§ 3.37 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department for Education (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Report be now received.
§ Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Baroness Blatch.)
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene at this moment to mention a matter which is causing concern on all sides of the House. To date, in total the Government have tabled 793 amendments to the Bill; 278 at the Committee stage in the other place; 78 at the Report stage in the other place; 256 at the Committee stage of this House; and 181 before the first day of the Report stage here today. The total to date is therefore 793, with 437 in this House.
I wish to point out that 80 amendments were published only yesterday, leaving insufficient time for serious consideration of their implications. I understand that yesterday evening and today they were still being tabled. At the Committee stage in this House, 51 amendments were published on 30th April for debate on 4th May, which meant that because 3rd May was a Bank Holiday there was not a single working day between their being tabled and being debated. There was no time for any kind of consultation with the many people involved in education throughout the country who were affected by the amendments.
1047 The inevitable conclusion that any neutral observer would draw is that the Government do not have the slightest interest in the observations of anyone else on their proposals. If Ministers claim that they do, then that would be extremely hard to justify given that not only do they table numerous amendments at the last minute—important ones as well as technical ones, and obviously we need to scrutinise both carefully to ensure that the technical ones are technical, which is not invariably the case—but also Ministers frequently fail to explain adequately the meaning of complicated amendments.
In our own Committee stage my noble friend Lord Peston complained of just such a problem, suggesting that this Chamber could hardly be regarded as debating seriously if 30-odd amendments were put forward at quarter-to one in the morning, without even a full speech to explain them. It is not a new problem. Over 1,000 amendments were made during the Lords' stages of the Education Reform Bill in 1988.
If the Government claim to be a listening government willing to respond to criticism, surely five years later some improvements in the length of notice and the quality of explanation can be expected. Letters bouncing on to the desks of noble Lords at the 11th hour-plus is just not good enough. Perhaps a charter for legislators is needed with targets for greater efficiency in dealing with future legislation. I hope that today we can have substantial reassurance from the Government.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I apologise to the House for some of the amendments that have been tabled rather late. However, I find some of what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said rather discourteous. I have spent many days between Committee and Report stages of this Bill personally writing to him and his colleagues and other Members of the House who have particular concerns. A large number of the amendments that we are to deal with today are a direct response to concerns of Members of this House. In addition, I personally saw the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and spoke about the amendments that would be coming forward. I categorised those that were purely technical, those that were consequential upon amendments passed at earlier stages in this House, those that fulfilled promises given in another place and those resulting from concerns in this House. I just wonder how much public consultation has taken place, for example on the numerous amendments that have been put down today to Clause 1. I have seen those amendments only in the past day or two. Very little public consultation on those has taken place, and I am not complaining about that.
I understand it to be the prime job of this House as a revising Chamber to consider legislation carefully and to make judgments. Even at Committee stage, when I was called to account by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford and accepted that enough time had not been given, I withdrew the amendment to allow more time for consideration. I can only repeat the argument I have used before. With 1048 a Bill of this size it is inevitable that there will be significant numbers of government amendments. The vast majority are technical, drafting and tidying-up amendments that raise no issues of any substance. In addition, I have brought forward amendments in response to points made in Committee. I hope that we can now move on to the real business of the day, because there is much to do.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the Minister for responding in the way that she has. But I am sure that, fair-minded person that she is, she will recognise that there is genuine concern on all sides of the House. I make two points. First, amendments are not private matters between Ministers and Opposition Front Bench spokesmen; they are the concern of the whole House and should be available for scrutiny by the whole House. Secondly, it is not simply a matter of letters, which are appreciated; it is the substantive form of the amendments with which we must be concerned.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I believe that that is also discourteous. Referring to the large number of amendments touched upon by the noble Lord, he counted every single amendment that had been put down in another place. In respect of many of those amendments there were many days—in some cases weeks—in which to consider them. Some of the amendments referred to by the noble Lord today are put down for business next week and the week after. There are many Members of this House, not just Front Bench spokesmen, who have had personal meetings with me or have heard from me in writing concerning amendments tabled for this stage of the Bill.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I should like to speak briefly in support of my noble friend Lady Blatch. Although I have not been in this place for very long, I have never known a Bill where the Minister has taken so much trouble, exercised so much patience and indulged in such a degree of consultation.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Report received.
§ Clause 1 [General duty of Secretary of State]:
§ 3.45 p.m.
Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 11, at end insert ("including the provision by local education authorities of sufficient schools for their areas in accordance with their duties under the Education Acts.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1 I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 39 which seeks to leave out Clause 10 and insert the following new clause:
In exercising their duties under the Education Acts to secure the provision of sufficient schools for their area a local education authority shall have regard to the views of the funding authority, consulting it in such manner and on such time scale as may be specified by the Secretary of State".
The purpose of these amendments is to re-insert the general duty of local education authorities to provide education and give them a planning role in perpetuity.
§ This week there has been a good deal of debate about subsidiarity. I believe that the question many people are asking is where subsidiarity begins and 1049 ends. Is subsidiarity just a matter of Westminster versus Brussels or, in a rich democracy, is it something that goes beyond Westminster into the heart of our country; that is, local authorities democratically elected by identifiable communities? That was the strength of the Education Act 1944. It recognised the quality of our democracy, the interplay between the centre and local communities and the partnership in provision. That is what has been swept away by what the Government put before us.
At the Lords Committee stage of the Bill the issue was debated in great detail. In discussing an amendment to Clause 1 the Minister said that she readily acknowledged,
the vital role carried out by the local education authorities." —[0fficial Report, 20/4/93; col. 1387.]
She went on to say that Clause 1 was designed to stand the test of time and therefore she did not think it appropriate to include all of the bodies with educational responsibilities. Am I wrong to deduce that arguably there is a suggestion in that comment that in future local education authorities will not have the vital role that she currently believes them to have? As the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, has pointed out, the reality is that local education authorities will be left with the bits that nobody wants.
In considering who should have the lead responsibility for the planning and provision of school places under Clause 10 of the Bill the Minister pointed out:
The local authority will continue to be required to discharge the duty under Section 8 of the 1944 Education Act, which is to secure that there are sufficient schools available for children in its area."—[Official Report, 20/4/93; col. 1503.]
She went on to say that because of the duty up to the 75 per cent. point, in that sense the local authority was the lead body with the prime responsibility to make sure that there were places for children in schools. However, she made a distinction between the duty to plan and the duty to provide places. She indicated that the duty to provide places would rest either with the grant-maintained schools sector, if that was appropriate, or with the local authority. Later in the debate, the Minister noted that if a local education authority was not carrying out its Section 8 responsibility it would be for the Secretary of State to issue a direction to the local authority.
§ Since the Minister is indicating that up to the 75 per cent. level the local authority in effect has the lead planning role, in order to clarify the position surely it is helpful to put that wording on the face of the Bill where it belongs so there can be no doubt in anybody's mind. If that is the Government's understanding of the situation, why are they reluctant to clarify the position by putting this lead responsibility on the face of the Bill? What is their motivation in refusing to do it? The main purpose of these amendments is to re-insert the general duty of LEAs to provide education and to give them the main planning role in perpetuity.
§ In introducing these amendments, I do not believe that in any other part of the Bill the difference between the party opposite and those on this side of the House can he more clearly illustrated. On that side of the House there is a fatalistic surrender to the principles of 1050 the market on the basis of school against school and a vague relationship with the centre—a relationship that I suspect will become bureaucratic and sinister over a period of time.
§ On this side of the House—I believe between people sitting in different parts of this side of the House—there is a deep conviction about community, a conviction that nothing is more central to the community than the care and education of our children, a conviction that any education system to take us into the 21st century should be one that rests in the community with a sense of community responsibility for children and gives children and their teachers the opportunity to feel part of the community.
§ What I think this introduction to the Bill so sadly illustrates is the total lack of vision and the total lack of values and philosophy in the Government's approach. I believe that we need to put back that spirit of partnership which was central to the 1944 Act, which was brought about on a basis of real consensus with most of the country behind it, whatever the changes that followed, in terms of adaptation and modification, in the years afterwards.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I wish strongly to support the amendment to which I have added my name. We on these Benches believe that the role of local authorities in education must be preserved, partly for the reasons already stated by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I expect the noble Baroness will tell us that she has no intention of further undermining the position of local authorities, but we need confirmation of that. The best confirmation we could have of it would be to have on the face of the Bill the assertion that the local authority's place is firmly there. Otherwise, the likelihood is that encouragement of more and more schools to opt out and the restriction of the role to be played by the local authority will mean that the local authority's contribution to local education and the democratic link between the electors and local authorities will disappear. Once that has disappeared it is very difficult to see what democratic link there will be in the development and control of education.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley
My Lords, these amendments are based on a recognition that a democratically elected local body, with years of experience of planning of all kinds, is best equipped to mastermind the provision of education in schools, whatever the proportion of places it may actually fund.
There was talk at Committee stage of putting the clock back. I thought that what we were doing was trying to preserve the best of the status quo—a classic conservative stance which it is strange to be defending in the face of a Conservative Government.
Local authorities are not yet dead. There has been no real debate about the greatly diminished role which this Government would like to see for them, and of the constitutional implications that flow from this. Until this happens I feel it is quite wrong to strike them out of Clause 1, so hastily done in another place, which sets the tone for the rest of the Bill, and which, as 1051 drafted, signals a major concentration of power at the political centre. This, my Lords, we have always regarded as a dangerous thing in this country. Maybe this Government will only come to understand why when their own long reign is broken and an opposing philosophy holds sway on the Government Benches. The fewer the checks and balances, the more freely the educational pendulum will swing from one extreme to the other.
My Lords, the arguments for having one lead body in the planning role for school places have already been rehearsed. I believe that it is for the long-term benefit of our children that that body should be the LEA, and I support these amendments.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, for once I am not able to understand the logic of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I do not wish in any way to deal or trade in polemics or subsidiarity or in any political matter concerning an approach to local authorities. But this amendment is wholly inappropriate. Let us cut out the political aspect and look at it quite coldly. Clause 1(1) states:The Secretary of State shall promote the education of the people of England and Wales".The amendment states:including the provision by local education authorities of sufficient schools for their areas in accordance with their duties",under other Acts. Where on earth have your Lordships ever seen in any legislation a measure of such order and body? Under our process of legislation, if duties exist in one Act, one does not bring in another Act to say that duties have to be enforced in accordance with that Act. It is not a conventional form of legislation. We have far too much legislation and far too many words in that legislation anyway.
I come to the next grouped amendment, Amendment No. 39, which suffers from the same fundamental drafting vice. It states that in exercising their duties under other Acts local authorities are, so to speak, exhorted under this Act to perform those duties. The third grouped amendment, which excises Schedule 2, is perhaps more relevant—I do not know quite why it has been grouped here—to the next amendment, Amendment No. 2, particularly as paragraph 19 of Schedule 2 is concerned with nursery schools. But whatever may be the effect of the last of these grouped amendments I hope your Lordships will not indulge in a wholly novel and otiose form of legislation which is a total departure from tradition.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has made some serious points about the drafting and placing of this amendment. They are not, of course, any answer to the solid substance behind the amendment. If the Minister were willing to accept the solid substance behind the amendment, I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, would be willing to be flexible about precisely where within the Bill it should be placed.
The specific point that the amendment directs us to is the provision of sufficient schools. That is more than all others in education a local function because it is not 1052 simply an educational function. To ensure the provision of sufficient schools one needs to know about the pattern of employment; one needs to know which firms are expanding and which are contracting; one needs to know where planning permission may be likely to be given for a new factory. Who can know that better than the body that would be responsible for giving it? One needs to know the pattern of transport. One needs to know which bus services may be expanded and which are likely to be cancelled. In fact, one needs to know the community. That is why a great many of us are really rather anxious about how far the funding authority will have the necessary knowledge to do this job.
In just one way I think that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, sold the amendment short. He said that those on the Benches opposite are hostile to it. Well, of course, not all of them are. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in 1988, interviewed by the Sunday Times, said that the Department of Education and Science simply could not make all the decisions with regard to schools because it would not know the circumstances. As the House knows, I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, is always right. But I do not think that she is always wrong, either.
When I raised this point at Second Reading the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that there will be arrangements for notifying the funding authority about the closure or building of a factory or a housing estate. That is something. It is welcome as far as it goes. But what one needs when planning schools which may be working, one hopes, for 20 or 30 years or possibly even longer is some sense of the likely future development of the community. I do not see how a formal notification process can do that. One needs to know the local area. That is why we think that this has to be a job for a local authority.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is quite right to draw our attention to the substance of the amendment. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, did not speak to its substance so much as to the spirit of the division, as he saw it, between these Benches and his own as regards the views of local authorities and their role in the education service. I believe that he is right in saying that this has become a very important issue, particularly in regard to the passage of this Bill.
I say to him that I do not believe that it is at all helpful to the debate about the provisions of this Bill to politicise it in this way and to politicise the issue of the relationship of local authorities to national government. When one considers the education systems of the world there is absolutely no correlation between the powers of central government and those of local government in respect of education and the political nature of those countries. For many decades in socialist Sweden and socialist France there was a wholly centralised system of education. There were centralised curricula and planning and centralisation even to the planning and design of school buildings. I have been told the favourite French joke by French officials themselves of the building put up in southern 1053 France. It was built for a hot climate when in fact it was situated about 3,000 feet above sea level and extremely cold and so forth. We all know stories like that about countries with centralised systems.
The noble Lord also spoke very strongly about the passionate belief which he has in the community. For myself and from these Benches I also have a passionate belief in the importance of the community in the education service. This Bill opens up the opportunity of the genuine community and its definition which relates to those who have an investment through the education of their own children in the quality of the school. I very much welcome a Bill which reduces the context of the community in the running of the schools to that genuinely local and interested party. I have absolutely no evidence that a local authority of the size, for example, of a huge county or of a very large metropolitan borough, is specifically and uniquely better placed to take the kind of decisions which are necessary about one school than the people who have, as I say, a personal investment in it through the education of their own children.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, perhaps I may suggest three brief reasons why the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, should not be accepted. The first is because it is unnecessary. I am sure that he refreshed his memory of the Education Act 1944, especially as regards Section 8 which spells out the duty of local authorities most beautifully. For example, it states:the schools available for an area shall not be deemed to be sufficient unless they are sufficient in number, character, and equipment to afford all pupils opportunities for education offering such a variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities, and aptitudes and of the different periods for which they may be expected to remain at school, including practical instruction and training appropriate to their respected needs".The noble Lord's amendment adds nothing whatever to that. We should not legislate on the basis of merely repeating what is already on the statute book and well understood and established. That is my first short reason.
