§ 4.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Swinton.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD AYLESTONE in the Chair.]567
§ Clause 16 [Duty of local education authority to state policy]:
Lord Beloff moved Amendment No. 43:
Page 19, line 25, after ("review") insert (", in accordance with the priorities that the Secretary of State may from time to time set out,").
§ The noble Lord said: From Scotland and the wider world we come back to the children of England and Wales. The amendment which I am moving this afternoon is a very modest amendment to what is a very modest little Bill.
§ As I pointed out in the Second Reading debate, I should have preferred a more robust acceptance of responsibility by Her Majesty's Government for the content and conduct of education in our schools. In putting that point in the Second Reading debate, I was persuaded that all interests involved in education other than the interests of the nation as a whole were fully ventilated: the interests of local authorities, parents, teachers, dinner ladies and the children themselves. However, I submitted, and submit again, that there is another overriding interest. That is the contribution that education can and should make not merely to the economic progress and development of this country—about which we hear a great deal—but also to its social and cultural stability. I think that this is a responsibility which rests upon central government.
§ I was also struck in our debate on Second Reading by the fact that some people are so devoted to the record of local responsibility in these matters that they are prepared to use arguments which do not relate to the circumstances that we immediately face. I have learnt with much regret that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, who speaks with considerable experience of the education system, cannot be here this week to take part in the Committee stage. I told the noble Lord that I would refer to his speech in which he called into play a letter he had received from a German headmaster in 1935 about being obliged to teach Nazi doctrines to the children of his school, and his belief that these doctrines would lead inevitably—as of course they did—to war.
§ I submit that that is an illegitimate argument. It has no relationship to the distribution of responsibilities between central and local government in the matter of education in Germany at that time. There is no evidence that in matters which concerned local government—and Germany had a great history of local and municipal self-government—any serious opposition was put up locally to the ravages of the Nazi doctrines. On the contrary, in some cases local power was seized before power at the centre. I therefore hope that in discussing this modest amendment people will not wave the threat of totalitarianism.
§ I am moving an amendment which concerns only one of the many aspects of this Bill; namely, where responsibility for the curriculum lies. In the Bill as we have it now, this is apparently shared between the local education authority, the governors of a particular school, and the headmaster or headmistress of that school. It is very difficult, on the text of a Bill, to decide where the major responsibility lies, and I believe that there are to be amendments, moved by others, which suggest where this might lie. I am moving that at the 568 first level—which in the Bill is the level of local authorities—there should be some attention to the views expressed by the Government.
§ I should say that, owing to an office error, the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, which should have been alongside mine as a co-sponsor of the amendment we are discussing, has been omitted; and it has been agreed that people may also speak to the amendment of the noble Lord which comes two places down on the Marshalled List.
§ As we are starting this matter so late, it is perhaps unnecessary to say a great deal more about why I believe this amendment to be necessary. However, I would add one argument related to a number of amendments that we shall discuss later this afternoon, in the names of my noble friends Lord Renton and Lady Cox. They relate to proposals about how one might exclude certain aspects of teaching which are widely held to be unsuitable because they border on or incorporate indoctrination.
§ My feeling is that although I sympathise with efforts to do this by negatives—by ruling certain items out—it seems to me a great deal more important to see that what we think ought to be in the curriculum is there. If everything that I would consider a modern child needs to know is provided in the curriculum there would be very little time left for the kind of activities which worry the noble Baroness and her supporters. For example, rather than condemn what is known as peace studies, or world studies, the provision of the systematic study of the history and institutions of this island in which these children will grow up—whatever their origin may be—ought to be a part of a curriculum for our schools at every level. Therefore, there is something to be said for someone with responsibility at the centre—and at present the Secretary of State has such responsibility—to give some indication of the preferences that he has between possible components of a curriculum.
It is sometimes quite fairly argued against my occasional contributions to our debates on education that my own experience of the state system is limited and that I am speaking from a theoretical point of view. I should therefore like to pray in aid a letter which many noble Lords may have read. It appeared in The Times newspaper of 12th April—not very long ago. As it is a long letter, I shall read only one paragraph. It says:
the Government, representing the widest interests of society, should accept a more open and direct responsibility for what is taught in schools and for its cost, and unite the service behind a national curriculum in tune with the needs of the community as a whole".
That letter did not come from a theoretician. It was signed by Donald Naismith the Director of Education for the London Borough of Croydon. I beg to move.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has stated, it is purely a clerical accident that my name does not appear under the noble Lord's name on the Marshalled List as regards this amendment. Therefore, I am very happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and to say that I think that he has done the Committee a service by tabling the amendment so that we can discuss this limited proposal and perhaps reach a conclusion on it. The 569 noble Lord called it a modest proposal, and it is indeed a modest proposal. It provides for the Secretary of State to be able to set out priorities from time to time in accordance with which local education authorities are to determine and review their policy in relation to the secular curriculum.
I have put my name to the present amendment and I have coupled it with Amendment No. 44A which is a safeguard; namely, that the Secretary of State's statements of priority shall be subject to affirmative resolution of each House of Parliament. That safeguard is necessary because the positive assent of Parliament would give a greater degree of authority to and command wider assent for the Secretary of State's priorities directed to the local education authorities.
I am convinced that, wherever we may sit in this Committee, we are all concerned with the raising of standards in our schools. To my mind the question is whether this vital matter should be left exclusively to the local education authorities, the governors and the head teachers, or whether there should be some input from central government and, as I would have it, approved by Parliament.
I accept the argument advanced by a number of noble Lords, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, on Second Reading, about the creative part played by local government in the development of education in this country. I do not want a completely centralised system of education as has been established in other countries, notably in France. However, I want central government, with the approval of Parliament, to have some power and not to be powerless in the usually long intervals between primary legislation. I think we all agree that primary legislation for education should not be brought before Parliament too often. However, do we really have to leave central government powerless in the intervals? I think not. To my mind the noble Lord's modest amendment gives sufficient power, but limited power, to the Secretary of State during the intervals between the promotion of major Bills on education.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, said on Second Reading that there had not been enough input by central government in England and Wales as contrasted with Scotland where she implied that there had been and there is now sufficient central control. I agree with the noble Baroness. Sir Keith Joseph and Mr. Chris Patten have both said much the same thing in recent days, but with different emphasis.
Leaving aside all the recent arguments for greater participation by pupils, teachers, parents, and so on—all of which have something to be said for them—I find it astonishing that a major new Bill on education, the simple title of which isto amend the law relating to education",contains no provision at all on the role of central government in regard to the curriculum. There is provision for everyone else the Committee can think of to have a finger in the pie—the local education authority, the governors, the head teachers, parents and perhaps other teachers who may be governors, and so on—but there is to be no governmental or parliamentary involvement in the curriculum. To my mind that must be wrong, and the amendment seeks to put it right.
570 The question is: who is to be the judge as to what is in the national interest? I believe that the answer to that question must be the Secretary of State, preferably with the approval of Parliament. In my view it is simply an abdication of responsibility which is pinned on central government anyway if they are not endowed by Act of Parliament with that responsibility. I should like to see this Committee voting that government responsibility into the Bill even though the Government have not sought it themselves.
The power to set priorities will not be undertaken lightly. I am convinced that it would only be exercised after extensive consultation by the Secretary of State with HMIs and with the department as a whole; and of course it would be subject to Cabinet agreement. If my proposal were accepted, it would also have the agreement of both Houses. It seems to me to be an essential ingredient in the policy formation of the curriculum which will ensure—and only by this means can it be ensured—that the public national interest is consulted.
We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, refer to the dictatorship argument—the Lord Alexander of Potterhill argument. That should be discounted altogther. Only those who profoundly distrust our public institutions and our way of government will be disturbed in the very least by this modest proposal to ensure that the national interest is served by means of these amendments. If improved standards can be obtained by a clearer direction from central government, then I believe that increased funding and other good things will follow; otherwise I fear that remedial action will continue to be necessary by reluctant and perhaps despairing industry coupled by after-school programmes promoted by the MSC, and for that matter by the Army. I have nothing to say against those after school programmes. They are absolutely necessary now, but they should not be as necessary as they are. This modest proposal has my strong support, and I hope that the Committee will consider it seriously.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
I am in broad agreement with my noble friend Lord Beloff and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, when they suggest to the Committee that there is a part for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to play in making the arrangements for what is to be taught in schools in future, at any rate in broad principles. I rise really in order to issue, with deep respect to my noble friend Lord Beloff, a caution about one thing that he said. If I noted it correctly he said that if everything were put into the curriculum, or curricula, which ought to be there, there would be little time left for indoctrination. I am surprised that my noble friend should be so optimistic. What he has suggested would be the triumph of hope over Left-wing ingenuity.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I rise to support the amendment and the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Henderson. I saw this letter in The Times on Saturday. It was the paragraph that the noble Lord read which prompted me to feel that I must say something on Clause 16. This is the 571 first clause in the Bill which deals with the curriculum. We spent a lot of time on school government, and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to that.
I am surprised that this question of the control or influence of the curriculum is not exciting more interest than apparently it is at this time. Some noble Lords seem to be more concerned with what should not be taught than with what should be taught. I think also from what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said a moment ago that there may be some noble Lords who do not believe that indoctrination is already there.
Indeed, this is one of the problems which has occupied the attention of your Lordships quite a lot since the debate inspired by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. But it seems to me that when we talk about state education in this country we are really talking about local authority education. I doubt whether that can be regarded as entirely satisfactory in the modern age. It is historical, but I doubt whether it is wholly relevant to the problem of our education today.
Some influence, some degree of control, should be put in the hands of government and Parliament over the essentials of the curricula in our schools. We have to deal with the natural reluctance to give the Secretary of State, or for that matter the Government, too much power over the curricula because we are on guard against undue influence in particular directions which may not meet with the whole approval of parents and the people. But our educational system must be geared to the requirements of today and of tomorrow, and we shall lose the race in the world's affairs if we do not look to our education system as the foundation of our future prosperity and power.
The question is: shall we get it the way we are going at the present time? Why have we got all this discontent with the education system? Why did my right honourable friend Mr. Callaghan raise the issue of the great debate, which was not as great as it ought to have been, and the debate not as long as it should have been? But we have not concluded that debate. I thought that this Bill was going to revive it, but it does not do that.
I would make a further observation. I was so preoccupied on Second Reading with the position of the teachers that I had not the time to say that I believe that there is a great deal to be said for considering a national education service so far as recruitment, pay and conditions of teachers are concerned. There is a great deal to be regretted about our present system of training, recruitment and conditions of teachers. Nobody who dealt with teachers' pay and was on the Royal Commission on the standards of conduct in public life could be entirely free of worries about our present system of local authority control of education, and indeed other aspects of our national affairs.
Democracy is not enough unless it is true democracy. We have to bear in mind—and I regret to refer to this—that our electoral system does not always ensure the true reflection of democratic opinion in the locality concerned. That of course applies, in my judgment, to the country as a whole. But before we rely too much on democracy let us consider whether it is truly representative.
572 The proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is, in principle, right. The points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, are important, too. If power is to be vested in the hands of the Secretary of State then we must surround him with the means of representative and talented advice about the essentials of the curricula, so that when he sets out his priorities he is doing so as reflecting a wide consensus of opinion which could be regarded as free from indoctrination, free from political considerations, and devoted entirely to the merits of the matter. That would be an important safeguard to introduce into this arrangement.
With that, serious consideration should be given to the change suggested in the two amendments before the Committee at the present time. It is far more serious than lots of the stuff in this Bill. I am sorry that the Bill does not tackle this side of the matter much more boldly than it does. In that respect I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. However, this is what we have.
