HL Deb 10 May 1993 vol 545 cc971-1048
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blatch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Lord Henderson of Brompton moved Amendment No. 245: Before Clause 217, insert the following new clause: ("Abolition of corporal punishment extended to independent schools .—(1) Section 47 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 (abolition of corporal punishment) is amended as follows. (2) For subsection (5) there is substituted the following subsection— (5) In this section "pupil" means a person—

  1. (a) for whom education is provided—
    1. (i) at a school maintained by a local education authority;
    2. (ii) at a special school not so maintained;
    3. (iii) at a grant-maintained school; or
    4. (iv) at an independent school; or
  2. (b) for whom primary or secondary education, or education which would be primary or secondary education if it were provided full-time, is provided by a local education authority otherwise than at school;
but does not include any person who is aged eighteen or over. (3) Subsections 6, 7, 8 and 9 are omitted.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List. I should like to draw attention to the fact that the addition of the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady David, Lady Elliot of Harwood and Lady Seear, demonstrates distinguished all-party support for the abolition of corporal punishment to be extended to pupils in independent schools.

The current legislation, unbelievably, still allows corporal punishment of pupils attending private day and boarding schools. The purpose of the new clause is to amend the Education (No. 2) Act so as to extend abolition to cover pupils in such schools.

Legislation which came into effect in August 1987 ended corporal punishment in all state supported education. In addition to covering all state education, it covered private schools which received government grants. It also protects any pupils in private schools whose fees are paid in part or in whole by the state through the assisted places scheme or by local authorities. The Government have accepted that corporal punishment has no place in the child care environment. They used the Children Act to outlaw it in all children's homes, including private homes, and also in foster care and day care. The Act obliges small boarding schools to register as children's homes, and as such they too are prohibited from using physical punishment.

No educational, child welfare or child protection organisation favours the use of institutional corporal punishment. Most, if not all, well-known independent schools abandoned it some time ago. The Headmasters' Conference (HMC) supports abolition. The Council of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools strongly endorsed the view that corporal punishment should not be used in IAPS schools as long ago as 1987.

The Elton committee—I am sorry not to see the noble Lord in his place—on discipline in the schools commissioned a review of research findings on the effectiveness of corporal punishment. At paragraph 4.47 the Elton Report concluded that: there is little evidence that corporal punishment was in general an effective deterrent either to the pupils punished or to other pupils. There is also some evidence that standards of behaviour tended to be worse in schools which made more frequent use of corporal punishment when differences in the nature of the catchment area had been taken into account. The argument that corporal punishment reduced the need for other sanctions is also not supported by the evidence". I am very glad to see the noble Lord in his place now that I have mentioned his name.

In the past few years there have been a number of scandals involving serious physical and sexual abuse of children in private schools. In each of two major cases corporal punishment had been a permitted and much used sanction. It is likely (is it not?) that the schools most concerned to keep corporal punishment in the face of strong professional disapproval are those which may seriously abuse its use. Organisations representing the independent sector suggest that very few private schools now use corporal punishment.

I do not intend to go into any detail about the prevalence of corporal punishment in the private sector. Prevalence is not relevant to the arguments of principle against its use. Suffice it to say that it exists in a small number of private schools and the incidents to which I have referred show that it may still be used, and they justify the bringing in of an amendment to abolish its use.

I turn to the international conventions. In December 1991, the Government recognised the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obliges them to take active steps to protect children from, all forms of physical or mental violence", and to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner, consistent with the child's human dignity". Clearly, unless there is legislation to abandon corporal punishment altogether, the Government are likely to be in breach of the United Nations convention. This amendment enables the Government to comply, and I hope that they are accordingly grateful.

I come now to the European Court of Human Rights. I draw attention to Amendment No. 246ZA in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce, which has been grouped with mine. His amendment is less rigorous than mine and I must leave him to argue his case. I say at this stage only that my amendment would make it impossible for the Government to be in breach of the Court of Human Rights, although his amendment, or so it seems to me, would leave the court to determine, on any reference, whether a particular case in particular circumstances was or was not in breach of Article 3.

If the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, only were put into the Bill, the Government would still have a duty to ensure that corporal punishment in independent schools does not breach Article 3, and the current uncertainty would therefore persist.

An opinion by a very distinguished silk, Mr. David Pannick, concludes that the judgment of the recent Costello-Roberts case makes it, difficult in practice to permit the retention of corporal punishment in independent schools without substantial risk of breach of Article 3 of the Convention". My amendment would relieve the Government of that difficult task. I should have thought, again, that on that ground alone they would be grateful. However, the Government still intend to retain corporal punishment for funded pupils on grounds of parental choice and the position under English law which has not been the subject of any adverse finding in Strasbourg. That is the strict truth. But I must go on to say that the Government "bought off— a reference to Strasbourg in the case of Y v. United Kingdom, which was referred to the court by the Commission. The Commission had found that the punishment which Y had received breached Article 3.

The case of Y was referred to the European Court of Human Rights by the Commission. As I said, the Commission had found that the caning which Y had received breached Article 3. But in October 1992—the offence had been committed in 1983—the court announced that it would not be hearing the case because Y had reached an agreement with the Government. The Government had agreed to pay to Y £8,000, plus his legal costs amounting to £12,000, in all £20,000—I quote from the European Court: on condition that the case is withdrawn from the Court and no further cases are instituted against the Government in respect of this matter in any national or international court".

Buying off a case which is prima facie likely to breach Article 3 surely amounts to an admission of guilt on the part of the Government. It is quite clear from the judgment in the recent Costello-Roberts case that had the more severe punishment that Y had received been considered by the court, the court would have found it to be in breach of Article 3.

I hope the Committee will agree that it is an improper use of public funds to buy off cases that the Government believe may breach the convention. I hope it will also agree that my amendment, rather than the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, should be put into the Bill so that the Government are not tempted to buy off any further cases and there is no doubt about our compliance with both the United Nations convention and the European Court. If this amendment is agreed, we shall at last have prohibited corporal punishment in all schools, both public and private, within the country. I beg to move.

3 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

It is with very great pleasure that I support the amendment. In our time beating children seems to be completely out of date. It can lead to much cruelty. It has no constructive influence on a child in learning and understanding how to manage its life. It belongs to another age, which I am glad to know is past, since corporal punishment is not allowed in public sector cases but only in so-called private cases. That shows that on occasion the public sector is well ahead of private practice.

In 1987 legislation was passed relating to the use of corporal punishment. Opinion polls which were conducted throughout the country by the Scottish Law Commission and by Gallup showed that between 85 per cent. and 95 per cent. of parents believed that it should be illegal to strike a child. In 1989 the Children Act prohibited the use of corporal punishment in all children's homes, including private establishments in local authority areas. In addition, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by the Government in 1991.

We should take this opportunity today to bring our law up to date. I support this amendment.

Baroness Seear

Although my name is attached to this amendment, I shall not delay the Committee in repeating the strong arguments that have already been put forward by both the previous speakers. I should simply like to underline the view that it is time that we got rid of such a very old fashioned practice. I very much hope that the Committee will accept the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that we go along with the European proposals and put ourselves straight, so that there is no danger of further cases going before the European Court. That means supporting this amendment rather than the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce.

Baroness David

I find it quite extraordinary that we should have to press this amendment today. More than 300 years ago in 1669 a petition was presented to Parliament by a "lively boy" on behalf of the children of the nation to protest against: that intolerable grievance our youth lie under, in the accustomed severities of the school discipline of this nation". It has already taken more than three centuries to respond to the children's appeal. We almost achieved the reform of ending all school corporal punishment in 1986, but the Government decided, against all professional advice, that parents must still be able to pay for the privilege of having their children beaten in private schools. So the matter has dragged on in that discriminatory way.

We have seen the Children Act reforms brought in, with the Department of Health implementing its policy that corporal punishment has no place in the child care environment, including the private sector of child care, private children's homes and private foster care. But the Department for Education has persisted in defending the same practice in the child care environment of private schools.

