§ House again in Committee.
§ Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 92A:
§ After Clause 43, insert the following new clause:
§ ("First aid skills in schools.
§ .—Every Local Education Authority shall secure that, where no qualified medical personnel are available in a school, sufficient members of staff (at least one per school, the level of provision to be approved by the Health and Safety Executive) shall be trained in first aid skills to a standard to be approved by the Health and Safety Executive.")
§ The noble Baroness said: I shall speak only briefly to this amendment because its purpose is self-evident and I gave some of the more detailed reasons during my speech at Second Reading. I would therefore merely remind the Committee that there is an urgent need for legislative provision to ensure that there is first aid cover in our schools. At present although teachers are covered by legal requirements in their status as employees, there is no such provision for pupils. Some teachers, from a sense of professional responsibility, have of their own volition taken courses in first aid and a diminishing number of schools still have a school nurse. But in many schools there is no one with the necessary knowledge and skill to cope with emergencies—emergencies in which failure to provide the right treatment in the crucial early minutes could result in unnecessary loss of life, brain damage or other permanent injury.
§ The need for first aid expertise is made all the more urgent by the disturbing growth of violence in many of our schools. A recent report by one of the teachers' unions, the NAS-UWT, has given details of an alarming increase in serious injuries such as stabbings being inflicted by pupils on other pupils in some of our schools. But even apart from that worrying development, every day in every school, however well ordered, pupils are inevitably exposed to potentially dangerous situations—for example, to burns from acids or other strong chemicals in laboratories; to cuts from broken glass; to burns in schools' domestic science kitchens; or to injury during hard body-contact games.
§ The fact that ambulance services may be able to be on the scene in a fairly short time is no responsible solution. If a child starts to haemorrhage or stops breathing, it is the first few minutes which are all-important. If a child fractures, say, a rib, mishandling can lead to a perforated lung. If a child is scalded, the wrong treatment can lead to exacerbation of tissue damage and could increase the likelihood of permanent scarring, and so on.464
§ I could continue for a long time with a list of potentially devastating serious results of failure to provide the right treatment in an emergency. I know the noble Lord, Lord Rea, from the opposite Benches would have made another point in this connection. It refers to the consequence in many cases where an injury has occurred, where teachers, because there is no one on the spot to provide first aid, have to take a child to either a GP or a hospital's accident or emergency clinic for treatment. That treatment could have been better applied at school. The child and the parents are worried by having to go to a hospital or to a doctor, and of course having to take the child there is a totally unnecessary waste of expensive medical time and of the teacher's time.
§ I was amazed when I learnt that schools do not now have to provide first aid cover for children as well as for teachers. It seems extraordinary that we put teachers' wellbeing above that of the children for whom the schools are in loco parentis. If parents were aware of this situation, I believe they would be horrified and furious. Surely we cannot continue to tolerate this situation; and this Bill provides us with an opportunity to remedy this totally unacceptable anomaly.
§ If my noble friend the Minister replies to the effect that there is not the money to make this provision, perhaps I may point out that there is money in the education support grants which could be used and also that the magnificent voluntary organisations such as the St. John Ambulance Association and the British Red Cross Society are willing to help to provide the necessary training as economically as possible. Therefore the costs of providing for skilled first aid cover are relatively cheap, but the price of failing to do so could be incalculable in human terms. The question surely must be not whether the Government can afford to accept the amendment, or something on similar lines, but whether they can afford not to do so, not only in human terms (which are the most important) but also in economic and political terms.
§ I know that noble Lords in every part of your Lordships' Committee have pledged strong support for this amendment. I sincerely hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree that the time is ripe for us, as a nation, to accept this responsibility for our children's safety and that he will not require us to show our support for this amendment in the Division Lobby, if not tonight. then at the Report stage. I beg to move.
§ Lord Taylor of Blackburn
I, too, very strongly support this new clause, but I should like to have a definition of the word "staff". Is the noble Baroness referring just to the teaching staff, or is she referring also to such people as a good caretaker (who probably is there much longer than other members of the staff), a school secretary (who again may be there much longer), or a groundsman, in the case of an accident in the school grounds? If the noble Baroness intends the new clause to cover a wide conception of staff in that way. I support it completely.
§ Baroness Cox
I am happy to cover it in those terms. The important thing is that there should be someone on the site, readily available to give emergency treatment in those crucial first minutes and who is 465 qualified according to the appropriate standard recognised by the Health and Safety Executive.
§ Baroness Hylton-Foster
I also should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and I should like to do so in addition on behalf of the British Red Cross Society. It has always been surprising to us that the care of children in schools did not come under the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981. I know that the Red Cross and, I am sure, our colleagues in St. John, have already succeeded in training teachers in first aid who now also teach children as part of the curriculum. Why do we think this is necessary? It is because children in these modem times are exposed to a great many hazards, such as accidents in laboratories, with gas and electricity in cooking classes,by using sewing machines, on the playing fields, on expeditions or in coaches and arising from violence in schools. There are of course also the health hazards which have already been mentioned, such as diabetes, probably followed by a coma, heart attacks, fits and so on.
On all these occasions immediate first aid treatment—immediate and correct first aid treatment—can sometimes save lives as well as nearly always avoid complications. Saving life can cost money; but may I remind the Government and the health authorities of their responsibilities to other people's children? I ask the Minister to give this amendment serious consideration.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
The noble Baroness who moved the amendment is under no illusions that I share in any way her general views on education; in fact I am totally opposed to them. Nevertheless, on this amendment I give her 100 per cent. support, and I do so partly for personal reasons. I have spent a considerable part of my life in various functions within the game of rugby football. As a boy at school during a match I had an injury which 20 years later was diagnosed as a broken neck. I know there will be some noble Lords on the other side of the Committee who consider that it was not broken quite far enough. I am sure the noble Baroness is not one of those, but I am not so sure about the Front Bench. However, injuries are not an unusual occurrence in the game of rugby. My injury was not diagnosed because I was carried off the field, which I should not have been, and taken by car to the local hospital, which I should not have been, and there the injury was misdiagnosed. I am stuck with that for the rest of my life.
A much more serious accident occurred a few years later during another match, in which one of the opposing team also sustained a broken neck and died two days later. He was also carried off the field and, to my horror, he was carried off the field by medical students. He should never have been touched. I could go on: I remember a cricket incident where an umpire (a fairly old man) was hit very severely behind the head, but we had sufficient knowledge to leave him there and to call the ambulance. Nevertheless he never worked again.
Those kind of accidents will occur in sport. Sport is an essential part of the education system. When I gave up playing rugby, I refereed for many years, and I refereed many school matches. I was always horrified 466 at the lack of skilled medical attention on the touchline whenever there was an injury.
There is only one consideration here that I should like to put to the noble Baroness. I think the amendment probably needs a little clearer definition of health training. When we were refereeing—and I may say that at that time I was refereeing in conjunction with somebody who has become well known since then, Mr. Denis Thatcher (I keep curious company)—as London referees at school matches all over the country the one thing we would never do if there appeared to be serious injury was to allow St. John's Ambulance men to treat it, because they were simply not trained sufficiently to treat any serious injury. It might have required an ambulance; it certainly required a qualified doctor.
In supporting the noble Baroness in this amendment, I am wondering whether on consideration she might not think that the situation is so serious in schools where sport is played that there should be a clearer definition of the kind of medical training that should be essential for at least one member of staff, or preferably two as a cover. Many of these injuries cannot be diagnosed simply; they cannot be diagnosed without a full medical training. It may be that in a school having over a certain number of pupils it should be a requirement that there should be a fully trained doctor available, particularly during sports periods.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ritchie of Dundee
I had not intended to speak on this amendment, but I think it would be quite inappropriate if a word were not said from these Benches in total support of the noble Baroness. Lady Cox. I have nothing very exciting to add to what has already been said by noble Lords, except that I do recollect on many occasions having to supervise swimming at school. I do not think swimming has been mentioned. I was always in dread and fear of having to cope with an accident which involved drowning or half drowning. That is yet another thing that can arise.
Another point that could be made is that it would give much more confidence to teachers who were supervising playgrounds or out-of-school activities if they felt that there was somebody around who could cope with an emergency. Of course, it is no good having a member of staff trained in first aid if he or she is not on the premises. One would have to stipulate that such a member was at all times on the premises when the children were there, which might give rise to further complications. However, in general I should like to express my full support for the amendment.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
If noble Lord are wondering why I have wandered for a moment from my job as a Whip on the Front Bench, it is to give my support to this amendment, based on a programme which was on television at the weekend. I do not know whether any noble Lords or noble Baronesses saw the programme, which showed a number of young people suffering from spinal injuries and broken necks from the rugby field who were literally paralysed for the rest of their lives. The subject of the programme was rather different. It concerned the question of insurance, to 467 allow them, though totally paralysed from the neck downwards, to carry on through life with some sort of financial support rather than just being confined to a single room for the rest of their days. If this amendment can help in even the smallest way to eliminate that, I think it is worthy of support, and I hope your Lordships will bear with me for having moved from my position on the Front Bench as a Whip just for a few moments.
§ Baroness Young
I am sure the whole Committee will have considerable sympathy with the spirit of the amendment which has been proposed by my noble friend Lady Cox. The safety of our schoolchildren is a matter of the greatest concern, and it is right that we should take this opportunity to consider whether the present arrangements relating to it are sufficient or whether they could be improved by legislation along the lines proposed. Perhaps I may say right at the beginning that I am a very great admirer of the work that is done both by the Red Cross—I know, having heard Lady Hylton-Foster speak of the important role that she plays as, I think, president of the Red Cross—and by the St. John's Ambulance. I am sure all of us are full of admiration for the voluntary work that they do on so very many occasions in our country, and we fully appreciate the offer that they have made about training suitable people for this task.
What I should like to do in response to the amendment, because I think it is a very serious one, and I want to show that the Government do indeed take this matter very seriously, is to set out just what the current provisions are, for there are already a number of legislative provisions. First of all, there are common law requirements which are relevant to the question. In the first place, under the duty of care which each local education authority and its head teachers and other teachers owe to the children in their charge, there is a requirement that reasonable and sensible provision shall be made for the children's health and welfare. This is a most important common law right and duty.
To turn to the statutory requirements, it is sometimes said—indeed, I think the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said this—that the main piece of legislation in this field, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, applies only to employees in their place of work, and that it does not offer any protection to others such as children at school. That is by no means the case: the Act lays down health and safety requirements not only for employees but also for "persons other than persons at work" (Section 1(b)); similar requirements in rather more detail are also found in Sections 3 and 7 of the Act, for example. It is hard to see how authorities could hope to discharge these various duties without taking proper measures to ensure that suitably trained staff are available where required.