My second reason is a drafting one. I know that the noble Lord is familiar with it because I have mentioned it before in his presence. I shall not quote the lawyers' Latin tag which sums it up. His amendment amplifying the duty of the Secretary of State to promote the education of people in England and Wales is not simplified or made more certain by adding the words,including the provision by local education authorities of sufficient schools",and so on. There is a rule of interpretation of our law which I believe is generally understood and not only by lawyers. It is that if one expresses one example one is deemed to exclude others. The last thing we want to do is to exclude the various other duties which the Secretary of State for Education will have. So as a drafting matter that amendment is not sound.
I now come to my third quick point. We have had a chance to study the admirable amendments made to Clause 1 which were made under pressure from all sides of the House at Committee stage. Those amendments now make Clause 1 right. I suggest to the 1054 noble Lord that adding the words that he intends at the end of the first subsection do not fit in well with the government amendments which we shall consider next.
My only other point is one which I wish to make in favour of the noble Lord. In Amendment No. 39 he has tabled a beautifully succinct amendment of only four lines. That leaves out Clause 10 which runs to more than a page. It contains all kinds of opportunities for the Secretary of State to make secondary legislation without adequate scrutiny by your Lordships' House and the other place. As a matter of form and drafting I would favour his amendment, but when we consider its effect and that of leaving out Clause 10 and substituting his amendment, I fear that as a matter of principle it is best to leave the Bill as it is.
The same can be said of the massive Schedule 2 to the Bill. It is very long indeed. It would have been lovely to leave that out, but it is necessary in order to amplify and implement Clause 10. Therefore, although I would love to support the noble Lord just for the sake of shortening the Bill, I am sorry to say that in substance I do not believe that it is right to do so.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, turning to the amendments to this clause I have a feeling of déjà vu. I can remember noble Lords opposite on both Benches saying much the same things when the polytechnics, the further education colleges and the sixth form colleges were given more autonomy. All the evidence we have is that they are flourishing under that real independence and devolution, and not centralisation, of local control.
This clause brings education legislation up to date; and beyond that, looks forward to a changing educational landscape. Much has been said in this House, and in another place, about the merits of the Education Act 1944. I fully recognise that that Act was a landmark in the history of publicly funded education in England and Wales. The framework it established served us well, and for some considerable time.
But we have clearly moved on. The education picture of the future will be characterised by the increasing prevalence of self-governing institutions, each with the ability to respond flexibly and effectively to the needs of the people they serve, a point made very well by my noble friend Lady Perry. That process is already well under way.
In the higher education sector, the former polytechnics (now universities) are enjoying and making positive use of the independence that universities have always enjoyed. In April, FE and sixth form colleges gained their independence from local authorities, and I have no doubt that their customers—students and employers alike—will reap the benefits of colleges' new freedoms.
Grant-maintained status represents the logical conclusion of the progress towards autonomy that virtually all our schools have now embarked upon via local management of schools.
Five hundred and seventy three schools have already attained grant-maintained status. I am 1055 entirely confident that the numbers will continue to grow as an increasing number of parents seek the positive advantages which self-government can bring for schools and their pupils. The number of affirmative ballots is now well over 800.
This clause reflects the changed and changing face of education in England and Wales. It places a duty on the Secretary of State to promote education in England and Wales. It recognises the vital roles to be played by a wide number of bodies in the provision and delivery of education, and it stresses the key educational objectives we are striving to achieve: improved standards, greater diversity and increased choice.
Amendment No. 1 seeks to secure a continuing and specific role for local authorities. But as I have already said, this is no longer appropriate. Local authorities will have a continuing important role to play. Perhaps I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, that if he, like me, had been watching closely the work of the Local Government Commission for England, he would agree that the role of the local authorities is most certainly not dead. It is alive and kicking out there and is coming closer and closer to the communities which are served.
However, the nature of that role is changing, and will continue to change, and the number of schools for which LEAs have responsibility will decline as more schools become grant-maintained. Local education authorities will no longer have a pre-eminent role in the provision of education. It would be wrong, as my noble friend Lord Renton has said, to single out the LEAs for mention in Clause I as opposed to any of the other organisations—for example, the FAS, the FEFC and the HEFC—which have important roles to play in the provision of education.
Local education authorities will retain important functions, and among these will be their responsibility under Section 8 of the 1944 Education Act. Your Lordships will realise that Amendment No. 39 would require the LEA when fulfilling this function to consult the funding authority. It appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the way the new arrangements will operate.
Local education authorities will not be able to bring forward proposals in respect of grant-maintained schools. If this amendment were to succeed, it would mean that the LEA could act to remedy a deficit of places in its area only by providing additional places in the LEA sector. If all the schools in the particular locality where the need for places arose were grant-maintained schools, the LEA would have to establish a new school, and this surely would not be an economical use of its resources. Neither would the LEA be able to take action to remove surplus provision in grant-maintained schools. The Secretary of State's powers are limited with regard to any overall planning, and it would be unrealistic to rely on the governors of individual grant-maintained schools to co-operate to bring forward proposals to remedy a deficit of places or to remove surplus places. The funding authority's powers to bring forward proposals in respect of grant-maintained schools are 1056 dependent on orders under Clause 10 being made. Without Clause 10 there can, therefore, be no effective overall planning of provision in the grant-maintained sector.
As I have said so many times during the previous debate on Clause 10, we see no difficulty with the LEA and the funding authority having a parallel duty at stage 2 to secure the provision of school places. Once an order has been made under paragraph 10(1) (a), responsibility for securing the provision of sufficient places will rest on both the LEA and the funding authority. Separate and distinct duties will be placed on each body. This will mean that each body will be separately accountable for whether it has fulfilled its responsibility. The LEAs will continue to be required to discharge the duty under Section 8 of the 1944 Education Act, which is to secure that there are sufficient schools available for children in their area, but in addition a separate duty will be placed on the funding authority so that where the schools which are available for an area providing relevant education are not sufficient the funding authority will be under a duty to publish proposals for securing the availability of sufficient schools. These two separate duties will ensure that where there is a shortage of places both the LEA and the funding authority will be prepared to act to remedy the position.
In practice, of course, at stage 2 both the LEA and the funding authority will have the power (as distinct from the duty) at any time to propose a significant enlargement of an existing school or the establishment of a new school.
As soon as a proposal by the funding authority to provide a new school has been approved by the Secretary of State and implemented, the duty on the LEA to secure the provision of sufficient places has been met. In its planning the LEA would, of course, be able to take account of the fact that a proposal had been approved in relation to the grant-maintained sector.
If there was a need for a new school and there were no proposals from the funding authority, the LEA would need to act to ensure that there were sufficient places. If the LEA failed to act and there became a shortage of places the LEA would clearly be in default of its Section 8 duty. At the same time, the funding authority would come under a duty to bring forward proposals to make good the deficiency. This duty will not apply where for the funding authority to act would be inconsistent with the efficient use of resources. For example, where there were no grant-maintained schools in the area and the only cost-effective solution was to make a significant enlargement of an existing local authority maintained school.
It would, of course, clearly be desirable for the LEA and funding authority to discuss with each other which of them would be the more appropriate to act in a particular situation but if, following any such discussion, both bodies still wished to bring forward proposals then clearly the final decision about which type of school would be established will rest with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
When 75 per cent. of pupils in maintained primary or secondary schools in the area of an LEA are in 1057 grant-maintained schools, or earlier if the LEA requests, the Secretary of State may make an order giving the funding authority sole responsibility for securing the provision of sufficient school places. Local education authorities will no longer have a formal duty to provide school places. They will, however, continue to be responsible for managing schools which have chosen not to become grant-maintained. This will include the responsibility for bringing forward proposals for the alteration or closure of their schools. The funding authority will have no power over LEA schools. The only limitation on the LEAs' powers to reorganise school provision in the LEA sector at stage 3 will be that, unless directed by the Secretary of State, they will not be able to propose the establishment of a new school except where that school will provide education for pupils who were attending another school which the LEA is no longer required to maintain.
Local education authorities will at this stage continue to be required to keep their school provision under review and, using his powers in Clause 19, the Secretary of State will require them to submit annual reports on the supply of places in their sector as well as providing the funding authority with relevant demographic and related information to enable them to carry out their duties, particularly their duty in respect of the provision of school places. Even at stage 3 there will, therefore, continue to be a need for close consultation and co-operation between the funding authority and the LEAs on the matter of ensuring that there are sufficient school places available for children in the local authority area.
Amendment No. 286 proposes to remove Schedule 2. As noble Lords will realise, Schedule 2 is an essential part of the structure which will enable the LEAs and the funding authority to function side by side. Again, my noble friend Lord Renton made this point very well. The schedule, which is in four parts, sets out the distribution of functions between the LEA and the funding authority with respect to their duty to secure the provision of sufficient school places once the Secretary of State has made an order under Clause 10.
I think that it was the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who was concerned about where power lay—about whether it was central or local. As I have said, I believe that devolution to schools is the best form of devolved operational control right down to the unit of management that makes most sense to local people. The noble Earl then went on to refer to something which my noble friend Lady Thatcher said in an article in The Times some years ago—I am not sure whether he was quoting. In the context in which she said what she did, I believe that my noble friend was absolutely right. The Department of Education and Science, as it was then, and the Department for Education, as it is now, cannot make all the decisions. As my noble friend Lady Perry said, the whole thrust of the Bill is that the decision-making for many of the day-to-day functions rests with schools, but the determination of whether a school should be closed or newly established lies, of course, with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. That is the 1058 position at the moment and, indeed, as it would be under the amendments proposed by noble Lords opposite.
I have already explained why we consider this structure essential for the effective management of the school system, and I trust that noble Lords will therefore reject the amendments.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, I am sure that the House will have listened with great attention to the Minister's reply and, as always, she has endeavoured to be detailed. First of all perhaps I may say how very much I appreciated the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and how sad I was that he could not allow his goodwill towards style to carry him through to the substance.
I find myself perplexed—this is again for me equally an unusual occurrence—by the position of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. Education Acts, as we have known them, are not taken in isolation. We do not ditch all the existing Education Acts and then have a completely new situation. There is an evolution. There is a relationship one to another. There are references in one to another, and so it is not a totally new situation. The basis of our position on this side of the House is that the Government are removing an explicit relationship, a partnership, that existed until now. We put a contrary thesis: that that should not be removed. That is our position. There is an honest distinction between us.
If that is the case, we believe that our position that education rests best upon a partnership between the centre and local communities should still be spelt out explicitly in the Bill. There have been all sorts of references to the interplay between the two Acts. But I come back, and it is inevitable that I do, to what the Minister said in Committee. I shall not repeat all that I have quoted. She emphasised, honestly, that local authorities would be required to discharge the duty under Section 8 of the 1944 Education Act, which is to secure that there are sufficient schools available for the children in their areas. Later, as I pointed out, she said specifically and honestly that it would be for the Secretary of State to issue a direction to the local authority if it were felt that the LEA was not carrying out its Section 8 responsibilities. If that is so, we are putting—I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say this—the local authority into a position of serfdom, where it is not in an honest partnership and dialogue with the centre. There is not a wholesome sharing of responsibilities. There are certain residual tasks which it is expected to carry out because that is convenient for the centre.
Not for the first time, the wise observations of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, have underlined the position. His words provide the reassurance—if I needed any—about the stand that we are taking on the amendment, because, of course, society is complex. The United Kingdom does not have a monolithic society, and thank God for that. We are a highly diverse community, with many differing local circumstances. It is difficult to imagine, however professionally excellent they may be in performing their central strategic tasks and in approaching the big, broad strategic issues of the country, that there 1059 are many among officials of the DFE—officials of ability, standing and status—who would be so foolish as to pretend that they begin to have a detailed understanding of what makes a local community tick or of the interplay between different parts of local community services and the rest, to which the noble Earl referred. For that reason, and because there is an honest difference—we have to face it—we shall be pursuing the amendment to a vote.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ On Question, whether the said amendment (No.1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 87; Not-Contents, 149.1060
|Addington, L.||Judd, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Kirkwood, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Ardwick, L.||Longford, E.|
|Attlee, E.||Macaulay of Bragar, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Milner of Leeds, L|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Monkswell, L..|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|David, B.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Desai, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Richard, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Eatwell, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Ezra, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Russell, E.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Foot, L.||Seear, B. [Teller.].|
|Gallacher, L.||Scrota, B.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Guildford, Bp.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Tenby, V.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Warnock, B.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||White, B|
|Howell, L. [Teller.]||Wigoder, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Williams of Elvel, L|
|Jay, L.||Williams of Mostyn. L.|
|Jeger, B.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Abiger, L.||Blatch, B.|
|Aldigton, L.||Blyth, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Boardman, L|
|Alexander of Weedon, L.||Boyd-Carpenter, L|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V||Brabazon of Tara, L|
|Alport, L.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Arran, E.||Cadman, L.|
|Astor, V.||Caithness, E|
|Auckland, L.||Caldecote, V.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Bessborough, E||Carnock, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Manchester, D.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Mancroft, L.|
|Chelmer, L.||Marlesford, L.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Merrivale, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Mersey, V.|
|Clark of Kempston, L||Milverton, L.|
|Cochrane of Cults, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Coleraine, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L||Mountevans, L.|
|Cox, B.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Munster, E.|
|Cranborne, V.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Nelson of Stafford, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Northbourne, L.|
|Davidson, V.||O'Brien of Lothbury, L.|
|Denton of Wakefield, B.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Donegall, M.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Downshire, M.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Dundonald, E.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Eccles, V.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Pender, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Perry of Southwark, B.|
|Elles, B.||Pike, B.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Porritt, L.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Quinton, L.|
|Elton, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Reay, L.|
|Flather, B.||Renton, L.|
|Foley, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Romney, E.|
|Gainford, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Salisbury, M.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Geddes, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Goschen, V.||Shannon, E.|
|Hacking, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone,||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Skidelsky, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Slim. V.|
|Harlech, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Harmsworth, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Strange, B.|
|Henley, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Hesketh, L. Teller.]||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Howe, E.||Sudeley, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Swansea, L.|
|Ingrow, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Ironside, L.||Swinton, E|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Terrington, L..|
|Kimball, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Lane of Horsell, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Thurlow, L.|
|Long, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Lucas, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Lyell, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Wakeham, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||[Lord Privy Seal.]|
|[Lord Chancellor.]||Westbury, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Young, B|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.33 p.m.