No organisation is lobbying to keep school corporal punishment. The well known public schools and the Headmasters Conference want abolition. We cannot wait and allow the practice to die out of its own accord. It is a highly resistant habit and, wherever it exists, it carries with it dangers of serious abuse, as we saw in the scandals of Crookham Court and Castle Hill schools. In any case, it has been dying out for a long time. I am told that in 1861 the Clarendon Commission on nine public schools reported that: corporal punishment … has greatly diminished". The Master of Haileybury, in a letter to the Times Educational Supplement in December last year, stated that no reputable independent school retained corporal punishment. It is not a reputable practice. It is an embarrassment and a disgrace that we should be seen to be clinging on to such a discredited, ineffective and cruel habit. As Lady Wootton of Abinger repeated in one of the earliest attempts at abolition in this House: if a thing is wrong today it should be put right today, not to-morrow or the day after".—[Official Report, 10/12/73; col. 962.] Let us finish this long overdue reform today. I strongly support the amendment.

Lord Elton

As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, mentioned the report of the committee that I chaired, I shall briefly intervene. I am sure that my credentials are fairly impeccable. I received corporal punishment, delivered in a manner which I thought was vicious. It was applied in a manner which was thought just by those who administered it. In my turn I administered corporal punishment in a manner which I thought was just and which those who received it doubtless thought was vicious. I draw no conclusions from that except that life is hard and it did me no harm.

The relevant point I wish to make derives from the report referred to by the noble Lord. What sticks in my mind from that report are not the figures that he quoted but the evident fact that schools which were about to be deprived of recourse to corporal punishment were exceedingly nervous, the more so as the day approached. Schools which had been deprived of that recourse were increasingly relaxed, until after a couple of years they had no wish to see corporal punishment return.

I do not think the Committee need fear that the removal of that recourse, which I believe is very rarely used even in the private sector, will have a great impact in regard to the reduction of discipline in our schools. I firmly believe that good discipline can be produced by other means. I have seen it so produced with great effect by the implementation of the recommendations to which the noble Lord was kind enough to refer.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Before my noble friend replies, perhaps she could answer questions about the meaning of the amendment.

First, does it apply to Scotland, Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man? If it does not, I suggest that it is right that the United Kingdom and its ancillary islands should have the same law and not different laws. Secondly, supposing the amendment were passed and breached, what is the sanction? Is it an action of tort or is it a crime? If so, what is the penalty?

Baroness Young

I intervene only briefly in this debate. As my noble friend the Minister will know, I have already indicated to her that I personally hope very much that she will reconsider the whole matter. I do so for two reasons—or rather, three reasons, having heard my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham speak. Clearly, we need answers to the particular points that he raised. The first reason is that the overwhelming majority of independent schools no longer use corporal punishment at all. An extremely small number still do—a point clearly made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson—and it would be a great mistake for anyone to think otherwise. That is an important point.

The second reason is that there is another serious matter which is quite different and which needs at some stage to be addressed—that is, the problem of discipline in schools. Like many others, I saw the reported case in the press of a school master who intervened to stop two boys fighting. He was suspended for 14 weeks because one of the parents brought an action against him for assault. A number of problems exist in schools but I do not believe that specific one would have been solved by corporal punishment. However, it causes us to think overall of how teachers should be supported in the important role of keeping discipline in the classroom.

That said, I hope that my noble friend Lord Henley, having listened to the arguments on all sides of the Chamber, will feel it right to take the amendment back. The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, raises a far wider issue and I am not sure that an Education Bill is the proper place for it. However, I support Amendment No. 245 for the reasons that I have given.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Wilberforce

With the Committee's permission, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 245 and also Amendment No. 246ZA which is grouped with it so that the Committee has the various viewpoints before it.

Today we appear to have three options open to us. The first is to leave the law as it is, governed by the 1986 Act. As explained by my noble friend Lord Henderson, that prohibits any kind of corporal punishment in what one may roughly call the state sector, while leaving the private sector alone. As the Committee may remember, that Act was passed by way of reaction to a decision in the European Court of Human Rights, and to that extent gave effect to the convention. However, it may be said against it that it did not give enough effect; that we ought to go further and give more complete effect to the convention.

Until we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, we do not know whether that is still the Government's position. But it is one option. The second option is that contained in the amendment of my noble friend Lord Henderson, which is an out-and-out prohibition: corporal punishment is bad; there is nothing to be said for it; sweep it all away; bring all schools exactly into line and into line with the children's homes. That has a broad appeal. It brings in the European Convention on Human Rights but it does more. My Amendment No. 246ZA is a slightly modulated version of that. It prohibits corporal punishment only if and in so far as it would be prohibited by the Convention on Human Rights.

Perhaps I may remind the Committee what the convention says. My amendment refers to Articles 3 and 8. Article 3 prohibits inhuman and degrading punishment—"degrading" is the word which always appears in cases. We have to consider whether the punishment is degrading. Article 8 prohibits invasion of personal or private life. That has been referred to in a number of cases. That is broadly in line with the United Nations convention which my noble friend Lord Henderson mentioned. That refers to the human dignity of the child.

Amendment No. 246ZA will go only that far and I do not suppose that any member of the Committee would be unwilling to go so far. The only question is whether one goes further. The fact that I stopped at the point of the requirements of the European convention does not reflect any feelings in favour or against corporal punishment. I confess myself to be an agnostic on that point. Autobiographically, I attended five primary schools and one public school. I experienced a great number of punishments in those institutions—corporal punishment using a great variety of instruments attached to various parts of the body (every kind of combination) combined of course with psychological punishment. Most people thought it to be much more severe and damaging to one's private life to be kept in after school or given 100 lines.

All six institutions were good in their way. The experience left me with only one conviction—that is, that discipline in schools and the best interests of pupils, whether short or long term, is not brought about by regulations or prohibitions. In the end it depends entirely on the good sense, the good humanity and the good humour of the staff and their relations with the parents and pupils. That is the basis on which I venture to suggest that the way forward may be not to interfere any more than is necessary with what is accepted by public opinion and parents. It is a minimalist approach to legislation. We should not legislate more than we have to in order to address perceived ills; we should not legislate in any area which may well be better dealt with by co-operation and the gradual movement forward of public opinion.

It is important to realise that the European convention does not outlaw all corporal punishment, nor do the cases under it. The cases say that to come under the convention and be prohibited by it the punishment must surpass a specific threshold of degradation, invasion, cruelty or whatever. Only then does the convention come into play. The most recent case with which the Committee is familiar, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, is the case of Costello-Roberts, reported only this year. That was a case in which the court held that it did not come within the convention. It was a case of minor spanking of a boy of seven or eight in a fully clothed condition. The court held that it was neither degrading nor an invasion of privacy.

The question therefore is whether we should interfere outside the area which is not covered by the European convention or by the cases brought under it. We must ask what one would be dealing with if one passed the out-and-out legislation. One would be dealing with acts outside the convention; acts which did not come up to the threshold established by the cases; and acts that were not hit by the common law. Let us not forget that the common law requires that for punishment to be legitimate it must be reasonable and moderate. Moreover, one would be dealing with acts to which parents have no objection.

We must bear in mind two points. The first is that children in independent schools already have strong protection—the protection of the convention, of the common law and the fact that parents can withdraw the child from the school if they wish, which is a heavy sanction. The second point is that parents still have a right at common law to administer moderate corporal punishment. Only two weeks ago there was a case of spanking similar to the Costello-Roberts case. This time the mother was brought before the courts under the common law. The judge expressed himself in some indignation in face of the suggestion that such modest chastisement should be contrary to the common law.