I do not think that it is the end of our education problems. It is not the end of our education reforms. More changes will be needed, and probably experiment will be desirable; but certainly we are on the threshold of big changes which are imperative in our education system. This may be only the earlier stage of it. It is not bold enough, but it may put us on the way to later achievement in this direction.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
I find myself in agreement with these two amendments, and particularly with the second one proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. If this decision on priorities is to be made by the Secretary of State, it ought most certainly to be subject to the scrutiny of Parliament. That would mean that it would be preceded, if the Secretary of State hoped to get the agreement of Parliament, by thorough discussion, as has been suggested, with HMIs, with the teaching profession, with industry, and with people qualified to give him good advice on this matter of priorities. I hope therefore that if any change is made it will include both of these amendments, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson.
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, realises what an extraordinarily revolutionary proposal he is making. If any member of the Labour Party had proposed that priorities in education should be determined by the Secretary of State, there would have been cries of horror in all directions and we should have been accused of introducing some kind of Gestapo or Nazi system of education. But we are supposed to be engaged in a serious discussion of education, and I shall not pursue the kind of thing to which we would have been subjected if this proposal had come from the Labour Party.
However, the noble Lord is proposing something which for years has been regarded as a most grave heresy. The idea that the Secretary of State for Education could stick his nose into what is actually taught in the schools was regarded as very odd indeed. I found it very odd myself when I went to the office of Secretary of State for Education, but as I was there for only three months I had no time to do anything about it.
573 It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, unreasonable that the Secretary of State should not have anything to do with what is actually taught in schools. It must be as I have suggested. This is why the intervention of Parliament is so important. The Secretary of State's judgment must be a careful, well-informed judgment, and it must be concerned with the long-term interests of the community and not with comparatively short-term interests, such as the latest idea of what ought to be taught in the schools. Every now and again something happens which causes people to say, "The schools ought to do something about this. They ought to devote more attention to teaching the children how to cross the road, when to brush their teeth, or whatever". One wants to get away from that and have a judgment on priorities in the curriculum based on the long term interests of the nation. In this we are, as my noble friend Lord Houghton suggested, seriously out of date. We do not do that. We do not pay attention to the long-term interests of the nation. We made the desperate experiment of introducing this idea into a Conservative Bill on education, and we should have a chance of doing something about it. I hope we may take it.
§ Lord Butterworth
I should like to support this amendment and speak briefly to two points. Following what the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, has said, I think we are on the edge of something which is potentially important and, using his word, "revolutionary". I prefer to think of this side of the Chamber as being the truly radical side and that in the Bill we should have this important role for the Secretary of State for Education, which I am sure is very important. Indeed, in my view, with the ability to have guidelines from the Secretary of State—not merely in schools but for the benefit of universities, polytechnics, and colleges of higher and further education—we could be on the edge of a development which is potentially very important.
My second point is that while I have great sympathy with many of the amendments which we shall shortly be considering, mostly being put forward by my noble friend Lady Cox, I am at the moment not convinced that those subjects are best dealt with by statute. There are other ways of dealing with them which are far more successful, and at this moment I am not convinced that embedding them in a statute is the correct way of dealing with those problems. If that is so, guidance from the Secretary of State may well become more important.
If we are to have this amendment—I hope we can support it today—when the Bill ultimately emerges it is so important that, in my view, this amendment ought to be in some different form. The duty of the Secretary of State ought not to be embedded in a clause which is entitled, "Duty of local education authority to state policy". Surely the Secretary of State deserves a clause on his own.
§ 5.15 p.m.
The noble Lord, Lord Butterworth, has given signal service in the field of education, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, proved he was a good friend to teachers when the salary award was made many years ago. I have 574 enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and those who have spoken, but though I am one out of tune with all the rest I utter a word of warning about this. Because one or two local authorities have behaved badly is not sufficient reason for a major change in the structure of our education service in this country.
I know that the world of education is now in a state of turmoil. I was a teacher; I was called to be a teacher; and I have enormous respect for the profession. My heart aches as I view the present scene, but this talk as though the present education service does not take the national interest into view is quite unfair. It is unfair to a noble profession. It is unfair to former Secretaries of State for Education. Of course a Secretary of State has power in helping to decide what is in the curriculum. What do your Lordships believe Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools are doing when they go around to the schools? They are the servants of the Secretary of State, discussing the curriculum and discussing how it is fulfilled and how it is carried out.
Every Secretary of State is a highly party political figure. He is not put there because he is impartial in politics. It is full of danger. I think this proposal is full of danger. There could come a day when your Lordships will deeply regret having given too much power to government. I am highly nervous of this proposal.
I remember years ago my dear friend Ronald Gould (whose death we unfortunately heard of this week, and who gave signal service to the world of education) telling a conference of the National Union of Teachers that at any given moment the Secretary for Education in France could say, "All the children in France at this moment are to study English, or French, or mathematics"—all decided from the top.
We have developed a dual system in this country that has served our land well. I believe we might make a major blunder if we slip in, almost in a mild discussion, a transfer of real power. That I gather is what is intended: a transfer from the partnership that has existed among the teaching profession, the education authorities, the parents and the Secretary of State for Education. Alarm bells ring in my mind at this proposal. I shall not be found going into the Lobby in support of it.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
There can be no doubt about the importance of this amendment. In moving it, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said that it was an opportunity to turn what he described as a minor Bill into a major Bill. He gave good notice of that intention at Second Reading, and indeed has faithfully followed it out. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, referred to it as a modest proposal. I suspect that it is a modest proposal more in the sense that Jonathan Swift meant a modest proposal than in the sense which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, originally intended.
A number of noble Lords have referred to this proposal as being a revolutionary change, or a radical change, whether they see themselves as radicals of the Right or of the Left. There is no doubt that it is correct for this Committee to be considering radical change as well as the relatively minor changes with which the Bill is concerned. On the issues themselves, I find myself in some sympathy with what a number of noble Lords 575 have said, including my noble friends Lord Houghton and Lord Stewart. The view has been expressed to me on a number of occasions by educationists whose views I respect, including devoted socialists, that there is a strong case at least for a core curriculum up to the age of 14 or 15; and many research studies, including most recently a research study carried out by the Inner London Education Authority in its primary schools over a period of years, have indicated that there may well be gains from a return, not to a more regimented and a more universal curriculum but a curriculum which accepts certain basic propositions which are sometimes neglected by schools and by education authorities in this country.
This is not a matter in which I find myself even as concerned as the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. I feel that there is a case for many of the points which have been put forward and I am conscious, as I have always been conscious, that at the top end of our school system there is indeed central control of our curriculum but it is control exercised by the university examinations boards and soon to be exercised by the examination boards for the GCSE. So there is no difficulty at all about the raising of this issue.
However, I wonder whether it might not be thought to be a switched sell if the Government were to accept the amendment in the form that it has been put forward, or indeed in any form. After all, the debate which preceded this Bill started with consideration of the report of my noble friend Lord Taylor. It was continued with the debate leading up to and succeeding the Government's White Paper, Better Schools, and at no stage in that debate was this question of the central control of the curriculum raised or discussed or put to the various partners in our education system.
I can see that if I were responsible for expressing the views of the teachers in this country, or of the education authorities or, indeed, of the parents, I would want a great deal more public consideration and debate before I would agree to such a radical change as this being added to what is, after all, only a minor Bill. I believe that the noble Lord has done us a service in raising the matter. I believe that the echoes of what he has said will not die down and will deserve discussion in the education world over the years to come. I suspect that the Government would wish him to withdraw the amendment, and I think that the Government would have our support in that wish.
§ The Earl of Swinton
When my noble friend Lord Beloff introduced this amendment he said that it was (I think I have got the words right) a modest little amendment. That was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. I think that the debate has shown that it is nothing of the sort. I am very much going to echo what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has said, because I really should like to point out to the Committee that it is neither necessary nor wise in this present Bill to move along these lines.
My noble friend Lord Beloff suggested in the debate on Second Reading that there seemed to be no reason why the local authority should be an intermediary between the nation and its needs, and the school and its head, in determining the school curriculum. It is 576 because local authorities are so firmly estabished as intermediaries in our education service, and have been given a range of important statutory roles to be carried out in accordance with local needs and wishes, that they need to be free to assess their own curricular policies and priorities.
The Government, like their predecessors, have no intention of introducing central control and imposing a rigid framework in place of the healthy local diversity we now enjoy. We have certainly worked towards establishing a national curriculum policy, which informs the Secretary of State in carrying out his responsibilities under the Education Act and to which LEAs have regard. But it is central to our policy that local authorities will have their own curricular policies in order to plan and manage the service at a local level in response to local needs and circumstances and the preferences of parents; and that schools will have their individual curricular aims. We have deliberately not made this system into a hierarchy of control, with each level constrained by the one above. Our statements of curricular aims and objectives rest on wide debate with, and general agreement among, the education partners, and at all levels curricular policies must continue to influence and be influenced by those adopted by others. Such a fluid system is likely to be much more responsive and flexible than one which looks to the centre to define and impose priorities.
I had thought that my noble friend's purpose in putting forward this amendment was to ensure that authorities and schools do not pursue policies violently at odds with the national interest, but I was glad to hear him use, I think, at one time the expression that this was necessary in order to take the views of government; and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, I think, said that it was very important to have an input from central government. This happens, and the Government have an important role to play in the development of national agreement on broad curriculum policies; and the process of debate and consultation which preceded the White Paper Better Schools continues and is a process with which the Government are closely involved.
It has proved quite possible for this role to develop without the need for any central control. We continue to believe that such central control would not be a helpful addition to the current arrangements for the development of curriculum policies to meet both national and local needs. The curriculum objectives set out in Better Schools, the more detailed statement in that document of our policy on curriculum content from the ages of 5 to 16 and the first of our series of curriculum policy statements, that on "Science from 5 to 16", have commanded wide agreement and support throughout the education service. But to make central priorities prescriptive would be to trespass on the ability of locally elected authorities and the schools themselves to respond to local priorities in setting their own curriculum policies, within these broad areas of agreement.
I must agree very largely with what the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, said. These things go on; they are being listened to and they are working. The Government believe therefore that the changes proposed by my noble friend are neither necessary nor appropriate. They are not necessary because our 577 present approach already secures wide agreement to national curricula policies; partnership works a great deal better when it is entered into willingly rather than under duress.
I really must echo what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said. It is not appropriate because it would represent a fundamental change in the role of local education authorities and a change which, as the noble Lord said, would be introduced without any prior consultation. I think that this would be a tremendous mistake. As the noble Lord said, much of the groundwork for this Bill was done upon consultation and upon agreement. To introduce a fundamental change like this without in any way consulting our main partners would be a great mistake.
Also, the Government believe that action can be taken to raise standards in school education within the existing legal framework. Moreover, if we were to travel the road that my noble friend proposes we would need to do more than require LEAs to act in accordance with the Secretary of State's priorities. Such a change, to be fully effective, would need to be accompanied by the additional requirement that the Government's contribution to LEAs' education expenditure should be in respect of the execution of particular policies.
Perhaps I may answer the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, about his proposed amendment if this amendment, in fact, were to be carried. The effect of Clause 16 would be that every LEA would have to determine its policy and to keep it under review in accordance with the priorities which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State might set out from time to time; and that the Secretary of State should be required to lay the draft statement of his priorities before both Houses and they would then be subject to affirmative resolution by both Houses.
The Government regard the original amendment as unacceptable because it would represent a major change in the balance of powers between local and central government—a change explicitly rejected in last year's White Paper as neither healthy nor necessary. While the change proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, would offset that to some extent, the original amendment is certainly not made acceptable thereby.