Baroness Warnock moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 1, line 11, at end insert ("including nursery education provided by local education authorities in accordance with section (Nursery Education) below.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 33 (which is a substantial amendment) and Amendments Nos. 35 and 36.1061
§ The purpose of the amendments is to place a duty on local education authorities to secure the provision of nursery education for all children whose parents want that for them. The local education authorities had that duty until 1980. The amendments also require the Secretary of State to ensure that both capital and revenue resources are available for the provision of nursery education, whether they come locally or nationally. In other words, if a local authority were capped so that it could not supply nursery places, it would fall to central government to provide the resources.
§ The amendments also seek to ensure that the funding authority does not take over the duty to secure the provision of nursery education. However, that is not to say that the grant-maintained schools may not contribute to the provision of nursery education as they do now in their nursery classes. The amendments seek only to ensure that the planning of nursery provision and the duty to secure it remain with the local education authority.
§ I shall be told that we have been through all this before, as indeed we have. I have been told in rough terms by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and in dulcet tones, by the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State, that such provision cannot be afforded. I am perfectly aware, as we all are, of the financial hole in which the Government find themselves. Furthermore, from long experience I am aware of the extreme irritation that is caused by people who say, "I know that we need to economise —but not in my favourite area". No one who has had anything to do with a university or a college could be unaware of how angry that makes people, and generally quite rightly.
§ Nevertheless, I wish to make two points. First, we are told that things are really not so bad. We are told that 49 per cent. of all three and four year-olds are in nursery school, and that more than 90 per cent. of that age group receive pre-school education through playgroups or other means. Those figures are misleading. Many of that 49 per cent. of children in nursery school (including one of my grandchildren) go to school for no more than one half day per week because nothing more is available. Equally, among those who attend playgroups, most attend for similarly short periods—that is, a few hours every week. That is not enough.
§ That leads me to my second point. The difference which is made to a child, especially a child who is deprived, abused or neglected at home, by regular and structured pre-school education is inestimable. It is inestimable except in financial terms because we know that money spent at this end of the educational ladder will save vast sums currently expended at the other end. We know that potential problems and difficulties can be overcome at this stage of a child's development with relative ease—at any rate, with an ease totally unmatched by the later difficulty that that child will have in having his needs met and in overcoming his difficulties. Our awareness of these facts is growing all the time as a result of research carried out here and in the United States.1062
§ For that reason, I am not ashamed to reintroduce the amendment. I believe that it is the most important of all the commitments which your Lordships should consider to be necessary if education is to proceed properly in the future. It is one of the most important —if not the most important —matters for debate today and in the following days. Although I am not ashamed to reintroduce the amendment, I must confess to shame as I reflect that it is the Home Office rather than the Department for Education which is now taking seriously the research results on the consequences of nursery education. The Home Office is interesting itself in the high-scope project. Organisations such as Crime Concern and the Thames Valley Police believe in the efficacy of nursery education and are saying so increasingly loudly. It will be a truly disgraceful day if the opportunity is missed for a government commitment—even for the future —to nursery education, as the Bill goes through this House. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I have considerable sympathy for the substance of what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has said. In so far as it is reflected in the grouped amendments, Amendments Nos. 33, 35 and so on, which I have been through—I agree that one has to go through some of these rather quickly because they arrived rather late —at a later stage I should like to consider in further detail what is said on the substance of those amendments. However, I hope that your Lordships will not accept Amendment No. 2 because there are various simple reasons why it is unacceptable.
If the substance is in those subsequent amendments, it would be quite wrong to try to alter the drafting of Clause 1 to try to take in and improve the substance of those later amendments for various reasons. One of those reasons is that it would disturb the balance, effect and interpretation. We have had a great deal of trouble trying to get Clause 1 right, in which I have been involved, to some extent on the margin. Having got it right with Amendments Nos. 3 to 7 and 17, which I gather are acceptable to all sides of the House, it would be a great pity to re-open the debate. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will not accept this amendment to Clause 1.
Furthermore, strictly speaking, as a matter of drafting the Bill states:The Secretary of State shall promote the education of the people of England and Wales".Children who attend nursery schools are people and the greater, as a matter of the prime canon of construction, includes the lesser. Therefore, without wishing to be over-technical, there is no sound basis on which the amendment should be carried into the Bill. However, I want to hear much more about the substance of the following amendments, and until I do I am not in a position to speak to them.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I wish strongly to support the amendment, or at any rate the intention behind it; namely, to ensure that nursery schools are available in this country. I remember what was said in Committee. This is in no way a criticism or attack on pre-school groups, which are doing a very good job.
1063 However, they are not appropriate or available for the whole range of children. We need to have genuine nursery education, with properly trained nursery teachers, dealing with the children for whom it is planned.
Of course, that is expensive but it is a case of taking a long-term rather than a short-term view. As the Government are being reminded constantly, short-termism does not get you anywhere very fast.
We are deeply concerned in this country—and I am sure this is true of all Members of your Lordships' House—about the educational and social failure of many groups in our society. Far too many people leave school with an inadequate education. Those people contribute to our economic and social problems. They are human problems in themselves. There is a great deal of evidence which shows that an early start with good nursery education gives the best opportunity to reduce the numbers of such people who enter into that group as non-achievers. For that reason, I urge the noble Baroness to strengthen provision of nursery education in this country and to accept this amendment, or some modification of it if the criticisms of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, are accepted.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, I rise to support very warmly the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. As I have said before—and I hope that she will not be embarrassed if it becomes a refrain—there are few people who speak with more knowledge, sensitivity and experience of such issues than the noble Baroness. It is a joy to join with her in an amendment.
The value in being able to reconsider this issue is that in replying to the debate in Committee the Minister overlooked totally a key element in what we are proposing. We are proposing that nursery education of this kind should be available to the children of all parents or guardians who wish it for their children. That is terribly important.
In the Minister's response she said that the proposed amendment would mean that the pre-school playgroup movement would cease to exist. Reference has been made to that. However, that would be true only if parents no longer wished to make use of pre-school playgroups and asked instead for nursery education. In that instance only—and only in that instance—would 100 per cent. of children be provided with nursery education rather than pre-school playgroups. Therefore, if pre-school playgroups were to fade, that could only be because parents preferred nursery education.
Since the Government repeatedly put on record their position in favouring parents having choice, surely the Minister cannot object to parents being able to choose nursery education if they felt that that was more appropriate.
I hope that we do not distort reality in our debates. A big challenge in all this is to recognise the sterling work being carried out by countless committed and devoted childminders throughout the country and by many playgroups and to work with those involved in 1064 building up the best possible provision for our youngest children. The people involved in those other activities have a great deal of insight and experience to offer. It is not an either/or situation. It is the best possible mutually supportive system of services which we need.
That the local authority has a key role to play in that respect cannot be doubted. After all, it is the local authority which can bring together the various services which should be working together, not least care and transport. Flexibility will always be essential if nursery education is to be generally available for all those who seek it rather than only for those whose professions or family arrangements dovetail more easily with it.
In 1989 the House of Commons Education, Science and Arts Committee conducted an investigation into the education of young children. That report recommended, among other things, that day care should include elements of planned nursery education. As was pointed out in the earlier debate, in its report, Aspects of Primary Education: The Education of Children under Five, published in 1985, the inspectorate said that children under five in nursery schools and classes generally received a better balanced education than those admitted early to primary classes.
Before I conclude, I ask the Minister whether she is in touch with her colleagues in other departments. I am extremely interested to read that the Home Office Programme Development Unit is currently funding a three-year High/Scope nursery education project in four inner city areas—Liverpool, Manchester, North Tyneside and Lewisham. That is being done because the conclusions of a study comparing the experiences of 123 young African Americans from a deprived inner city area of Michigan who went through the High/Scope nursery programme in the 1960s with those of a similar group who did not. The conclusions were clear. Children born in poverty who participated in a high quality, active learning pre-school programme at ages three and four have fewer criminal arrests, higher earnings and property wealth and a more stable family life as adults.
Earlier results from the same programme indicate that pre-school participation can increase the proportion of young people who at the age of 19 are literate, employed and enrolled in post-secondary education. Results show also reductions in the proportion who dropped out of school, were labelled mentally retarded, had been arrested or were on welfare. Indeed, a cost benefit analysis of the programme and its long term effects at the age of 19 revealed returns of six dollars for every dollar invested in a one-year programme and three dollars for every one in a two-year programme. The latest research shows the returns to be even greater at age 27, yielding economic benefits to the public of quite considerable income for what has been invested.
As long ago as 1972, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher (then Mrs. Thatcher), pledged that there would be nursery places for every child aged three and four whose parents wanted it. In 1980, Chris Patten, the former chairman of the Conservative Party said: 1065It is a considerable pity—indeed it is a great deal more than that—that more children have not had the benefit of nursery education…I have seen how much my own children have gained from it".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/2/80; cols. 1296–97.]Until 1980 legislation laid down that it should be the duty of the local education authority to provide nursery places for those children whose parents or guardians wanted it under Section 9(2) (b) of the Education Act 1944. Let us remember that that Act was introduced in the midst of a war, with all the inherent pressures on the economy. Those visionaries then saw the value of nursery education and what a sound investment it would be in the future of the country. The amendment would return to that position.
The second part of the amendment would require the Secretary of State annually to satisfy himself that sufficient resources were available to local education authorities to carry out that duty. Clearly it is important that local authorities are able to fulfil their duty and the funding to do so is a necessary part of it. I cannot think of any single act of policy which is a better investment in the future of our children than nursery education. That is why we on this side of the House are so deeply committed to its provision for all who desire it. That is also why we totally fail to understand the repeated shortsighted intransigence of Government Ministers opposite in not recognising a good investment when they see it.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I strongly support Amendment No. 33, but I rise to speak more specifically to Amendment No. 30 which is tabled in my name and which is a mere mouse of an amendment compared to the former. It is designed as a backdrop if the Government are unprepared to accept the much more ambitious targets of Amendment No. 33. What I am suggesting need not require any additional resources, although additional resources in the education and care of under-fives are undoubtedly needed. I am suggesting targeting of existing resources, plus a few more if the Government can see their way to providing them, upon the children and the families who have most need.
Nursery education and pre-school care is most essential for those children who have the least family support. It need not cost that much money. On Monday I visited a pre-school group in the primary school in my village of Northbourne. It has 15 children and is run by a trained nursery teacher. I must here give credit to the Government's policy of local management of schools because it was LMS which released the energy of the parents. They grouped together, raised funds and obtained money to set up the project. They also continue to raise funds so that those parents who can afford it pay £3 a day for three mornings a week, while those parents who cannot are subsidised by the fund-raising effort. That is possible in a relatively opulent rural area, but clearly would not necessarily be possible in some inner cities.
The real concern that a number of organisations have is that it is not entirely clear, as I understand it, how the withdrawal of funds from the local authorities to fund the funding authority for schools will work. The proposals on the common funding formula are 1066 apparently still out for consultation. Under the funding formula, it appears that full-time nursery education may be funded by the funding agency and those funds recovered from the local authorities. The fear of the caring organisations is that, in recovering those funds, the schools which are most likely to opt out are probably those with the more opulent parents. That is because those parents are more active, and so on. Therefore, the local authorities are likely to be left with the poorer schools in the deprived areas. The funding will be transferred to the funding authority from the local authorities' standard spending allowance, and the local authorities will be left with little or no money to fund nursery schools in the areas where they are really needed. That is the great fear.
If the Minister could give me comfort on that issue, I believe that it would help a great deal. I say that because this represents negative targeting; it actually represents targeting funds away from the areas of greatest need. That must be wrong and cannot be what we all want. Therefore, as I said, if the Minister could give me some comfort in that respect I should be most grateful. Alternatively, and better still, perhaps she will be able to accept my amendment or take it away and improve it.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment No. 30. In an ideal world I would support the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, because I believe that nursery education is ultimately absolutely essential; indeed, it would bring us into line with our colleagues in France and Germany who have nursery education by statute. But, having heard the previous debate, I know that the Government feel that they cannot accede to universal nursery education. I am frightened that if we do not support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, we may not achieve anything at all. I have the kind of feeling as in, "… one step enough for me". For goodness sake, let us take one step towards the ideal. Therefore, while I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, reality leads me to say that I support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as a first step.
There are pre-school playgroups which are enormously well supported in the country. I believe that parents should have the right to choose. Therefore, because I believe in nursery education, and because reality tells me that we shall not get it universally at this stage, I support Amendment No. 30 in order to take the first step towards achieving that aim.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, with such respected Members of your Lordships' House putting forward amendments, I feel that my voice in their support is somewhat surplus to requirements. However, I should like to put in a word for those children with special needs; that is, those with learning disabilities. As we are all aware, LEAs have a statutory duty to ensure that the identified special educational needs of children between the ages of two and five are met. It is difficult to see how they can ensure that without having knowledge and control of the nursery education system. I am sure that noble Lords are 1067 aware that early learning is even more vital for children with learning difficulties than it is, perhaps, for others.
If the amendment is accepted—indeed, if any of them are accepted—LEAs will be able to continue to offer a flexible, co-ordinated service to all young children, and children with learning disabilities will actually be able to have the service to which they are entitled. I am certain that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will have no difficulty in accepting this straightforward amendment, which is supported outside the House by the Special Educational Consortium made up of no less than 140 organisations concerned with those with special needs.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I trust that the House will allow me to introduce my own amendments and then I shall reserve my right to reply at the end of the debate. I refer to Amendments Nos. 281 and 283. They are there to ensure that in relation to the provision of places for the under-fives the Funding Agency for Schools will be in the same position as local education authorities. In short, it will be under no obligation to provide such places at any stage. Of course, that is not to say that it will be precluded from proposing the provision of such places at grant maintained schools. The funding agency may make proposals to do so after the necessary consultation and in accordance with the statutory requirements governing proposals. The amendment makes clear that the duty to secure sufficient places applies at all stages to the compulsory age range only. Accordingly I ask noble Lords to accept these amendments. I shall respond to the general debate later.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, it is perfectly true that we debated nursery education in Committee but I can quite understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and others who have spoken in her support, wish to raise the matter again. I do not think there is anyone in your Lordships' House who does not believe, as a matter of principle, that nursery education, for those parents who want it for their children, is a good thing. Therefore, to argue against these amendments is to suggest that one does not agree with nursery education and one feels children should not receive it. That is not, of course, the view that we take, and the reasons for not supporting these amendments are somewhat different.