That area is left outside and there is no proposal that it should be encompassed by the legislation. One is therefore left with the argument of uniformity. We have legislated as regards the state sector; we have legislated as regards children's homes. What is the reason for making a difference? The reason for uniformity is always a strong one. But should we not bear in mind that there are many areas in the field of education in which the state quite properly takes the attitude that it is represented by a majority in Parliament and must intervene, but nevertheless does not feel it necessary to intervene in the case of the private sector? In the case of religious education, which is far more important than this, it is left in the independent sector to be dealt with as parents wish. That is really what the independent sector is about—to enable, within reasonable and carefully controlled limits, parents and teachers in co-operation with parents to do what they think best.

If my amendment were to be accepted—I am only putting it forward for consideration by the Government and by the Committee—it would not unleash a great orgy of Squeers-like punishment in independent schools. We have heard from a number of speakers that it is withering on the vine anyway. Almost all independent schools have dealt with it. Is it necessary to bring in the heavy hand of legislation and go further? The restraints are very great already on what can be done in independent schools. The noble Baroness, Lady David, made it perfectly clear, and I do not suppose anyone would dispute it, that corporal punishment has very little life left in it anyway. My only suggestion, therefore, is to come within the convention, which would put the Government right with the European convention instead of having themselves liable to be brought before the Court, in order that cases under it might be decided in our courts rather than in the European Court. The Costello-Roberts case took eight years to get to the European Court of Human Rights—eight years after this minor spanking took place. We must do better than that. If the only way to do it is by an out and out prohibition, then I would go along with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I simply venture to suggest that it might be wiser and more in accordance with the proper way in which we legislate to adopt a more measured approach and bring ourselves in line with the convention—fully in line with it—but not go any further. In due course I shall consider whether or not to move my amendment.

Lord Northbourne

I have the privilege of being a governor of an independent school which gave up corporal punishment more than 50 years ago. I wonder whether I might take this advantage, as some of the pupils are sitting in the Gallery, of witnessing that their behaviour is extremely good.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I wish very briefly to support the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. In essence, apart from the reasons that the noble and learned Lord gave, it removes the delay and dissension which exist on the reference to the Court of Human Rights. This is extremely deleterious to the discipline in schools, to which my noble friend Lady Young has referred. It is totally adequate to deal with the broad merits of the situation. I shall not take up the Committee's time. I have no particular interest to declare, having been subjected myself to a rigorous regime of corporal punishment at my own public school. But we always had the option of staying in to do German words or verbs and work on the classics. I always chose corporal punishment.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I, too, shall be brief and in rising to speak I wish to apologise to the Committee, and to noble Lord, Lord Henderson, in particular, for arriving late. As a result I did not hear the first part of his speech.

In the brief which many of us have been sent there is a reference to Mr. Thomas Hammarberg of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, who said at an international conference on smacking and other forms of physical punishment: The psychological impact on children is much deeper than we once thought". That was said in March 1992. That conclusion is welcomed, but I am surprised—indeed astonished—that it took high-powered research and international conferences to discover that. I should have thought that anyone with any dealings with children—and plenty of your Lordships have plenty of experience in that field—would soon realise the effect that corporal punishment has on them.

I shudder to think of the possible long-term effect of physical punishment. One has only to read of the many court cases to see how many offenders come from homes and organisations where corporal punishment has taken place, and has taken place regularly in many instances. In private boarding schools where corporal punishment takes place the child does not have the comfort and security of its parents to run to. It would seem evident to most people that some children who are physically punished may assume that it is something which is acceptable in society and that they in turn can indulge in physical violence. I am certain that that does happen.

We are told that the Government's position is that corporal punishment for privately funded pupils in independent schools has been retained on grounds of parental choice. There is surely only one criterion in this matter. Is it advisable that the child should be physically punished—advisable, that is, from both a physical and a mental point of view? The Government's view clearly from the decision taken on all other schools is that it is not acceptable. Parental choice, therefore, in this case should be superseded, important though parental choice is. I hope that the Government, when we have their reply today, will produce a much stronger argument than that in attempting to defend their position.

From time to time we hear people say, "I was physically punished when I was young and it never did me any harm". I often wonder whether people who say that realise just what an arrogant statement it is. An independent view of that person would sometimes be rather different. I strongly support the amendment and I hope that the Committee will.

Lord Renton

I shall be very brief. I have to say that in many years in Parliament I have scarcely ever disagreed with my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, but I feel bound to comment on his argument that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson—I do not know whether my noble and learned friend was referring to the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, as well—should apply not merely to England and Wales but to Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. I must remind my noble and learned friend that the Scots have always had separate legislation—

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I do not want to interrupt my noble friend but I did not make any argument at all. I asked a question and I am awaiting an answer from the Government. So please do not misrepresent what I said.

Lord Renton

I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for that correction but perhaps I may be forgiven at the same time for assuming that he was implying that that is what should be the case. However, having said that, perhaps I may now move on to the only other point I was going to make as there is no need for me to repeat the arguments. I would be prepared to accept either the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, or that spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce.

Lord Annan

I wonder whether this is not a matter on which public opinion has changed. In the early 1970s I remember in your Lordships' House late at night that the Court Lees case was being discussed. It was a case in which the headmaster of an approved school was alleged to have given unduly severe corporal punishment to a boy in his charge. At that time I well remember the warmth with which some noble Lords defended corporal punishment. In fact, so warm were their speeches that I thought that they were about to disrobe in your Lordships' Chamber on the spot in order to show that the scars that had been inflicted on them many years before had done them no harm at all. But times have changed.

At about that time the report of the Public Service Commission was published. Having been a member of that body, I am bound to say that it was one of the most time-consuming and valueless exercises in which I have ever been engaged. But we said one thing; namely, that it was scandalous that the beating of boys by boys continued in independent schools. I believe that partly as a result of that report that practice has now been entirely abolished in independent schools. We did not go further at that time. We felt that we were unable to say to independent schools that they should ban the practice, which was still in force in the public sector. But this practice is no longer in force in the public sector.

Is it right that there should be, as it were, two separate jurisdictions on this matter still extant in our country? If we do not follow either of these amendments we shall inevitably find a situation in which we are exposed to ridicule and contempt in the European Court. I say that because it is quite clear from what has happened in the Isle of Man that that will occur on this matter.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, asked whether it would be a tort or a crime and, not being a lawyer, I am incapable of saying. But I think it likely that a case of tort would exist if a parent desired to bring an action against the school authorities. I guess that the very threat that it might be ruled a crime would lead to the governing body of that school taking steps to see that corporal punishment was not inflicted again.

Therefore, it is for those reasons that I ask the Government to think again about this matter and to consider which of the two amendments they would like in order to redraft the Act. I will not say that the amendment of my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce is as congenial to me as that of my noble friend Lord Henderson, but either will do as far as I am concerned.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Monson

I too must apologise to my noble friend Lord Henderson of Brompton for having missed his opening remarks. I was caught out by the fact that Starred Questions lasted for about half their usual duration. I have enormous respect for all Members of the Committee who have put their names to Amendment No. 245, but I am sorry to say that this amendment is a textbook example of political correctness. It is also extremely Swedish, which is perhaps a tautology since few countries are more politically correct than Sweden. Moreover, it evokes the mainly failed progressive nostrums of the 1960s. But these are not the only reasons for saying that this amendment should be resisted.

Perhaps the most important reason is that it deprives parents of their right of choice. Parents who disapprove of corporal punishment under any circumstances have an enormous choice of schools to which to send their children, which is as it should be. Why should not parents who want their children to be brought up in a more disciplined environment than is current nowadays, and which includes the ultimate sanction of corporal punishment for really serious bad behaviour, also be able to choose?

The object is not to have corporal punishment regularly administered to their children or those who might be bullying them, but to have it in reserve to deter very bad behaviour so, ideally, it never has to be used at all. Furthermore, if teachers in loco parentis are forbidden to apply corporal punishment, even with the parents' express consent, how long will it be before someone introduces a Bill to make it illegal for parents themselves to smack their children?—shades of socialist Sweden yet again!