If it were agreed to, the amendment proposed by my noble friend would cause a substantial reduction in the responsibilities of LEAs in regard to the curriculum. The Government cannot accept this amendment. I thank my noble friend for having introduced it. We have had a long and very interesting debate on it but having heard the arguments, in particular those about introducing such a very major measure without any form of consultation, I think it would be a great mistake. I urge my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
I have, of course, listened to this debate with the greatest of care. I am fortified in my original convictions by the unusual circumstance in this Chamber of feeling that I am in agreement with the 578 noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, and (as has happened before, though not very frequently) with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I am, I must admit, deaf to the alarm bells that ring in the mind of the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, because it does not seem to me that the amendment, even if accepted in terms of the present wording, amounts to a degree of central control. It amounts to giving a voice to central government which those other authorities concerned in education should accept as having to be taken into account.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way. I am puzzled by his last remark. Surely the Secretary of State has the opportunity to give voice to his views about the curriculum now and under the proposed legislation. What is proposed in the amendment (is it not?) is that the curriculum policy of local education authorities shall be in accordance with priorities laid down by the Secretary of State. That is a very different thing.
§ Lord Beloff
The difference seems to me to be a verbal one, since had an amendment been put forward that the local authorities, in reviewing their curriculum, should pay no attention to the views of the Secretary of State, would the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, have been supportive of that? Does he suggest that it is, or would be, proper for local authorities not to pay attention to what are, or what would have been stated as, national priorities?
I should like, if I may, to go on to clear up some other points. First of all, if, as I hope, the Committee accepts this amendment, I shall myself support the amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, because I agree that the matter is so important that Parliament should have an opportunity of having a voice. I certainly did not have in mind that any Secretary of State would simply get up one morning and say, "Let's have Sanskrit in everyone's curriculum". I assumed that there would be—as I think there is, inadequately at present, though I admit that a good deal of consultation goes on—appropriate channels of advice and consultation with persons in the education world before any such priorities are voiced.
It is difficult, in moving an amendment to a Bill and trying to be brief, to envisage the entire set of administrative and other consequences that would arise. I must say, however, that I am deeply disappointed with the reply from Her Majesty's Government. If in reply they had gone even no further than the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and said that this is a very serious and important change—because it ought to be something for which the initiative should come from the Government, and I think my noble friend Lord Butterworth suggested that a proposed change in the authority of the Secretary of State ought naturally to come from Government—and if they had asked me, in the light of their willingness to reconsider a more positive role for expressing the national interest, to withdraw this amendment, I would have accepted what they said.
But what the noble Earl's reply seems to me to amount to is, first, that he had not read the speeches of his honourable and right honourable friends in Her 579 Majesty's Government such as the Minister of State for Education and Science who, only a few days ago, said that a certain advance in the amount of input of the national interest into the education system was desirable. I think even that notable defender of the delegation or the diffusion of power, the present Secretary of State for Education and Science, has—and this has been indicated during the course of this debate—from time to time made positive suggestions about the curriculum.
It seems to me that the reply of Her Majesty's Government to this amendment, which was intended simply to give them an opportunity to tell the Committee that they realise that the state of the education system is something for which no government can escape responsibility, has been a wholly negative reply, seconding, as it were, the spokesman for the Opposition on this matter. In view of that I am afraid that even at this hour I must ask the opinion of the Committee.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 43) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided; Contents, 27; Not-Contents, 178.580
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Banks, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Beloff, L. [Teller.]||Kagan, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Kirkwood, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Longford, E.|
|Chalfont, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Coleraine, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Cox, B.||Milverton, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Faithfull, B.||Rugby, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Harris of High Cross, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L. [Teller.]||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Colwyn, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Craigavon, V.|
|Amherst, E.||Crathorne, L.|
|Arran, E.||Crawshaw, L.|
|Atholl, D.||David, B.|
|Attlee, E.||Davidson, V.|
|Aylestone, L.||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Bernstein, L.||Derwent, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Digby, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Elton, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Ely, Bp.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Ewart-Biggs, B.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Ezra, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Fanshawe of Richmond, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Foot, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Fortescue, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Chelmer, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Gainsborough, E.|
|Gallacher, L.||Parry, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Pender, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Glenamara, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Portland, D.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Rea, L.|
|Grey, E.||Reay, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Henley, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Heycock, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Romney, E.|
|Hooper, B.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Scanlon, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Seear, B.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Kimball, L.||Serota, B.|
|Kimberley, E.||Shannon, E.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Sharples, B.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Simon, V.|
|Layton, L.||Skelmersdale, L. [Teller.]|
|Leatherland, L.||Somers, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Stallard, L.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Lockwood, B.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Long, V.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|McCarthy, L.||Suffield, L.|
|McFadzean, L.||Swansea, L.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Swinton, E.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Tonypandy, V.|
|Margadale, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Marley, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Marshall of Leeds, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Middleton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Mishcon, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Mottistone, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||Wheatley, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||White, B.|
|Mulley, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Munster, E.||Willis, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Winstanley, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 44 and 44A not moved.]
§ [Amendment No. 45 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 45A:
Page 19, line 30, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—
("(2) The governing body for each county, voluntary and maintained special school in an authority shall, in consultation
with the head teacher, consider and agree the curriculumn policy to be adopted in the school within the lines of any general policy for the secular curriculum determined by the local education authority, leaving the final detailed arrangements and organisation to be the responsibility of the head teacher and his staff.")
§ The noble Lord said: We have had a very interesting debate, and it has certain repercussions on the discussion that we must now have about the Government's intentions with regard to the curriculum. The Government's proposals are contained in Clause 17. Having given notice of my intention to oppose the Question, That Clause 17 stand shall part of the Bill, it is appropriate that the speech I now make should refer to that also.
§ Clause 17 is intended to set out the Government's proposals for the consideration and determination of the curriculum policy for schools. In the Notes on Clauses, the proposals are described as being a system of checks and balances. There are certain checks and balances. The difficulty is to determine at what stage the checks and balances finish and some final decision is reached because it seems to us that Clause 17 and the Government's proposals are a straightforward recipe for conflict and confusion in our schools. It is the intention of this amendment in as simple a way as is open to us, in the absence of the advice of parliamentary draftsmen, to try to replace the complexities of Clause 17 with what we consider to be and what I believe has always been accepted to be the proper division of responsibility for the curriculum in our schools.
§ If we look at Clauses 16 and 17, which must be taken together, in detail, the education authority is to determine and keep under review its policy. That provision has been confirmed by an overwhelming vote in your Lordships' Committee. It is then the responsibility of the governing body to consider the policy of the education authority on the secular curriculum for the authority's schools, and to consider how, if at all, that policy should be modified and what should be the aim of the secular curriculum of the school.
There are various items of consultation which the governing body is required to enter into when making that consideration, and there is a series of proposals about the responsibility of the head teacher, and the head teacher's duty to secure that the curriculum is followed within the school. Subsection (4) of Clause 17 then goes on to say that the head teacher has to consider the policies of the governing body and of the education authority. In Clause 17(4)(b)(i) he has to ensure that—and I quote directly now because this is absolutely fundamental—the curriculum,
is compatible with the policy of the authority or, where it is incompatible with that policy, with the policy of the governing body;".
Can one imagine a worse set of prescriptions for the clear, concise, effective and permanent or at least long-lasting determination of responsibilities of the curriculum? Are we seriously to imagine that, after all this to-ing and fro-ing in policy statements between the education authority and the governing body, the head teacher has to follow the policy of the governing body and deny that of the education authority? Are we to imagine that there is no provision even for such a decision to be within the lines of a general policy for
the secular curriculum determined by the local education authority? It seems to me inconceivable that the Government can seriously have intended this extraordinarily abstruse process, and inconceivable that it can have intended that it should lead to the sort of result which is set out in Clause 17(4)(b)(i).
§ In the absence of centralised control over our curriculum—and the Committee have expressed their views on that—it is constantly the responsibility of local education authorities to stand up and be counted before their electorates about the way in which the schools in their authority are run. One of the major things for which they have to be responsible is the curriculum. There have been, for example, in the recent Fulham by-election severe criticisms mounted by the Conservative Party and the Social Democratic Party of the education policies, and notably the curriculum policies of the Inner London Education Authority. Fortunately, the electorate was so sensible as to reject those, among other arguments: but nevertheless it is a proper subject for debate in the political arena. It is a proper subject whereby local education authorities can and should be called to account by their electors. If they are not doing what the electors want in their curriculum policy, then the electors have a right to say so and the electors have a right for their decisions and views to be taken into account in the way that they cast their vote.
§ However, the way in which Clause 17 is drafted means that the education authority simply shrugs its shoulders and says, "Well, there was a dispute between the governing body and the education authority: and the head teacher, as required by Clause 17(4)(b)(i), exercised his duty to follow the curriculum policy of the governing body rather than the curriculum policy of the education authority". There is nothing that we, as an education authority, can do about it. There is nothing an education authority can do to see to it that there is consistency between the different schools within the authority. That is an equally serious point.
§ More and more in education authorities, particularly with changing school rolls, it is necessary for schools to co-operate in the use of scarce resources. It is necessary for them to collaborate, for example, at sixth form level, even if there is not a sixth form college, and to share out the teaching of the scarcer or secondary subjects. That requires a degree of collaboration in the curriculum which would simply be destroyed if the head teacher had the duty to follow a governing body which dissented from the curriculum or from the general lines of the curriculum desired by the local education authority.
§ What happens where there are sixth form colleges is that the situation is even worse. We could imagine a sixth form college which has to take pupils from a number of different secondary schools within an authority, each of which has a different curriculum policy authorised by the governing body and implemented, perforce, by the head teacher. The sixth form college has to try and reconcile those in designing a curriculum for those pupils aged 16 to 18. It does not make sense, either in terms of practical education, in terms of the political responsibility or the public responsibility which I believe the Committee would wish to be applied to curriculum policy.583
§ It may well be that Ministers will say to me that the wording of the amendment is defective. I do not know at the moment in which way, but we have tried to restrict it at the present time to the county voluntary and maintained special schools. We have maintained the duty of consultation with the head teacher, we have restricted the determination by the local education authority to the lines of general policy for the secular curriculum, leaving the final details and the detailed arrangements and organisation as the responsibility of the head teacher and his staff, as indeed the Government propose.
§ I believe that this is a necessary simplification and a simplification which is in line with the wishes the Committee expressed in the most recent debate. I hope that the amendment I am now moving will gain general acceptance. I beg to move.
§ Lord Somers
I should certainly like to support this amendment. This is one of the few occasions on which the head teacher has received any notice at all, and it must be remembered that two schools in the same education area may draw on a totally different type of pupil and a curriculum which is suitable for them should be chosen. Who should know better about that than the head teacher? It seems to me that the local education authority should have a general control, naturally, over what goes on in its schools in its area; but regarding the curriculum, surely the head teacher is the one who knows. Each school should so far as possible be considered as an individual case.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ely
The noble Lord who spoke to this amendment referred, in presenting it, to Clauses 16 and 17. I hope that on the other hand, there might be a mention by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, of considering how far the proposed amendment would affect the matter of aided and special agreement schools in Clause 18 which sets out the ordering of curricula in those schools in terms which are significantly different, it seems to me, from what is proposed in the amendment.
§ 6 P.m.
§ Lord Ritchie of Dundee
I should like to say a few words in strong support of the amendment, particularly with reference to the confusion which seems to me to exist between Clauses 16 and 17, as referred to already by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. First, on Clause 16 subsections (2) and (3) seem to me to be entirely unnecessary. According to subsection (1), the local education authority is to determine curriculum policy. Surely in doing this it will fulfil the provisions of subsection (2)—that is, it will consider the range of the curriculum and the balance among the components—and this does not have to be specifically stated. Further, in subsection (3), how and why should it be imagined that the local education authority will forget its curriculum policy when carrying out its functions? That, too, seems to me to be an unnecessary provision, and it must be the aim of any good Act to be clear and as brief as possible.
