do not wish to suggest that the Government are in any way unsympathetic to the areas of education that it specifies. I should however like to say a few words about each of these areas. Two of them, of course, are included in the preliminary list of activities for support in 1985–86 which my right honourable friend has proposed for discussion with the local authority associations.

First of all, children with special needs. The importance of moving towards the integration where possible of pupils with special needs into ordinary schools was discussed during the Committee stage. This is an area of education which I know attracts strong sympathy and support from all parts of the House. My right honourable friend is well aware of the useful contribution which education support grants could make in the area of assisting to meet special educational needs. His initial list of possibilities includes two which would assist in meeting special educational needs. The first was grants to assist in the establishment of resource centres in ordinary schools. The second possibility was assistance in the provision of microelectronic aids for handicapped children. I know that my right hnourable friend will consider carefully the views expressed in this debate and any views expressed by the local authority associations on the most appropriate way of using ESGs to assist in the implementation of the 1981 Act.

Support for the teaching of mathematics has also been mentioned. The Government attaches a high priority to action in this area in the light of the report of the committee chaired by Professor Cockcroft. For example as the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said, the Government set aside over £2 million within the new scheme for in-service training grants to support attendance by mathematics teachers on in-service courses, and my right honourable friend has mentioned this as a possible area for education support grants. One possibility which my right honourable friend wishes to discuss with the associations is the appointment of additional teachers to act as advisers and to support development work within schools.

The Government share the view of parents and educationalists and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, about the value of nursery education. We already have in the urban programme a source of selective funding for those areas most in need of provision for the under fives. Some £10 million to £15 million of expenditure was supported in this way in 1981–82. I think, it is interesting that this compares with a potential maximum of about £45 million to £50 million for education support grants as a whole.

Within limited resources, successive Governments have judged that the priorities for new nursery provision should be the handicapped and those from socially disadvantaged areas. As a result, some 70 per cent. of existing nursery provision is already made in areas of special social need. Participation in those areas is of course much higher than the national average.

I accept that there is a growing demand for the provision of nursery education. But this is not an area for the kind of pump-priming and innovative work which ESGs are particularly intended to support. Rather it is a matter of making progress within the constraints of what the country, and therefore individual LEAs, can afford. Therefore we do not envisage nursery education as an area to be supported through ESGs.

Next, environmental education. The noble Baroness, Lady David, has argued that we should specify that the mechanism of education support grants should be used to support work to promote environmental education. The noble Baroness has a special interest in environmental education, since she chaired the education review group which helped to prepare a response to the world conservation strategy last year.

Environmental education is provided already in a wide variety of ways, not least as an aspect of the teaching of many different subjects in the curriculum. However, I am afraid I cannot agree with the noble Baroness that it would be appropriate to use education support grants in this specific area. There are many different aspects of the school curriculum for which persuasive claims could be made. Difficult choices must be made between them and I think the noble Baroness, Lady David, made out such a strong case for the integration of children with handicaps into normal schools that one could almost be convinced that that should have most of the money in the first few years. Given the need to define only a small number of priorities if the limited resources available are to he used to maximum effect, we are not persuaded that the claims of environmental education are so strong that it would be right to make special provision for it in the Bill. Finally, I turn to science education. The Government have made it plain that we believe that all pupils should receive a broad programme of science education, beginning in the primary schools and continuing throughout the period of compulsory secondary education.

There is a need to restrict the number of areas of the education service which might receive assistance through education support grants, if we are to make the most cost-effective use possible of the limited resources available. Hence my right honourable friend did not include science education among the possible areas for support. But there are already significant efforts under way through other mechanisms. There is currently a major programme of curriculum development—the secondary science curriculum review—in the majority of local education authorities in England and Wales, under the auspices of the new school curriculum development committee and of the association for science education. Science teaching is also to be added from 1984–85 to the scheme by which grants are paid to local education authorities for the in-service training of teachers in certain areas of the curriculum; and later this year the Government will publish a statement of national policy on science education in schools, which will seek to define objectives for all of those involved.