Where the opponents of corporal punishment have not thought the matter through is in considering the alternative. In countries where it has been abolished for a long time—such as France—teachers have become extremely skilled at directing withering sarcasm and scorn towards an errant child. To pillory a child in that way in front of its peers is every bit as traumatic as corporal punishment—perhaps more so. Of course there are noble Lords and people elsewhere in the country who say that no punishment should be unpleasant, whether it be physical or psychological. Realistically, one has to say that unless a punishment is unpleasant, it fails to deter.

About 50 years' ago I was sent for a year to a school which was very progressive by the standards of the time. It was most unusual in that there was no corporal punishment. Instead, when you misbehaved, you had to do things like clean windows or other tasks about the school. As far as I was concerned that was no punishment at all. I rather enjoyed it, particularly on a freezing cold day when I was doing various jobs inside when the other boys were running around in driving sleet and hail. After a year the family moved and I was sent back to a more conventional school where corporal punishment was normal, though not to excess. I disliked it and accordingly I moderated my behaviour, and became very adept at keeping a low profile—a very useful attribute for later life!

Is this really the time to introduce such a measure when there has been such a general breakdown of discipline among young people, with bullying, car theft, joy-riding, ram-raiding, vandalism and arson? Hardly a day goes by without a car being set on fire around us in the country. There is widespread thuggery day-by-day. The amendment would catch not only formal corporal punishment, but as I understand it, also instances where hulking 15 year-olds who may well be taller and heavier than the teacher, hit—

Lord Elton

Can the noble Lord tell us why he assumes that being able to beat people will stop car crime, vandalism, arson and so forth? It is a complete non sequitur.

Lord Monson

Because they will grow up in a more disciplined milieu to begin with. That is the reason. Of course I accept that corporal punishment would not be used for car crime. It is the formative influences on them as they go through school which affect their later behaviour, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree. If a hulking 15 year-old, who may be taller and heavier than the teacher, hits, kicks or indecently assaults him or her, and then he or she instinctively and spontaneously hits back, is it not likely that the teacher will be prosecuted, whereas the 15 year-old will get off scot-free?

Lord Campbell of Alloway

If the noble Lord is opposed to the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, how does he justify that opposition when we are subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights?

Lord Monson

I have not said a word about the amendment of my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce. I am speaking purely to Amendment No. 245.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I was listening with great attention. I found it difficult to follow. But the noble Lord did refer to his opposition to both amendments.

Lord Monson

The noble Lord misunderstood me. I shall come to my noble and learned friend's amendment in a moment. It may be argued, with reason, that there are relatively few independent schools whose pupils indulge in such bad behaviour; but it is the timing of the move which would be so unfortunate in the present climate of indiscipline and rising crime: I am speaking about the first amendment on the Marshalled List. Whatever the general public believe or want—various Members of the Committee, such as my noble friend Lord Annan, have said that public opinion has changed, although I am dubious about that—if this amendment is passed, the message will go out to the general public that the House of Lords has decreed that liberal idealism must at all costs prevail over hard-headed realism and that parental choice is something to be scorned. I do not believe that that is a message which the public want to hear.

Having said that, the amendment of my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce is another matter altogether. Nobody wants under any circumstances punishment which is inhuman. Punishment which is "degrading" is a little more subjective, but from what my noble and learned friend said, the courts have always interpreted that word in a thoroughly sensible way. That being so, I would have no hesitation in supporting his amendment, but I do not agree with Amendment No. 245.

Lord Wigoder

It is a fact—is it not?—that it is now the law of this country that school teachers may not beat children. There is, however, one exception to that law, and that is that there are a certain number of children—a small number—in a small number of private schools who are exempt from that law. To be exempt from the law of the land is a privilege. It follows immediately that those who oppose the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, are therefore saying that there are a certain number of children who should be privileged to be the subject of corporal punishment. The question then arises: why should those children be privileged and not others? The answer is perfectly straightforward—it is because the parents are wealthy enough to afford private education. The very proposition that the wealth of the parent should decide whether a child should be privileged to be beaten is so absurd that I venture to suggest that the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, is quite unanswerable.

Lord Annan

Before the noble Lord sits down, does he agree that the difference between the public and the private sector is this? It is very difficult in the public sector to expel a child from school, whereas in the private sector it is perfectly easy to expel children who have conducted themselves in an anti-social and wicked way. Therefore, corporal punishment is no longer needed in independent schools.

Lord Judd

In firmly and strongly welcoming and supporting the amendment, I feel a little inhibited in view of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington. Listening to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, I had clear memories of one of the discoveries that I made personally at the age of 10 about the ineffectiveness of supposed deterrents. I can remember having imposed upon me what I thought was an unwarranted intrusion into my privacy—200 lines—and going to see the master concerned and negotiating a beating instead. That master and I had mutual respect from that day onward. He thought that I was a sensible chap and I realised that on many occasions deterrents were not worth the paper that they were written on or argued about.

The point that I really want to make is that it is all right for robust young delinquents, but all the evidence suggests that many young children were and can be very seriously damaged by corporal punishment. I can also recall that in those days there was at times undoubtedly an atmosphere of collective social morbidity in the school that I attended which centred around the practice of corporal punishment. It was not healthy. I am very glad that corporal punishment was abolished a long time ago at that school. Having returned to it recently, I am glad to say that all the evidence is that discipline there now is at least as good as it ever was, and probably very much better.

I should like to make two points in support of the amendment. First, in December 1991 the Government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Its terms are absolutely clear-cut because it obliges states to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence and to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child's human dignity.

Perhaps I may conclude by paying a tribute to one of the great campaigners of recent times in this country, Penelope Leach of the End Physical Punishment of Children campaign. When she was speaking at the international conference on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in March 1992, I think that she summed it up brilliantly when she simply said: You cannot teach children to respect each other and solve problems by using personal violence on them". That, to me, is the absolutely unanswerable case. At a time when we are worried about standards, values and social responsibility, actually to indulge in institutionalised brutality in any form is an own goal kick of the most gigantic proportions and something which we should take the opportunity today of totally eliminating.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell us whether or not he is speaking in the light of the fact that he considers that this amendment applies to Scotland? His party plays a great part in the political life of Scotland. I am not clear—and my noble friend the Minister has not answered yet—but if I remember rightly, the Education Act 1986 does apply to Scotland. My noble friend has not nodded or shaken his head. As this Bill applies only to England, I am a little concerned that the Committee might accept an amendment to a Bill that applies only to England which, in fact, would introduce a clause that applies to Scotland. I wondered from what point of view the noble Lord was speaking. Presumably he has considered the matter.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Judd

I am sure that it is for the Minister and the mover of the amendment to deal with that point, but perhaps I may make an observation. Although I have always admired the record of Scottish education, one of the things that I have always deplored about it has been the institutionalisation of the tawse and the rest. I hope that, whatever the detail of the amendment, the principle of it will be applied throughout the United Kingdom.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I am perfectly conscious that the Bill does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland. If the amendment is carried, perhaps it would be best if Northern Ireland and Scotland could conform to its provisions in subsequent legislation.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who is a great expert on such things, whether amending the 1986 Act overrides the fact that the Bill applies only to England and Wales. I wondered whether or not I needed to make a speech.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I gather that an attempt was made in the House of Commons to extend the Bill to Scotland and that the Clerks forbade it. I am not sure whether they would do so in this House.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

Perhaps it would help if I intervened now. May I pick up that first point? My understanding is that the amendment itself does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland, but I do not think that that is something that should concern the Committee at the moment. I think that it is more important to deal with the general principle as we see it.

The Committee will be aware that we have debated this subject on many previous occasions, and particularly at length, as noble Lords will remember, at the time of the passing of the Education (No. 2) Act back in 1986. As many noble Lords have made quite clear, corporal punishment is currently prohibited in maintained schools and other types of publicly funded schools for those pupils whose fees are met wholly or partly from public funds.