Noble Lords may ask, however, how far these various requirements actually affect the provision which is made. I must acknowledge that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State does not at present collect detailed statistical information about the qualifications of this kind held by the teaching force or of their distribution through the school system. Nevertheless, there is a good deal of informa- 468 tion available from the observations and other work of Her Majesty's Inspectorate which points to the conclusion that the great majority of schools (and of further education colleges—though these are not mentioned in the amendment of the noble Baroness) take their responsibilities properly and seriously. This picture indicates that the minimum provision put forward by the noble Baroness would be very much less than is the general practice in our schools and colleges. Indeed, it may help noble Lords to know that my right honourable friend's department already publishes and has published for many years a series of booklets of guidance on various safety matters, one of which is specifically on the question of first aid in educational establishments. This advice is reviewed, corrected and updated from time to time as required.
If I may just look in detail at the noble Baroness's amendment, first, there is always the danger in setting a minimum standard at a very modest level that that standard will come to be seen as the most appropriate level of provision when a well-run school is already likely to be much better off in this respect.
Secondly, the Government consider it inappropriate to intervene in great detail through statutory means in the provision of educational services which would best be provided for flexibly in accordance with local needs. It seems to me that the arrangements we already have are adequate—general requirements enforcing the need to act in a proper way, regularly published advice on points that need to be observed, particularly on new developments, and considerable latitude to implement arrangements in a way which meets local circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, and I usually disagree on all matters, but, having said that, I would not have wished that fate to befall him on the rugger field. He raised the point of having suitably qualified staff. I am not sure that the amendment would meet his case, because it provides that where there are no qualified medical personnel available in the school—I take it that that is not defined and means somebody who is either a qualified doctor or nurse—there should be somebody qualified in first aid. But there is no evidence to show that the person qualified in first aid would have been able to make the judgment that would have helped the noble Lord. From his story, his misfortune was that the medically qualified people made a mistake. Nothing that one writes into legislation or anywhere else will provide against a wrong diagnosis, which I think we would all agree is a misfortune of the greatest order. It was obviously not intended, but it was a misfortune.
§ Baroness Young
May I just conclude? I see the point that the noble Lord is making. I do not wish to be flippant, but when I was a Girl Guide I passed a course in first aid. However, I should hesitate to say that I was qualified to advise on injuries on a rugger field or to give medical advice, except of the simplest kind. I suspect, although this is a personal judgment, that many teachers qualified in first aid would hesitate considerably when dealing with somebody else's child to take the responsibility and would first call for an ambulance and take the injured child to hospital if they thought the injury was serious.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
I am much obliged to the noble Baroness. I only wish that her Girl Guides had been living somewhere near the rugby field! The point that I was making was that the misdiagnosis was incidental to my anecdote. I was taken from the rugby field across a road, put into a car and driven to hospital. That should never have been done. It was only because there was nobody in charge of the rugby match who had the medical knowledge that the mistake was made.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
I thank the noble Lord for elucidating that point. Specialist PE teachers would be supervising and they will almost invariably have had relevant first aid training. Science teachers in any case have a general duty to instruct their pupils in the safe handling of chemicals and equipment, because science laboratories, and indeed kitchens, can be dangerous places and require stringent supervision. Furthermore, the health and safety regulations require there to be certain facilities, including first aid kits, available to teachers and other employees. It is inconceivable that those facilities would not also be available to pupils in the event of an accident.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the dangers. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, spoke of his anxiety about swimming pools. He made the important point that if one is embarking on the policy of having a qualified person, one must have that qualified person there throughout the school day, and presumably, if there are extracurricular activities during the time of those activities, out of normal school hours.
We have heard a great deal of theory about what might happen, but to the best of my knowledge there have been no cases where the treatment of a pupil after an accident has been found to be deficient. Negligence during the period leading up to an accident, but not afterwards, has occasionally been alleged. I make that point because it must be a reassurance to the Committee on what is a serious matter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised a point about violence in schools. I understand that no case of injuries arising from violence which have not been satisfactorily dealt with in the medical sense has been reported to the Department of Education and Science.
I hope that with those reassurances about what the law lays down in the health and safety Acts and under the common law, about the training of teachers for PE and science, whose obligations, as well as the instruction of their pupils, include their safety, and about the case law, the noble Baroness will feel that the point that she has raised is being met and will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Hylton-Foster
Before the noble Baroness sits down, may I tell her that the first aid standard approved by the Health and Safety Executive is extremely high? Anybody who holds that certificate would be perfectly capable of knowing what to do in the case of the accident on the rugger field and, more importantly, would know what not to do, because the essence of first aid is not to mess things up so that the case becomes more complicated.
470 With due respect to a number of noble Lords, the Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance have medical officers who are trained in first aid. Their view is that few ordinary doctors know anything about first aid, although they know their own job very well.
Earl De La Warr
Let me say how disappointed I was in my noble friend's reply. I expected her to say that the Government at least thought that it was a good idea to have somebody in every school who was trained in first aid, even if there were cogent reasons why that could not be done. It seemed to me that she was diligent to avoid such an opinion. She suggested that under certain circumstances it may be better not to have somebody, because they would be worried about having to fulfil their duty even perhaps while the ambulance was coming.
After all that we have heard from both sides of the Committee, we were entitled to hope and expect that the Government would say that they would like to take this matter away and look at it. We had no such thing, I am afraid.
§ Lord Mottistone
I should like to support my noble friend Lord De La Warr. The reply was disappointing. We required greater support for my noble friend Lady Cox. It is all very well to say that there may be people who are qualified, but there needs to be a statutory element to support what my noble friend was saying. Whether the clause is right, whether it needs changing, is another matter. What we are pleading for is a statutory endorsement of what my noble friend the Minister is saying is there, anyhow, because I do not believe that it is everywhere it should be. That is the sort of thing we want.
§ Baroness Young
I am very disappointed by what my noble friends have said. I have taken this amendment very seriously indeed and I have tried to set out what the statutory position is. I recognise what my noble friend Lady Cox is asking for, and I have tried to indicate that I believe it is fulfilled. I think that my noble friend Lord De La Warr was ma king a debating point about people who are qualified and about how they will deal with children. My noble friend Lady Cox shakes her head. After all, she is a qualified nurse; she has the confidence to deal with accidents. I have myself seen her deal with an accident and, if I had one, I could not be more confident of being properly looked after than if I were being looked after by my noble friend Lady Cox.
We are talking about a teacher in a school who will be trained to do this, but may not always have the confidence that is required and feels that he or she ought to call an ambulance because it is somebody else's child. I do not think that that is an unreasonable proposition, nor do I put it up as a debating point. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord De La Wan has himself had the experience of looking after other people's children, but I can assure him that if you are in that position, you think a good many times about what to do if there is an accident. So this is something to be taken seriously.
I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, about the standard of qualification of the Health and Safety Executive. I have no doubt that it is a high qualification. That assumes that people will be 471 willing, or will be obliged under this amendment, to be trained in those circumstances for every school in the country, which is an immense training programme to undertake, on the assumption that there is not somebody, such as a doctor or a nurse, currently there. There will be a tremendous expense if it is not a qualification which people have already gained in their training to be a teacher in the first place, be it of PE, science, home economics or whatever.
I hope very much that my noble friends will not feel that the Government are doing other than looking at this amendment very seriously indeed. I have tried, in all I have said, to make it plain that we believe that in the present situation the point that is made in the amendment is covered and that writing it on the face of the Bill is not necessary.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I have refrained from intervening because several of my noble friends have done so in terms with which I fully agree. I, too, am disappointed by what the Minister has said, not because I dissent from the reasoning behind it in many ways, but because there is a gap between the provision which she says is now available and the practice in many of our schools. There is a difference, as my noble friend Lord Dean said, between those schools that have adequate insurance and those that do not. I know that the amendment is not about insurance, but there are differences between the schools.
I should have thought, given the unanimous view of the Committee, that it would have been incumbent on the Minister to say not that she accepts the wording of the amendment—of course, that is not the point—but that she could see her way to encouraging her right honourable friend to formulate regulations which would provide for significant progress towards the objective of this amendment over a reasonable period of time, and that she would be prepared to have such regulations indicated as being available at a later stage of the Bill. Without such recommendations I could not suggest that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, withdraws her amendment unconditionally.
§ Baroness Cox
I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, and noble Lords who have contributed to this discussion so constructively and so supportively. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, for the novel experience of finding ourselves in agreement, and the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, for moving to the Back-Benches in order to offer his support. I am most grateful for the helpful and constructive suggestions that have been made. I take note, particularly, of some of the suggestions; for example, with regard to rewording and redrafting, which will meet some of the points about deficiencies in the current wording of this, at this stage, exploratory amendment.
Perhaps I may say, sadly, that I am very disappointed by the reply from my noble friend the Minister. I appreciate her expression of sympathy for this amendment, but it seems to me that that is sympathy essentially without substance. I think one of the most important criticisms that has been made—and it is certainly something that I should like to seek to clarify in taking this amendment forward in 472 a different form for the Report stage—is about specifying the standard which would be needed in order to ensure safe cover for first aid for emergencies.
I think I am able to assure the Committee that the standard of well qualified first aiders from the British Red Cross Society's training schemes, and from those of St. John's Ambulance, would certainly be able to provide cover needed for the kinds of emergencies which would be likely to occur in schools. The standard of courses which they provide for certain certificates is very high indeed, and would certainly give the maximum safety coverage that would be required in any responsible school, either to treat people or, at least as important, to prevent the wrong treatment of people who have suffered some kind of injury.
So I must reluctantly say that I was not convinced by the arguments of my noble friend the Minister. It seems to me that what is at stake is not the fact that there are certain guidelines, handbooks or recommendations of various kinds, or the fact that some schools adopt good practice. Our concern is a question of a gap in the cover for children who are inherently vulnerable given the nature of their situation. It is not enough to say that science teachers or domestic science teachers instruct their pupils in how to deal with chemicals in the laboratory, or how to deal with potentially dangerous situations in domestic science kitchens. That will not forestall an accident, and accidents can occur at any time, no matter how good the preventive treatment or the preventive teaching may be.
If there were any gap in the provision of first aid cover, and if a child were to be vulnerable through failure to provide life-saving or injury-saving treatment, it would be very tragic to condone the situation. Surely this Government must accept as fail-safe a position as possible so as to prevent unavoidable injury or unavoidable exacerbation of injury to children in schools. Do we have to wait until a tragedy does occur before such legislation is deemed to be necessary?