What the noble Baronesses are envisaging is that the five areas should be specified in this primary legislation. But in 10 years' time the priorities for initiatives may well have changed, and it could well be that such a list is entirely inappropriate. Our aim when drafting the Bill was to provide for a wide general power with the activities for support being set out in regulations. This preserves maximum flexibility to respond to changing needs and circumstances against the checks and balances already in the Bill, of a limit on the overall expenditure which can be supported through ESGs and the requirement for consultation.

There have been extensive debates both here and in another place regarding the activities which might be supported by the grants. My right honourable friend hopes to discuss with the associations the activities which might be supported in 1985–86 when, as I hope, the Bill is enacted. The introduction of this Bill has helped to stimulate a general public debate about education priorities, and that is to be welcomed. My right honourable friend will consider carefully the views which have been expressed in this House and elsewhere before making his proposals to Parliament.

This Bill has promoted lively debate on activities which might be supported, and its drafting allows the purposes of the grants to be changed in response to changing circumstances. Priorities within the education service are likely to change. New ones may emerge while other objectives, with the help of the new grants, are achieved.

I was accused earlier of being inflexible. I should like to be Lord Access, the friend of the noble Baronesses opposite. At least on this I have proved to be two-fifths —if my mathematics is right—in support of these objectives, and I hope that with that the noble Baronesses will withdraw their amendment.

Baroness David

I am not at all surprised at the response which we have had to this amendment; but equally I have no apologies at all for putting it forward because I think that it is good that the Secretary of State should know the views of a great many of us who are very interested in caring about education on matters which we feel are extremely important, and particularly as apparently he has changed his mind considerably between the appearance at the first consultation document and Second Reading debate in another place.

I am of course personally disappointed that environmental education has pretty well been turned down outright; but I hope that maybe it will be considered in time. Nursery education did not really get to do very much better. We shall have the Swann report on multi-racial education and the successor to the Rampton report very soon. There may well be reommendations there, I should have thought, which would have called for experimentation in nursery education; but maybe there will be second thoughts. I am very glad to hear what was said about special education, special children with special needs. I think I have no alternative but to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham moved Amendment No. 5:

Insert the following new Clause:

("Restriction on expenditure.

No money provided under this Act shall be used in any school where admission is based on selective examination or sets of tests of ability.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, during the last decades we have seen a considerable change in the structure of secondary education: a change to comprehensive secondary education from what I think I may describe as the former separatist system of education. Recently, we have seen one or two attempts to put the clock back to try to restore and encourage the separatist system and we put down this amendment as we do not believe it would be right for the Government to give encouragement in any form to a tendency of that kind.

Why do we say this? What is and has been all the time, at issue between the comprehensive and the separatist views of secondary education? The nature of the comprehensive school as its name implies, was that it would provide a wide range of courses suitable for different kinds of children, and that as a child grows up it can be decided by discussion between its parents and its teachers what course of study each child could most profitably pursue. But the mere fact that it entered the school at 11 did not restrict its subsequent choice of courses of study. That is the comprehensive approach.

The separatist approach envisaged from the start different kinds of secondary schools—different in the range of course of studies that they offered. It was sometimes called the tripartite system, envisaging grammar schools, modern schools (as they were called), and technical schools, but in the great majority of authorities the choice was not a tripartite one, but a double one between grammar schools and secondary modern schools.

In effect the kind of education available at the grammar school was the kind that could lead on to the more academic studies, to rather better paid jobs and, in particular, to the opportunities of further and higher education, whereas the education provided in the secondary modern school was not intended to do that. That is to say, the separatist system was based on the assumption that when a child is about 10½ years of age there can be made a decision that will determine thereafter what kind and quality of education it is to receive and what kinds of occupations it may be fitted for in later life. I said 10½ because though the test provided was commonly called the 11-plus, the children usually underwent it when they were a little under, rather than over, 11.