I may be repeating something already said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, but if I am perhaps it will not do any harm. Taking Clauses 16 and 17 together, 584 how can it make sense for the governing body to consider the aims of the curriculum, as stated in Clause 17(1)(c), which have already been determined under Clause 16(1)(a) by the local education authority? You cannot make a curriculum and then think about its aims afterwards. You think first about its aims and you then devise your curriculum.
Secondly, how can the head teacher be responsible for the determination of the curriculum, as stated in Clause 17(3), if the local education authority has determined it under Clause 16(1)(a)? They cannot both determine the curriculum. To determine is to settle finally. The head teacher and the local education authority cannot both settle finally the same thing.
On the proposed amendment, it seems to me that there may be omissions, but it is expressed with admirable lucidity and conciseness. There is the chain of responsibility. The governing body is to consult with the head teacher—consultation is all-important—subject to the policy of the local education authority, and the head teacher is to arrange the detailed organisation. That seems to me to sum it up admirably. I did not do the drafting, so I can praise the amendment without undue presumption.
§ Lord Mottistone
I hope that when my noble friend replies from the Front Bench, he or she will give great consideration to this amendment, including the abolition of Clause 17. There have been one or two points made, and I would not dream of adding to them, because I have great sympathy with what has been said, except for the total ridiculousness and the shame in a Bill before us of subsection (4)(b)(i) of Clause 17. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made this point very well, but I cannot leave it without saying that whatever else happens the Government must get rid of that subsection. It is an encouragement of nothing but anarchy. Who is in charge? It is quite ridiculous.
If you look back through the rest of Clause 17, it is so woolly that, first, you can make it mean what you want it to mean, and, secondly, you can ignore it because it is so complicated that it is not understandable, and the great merit of the amendment is that it is short and concise.
I am quite sure, whatever the Government and my noble friend the Minister may feel, that the parliamentary draftsmen will put up a rearguard action to retain all this mumbo-jumbo which they have used to construct Clause 17. But I think they must be severely and sharply disciplined on this matter in order to make quite certain that we do not end up with a clause like Clause 17, which has that appalling invitation to chaos in subsection (4)(b)(i).
I hope my noble friend will go as far as he or she can to accept what I have said. Possibly the amendment will have to come back on Report from one side or another—that is another matter altogether—but I do not think that we should necessarily go to a Division on it. However, I am sure that the principle is absolutely right.
§ Baroness Young
I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said in moving his amendment, as I did to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie. I recognise that the point which the noble 585 Lord, Lord McIntosh, made is one which he made on Second Reading when he complained of the complexity of these clauses in the Bill and of the arrangements for the curriculum. I should like to take the Committee back to the reasons why these clauses are drafted as they are, because they go back to the Government's paper Better Schools, which was published some time ago and which has been the subject of considerable discussion.
Paragraphs 232 and 233 of Better Schools set out the reasons why the clauses are designed as they are. They also set out the allocation of the functions for the secular curriculum in respect of county, controlled and maintained special schools. They are, first, that the local education authority will be responsible for formulating and implementing the curricular policy for its area; secondly, that the governing body will have a duty to determine the statement of the schools' curricular aims and objectives and to review it from time to time, and in so doing it will be required to seek the advice of the head teacher and to consult the LEA; thirdly, that the head teacher will be responsible for the organisation and delivery of the curriculum, including detailed syllabuses and teaching approaches and materials employed within the available resources, having regard to the statement of the aims and objectives determined by the governing body; and, fourthly, that the curricular arrangements for pupils who are the subject of statements under the Education Act 1981 will be determined by the terms of the statement. The provisions—and here I think that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is quite right—of Clauses 16 and 17 are quite complex, but again there is a reason for this.
What his amendment does—and I think this is a point that my noble friend Lord Mottistone made—is to make a very good summary of how those curriculum responsibilities of local authorities, governing bodies and head teachers in respect of county and controlled schools can and should be exercised following the Bill's enactment. We all look forward to local authorities, after wide consultation, making a general statement of curriculum policy which commands widespread support. We look forward to a body of governors, fully in touch with parents' views, considering in more detail what this policy should mean in the school for which they are responsible, and to head teachers exercising their proper responsibility to turn the governors' policy into classroom practice. But legislation is meant to deal not only with what should and can happen, but also with offering safeguards against what might happen if this model, based on agreement at all levels—which is the subject of this amendment—is upset by major differences of view among the education partners.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is right in saying that as the Bill is drafted it is a system of checks and balances. This is, I accept, complex, but I hope that my noble friends who have down a series of amendments at which we shall be looking shortly will see that the way in which the Bill is drafted does, in many respects, go a very long way to meet their very real concerns.
If two of the partners agree in this way, topics such as peace studies which are the subject of a good many amendments could not be forced into the curriculum 586 simply because a local authority took a political decision to do so. If the governors and the head teachers were in agreement, such a policy could be ignored. Under the proposed amendment, if an authority chose to include in its general policy the teaching of peace studies as a subject, governors would be bound to keep within the lines of this policy and head teachers to arrange and organise its delivery. So the very system of checks and balances which is designed to make it much more difficult for such contentious subjects to get into the curriculum would in fact not apply under the amendment.
Of course, there might be legal arguments about how far such a policy was reasonable and whether it could be deemed general if it resorted to details. But the clauses as drafted are intended to avoid the need to refer such issues to the courts. They set out to achieve this by giving a means of resolving what we hope will be few disputes and of doing so in a way which will allow the voices of parents through the governing body and of head teachers to be heard above those of political interest groups.
What I have said so far relates to county and controlled schools which are the subject of the existing Clauses 16 and 17. The amendment's effect on aided and special agreement schools—this is particularly relevant to what the right reverend Prelate said—dealt with under Clause 18 of the Bill is much more significant. Under the 1944 Act the governors of aided secondary schools already have power to control the secular curriculum in these schools. The Bill provides for that power to be extended to the governors of aided primary schools and all special agreement schools. The proposed amendment would remove this power from the governors of aided schools and put them on all fours with the governors of county and controlled schools. To make such a change would be to disturb the division of powers on which the dual system of education has been based since 1944, a division which reflects the role of governors in aided and special agreement schools as representatives of the voluntary body which is responsible for a school's particular character. Thus in respect of aided schools this amendment presents not only the difficulties I have outlined earlier but would also involve a major, and in the Government's view inappropriate reduction in the independence of aided school governors.
In answering what I think are the important points that have been raised in this amendment I have set out the reasons why the Bill is drafted as it is. It is very important to recognise that the duties of head teachers, governing bodies and the local authority as set out in Clauses 16 and 17 need to be seen as a whole. These clauses require that at least two of the partners must be in agreement for any policy to be imposed. The ability of head teachers to choose on the basis of their professional judgment between conflicting policies on the part of the LEA and the governors is to prevent either of these bodies (which might, for example, be subject to extreme political control) from imposing its views on the school.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, in a sense it is a complex arrangement. It is a system of checks and balances. It is designed to meet the very real concerns which have been expressed in the Committee. Now that the issue has been aired, I hope 587 very much that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will feel able to withdraw his amendment. If it is pressed to a Division, I hope that all my noble friends will support the Government in their arrangements. They are important. They are central to this Bill and they are very important in ensuring that the very anxieties which many of the amendments before the Committee express can be met and dealt with.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
I am sure that we have all listened with interest and gratitude to my noble friend and we are grateful for the explanation which she has given of the rather complicated machinery in Clause 17. I think, however, that we come to a point when we have to find out if we can who is going to have the last word after all these consultations have taken place. I come therefore to the point made earlier by my noble friend Lord Mottistone who referred to Clause 17(4)(b)(i). There it seems we have the crunch. Subsection (5)—and I shall leave out the irrelevant words in order to bring out the words material to the point as to who has the last word—says:The articles of government … shall provide for it to be the duty of the head teacher, in determining the secular curriculum,to consider the policy of the education authority—that is all right—and to ensure (and that is a stronger word) that the curriculum,is compatible with the policy of the authority or, where it is incompatible with that policy, with the policy of the governing body".I should hope—I am not sure that all Members of the Committee would hope—that in a conflicting situation to which that formula gives rise the head teacher will have the last word. Some might hope that the governors would have the last word. I hope that none of us would hope or expect the local education authority to have the last word. But we must not raise our hopes too high because the articles of government are to ensure that the curriculum is compatible with the policy of the authority, or, where it is incompatible with that policy, with the policy of the governing body concerned. In this area of potential conflict between the views of the three bodies concerned, the three persons concerned, who really will have the last word?
§ Baroness Young
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, as a lawyer has picked on a point and has asked the question; who is going to have the last word? We are now talking about the reality of what might well be a specific situation in a school, a situation covered exactly by one of the amendments which follows and to which he has put his name. If I have understood correctly the noble Lord and his noble friends who have put these amendments down, they seek to meet their objectives by writing into the face of the Bill what shall or shall not happen, something which could always be amended at a later stage by somebody else writing in something else. It brings in the central government further and further into the curriculum with all the complications of definition that follow from all of that.
What we have designed is a way of meeting these kinds of problems by saying that in any given situation if there is a conflict—and that is what we are talking 588 about—two out of the three partners in determining the curriculum must be in agreement. This therefore makes it less likely that highly contentious issues would be allowed to go through because of the professional qualifications of the head teachers, because of the governing body which would include both teachers and parents—parents playing a larger part than ever before and parents trained in a way that they have never been before so that they can be more effective governors—and with the local education authority also making its contribution.
Out of that, the answer to the noble Lord is that two out of three must agree. What we hope will happen is that which the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is designed to achieve, which is to show it working as it would work in an ideal world. What my noble friend Lord Renton is asking is what happens when it is not an ideal world. The answer is that two out of three must agree. It is therefore necessary to write into the bill what might happen when the provision is not working effectively.
§ Lord Mottistone
My noble friend the Minister said that this was a lawyer's point, because my noble friend Lord Renton kindly came to my assistance. It is not a lawyer's point but a management point; it is a very important management point. To say that two out of three may decide without declaring which are the most important of the three could cause managerial chaos.
I may say to my noble friend the Minister that she was quoting an administrator's answer. The administrator does not deal with the real world. He deals with a much more theoretical world, and many of the troubles in our troubled world are caused that way. I dearly hope that my noble friend will say that she will consider that managerial point, take it away and think about it before we reach the next stage, because it is a very important point.
In the National Health Service, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister created the Griffiths Report. That report was called upon to investigate how we could better the consensus management that had operated in the National Health Service until recently. As a result of the Griffiths Report, we are now seeking in the health authority areas to introduce management in a proper structure in which people will know where they stand and who is whose boss and where one person will take a decision instead of a group of people.
Saying that two out of three will take a decision is like having a group of people. I hope therefore that my noble friend will not think of this as being just a lawyer's point but as a very serious matter. That subsection reflects the whole of the clause which has been written by an administrator. It needs to be looked at from a managerial point of view. Possibly we should have Mr. Griffiths—or I believe he is now Sir Roy—to help, because he will help much more than the department can on its own. Will my noble friend make some concession? Otherwise I fear that I shall have to go into what she would call the wrong Lobby.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
The noble Baroness made a brave and loyal attempt to defend the parliamentary draftsman but it will not wash for a number of reasons. I have looked back as well at Better Schools, and at the basis on which the Government 589 entered into consultation. I listened carefully to the noble Baroness when she read out the allocation of functions as stated in paragraph 232 of Better Schools. As she said, the LEA is responsible for formulating and implementing the curriculum policy and the governing body makes a statement, reviews it from time to time and seeks the advice of the head teacher, who consults the LEA. It is correct also that the head teacher has various responsiblities, and there are special arrangements for those who are the subjects of statements under the 1981 Act.