I take heart from the widespread support from all parts of your Lordships' Committee. We will work at trying to bring forward an amendment which meets some of the very relevant points that have been made. At this stage I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I must say that I have every intention of returning at Report stage. I hope very much that those noble Lords who have indicated their support for this amendment in its spirit at this stage will then, if necessary, join me in the Division Lobby to support it, because I feel very strongly indeed that we owe this to the children of our land. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 44 [Travelling and subsistence allowances for governors of schools and establishments of further education]:
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 93:
§ Page 46, line 17, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").473
§ The noble Lord said: We turn now to another of the miscellaneous provisions. This is bound to be a choppy session because we are moving from one clause to another with very little relationship between one clause and the next. The issue of travelling and subsistence allowances for governors of schools and establishments of further education, although a subordinate matter, is a proper corollary of the intention of the Government and of the Bill to improve the democratic government of our schools and of our establishments of further education.
§ Noble Lords whose experience like mine is mainly in cities, particularly those of us who carry bus passes so that we do not incur extra expenditure for travelling and subsistence, may not be fully aware of the difficulties which will face governors especially in rural areas and especially in areas where considerable distances may be travelled to governing body meetings. I remind the Committee that the provision for governing bodies includes also boarding schools, special schools and even special schools within hospitals, although on slightly different terms.
§ The provisions of Clause 44 which say that a local education authority may pay travelling and subsistence allowance seem somewhat in conflict with the intentions of the Government which are to break the governing bodies away from the shackles of local education authorities, make them independent, make them more representative and make them more effective. I am not suggesting that many local authorities will deliberately and spitefully restrict travel and subsistence allowances in order to make governing bodies less effective; but it is surely not unreasonable that this minimum provision for facilitating the meetings of governing bodies and the full attendance of those who would otherwise find it difficult to attend governing bodies, should be a statutory requirement on local authorities.
§ I should have thought that such a provision and such a protection for governing bodies against the over-riding power of local authorities was very much in the spirit of the Bill as it has been drafted. I hope that the Government will find it an unexceptionable addition and improvement to the provision they are already making. I beg to move.
§ Lord Denning
The Bill is all right as it is. Lawyers are often concerned with whether "may" means "shall" and "shall" means "may". Usually the courts give the sensible interpretation. What it means is that the local education authority has the power to do this and shall do it unless there is good cause to the contrary. It seems to me that there is no difficulty whatever in leaving it as it is.
§ Baroness Young
There is no doubt that the present arrangements for allowances for governors are highly unsatisfactory. Under dubious vires, councillors in some areas receive a range of allowances for service as a governor while other governors are entitled to nothing. Clause 44 sweeps all this away by providing a new and fairer system in which, if a local education authority chooses to make a scheme, travel and subsistence allowances would be available to all 474 governors of selected classes of establishment, whether or not they are councillors. This amendment would make it compulsory for authorities to have such schemes for the payment of allowances.
The Government do not believe it is necessary to move from the essentially discretionary position that now obtains, except to rule out the differentiation between categories of governor and, consistent with their view that governorship is a form of voluntary service, to limit allowances to those payable in respect of travelling and, where appropriate, subsistence. To go further would seem inappropriate in view of the resource implications that this would inevitable have.
Such a move would also seem to be generally unnecessary. At various points, the Government have been criticised for being too rigid in this Bill. Here we are criticised for being too flexible. It seems entirely right that the issue of allowances should be settled area by area in the light of each area's circumstances and the views of those involved. I have no doubt that governors affected will make their views known.
We believe that this is the best way of dealing with this matter. If the Bill were to impose a duty to pay allowances, as proposed by this amendment, it would also seem necessary to prescribe what those allowances should be in order to ensure that a nonsense is not made of the duty by the payment of only token allowances. We should then have a complicated structure in place of the simple framework provided by this clause and which is all that is required. With that explanation—and, if I may say so, with the very interesting intervention by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, in support of Clause 44—I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am impressed by the clarity and brevity of the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. I certainly yield to him in his interpretation of what is meant by "may" and "shall", although it seems different from the way in which I use these words in ordinary life. I am bemused by the intervention of the Minister. Unless I misunderstand her, the noble Baroness says that it is compulsory to make a scheme, but that the scheme although it is compulsory may not result in the actual payment of travelling and subsistence allowances. I shall read carefully what she had to say; and, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 94:
§ Page 46, line 19, leave out ("and").
§ The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 94, I should like also to speak to Amendment No. 95 with I hope suitable brevity. It may well be said that this is within the terms of the Bill as drafted. "Subsistence allowances" is a male orientated term. On many occasions it means something more like compensation for loss of opportunities—not necessarily loss of financial earnings but loss of opportunities. To eat at home, to have a meal 475 prepared by one's wife, is the way in which I am sure it is often thought of. We hope that the encouragement being given to different people to serve on governing bodies is being given at least equally to women as to men.
§ Child care allowances are, from the woman's point of view, as important as subsistence allowances are for men and for women. It seems a natural extension of the provisions in the Bill, and one that ought not to cause enormous difficulty. It is not suggested that there should be the provision of child care; simply that there should be allowances equivalent in some cases to probably not much more than the babysitting allowances that are already made by local authorities to their members. There are adequate precedents for such allowances, and it seems reasonable that they should be extended from members of local authorities to those who serve on governing bodies. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Young
As we have already made clear, we regard service as a governor as a valuable form of voluntary service. In considering such service, parents and other governors will clearly give careful consideration to their domestic circumstances in the light of the commitment necessary to enable them to discharge that important task effectively.
The noble Lord, in making his suggestion to add to Clause 44 a child care allowance, would introduce a completely new form of allowance, and so far as I am aware it is not one that is written into legislation available for councillors. We would be embarking in this part of the Education Bill on a new form of allowances for school governors.
I recognise the sincerity of the noble Lord in moving the amendment, and its purposes in the light of the Bill's aim to increase parents' involvement in and influence over their children's schooling. However, it would be difficult to make such a provision statutorily in a Bill of this kind. Furthermore, it is reasonable to expect that school governors' meetings will be fixed at a time that would suit the majority of the governors. Normally, governors would have the opportunity to make their availability known before those meetings are arranged. A governor unable to attend a meeting will always be able to submit written comments on any matter to be discussed, although I acknowledge that he or she would not be able to vote should the matter be taken to that formal conclusion.
I recognise the point that the noble Lord is making, but it would not be right for me to do other than to state what the Government would see as clearly being quite extensive resource implications if such a provision were to be written onto the face of the Bill. The Committee may agree that this is not the appropriate place in which to introduce a completely new type of allowance that would have considerable resource implications. We are saying that travel and subsistence allowances will be available. I do not think I would accept that subsistence is a male-orientated term. I do not think that my husband would take that view of it, at any rate, even if everyone else did. Subsistence means what it says: the ability, when one must have a meal out because of a meeting, to be able 476 to have that meal paid for, and to have one's travel expenses met. I believe that such payments are accepted and are equally applicable to me or to women governors as the case may be. I hope very much that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am grateful for that explanation. The noble Baroness may well be right about the definition of the word "subsistence". There are always different interpretations to be put on words of that sort. Before I withdraw the amendment, I ask the noble Baroness whether the Government have formed a view on this point. If a local authority did decide to grant child care allowances, then would it be prohibited from doing so by the terms of the Bill, or would such payments be within the discretion of the local authority to make to governors if it so wished? My understanding is that there are local authorities that do such a thing for their councillors at the moment. If the noble Baroness does not have that information available now, perhaps she will let me know the answer later.
§ Baroness Young
The best that I can do is to write to the noble Lord on that point, and I undertake to do so.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 95 not moved.]
§ The Earl of Swinton moved Amendments Nos. 95A and 95B:
§ Page 47, line 27, leave out from ("No") to ("to") and insert ("allowance may be paid").
§ Page 47, line 29, leave out ("any allowance").
§ The noble Earl said: These are drafting amendments, I beg to move them en bloc.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 44, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 45 [Repeal of section 4 of the 1944 Act]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 45 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I do not know that this is a matter to take to a vote but it seems that after the very distinguished history of the central advisory councils for education over a period of 40 years—perhaps not over the past few years but for many of the past 40 years—it is a very mean provision that the 1944 Act should be amended in this way.
The central advisory councils have played a very significant role in our understanding of educational problems and in the way in which we have looked to the future over the post-war years. It would be invidious to single out individual reports, but certainly the name of Plowden, as of others, rings in the heads of those concerned with education.
477 It may be that individual Secretaries of State find it more convenient to be served in an advisory capacity by ad hoc councils and committees. There has certainly been no shortage of those in recent years, even if the central advisory councils have not been used. However, the advantage of having continuing central advisory councils, even with membership which changes in some ways, is that there is a recognition of the role of—I hesitate to say the great and the good—those who have a lifetime of experience in the education world, who have wisdom to give to the Secretary of State and the education community and who have proved their worth on many occasions.
It is difficult to see on what basis, other than a pulling up of the drawbridge, the Government wish to say that for ever in the future there shall be no equivalent of the central advisory councils for education. I hope the Government will find it possible to say a few words of comfort to those who have valued the work of the central advisory councils and will indicate that this totally blank prohibition on future advice of this sort is not the intention of the Government in the long term.
§ Baroness Hooper
There was certainly no intention to be mean about this provision of the Bill. It was simply intended as a tidying-up operation. It is, in fact, over 20 years since the last central advisory council report was published. That is not to say that successive governments have not continued to value the contribution of informed outside opinion on a wide range of policy matters. As the noble Lord suggested, this is now done on a more ad hoc basis: examples are the Cockcroft Committee on the teaching of mathematics, the Swann Committee on the education of children from ethnic minority groups, and the Warnock Committee on special educational needs.
In 1982, in response to the second report of the Education, Science and Arts Committee, the Government undertook to abolish the central advisory councils, and nothing has happened since then which has made us change our view. I hope that helps the noble Lord.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am bound to say that I am disappointed with that reply. While recognising the value of the work done by the ad hoc committees—and I certainly join in everything said by the noble Baroness—I should have thought the Government would not have wished to close the door they are now seeking to close however long the notice they gave of it. However, I can see that we are not going to make much progress on this and I will not pursue my intention to oppose the Motion that this clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 45 agreed to.
§ Clause 46 [Discontinuance of Secretary of State's duty to make annual reports]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 46 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
This is a crazy clause. There is no other word for it. The Government are demanding reports from all and sundry about all 478 aspects of our education system. Even bearing in mind the gloss which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, put on an earlier clause about reports from governing bodies, the whole reporting structure of governing bodies—the reports back from the governing bodies to the parents, the preparation for the annual parents' meetings, the inter-linking obligations for information between the local education authorities and the governing bodies, the governing bodies and their constituencies—forms a major part of this Bill. In clause after clause we have requirements—rightly, in my view, and I am not disputing that—for regular, consistent and statutory reporting back from those who have a responsibility for some part of the governance of our education system. However, the one aspect of this which affects the Secretary of State—the requirement, in existence since 1944. that the Secretary of State shall make an annual report to Parliament—is to be removed.