Perhaps I may deal with the first amendment, that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. It would have the effect of denying freedom of choice to parents who wished, by virtue of their own philosophical convictions, to send their son or daughter to an independent school which administered corporal punishment in response to a serious breach of that school's disciplinary code.

I do acknowledge the very strong views which this subject evokes on all sides of the House, but I believe that this amendment—the first amendment, that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson—is misguided. It seeks to overrule the (possibly very deeply held) convictions of parents who choose of their own free will to send their children to schools with such a disciplinary regime. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said, not all parents making that choice are rich; many make enormous sacrifices to send their children to such schools. They sacrifice their own money and it is their own choice. It is a choice of their own free will to send their children to schools with such a disciplinary regime. I make no apology for repeating this argument—I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, who said that it was a very small point. I simply do not agree.

We are well known for our advocacy of parental rights. Fee-paying parents are not obliged to send their children to these schools; they have freedom of choice. As many noble Lords have said, most independent schools do not, as a matter of policy, administer corporal punishment. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who said that he believed that only some 30 or so schools still have such a policy. My understanding is about the same, but I do not think that one can make anything of the particular numbers. It is, of course, the principle that is important. If parents are at all anxious about a school's policy on corporal punishment, they are quite free to send their children to an independent school that does not operate this particular sanction or to a school in the maintained sector.

While those options are available to parents, we see no need to extend the existing ban in the way suggested. Nor do I accept the general principle that we should interfere in the rights of the independent sector in that way.

I should like to say a word or two about the Costello-Roberts judgment, and the recent opinion from Mr. David Pannick which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. The Government are of course aware of the court's judgment in that case. I have read carefully Mr. Pannick's opinion. The fact is that in no case—that or any other—has the United Kingdom been found to have been in breach of Articles 3 or 8 of the convention by reason of the use of corporal punishment in schools. In that case, the court specifically rejected the applicant's complaint that he had no effective remedy in the United Kingdom in respect of his complaints under Articles 3 and 8, as required by Article 13. The court agreed with the Government's submission that an effective remedy was available to the applicant in that case under domestic law. I can inform the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, that that is still our view.

I turn to Amendment No. 246ZA tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. It has the obvious attraction of requiring nothing more than that our law should reflect this country's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. I do not believe that it would be right to refer expressly in legislation to the two articles of the convention referred to by the noble and learned Lord's amendment. The question of express incorporation of the convention in domestic law raises far wider questions which are not appropriate for a debate on corporal punishment and the Education Bill. But the Government are not at present able to say how we might achieve the aims behind the noble and learned Lord's amendment. We are sympathetic to those aims. We are willing to consider, in consultation with the noble and learned Lord, his amendment and the form of some possible amendment which might achieve what he desires to which we can return on Report.

That said, going back to Amendment No. 245, I cannot accept the principle of that amendment and its outright prohibition. But, as I said, I am prepared to have a further look at the amendment's aims, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, put it, the middle way as expressed in the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. If the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, is not prepared to withdraw his amendment, I ask the Committee to reject it. I hope that, in the light of the fact that I have said that I am prepared to take away and consider the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Before my noble friend resumes his seat, I am sorry to press him on a minor matter. If the amendment were passed, as it might be because most noble Lords who have spoken have spoken in favour of it, or if my noble and learned friend's amendment were subsequently passed, what sanction is there behind the proposal? Is it an action for tort only, or does it constitute an assault and is therefore a matter for the criminal courts?

Lord Henley

It would be a question of fact and degree. It is a matter for noble Lords who have tabled the amendments. My understanding is that if any punishment were excessive it becomes an assault and is therefore a matter for the criminal courts. If it is not excessive, as the law stands at the moment, an individual might have a right in the civil courts. I should not like to make any categoric statement on this matter, because they are not my amendments. We see something in the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. We are prepared to look at it, but we are not prepared to accept the slightly tougher line of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

Before the Minister sits down, if he is going to consider the matter, will he study the position of children who are at private schools, as we now call them, under the assisted places scheme? They are government-funded. Many such places are now wholly government-funded because the parents are unfortunately unemployed. Because such places are funded wholly by the Government would that put the Government themselves in jeopardy under EC regulations?

Lord Henley

I shall repeat what I said at the beginning. Corporal punishment is currently prohibited in maintained schools and other types of publicly funded schools, and for those people—these are the people to whom the noble Baroness refers—whose fees are met wholly or partly from public funds.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

This has been a remarkable debate. Apart from the Minister, only one Peer has spoken against my amendment, and that was the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The Minister and the noble Lord based their objection upon the limitation of parental choice. That argument was cogently countered in a leading article in The Times on 26th March 1993 just after the publication of the recent judgment of the European Court. The article said: Britain's private schools are essential to the nation's educational diversity and the promotion of parental choice, but parental choice, like any other freedom, must have its limits". That principle is as well expressed as it could possibly be. I need elaborate no further upon the sole objection which has been put against the amendment. As the Committee, apart from the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has been unanimous on an all-party basis, I believe that it is right to test the opinion of the Committee.

3.56 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 245) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 121; Not-Contents, 128.

Division No. 1
Acton, L. Falkender, B.
Addington, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Annan, L. Gallacher, L.
Ardwick, L. Galpern, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Geraint, L.
Auckland, L. Gladwyn, L.
Aylestone, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Birkett, L. [Teller.]
Blackstone, B. Granville of Eye, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Gregson, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Guildford, Bp.
Bottomley, L. Halsbury, E.
Brightman, L. Hamwee, B.
Brimelow, L. Hanworth, V.
Broadbridge, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Hayhoe, L.
Butterfield, L. Hayter, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Carnarvon, E. [Teller.]
Castle of Blackburn, B. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Hirshfield, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Hothfield, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Hughes, L.
David, B. Jay, L.
Desai, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Donoughue, L. Jeger, B.
Dormand of Easington, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Eatwell, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. John-Mackie, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Judd, L.
Faithfull, B. Kennet, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Renton, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Richard, L.
Lawrence, L. Richardson, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Longford, E. Sainsbury, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Salisbury, Bp.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Seear, B.
Mallalieu, B. Sefton of Garston, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Serota, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Shepherd, L.
Mayhew, L. Stallard, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Stedman, B.
Milner of Leeds, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Molloy, L. Strafford, E.
Monkswell, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Mulley, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Thurlow, L.
Nicol, B. Turner of Camden, B.
O'Cathain, B. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Ogmore, L. Walton of Detchant, L.
Palmer, L. Warnock, B.
Park of Monmouth, B. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Peston, L. Wharton, B.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. White, B.
Plant of Highfield, L. Wigoder, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Prys-Davies, L. Wynford, L.
Rea, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Redesdale, L.
Addison, V. Goschen, V.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Granard, E.
Gray of Contin, L.
Arran, E. Greenhill of Harrow, L.
Ashbourne, L. Grey, E.
Astor, V. Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hampden, V.
Bessborough, E. Hampton, L.
Blatch, B. Harding of Petherton, L.
Blyth, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Borthwick, L. Henley, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Hesketh, L. [Teller.]
Brabazon of Tara, L. Hood, V.
Braine of Wheatley, L. Howe, E.
Brentford, V. Huntly, M.
Bridgeman, V. Hylton-Foster, B.
Brigstocke, B. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Butterworth, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Cadman, L. Kimball, L.
Caithness, E. Lane of Horsell, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Lauderdale, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Leigh, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Cawley, L. Liverpool, E.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Long, V.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Lyell, L.
Chelmsford, V. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Clark of Kempston, L [Lord Chancellor.]
Cochrane of Cults, L. Manchester, D.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Mancroft, L.
Cox, B. Margadale, L.
Cranborne, V. Marlesford, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Merrivale, L.
Cumberlege, B. Monson, L.
Davidson, V. Moore of Wolvercote, L.
Denham, L. Morris, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Mountevans, L.
Donegall, M. Mountgarret, V.
Dudley, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Effingham, E. Munster, E.
Elibank, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Falkland, V. Nelson, E.
Ferrers, E. Norfolk, D.
Flather, B. Orkney, E.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Oxfuird, V.
Gainford, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Geddes, L. Pender, L.
Perry of Southwark, B. Strathcarron, L.
Perth, E. Strathclyde, L.
Peyton of Yeovil, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. [Teller.]
Prior, L. Sudeley, L.
Reading, M. Swansea, L.
Rennell, L. Swinfen, L.
Rodger of Earlsferry, L. Tebbit, L.
St. Davids, V. Terrington, L.
Seccombe, B. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Selkirk, E. Trefgarne, L.
Shannon, E. Trumpington, B.
Shrewsbury, E. Ullswater, V.
Simon of Glaisdale, L. Vivian, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Wakeham, L.
Skidelsky, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Stewartby, L. Wilberforce, L.
Strange, B. Wise, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 246: Before Clause 217, insert the following new clause: ("General Teaching Council for England and Wales .—(1) The Secretary of State shall undertake consultation with a view to establishing a General Teaching Council for England and Wales to exercise in relation to teachers in England and Wales the functions conferred upon them by regulations that may be made by the Secretary of State for the purpose of regulating and developing the role of the teaching profession. (2) Following consultation under this section with organisations appearing to him to be representative of teachers in England and Wales, the Secretary of State shall report his findings to Parliament within twelve months of the passing of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: I make no apology for returning to this subject, which we debated in another context in relation to the amendment so well proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Butterfield and Lord Dainton.