It had a further result as regards the age of the children. While the system existed parents were, very naturally, anxious to get their children into a grammar school if they could. Primary schools which had a reputation for producing successes at the 11-plus examination were much sought after. Therefore primary schools began to turn their efforts to preparing their children for success in the 11-plus examination and to concentrating attention on those of their children who were most likely to be successful. That is to say, what had begun as an 11-plus, or 10½ exam resulted in the primary school in a choice being made when the children were between eight and nine.

The proposition that a decision of this importance about a child's future education and occupation can be made at this early age is certainly not self-evident. The defenders of the separatist system used to say, "Oh, yes, but if we find we have made a mistake, you can always transfer the children from one kind of a school to another later on". That was said, but how very rarely indeed did it happen! Nor was there any clear idea as to the principle on which the separation of the children to the different kinds of school should be made. Some authorities believed in the old-fashioned, and now largely discredited, intelligence test principle. Some believed in a system of reports stretching over a period of years. But there was no clear belief as to how, and on what principle, the important choice should be made.

When one looked over the map of the country, one found also that the proportion of children who went to grammar school varied from 50 per cent. in the case of some authorities to 20 per cent. in others. There was no possible way of defending that. It meant that a child's opportunity depended simply on the county or the local education authority area into which it had been born.

It was also found that the proportion of children who were considered fit for grammar school education used to vary considerably and unaccountably from year to year, so that it was a haphazard business altogether. It was found, too, that the proportion of boys considered fit for grammar school education was markedly greater than the proportion of girls, and though in those days there were people who would try to defend that postition, there are few who would defend it today.

At the time that the controversy began I was a Labour Party spokesman for educational affairs and up and down the country I engaged in an immense number of arguments about comprehensive education. I found that the defenders of the separatist system were not in the least interested in putting right any of the anomalies: the anomalies between one county and another, and between one year and another, and the anomaly of the advantage of being a boy rather than a girl. Those who defended the separatist system did not bother themselves with those problems at all: they were anxious to maintain separatism in itself.

I think that I should add one further point. That arrangement was not only academically and intellectually nonsensical; it also had a bad effect on the general tone of education. It encouraged children at that early age to concentrate on differences of intellect that divided them, rather than on the common humanity that could have united them. One of the advantages of the comprehensive school was that it gave an opportunity for children with different gifts and interests to know more about one another, and that meant that that kind of school provided a better preparation for life in what one hoped would be one, united nation.

What has happened since? There have been a number of arguments about the merits and results of comprehensive secondary education. A number of different surveys have been made and the great majority of them have pointed to the view that the comprehensive system was giving better educational results than was the separatist system. I agree that that was not the universal view, but it was the outcome of most of the surveys that were conducted. Furthermore, not long ago we had an admission that if one looks at the examination records of all children—in both O-levels and, though less markedly, Alevels—one sees that there has been a steady improvement in standards during the years in which comprehensive secondary education has advanced.

Academic success is not the whole be-all and end-all of education. But so far as it is important, the charge that comprehensive secondary education has been damaging academic success cannot be made out; and fairly recently we have had a somewhat grudging, but undoubted, statement from the Secretary of State for Education that over the years we have seen a steady educational advance.

We have also seen among parents an increasing enthusiasm for the comprehensive system of education. It has been particularly gratifying and interesting to notice events in Richmond and in Solihull, where political attempts to go back to the separatist system have been emphatically rejected by the parents. I stress that point because it was sometimes argued that if one did not have grammar schools, one would be interfering with the freedom of parents. But of course parents did not have a choice as to whether or not their children went to grammar school. That choice was made on the basis of whatever theory governed the method of 11-plus selection prevailing in one county or another. The comprehensive system kept the choice as to the child's education open beyond 11 and capable of being adapted to meet the child's needs as they became better known.