I am simply not going to be convinced by any argument for the Government that no one pays attention to the report of the Secretary of State. I am sure that this is what we shall be told. In practice, what that means is either that the Secretary of State is not taking the responsibility seriously and is not making the report as informative as it should be—I am sure that such criticism will apply just as much to Labour Secretaries of State as to Conservative Secretaries of State—or that Parliament is not doing its duty and debating the reports of the Secretary of State when they are available. Both arguments may be advanced.
It may be said that they are not good enough reports, or that they are not considered adequately. This does not mean that the obligation to produce them should be abolished. What it means is that the Secretary of State should take them more seriously, that Parliament should take them more seriously, and, above all, that informed public opinion should be brought up against the real facts of what is happening in our education system on a regular basis, not less than once a year. I hope very much that the Government will give further consideration to this illogical, irrational and, I would say, improper intrusion into a Bill that is designed to increase democracy in our education system.
§ Baroness Young
I am not sure that I shall be able to be as reassuring in response to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, as he would like. I wish, however, to set out for the benefit of the Committee the reasons that have led the Government to include the clause in the Bill. Despite the interest shown by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, the Secretary of State's annual report to Parliament is not being read as widely as it once was. Sales have declined steadily over recent years from about 4,000 a year in the late 1960s to about 1,000 today. On the other hand, for those who want to read a great deal, the total number of publications produced by the DES has risen from about 100 to about 400. Given the comparatively limited scope of the department's publications programme in earlier years, it was probably wiser to produce the annual report. Indeed, it was a necessary and useful source of information about the Government's education policies. But times change. The annual report now 479 largely repeats information already reported to Parliament or made public in other ways. The bibliography to the chapter relating to the department in the annual public expenditure White Paper, for example, provides a reference point for the main publications about education and science.
It will also be helpful, I believe, if I say that the Department of Education and Science will be producing an annual sources document that will be freely available, and that will list its parliamentary and non-parliamentary publications by subject. Copies will be lodged in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament. The list will include statutory instruments, circulars and administrative memoranda and statistical sources as well as press notices that cover, for example, all major speeches made by Ministers. The material that was available in the annual report will continue to be available, we believe, in a better form. It will be available for anyone to look up, as copies will be available in the Library. It will, of course, be available for debate. It is perfectly possible for any of your Lordships to debate different aspects of government education policy, backed up by the particular publications to which they refer. As public interest in the report has dropped considerably, it seems to the Government that it is no longer necessary to publish it. As I have already indicated, all the material that would be in the annual report is now largely repeated information which has already been given to Parliament and the public.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
We must be grateful to the noble Baroness for what she says about the sources booklet. I am sure that it will be valuable to Members of Parliament. However, in almost every other respect that reply was deeply disappointing.
In the first place it seemed to indicate that the primary interest of the public in this education matter is that of Members of Parliament who have access to such documents as are placed in the Library. Secondly, there seems to be a total confusion about the need for communication. I should have thought that above all this Government, and above all at this time, would have recognised that there is widespread dissatisfaction and distrust regarding their education policy and those who have the political responsibility for carrying it out.
Under these circumstances if the speech of the noble Baroness were read at Conservative Central Office, she would find very considerable astonishment at the complacency which she expresses about the need for the Government to explain themselves to a wider public than Parliament. If it is indeed true—and I do not doubt what the noble Baroness says—that the circulation of these annual reports has reduced from 4,000 to 1,000, Conservative Central Office will tell the noble Baroness that something must be done to increase the circulation and to provide a more popular document which people want to read and which states what the Government want to say about our education system.
Putting it in a less political way, the advantage of an annual report is that it has consistent, continuous and 480 predictable contents which can be expected at a certain time every year. It provides a consistent basis for comment and criticism on the performance of our education system and of the Government in their responsibilities towards it.
I suspect that the motives of the department in wishing to abolish this annual report are widely at variance with the motives of those who are advising the Conservative Party on political matters and that if it were known to whoever are the successors to Sir Gordon Reece, they would be horrified at what is now proposed. If the Government wish to handicap themselves in their communications with a wider public, so be it. There is no more than we can say about it.
§ Clause 46 agreed to.
§ Clause 47 [Minimum age for governors of establishments of further education]:
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 96:
§ Page 48, line 8, leave out ("eighteen") and insert ("sixteen").
§ The noble Lord said: There was a very considerable debate on the question of pupil governors on Clause 2 of the Bill on the first day of Committee. We feel that it was not a debate which was as coherent as we would have wished because it included discussion of pupil governors with a whole range of other issues relating to the composition of governing bodies. Nevertheless, I believe that the Committee felt that at that stage Members had an opportunity to comment on the issue of pupil governors. We are not satisfied with the result, but at this time of night on the fourth day of Committee it is probably better if we reserve our rights to come back to this in perhaps a more coherent and effective form. I do not propose to move Amendment No. 96.
§ [Amendment No. 96 not moved.]
§ Clause 47 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 97 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 97A:
§ After Clause 47, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Duties of Secretary of State in exercising powers under Education Act 1980.
§ (a) give reasons in writing for his decision and provide copies to those who have objected to the proposals;
§ (b) announce his decision within three months of the date of such submission of proposals to him;
§ (c) take account of the need for maintaining the balance of provision between county and voluntary school places in the area concerned; and
§ (d) make available on request to any statutory objector all papers, submissions, reports and minutes of meetings and any other material relevant to the proposals.").
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 97A is not a standard amendment from this Dispatch Box. It is not 481 one of a series of amendments which we have been moving with concern for the state education system in mind. Amendment No. 97A arises from a very considerable feeling of discontent in many parts of the country about decisions regarding closure, or indeed non-closure, of schools made by local education authorities and confirmed or not confirmed by the Secretary of State.
§ I imagine that quite a number of noble Lords will have been the recipients of very effective lobbying by the Reverend Paul Nicholson of Turville in Buckinghamshire, who is protesting against the closure of three schools in Buckinghamshire by the Buckinghamshire Education Authority. His protest is not merely that a wrong decision has been made—although that is the basis of his argument—but that the local education authority refuses to discuss the issues adequately with him and that when the matter goes to the Secretary of State, despite the intervention of at least one MP for the area, he relies on his powers under existing legislation not to give his reasons for the decision or to provide copies to those who have objected to the proposals. That is one case which concerns the closure of a school where parents and local residents are in conflict with the local education authority.
§ There is another example in Sherborne in Dorset where the issue concerns a number of secondary schools, both grammar schools and secondary modern schools, which are by modern standards too small for the purposes of education in the area. In that case, the parents in the area and the local education authority are both agreed that these unsatisfactory, small, selective schools should be closed and that they should he replaced by larger comprehensive schools in the area. I would not say that that is the unanimous view, because that would be impossible, but it is the view of a substantial number of parents and of the local education authority.
§ The Secretary of State, in his wisdom or otherwise, has decided that those closures shall not take place and that the schools which are wanted by local people shall not be opened. Using his rights under existing legislation, he has refused to give his reason for that decision. Whichever way the issue goes, and whether or not there is disagreement between local parents, or it could be governing bodies or the local education authority, where the issue goes to the Secretary of State for decision it is surely quite unreasonable and out of keeping with the general spirit of the Bill before us that the Secretary of State should not be obliged to give his reasons in writing for the decision.
§ I can predict what the Government will say. They will not use these words but they will say, in effect, that any reasons that are given by the Government for a decision are a hostage to fortune because they can be challenged, and there is therefore the possibility that there will be further debate, further discussion and further trouble for the Secretary of State and for the department in securing their objectives.
I suggest that, in the light of the Government's well known determination that the government of our schools shall be more democratic, it is not unreasonable to say that the Secretary of State shall:
(a) give reasons in writing for his decision and provide copies of it";
and then under paragraph (b) that he shall do so within a reasonable time, and we suggest within three months of the date of submission of proposals.
Under paragraph (c) the Secretary of State shall:
take account of the need for maintaining the balance of provision between county and voluntary school places in the area concerned".
I should have thought that that was an argument which would apply particularly strongly to those noble Lords and right reverend Prelates who have expressed their concern for the continuation of the dual system. Then, under paragraph (d), he shall:
make available on request to any statutory objector all papers, submissions, reports and minutes of meetings and any other materials relevant to the proposals".
It does not just apply to the Secretary of State; it is also true for the local education authorities themselves.
§ Under the Education Act 1980 a local authority which excludes, or fails to give a place to, a child in a particular school preferred by the parent is obliged to give reasons to the parent for that exclusion. Even though a local authority has all of those obligations to an iiidividual parent, under the legislation as proposed the Secretary of State can make decisions affecting literally hundreds of children without having to give any explanation to the parents. That must make it more difficult for those parents to mount any reasonable objection. It must make it more difficult for the governing bodies, whose powers and scope are to be increased by this Bill, to do the job laid upon them by this legislation as effectively as they should.
§ It is a total anomaly that we should have a Bill which lays all these obligations on local education authorities, on individual parents and on governing bodies, and fails to make the same sort of obligation incumbent upon the Secretary of State. I do not believe that objective supporters of the Bill, objective supporters of the Government, could seriously wish this anomaly to be included in the Bill. I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the Committee will feel that there is something defective here, and will encourage the Government to think again about this matter.
§ It is not a party political matter: it is one felt strongly by parents and local education authorities in many parts of the country, and particularly those concerned with the voluntary schools. The fact that I am saying it now from this Dispatch Box ought not to have any influence on the issue. It is a matter which deserves to be taken above the realm of party politics and treated with all the seriousness and humility that the Government can command. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Young
Under Sections 12 to 15 of the Education Act 1980 it is for local education authorities, or where appropriate the governors of voluntary schools, to make proposals for the establishment, discontinuance or significant alteration of a school. They do so by publishing notices of their intentions. The notices are expected to be the outcome of a period of public consultation, and recent High Court decisions have confirmed that those affected have a legitimate right to be consulted on proposals for school reorganisations, which is enforceable to the same extent as a statutory requirement to comult.
483 Once notices have been published, the Act provides for a period of two months during which objections to the proposals may be made and, in the case of proposals made by a local authority, a further month within which the objections, with the local authority's comments on them, should be passed to the Secretary of State. Thereafter it is the Secretary of State's duty to consider and decide upon the proposals on their individual merits having regard to all the relevant circumstances, including the views of any objectors. His power under the Act is solely one of approval or rejection: he cannot modify proposals save in the most limited fashion, and only after consultation with the proposers; nor can he substitute his own judgments for those of the proposers.