Without teachers and good teaching, without the highest standards, all our long nights of deliberation on the Bill are so much hot air. Frankly, there have been moments in our proceedings when I have almost despaired at the Government's mechanistic preoccupations with control and an apparent lack of concern for the essence of it all; in other words, the development of teachers and teaching and, indeed, of the pupils themselves.

In considering plans for the future of education the Government must recognise the central importance of ensuring a stable, well-qualified, continuously learning teaching profession and the importance of building a creative and constructive relationship with it. The Cross-Benchers in the Chamber have well demonstrated their commitment to the principle of a General Teaching Council. I am glad to say that this is another issue on which there is a unanimity of view between the Liberal Democrat and Labour Benches. The Labour Party has published its commitment to establishing a General Teaching Council with the words: to uphold professional standards and help raise teachers' self-esteem".

The Liberal Democrats have shared that commitment, publicly going on record as saying: Liberal Democrats will establish a General Teaching Council to promote the professional status of teachers, oversee standards and advise the Government".

Beyond that debates in this Chamber in 1989 and 1991 showed strong cross-party support for a statutory General Teaching Council reflecting the strength of support expressed in the other place in 1990 by the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts. The Committee will recall that the Select Committee stated: we recommend that the Government create a General Teaching Council to work for the enhancement of the profession".

At that stage the Government of the day declined to accept the proposal. But in 1991 the Chairman of the Conservative Party said—and it is interesting: The Government has never opposed a General Teaching Council in principle but believes that it can only be effective if it emanates from, rather than is imposed on, the teaching profession".

That is what the amendment is designed to address.

The formal consultation proposed by the new clause answers specifically the need for any council to emanate from the profession. The structures for consultation already exist. The work of GTC (England and Wales) organisation, led by Professor Tomlinson, is designed to enable the Secretary of State to pursue an acceptable proposal towards the statute book. There are 32 key associations committed to the general principles of that work, sharing their thoughts on how to establish a general teaching council and make it a governing council for the whole of the public education service.

During our earlier debate in Committee the Minister referred to Professor Tomlinson's organisation as evidence that teachers' organisations can get together to form a voluntary, non-statutory general teaching council. However, Professor Tomlinson and his impressive range of supporters do not seek to set themselves up as a non-statutory general teaching council. They are available as the major channel for consultation on the creation of a statutory general teaching council. They seek to promote the proposal within the profession and publicly.

Indeed, their proposals are for an overarching professional body to determine the necessary standards of training, qualifications and conduct appropriate for public recognition as a teacher or as an initial trainer of teachers. The body would screen and recognise qualifications and training received in Scotland, the European Community and further afield. The general teaching council would maintain a register of those entitled to teach and those who should not. It would be the body to advise on the supply of teachers, on their training and professional development, on retraining and on good practice in induction. It would promote related research and inquiry. It would be the voice of the whole profession to the public.

In the earlier debate on the general teaching council, the Minister echoed the anxieties of the Secretary of State in an article published in the Independent in which he had written that teachers should form a body on the royal college model. But with great respect, that approach singularly fails to distinguish between the need for a professional forum and the need for teachers to act collectively on pay and conditions of service. There is a role for trade unions and professional bodies of teachers which is quite distinct from the role of a general teaching council which is addressed by the amendment.

The Minister went on to say that the GTC should be non-statutory. She said: we believe that it must be for teachers themselves to address the benefit of a non-statutory professional body concerned with the status of the profession and matters of professional conduct".—[Official Report, 20/4/93; col. 1433.] Individual professional associations may contribute guidelines and exert their influence on members to follow them, but such voluntary disciplines have no force in law and no direct bearing on decisions relating to teaching. It has been said that arrangements exist for individual consultations with the various professional associations but consultation is not of the same order as the advice which would be given by a proper statutory GTC. For example, there is no requirement in Parliament that regard should be given to evidence merely offered in consultation, as government intransigence on this Bill so well illustrates.

Moreover, existing consultation is limited to the questions perceived to be appropriate by government departments. The obvious need is for a professional body competent to govern the profession and to offer advice and recommendations to the Government, taking account of the whole profession. The composition of the general teaching council could well include all major sectors of the education service. There could be a clear majority of registered teachers while no one organised body would represent a majority. The public interest could also be fully represented, including central and local government, parents, governors, the employment interest and the providers of institutions.

The GTC, which many envisage, would be a body with a full professional mandate across the whole profession, also enjoying the participation and support of parents. It would guide and reflect a profession engaged in a key public service.

A general teaching council reaching across the whole education service would not only be the appropriate body to advise government, it would become the body to regulate practice. It is hoped that it would rise above party political dogma and the prejudices of individual Ministers. It would be able to inspire confidence among parents, teachers and the children themselves. It would provide a sound basis for partnership based on the professional self-respect of the teaching profession.

With those remarks I have attempted to make clear the case for legislation. We believe that a general teaching council needs to be established. We believe that it requires a statutory basis. In the previous debate in Committee the Minister appeared to agree with the principles of a general teaching council. As I have tried to illustrate, the difference centred on whether such a GTC requires a statutory basis. The Minister said: The difference between us … is the distinction between a non-statutory professional body as opposed to a statutory professional body. That a body should be established to enhance the status and professionalism of teachers is not in question and is not a point of difference between us".—[Official Report, 20/4/93; col. 1433.]

The new clause does not compel the Secretary of State to take a statutory power which the Minister said—and she was being very honest—that the Government had no intention of using. Instead, the proposed clause provides for the Secretary of State to undertake consultations with a view to establishing a general teaching council for England and Wales, a very different proposition. The new clause goes further than simply giving the Secretary of State the power to make an order to establish a general teaching council; it makes clear the remit of consultation with regard to establishing a general teaching council. It does not tie the Government to establishing such a council but it makes clear that: following consultation … the Secretary of State shall report his findings to Parliament".

In other words, the new clause asks the Government to take on board the serious anxieties expressed for the establishment of a general teaching council. It establishes that the Government should not close the door on statutory provision. Rather, they should begin a serious evaluation and return to Parliament at the earliest opportunity, within 12 months of passing this Bill, after full consultation with the professions and others. The Secretary of State would then be able to bring forward regulations for a GTC. If, after that evaluation, the Secretary of State were to come down against establishing such a statutory body, he would then be able to demonstrate convincingly to all concerned after such consultations why he had reached that conclusion and why there were very good reasons for not so doing. At present, we have not had the evaluation, the full consultation or the great national debate. Therefore, there is inevitably anxiety about what is seen as a rather abrupt and perhaps ill-founded position on the part of the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

As an ex-teacher in both the maintained and independent sectors I strongly support this amendment. A general teaching council is undoubtedly an idea whose time has now come.