It is right, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, that we should have an opportunity to reconsider what was said in Committee. However, some of the difficulties have been pointed out. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway referred to them on the first of these amendments. This is not a technical matter at all; it is an important matter of law. Leaving that aside, there are a number of arguments to be considered. I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, say there was not a strong case for pre-school playgroups. Some parents prefer to send their children there rather than to a nursery school.
1068 There is no reason why they should not do so. I believe in variety, and I believe that both kinds of nursery provision should be supported.
However, I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister says on the important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Most local authorities give priority to precisely those children who receive free school meals. I would be interested to know how many children who receive free school meals do not receive nursery education. I do not have the figures but I should be interested to know them. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, also said that because schools have local management of resources, funds had been released for staffing nursery classes. I understand this is occurring in various parts of the country and it is a good development which is much to be welcomed. As regards opting out, the noble Lord said that it was not usually the poorest schools that opted out. I have been asked to become a patron of an inner city girls' school which by no stretch of the imagination can be regarded as a school where rich people send their children. A high proportion of the pupils receive free school meals and that school is considering opting out.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. The point I was making was that because the richer schools will opt out and will take money away from local authorities, local authorities will be left with less money to support the poorer schools.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I do not wish to pursue that argument. I do not agree with the noble Lord because at the moment we are discussing nursery education. Amendment No. 33 causes the difficulty. It is similar to the amendment that was tabled at a previous stage. The amendment commits the Government to an enormous increase in expenditure. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, felt I was hard on her on a previous occasion. However, as someone who has been a Minister I feel it is quite wrong for your Lordships' House to make these large commitments. I said on a previous occasion that such action was irresponsible and I do not renege on that statement.
That is not to say that I am not pleased that the numbers in nursery education are increasing. I understand that between 1983 and 1992 the number of under fives in maintained nursery schools and classes rose by a third. That seems to me a good record. Although I accept that some pupils spend only a small proportion of the week in a nursery school, that is much better than not being there at all. The overall figures for nursery provision are increasing year by year. I have no reason to believe that that will not be the case in the future. I am sure the whole House understands the point about nursery schools, but I feel it would be quite wrong, for a number of reasons I have given, for the Government to accept these amendments this afternoon.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I hesitate to take part in this debate because it is 30 years since I had the privilege of being president of the Nursery School 1069 Association. I had to relinquish that post in 1964 when the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, as he now is, decided I would be more usefully employed in the Colonial Office. However, I have retained a strong interest in the value of nursery school education since that time. The changes that have occurred in our social and family structures since that time have meant that the need for nursery education is greater than it has ever been.
The needs of small children remain the same but the need for nursery education is increasing. In certain favourable circumstances the need can certainly be met through pre-school playgroups. However, it is quite misleading to suggest, as I believe the Minister suggested in earlier debates on this Bill, that such favourable conditions generally prevail in our urban areas. I stood up for the pre-school playgroups in their early days but only in appropriate situations where the majority of children came from literate homes and where those who ran the groups usually included former teachers who were taking a break while bringing up their own children.
I enlisted, on the sole occasion in my political career, the personal help of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. We were concerned then with the extremely unsatisfactory position of pre-school children who lived in the towering blocks of flats which were then springing up in our cities and major industrial areas. When the committee that was studying the matter proposed supervised play in places where no nursery school was likely to be made available, the noble Baroness demurred that parents should look after their own children and that supervised play should be paid for. I am afraid she was in a minority of one for most of the time on our committee, although in other respects we greatly valued her help.
However the noble Baroness, Lady Blotch, clearly has something of the same outlook. She should not mislead herself by relying on her personal experience in East Anglia, as I believe she did in an earlier debate. The situation in East Anglia, after all, is a case of favourable circumstances. It is quite misleading to transfer that situation, which she quite properly described, to that which confronts so many young children in other parts of our society who have no such gifted person as the noble Baroness to inspire their pre-school playgroups. If the noble Baroness does not realise the limits of the pre-school playgroups and the need for much fuller professional teaching for many children in nursery schools, I am afraid a good many children will be shortchanged.
§ Viscount Eccles
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady White, as she mentioned the year when I began to think about nursery education. I remember asking the staff in the department where I worked why they considered education in a series of stages comprising primary, secondary, further and university education. I said that surely one person has one life. If public money is to be invested in this matter, we should find out at what stages in an individual's life it is most worth while investing that money. No one could answer my question. I also asked personnel in universities at what stage in an individual's life it was most worth while spending 1070 money on education according to what an individual could absorb at a particular age. The university personnel could not and would not help me.
Time has passed. I go to America a good deal. There they have done a great deal of research into the value of education before the age of five in relation to the rest of a child's life. So far as I can make out, that is a very high priority. We do not spend very much money on it here because we have not been used to spending money on it. We know what government departments are. They do not want ever to switch the budget from one item to another because somebody will he hurt.
I believe that we have reached the point when we must ask the Government whether they have any knowledge of the importance of spending taxpayers' money on children under the age of five. I believe that they will find it very difficult to get an answer. I believe that the answer will be that it is highly important and in many cases more important than spending money on some other stages of education.
Let us suppose that there is not enough money. My noble friend on the Front Bench said when I was here last some months ago that it was money which had prevented her from including nursery education in the Bill. She said that it was money which made playgroups more attractive because they were cheap. I suppose that parents like them because they want somewhere where they can get rid of the little dears for a few hours and a playgroup will do. However, that does not meet the educational need.
What do we do if there is not enough money to go round? We then have to consider whether the money spent on education is enough in relation to what the Government spend on other matters. We have to consider whether money should be transferred. One cannot always continue to provide the same shares for everybody. The world is advancing in many directions and those shares have to be changed. I do not believe that it is as important to spend money on keeping people alive at my age as it is to teach children under the age of five. I believe that we spend too much money on the end of life compared with what we ought to be spending on the beginning of life.
Ministers never think about those issues these days. If they did they would say so. All they do is give us brilliant Civil Service analyses of what is going on in one small section. It is the business of Parliament and of Ministers to look at life as a whole and to ask whether we are doing the right thing. I do not think that we are doing the right thing.
I do not like to vote against the Government, but I think that I shall vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, if he presses it to a vote. I believe that this question goes far wider than the amendments we have considered today.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, before I ask the Minister a simple question perhaps I may refer to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and say that there is all the world of difference between pre-school playgroups and nursery schools. I do not for one moment underrate what is being done at 1071 pre-school playgroups. When I was an education officer I used to fiddle equipment and other items for the pre-school playgroups. It is probably not wise to say that in your Lordships' House, but I say it to show my commitment to pre-school playgroups and the splendid work that they do. However, as my noble friend said, there is a great difference, in terms of qualified teachers and much better equipment. I am glad to see that the noble Baroness agrees with me at least to some extent. I hope that we shall not confuse the two because the nursery school question is very important.
I am glad that the noble Viscount intervened because my question is very much related to what he said. My question is this: is the only reason why the Government will not adopt the policies contained in these amendments one of money? There is a great deal of evidence about the value of nursery education. The filing cabinets of the Department for Education must be stuffed with all the reports which have been produced over the years about how good and valuable nursery education is. I do not believe that that is a matter for argument.
It was interesting that my noble friend Lord Judd raised the latest report from the United States. I mention it because, first, it is a wee bit different. It talks about the benefits—and I suppose that this is typically American—not just of a reduction in criminality but also in terms of job success, home ownership and car ownership. That is perhaps a new aspect to all the research that has been done.
I asked the Minister that question because one of the findings of the study is that every £1 spent on nursery education would save the taxpayer £7 by reducing criminality, unemployment and the need for handouts. I am sure that the Minister will take that on board in the attempts that I hope she will make to persuade the Government that the policies advocated in the amendments are worth while.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister is offered a choice of ways forward in this group of amendments. There is a very wide option in Amendment No. 2, which would interfere with Clause 1 which, for reasons my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway explained, would be regrettable. There is the wide one in Amendment No. 33. In addition, there are two different methods of targeting. The first is in Amendment No. 30, which is tied to the school meals profile, and the second is contained in Amendment No. 13 which offers the ingenious route via parents.
I recognise that my noble friend the Minister is under tight financial constraints, but I hope that she will not take the advice of my noble friend Lord Eccles and reduce the amount of money spent on keeping people like him alive. There are two reasons for saying that: the first is that he is too valuable to lose, and the second is that the saving would be minimal because so far as I know there is nobody else like him anyway.
I can endorse the American research to which my noble friend referred, which is paralleled by that to which the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, referred. I ask my noble friend the Minister to have two points in mind. First, the education of children 1072 has one similarity to the maintenance of a house, in that the sooner one spends money on it the more damage one avoids and the better the value one receives for the money spent. Therefore, it is a question of virement of money between age groups. There ought to be weighted consideration.
Secondly, I ask my noble friend to look very carefully at the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in Amendment No. 30. With the greatest respect, I believe that my noble friend Lady Young may have slightly misunderstood that amendment—or I have. As I see it, it is not aimed at encouraging local authorities per se to spend more on disadvantaged children, but at ensuring a fair distribution between local authorities and other funding authorities when the children in an area are split between them and there is a disparity of need between them. The noble Lord has found an indicator —the provision of pre-school meals—which I believe is worth considering. As he pointed out, it will not cost a penny more in toto because he is suggesting that the money is distributed pro rata between the two according to the number of free school meals issued. I believe that that proposal is worth considering.
Finally—and briefly, because we have spent rather a long time on the amendment—I should like to refer to Amendment No. 13. That amendment suggests that it should be the duty of the Secretary of State:to ensure that local authorities and schools secure adequate support for parents in their role as a young child's first teacher".I believe that there are two things wrong with it.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I do not believe that the amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, refers is in this group.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am sorry. I assumed that it would be and misread the grouping. In that case I shall merely ask your Lordships to consider carefully what I have already said, and then I shall sit down.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, perhaps I may voice one or two reservations. While of course one must be in favour of nursery school provision—not to be in favour of it is not to be in favour of mother's milk—in particular one must be in favour of pre-school provision for children from families in areas of high deprivation. Having worked in the community as a nurse I have nothing but admiration and sympathy for mothers who have to bring up small children in high-rise flats in very congested and dangerous urban areas.
However, that having been said, I believe that there is a strong case for a mixed economy, mixed provision. I do not believe that the case has been entirely made for nursery school provision as compared with the different kinds of provision which currently prevail and which perhaps need to be encouraged. While I agree very much with the attempt of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to try to ensure provision for pre-school activities and stimulus and support for areas of high social deprivation, there is a big question mark about the educational assumptions underpinning the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.
1073 Research has been mentioned with regard to the American study. I wish to ask the Minister whether there is any research available showing the significance of pre-school nursery provision in this country as compared with other kinds of provision. I have two queries and doubts about the educational assumptions underpinning the amendments. One is that research has shown again and again in the country that what matters in the educational attainment of our pupils is what goes on in the schools as they currently exist for the ages of five and upwards. There is, for example, the kind of teaching methods used for reading. The decline in reading standards and increase in illiteracy at the age of seven are associated much more with changes in the way in which reading is taught than with pre-school provision of education before the age of five.
In that context, I should be interested to see research studies examining the influence of schools and educational attainment in countries where, for example, formal education may not begin until the age of six or seven. That happens in some European countries where, compared with our country, they seem to achieve perfectly satisfactory educational standards by the end of their schooling. I suggest that we do not have sufficient research-based evidence on which to make hard claims for pre-school education before the age of five of the nursery school kind, compared with the provision of some pre-school opportunities for companionship, stimulus, respite for mothers with young children at home, which is provided by the present mixed economy provision.
Therefore, I believe that there are grave reservations about the amendment in terms of the educational assumptions on which it is premised. Given that, I must support noble Lords who have expressed reservations on the amendments on other grounds as well.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady White, my interest in the subject of nursery education goes back a long way, although not quite as far back as hers. I completed a PhD thesis on the subject in 1969, nearly 25 years ago, and I too have gone on taking an interest in policies towards nursery education ever since.
The short debate that we have had on the subject has been interesting because no one in your Lordships' House said anything other than that nursery education is a highly desirable form of educational provision and one that we ought to provide for our children. If that is our view, why are we not using the opportunity that this huge piece of educational legislation provides to make it available for all our children?
I was extremely interested in what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said. We must consider, when we are legislating, what are our priorities and what it is worth spending money on. Of course, it must be worth spending money on something as important as allowing all three and four year-olds whose parents want it to have the opportunity of a good educational experience at that crucial stage in their lives.
Again, following what the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, expenditure on 1074 education at this stage provides more in terms of value added than at any later stage. We know from countless pieces of research by educational psychologists and others that children learn faster at the ages of three and four than they do later. I say that as someone who works in the university sector. I would far rather that we invested more money in the provision of education for young children than in the provision of education at the university stage.
For the Government now to say that this is something they cannot afford I find extraordinary. We have just had a huge expansion in higher education; we could afford that. We are expanding provision for young people aged 16 to 19 which is highly desirable; we could afford that. But why is it that we are saying yet again that we cannot afford the expansion of provision for children at this crucial age?
I should like to pick up what my noble friends Lord Dormand and Lord Judd said. There are huge, long-term benefits from the provision of early childhood education and a great deal of research evidence to support that.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that of course I accept that there will be costs in going down that route. But when we legislate, we constantly bring about new forms of provision right across the board, not just in education, which leads to increased costs. That does not mean it is not desirable to do so. There will be short-term costs, but there will be long-term benefits. I should like to remind your Lordships' House that yesterday the Prime Minister said that this was not a short-termist government. If that is true, then we should be willing to invest in nursery education for its long-term benefits.
Perhaps I may make two or three other points. While I accept that pre-school playgroups are valuable, it is nevertheless the case that most parents—not all—when offered the opportunity of sending their children to a good nursery class or to a good nursery school, will prefer that to the rather more limited provision that it is possible to make in a playgroup. Playgroups have in many ways filled the gap in those areas where there is inadequate pre-school provision.
Nursery education first came on to the statute books in 1918. The provision that was made then was reinforced in the 1944 Act. We then had the Plowden Report in 1967 which advocated a major expansion of pre-school provision so that all young children whose parents wanted it could benefit. That was then put into the 1972 White Paper, as I think has been mentioned.