The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would, first, impose on the Secretary of State the duty to give reasons in writing for his decisions and to supply a copy to the objectors. Where the Secretary of State decides to reject proposals, the proposers—as providers of education in a particular area—have a direct interest in knowing the grounds on which they have been rejected, and the Secretary of State already gives his reasons in such cases under the 1980 Act. But in cases where approval is given, the Secretary of State is in effect saying that, having considered all the relevant factors and all the views that have been put to him, he favours on balance the case made by the proposers. The grounds for their proposal should already be clear from the consultations they have carried out, the adequacy of which is one of the factors that the Secretary of State will take into account in reaching his decision. A further statement of reasons would be superfluous.
Secondly, the noble Lord seeks to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to reach decisions within three months. Under the provisions of the 1980 Act, which I have just explained, a period of three months from the publication of notices must elapse before the Secretary of State can embark on his consideration of proposals. But even if the noble Lord's intention is that the three-month period for consideration should run from the time when objections and comments are passed to the Secretary of State, the amendment would still represent an unacceptable constraint on his ability to give full and fair consideration to all the issues in what may often be complex sets of proposals. Objectors and proposers alike often ask for meetings with Ministers to set out their case long after the proposals were published, and it is important that they should have a hearing. The Secretary of State is aware of the anxiety and the administrative difficulties that may result if decisions on reorganisations are unduly delayed, and is constantly seeking means of improving his ability to make prompt decisions. We believe that the imposition of an arbitrary time-limit for decisions would be to the detriment of careful and balanced assessment of proposals.
Thirdly, the amendment would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to take account, in reaching his decisions, of the need to maintain the balance of provision between county and voluntary schools in the area concerned. The Secretary of State is conscious of, 484 and is committed to maintain, the valuable contribution made by the voluntary schools to the education service. In considering any proposal involving a voluntary school the balance of local provision, the views of the governors and the voluntary bodies concerned and the preservation of parental choice are factors to which he already attaches considerable importance. They have, however, to be balanced against other considerations which in a particular case may be equally pressing. We believe that it would be invidious to enshrine this consideration alone as one which the Secretary of State has a statutory duty to take into account.
Finally, the amendment seeks to oblige the Secretary of State to make available on request to objectors any material, including submissions, reports and minutes of meetings, which is relevant to the proposals. To make available in this way documents relating to the consideration of the proposals within the Department of Education and Science would be a clear breach of the established conventions on the confidentiality of official advice to Ministers and is not acceptable to the Government. But I think that what the noble Lord probably wishes to secure is the release to the objectors of the comments that the local education authority makes to him on its objections, together with any supporting material provided.
Normally the Secretary of State regards this matter as one between proposers and objectors. He considers that in the usual run of such cases it would not rest with him to make this material available to objectors. Some local education authorities already disclose their comments as a matter of course, and the Secretary of State endorses this practice. Where proposers are not inclined to follow it, he considers whether the proposers' submissions have raised new facts or arguments, previously unknown to the objectors, which are likely to be crucial to his decision. Where this is the case, the Secretary of State in the interests of fairness takes steps to ensure that the objectors have a further opportunity to comment within a specified time limit. The proposers would then themselves have a right to comment on any further points made by objectors. The Secretary of State thus ensures that objectors are not put at a disadvantage in making their case: he would not wish to be obliged to go further in disseminating material made available to him by proposers.
I have gone into a lengthy and detailed explanation. I have done so because I appreciate the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. This matter was debated, I well recall, extensively during the passage of the Education Act 1980. He said quite properly that it had been referered to in various cases and proposals which have come before the Secretary of State. I have set out as fully as I can the reasons for not accepting his amendments. We believe that the considerations that apply and the way that the 1980 Act has worked have proved to be helpful. I hope that he will perhaps read again what I have said and consider it. I hope too that he will recognise that I have gone into detail because I should not want the important points he is making simply to be picked up and not considered fully. I hope that my explanation will be helpful to the whole Committee and that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I listened to what the Minister said with mounting disbelief; and those who feel strongly that justice is not being done in many Conservative parts of the country will read what she said with mounting disbelief. It is literally true that the powers of the Secretary of State in dealing with cases that are brought to him are restricted to accepting or rejecting the proposals and he has no power to amend them.
But of course the power to accept or reject is the greatest of the powers that any Minister can have, and when—as in the case of Sherborne in Dorset—the Secretary of State overturns the united view of the parents in the area and gives no reason at all for his decision, it will take more than the speech of the Minister to convince the people of Sherborne in Dorset that their case has been heard reasonably, promptly and with the due attention to the issues which are important to them in the lives of their children. I fear that they will not be convinced by what has been said.
Again, on the issue of the time limit, perhaps three months is the wrong period. It may well be that there are complicated cases which will take more than three months. It is certainly the case that Labour Secretaries of State have taken more than three months to deal with matters of this kind and are just as open to criticism for delay as any other Secretary of State. But there must be some kind of time limit; there must be some provision whereby, in natural justice, parents, pupils and education authorities who have to refer to the Secretary of State for adjudication and decision, can have some assurance that at some stage there is a time limit for the reply and that it is not simply open to the "Department of Circumlocutions" to postpone decisions until it is more politically or administratively convenient to announce them.
Again, it is useful to have the assurance of the Minister that the Secretary of State takes account of the need for maintaining the balance. But, surely, the point about having it in this amendment is that the decision of the Secretary of State and the reasons given by the Secretary of State for his decision must plainly and clearly be in accordance with that obligation and that the two must be related to justify the decision. I accept that legalistically it is not in the power of the Secretary of State to make available papers submitted in confidence by a local education authority, and I accept that there is a constitutional convention in this country that advice to Ministers is not normally made public; although that has been breached with impunity recently by a jury in the Old Bailey.
If that is the case, then there must be some other obligation on the Secretary of State to ensure that, in ways which do not breach either the constitutional convention or the confidentiality of those who are submitting evidence to the Secretary of State, the arguments are fairly put before the objectors. I heard no sign in what the Minister has said that any of these important points, which are not points about the wording and not legalistic points but points about the basic rights of parents in our education community, have been accepted or understood by the Government at all.
486 This is not the time of night at which we proceed to a Division but I do not withdraw this amendment without the most serious warning to the Government that there must be an occasion to raise this matter again. It ought to be raised at a time when far more Members of the House are here in Committee to hear the arguments. I believe that the arguments are ones which will appeal to many supporters of the Government in this Committee and in this House. I believe that the issues of fundamental human rights which are involved here are ones which are common to all of us.
Here, unfortunately, is one of those cases of a bureaucracy entrenching itself against information and against disclosure. I believe that if I were to press the matter to a vote now it would find support on many sides of the Committee; but I believe that it would be wrong to do so when, inevitably, fat more Members of the Committee would not be able to express an opinion. This is not a matter which will go away. It is one on which the Government will have to recognise the strong feeling which is in the minds and hearts of many people in different parts of this country. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 98 not moved.]
§ Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 98A:
§ After Clause 47, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Duty of local education authority to disclose information.
§ .The local education authority shall give reasons for proposals made under sections 12 to 15 of the Education Act 1980 and shall make available to any statutory objector all papers, submissions, reports, minutes of meetings and other material relevant to the proposals.")
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment stands back to back with Amendment No. 97A, which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has just moved. That amendment addressed the secrecy which surrounds the Secretary of State's decisions on closures, against which parents have only the expensive recourse of judicial review, which, as the Committee will know, is a costly process. In the case of one of the schools to which I shall shortly refer the cost was £7,000 for counsel's opinion and so on, and in another case the cost was £4,000. It is not a cheap matter for parents to go for a judicial review against a decision of the Secretary of State.
§ This amendment addresses the equal opacity surrounding the LEA's proposals to the Secretary of State: the wretched parents are presented with two blank walls of silence and their attempts to make an impact on the very important decisions affecting the opportunities for their children are thereby diminished.
§ Is not this Bill one which enshrines the principle of greater parental involvement in the running of schools? Is it not therefore an appropriate vehicle in which to put this manifest injustice right; or, putting the question the other way round, should we not be guilty of a grave lapse in our duty to parents and their children if we failed to grasp the opportunity to do so?
Perhaps I could put an actual case before the Committee, that of the Turville Church of England
voluntary-aided primary school in Buckinghamshire, threatened with closure. The Secretary of State would not divulge his reasons; the local authority would not provide the background information on its closure proposals; and when the leader of the local campaign, the Reverend Paul Nicholson, wrote to Buckinghamshire County Council he received the following answer from the county secretary:
In reply to your letter of the 27th February, I am not prepared to undertake the inquiries or provide the information which you have requested, for reasons which have been well documented in our previous correspondence".
What a cheek, and what a way to treat the parents of Buckinghamshire!
§ It is not only closures that parents object to. Sometimes they want rationalisation, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has already pointed out. In Stroud and Gloucester, thousands of parents wanted a reorganisation which would have made better use of the existing facilities but which would have involved the demise of the eleven-plus and having 11-to-16 year-old comprehensive schools in every neighbourhood, with a sixth form college based on the grammar school site. But the determination of the authority to preserve selection put this out of court and will probably kill one secondary modern school serving an isolated community.
§ In Gloucester it is even worse. There there are grossly unviable selective schools already, and the Secretary of State resists any change. Neither from him, nor from the authority, can the parents get the crucial background information which would assist them to argue their case successfully, or at least more successfully.
§ Behind this veil of secrecy, in some Conservative-controlled councils secondary modern schools are made to bear the whole brunt of falling rolls, while grammar schools with less than one form entry are preserved. You can argue, if you like, that this is the proper way to go about things and that grammar schools of whatever size must be preserved at whatever cost. One may hold that view. But it is also fair to bring out into the open the thinking and the facts which lie behind these decisions, so that those who oppose them can advance their arguments to the contrary. Surely we are carrying our national obsession with secrecy to a grotesque degree.
It must by now be clear that the state of the law in this field is not satisfactory and the obfuscatory instincts of the Secretary of State and the local education authority sometimes reinforce each other. For example, on 27th March of this year the chairman of the Buckinghamshire County Council wrote to the Reverend Paul Nicholson, whom I have already mentioned, as follows:
Without going into detail, I know that it has been made clear to you that you do not have the right as a ratepayer or an objector to the accounts to see any document in the County Council's files which you choose; that the DES made it clear that they are not prepared to release correspondence with the Authority over the closure proposals. In the light of the DES policy, the County Council are not prepared to release such documents either".
Can that be right? I must say that I should have thought that that was indefensible.