A number of opinion polls on this question have been held. Parents have been asked: Would you prefer in your local education authority's area to have grammar schools and secondary modern schools, or would you prefer to have comprehensive schools? It should be apparent that by itself that question will get one nowhere. The real question that one must ask is: would you like a system of grammar schools and secondary modern schools on the assumption that your child will be going to one of the secondary modern schools? If that question is asked, it will be found that enthusiasm for the separatist system of education is by no means as great as some of its supporters have tried to represent, for the secondary modern school has always been of course the school that somebody else's child goes to.

I want to make one final point: since this argument began some two decades ago the size of the recent immigrant population in this country has increased. An immigrant is necessarily at a disadvantage at an early age so far as sheer measurable educational attainment is concerned. The child may come from a country whose language is different from ours. It is very unlikely—whatever the child's real gifts—that it will do as well in an examination in the English language at the age of 11 as somebody whose mother tongue is English. It is not only a question of language but the whole difference of culture.

To go back now towards a separatist system of education is to tilt the balance against the immigrant population. I am sorry to say that in the course of the controversy as I knew it, one met some people who avowedly wanted to preserve the grammar school and not have the comprehensive system because they thought there was a good chance of keeping the grammar schools much freer of immigrants than the secondary modern schools. I hope that those who advocate a return to separatism are not inclined to think in those terms today. But whatever the motives may be, there is the real danger of the result that a return to separatism will mean a heavy bias against the recent immigrant population.

It is for these reasons that I believe it would be profoundly wrong to try to reverse the trend towards comprehensive secondary education. We feel therefore that it is right to put an amendment into this Bill to make sure that none of the education support grants goes to schools which are based on that principle, and that we continue to believe in the principle of comprehensive secondary education which is both intellectually better and more likely to provide each child with the kind of education it needs but is also more appropriate for those who want to see a happy and united nation. I beg to move.

8.13 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I feel that my noble friend Lord Stewart has covered most of the ground which I was going to cover and there is very little that I can say. The only thing I feel very strongly about is that when we went through the debates on reorganisation of secondary education with various local authorities we tried to persuade private direct grant schools to come in with the local authority schemes which they submitted to the Secretary of State. I feel that it is wrong for the State to provide monies for the schools which have not co-operated with local authorities. Therefore, I support the new clause on these grounds alone.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, may I say I am deeply perturbed by this amendment because it seems to me to be hitting at local democracy. Local authorities surely have a right to decide the kind of schools they provide, and presumably these reflect the wishes of parents in their areas. I cannot see why—if they wish to operate a system where some schools select by ability—they should be ruled out of court for consideration for education support grants because some members of this House do not look with favour on that type of scheme.

If I may, I will just refer briefly to some of the points in the exposition we have just heard on the relative merits as between the comprehensive system and the selective system. Recent research by many different researchers has shown that there is considerable cause for concern in the attainment and performance of the comprehensive system as compared with the selective system.

I think it was a socialist sociologist some years ago who said that comprehensive schooling is a gigantic experiment with the life chances of millions of children. If we care about the life chances of millions of children-now well over 90 per cent. of our young people who are in the state system of secondary education—we must care about what is happening to those children as they go through that comprehensive system. Research has shown that in terms of formal academic attainment the comprehensive system does not compare very favourably with the selective system, and that even the secondary modern schools which have been maligned by so many people in many respects perform extremely well and sometimes do better for their pupils than their counterparts in the comprehensive system.

Research by the National Children's Bureau has also shown that on the other aspects which are very important in evaluating education—parental satisfaction and factors such as behaviour and truancy—the comprehensive system compares unfavourably with the selective system and unfavourably with secondary modern schools as compared with comprehensive schools. So I think the case for the comprehensive system is by no means proven and if, as I say, we really care about the future of our children we cannot afford to have closed minds. In fact, we must be prepared to look at it as an experiment and to re-think if it does not seem to be working as well as it might. That is not to say there are not some good comprehensive schools; but I hope very much that the message which goes from this House is not one which would seem to condemn a whole sector of our educations system as being inappropriate for receipt of educational support grant.