However, if one goes on to study paragraph 233 of Better Schools, the conclusion is that:The Government believes however that the distrubution of functions in paragraph 232 will help to resolve any conflict on the basis that the views of all concerned find expression and that there is no imposition of the views of one party".The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has made it clear, as have all noble Lords who have spoken, that that is not an effective conclusion for the Government to reach. Indeed, the Government have not reached that conclusion, because in Clause 17(4) (b) (i), they have, when it comes to the crunch, come down in favour, in the case of conflict, of the governing body having the last say for the local education authority.
The Committee may have its own views about that situation, but it is not good enough for the Government to say that the issue is resolved by two of the three—that is, presumably, by the governing body and the head teacher being in a majority over the local education authority. Surely it would be much better to do that which our amendment proposes and try to define more closely the relevant roles of the different participants in the management process, and to say, as we have said, that the ultimate sanction of the local education authority is the lines of the general policy for the secular curriculum. That is constrained, as the noble Baroness said in her speech, by local government legislation. It has to be reasonable and it has to be proved that particular directions fall within the meaning of the word "general". However, we are proposing a genuine constraint on the powers of the local authority, and we are leaving the rest to the governing body and to the head teacher, and the relationship between the two of them is set out.
We have to reach some conclusion. If Better Schools is not good enough, there must be from a management point of view, as the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has rightly said on more than one occasion, some clear resolution. I suggest to the Committee that it is far better for that resolution to be in terms of a definition of the relevant powers and responsibilities of the participants in the process than on a majority basis.
We all hope that there will be few examples of the kind of conflict with which this amendment and Clause 17 are meant to deal. However, we must legislate on the basis that there may be conflict. I am encouraged in thinking that our amendment has survived virtually unscathed the views of the Secretary of State himself in a speech he made to the National Association of Schoolmasters just before Easter.
In parenthesis, since I used the words "virtually unscathed" I recognise that there is an error in the use of the word "voluntary" rather than the word "controlled". I am happy to give the assurance to the right reverend Prelate that in drafting the amendment 590 I did not mean voluntary; I did not mean to intrude upon the dual system. I meant it to be controlled. It would be strictly within the rules of order for me to move a manuscript amendment now to correct that point, but I believe that such would be undesirable. I give an undertaking to the right reverend Prelate that if the amendment is carried, I shall move a further amendment on Report to delete the word "voluntary" and insert the word "controlled", and thus ensure that the amendment refers only to maintained schools and not to aided chools.
Having said that, the Secretary of State gave in his speech three broad principles for the distribution of curriculum functions. The second was:Subject to the LEA's overall responsibility, the governing body shall be able to determine, in consultation with the head teacher, the main policies and lines of development of the school".The important words there are:Subject to the LEA's overall responsibility".That is what this amendment is not only intended to achieve but will achieve. It gives a great deal more simplicity and clarity to the Bill. It deals with the points that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, raised concerning managerial responsibility. It attempts to divide managerial responsibility in a rational way while reaching a conclusion in the end as to where managerial responsibility must lie. On those grounds, I commend the amendment to the Committee.
§ Lord Renton
Perhaps I may make a helpful suggestion to my noble friend. This is a difficult matter and it is not just a lawyer's point or a question of drafting. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, does not claim perfection even for his amendment. I should have thought that after the valuable discussion we have had, in which there has been a degree of agreement across the Floor of the Committee, as well as some points about which we all disagree, it would be much better, instead of trying to reach a decision tonight on this complex matter, for my noble friend the Minister to say that she will take this point away, think about it carefully and consult the Secretary of State in the light of our debate. I am sure that in the long run that would be of much greater benefit to all concerned.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
I appreciate what my noble friend Lord Renton said about this, and perhaps I may add a few further words of clarification about Clause 17(4)(b)(i). As the clause explains, the head teacher has the duty of determining the curriculum for the school; that is under Clause 17(3). In doing so, he must ensure that the policy is consistent either with the policy of the LEA or with that of the governing body. Clause 17(4)(b) makes that clear. That is what it is designed to do.
May I say to my noble friend Lord Mottistone that I think he has his argument the wrong way round. What he is advancing is the administrator's answer—something which, as he says, is clear cut for everybody. The argument used by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is the argument that I think local authorities themselves have advanced. What the Government are putting forward is a way of trying to reconcile a number of complicated, conflicting views 591 in an area in which, as we have already seen in the Committee, it is very difficult to arrive at what is precisely the right answer.
However, I hope that in considering this matter my noble friend, Lord Renton and, if I may say so, my noble friend Lord Mottistone will also consider very carefully what they are advancing. It is not consistent with the other objectives which, so far as I can see, they wish to achieve on subsequent amendments. But that is for them to consider, because what they are trying to do is quite different.
I think that in view of what has been said I must make clear that the Government cannot accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. However, I shall take it away and reflect upon it. I shall certainly discuss it with my colleagues at the Department of Education and Science. In doing so, however, I should like to make quite clear to the Committee that the objective of the Government is not something that has been newly thought out. It has been well trailed in Better Schools. It has been discussed with our partners in the education service. It is designed to meet this very complex relationship between the local education authority, the governing body and the head teacher for his or her professional advice. It is designed to meet some of the problems which we know have been identified by Members of the Committee; and if, as I accept, it is complex then it is so because the situation itself is complex.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Those are about the minimum concessions that the Government could have offered (dare I say?) to the universal concerns that have been expressed from all sides of the Committee about the drafting of Clause 17. The noble Baroness says that she cannot accept my amendment and that she will take it away to consider it with colleagues in the Department of Education and Science. However, she then went on to say, almost without drawing breath, that she does not think that any amendment can reduce the amount of complexity.
May I therefore ask her one further question before I make my own judgment about what to do with the amendment? Does the noble Baroness recognise the force of the argument, even if she does not necessarily agree with it, that there has to be some residual power for the local education authority to maintain some degree of not necessarily uniformity but consistency in the curriculum policies of the schools in the authority, and that somehow the Bill has to be amended to give effect to that?
§ Baroness Young
I think that is the point of departure between what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is saying and what is in the Bill. Although there will be a degree of consistency, I believe, between schools—this is borne out by all these long discussions on what might broadly be called a core curriculum and it will be accepted that certain things will inevitably be taught in all schools—what we are actually talking about is what might be described as fringe subjects where there is likely to be conflict.
If I have understood the noble Lord correctly—I do not want to put into his mouth words which are not 592 true—he is saying that ultimately the LEA must be responsible. We are saying that if that is the case one gets oneself into the situation which many of the amendments before the Committee are designed to avoid. The object of this checks and balances system is to give the governing body a much greater say—I think that will come in areas where there is conflict—and to ensure that two out of three parties to the education system will be in agreement. Whether it is possible to make that simpler to get the same effect, I cannot say. It may not be possible at all because it is a complex situation. However, the objective is one that surely my noble friend Lord Renton must wish to see, and it is different from what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is advancing.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am bound to say that I am deeply disappointed by that answer. I think it is highly unlikely that we will come back on Report with an agreed solution to this complex problem. Although I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment, I have to say that I do so on the firm basis that unless the Government go a great deal further than the noble Baroness has done today in rationalising the situation and adequately defining the roles of the various participants in the decision-making process, we shall be forced to come back with an amendment very similar to the one moved today. I say that now in order not to be accused of abusing the procedures of the Chamber at a later stage.
In the faint hope that there may be some serious further consideration by the Government, and with an offer to take part myself in such consideration as the Government may wish; and in the hope that local authority associations will also be involved, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 46:
Page 19, line 33, at end insert—
("( ) It shall be the duty of every local education authority to exclude from the secular curriculum of their primary schools the teaching or discussion of politics.").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 46 I shall be speaking also to Amendment No. 47. I wish to begin by making a general point, which will apply also to subsequent amendments, on the issue of politicisation. I shall not repeat this point ad nauseam but I wish to put it on record now.
§ It used to be a cherished principle that we in this country kept partisan politics out of our classrooms, but it is generally admitted that recent years have seen a sea change. Many schools and, indeed, many local education authorities are now promoting the discussion and teaching of controversial issues. In the debate on this subject in the House on 5th February, many noble Lords described some of these developments and expressed great concern over them. Also, many people outside this Chamber believe that the time has now come for effective measures to put an end to the increasing use of our schools for partisan political purposes.
§ In the course of that debate, some noble Lords opposite accused us of wanting to keep all politics out of schools. That is not the case. Obviously it is desirable for young adults who will soon be independent 593 voting members of a democracy to become familiar with contemporary political issues and with the workings of a democratic society; for example, by studying the subject of politics or by taking part in mock elections. But that does not mean that children of any age should be encouraged to spend valuable school time in discussing political issues. As these amendments indicate, many people believe that our children in primary schools should be protected from involvement in political discussions and activities so far as that is possible.
§ The Committeee will be aware that children in primary schools are young—the age range is from four or five to 11—and it is not reasonable to expect them to have the intellectual maturity to understand the complexity of political issues. Indeed, research in child development shows that young children are not mentally equipped to cope with abstract concepts. Therefore, any attempt to teach or discuss political issues or to organise political activites, which must inevitably be controversial and complex, must mean that those issues will be taught and/or understood in a simplistic and an inadequate way.
§ Surely it is much better for our primary schools to concentrate on those subjects that are essential to the curriculum at primary school level, without which children are not equipped for the development of their studies at secondary school level. It is enough for our young children to attain numeracy, literacy and the beginnings of an appreciation of the natural world and our cultural heritage; they should not be distracted into concerns relating to political issues.
It may be helpful to the Committee if I give some indication of the kinds of politics which these amendments are designed to prevent, and I shall do so by offering four very brief examples. First of all, parents from a school in East London telephoned one of my colleagues with these worries:
I am an ordinary mum. I live in Bethnal Green and I do not like what is happening in our local primary school. We have two children there … The teachers wear CND badges. Our children, aged seven and eight, came home with CND badges and stickers. The teachers are a strong influence with their Left-wing views there. We don't like the atmosphere … our children used to be enthusiastic about learning … now it is different. I am frightened of the school. I do not go in to see the teachers now.
Another example is a letter which expresses this worry:
At the school which my greatniece attends in Lincoln, there is a drawing of Mrs. Thatcher on the wall with the words, 'She should have a bullet through her head'. It has been there for quite a while, yet no teacher has made a move to have it washed off".
§ A third example is one that was published in The Times Educational Supplement. It describes how at the William Patten Infants School in North London—note that it is an infants school—Miss Smidt, who is the head teacher there, during the miners' strike led the school in a half-day strike in support of the miners; the staff in that school also led a demonstration against an open day being held at the police station, and protested at invitations by the police for children to come and see how the police service works.
§ My final example refers to the Inner London Education Authority's Peace Education Resources List, part of which deals with material for primary schools. The list admits in its introduction that it is 594 indeed biased, with more items giving an anti-nuclear view, and that position is justified by claims that this bias balances an alleged bias in our media.
§ I have chosen those examples because each one illustrates a more general point. The first one illustrates a deep concern felt by parents over the politicisation of a primary school coupled with fear of intimidation which inhibits parents from making formal complaints. The second example shows that the general atmosphere in some of our schools, which goes beyond formal lessons, may pervade general activities and the whole school environment with political messages. Thirdly, there is the more contentious nature of some political activities which are manifestly politically partial and indoctrinatory. Finally, there is the explicit intention of some local education authorities to use their own teaching and resource materials for political purposes.