However, the history of nursery education in this country has been very much stop-go. Would it not be right now, 75 years after the 1918 Act, if in the 1993 Act we should make it a requirement that local education authorities should provide nursery places for three and four year-old children whose parents want it? I believe that it would be an enormous benefit. It would make this piece of legislation one that thousands of parents would welcome, not just today's parents but future parents, because it would end the territorial injustice involved in a situation where those parents who happen to have the good fortune to live in the area of a local authority where nursery 1075 provision is made can send their children to it. Those parents who do not—and about half our children aged three and four do not have the opportunity—are unable to do so. That seems to me grossly inequitable and unfair. We owe it not just to those children whose parents' income makes them eligible for free school meals but to all our children to provide this important and significant educational opportunity.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask her a short question.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, we are indeed on Report but before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask her a short question.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I understand from the Clerk that my noble friend is allowed to ask a question of the noble Baroness.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, this is quite a serious matter. I am asking the noble Baroness for her help from her vast knowledge and experience. I have an open mind and I ask for her assistance. She has spoken about the cost. What is the order of that cost if we are to try to implement the view that she advocates? How is it in context with the cost allocated, for example, to further education? Can one remove an element attributable to further education? I do not know. What is it, and can one move it across to nursery education? What is involved?
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I cannot give precise, up-to-date figures of the current cost per nursery place multiplied by the numbers of children who are eligible for nursery education. I can tell the noble Lord that the cost of nursery provision is hugely less than the cost of a place in a sixth form or the cost of one in a further education college. It is less, if only because the pay of nursery teachers is lower than the pay of those who work in post-school education and it is also less because the numbers of children in a nursery class will be considerably larger than the ratio of staff to students in post-school education.
§ 5.30 p.m.
My Lords, we must be careful in trying to draw general conclusions from the very particular circumstances of the Perry pre-school study in the US which has been adduced by so many noble Lords today. To give noble Lords further figures from that study, the pre-school group experienced 126 arrests per 100 persons and the control group experienced 230. While that is an admirable improvement, those levels of criminality are vastly in excess of the average in this country and even of the averages in the United States.
The amount spent on the pupils in that pre-school experiment in 1960 was 5,000 dollars per person per 1076 year. That is vastly in excess of any likely expenditure on pre-school education in general in this country in the foreseeable future.
The right reaction to this study is surely that of the Home Office; namely, to have particular projects in areas of particular need where the expense can be justified. To take that sort of expense and make it national on the grounds of research which has no relevance to national conditions must surely be wrong.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, perhaps I may start by addressing the question that was put by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. I am advised that the cost is over £½ billion. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is wrong. Nursery school teachers are paid as teachers. The staffing ratios are indeed higher at the nursery school level. I am talking about nursery school teachers—
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I did not make a comparison between nursery school teachers and teachers further up in the school system. I was asked to make a comparison between what happens at the nursery stage in terms of costs and what happens in terms of post-school provision. That is a completely different point to the one that the Minister makes.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, that was an out of order comment. This is Report stage. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that when she reads Hansard she will know that she made a comparison between the cost of nursery school teachers as opposed to the cost of teachers higher up in the system.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, we shall read Hansard tomorrow.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for being somewhat baffled and for imagining that noble Lords opposite have never been in power since the early part of this century. The noble Baroness said how strongly she felt about nursery education all those years ago. The noble Baroness, Lady White, said exactly the same. The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, was wringing his hands about how anxious he was when he was an education officer because nursery education was so important. I can only say to the noble Lord that he was entirely free at that time to take a view —at the time higher education was very much in the hands of local government; so, too, was further education, sixth-form colleges and polytechnics—that money spent at that end of the spectrum would be better spent for nursery school children. It was possible to take the money from the police authority and spend it on nursery school children. It was also possible to take it from transportation.
I served in local authorities. One of the functions that we had as local authority members was that we could vire from one heading to another. We were given one sum of money from government, and with that sum we could determine priorities. Had we wanted to spend it on nursery school children at the 1077 expense of some other service within the local authority, then we were entirely free to do so. But what it—
My Lords, this is Report stage. Perhaps I may continue. It is a question of priorities. It is about saying that there is only one sum of money, and it is finite. It is a question of the proper application of that money. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that the nursery education provision that comes before my department for consideration by the Secretary of State is indeed targeted. The policy is one of targeting areas of greatest need. That is true not only in the department. We believe that the local authority record is one of targeting the money they spend on nursery schooling on the areas of greatest need. I believe that that approach is right. But in the absence of being able to operate a blank cheque policy, is it not right that we should allow quality play-group provision to flourish?
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady White: yes, I was anecdotal for a moment at Committee stage when I used my East Anglian experience. But I have been all over the country, from Cornwall to the borders of Scotland. Up and down the country there are fine examples of the local community making its own provision. There are parents, sometimes retired teachers and mothers with great experience who are doing quality training. My own department has vastly increased the money that we allow the pre-school playgroup for training so the whole issue of quality is addressed. We must allow that to flourish unless we are going to support, as some of the amendments do, an absolute blank cheque policy to provide nursery education for all children.
I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, in answer to his question that the issue is not only about money. Of course, it is predominantly about money. If we are to say, as Amendment No. 33 says, that any parent of any child in any part of the country can simply seek, on demand, a nursery school place, then local authorities must have available to them year on year, just in case that demand is made, resources to provide for education. It is not just a question of the £½ billion that I mentioned to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in answer to that question. It is a matter of all the capital costs. What happens in regard to the three-teacher, three-classroom school, with just a hall and a few parents, in a few villages seeking nursery education? They will require capital costs as well as the current costs. That puts an enormous burden on local authorities and pre-empts their moneys, whether they like it or not. It does not give them powers to determine their own priorities. It is not only about money, especially when the additional cost of what is proposed (as we estimate) is over £500 million. It is also, we believe, wrong to take the view that pre-school provision should all be state funded, which is again a presumption in these amendments. There are genuine strengths in what my noble friend Lady Cox says and in what she has described as the mixed economy. There are some fine examples of private education.
1078 Nor should we be so very coy when we come to compare what happens in the United Kingdom with what happens on the Continent. My noble friend Lady Faithfull mentioned a number of countries where nursery education is universally provided. Apart from the Netherlands, Britain is the only European country to begin compulsory education at the age of five. The starting point for statutory schooling is six, or in one case even seven. In France, Germany, Italy and Spain compulsory education begins at the age of six. In those countries pre-school provision is not all state funded. It is both privately and publicly funded. In Germany, for example, 71 per cent. of nursery education is privately funded. That has no place in the amendments before us. We say that nursery education shall be provided on demand for all children under the age of five, wherever they are; and it shall be funded, and pre-empt local authority moneys.
To my noble friends Lord Northbourne and Lady Faithfull, speaking to Amendment No. 30, I say that we recognise that underpinning nursery education is very important. When the noble Lord spoke to his amendment I found myself in agreement with everything that he had to say. He described the small grouping of 15 children coming together with the nursery school teacher. That is not what these amendments are saying. They say something quite different.
The funding of both local education authority and self-governing schools currently is based on pupils already attending those schools, including pupils who are nursery pupils. So for a school in the LEA maintained system that has a nursery provision attached to it, whether it remains in the LEA maintained sector or moves into the grant-maintained sector, the funding moves with the children. The school does not take anything that it did not have when it was an LEA maintained school. To allocate by reference to free school meals would take nursery education away from many children who now have it. Following Amendment No. 30, if a school from the LEA maintained sector became a grant-maintained school and had a nursery provision attached to it, the provision would cease to apply if some of those children were not on free school meals. I am sure that that is not what the noble Lord meant, but it is a consequence of the amendment.
As I said, pupils in disadvantaged circumstances, as represented broadly by those who are eligible for free school meals, have a priority claim to a nursery education and I am not able to answer my noble friend Lady Young about just what proportion of children with free school meals do attend pre-school provision. Having been a member of a social services committee and having served nationally both on that committee and on the education committee, I know that local authorities do their very best to meet the needs of the most needy families and that includes finding provision for the under fives. If I am permitted to be parochial, my own playgroup had a safety net system for those families who could not afford even playgroup provision so that it was provided. We worked together very well with social services, as indeed social services worked with playgroups and 1079 nursery schools across the country. So it should not be for central government, which is what these amendments advocate, to allocate funding precisely by reference to free school meals. It should be a matter for local authorities to develop their own policies.
On the particular issue of fair allocation between grant maintained and local education authority schools, I can give an assurance that money which transfers relates only to LEA overheads—no other money is taken from schools—in the relevant sector, primary or secondary. It should not draw on the nursery school budget of a local education authority. So there is no question of money being taken into the grant-maintained sector that would have been for nursery education in the LEA maintained sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was fairly scathing in his criticism of this Government. But his own party's government were in power for a very long time. That Government were in power when the 1944 Education Act was on the statute book. I do not remember an extension of nursery education then. My noble friend Lady Young gave the figures; namely, that since 1979 a third more children are in nursery education provision. I have no difficulty in adding myself to the number of those Members of this House who have spoken in favour of nursery education provision and indeed provision for the under fives. We are talking now about means to ends; about whether we have a blank cheque policy for on-demand nursery school provision.
I want to challenge the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who will speak again in a moment. I wonder whether he will answer one question. If he accepts that money is finite, would he take it from the higher education sector, the further education sector, the police, the social services, transportation or from where? I can recall the large number of issues and debates that I have witnessed in this House. I have heard many comments from the other side of the Dispatch Box, and I know that whatever the issue, the noble Lord advocates more spending on it.
This is a question of priorities. Nursery education and under-five provision are increasing. We want to encourage that to happen but to do it in a way that allows local determination by local education authorities—and, when it is up and running, the funding agency for schools—to do just that.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, before the Minister sits down I should like to seek clarification on what she said on three specific points. First, she referred to the previous Labour Administration. Does she agree that all the records demonstrate that there was a steady growth in the provision of nursery education at the end of the Labour Government's period of office which was reversed when the Conservatives came to office? Secondly, she spoke several times now and on other occasions about our commitment to universal provision. But has she read Amendment No. 33? Amendment No. 33 says quite specifically:whose parents or guardians indicate that they desire such education to be provided".1080 As I said earlier, it is not an either/or situation. It is about being able to provide genuine choice of the right mix. For the second time the Minister has failed to address that point.
She asked me what I would be prepared to do to pay for it. That is a very fair question. I do not dodge it at all. The question is absolutely right and basic to sound government. If one wills the ends one must will the means. But what the Minister fails to answer every time that she speaks on that matter is the question: how can we afford not to go on paying for ever if we know the future savings that can be made by providing nursery education now?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, that was a wholly inappropriate intervention, given that the noble Lord has spoken to his own amendment. They were not three straightforward questions. The growth in nursery provision was not reversed by this Government. I gave the figures. There is more nursery provision and under-five provision today than ever before. So the situation was not reversed.
The point I made about Amendment No. 33 was that the amendment is entirely open ended. It has potentially to provide nursery provision for every child in the land. It is on demand for any parent of any child, and according to the law the money has to be made available. I simply say that the money has to come from somewhere and the noble Lord has not said where it should come from.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
My Lords, I find myself somewhat confused at the moment about which amendment we are discussing. I started by introducing Amendment No. 2 which was preliminary to Amendment No. 33. I hope that every amendment to Clause I will not be met with the response that Clause 1 is perfect and absolute and set in tablets of stone. There are other amendments to Clause 1 which ought to be debated. The point of Amendment No. 2 was simply to pave the way for the substantial amendment which I shall introduce; namely, Amendment No. 33.
Amendment No. 33 certainly would give an obligation which is much wider than that sought by Amendment No. 30. Personally I should like to support Amendment No. 30, provided that the principle of nursery education had been lost, which would be the case if Amendment No. 33 were put to the vote and defeated.
I find it depressing that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and other noble Lords have said that we are all in favour of nursery education and there is nobody in this Chamber who does not believe that nursery education is a good thing. That treats nursery education as a kind of optional extra—lovely if one can afford it. It is like giving somebody who has everything a leather blotter from Harrods for Christmas —very nice if one can afford it, but not really necessary.
The centre of my argument is that nursery education is a necessity. It is a necessity for the reason I gave. But linked with that is the reason given by my 1081 noble friend Lord Rix; namely, that in the course of nursery education, numerous problems are picked up and many children who may have special educational needs in the future when they get to school can be picked out and given the help that they need, which often prevents their having any special education need when they reach school at the age of five. Things can be noticed and put right far more easily between the ages of three and five. Language can be introduced to children who have not been speaking at all up to the age of three, and by the time they reach school they are speaking children and can take their place in the classroom.
That is a feature of enormous importance. It is at that point we save money if we spend it early enough. The people who say that nursery education is very good but we cannot afford it, have failed to appreciate the point of the argument; that is, that nursery education saves money. If we failed to pay for music lessons—I choose that case advisedly because it is that about which I feel most passionately—I would willingly sacrifice those musical children for the universal provision of nursery education for those children whose parents want it or for children who need it, if it could be provided as a statutory right. I do not believe that anything except a statutory right would meet the case.
I do not want to repeat the arguments about pre-school playgroups. I am thankful for them when they occur where nursery education does not. But that is not the same as the field within which one can detect children's difficulties. The number of children who literally do not speak when they come to school is increasing all the time because of the number of single parents who live in situations where all they want to do is to get rid of their children, put them in front of the television and not speak to them. That social phenomena is on the increase and therefore the need for nursery education is far greater than it was in 1944 when it was part of the Education Act.