May I say that the words of the Bill as it has been put before us, suggest that the case for education support grants must be made in terms of their own individual merits and the extent to which they serve—in the words of the Bill: the interests of education in England and Wales". I hope that no type of school will be excluded purely on partisan and prima facie grounds.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I had intended to put my name to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, but by some oversight it was not done. I think the important point here is that this is not new money: it is taken out of the common pot which is used for comprehensive education up and down the country and therefore it would be quite wrong to apply it to schemes in which selective examination is used.

If I may say so, the short answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is that there is already via and through the assisted places scheme a great deal of money being spent on a selective system; I think I am right in saying that the amount is 16 million this year, and I believe it is projected to rise to £40 million. So the Government are already spending money—which is new money—on the encouragement of a selective approach to education. It therefore seems to me to be quite wrong—if we are going to be even-handed about this money which, as I say, is taken out of the common pot (out of the RSG)—that it, or part of it, should be added to the very large sum already being devoted to the selective approach. On those grounds, for my part, I and my colleagues would support the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, if he wants to press this to a Division.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am not going to be drawn tonight into an argument either pro or against comprehensive or selective education, because I think that is really—with due respect to noble Lords opposite—pretty well irrelevant to this particular amendment. But I should like to remind noble Lords that it is neither immoral nor illegal for an authority to have a selective system of secondary education. It is for local educational authorities, in conjunction with the governors of Voluntary Aided and special agreement schools, to take a view on the form and pattern of secondary education best suited to local circumstances and the preferences of parents. If they wish to propose any of the steps set out in Sections 12 to 15 of the Education Act 1980, they must publish proposals and go through the relevant statutory procedures. Subject to certain exceptions those proposals are decided by my right honourable friend. In other words, the LEA proposes and my right honourable friend decides. His is a purely reactive role.

The Labour Government deprived LEAs of that freedom in their 1976 Act and we restored it. We believe that there should be variety in the provision made for secondary education in accordance with local circumstances and the wishes of parents. Local education authorities are free to consider patterns of school organisation which include grammar schools. If an authority publishes proposals to reintroduce grammar schools, my right honourable friend will decide those proposals on their merits and in the interests of all the children concerned. Incidentally, there are no current proposals for the reintroduction of grammar schools.

The Government's record shows that we look at proposals on their individual merits. Since 1979 we have approved 22 sets of proposals to end selection; one to establish a grammar school and five to amalgamate grammar schools. As for rejections, seven were to end selection; two were for new grammar schools; and one was for an amalgamation.

In consideration of this Bill both here and in the other place, it was made abundantly clear that the use of education support grants to set up new grammar schools was not in the list of possible activities to be supported by ESGs which my right honourable friend wishes to discuss in due course with representatives of the AMA and ACC. I must really stress that none of the money is going to be made available to reintroduce grammar schools. I can give the noble Lord. Lord Stewart of Fulham, that undertaking. But this amendment, if it were carried, concerns something different and, indeed, pernicious—namely, to prevent local education authorities from using education support grants for any purpose whatever in selective schools. I must re-emphasise that.

It is laid down in the amendment that: No money provided under this Act shall be used in any school where admission is based on selective examination or sets of tests of ability". I am quite certain that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, are both fair and reasonable men, but I really must put it to them: is this a fair and reasonable amendment? What happens—and admittedly I take a far-fetched example, but not too far-fetched, I believe—to a physically disabled child who, in order to be integrated into her local secondary school, finds herself in a grammar school? She may not be good at mathematics. She may need some help—just the type of help which under the education support grants she might get. But that wretched child, through no fault of her own but because she happens to be in a grammar school, would, under this amendment, be deprived of that aid. I do not think that that is fair; I do not think that it is reasonable and I suggest that if the noble Lord considers that situation, he may decide not to press the amendment.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, I have listened to what the noble Earl has said, and I realise that he wants to be reasonable about this matter. But I want to make it clear that I have not suggested that it is illegal or immoral for a local education authority to try to restore the separatist system. What I have suggested is that it is wrong: it is a profound error; and an error to which we ought not to give support. The Government, therefore, should not in this Bill help local authotrities who are engaged in that type of activity.