§ I know that it may be argued that it is impossible to keep politics out of primary schools. For example, it is said that history or geography cannot be taught without bringing in political isues. It is also argued that children themselves often introduce political topics. Having consulted head teachers of schools for children in this age range, I say in answer to these points that it is perfectly possible to teach subjects such as history and geography at the primary school level in a way that does not require complex political interpretation and analysis. Indeed, I have already argued that attempts to politicise such subjects are inappropriate for children of primary school age and lead to inevitable over-simplification and distortion. Also, if children themselves bring up political issues—for example, if children from a mining community bring up issues to do with a miners' strike—a teacher can quite appropriately provide a short, succinct, balanced and fair comment giving both sides of the question and then return as quickly as possible to the discussion on the main curriculum. There is no need whatever for teachers to introduce or encourage such discussions. Indeed, it would be preferable for all children of this age group if school could be a haven from the tensions and conflicts of the wider society.
§ In conclusion, I ask: how on earth can children of primary school age, from four to 11, really understand the complexity of political issues? Any attempt to encourage them to engage in such discussions and activities is bound to inculcate emotional, simplistic and prejudiced views, which is the very antithesis of the purpose of education as traditionally understood in this country. I beg to move.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
I should like to give this amendment my very strongest support. Having been a schoolmaster myself, I can speak with some authority when I say that politics have no place whatsoever in schools. Of course, young people will learn something about politics, not very accurately perhaps from their parents, but politics certainly have no place in schools. For one thing, one must remember that politics, when taught, will always be party politics; and, speaking for myself, I always think that party politics do more harm than good wherever they appear, though I do not suppose that many Members of the Committee will agree.
595 The point is that politics, when introduced into a school, can introduce dissensions between children and break up friendships which might have been formed. Worse still, of course, is the great likelihood—and it is happening on a very large scale today—of politics of the extreme Left being introduced surreptitiously and taught, I regret to say, by those members of staff who adhere to such views, with very great damage indeed to the outlook and balanced opinions of those who hear them. It is much better to ban politics from schools altogether.
§ Lord Charteris of Amisfield
I have no doubt that the public concern over the indoctrination of partisan political views in our schools is very soundly based. Indeed, it has been recognised by the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and I have a nasty feeling that it is on the increase. At the moment the indoctrination which is causing concern is the promotion of Left-wing revolutionary views. It would be just as objectionable if the views promoted were extreme Right-wing views. It is against both Right and Left-wing indoctrination that amendments Nos. 46 and 47, and amendments yet to come, are designed to protect us.
The two amendments which we are now discussing deal with primary schools; that is, with small children, who are enormously susceptible to what their teachers tell them. I think it is a responsibility of Parliament to give them more protection than they have at the moment. I do not believe that there is any serious opposition to the view that such indoctrination ought not to take place and ought to be stopped in a positive way, but of course the question is how best to do it. We are told that the Secretary of State already has adequate powers to stop this kind of thing. But it is not being stopped; on the contrary, it appears to be getting worse. It is obvious, therefore, that something more needs to be done. However difficult it may be to legislate in this kind of matter, I am convinced that legislation is necessary.
It is said, quite rightly, that if one wishes legislation to be effective, there must be evidence. In respect of Amendment No. 47—which is concerned specifically with partisan political activities in primary schools—I can see no difficulty in producing evidence if such activities are taking place. There should be little difficulty in getting evidence of political activities carried out by primary school children in or out of the classroom. If they come home in the evening plastered with CND badges, that surely is evidence. If they are taken out by their teachers to attend rallies, that is evidence.
I conclude that it may not be so easy to provide evidence of indoctrination in classrooms of secondary schools, but I should like to say something about that when we come to later amendments. However, I see no difficulty in regard to primary schools and I therefore give my wholehearted support to Amendments Nos. 46 and 47.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I should like to remind your Lordships' Committee of one dictum on this that the Jesuits always used to say: "Give me a child until he is six and he will never leave the fold".
§ The Earl of Onslow
My mathematics have always been bad. What is one year between friends? At that age children are very susceptible.
I have looked at some of these amendments and I think that the wording is horrendously difficult to get right, as was mentioned by the last noble Lord who spoke. But I think that we must be extremely careful somehow to go back to a sense of public service as opposed to party political indoctrination of all children in our schools. I think that we ought to remember the reference to the age of six—or is it seven?
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
I should like to take up the point that has been made by the noble Earl. Yes, take a child until the age of seven and you can have him for the rest of his life. But should we not ourselves think back to what we were taught between the ages of five and 11? Was that not partisan?
I take up the words of the noble Baroness who moved this amendment. She was talking about partisan teaching.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
I do not see a great deal of difference. I would suggest that the noble Baroness is talking about controversy.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
Let us agree that the indoctrination of any political, religious, or philosophical view is not education. I am speaking, as did the noble Lord who spoke previously, as somebody who has taken part in every stage of the education process. When the noble Baroness suggests that it is the task of teachers to prepare children for participation in life then, as the noble Earl has just said, it is no good introducing this after the age of 11. One has to start at the beginning, in the preparatory stage of a child's life. That does not mean political indoctrination. It does not mean teaching party politics. But it means activating a child's mind to the choices which will lie before that child when he becomes an adult. If one misses out that section of education, one is not preparing a child to live a full adult life in the adult world.
I said a few minutes ago, let each one of us think back to what we were taught between the ages of five and 11. Were we not taught about the glories of the British Empire? Were we not taught about the victories of British Armies in India? Were we not taught about the kind missionary work that came from British and other European sources to the benighted Africans of the African continent? We would not teach that today—at least I hope that we would not. There has been a change not only in teaching but also in understanding. I have witnessed the teaching of history and geography today and compared it with the kind of teaching that I experienced from the age of five to 11. I would now reject a great deal of that teaching, and so would the majority of teachers, historians or geographers, in this country.
597 The cultural understanding has changed. But we were not taught to question the validity and the glory of the British Empire. We were not taught about the acts that were committed by our own people, by other Europeans, or by peoples of other continents during the days of slavery or the conquest of India. We were not taught of the effect on the people of India of the destruction of the Indian textile trade, for instance. These values have changed. In those days had I been speaking in this way, I should have been called partisan. Today surely we accept that there are many different facets of the subjects of which I am talking that children must know about. They must see that there are choices, differences, options and opinions. They must consider those before they pass the age of seven, which the noble Earl has mentioned, and certainly by the age of 11.
The noble Baroness spoke of the teaching of our cultural heritage; yes, our cultural heritage—but in its place is the global heritage. That is not something which children of nine, 10 and 11 are too young to understand. They have more opportunity of understanding this today than had my generation and the generation of the vast majority of Members of this House because they are able to come into daily contact with people from other cultures. They travel a great deal more than we were able to do. It is surely a primary task of our education system to equip those children to be citizens of the world in which they have to live; that is a global world.
I have one final point to make. Most of the arguments which have been raised at both Second Reading and Committee stage on this issue of politics appear to assume that the danger in our education system is a danger from the Left. I do not believe in teaching Left-wing history or Right-wing history. I do not believe in teaching any kind of party political doctrine in the schools. However, I would suggest that the noble Baroness has been somewhat simplistic when giving instances—as have other noble Lords and Baronesses when they have given instances—always from what is termed "the Left wing".
§ 7 p.m.
§ However, the dangers do not just come from the Left wing; nor are they simply in the teaching in schools. The dangers also come from ideological consideration of the educational system, and I shall give the Committee one concrete and topical example because it comes from an area which tonight will decide the future of its schools. I speak of East Lindsey in the County of Lincolnshire.
For two or three years there have been arguments throughout the East Lindsey area about what kind of schools are most suitable for the children of that area. On one particular occasion when a decision was to be made, no agreement could be reached and the matter was postponed. I understand that a decision is to be made tonight. However, in the process of making that important decision for the new generation of children, scores and scores of meetings have been held, particularly meetings of parents, to decide the future of their children. In October 1984 the local Conservative Member of Parliament, Sir Peter Tapsell, lately of Mrs. Thatcher's Front Bench, said:
Whatever the majority opinion which may have been expressed at the meeting of parents … I cannot believe that it is worth the while of educational administrators wasting their time by putting up schemes for the closure of the Alford Grammar School
—a selective school.
As a statement of fact I can tell you that no councillor who supported such a proposal would be adopted to stand for the County Council Elections as a Conservative candidate in any part of the County embraced by the East Lindsey Conservative Association".
So much for the Left-wing danger.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I am sure that what Sir Peter Tapsell said was very important, but it has nothing to do with the teaching by school teachers of party politics to five year-olds. The noble Lord may be totally right about what Sir Peter Tapsell said, but he is surely straying, by a very circuitous route, away from the subject.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
I am simply pointing out that the danger to education in this country does not come solely from the Left wing and that the example of the local Member of Parliament speaking publicly and sending a letter to the Conservative association is the type of example which some members of the Conservative Party are setting before children at School. The danger does not come simply from the Left wing. As I pointed out earlier, first of all assumptions are made that it is not partisan to talk about the glories of the British Empire without at the same time pointing out the consequences of the British Empire.
§ Lord Somers
The noble Lord has already said everything at least three times. We are either convinced by what he says or we are not convinced.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
The danger does not come simply from the Left wing. Assumptions are made that what is conventional is non-partisan, and I have given the British Empire as one, but only one, example. The danger does not come simply from Left-wing activists who are influencing children in schools. I have given the further example of the Conservative Member of Parliament for that part of the country. I simply suggest that the noble Baroness is being both simplistic and partisan in the speech which she has made and in the amendment which she is moving.
I have listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, who apparently had a different kind of teacher when he was young from the kind that I had. It was my privilege to be nurtured in the schools of the Rhondda Valley. My credentials on this side should be very good indeed. I did not see a Conservative until I was 21! I have said this before to the noble Lord who sits here with me and who is a friend of mine. I found that the only difference was that the Conservatives had better suits than we did.
However, the question as regards teaching is this. Is there a problem of party politics being brought into our schools and, under this amendment, to our very young? Whether or not there is a problem, I believe that there is widespread feeling throughout the country that there is. That is one fact. People believe that there are teachers who are using their privileged office to give their party views to the children.
599 I can think of no greater privilege than for total strangers to entrust their children to you for you to influence their minds and their thinking. The teacher is a greatly privileged person. He is a trusted person and no one with a sense of responsibility would want to bring in party politics for the very young.
British Empire indeed! I used to enjoy the holiday on Empire Day. We do not get a holiday on Commonwealth Day. I honestly believe that this Committee and this House should declare that we feel instinctively that it is wrong and dishonourable for a man in a privileged position, in a class with an audience who cannot escape him, to push his views or peddle his political beliefs.
I believe that this amendment will carry the feeling of the country and I hope that it carries the feeling of that side of the Committee as much as the other side. In a world of change—and my word! things are changing rapidly—there are some permanents, and one is that our young have a right to go to school and their parents should feel that their children are safe there. They get party politics at home. I had mine at home and the honourable gentleman, or rather the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, (my yesterdays came back!) had his at home.
I have followed in the debate in this Committee the Lord Provost of Eton. It is a saying of mine when I am in the Rhondda, "If you cannot get in at Tonypandy Grammar, then try Eton". This is a democratic Chamber. Our people are democratic by instinct. If our teachers are to be trusted, they must not resent the fact that we say keep party politics away from our little ones in school.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
When on 5th February my noble friend Lady Cox moved her Motion on political indoctrination in the schools I think the House concluded, on the whole, that she had made her case. There are certain education authorities which deliberately plan to undermine the basic values on which our democracy is built, and there are certain teachers who distort the facts and teach history according to their personal bias. When my noble friend Lord Tonypandy asks whether there is a problem, the answer must be, yes, there is a problem of indoctrination in the schools.