I must admit that I had no idea until the other day how much background work had gone into producing a blueprint for a GTC, and how much unanimity had been achieved among the major bodies in the field of education, even to the extent of a draft Bill ready for presentation to Parliament.

Today we are not primarily concerned with the detail. What is important is the principle. Teachers are a beleaguered group at the moment. Their fortunes tend to go in cycles, as society first praises them and then condemns them when aspects of our national life go wrong. They are very vulnerable to swings in morale, the more so when they feel that they are not consulted and their professionalism and expertise are undervalued. When teachers' morale goes down, then so, I believe, does their effectiveness in the classroom. The creation of a general teaching council will do a great deal for morale and self-respect, in giving the profession a large measure of control over its own affairs, and in conferring the status which it has never quite had before.

It is that sense of status, just as much as monetary rewards, which separates our teachers from their colleagues in other European countries. When that is improved, I think we will see other improvements as well. Of course this is asking the Government to give up some areas of control. I think a bit of faith in this respect will be well rewarded. Fears that were expressed that a GTC will be hijacked by the more militant unionists are unlikely to be realised: the evidence is that this is not what happens in cases of this kind. When you give people responsibility they usually live up to it.

When we debated a similar amendment on the first day in Committee, the essence of the Minister's reply was that it was not for the Government to give statutory backing to the teaching profession. But we did not really hear why. The osteopaths are currently becoming a self-regulated profession under statute with the Government's blessing. Why not the teachers? We believe it would do a great amount of good if Parliament were to take the initiative here. There is much more to be gained than lost by this amendment. I hope it will find general support.

Baroness Seear

I strongly support the amendment. However, I must, first, apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I confess that I was two minutes late getting back from the Tea Room and he had started his speech before my return. However, I believe that this is probably the most important amendment before the Committee in connection with the Bill. It is common ground between us that education in this country is of the highest importance and that all is not well with education by a very long way. I believe that nothing could do more to enhance the teaching profession than for it to have its own general teaching council. It would put teachers on a par with other professions which have the right to regulate their own professional affairs. It would give them a status and a dignity which they lack at present and would increase the attractiveness of the teaching profession as regards the people who need to be drawn in if the schools are to be able to give the education that is needed to the children of this country.

It is nothing to do with the teaching trade unions' rights of negotiation, which are a proper but quite separate issue. It is nothing to do with the rights of teachers to be consulted on particular matters. It is to do with the rights of teachers to be a self-governing body of professionals concerned with the content of training, standards of performance and discipline among its members. Such considerations give professional status and help to maintain it. Unless we do that we shall not get the teachers that we need. If we do not get the teachers that we need, none of the other reforms in this or in any other Bill will provide us with the educational improvements that we require.

I believe that the proposal is essential to the whole drive which is shared on all sides of the Committee for improvements in education. We are not asking the Government to set up a general teaching council straight away. We are asking for consultation as to how it should be done. However, for the reasons that I have given, we believe that it should be on a statutory basis. I very much hope that it will command support from all sides of the Committee. It would be an essential step forward—a step without which the other steps are likely to prove of marginally little value.

Lord Walton of Detchant

As some Members of the Committee will be aware, I have had the privilege for the past two years of chairing the Hamlyn National Commission on Education, which is in the process of undertaking a very thorough examination and review of the whole educational system within the United Kingdom from nursery schooling up to continuing education for adult life. Because of that responsibility and because the commission will not have completed its task until November of this year (when it hopes to report and make its recommendations), it is perhaps unfortunate that we have not been in a position to contribute to the debates on the Bill.

For that reason, I have generally refrained from involving myself in the debates both on Second Reading and in Committee. However, I welcome the opportunity today to express a personal opinion upon the need for a general teaching council, as I firmly believe, in support of what has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that that is very much a development to be welcomed.

I was unable to contribute to the debate on Amendment No. 10 moved by my noble friend Lord Butterfield because it happened to coincide with the latter part of a meeting of the Committee on Medical Ethics, which I chair. However, as I said, I welcome the opportunity to speak now strongly in favour of the proposal contained in the amendment for a variety of reasons. First, professional self-regulation has been one of the corner-stones and glories of the British professional society. Secondly, there has been a general teaching council in Scotland for over 40 years. Although it had a very slow start, it has, nevertheless, increasingly gained the confidence of the profession and has been very effective in the way in which it has contributed to standards of education in that country.

Thirdly, in my professional life I have had the privilege of serving in a number of medical organisations. Much was made in the debate on Amendment No. 10 of the issue of comparability between, on the one hand, the organisations which exist in my profession, in dentistry and in nursing and, on the other, the proposals relating to a general teaching council. But in medicine the British Medical Association is unashamedly a trade union and is registered as such. It is a body concerned with negotiating terms and conditions of service for its members. It is a professional association. Nevertheless, it is a body which makes recommendations in relation to medicine, ethics and education; but its negotiating role is primary.

In her reply to the debate on Amendment No. 10, the noble Baroness said the Government favoured much more the creation of a Royal college of teaching comparable to the Royal colleges which exist in the medical profession. There are many such colleges and faculties. Most of them are involved with laying down criteria for training at a post-graduate level in individual specialties in medicine. They are essentially professional groups concerned with the provision of scientific training and with the conferment of higher qualifications which attest to the achievement of a certain standard in the specialty with which they are concerned. They are not trade unions. They do not have, except through the conference of colleges representation upon the joint consultants committee, a formal negotiating role but in that committee they join with the BMA in offering advice to government.

By contrast, the General Medical Council, over which I have the privilege to preside—and I am glad to see beside me one of my predecessors as president of that council, my noble friend Lord Richardson—is a statutory body which was created by Act of Parliament in 1858. It is perfectly true that since the Merrison Committee reported some years ago upon its reconstitution that body has been totally reconstructed. It has a majority of registered medical practitioners elected from the entire body of doctors in the United Kingdom.

Many people felt that, once there was an elected majority of doctors, there was a serious risk that that body might be hijacked by the BMA and other professional self-interest groups. But that has been very far from the case. The electoral mechanisms and the electoral scheme laid down have made it absolutely clear that, indeed, a considerable number of those who were elected to the council have been people of high academic standing in the universities and in the bodies concerned with the provision of medical education. It is perfectly true that the BMA and the other special interest groups in the profession have sponsored candidates for election to the GMC, but my experience throughout my term of service as president to the council, and long before that, was that, once elected to the General Medical Council, those individuals did not in any way continue to pursue the interest of the group which may have sponsored them for election but acted in the best interests of the profession.

It is equally important to recognise that the constitution of that council also allowed for a considerable number of lay members and for those appointed by the Privy Council to offer an independent view. The principle concerns not so much whether such a general teaching council might be hijacked, as some have suggested, by the teaching unions. It is surely one of professional self-regulation and creating a body constituted so as to further the interests of the educational system of the United Kingdom; that is, not only through registering those who have completed a satisfactory programme of training and who are, therefore, individuals who can be regarded as being properly qualified to teach but also through having the statutory authority through an education committee to make recommendations upon developments in education. I believe that that is one of the principal duties of such a council.

The education committee of the General Medical Council, elected from the main body, has been recognised in medical education as being the body which above all others has been most innovative, most original and most influential in achieving high standards of medical education. I have no doubt that the education committee of a general teaching council could fulfil exactly that role, just as it is important that it should fulfil, as the GMC does, a seminal role in the responsibility, discipline, ethics and professional standards of the teaching profession.