§ The noble Baroness, Lady Young, may tell me that the position is now covered by the Access to Information Act which came into effect on 1st April. If she can assure me that a letter similar to the letter I have just quoted from the Chairman of the Buckinghamshire County Council on 27th March could not have been written after 1st April, I might see a gleam of hope, but my understanding of that Act is that it does not do the trick or have that effect. It is therefore my contention that we require this new clause to ensure that such a letter can never again be written. I beg to move.
§ Lord Ritchie of Dundee
I should like to say a few words about a parallel case, also from Buckinghamshire concerning three schools, one at Stokenchurch, the Bartholomew Tipping School, and two in High Wycombe, the Pembroke and Wellsbourne Schools. The story is that in October 1984 the local education authority announced the proposed closure of those schools. This would involve disruption for something like 1,500 children of secondary school age—that is to say, at a very crucial and vulnerable stage of their education. The parents involved got their act together and organised protests and objections. They made their feelings felt both to the education authority and also to the Secretary of State. It was not until February 1986 that the Secretary of State's decision was made and the decision was announced that the closure would go forward. He also said that he was not required to state his reasons for closing the three schools.
In support of what my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock has just said, I should like to say that there are three good reasons why certain information should be disclosed. A great deal of time and money is spent by these very concerned people working in the interests of their children. In doing that they are behaving as good democrats. Surely this is what democracy is all about. In return, I think they have the right to expect democratic behaviour from the organisations which they have elected—that is to say, to have some idea of the reasons adduced, the arguments put forward, and the dissent recorded in the deliberations of that elected body.
Further, where such deliberations are kept confidential there is inevitable suspicion of discreditable or questionable motives, and inevitably a loss of the confidence that would be there with open government, as well as a lot of aggrieved parents. One might argue that open government in these circumstances might involve further and very lengthy discussions, but they could hardly be lengthier than what has in fact taken place—that is, a delay of 15 months before the Secretary of State made his decision. I should therefore like to support the amendment.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
I have listened with great care to what the noble Lords, Lord Kilmarnock and Lord Ritchie of Dundee, have said, and particularly to the cases that they cited. I think there are three such cases, in fact, including the one that was cited by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh on the preceding amendments.
489 The grounds for the local education authority's proposals should be clear from the consultations which it will properly carry out with parents and local people as well as, of course, within its own committees. The Government do not believe that it is appropriate or necessarily helpful to informed discussion to impose upon local education authorities a duty to disclose in every case all the material which may have contributed to the formulation of the proposals and all the stages in their internal considerations. It should be for the local education authority to consider how best to explain and justify its proposals. As a matter of fact, the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 makes council minutes but not correspondence subject to the Act. That is one of the points covered by the amendment.
The noble Lords, Lord Kilmarnock and, Lord Ritchie may have in mind the observations which, under the terms of the 1980 Act, local education authorities may make to the Secretary of State on the objectors' comments on their proposals. Some local education authorities already make those available to the objectors, and the Secretary of State commends that practice. However, he does not consider that authorities should be compelled by law to adopt it. In cases where the local education authority's comments disclose a fact or an argument previously unknown to the objectors which is likely to be crucial to the Secretary of State's decision, he takes steps to ensure that the objectors are given a further opportunity to comment.
The existing legal requirements on local education authorities with respect to consultation and the present arrangements for ensuring that both sides have an opportunity to put their case to the Secretary of State are, we believe, adequate to ensure informed and balanced consideration of the merits of the proposal. I hope that in the light of that explanation the noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their amendment.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
I am of course grateful to the noble Baroness for trying to satisfy the point that I made, but she has not done so. I feel almost as indignant as did the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on the related amendment that he moved earlier, Our 490 whole approach to this matter seems to be extraordinary. We are obsessed with secrecy. As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, said, the decisions made have not been discreditable in any way, so why on earth should the information not be available to ratepayers, electors and parents? I find that extremely difficult to understand.
I think that the noble Baroness suggested that in the interests of local autonomy the Government do not want to impose upon local authorities any obligation to disclose information, but a duty is already imposed, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh pointed out, on local education authorities in relation to school admissions. They have to set up an appeals system and give reasons for their decisions. That argument does not convince me in the least.
The noble Baroness has gone a tiny way towards answering my query on the Local Government (Access to Information) Act. She has confirmed what I thought: that it was not extensive enough to give the type of protection to parents' interests which is advanced in the new clause. The minutes are opened up but not the background correspondence, which is what would be relevant in a case in which there is a great deal of complicated consideration. Having said that, I can promise the noble Baroness that I shall certainly be coming back to this at the next stage of the Bill; but I shall withdraw the amendment for the moment.
I should tell her that there is a tremendous amount of parent steam behind this movement for greater access to information in this field. The Government certainly should not go away with the idea that they are doing anything for their own popularity in resisting that great parental movement which there is up and down the county. I do not know whether the noble Baroness is aware of the fact that there was a lobby here just the other day, when we met some of the representatives. So I do not think the Government should get the impression that this is a problem which will go away. We shall certainly come back to it at the next stage of the Bill; but with that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.491
§ Lord Orr-Ewing moved Amendment No. 98B:
§ Before Clause 48, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Freedom of speech in institutions of further and higher education.
§ It shall be the duty of any university, polytechnic or college of further or higher education to use available resources, including if necessary requesting the help of the police, to prevent serious interference with freedom of speech within the law on their premises.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move this amendment standing in my name, among others, and I am sure I should have support if this Committee were more full of genuine democrats, wherever they may sit. We must all have been disturbed to see indications in recent months of freedom of speech being denied to honourable and high-minded people in some of our over 40 universities, in some of our 30 or so polytechnics and in colleges of further and higher education. The polytechnics have now drawn up a code of conduct and 30 of them have signed it. This is a move in the right direction, but I cannot help feeling that a Government dedicated to law and order should strengthen their hand. With this Bill going through Parliament, this is a wonderful opportunity to stop those who wish to prevent free speech.
§ The Government may do as they did when some of us suggested in another amendment that parents should be allowed to have syllabuses made available to them, when they said that that might be dealt with in a regulation and by issuing a statutory instrument. They sent me an example of a statutory instrument and I am not convinced by that argument.
§ I have asked them whether they will tell me how many statutory instruments have been issued in connection with education in recent years. The one that they sent to me is SI.630, where it is laid down just what LEAs should provide in details and addresses of all the people concerned with schools in their areas. I want to know what happens if hard Left LEAs totally disregard those instructions.
§ This statutory instrument was laid and came into operation on 25th May 1981, so we have had very nearly five years when all this information should have been correctly noted. Have they all done this? Have they answered all the points in Schedule 1 and Schedule 2? Have they done it correctly? What happens if they have not done it correctly? Unless we are given convincing information that a statutory instrument is an effective method, I hope that the Government will be rather more forthcoming than they were on the amendment dealing with syllabuses.
§ None of us who put down the series of amendments was trying to strengthen the hand of the law. I was not intending on any of the six or seven amendments, about which we felt very strongly, to divide the Committee, because we were assured by the Government that they would think most carefully and sympathetically. I hope that on this occasion, when we are coming to the end of the group, we shall hear honeyed, helpful and constructive words to the effect that they will take this away and, in the gap between tonight and Report stage, which is due on 20th May, they will have time to reflect, to redraft if that is necessary and to bring something forward.
§ If nothing is brought forward, we shall certainly divide the House at Report stage and I hope that we 492 shall have the support of members of the Alliance who are dedicated to democracy; I hope that we shall have the support of some of the 200 Cross-Benchers who feel just as strongly as we do, and I also hope that we shall have the support of those people on the Labour Benches who are a little worried about the Militant Tendency, and not only the 11 who are being attacked in Liverpool and who have temporarily gone to ground, like other moles, but who will emerge when they see the chance is greater for them and when the host is free of critics.
§ The need is very well brought out by the fact that in the period from the middle of September until the end of November—just over two months—there were many occasions. I could give chapter and verse, but I shall not give all the instances. The Trent Polytechnic on 18th September forbade people putting the Conservative case from expressing their views. It happened at Huddersfield Polytechnic on 25th September; at North London Polytechnic on 25th September; at the Gwent College of Higher Education on the 25th; at Thames Polytechnic on the 26th; and at Liverpool Polytechnic on the 27th—"they would do that, wouldn't they", if I may use the famous words of a good lady; a lady, anyhow—and at Middlesex Polytechnic on the 28th. It is not just an accident. In a period of 10 days people wishing to express a Conservative view or recruit Conservative students to their cause were totally denied that opportunity, had their stalls broken up, and were physically assaulted by a number of thugs—well organised thugs.
§ I hope that the Front Bench will make helpful noises and that we get support from other parts of the Committee. Law and order is an important matter. Law and order starts in our schools, and perhaps even now starts in the kindergarten with five-year olds. Surely we are proud of our universities, of all places—all 43 of them. In no place is it more important that freedom of speech should be upheld. I beg to move.
§ Lord Denning
I should like to support this amendment. Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle of our constitution—not written, but laid down by the judges for the past 300 years. Freedom of speech means not only freedom for the views of which you approve, but also freedom for the views of which you most heartily disapprove. I have encountered some of these things myself. I went to speak at a large university college in London. I was surprised. While I was speaking groups of students were shouting "Out, out, out" and when I was being escorted through the doors they attempted to hustle me. But thank goodness some good strong-arm students on my side helped me through. I managed to get through unharmed. All that happened was that a few bags of flour appeared on the car afterwards.
That is the kind of treatment which even I received when I was speaking in favour of law and order and in favour of freedom of speech. The law condemns all such conduct. When these groups of people disrupt meetings it often leads to a breach of the peace, and in my view they are all unlawful assemblies. It goes back a hundred years to Beatty v. Gilbanks. The Salvation Army went along singing their hymns in the streets of 493 Weston-super-Mare—perfect freedom there we hoped—but they were set upon by rivals, the Skeleton Army. There was trouble. The unlawful assembly was not the Salvation Army, but the Skeleton Army who tried to interfere with them.
Your Lordships' Committee will remember a more recent case at the Garden Court Hotel in Cambridge. People arranged dinner in the hotel—supporters of the Greek people. There were some students in opposition—and, I am afraid, one or two dons, too—who led an attack upon those people peaceably having their dinner. They threw the chairs about and did a great deal of damage. Again, of course, it was unlawful assembly and the leader was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment.
All were occasions when students disrupted meetings and tried to prevent free speech. They were all unlawful assemblies and such disruptions should be dealt with accordingly.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Surely the best people to deal with them are the authorities of the universities themselves. They have ample disciplinary powers. There was a case in 1971 when some students at Keele University went about and portrayed themselves naked in the open, affronting all the others. Disciplinary powers were invoked by the vice-chancellor, who fined them £10 and sent them down.