In that debate I proposed an inquiry, and I had two reasons in mind. The first was to establish the facts as valid in the public mind. That is always necessary. Secondly, I hoped that an inquiry would be able to advise a way in which we might proceed without involving the necessity to define what should and should not be taught under the broad heading of politics in our schools in statutory form. That is extremely difficult to do, as the wording of the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lady Cox and other noble Lords proves.
My anxiety is broadly about the wording of these amendments. I do not like words which, for example, forbid discussion of this or that in statutory form. That is a bit too near what we rightly criticise other political systems for doing. We should get into considerable difficulty if we embarked on that.
600 I would rather therefore that we should be able to deal with this matter administratively, through guidance from the Minister for Education to the education authorities, and the school inspectors reinforcing his advice. But I am bound to say that I am not at all sure whether the situation has not gone beyond this. My noble friends may have a point when they say so.
I intervene now only because I hope that my noble friend Lady Cox will not press us to a decision on any of these amendments today. I should like to see an attempt to get the wording better than the wording in any of these amendments. I do not believe that the wording is right at present. I hope that at the Report stage we may be able to have words which are more acceptable, because we are in danger when we try to define what should be taught under the heading of politics. You cannot avoid teaching political subjects in our schools today, and we need to be more careful how we define the words that we use in a statute.
§ Lord Parry
I too should like to support the contention put forward by the noble Lord the former Prime Minister. I support what he has said and the great wisdom of his caution. All our yesterdays came back when my dear and noble friend spoke in the accents of the Rhondda—not only his yesterdays, but ours; the schools that we were taught in and the teachers by whom we were taught, and for me too the years that I taught in schools when I was committed deeply to my own politics but despised anyone who would attempt to teach his, or mine, in the classrooms in which I taught.
There is no division in this Committee, no matter what impression we might sometimes give, because I would hope that here we are all deeply committed to the democracy that gives us the opportunity to speak. It would be tragic if the view went out from here that somehow the Opposition in this House and the Government were divided as to whether the children of this country should be taught specious party politics in the schools.
It is therefore a great relief to me to follow the wisdom of the former Prime Minister and to accept that we should now get different wording which would express the view of the whole House about its contempt for teaching children party political doctrines.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
The noble Lord has done us a great service by adding his words. During the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, at the beginning of February, in which my noble friend played such a distinguished part, there was a feeling of slight disappointment that we had not built some bridges of understanding when there was a great deal of understanding across the Floor of this House and between the political parties. I feel sure that we are talking for a lot of parents, grandparents and others who are deeply disturbed at the way political control and ultra-political indoctrination are going on in our schools. That is not just thought up. What is sad is that Ministers still do not seem to have got this message.
I should like to take two brief examples. First, there was, as reported in the Daily Mail only last Thursday, 601 the case in a nursery school. If we are going to look at the wording of an amendment for the Report stage, and probably have to vote on it, perhaps the provision ought to be broadened away from primary schools to include even nursery schools. Here was a much loved matron being driven out after 20 years' service in a nursery school because she objected to children from six months to five years being taken out to demonstrate in front of Islington Town Hall against rate capping. She took the posters down from the nursery. As a result of that she has been hounded out and her case is now being considered by a tribunal. It is symptomatic that this is happening even at the nursery stage, and we ought to do something about it.
The second case came from Parliament Hill Fields school, and I have mentioned it as concerns children aged 11 plus onwards. Here again there is indoctrination. This is in line with the GLC's new curriculum as outlined in a booklet called Imposed Secondary Education. It goes back to the younger age groups.
It says to the five year-olds:You must go to school or other full-time education. You can drink alcohol legally in private. You can see a U or a PG category film, but the cinema manager has discretion over admitting you".Then it goes on for the seven year-olds:You can now draw money from your Post Office, or the Trustee Savings Bank. You can be convicted of a criminal offence. You can buy a pet without your parent being present".It is never duties or responsibilities but always your rights. As I mentioned previously, at later ages the 15 and 16 year-olds are told, and encouraged, that they can now go into a brothel without their parents' consent if they wish to, and drink and smoke and do everything else.
There is indoctrination, and I hope that my noble friend will take this message. I understand that this particular brochure coming from Parliament Hill Fields school is at the moment subject to investigation by the Secretary of State. But the message does not seem to be coming up to the private offices of the Under-Secretaries and the Secretary of State himself. He says "I haven't got evidence"; we pour evidence on him. All the parents, all sorts of people, can give him evidence.
Surely after some years of this, and after what is going on in ILEA and other Left-wing controlled organisations, we could come together with a feeling of unity. This is the moment, and this is the sort of amendment which would stop what we all abhor in our educational system.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
I cannot refrain from doing a bit of teaching this evening to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby. He was talking of the glories of the British Empire. Might I ask him whether he was ever in any of our colonies before we gave them away? If he was, and if he saw them now as republics, he would be shocked by the great deterioration in the people. I shall not go on to that, but I would just say that the great majority of the people in our former empire would be very pleased to come back under the administration of Britain.
I thoroughly support the amendment. I shall speak for a short time on it. I always understood that the object of education was to educate. Before one can 602 choose a political party one has to be educated. Perhaps I am biased, but I think Latin is a good way of being educated though I was rather poor at it. It is essential that history, arithmetic, mathematics and a great number of other subjects are learnt first. If one is to be taught partisan politics when one is very young (as we have already heard, a child does not have the knowledge to be able to choose) that would be wasting time which could be spent on being properly educated.
We cannot have partisan politicisation of young people. I reckon that by the time someone is 16, when, apart from the independent schools, the average person leaves school, if his education has been properly managed he ought to be able to choose for himself about political parties. We have one great drawback in this country. We are an urban country and it is more difficult to understand the scheme of things if one has not been brought up in the country. Therefore it is far more important for us—more than for other countries—to have a good education.
I fully support the amendment. I agree that perhaps tonight is not the time to move it, but I hope that at Report something akin to these two amendments will be accepted.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I speak briefly as one of the signatories to one of the amendments before the Committee. I agreed very much with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in moving the amendment, and also with the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. The noble Viscount's speech carried with it the overwhelming majority of support in this Committee. There is, as he said, a real problem. I hope that when the Government come to respond to this amendment they will speak in the context of that situation. Nothing is more pointless than to have this constant request for more and more examples. Examples are given and then one is asked for more and more examples. It is a rather circular situation.
I also agreed very much with the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, when he said that what we were talking about was not simply Left-wing extremism, though that is certainly a problem. One is talking about any group of political ideologues who attempt to influence children at this age. The noble Lord made that clear, and I agree with him. Then I come to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Home. I agree with him that the language of these amendments could be more happily expressed. I suspect that the noble Baroness is not inviting the Committee to decide on this matter tonight, in any event. But if we are to achieve better language I hope that the Government will make some contribution as to how this matter could most satisfactorily be dealt with. I hope we shall hear that from the Minister when he comes to respond.
We have to recognise that there is a great deal of public concern that this attempt to influence children is proceeding, admittedly in a limited number of areas; but it is a problem which is getting significantly worse. On an occasion such as this, when we are talking about the structure of future education in this country, it is essential that we now get this matter right. I hope, therefore, that the Government will respond positively to this debate.
§ Viscount Trenchard
I am known to support this amendment, those later on secondary schools, and Amendment No. 54 on the right of parents to know what the curriculum involves. The only word I want to add, because I should simply be echoing rather inadequately the fine words that much more important people than I have already spoken, is to go over the case for amendments along these lines. I want to suggest that we must be careful about saying, "Take the words away, look at them and produce new words". I expect that noble Lords have taken their pens out already on the words that are before us and tried to scribble better ones. In any particular form of words, we have a real problem to produce them in a form in which they cannot be misread if someone wants to misread them. That is an easy situation for those who do not want to do anything about this growing and serious situation to resist any amendment.
If one considers it the other way and if we choose in combination words which are reasonable, I believe that the sentiments of professional educationists up and down this country and of people of good will of all ilks, who are in the majority, will make sure that any reasonable words are used for what they are intended—merely as a peg on which men of good will can hang their efforts to prevent the abuse of the education system.
§ The Earl of Swinton
I am afraid that I have to start with a rather negative attitude to Amendment No. 46 because it has been moved with Amendment No. 47. Amendment No. 46 is the one which would exclude the teaching or discussion of politics from the secular curriculum of any maintained primary school.
Topics which may be a matter of political disagreement inevitably arise even in the primary classroom. They will very often be raised by the children themselves as a result of the things they have heard their parents say, of what they have seen on television, or of what is happening locally. My noble friend referred to what might happen at a village school in a pit village during the miners' strike. She explained exactly how that sort of thing could happen. Doubtless also, children who saw Bob Geldof's Live Aid concert last year will have asked questions about the needs of the third world and the extent to which they are being assisted by the wealthier nations.
Nor is it just a matter of responding to questions. The White Paper Better Schools states the Government's view that within the primary curriculum there should be opportunities to learn about the nature of the values of British society, and that pupils should be given insight into the adult world. It is hard to see how any of those things can be dealt with in the primary classroom without getting into political issues at least some of the time. The point, though, is first that those issues need to be dealt with impartially and objectively; and, secondly, that they should be tackled at a level and in a way suited to the maturity and understanding of the children. I do not think noble Lords should underestimate the capacity of primary-aged pupils to reach their own balanced understanding of political issues. As with other aspects of the curriculum, we do them a great disservice if we have too low an expectation of what they can achieve.
604 Amendment No. 47, like Amendments Nos. 48 and 49, to which we shall turn after a slight break, is an amendment with whose aims the Government entirely agree, but, for reasons which my noble friend Lord Home expressed as well as anyone, the Government cannot support it. Indeed, the amendment concerns partisan political activities in primary schools. The Government do not accept that secondary schools should support such activities either.
Here I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, on one point he made, whether this came from the Right or from the Left. However, we should allow for activities such as mock elections. While each of these amendments, Nos. 47, 48 and 49, makes different proposals for the elimination of indoctrination in schools, the reasons the Government cannot accept them are very similar. My remarks now are therefore relevant to a great extent to all three amendments.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
I wonder whether my noble friend would allow me to say this. I am sure that he is trying to help the Committee, but this is creating some confusion. At the moment only Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 have been discussed, and there are quite separate issues to be raised on Amendments Nos. 48 and 49. I hope that he will not feel that by trying to deal with all four of them now he is closing the Government's mind.
§ The Earl of Swinton
No, he is not! What he is trying to do, to save all your Lordships' time in what looks as though it will be a session going on probably until the early hours of tomorrow morning, is to explain why we feel that the legislation elements which are common to all of them are not the appropriate way to proceed. Of course, I shall be replying to all of them and listening very carefully to what is said.
I am sure that we are all concerned to ensure that our children are protected in the schools from any attempt to indoctrinate them and from the biased or distorted teaching of politically controversial issues. While very few teachers would have any such intent, there is growing concern that a minority of politically active members of the teaching force do so. The Government are very conscious of the growing concern about these matters which was given recent expression in your Lordships' House (to which many of the speakers tonight referred) both in the debate on 5th February and at the Second Reading of this Bill.
In recognition of this concern, they have issued a draft circular and a statement of principles to be used in dealing with politically controversial issues in schools and colleges. People, both during the debate and informally, have said to me that they do not think that that statement will be much of an influence. But I think that it will be a great influence if an agreed set of principles can be endorsed by the education partners. Neither should we underestimate the contribution which Clauses 16 to 18 of this Bill will make, if they become law, towards the avoidance of bias and distortion in the teaching of politically controversial issues.