I cannot withdraw the amendment; this is a matter of principle and not something extra and lovely if we can have it. I know that it involves expense, but it is such an important principle that it would be a tremendous shame were we not to vote to show how we felt about it.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 123.1083
|Division No. 2|
|Addington, L. [Teller.]||Broadbridge, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Callaghan of Cardiff, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Campbell of Eskan, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||David, B.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Desai, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L||Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Eatwell, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Eccles, V.|
|Boston of Faversham, L||Erroll, E.|
|Bottomley, L.||Faithfull, B.|
|Brightman, L.||Falkland, V.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Nicol, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|[Teller.]||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Guildford, Bp.||Richard, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Ripon, Bp.|
|Hanworth, V.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Rix, L.|
|Hollick, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Russell, E.|
|Howell, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Seear, B.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Scrota, B.|
|Judd, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Kagan, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Kirkwood, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Longford, E.||Warnock, B.|
|Mallalieu, B.||Waverley, V.|
|Mayhew, L.||Westwood, L.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||White, B.|
|Monkswell, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Morris of Castle Morris, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Murray of Epping Forest, L.||Young of Darlington, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Elton, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Flather, B.|
|Astor, V.||Foley, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Banbury of Southam, L.||Geddes, L.|
|Barber, L.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Goschen, V.|
|Beloff, L.||Harmsworth, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Hemphill, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Henley, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Hesketh, L. [Teller.]|
|Blyth, L.||HolmPatrick, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Howe, E.|
|Bolton, L.||lronside, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Layton, L.|
|Caithness, E||Leigh, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Long, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Lucas, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Lyell, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||[Lord Chancellor.]|
|Chelmer, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Mancroft, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Marlesford, L.|
|Clark of Kempston, L||Merrivale, L.|
|Cochrane of Cults, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Mottistone, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Cox, B.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Moyne, L.|
|Cranborne, V.||Munster, E.|
|Cranworth, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Cross, V.||Newall, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Davidson, V.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Denham, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Denton of Wakefield, B.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Donegall, M.||Perry of Southwark, B.|
|Downshire, M.||Pike, B.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Quinton, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Elles, B.||Reay, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Rees, L.|
|Renton, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Rodger of Earlsferry, L.||[Teller.]|
|Romney, E.||Sudeley, L.|
|St. Davids, V.||Swinfen, L.|
|Seccombe. B.||Swinton, E.|
|Shrewsbury, E.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Skelmersdale, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Skidelsky, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Slim, V.||Wakeham, L.|
|Stewartby, L.||[Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Stodart of Leaston, L.||Young, B.|
|Strange, B.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6 p.m.
Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 1, line 12, leave out from beginning to ("his") and insert ("The Secretary of State shall exercise").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 3, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 17 tabled in my name.
§ It was made clear both at Second Reading and during Committee consideration of this Bill that your Lordships were uneasy with the formulation of Clause 1. In particular, noble Lords were concerned that the clause in some way extended the power of the Secretary of State over institutions in the higher education sector beyond those powers he is already given in statute. I am afraid that my best efforts in reassuring your Lordships that that was not the case were in vain; and your Lordships were still concerned with the amendments I tabled at committee which were intended to put minds at rest. I promised to return at Report stage with a further redrafting. I hope that noble Lords will be satisfied with the amendments now tabled in my name. They make clear that the Secretary of State should have a general duty to promote the education of all people in England and Wales, regardless of whether that education is provided in schools, colleges or universities. I trust that your Lordships will agree that this is wholly desirable. This is set out in what will be the new Clause 1. The new clause is entirely free standing. New Clause 2 has no impact on higher education.
§ The amendments reflect the outcome of discussion with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. I am enormously grateful to them for the help that they have given us over the past few weeks, and indeed to my officials who have worked painstakingly on this matter. They have also benefited from the drafting of parliamentary counsel. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway, Lord Blake, Lord Beloff and Lord Butterworth who have withdrawn the amendments that they have tabled on this issue. It was their persistence that made sure that I went away and did some homework. I trust that the amendments in my name will be acceptable to the House. I beg to move.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, the Question having been put, I am not sure that I am in order in raising a point before the noble Baroness sits down. Normally, the layout of a clause is a matter for the draftsman. But in this case the alteration and splitting 1084 of the clause is most important. I wonder whether the noble Baroness will read it out as it will be. I happen to know it because she has been good enough to write to me about it. It is almost impossible to follow it from the amendments on the Order Paper. If the noble Baroness cannot lay her hand upon it I have it here.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, it is not so much a matter of laying my hands on it but in order to read it out I will have to take each of the amendments and displace some words and replace others. The new Clause 1 will simply say that the Secretary of State shall promote the education of the people of England and Wales. That will become Clause 1. I believe that simply to read out the amendments will not help. When I come to wind up at the end of the debate I will try to put it all in place and read what will then be Clause 2 in its entirety in a more fluid way than I am able to do at the Dispatch Box, interpreting each amendment.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I hope that I can assist the House in pre-empting debate. Universities will not be as fractious as nursery school children have proved themselves to be in the course of the past hour or so. I am authorised to say by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals that the universities are happy with the amendments that the noble Baroness has tabled. On behalf of the university community I thank her for the extraordinary efforts that I gather have been necessary in order to make possible this happy outcome.
What we are left with is the first sentence that speaks about promoting education at all levels. I suppose that we can regard that as very much a matter of form, as though the Secretary of State for Defence has to promote the defence of the realm against foreign invaders, except perhaps if the invaders are based in Brussels. One may also say that it is so obvious that it does not really need saying, but if people insist on saying it the universities are happy about it. I should like to point out to the noble Baroness very respectfully that once again the House of Lords has been proved right. The warnings given in your Lordships' House about the clause have been accepted. That happened with the last Education Act when academic freedom was inserted by your Lordships' House. I say in a friendly way to the Minister that there are one or two other issues on which I expect the Government to come round to the views expressed in the House of Lords—higher education, the immediate question of a humanities research council and, in the not too distant future, perhaps the substitution for the Jackson loan scheme of a graduate tax.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness very warmly for the amendments. Through her, I should like to thank her officials and all those who have helped and who have been involved in highly skilled consultative work. The amendments are a fine achievement of draftsmanship. They reconcile objectives that at first I thought could not be reconciled, and I believe that they do so with complete success. Like Winnie the Pooh, I do not want to seem 1085 greedy but I hope I can be forgiven if I say that in proving the virtues of consultation perhaps they illustrate that on another occasion the time of the House may be saved if the consultation takes place before the publication of the Bill rather than after it.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, having been involved in this matter on the margin, perhaps I may associate myself with everything that has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Russell; in particular what he said about the Minister, the Secretary of State, the department and the draftsman. I am wholly satisfied—I have taken an independent line—that the amendment wholly resolves the question of vulnerability on which I addressed your Lordships at Committee stage. In a sense it constitutes far more than that. It represents an expression of the good faith of the Minister and the Secretary of State, which was never in question, but we are grateful to have it on the face of the Bill.
We need to have the clause set out for the record in some form whether it be at the beginning of the Official Report or at the end because its presentation on the Marshalled List is very confusing.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, as I took some part in the subject of academic freedom from interference by a government department both in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 of last Session and the earlier stages of this Bill, perhaps I may be associated with the gratitude to the noble Baroness. We should also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who, both in regard to the earlier Act and again on this Bill, has played a vital and strenuous part in what has been achieved.
In expressing gratitude we should be careful that now that the Baroness has let go of her end of a rope on which we have been tugging, we do not all fall on our backs. This is not the first time that academic freedom has been threatened. I reminded your Lordships at Second Reading that it started with the Education Reform Bill of 1988. In Committee on that Bill the essential safeguards were wrung from the Government with considerable difficulty. But the Department of Education then made its grant both to the universities and to the polytechnics subject to conditions. Those conditions had to be satisfied by the individual institutions. As they certified that they had satisfied the conditions the share of the withheld part of the grant was released to them. That was clearly in gross conflict with the amendments wrung from the Government in the 1988 Act.
The matter came before the court, which ruled against the department. But it went further, because the department put forward a general argument which would have completely nullified the concessions wrung from the Government. I mention that because I am going to ask the noble Baroness in due course to give certain assurances. The matter, however, did not even stop there. The department, having been defeated in the court, brought in the Further and Higher Education Bill reinstating the original provisions of the 1988 Act. There was then a fierce struggle in your Lordships' House, in which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, played a prominent part. Finally, at the very 1086 last stage of Third Reading, an amendment was carried against the Government on a Division and the safeguards were reinstated. So it is with very considerable alarm that the universities see Clause I as it now stands in this Bill.
The words at the end of subsection (3), on the face of them, permit the Secretary of State, for example, to stipulate that university A shall teach subject X; that university B shall cease to teach subject X; that university C shall take a certain class of intake of student; and that university D shall recruit staff of a certain character—in other words, all the things that were so feared and could have been done under the 1988 Bill and the 1992 Bill until they were amended, one in another place and the other in your Lordships' House.
The obvious course that should have been taken at the outset was to divide the clause into two. That has now been done. The new Clause 1 states a general duty on the Secretary of State as to the whole field of education. It sets out the new circumstances desired by the Government—in other words, without the same prominent role for the local education authorities that was contained in the 1944 Act which this clause supersedes. The new Clause 2 does not expressly state that it is not to apply to universities. That was desired at one time by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. It also appeared in the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Campbell of Alloway. But so to stipulate would really have been to rub the department's nose in its own mess. And, after all, the universities have to live with the department. So that was dropped.
The only question that remains is whether there is a clear implication in the new Clause 2 that it is not to apply to universities. In my respectful opinion, that is a clear implication and it is not therefore necessary to deal with it expressly. That is the view, I know, of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. It is also the view of two academic lawyers of outstanding eminence, Sir David Williams, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, and Dr. Peter North, the Vice-Chancellor elect of Oxford.
For what it is worth, I would recommend your Lordships to accept the amendments as fulfilling what your Lordships sought to do at earlier stages. But in view of the history I would respectfully ask the noble Baroness to give certain assurances; first, that in her understanding the new Clause 2 does not apply to universities; secondly, that it will not be argued at any stage that it does—what I said about the case that was brought in the court demands that assurance as well—and, thirdly, in view of what has happened in the past, that there will be no further attempt at intrusion on the freedom of the universities to manage their own affairs.
§ Lord Eatwell
My Lords, I do not wish to oppose the acceptance of this amendment but I do, however, suggest that it is markedly inferior to the amendment suggested in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. It is inferior because, with respect to the first two lines of the clause, they have been left unaltered. Those first two lines empower and instruct the Secretary of State to promote the education of the 1087 people of England and Wales. That refers, as the Minister made clear in her introduction, to all levels of education, including universities. It sounds rather grand. But are we to suggest that as regards education in the universities the clause contains some hidden dangers? The very nature of teaching and research in a university is that some of it will be perceived at one time or another to be cranky, wrong and downright dangerous. It is the very essence of academic freedom that controversial and what are believed to be erroneous ideas are taught and researched and then often found to contain elements of truth. That process is vital to the development of knowledge.
As regards the sentence at the beginning of what has now become Clause 1, surely any self-respecting Secretary of State committed to the promotion of education would feel it to be his or her responsibility to eliminate the teaching of what was believed to be erroneous or wrong: the teaching of a Galileo, of a Lichtenstein, a Leavis or a Keynes. Those people should be fired because at times they taught things which were believed to be erroneous and even dangerous.
In any idea of promoting education there is no proper role for the Secretary of State to determine the content of university education. I realise that the Minister will declare that I am overstating the problem. But she must accept that, given the reservations expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon and Glaisdale, and the remorseless accumulation of powers seen in the continuous flow of Education Acts in the past 14 years, there is at least some substance for my feeling nervous.
Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that the promotion of education will not under any circumstances imply a role for the Secretary of State either in the determination of a university curriculum, in the content of research or in the make-up of the personnel of a university.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, I wish to move on and to address some of the other amendments in this group. As an aside, perhaps I may say that I am sorry that the nursery schools lobby does not have as effective a voice in this House as the universities lobby. Perhaps I may first address Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 14. Despite the Bill being at an advanced stage in its progress towards enactment, the actual meaning of Clause 1(3) is still unclear. For instance, does choice and diversity within an institution mean either or both? Will the clause fetter the Secretary of State's discretion in considering proposals in favour of schools changing their character by introducing selection?
The amendment seeks to probe the meaning of subsection (3) by proposing to limit the scope of the subsection to those powers which are identified. No explanation of the effect of subsection (3) on the schools and further education colleges has yet been given by Ministers in either House. Precisely what are the powers which the Secretary of State intends to use for the purpose stated in subsection (3)?
1088 For schools it appears that his main power is to regulate the provision made in educational institutions arising from the Education Reform Act 1988, including particular powers over the national curriculum and those in respect of the local management of schools schemes. The 1988 powers referred to are in respect of two areas; school admission numbers and agreements on city technology colleges.
What are the other powers which the Secretary of State intends to apply? Specifically, will he use his powers to modify the instruments of government of grant-maintained schools for the purposes of Clause 1? For each of the main powers, can the Minister describe how its exercise is expected to be undertaken with a view to encouraging diversity and increasing opportunities for choice?
For institutions in the FE sector, it appears that the Secretary of State's powers arise entirely from the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Does the Secretary of State intend to modify instruments of government of further education corporations for the purposes of Clause 1? For the record, or possibly by writing to me at a later date, will the Minister list what relevant powers would be excluded by the terms of this amendment? For instance, I refer to the 1980 Act as regards the assisted places scheme.
Perhaps I may now turn to Amendment No. 11, which is also tabled in my name. We believe that the reference to improving standards in subsection (3) is by itself inadequate and that the reference to choice and diversity is inappropriate in a leading statement of the Secretary of State's duties. Therefore, the amendment would delete,encouraging diversity and increasing opportunities for choiceand make clear that improving standards means improving the standards achieved by pupils and balance that statement about standards of achievement with a new statement about the quality of provision.
Ministers may believe that choice and diversity are somehow, through market mechanisms, sufficient guarantors of quality. We on our side do not believe that, and so we would much prefer to see a direct statement about the quality of education that should be provided in schools and colleges.
It may be that the drafting of subsection (3) is intended to convey that choice is only to be exercised between alternatives of a high standard. But that interpretation would require us to believe that "improving standards" refers mainly to standards of institutional provision rather than to the standards of pupils' achievements. I suggest that clearer language is desirable.
Last year the Government addressed quality and standards in clear language in the Education (Schools) Act 1992. Perhaps I may briefly quote from it.
The Chief Inspector for England shall have the general duty of keeping the Secretary of State informed about—(a) the quality of the education provided by schools in England; (b) the educational standards achieved in those schools".1089 We firmly believe that quality and standards are more important than opportunities for choice within a publicly-funded system. Perhaps I may briefly quote the Minister in Committee when she said:We believe that as much choice as is practicable should be made available to parents. There will always be—this is not an absolute—a tension between the degree of choice which is allowable and the constraints of local authority expenditure".—[Official Report,4/5/93; col. 629.]I notice that the Minister is nodding. We concur precisely. We are arguing that precisely the same tension affects the Secretary of State in the exercise of his powers, and increasing opportunities for choice must be a subordinate consideration. As such we resist it being stated on the face of the Bill as an apparent priority above all others.