We all know how the disciplinary powers at Oxford are well exercised. I wonder whether the Committee remember, as I do, the way that we dealt with the proctors there:
See me dodge the proctors, see me cover the ground. See my coat-tails flying as the bulldogs chase me round. As his hat comes round the corner, my feet begin to go. For a race with the junior proctor is the jolliest game I know".
I only recite that to show that the disciplinary powers are there in the universities and that the universities are the proper people to deal with such matters. They should do so because it is their duty to deal with them.
§ The proposed new clause says that such shall be a duty and that it can be enforced by the law. There is now the remedy of judicial review that is available against universities—they are public authorities—and all the others. The law and the judges can order the university authorities to do their duty, as it says in the clause, to make resources available to deal with the situation, if need be. If there is a real danger of violence, then they can call the police.
§ At all events, the miscreants who are abusing freedom of speech—and I do not mind which side it is—must be prevented from interfering with our fundamental freedoms. In view of the prevalence lately of such incidents, as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, mentioned, and of their repetition, there ought to be something in the statute to compel university and other authorities to do their duty and to stop interference with freedom of speech.
§ Baroness Cox
Freedom of speech under the law on the campus is a freedom essential to a free society. The 494 centres of higher education must enshrine that principle of expression of all ideas, including ideas that some might find unacceptable or even offensive, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has emphasised.
That is so because the open expression and criticism of diverse views is vital to the pursuit of truth, which is the central function of the academic enterprise. Once academies begin to condone censorship, they are betraying their central purpose, and a society that allows that is taking a significant step on the road towards totalitarianism.
That is why the increase in the number of cases where people have not been allowed to speak on campus is so serious. Sometimes—and my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing has referred to many examples—they have been silenced by physical or verbal abuse. On many other occasions the silencing takes place before speakers even appear on campus, by refusal to offer invitations to people who might be seen by the authorities as likely to cause provocation to militant groups, or by rescinding invitations once they have been offered.
The publication by the Federation of Conservative Students entitled Licence for Thuggery describes many cases where speakers have been prevented from exercising the right of free speech. It gives many examples of situations where Conservative students have been subjected to pressure not to invite speakers who might become the focus of militant reaction.
I briefly give three examples to illustrate the seriousness of the situation. First, at Essex University meetings with Conservative MPs have had to be held off-campus in Colchester due to the violence that occurred when Teddy Taylor, Harvey Proctor and Cecil Parkinson tried to speak to the university last year. University authorities tried to ban Conservative MPs due to—I quote—"excessive costs" of security, but took no action when a speaker from Sinn Fein stated that the Brighton bombing was perfectly legitimate, or when striking miners, while using the student union facilities free of charge, were told where Conservatives held their meetings and even where they lived on campus.
Secondly, also reported in Licence for Thuggery, at Guildford College of Law the college authorities last autumn informed the Conservative Association that the two major political speakers due to visit the college during the year—Mr. Jeffrey Archer and Sir Patrick Mayhew—were "too controversial" and "likely to incite trouble" by their "presence" and so would not be allowed to speak.
Thirdly, I have in my hand a copy of a letter sent to the valiant Mr. Ray Honeyford, former headmaster of Drummond Middle School in Bradford, which rescinds an invitation from Bristol Polytechnic in February of this year. I quote:When the invitation was known about, expressions of concern were made to me as Chairman of Governors and I felt it appropriate to seek a decision from the full governing body. The question was discussed and it was agreed that permission should not be granted because of the clear possiblity of making the Polytechnic a focus of disturbance.One of the most serious features of situations like this is the use of anonymous expressions of concern to 495 justify taking this serious step of censorship; in other words, the capitulation to blackmail without even the attempt to ensure freedom of speech under the law. Incidents such as these are occurring at an increasing rate. The most recent example reported in the press occurred in the last few days at the University of East Anglia, where attempts to prohibit Mr. John Carlisle from speaking proved successful.
I am well aware that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of Universities has issued guidelines which support the principle of freedom of speech. As my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said, the Committee of Principals and Directors of Polytechnics is producing similar guidelines. However, these guidelines contain let-out clauses which can condone censorship in the interests of security. Our concern is that there is growing evidence that some institutions of higher education are using this as an excuse for prohibition of speakers in the interests of a quiet life. It is in the light of this evidence that we believe that the time is ripe to enshrine in law the commitment to the principle of freedom of speech and also the requirement that every effort will be made to prevent overt or covert censorship on the campuses of this country.
Therefore, I support this amendment, which I believe commands popular support both within your Lordships' House and throughout the nation.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
One of the most likeable things about the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, is that, despite his long and distinguished career in the law, he still has an attractive instinct for simple justice and simple remedies for delinquency. If I may say so, I cannot understand why he can support an amendment of this kind which is quite clearly defective and inadequate for inclusion in statute law.
We all know the mischief. The mischief is this disgraceful manifestation in some of our educational establishments of the well-known and common dislike that human beings have of hearing what they do not agree with. That is the whole problem of freedom of speech. We do not like hearing what we do not agree with, and it is no good pretending that we do. When you have a crowd of people who share that dislike, it generates its own electricity, its own energy and its own reaction. It is very difficult to establish the right of free speech by calling in the police to stand by while you utter what you have to say. It may not be easy to stop counter-noise to prevent someone speaking, as against physical interference.
It reminds me of a long account I once heard of Sir James Grigg, when he was Finance Member for India, playing golf with Sir John Anderson, later Lord Waverley. When they went to the tee, they had to wait to drive off until a line of troops had been put on either side of the fairway. Both were indifferent golfers. If one of them sliced a drive and went off the line of route, a signal had to be sent for reinforcements. This is the sort of ludicrous situation in which we could put ourselves if we follow the line of thought in the amendment.
In all my lifetime a great deal of licence has been conceded to university undergraduates. It is believed 496 that they have youthful spirits that they should be allowed to ventilate, whereas lesser mortals who went to boarding schools or secondary schools are just yobs if they do the same thing in their own town. There is a class distinction between rowdyism in the universities and rowdyism in the council schools. That tradition has been maintained, and it continues.
Look at what happens in another place! New Members come to another place and before long they are making the same noises as those who have been there for 25 years. If we are talking about freedom of speech, have not some of us been present when Ministers, and even Prime Ministers, have been shouted down and prevented from being heard, and Mr Speaker has had to adjourn proceedings owing to grave disorder and wait for things to cool down? I have witnessed this with my own eyes. We thought it all good fun, in keeping with the traditions of Parliament and all that kind of thing.
There is hypocrisy as well as class distinction and tradition in this matter of making enough noise and making a nuisance of yourself to prevent other people saying what you do not want to listen to. There should be other remedies. It is like crime, punishment, delinquency and all the rest of the problems of the social conditions at the present time. They are baffling. They are difficult to overcome. We do not know the answers. We rely on the simple prescriptions that we have had over the years.
I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in her last ministerial occupation. She was defending a kind of hybrid school beating system that the Government wanted to incorporate in the law to conform with the ruling of the European Commission of Human Rights. I thought at the time that she was so fed up with what she had been given to do as her first job as a Minister that she was throwing her hands up in order to get back to a civilised occupation. But no! It seems that she has got the iron in her soul. She is now the scourge of Left-wing militants who want to indoctrinate our children. She wants to deal with this form of unacceptable conduct in the only way that she apparently knows, and the only way that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning knows, and that is to call in the police.
Look what the poor police have to do! The prison officers go on strike, and what about the police? We seem to think that the police are there to deal with any failure of society and any mistakes of government in ruling the country. I do not think that it is fair on the police to expect them to do this all the time. If we are to spell this out we have to say "including mounted police if necessary", or "they should be allowed to draw their truncheons if necessary". We should have to provide a schedule before we can translate this into intelligible law.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ What about the more peaceful remedy? Why not put some of these institutions out of bounds to visiting speakers or guests whom they wish to invite to speak on a non-curricular matter? That means banning all the political organisations, Conservative, Labour or Liberal. One can say that they shall not have them on university premises. One can put a prohibition upon the use of university and other educational establishments 497 for non-educational and non-curricular purposes. There are surely some forms of restraint and restriction which could be employed. But these require studying.
§ With great respect, in this combination of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, who is quite a noted hardliner in various directions, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we are resisting the cane, because they do not know anything else but the cane. There are other ways. I think that some other remedy should be tried.
§ I am a hardliner in this sense. I never had a university education. I never got near a university and had no hope of going to a university. When I see how students behave at university I wonder what right they think they have to act as they do. We are too soft with them. Many more should be sent home and told to find a job. Why should we put up with that behaviour? These are the feelings of people in the street who cannot bear these demonstrations by those who are given the best in our education system and who are being made fit to rule even if they are not born to do SO.
§ I shall be glad to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has to say on this approach. I am sure that it is the only sensible one. This is only one of several problems of this kind with which we have to deal. For example, we have not solved ordinary delinquency or misbehaviour. We have many problems in society at the present time which are baffling us all. We have to approach them steadily and soberly to try to find what can be done to improve the situation. That is the only sensible approach. I do not have any better suggestions to put forward at the moment than those I have mentioned, because they are difficult to find. But the proposed amendment is not the answer.
§ It is about time that some of us began to recognise the limitation of statute law. It will not do everything, by any means. Nobody knows that better than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. The statute law is a very imperfect instrument by which to translate the wishes of Parliament into the law of the land, precisely and clearly, so that they can be applied by the courts with the least controversy on the construction of the meaning of words. It is very limited and nearly always lacking in comprehension.
§ However, I have said enough. It is late at night and I am sure that noble Lords want to go home. Let us try to find some other approach. In the meantime, I am afraid that I must strongly oppose this amendment.
§ Lord Butterworth
I shall not take up much of the time of the Committee at this late hour, but I feel I must intervene, in particular on behalf of the institutions that have been subjected to criticism this evening. I must try to assure the Committee that the universities are deeply committed to the principle of freedom of speech. Their function could not be carried on without it. It is the sine qua non of the existence of institutions of higher education.
I would applaud the suggestion which has already been made that the institutions should be allowed to set their own house in order. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has, as we have already heard, issued guidance to universities as to how they should fulfil their duty in this respect. My noble friend 498 Lady Cox referred to what she thought was a lacuna in that advice, and I shall come to that in a few moments. The Committee of Principals of Polytechnics is, I understand, about to issue a similar and strongly-worded document.