I draw the noble Earl's attention also to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock; namely, that this is money taken from schools all over the country, the great majority of which are comprehensive, and it ought not to be used to assist those who are trying to prop up what is left of the separatist system, and the more so in view of what has already been done with regard to special places.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, would the noble Lord also agree that we should not help those children who are in those schools if they are in need of the money?—because that is what the amendment proposes.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, local authorities can of course deal with that situation by not creating schools of this kind. The effect of the amendment would be that local authorities would give up the attempt to restore separatist education and I believe that that would be a desirable result. That is the case that I have made and I repeat it. I feel, therefore, that we should test the opinion of the House on this amendment.

8.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 40; Not-Contents, 31.

Airedale, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Aylestone, L. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Beaumont of Whiteley, L. Ewart-Biggs, B.
Birk B. Graham of Edmonton, L
Bishopston, L. Hale, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
David, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Jeger, B. Rhodes, L.
John-Mackie, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Stedman, B.
Kirkhill, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Lockwood, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L. [Teller.]
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
McNair, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Mountevans, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Nicol, B. Tordoff, L.
Northfield, L. Underhill, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. Whaddon, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Avon, E. Hornsby-Smith, B.
Bellwin, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Belstead, L. Long, V. [Teller.]
Boardman, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Lyell, L.
Cox, B. Macleod of Borve, B.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Mottistone, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Elton, L. Rankeillour, L.
Enniskillen, E. Renton, L.
Faithfull, B. Sandford, L.
Ferrers, E. Sharples, B.
Fortescue, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Glenarthur, L. Swinton, E.
Greenway, L. Trumpington, B.
Gridley, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

8.33 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 6:

Insert the following new Clause:

("Advisory board.

—(1) There shall be established an advisory board for education support grants.

(2) The advisory board shall include representatives of local authorities, parents, teachers' organisations and industry.

(3) It shall be the duty of the advisory board to advise the Secretary of State on the payment of education support grants.

(4) The advisory board shall produce an annual report of the progress of projects funded by education support grants.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we are bringing forward a similar amendment to the amendments which we and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, proposed last time, asking for an advisory board because we were not convinced by the arguments either of the Minister or the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, at the Committee stage. I do not think that informal meetings between the Secretary of State and the chairmen of the two associations' committees and possibly an officer are enough, which is all that might take place if something is not written into the Bill.

We want to know what exactly the Secretary of State intends to do about the consultation which is promised in Clause 3(5). With what bodies does he think it appropriate to consult? We have tabled this amendment in the hope of receiving some clarification and some further information. We are not suggesting a quango, but a group of perhaps 10 people. The Government have been so keen on parental involvement and industrial involvement that we should have thought the suggestions to include these people would have been welcomed by them. Monitoring surely is acceptable and even the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said that she thought these schemes should be monitored. The facts about what is supported are easily available and it is not asking a lot to ask for that little bit more. I beg to move.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I have given considerable thought to this whole issue since the discussion last time. I regret that I am still not convinced that such an advisory board is necessary, because it seems to me that the two objectives which it is designed to serve —to secure advice from representatives of relevant interest groups and to evaluate the progress of projects—are both better secured by other means.

On the question of seeking advice, I think that the Secretary of State is already committed, and has already shown himself to be committed, to widespread consultation. What worries me about a formal advisory group is that it would not only be superfluous but could also be cumbersome and could lead to indecision and delay. The whole issue with regard to consultation and timing is that these education support grants are meant to be flexible and that this extra tier of advisory board consultation could actually delay the timetable and put the whole scheme out of joint.