Perhaps I may finally allude to Amendment No. 13 which, I believe, is to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. I believe that this amendment introduces a new aspect to the debate which we have not dealt with so far. I look forward to the debate. The amendment introduces the subject of parenting as something which might be taught and encouraged, and for which there should be sufficient support, because parenting has an overwhelming effect on the achievements of children.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, the amendment standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, appears in this general amalgam which seems to be the most extraordinary hotchpotch. However, there it is and I suppose I have to comply with the arrangement. In the many years that I have stood here opposing government education Bills from 1979 until now, apart from two years when I was opposing local government Bills, I believe that the conduct of this Bill has been stranger and more peculiar than any other which I have opposed. That is partly because Ministers have given such immensely lengthy answers, presumably concocted by civil servants who want to get everything on the record. They have been read at such speed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that it has been difficult to take in her answers. So I shall take my time in speaking to this amendment and shall not feel hurried—I hope that the noble Baroness will feel the same when she comes to respond to it—because I think that it is quite an important amendment and I should like it to be given due consideration.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the Secretary of State considers equal opportunity in promoting education. At present Clause 1 of the Bill—Clause 1 as it now stands—requires the Secretary of State to promote the education of the people of England and Wales, including improving standards, encouraging diversity and increasing opportunities for choice. No reference is made to equal opportunities. Ministers may argue that it is unnecessary to include such a reference on the face of the Bill, but I hope that what I am going to say will convince a number of noble Lords that it is perhaps important to have such a reference there.
In setting up certain of their initiatives, however, the Government have considered it to be important to 1090 refer specifically to equal opportunities. For example, in the early 1980s when the Government launched the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI), a specific reference was made to the importance of equal opportunity in preparing proposals for the scheme. Clearly the Government then considered that a specific reference to equal opportunities in the criteria was important.
The TVEI was seen by the Government as an important means of addressing equal opportunities, especially in relation to gender. In a speech by a former education Minister, Angela Rumbold, which was made to the Women's Education Conference in 1989, the TVEI was specifically mentioned as an initiative that had raised "awareness of the gender issue" and prompted local education authorities and schools to adopt new methods of addressing it. In this speech the Minister also made reference to a number of other initiatives that were intended to address the need to encourage girls into science and engineering, such as the initiative on Women into Science and Engineering (WISE), and local projects such as Girls into Science and Technology (GIST) and Girls and Technology Education (GATE)—if we are to use the acronyms. The Minister suggested that initiatives such as these had helped to encourage girls to opt into science and technology-related subjects. She also noted a small increase in the number of women in higher education on engineering courses. I repeat that it was a Conservative Minister speaking.
The introduction of the national curriculum was also seen by the Government as a means of ensuring that girls and boys studied the same curriculum and of helping to break down the gender stereotyping that tends to occur.
Despite these initiatives there clearly remains a gender gap in the subject choices made, as well as the kinds of occupations young people continue to enter. In a document about to be published by the AMA and the ACC, School Leavers' Destinations 1992, the statistics show continuing division according to sex in the kinds of occupations young people choose at 16. Administration and clerical, caring and hairdressing attract the highest number of young women; while construction, motor vehicle engineering and mechanical/production engineering attract the highest numbers of young men. These differences will not be changed by laws that prevent sex discrimination, such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970, important though such legislation is. Positive initiatives are needed to change attitudes and reduce sex stereotyping, such as TVEI.
A similar positive approach is needed to the encouragement of equal opportunities for those from different ethnic backgrounds. It is not simply a question of saying that black pupils require additional help. Reports such as the AMA's analysis of how to present GCSE results have shown that the performance of different ethnic groups varies considerably—and their needs also vary.
The Children's Rights Development Unit, which was set up as a three-year independent unit to promote the fullest possible implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, states: 1091we live in a society in which racism and discrimination are widespread. Children are particularly vulnerable to its consequences and its presence can have a significant bearing on the opportunities children have to benefit from the education system".The recent HMI report Education in England 1990#1991 observes that progress in schools on equal opportunities is patchy, with too wide a divide between policies and actual practice. It also observes that there was a,substantial underachievement by some groups of ethnic minority pupils …. Of particular concern was the lack of success of Black British (Caribbean) boys and pupils of Bangladeshi origin".It was also concerned that many disabled children continue to be marginalised from access to mainstream education. Their opportunities for integration and participation offer them far from equal opportunities with those available to able-bodied children. The Audit Commission/HMI report, Getting in on the Act, identified obstacles to integrated placements for parents and children seeking them. The Special Educational Consortium, which consists of a wide range of organisations in the field of disability and special needs, has expressed concern that integration has not developed in line with the spirit and intent of the 1981 Act.
Clause 1 is concerned with the promotion of education and refers specifically to improving standards, encouraging diversity and increasing opportunities for choice. Since the Government have set up initiatives that have at least in part been aimed at developing equal opportunities and since an education Minister devoted a whole speech to the importance of equal opportunities in education, it does not seem unreasonable in my view to suggest that a reference to equal opportunities might be placed in Clause 1 of the Bill.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I rise briefly to add my support to the amendments to which I have put my name which have already been spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady David. Turning first to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, I definitely support the idea of greater integration to avoid sexism and racism. Where there is discrimination relating to race, there is often a cultural barrier and a lack of understanding about things such as different manner codes. That certainly needs looking at because it is simply a case of trying to integrate people into the way that others think and of trying to break down the barriers.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, did a very good job in explaining the arguments relating to tackling gender discrimination. That is an ongoing process which we have only just started to crack. I hope that we shall continue to make progress in that area.
The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, are very much in line with the Government's original thinking in this group of amendments. We are trying to define what is going on. As the noble Lord said, merely talking about diversity and choice is rather vague. Surely it would be better if we were to talk about the equality of provision for children and if we were then to talk about the various 1092 groups. Surely ensuring quality and then imposing choice is a better way of getting the best deal for children rather than tackling the problem the other way round.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I find myself quite unable to support Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. As to Amendment No. 10, it seems quite unnecessary to introduce the idea of equal opportunity. Our teachers do their very best to give equal opportunity—frequently in the face of very great difficulties, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, has tried to explain. In any event, Amendment No. 10 is unnecessary because the whole of our education system—certainly since the 1944 Act—has been carried out on the basis of providing equal opportunity.
As to Amendment No. 11, I am afraid that there is quite a serious flaw in it. If the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will look at paragraph (c), he will see that it refers topersons over compulsory school age who have not attained the age of nineteen years".It so happens that a good many people under 19 go to university, and if we were to introduce this amendment with that phrase in it it would cause confusion and would conflict with the principle that the Bill does not give power to the Secretary of State to interfere with higher education. I hope that on reflection the noble Lord will not press the amendment.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I gather that he thinks my amendment is unnecessary. However, does he agree that the evidence shows that there is still not equal opportunity, and so it is important that it should be mentioned in the Bill?
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, with great respect, I do not believe so. There are some things that have become so well established that they do not need to be the subject of legislation.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, going to speak to her Amendment No. 13 which is in the present group of amendments?
§ Baroness Warnock
My Lords, before I speak to Amendment No. 13, I should like to say something in support of Amendment No. 11. It is sad that there is no reference to quality of education on the face of the Bill. I know that it is probably assumed that the raising of standards means a an improvement in quality, but the language of standards, diversity and choice is, I need not remind your Lordships, the language of the market.
I suspect that when the Bill becomes an Act and we look back upon it in many years' time it will be almost ludicrously a child of its time—the offspring of the market economy. In respect of education, I do not believe that the market economy has long to live, because most people realise that the quality of education cannot be dictated entirely by the market. So I should like to see a reference to quality and the omission of diversity and choice from Clause 1. However, I am sure that diversity and choice have gone so far into our heads through the White Paper that we are probably stuck with the words.
1093 Nevertheless, the intention in the amendment to mention quality rather than standards in the context of the market is a worthy intention.
I come now to Amendment No. 13. I should be happy if the Minister could assure me that something in the way of guidelines or a code of practice could be introduced to deal with the point. It is a matter of enormous importance for the kind of children about whom we have been speaking today: those who urgently need a nursery education; those who are neglected by their often single parent; those who are not necessarily deliberately abused but who are through ignorance neglected and subject to psychological or physical abuse. Such children have parents (one or two) who themselves are genuinely in need of support and education. Such parents need to be taught that school is an institution which is helpful and necessary for their children. They need themselves to learn respect for what it is that schools can do for their children. So they need to be given the opportunity, which schools are willing to give if parents are willing to take it, to act as partners in the process of educating their children.
For some of us who quite liked our children when they were small, it is difficult to imagine how much some small children are hated and disliked by their parents. They treat them with extraordinary callousness, want them out of their sight as soon as possible and never, never talk to them. Those parents are often nearly illiterate themselves. They do not have the wonderful repertoire of nursery rhymes that is part of the mythology of the family. But that repertoire of nursery rhymes and conversation makes an enormous difference to a child. It may make the difference between the child being educable and not educable and between its being able to learn to read and unable to learn to read. It is parents who must be taught how they can make up for the kind of deficiencies that most of us here have to exercise imagination to realise just how terrible they are.
It should somehow be made a duty for the Secretary of State to ensure that local authorities are propped up in the good work that an enormous number of them now do in supporting parents. If the Minister could assure us that that could be the subject of guidelines, and not necessarily on the face of the Bill, I for one should be happy.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I believe that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said everything that needed to be said from these Benches in support of the principal group of amendments moved by my noble friend. Since then, the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, regretted that it was inferior to an alternative and doubted the effects of the first two lines of the clause, as amended. I merely ask your Lordships to recall the legal opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and those he quoted, because I believe that they would prevail in that consideration.
On Amendment No. 13, which I find in this group and which I attempted to address more appropriately I thought at an earlier stage, I want to detain your Lordships for a moment only. I was relieved to hear 1094 the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, say that she would not expect it to be the instrument by which what she wanted would be attained. I believe it would be wholly inappropriate, and I have reservations about the language itself.
If my noble friend is going to respond to the request for some sort of indication of government policy in that area, it is worth recalling that there is an increasing number of inadequate parents. When I conducted the committee of inquiry into discipline in schools, we were disturbed to find how many children were already parents themselves while they were at school. They had had no instruction or experience of proper parenting from their parents, and there was no way in which they were able to transmit to their children the basic knowledge, articulacy, fairy stories and so on which form the basis upon which the child normally comes into school. That means that their delinquency was heritable. We were looking anxiously for a means of breaking what is otherwise an inevitable spiral of deprivation unless the child parent marries a more capable parent or the child itself is adopted by one. Of those, one is improbable and the other is far from the most desirable solution.
There should be provision in the education system for such children. When it was first suggested, it seemed to me to be an absurd idea, but I was rapidly converted by what I saw in the field into believing that there is a need to teach children in the later years of schooling how to be better parents and to carry that on after they leave school, because many of them leave school very early. I do not for a moment suggest that it should be done by the Bill. I am not even certain that it can be done by regulation, but I should like to take this rare opportunity to impress upon your Lordships that there exists a real and horrible problem which needs to be addressed.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I support Amendment No. 10 spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady David. Of course it is the law of the land that there should be equal opportunities; of course in a great many schools equal opportunities are practised; but equally there is a minority in which it is not. Legislation so often has to deal with the problems of the minority which do not subscribe to good practice. It is for them that we have to have legislation. There can be no doubt from the studies that have been done that there are still cases in which girls and members of ethnic minorities do not receive equal treatment in places of education. It can do no harm to put it on the face of the Bill, and it could well do good.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, while I recognise that Amendment No. 13 is a probing amendment which seeks a response from the Government, I support one element of it and ask the Government to consider another element of it with a little more detachment. The whole subject of parents as their child's first teacher is important. The way in which we interpret that and work with it is also important.
Perhaps I may use as an example the teaching of reading. Parents come in various different forms. Some parents cannot read, others have no access to books and to quiet space and others have no energy to 1095 help their children. Some parents may be well educated and a small proportion will have a professional ability as educators. Perhaps we may also consider the children. Some may learn to read on their own. Recently I was told by a head teacher of great experience that she knew a little boy who had taught himself to read with no more than a telephone directory. He had no support and no other books.
Some children will learn to read with the minimal amount of assistance that a reasonably literate parent can provide. Other children require the facilities of a qualified teacher. A small number of children need the resources of specialist assistants as well as the services of ordinary teachers. The chances of those different categories of children fitting in with the different categories of parents to achieve a situation in which the parents can teach the children to read are infinitesimally small. We must recognise that there is a need to support parents in their role as young children's first teachers. However, I have a reservation about the use of the word "school". The Bill states:the Secretary of State to ensure that local authorities and schools".The duty must lie with the Secretary of State and the local education authorities.
Perhaps I may explain the experience of a school in Manchester. Its head teacher took it upon herself to believe rigorously in the concept of parents being partners in their children's education to the extent that the parents were virtually expected to provide the support necessary to teach their children to read. The result was that some children did not learn to read adequately. All kinds of problems of failure were blamed on the parents, which was intensely distressing. The problem was resolved by the LEA, which inevitably removed the head teacher; she was promoted out of her job.
However, the LEA can provide a positive aspect and in explaining I again draw on my experience of Manchester. As part of the adult education service under the LEA we have a system of parental education tutors. I must admit that there is only a small number of such tutors as a result of lack of finance caused by government restrictions. They provide invaluable support to parents by enabling them to be assisted in their role as educators of children.
I recognise that this is a probing amendment. It is the first time during our deliberations on the Bill that we have considered this subject. I hope that the Minister will respond positively and that my remarks will be taken on board.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, after so much debate about young people I am reluctant to take up the time of the House. I believe that this is a most important amendment, although I agree that it is unlikely to appear on the face of the Bill in its present form. The amendment was suggested by the Parents Network. It emphasises the point that parenting is not peripheral to education; it is absolutely central to education. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said that each person has one life and asked at what stage expenditure will be most effective.
1096 Home background is a major factor in influencing performance and ability to cope at school. Research for the Plowden Report of 1967 showed that home influences far outweigh those of the school in the child's education. The report shows, for example, that the chances of an unskilled manual worker's child being a poor reader are six times greater than those of a professional worker's child. The chances of being a non-reader are even greater. In 1976 the researchers Rutter and Madge showed that for almost all measures of scholastic attainment differences between schools accounted for far less than features in the family and home.
Most parents want to be good parents. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, sadly today many parents have not themselves had the experience of being well parented. They have no role model on which to base their performance as parents. They do not know what a young child needs, nor do they understand the child's need for support, love, encouragement and the definition of "boundaries of acceptable behaviour". So their child, if he or she and the parents are not helped, will arrive at primary school already condemned to failure.