We should ask the proposers of this new clause what they intend to achieve by it. I shall not go over the ground that has already been traversed. However, I should like to ask this question. Do they intend by this clause to state the existing law, or is it their intention to change it? My objections to the clause, from a narrow point of view, are two-fold. First, it seeks to impose a duty upon the institutions, but does not provide any sanction for those who fail to fulfil it. In my view, that is not the function of a statute. Secondly, and more importantly, one sentence is trying to encapsulate all the principles of a very difficult piece of law. The danger is that because of this imperfect encapsulation in one sentence, many people may gain a wrong view about the existing law, unless, indeed, it is the intention of the movers of this amendment to change the law. That, I suspect, is what many people may think is happening.
Let me try to illustrate what I mean. My speech is obviously bringing gloom to the whole Committee. I, shall, therefore not take long. The problem which I wish to get home to Members is the complication of the different cases which arise and which have to be dealt with, and which cannot be satisfactorily treated by the one sentence which we have before us tonight. It is far better to leave this to the general law of the land, in order that the differences and the subtleties can be applied to the different circumstances as they emerge.
One case is when a member of staff is prevented by the members of that institution from speaking. A recent case has occurred at Bristol University, and Members will have seen that the Vice-Chancellor is taking action against a number of students. That case was not given as an example tonight. However, difficult cases arise when a person from outside is invited into the institution to address what is often a single meeting. One may be presented with the case of a man or woman who is activated by malice or by a determination to provoke a breach of the peace among a very sensitive audience. I can tell you what the head of almost any institution would do in practice in that case: he would go to the police to ask for advice. It we were to pass this clause as it exists tonight, it might in my view inhibit the police from giving the advice they would otherwise wish to give. It might prevent the institution, or its head, or the police, from fulfilling a duty which is incumbent upon them, which is just as great as the maintenance of freedom of speech, and that is the maintenance of the Queen's peace.
Frequently there are situations where the two issues, the freedom of speech and the maintenance of the Queen's peace have to be balanced. This amendment, in a marginal situation where there are desperate and difficult conditions, might inhibit those upon whom a sovereign duty of maintaining a peaceful situation would lie. It would therefore be far preferable that we should leave the institutions to set their own house in order, and if in due course Parliament is not satisfied with the situation, then some other remedy might be 499 brought forward. I am convinced that this clause is no remedy for any problem in the institutions of higher and further education.
§ The Earl of Swinton
The Government have great sympathy with the views underlying this clause. We have repeatedly reaffirmed both in this House and in another place the vital need to uphold freedom of speech within the law, and above all in our institutions of higher education. I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, was not pleased at being pelted with flour. I can assure members of this Committee that my noble friends and my right honourable and honourable friends in another place also do not enjoy being pelted with either flour or eggs. I always find it quite amusing, when students seem to complain about their grants, that they always seem to have enough money to buy eggs and flour to pelt at people that they do not like.
Institutions possess the powers and resources to meet the kind of threats to this freedom that we have seen in recent months. I cannot go along with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that this is nothing more than student highjinks. I think this is an essential threat to freedom. I do not think that the way is either to turn a blind eye or, even worse, to say that you cannot have anybody coming in to talk on politics in institutions of this kind: that they must just concentrate on whatever it is they are studying. After all, a number of students at universities and polytechnics are studying politics.
We believe also that institutions have come to a new realisation of the significance of these threats and are showing themselves prepared to take the steps needed to defend freedom of speech. The action required of them, that of ensuring adequate arrangements to avoid the creation of a situation where disruption can be imposed. is essentially practical, and would not be materially assisted by the proposed clause.
Institutions are already well aware of the need to seek and follow the advice of the police in appropriate cases. The Government believe that the guidance to universities issued at the end of last year by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals offers practical help of the kind needed by institutions in planning a resolute response to the threat of disruption. As my noble friend said, it is also good to note that the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics intend shortly to provide such guidance to its members.
I can assure my noble friends Lord Orr-Ewing and Lady Cox that institutions themselves are aware of, and committed to, this need, and most are taking steps to protect this most precious of our rights. There do however remain a few which have still not woken up to the danger in their midst, and the Government will not fail to pursue with each and very one of them any failure to protect free speech by every means available.
But I think my noble friend Lord Butterworth made a valuable point. This clause would impose a duty on institutions without providing any sanction or basis for enforcement. It could not be supported by directions from the Secretary of State under Section 68 or Section 99 of the 1944 Act, since these sections do not apply 500 to the universities. In our view this clause would not help because it does not bite on the real problem.
This is one of organisation and determination, of having arrangements in place to anticipate and combat disruption where it may occur and having the will to take the appropriate action.
Finally, I assure my noble friends that the Government take this matter very seriously and are monitoring carefully incidents and institutions round the country. I can go further than my noble friend Lord Butterworth would wish me to go and I was very glad about what he said. We have already undertaken that, if the institutions do not put their houses in order, the Government will intervene, if necessary, with legislation. But as my noble friend Lord Butterworth said, institutions should be given a reasonable time first to act on the guidance which they have received.
I hope I have given perhaps a more helpful reply to my noble friend than he considers I have given in some of the answers to him and my noble friend Lady Cox during the course of your Lordships' Committee, but I do so in the light of the Government's clear undertaking to act further if matters do not improve, and I ask my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My noble friend on the Front Bench has been more sympathetic. My noble friend Lord Butterworth asked what is the object of the amendment. The object is to take the opportunity of legislation passing through Parliament to strengthen the hand of those whose hands are, at the moment, too flabby and too irresolute. My noble friend Lady Cox so correctly quoted the instance of Guildford College of Law which found it impossible to allow a Law Officer of the Crown, Sir Patrick Mayhew, to talk to the students because it might cause trouble. Surely we need to strengthen the hands of those who are flabby. What about the case where Douglas Hurd, who, after all, is Secretary of State at the Home Office, wished to address King's College and a large gang of thugs turned up from the LSE, not too far away, and prevented him from entering the meeting itself, proceeded to chant slogans outside and pelted him and Conservative students with eggs when they attempted to leave the building? Clearly something needs to be done.
I could have listed 32 cases in a period of just over two months. We have heard that Bristol is bringing a case under the present law. It would seem, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has suggested, that we would be wise to take this opportunity to strengthen the hands of those who probably desire to do the right thing, but who under present legislation do not have the courage or the guts to do it.
In view of the helpful reply I shall not press the amendment at this stage. However, we shall consider it most carefully and try to amend the wording in accordance with the views put forward from different parts of the Committee so as to please a greater section of those in the Chamber when we come to Report stage. I beg to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 48 and 49 agreed to.501
§ Clause 50 [Interpretation]:
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 99:
Page 49, line 5, at end insert—
(" "corporal punishment" means anything done for the purpose of punishing a pupil which, apart from any justification, would constitute battery;")
§ The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment in moving Amendment No. 56A, which the Committee will recall was carried on a Division. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 100 not moved.]
§ Clause 50, as amended, agreed to.]
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ In the Schedules:
§ [Amendment No. 101 not moved.]
§ Schedule 1 [Grouped schools]:
§ The Earl of Swinton moved Amendments Nos. 101A and 101B:
§ Page 51, line 10, leave out ("grouped")
§ Page 51, line 10, after ("construed") insert (", in relation to any grouped school,")
§ The noble Earl said: I speak to both Amendments Nos. 101A and 101B. These are both drafting amendments. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 [New Schools]:
§ The Earl of Swinton moved Amendment No. 101C:
Page 54, line 31, leave out sub-paragraph (5) and insert—
(" (5) Where the requirement for there to be an instrument of government for a new school has taken effect, the temporary governing body of the school shall, until such time as the governing body is constituted—
- (a) continue in existence (notwithstanding that the arrangement under which they were constituted has come to an end by virtue of paragraph 5 below); and
- (b) be treated as if they were the governing body.")
§ The noble Earl said: This is a drafting amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 101D had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ The Earl of Swinton moved Amendment No. 101 E:
§ Page 56, line 31, after (" (1) ") insert (" or (2) ")
§ The noble Earl said: The Committee will observe that paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 provides two alternative methods for the appointment of temporary parent governors: by the LEA or, where the new school is to be opened as the result of the closure of two or more other schools and the LEA so determines, by the governing bodies of the closing schools. Under the first alternative, the LEA has to appoint those with children who are likely to become pupils at the new school or, failing that, who have children of compulsory school age. This requirement was not previously extended to appointments made by the 502 governing bodies of the closing schools but, on reflection, the Government believe that it should be.
§ It is hoped that, in practice, those appointed in such circumstances will in may cases be elected parent governors of the closing schools; such people would normally meet the first criterion, of having children likely to attend the new school, and would almost certainly meet the second, of having children of compulsory school age. However, if these parent governors were not willing to serve on the new school's temporary governing body or if perhaps some of these had children above compulsory school age who would not be moving to the new school, it seems right that the governing bodies should be under the same constraint in making their appointments as the LEA is by virtue of subparagraph (6). That is achieved by this amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ The Earl of Swinton moved Amendments Nos. 101F, 101G and 101H:
§ Page 57, line 23, leave out ("election or")
§ line 36, leave out ("election or")
§ line 38, leave out ("election or")
§ The noble Earl said: With permission, I shall move Amendments Nos. 101F, 101G and 101H together and speak also to Amendment No. 102A. The wording of the provisions in Schedule 2, paragraphs 10(1), 11(1) and 11(5) at present exactly reflect, as is intended, those of the equivalent provisions in Clauses 7(1), 14(8) and 14(12) for full governing bodies. However, the consequent references to elections are otiose as the circumstances of new schools mean that temporary governors in all categories are appointed and never elected. These four amendments thus remove the references to elections. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 102 not moved.]
§ The Earl of Swinton moved Amendment No 102A:
§ Page 58, line 12, leave out ("election or")
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ The Earl of Swinton moved Amendment No 102B:
§ Page 61, line 23, leave out ("26") and insert ("25 and 26(1) and (2)")
§ The noble Earl said: The Committee will observe that the difference between the Bill as presently drafted and the change proposed by this amendment is that sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 26 would thereby apply to aided schools. This is something of a long-stop provision, as we do not envisage many occasions when the temporary governing body, for whatever type of school, will be without their clerk. However, there may be times when the clerk is absent—he may even have fallen under the proverbial bus, which I hope happens to none of your Lodships on your way home tonight at this late hour—and on such occasions it seems to us right that the temporary governing body should still be able to transact its business by asking one of its members to act as clerk. Paragraph 26(3) at present provides this for all except aided schools, and it seems sensible for the provision to extend also to those schools. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.503
§ The Earl of Swinton moved Amendment No 102C:
§ Page 62, line 27, leave out ("(2)") and insert ("(3)")
§ The noble Earl said: This is a technical amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedule 3 agreed to.
§ Schedule 4 [Transitional provisions]:
§ [Amendment No 103 not moved.]
§ Schedule 4 agreed to.
§ Remaining schedule agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.
§ House adjourned at four minutes before eleven o'clock.