However, more important is the question of evaluation and the inappropriateness of such an advisory board to serve that function adequately. I do not see how any one body such as that described in the amendment could satisfactorily serve the purpose of assessing and reporting on the progress of all the projects which are likely to be funded. These projects are likely to be very diverse and will require extremely careful evaluation to ensure that the money is being spent not only for the purposes for which it was allocated but that it is being used wisely and well within each project.

As I think I said before, with a certain amount of experience of research and of evaluation of projects of diverse kinds, that kind of systematic and rigorous evaluation would be better met if the mechanisms for evaluation were specified in the terms of reference agreed for each grant as it is awarded. Therefore, although I wholeheartedly support the commitment to the principles of consultation and accountability, I do not think that the proposed advisory board should be used to serve the purposes of the former or could effectively fulfil the requirements of the latter.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, in our view the noble Baroness's new clause is an improvement on the Bill. In Clause 3(5) the Bill reads: Before making any regulations under this Part of this Act the Secretary of State shall consult such bodies representing local education authorities as appear to him to be appropriate. The noble Baroness's new clause, which I support, adds: parents, teachers' organisations and industry", which seems to me to be a better and a wider forum for consultation. It is already apparent that there will be considerable disagreement. There may be many candidates in this field. On 24th March 1983 the Government issued a consultative document on this and they came up with several proposals of their own, including the curricular changes in mathematics, a more practical slant to the final years of compulsory education and various other favourites of their own. But it was quite clear from the consultative paper that the choice of the five areas which they had tentatively selected was not by any means either final or certain.

It seems to me that some kind of sifting mechanism will certainly be necessary, and the sifting mechanism proposed by the Government in the Bill is inadequate. Therefore, on those grounds we on this Bench, or I on behalf of my SDP colleagues, certainly support this amendment and if the noble Baroness wants to press it, we are with her.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend's amendment. During the course of this Bill we have discussed two principles. One has been the discretion of the Secretary of State in the use of the money which is being withdrawn from the local authority in order to provide the educational support grants, and the other has been the consultation which the noble Lord the Minister has told us on a number of occasions that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State wishes to conduct.

I referred earlier to the relationships between local education authorities and the Government which, to say the least, are not in a very happy state at the present time. If we could write into this primary legislation not only, as we do, that there shall be consultation but also the kind of consultation—that there shall be an advisory body—then the local authorities would be more happy about the discretion which the Secretary of State is taking along with the money that he is taking from them. Again, I would suggest that it would be one of the bridge-building activities that the Government could engage in if they were to accept this amendment.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, as I said when this new clause was debated in Committee, I understand the intention behind the amendment, which I take to be the desire to make education support grants as effective as possible by involving all interested parties in the administration. But I do not believe that an advisory body is necessary or desirable. The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked me how the Government intend to find out what people want. I can give her an assurance that the Government will listen to all those who have responsibilities within education.

My right honourable friend will consider carefully the views of local authority representatives and others about the implementation of this legislation. In preparing the Bill itself, the Government have responded to concerns expressed by the local authority associations, for example, by putting an upper limit on the amount of expenditure which can be supported through education support grants. The Bill also provides that the Secretary of State shall consult the local authority associations before laying any regulations. My right honourable friend has already held several meetings with the associations and he looks forward to a further meeting when, as I hope, the Bill has been enacted.

The Government welcome views from other bodies as well as the local authority associations about the activities that might be supported by the grants, and these comments are most welcome. During the Committee stage I repeated an undertaking that my right honourable friend would issue a statement prior to the laying of draft regulations, setting out, in more detail, the activities which it was proposed should be supported and the reasons behind the proposals. All this adds up to a considerable commitment to consult and to publicise the Government's proposals regarding the activities which the grant would support. The amendment would go further than this, however. It would establish an advisory body To advise … on the payment of education support grants", and to, produce an annual report of the progress of projects". The procedures for actually administering and paying the grants will be determined in the regulations and an accompanying circular, on which my right honourable friend will seek the views of the local authority associations. So far as the monitoring and evaluating of projects is concerned, I should like to remind noble Lords and Baronesses of the remarks of my noble friend Lady Cox during the Committee stage on 14th Februatry at col. 197 that, a better way of approaching evaluation and accountability would be to build in mechanisms for evaluation within the terms of reference of projects as they are established and funded". I can assure noble Lords that my right honourable friend is mindful of the need to evaluate grant-aided activities properly; but the appropriate means are likely to vary, and this question is best considered in the context of each activity.