As my noble friend Lady Young has said in the debate on the last amendment, these clauses provide a system of checks and balances in which the agreement 605 of at least two of the partners is required. For example, a local authority could not require the teaching of peace studies in a school if the governors and the head did not agree that it should be included in the curriculum. The Government have promised to consider seriously the suggestion made by many Members of your Lordships' House in the debate on 5th February that an inquiry should be held. I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Home in his usual wise and statesmanlike way for referring to that and for the remarks that he made.
There are considerable legal objections to using legislation as a means of preventing the sort of biased and politically partisan teaching which we deplore. Some stem from the considerable difficulties in drafting legislation which, on the one hand would be easily enforceable, and, on the other, would not stifle or inhibit responsible discussion and the teaching of politically controversial issues which is part of the educational process in a free and open society such as ours. One of my noble friends mentioned that it should be possible to produce something for men of good will. I would make the point to your Lordships that if we had men of good will teaching and men of good will not producing this problem we would not need this legislation, anyway. We have to try to prevent something which will stand up to men of ill will and stop them doing their ill deeds. That is what it is all about.
§ Lord Parry
Will the noble Earl not reconsider what he has just said, and would he add weight to the fact that we know that there are very many men of good will and women of good will who are teaching and that there are very few but very active people who teach party politics in schools?
§ The Earl of Swinton
I entirely agree. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, reinforces my point. It is for that small minority that we have to try to get something that will work in law. It is not for the great majority who are the sort of teachers which the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, and the noble Lord, Lord Parry, remember having been taught by and probably teaching us themselves. It is not those sort of people that we are after. It is the people who will try to find a way through the legislation.
§ Viscount Trenchard
Since my noble friend referred to my remarks, I would remind him that I suggested that the men of good will who are in a majority be given a peg which will help them to control the activities of the minority, which are spreading.
§ The Earl of Swinton
I am very greatful to my noble friend Lord Trenchard. This is just the sort of peg that we are trying to get through in this statement. It is just the sort of thing that we are trying to encourage so that there will, it is hoped, be an agreed statement in which everyone will know where they stand. This will help those people who are worried to come forward.
The noble Lords and the noble Baroness who proposed these amendments have made a valiant attempt to overcome these problems. However, I must point out that if the amendment were passed, the courts would have to deal with all the subtleties and 606 interrelated aspects of individual cases which came to judicial review for decision by the Secretary of State that an LEA was, or, for that matter, was not, in default. I have to say that I wonder what in these circumstances the courts would make of a phrase such as "partisan political activities". Moreover, however legislation is formulated, the courts inevitably will be required to determine whether or not a school had in practice pursued partisan political activities.
I fear that such decisions could be seen by those who disagreed with them as themselves constituting the taking of a political stance by the courts although the Government have considered very seriously the possibility of legislating in this area. My right honourable friend has concluded for all these reasons that neither of the amendments proposed by my noble friend nor any others that we have so far considered avoid the range of risks that I have described.
I must therefore urge the noble Baroness, my noble friend and other noble Lords to withdraw their amendments. However, legislation is not the only means of tackling indoctrination. If my right honourable friend is supplied with specific documented evidence that deliberate political indoctrination or subversion is taking place in identified schools and classrooms—
§ Lord Renton
Could my noble friend be so kind as to help us by reading what he has to say at about half the speed at which he is going?
§ The Earl of Swinton
I shall do my best. I apologise. I must take issue, I think, with some of my noble friends, with my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and also with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, about the fact that my colleagues are asking for evidence and when we produce it, we do not act on it but ask for more. Perhaps I could just mention the examples that have been produced tonight. I think of the William Patten school to which my noble friend referred, where the head teacher Miss Smidt was reported to have led pupils on demonstrations and to have advocated Left-wing bias in the teaching.
The Government deplore any attempt by teachers to involve pupils of any age in political action. I understand that when the activities reported in the press last year at William Patten Infant School came to the attention of ILEA, they took prompt and appropriate action. In addition, the head teacher was reminded that controversial issues should be dealt with in a balanced way when they came up in the course of teaching.
My noble friend also raised the question of CND stickers at Bethnal Green School. My right honourable friend will certainly look into this allegation if she sends him specific detailed evidence. My right honourable friend is currently investigating allegations relating to the City School at Lincoln, and finally the example that my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing mentioned. I think that he, himself, said that my noble friend is looking into this and, of course, as soon as we have anything, we will tell the noble Lord about it.
We are not complacent. I shall try not to get that impression across—
§ Noble Lords: Oh!607
§ The Earl of Swinton
We are not complacent. I thoroughly take all that my noble friend Lord Home has said. We shall try working at it. But I do not honestly think that the particular legislation as suggested tonight is the right way. I am grateful to hear all round that my noble friend is not going to press this and perhaps we would not win it if she did. But that is not the real reason. I think we are trying as hard as we can. We realise that it exists and that it is an extremely worrying subject.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
Can my noble friend help us before we leave this matter? I do not know what my noble friend Lady Cox will decide; but what I am trying to get is sympathy for, and understanding of, the fact that politics, when taught in schools, must be taught with objectivity and without political bias. I think on both sides of the Committee we are looking for words to express that which can be put into the Bill. If my noble friend can give some indication that he will look at that conception sympathetically, I think we shall go away happier than we are at present.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I hope the noble Earl will take seriously what the noble Lord, Lord Home, has just said. There is strong support for doing something in this area. I think most of us recognise that drafting this is difficult and extremely complex, but I hope he will accept the general sense of the Committee over this question and give an undertaking to look at this matter and try to come forward with something incorporating the language just used by the noble Lord, Lord Home.
§ Lord Renton
Will my noble friend also bear in mind that the debate to which he has replied has dealt with primary schools and there has been a feeling expressed in all quarters of the Committee that primary schools are a somewhat different issue from other schools—from secondary schools? Although we bear in mind the constructive views put forward, for example, just now by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, we feel that these are separate issues. The primary school is the one to consider first, then perhaps after Dinner we can consider the others.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Will my noble friend allow me to put a hypothetical question to him? I do not know whether he saw the article by Bernard Levin the other day which was showing how entryism by the Militant Tendency in the North-West of England was to control the governors and the headmaster. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that they acquire that control and then appoint somebody like the school teacher who said at the Conference of the National Union of Teachers that the Secretary of State was to education what AIDS was to Rock Hudson. That cannot be other than deeply offensive. If somebody like that is the sort of person those entryists want to appoint as headmaster, how under the present legislation are we to stop that man running a curriculum which introduces hard, nasty politics, whether of the Right or the Left—I do not know which—into the curriculum? How are we to stop that without legislation?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I hate to delay the Committee at this hour, but silence from this Dispatch 608 Box could well be misinterpreted. I want to make it absolutely clear, as I have on each occasion I have had the opportunity when the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has raised this matter, that we on this side are totally opposed to political indoctrination and to partisan political indoctrination in any of our schools at all ages. I said so when the noble Baroness raised the matter in December; I said so when she raised it during the debate in February. I would have said so, had I not spoken before her, when she raised it on the Second Reading of this Bill. There is no equivocation whatsoever in our attitude; but I am bound to say it does not follow from that that we believe the amendments which are being put forward, or indeed which could be put forward, and which are intended to inhibit the discussion of political matters represent the right approach.
I believe the Government took a useful step forward in February when they announced their prospective guidelines for consultation on political education. We believe that political education is necessary in the school system. Let me make it clear that it ought not be excluded from our schools. That has been said not only by the noble Baroness but by every authority on the issue from Her Majesty's Inspectorate to the Crowther Report and the Swann Report. On every occasion when those concerned with education have debated these matters they have said that political education is an important part of our schools.
The only issue between us is whether it can be achieved by means of prohibition in legislation or is better achieved through the work of the inspectorate, by advisory teachers helping the inspectorate, by the additional authority which is being given to governing bodies in this Bill, which ought to be valuable for this purpose, and by a commitment to investigate special complaints. We shall come back to the subject of a young persons' ombudsman at the Report stage.
All these are more effective ways of achieving the objectives that are widely sought in this Chamber than the prohibitive legislation that is sought in these amendments. The danger of wording of this kind is that it goes from the curriculum to reading lists, for example. I remember, on first going to secondary school, seeing books set in the curriculum that included The Case for Conservatism by Quintin Hogg and Labour Marches On by John Parker. I forget the Liberal version, but I believe there was one. They were partisan political documents and they were set as part of the curriculum because it was thought that pupils in schools ought to be informed about political issues.
When the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment, as I sincerely hope she will, I trust she will not indicate her intention to come back with comparable amendments later but will indicate a desire to cooperate with all of us who are concerned in more practical ways to eliminate indoctrination and to encourage genuine debate and discussion on political issues in our schools.
§ Lord Tordoff
Before the noble Lord sits down, may I assure him that after John Stuart Mill we did not need lesser authors?
§ The Earl of Swinton
I should like to reply briefly to four questions which have been raised. My noble 609 friend Lord Renton asked whether we were not straying from primary education on to secondary. Having listened to what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said, I think that perhaps we are. I hope I was not guilty of it. I was trying to answer both amendments: the one about no political activity in primary schools and the other concerned with no party political activities. Those were the two points I was trying to get at.
My noble friend Lord Onslow asked me a hypothetical question. If I was sensible I should say that I never answer hypothetical questions, but I suggest that he reads this Bill. This is what it is all about—to try to get governing bodies made up of people in the community, of parents, teachers and other people who are not dominated, as some are now, by LEA representatives. That is what the whole thing is about.
My noble friend Lord Home and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked whether I would take this away and come back at a later stage. Of course I will. We will try as hard as we can. I explained why I think "party political" would be a difficult term to have in the Bill. That is among the terms suggested by my noble friend. But we shall take this away and see whether we can get further.
§ Baroness Cox
I am most grateful for that last-minute reassurance from my noble friend, but before I conclude may I clarify two points which I think are of great importance? First, I should like to underline the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, that those of us who are concerned about the misuse of political issues in our schools are concerned about them from whichever end of the political spectrum such influences might come.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, accused me of bias in the examples which I used. But I use only those examples which come my way, and it so happens that de facto—and I regret it—the examples which come my way are at the moment from the Left of the political spectrum. If they were to come from the Right, I should be equally forthcoming in presenting them as causes for concern. I would rather suggest that the enormously convoluted circumlocutions to which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, had to resort in order to give us an example of influence from the Right (which had nothing whatever to do with primary schools) endorse my perception that most of the problems at the moment, unfortunately, are from the Left. But, as I said, the concern is there, from whatever part of the political spectrum it has come.
With regard to the point made by my noble friend the Minister concerning the panacea of guidelines, I have indicated that I welcome those guidelines as a clarification and perhaps also as some kind of framework to help those people who are having to cope, especially at secondary school level, and deal with politically controversial subjects in our schools. Those guidelines may well help to give a framework for those charged with that responsibility and also for parents of pupils who are worried when they feel there might be some unacceptable bias being introduced. I do not reject the concept of guidelines, but perhaps I may say I believe that they are in no way an alternative to enshrining in legislation a principle to which we are all committed in all parts of the Chamber, as far as I 610 can see. I am very grateful for the widespread support for the spirit of the amendment that has been expressed from all parts of your Lordships' Chamber. I am heartened by that.
I take serious note of the points about the wording of the draft amendment that have been raised. I accept that it is far from perfect and therefore I am willing to withdraw it. Cheered by the undertaking given by my noble friend the Minister in the very last minute of his contribution I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Denham
In moving that the House do now resume it might be helpful to your Lordships if I say that we shall not resume this Committee stage before 8.50 p.m. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.