What can the Secretary of State do? First, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, we must provide in schools effective education for parenting. Secondly, we must ensure that young parents have available to them support and guidance. Whether that should come from the local authority or the social services, from education or the schools I do not know. I believe that at present there is not overlap but "underlap". Once the health visitor has left the young, perhaps single mother in her box-like apartment at the top of a tower block she is alone. There are organisations which offer help and Home Start is notable among them. Its representatives work on that problem and visit young parents at home in order to help them to learn the art of parenting. There is a great need to support such organisations.
Under the Children Act local authorities have a duty to care for children in need. However, many local authorities are so stretched that they are unable to appoint social workers to all the children on the "at risk" register. How on earth can they cope with children who are merely a little in need of better parenting? The Secretary of State should enable and encourage voluntary organisations which are working in this area to prepare the children who will soon be in his schools. The argument for laying the duty squarely on the Secretary of State is that if, when those children go to school, they are not civilised and socialised he will be the one to suffer. He will have to pay for their special education and care.
We have already debated playgroups and nursery schools and I shall say no more about them. I suggest that within the Government there is a desperate need for a single Secretary of State, a single ministry, to be responsible for children and families. I believe that that is the direction in which we should all be working. I suggest that the responsibility should be laid on the Secretary of State for Education, because the 1097 upbringing of young children is a fundamental part of education. It is the future education of those children which is at stake.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark
My Lords, at the risk of delaying the House for a few more minutes I should like to remind your Lordships that the biggest provision of parent education has been through the education service, largely in further education colleges and in adult institutions linked to the provision of training courses for those who contribute to the pre-school playgroups' movement. As I well know, having been involved in those courses for many years, that has been the most important form of parent education because the mothers—and they are all mothers—of the children who are in the playgroups attend the courses to learn not only about themselves and their relationships with their children, but also about how they can genuinely contribute to their children's growth and learning. We should reflect on how much the education service has done for literally thousands of mainly mothers, but sometimes fathers, through that provision.
The second point that I wish to make about Amendment No. 13 is in response to what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said. Although all of us in this House have enormous respect for her work concerning the needs of young people, I believe that we should not accept the extremely stereotyped image which she presented in which she suggested that all children who are deprived of parental love have parents who are themselves ignorant and illiterate. I am afraid that education is no guarantee of good parenting. There are many children of highly educated parents who are still greatly deprived of parental love. Conversely, there are many parents who are ill-educated and ignorant in the educational sense who are warm and loving parents, even though they do not have the fluency of language which some more educated people may have in which to express that love.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, I wish to speak briefly in support of the principle behind Amendment No. 13 although I feel that "ensure" is rather a harsh and commanding word. I should be happier with the word "encourage". I should also be nervous about the word "adequate" which is an expansive word which can mean anything that anyone wants it to mean.
I speak as a mother. I have always felt that it was my joy and privilege to teach my children about all the things which are important in this world. It is important that their minds should be supplied with the essential oils of kindness, goodness, joy, love and affection and all the beautiful things which exist in this world, so that in future they will be protected from the sad contagion of the world's sloth state. That is what parents can and should give their children. I should welcome words to that effect on the face of the Bill.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, I support Amendment No. 13. It is extremely well put and there is a very strong case for it.
1098 The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned the Plowden Report in the 1960s. As a member of that committee I was partly responsible for the research to which he referred, which showed very convincingly how important the home is as an influence on children's educational achievement. As the noble Lord pointed out, it seemed to be a much more important factor—more important even than the school.
I conducted a piece of research for the Plowden Committee which was published in the report, which showed that teachers could achieve remarkable results if they spent time teaching parents how to teach their children. In terms of achievement, both in reading and arithmetic, the results were remarkable.
It should be pointed out also that since that time—we did not have the advantage of the research which was to be done later—several studies, notably those made by Professor Rutter and his colleagues, have shown that even when parenting is not as one would like it to be and children do not have the kind of support from their parents which they deserve, schools can do a great deal to compensate for what the children lack. Those results have been remarkable. If children who come from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds go to a school which is in many ways a good school led by a good head, they can pick up a great deal later on. Children who have the misfortune of a double disadvantage, both in their homes and schools, can be gravely set back. One must bear that in mind, to be balanced about one's attitude to the influence of school and the parents. Despite that, I support warmly the amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I deal first with the second amendment standing in my name. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, asked me whether I could give a categorical assurance that the new clause does not apply to universities. I can give that assurance to the noble and learned Lord.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, that Clause 1 reflects the current duties of the Secretary of State and, as under the Education Reform Act 1988, which amended Section 1 of the 1944 Act in that regard, it gives absolutely no additional powers to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has only those powers which are contained within statute. Clause 1 of the Bill adds absolutely nothing to that. Therefore, I believe that the noble Lord indulged in some rather fanciful thinking in the course of speaking to the amendment. I can give him the assurance which he seeks. The amendment does not impact in the way in which he believes that it may do.
I promised the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that I would read fully the amendment as it would read were the amendments to be accepted by the House. Clause 1 will read as follows:
- "1. The Secretary of State shall promote the education of the people of England and Wales.
- "2.—(1) The Secretary of State shall exercise his powers in respect of those bodies in receipt of public funds which—
- (a) carry responsibility for securing that the required provision for primary, secondary or further
1099 education is made in schools, or institutions within the further education sector, in, or in any area of, England or Wales or
- (b) conduct schools or institutions within the further education sector in England and Wales for the purposes of promoting primary, secondary and further education in England and Wales.(2) He shall, in the case of his powers to regulate the provision made in schools and institutions within the further education sector in England and Wales, exercise his powers with a view, among other things, to improving standards, encouraging diversity and increasing opportunities for choice".Therefore, I repeat that I can give the assurances that it cannot be argued that that impacts on higher education at all. I can say that there will be no further attempt in this Bill by the Government to do anything which would impact on higher education as regards the Bill.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, this is Report stage. We have been speaking for one hour and six minutes on this group of amendments and there is still a great deal more to debate on Clause 1. We are still on Clause 1 of a Bill which has about 270 clauses and we must get on. I believe that almost everything that can be said on this group of amendments has been said.
Perhaps I may respond now to Amendments Nos. 8 to 11 and 13 and 14. As regards Amendment No. 11, our amendments to Clause 1 made clear that there will be no extension of the Secretary of State's existing power to regulate provision in the higher education sector. I hope that noble Lords are satisfied on that point. Beyond that, the amendment would achieve nothing else except to remove from the objectives that the Secretary of State should seek to achieve in the exercise of his powers those of encouraging diversity and increasing opportunities for choice. I very much hope that noble Lords will join with me in rejecting what I believe is a retreat to dull uniformity.
I am afraid that I cannot offer the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, any better comfort in respect of the other amendments tabled in his name. Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 14 would limit the powers that the Secretary of State may use in seeking to improve standards, encourage diversity and increase opportunities for choice. I cannot pretend to have an exhaustive knowledge of every power given in statute to the Secretary of State. I would have to bow to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, if he possesses such knowledge. I cannot believe that the only powers that the Secretary of State should use in seeking to achieve the objectives set out in the clause are those listed here. They would be very limited indeed.
There is no need to fetter the Secretary of State's discretion in such a way. For the only powers available to the current holder of that post—and any future holder—are those granted to him by statute. As I have already said, the clause in itself gives the Secretary of State no additional powers. There can be no place for a list of that nature in the clause. I must, therefore, ask noble Lords to reject the amendment.
1100 I have considerable sympathy with the intentions behind Amendment No. 13 tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Northbourne, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Warnock and Lady Seear. The Government do recognise that parents can—and most, but regrettably not all, do—make a vital contribution to their children's education, using that word in its widest possible sense. We have taken action in a number of areas which seeks to encourage more parents to take a positive and active role in their children's education.
Perhaps I may quote a few examples. In the department's 1993–94 programme of grants for education support and training to local education authorities, support was offered to inner-city LEAs for projects including, among other things, parental involvement. Those projects were specifically encouraged in recognition of the crucial role parents have in supporting inner-city schools in raising standards of achievement. Support was also offered to local authorities running projects aimed at reducing truancy, including funding aimed at improving home-school liaison, for example through the appointment of additional school-based educational welfare officers.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has a role in parent education, and is part-funded by my department. The institute will this year be publishing a discussion document on guidance on parent education in its General Good Practice Guide. Experimental work is being carried out in the field by various non-governmental bodies, and my department has also part-financed a Parents as Co-educators project which involved the development of materials intended to support schools and teachers in their work with parents using an approach that values and builds on the role that parents play in their child's education.
Aspects of family-life education are covered in the national curriculum, mainly through the science curriculum. The National Curriculum Council has recommended that family life education should be a key component of schools' programmes of personal and social education. National curriculum guidance documents on health education and education for citizenship have been issued to all maintained schools in England. Both give significant consideration to the content of family-life education and ways of integrating it into the curriculum.
Local education authorities have a duty to provide education for adults that is responsive to specific local concerns. It is a duty which goes very wide. It covers general educational and recreational interests. But also, courses can be put on which help adults fulfil particular roles, such as school governorship; or which prepare people for particular events in their lives, such as, for example, parenthood. Local government funding takes account of LEAs' duty to provide education of that kind.
In addition to those means of supporting parental involvement, recent legislation has also given parents far more influence over how their children's schools are run. Parents have greater choice over which school their child will attend; there are guaranteed places for 1101 parents—elected by fellow parents—on governing bodies of schools and those governing bodies have enhanced responsibilities; parents can vote for their schools to become self-governing; and parents can receive regular information about how well their children—and their children's schools—are performing.
Those measures and reforms—which are by no means exhaustive—are significant and substantive. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I cannot support the amendment. I am not clear that it would build meaningfully on the range of measures that we have already taken, and on the framework of parents' rights and responsibilities which we have established and which this Bill develops further. I am also concerned that the amendment is so open-ended. How do we define precisely what the role of "first teacher" is for the purposes of the amendment? Where would it legitimately start and end? What activities would require to be supported? What would constitute "adequate support"? The resource implications for local authorities and schools could be limitless.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, referred to the teaching of reading. I absolutely agree with him. The national curriculum has gone a very long way to ensure that all children from the earliest possible age are taught to read and that proper and full monitoring is involved. However, I have to make a point in that respect. I hope that some of the higher educational institutions are taking an interest in the debate. I say that because I meet too many young teachers coming out of teacher training who say to me, "They didn't teach me to teach reading". That is not acceptable for teachers of very young children.
The other element that makes an enormous difference so far as concerns teachers is leading by example. I have in mind the little boy who taught himself to read from a telephone directory. For the purposes of the story, I have to assume that he was over the age of five, because a child teaching himself to read from a telephone directory below that age would be quite an extraordinary story. Nevertheless, if he was over the age of five, what were his teachers doing? Why was it that that child had to teach himself to read in such a way?
The point I take for the purpose of what has been said in the debate is one which I know to be of great concern to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I refer to vulnerable children who are not supported at home. For them school is the only anchor in their lives; indeed, for many children there is no other anchor. The only rules that operate for some of those children are those of the street corner. I bear that point in mind. In the 1988 Act—and it is still part of statute—we emphasised the moral, the spiritual, the cultural, the academic, the mental and the physical elements and aspects of education, with all of them coming together to be concerned about the wholesome nature of the education of young children.
However, if school is the only anchor in the lives of young children and the only place where they will receive any ground rules or codes of behaviour or parameters within which to grow and develop, I have to say again that we must take courage in saying what 1102 we believe is right and what we believe is wrong; what we believe is desirable and undesirable behaviour; and what we believe is moral, immoral or even amoral. Perhaps we could promote more fulsomely the nuclear family when educating young children.
I hope that I have made clear the importance that the Government attach to the role that parents can play in the education of their children and have demonstrated that that commitment is, and will continue to be, supported by firm action. Therefore, I trust that the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Northbourne, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Warnock and Lady Seear, will feel able to withdraw their amendments. However, if they do not, I must ask the House to reject them.
I turn now to Amendment No. 10. The Government's policy is to seek improvements in the quality of education provided to all people. That will remain the Government's policy. We are committed to making available the very best possible educational provision for all young people, whatever their sex, race, religion, or learning difficulty.
However, that does not mean that there will be no diversity in provision. Our aim is to secure flexibility that will allow institutions to meet the particular needs of individual pupils and students. We will continue to target measures where they seem appropriate; as just one example, action to help with the language difficulties of children from ethnic minorities. But it is our commitment to excellence for all, as exemplified most clearly by Sections 1 and 2 of the Education Reform Act, which provides the guarantee of a broad and balanced curriculum, including the national curriculum, for all pupils. That remains the key.
Nevertheless, I can give a further assurance. It should also be noted that bodies such as local educational authorities, further education funding councils and the funding authority will be required to exercise their functions without discrimination on the grounds of sex. Perhaps I may reinforce a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. It is not words on paper in either this or any other statute that will make the difference; what will make the difference is what actually happens on the ground in the institutions and schools and by people implementing the policy. I hope that my amendments will receive approval from the House. I ask noble Lords to reject the other amendments.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I should like to seek clarification on one point. Both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and my noble friend Lord Eatwell asked for assurances regarding the Government's ability to interfere in higher education as a result of the Bill. The Minister has given those assurances, but will she confirm that those assurances are valid only as long as she remains in office, and that courts that would have to adjudicate on this matter cannot take the proceedings of Parliament into account but can only take into account what is written on the face of the Bill? The implication of that is that, if her assurances are to be worth anything at all, something to the effect that this Bill does not affect higher education would have to be written on the face of the Bill.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should say that I gave an absolutely unequivocal assurance that the measure does not impact on higher education. I also said in the course of speaking to the amendment that the Secretary of State cannot exceed his existing powers. His existing powers reside in different pieces of legislation but nothing in Clause 1 adds to those powers. If the Secretary of State abuses his powers, that is of course a matter for challenge.
§ On Question, Amendment No. 3 agreed to.
§ Viscount Astor moved Amendments Nos. 4 to 7:
§ Page 1, line 15, leave out ("education is made in") and insert ("primary, secondary or further education is made in schools, or institutions within the further education sector, in").
§ Page 1, line 16, leave out ("educational institutions") and insert ("schools or institutions within the further education sector").
Page 1, line 16, at end insert:
("for the purpose of promoting primary, secondary and further education in England and Wales").
§ Page 1, line 18, leave out ("educational") and insert ("schools and institutions within the further education sector").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 8 to 11 not moved.]
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begins again at 20 minutes past eight o'clock.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.