The noble Baronesses have suggested that the advisory board would have a role in choosing between applications for support by different authorities. On this point, I should like to recall the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, who remarked on 14th February at col. 197 that, If you are going to have a consultative body including local authorities, teachers, employers and a few other people, the idea that you are leaving any discretion to the Secretary of State seems to me nonsense". Although there will be full consultation about the activities to be supported, and the circular sent to authorities will set out the criteria which will be used in selecting between bids, the choice between bids must he a matter for my right honourable friend himself.

The final decision about the approval of expenditure will rest with my right honourable friend. He will, I am sure, be receptive to suggestions about the appropriate criteria for selecting applications in different activities, and about the appropriate arrangements for monitoring and evaluation. I imagine that these points will arise naturally during the consultations. But it would be completely unjustifiable for a formal advisory committee to be established to administer what, I should remind noble Lords, remains in local government terms a modest grant.

I think that some noble Baronesses and noble Lords opposite are getting the scale of these grants out of proportion. I should remind noble Lords that we are talking about grants totalling, in 1983–84 terms, no more than about £33 million. This compares with grant on, for example, the urban programme of £150 milllion. In earlier debates we have heard a great deal about the analogy between the urban programme and the new grants. But none of the safeguards which are included in the present Bill were included in the legislation introduced by the then Labour Government in 1969 to set up the urban programme. There is no provision for an upper limit on approved expenditure. There is no requirement for consultation with local authority associations. There is no requirement that the operation of the grants should be conducted in accordance with regulations. This does not mean, of course, that the urban programme does not perform a useful function. On the contrary, much valuable work is supported under the urban programme. I really do not see why an advisory board would be useful in the present instance when the urban programme is administered perfectly satisfactorily without one. I hope that the noble Baroness, having heard that, will withdraw her amendment.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I say that I do not think he has turned his attention to subsection (4) of the proposed new clause. That is, The advisory board shall produce an annual report of the progress of projects funded by education support grants. That is one of the most useful things which this clause does. A report coming out regularly produced by an independent body on the various projects being put forward would be extremely valuable. I am sure that the noble Earl the Minister must have a Government reaction to that. Perhaps he could add to what he has said.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, with the leave of the House, as I said in Committee, evaluation will be an ongoing concern with much depending on the projects. It will be built into the mechanism and that that will take care of itself.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

Will it be for publication?

The Earl of Swinton

That will depend on the various projects and in what way the evaluation takes place and whether it will be through research, at a university, or by a local authority. I am speaking again of some £33 million. It is not a vast amount of public money. The accounts will be there for all to see, and I would have thought that it was hardly necessary to produce further details in order to cover the points that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, makes.

Baroness David

My Lords, we have had a great many words from the Minister opposite, and I think some of the same words we had last time, although we did not have the suggestion that this advisory body would soon be spawning large numbers of subgroups and creating unnecessary and undesirable bureaucracy.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, is the noble Baroness complaining because I did not say that?

Baroness David

My Lords, I think that the Minister has rather missed one of the points of the amendment, which is that it would go a long way to make the local authorities very much happier about this Bill if they felt they were going to be firmly in on the discussions and the evaluation. That is an important matter. We know on what bad terms the local authorities are with the Secretary of State and his department at the moment after publication of the White Paper Training for Jobs. I should have thought it would have been a good idea, in view of the claims for partnership and so on that have been made that there should be this conciliatory gesture. I shall yet again read what the Minister has said, but it is extremely likely that we shall come back with either this amendment or a similar one at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.