I could not accept the arguments adduced by the noble Baroness in rejecting the idea of a general teaching council in her answer to Amendment No. 10. I believe that this country will have, should have, and indeed must have, a general teaching council which is properly constituted so as to achieve self-respect; a much greater, as it were, standing of the teaching profession in this country, and higher standards of education. I believe that will come about sooner or later. Let us hope that consultations will allow it to come about quickly. I warmly support the amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Cox

Once again I must reluctantly strongly oppose this amendment although it is much more plausible than the one we discussed recently. It is perhaps particularly unfortunate that a proposal has been put before us which is based on the premise of professionalism when so many teachers are unfortunately behaving in a way that is distinctly unprofessional at the present time with boycotts and with threatened strike action. Parallels have been drawn with other professions whose staff behave extremely professionally. For example, parallels have been drawn between the proposed GTC and the nursing profession and the UKCC. The members of a profession such as nursing are strongly committed in principle to a no-strike policy. They are opposed in principle to any behaviour which would act to the detriment of those who are vulnerable and for whom the professionals are professionally responsible. That is a significant factor in terms of the real world at the present time.

I must emphasise that there is nothing whatever to stop the many undoubtedly good, dedicated and professional teachers from setting up their own professional association. That could attain statutory recognition. That truly would be an association emanating from within the teaching profession itself like the royal colleges in the other professions. Such an association would have the credibility and the authority that comes from being a truly professional body. However, I and many others are deeply worried that, although this amendment only provides for consultation, it would put great pressure on the Secretary of State in due course to set up such a council with statutory powers. That would be in effect another vehicle under which trade union behaviour could arise of the type that is causing such confusion in our schools at the moment and problems for the pupils. I am not convinced that a proposal is desirable. I believe it will lead to great pressure to establish a body in the not too distant future which is not desirable in the present circumstances and at the present time. Therefore I am afraid that I cannot support the amendment, plausible as it is.

Baroness Warnock

When the Merrison Committee, of which I was a member, undertook to look at the new constitution of the General Medical Council, two anxieties were foremost in our minds. My noble friend Lord Walton has mentioned both of those anxieties. One was the fear that with elected members the General Medical Council would become a branch of the BMA, or would at least be in the hands of the unions. That matter was debated in that committee at great length. It was decided in the end that the risk should be taken. The result of that decision has been described to the Committee. There is no doubt whatever that the General Medical Council, under its relatively new constitution, is just as detached and separate from issues of pay and conditions as it ever was before.

The second matter that preoccupied the Merrison Committee was the fact that the education of doctors needed urgently to be reconsidered. It was felt that the General Medical Council in its new form would be well fitted to look seriously at the training and education of doctors which always had been in the hands of the doctors themselves. One of the reasons that I so strongly support the consultation that is recommended in this amendment is that it fits in exactly with the Government's own new proposals for the training and education of teachers. If more of the training of teachers is to be undertaken increasingly in schools—I think that is absolutely right—and teachers are to be under the supervision of monitors, tutors, or whatever their supervisors are called, who are themselves classroom teachers, and the training is to be carried out as it is in a hospital when the training of staff is carried out under the eye of people who are practising the profession, it seems to me more than ever essential that the profession itself should be involved in setting out the guidelines and setting up the structures for the education of teachers. I am sure that no one would he more enthusiastic than the present Government to have a radical revision of some of the present content of teacher training.

No Member of the Government would be more enthusiastic than I at cutting out some of the garbage that goes under the name of teacher training. I believe that this will be put right when the training is carried out substantially in schools. However, that step makes no sense at all unless the profession itself has the statutory powers to set up the limits within which training must he given and the acknowledgment that must be given to teachers as regards when they are or are not fit to practise. I believe that that will happen and I hope that we will not turn down the chance to consult about how the process provided for by the amendment will be carried out. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, we would at least hear the reasons that lie behind a refusal to set up a statutory body.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I find myself in the unhappy position of agreeing with many of the arguments that have been made but disagreeing entirely with the conclusion that is reached. Teachers are, of course, the most important single factor of the whole of the provision of education. They solely are responsible at the end of the day for the standards which are delivered in the classroom. There is no more important issue than the way in which teachers are trained, the way in which they are motivated and how they relate to their pupils. It would be wonderful to think that the creation of a general teaching council, as is proposed in this amendment, would help to raise the professional standing and the professional standards of teachers. I know that is dear to all Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber.

However, I hesitate about the conclusion that has been reached for two reasons, particularly in the light of where we are now in the profession. I do not refer by that to the current industrial action. First, I have an unfortunately long memory and I remember the time in the 1970s when the then Labour government attempted to hold discussions and move towards the setting up of a general teaching council. The whole initiative fell by its own internal volition because the teaching unions could not, when it came to the punch, agree as regards who was to get four, six or three seats. Unfortunately the teaching unions fell out among themselves despite the will of the then government to bring them together into a general teaching council.

I know history has moved on since then. I greatly admire the drive and enthusiasm of Professor Tomlinson and his colleagues but I still fear that when it comes to deciding the composition of a council, that same kind of battle would break out again to the detriment of everyone and to the double confusion of the rank and file members.

However, the second and much more powerful anxiety I have concerns the issue that was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. I refer to teacher training. The training of teachers has been in the hands of the profession for the past 20-odd years. It is seldom realised that the Secretary of State's powers have been delegated since the early 1960s—I believe the legislation was passed in 1959—to groups of professionals regionally based throughout the country. Even today, despite the existence of the committee for the accreditation of teacher education, the recommendations on all individual teaching courses are made by local committees whose composition is dominated by teachers. Therefore we can only look at the profession's failure to deliver a training which has provided for the needs of pupils.

I wish that I could tell the Committee how many times lovely young teachers committed to their pupils have said to me, "I feel that I am daily failing the children because in my training I was not given enough knowledge to teach them. I cannot answer their questions. I was never told how much I could expect of them". Every HMI report that I have read begins by stating how low are the expectations of teachers towards their pupils. They do not know what pupils ought to be capable of achieving because their training never contained such knowledge. Far too much of the training concentrated on telling those young teachers how difficult it is for children from deprived backgrounds or with learning difficulties ever to achieve. Yet the message that they needed was that those children can be allowed to achieve their potential, given the right teaching and help.

It is my long, bitter and indeed heart-rending experience of how ineffective the profession has been in delivering the training required, and which the many hundreds of thousands of members of the profession wish they had received, which now gives me grave anxiety about the enthusiasm to hand over the content and standards of training to yet more groups of professionals.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I do not believe that we need today to emphasise the merits of a general teaching council. That was largely done on 20th April when the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, moved a different but related amendment. His speech, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, were as comprehensive as it is possible to be in presenting the case for a GTC. At that time and again today my noble friend Lord Judd has added his own distinctive strengths to those speeches.

Our debate today must necessarily be concerned with the Minister's reply on that date. She stated: Such a relationship could function very well without being encumbered by a formal statutory role as proposed for a teaching council. But, I must stress that this is something for teachers to take forward themselves. It would not be appropriate for the Government to set up such a professional body. Yes, I believe that it could function in such circumstances, but not, as she stated "very well". It would be lacking in strength, recognition and to some extent in real purpose.

The new clause does not force the Secretary of State to take a statutory power. It provides for the Secretary of State to undertake consultation—those are the important words—with a view to establishing a GTC. It makes clear that following consultation the Secretary of State shall report his findings to Parliament. That is surely a reasonable step to undertake.

If the Minister is not prepared to accept that proposal, I suspect that, contrary to what has been said on a number of occasions, the Government are not really interested in a GTC being established, whatever the circumstances and conditions. The Government will have the support of the Select Committee on education, science and the arts which, as we all know, recommended that the Government, create a GTC to work for the enhancement of the profession". If the Government were starting from scratch in the matter, one could understand their hesitation. But apart from the view of the Select Committee—it was referred to in the previous debate and again today—there are 32 key associations committed to a general teaching council. Anyone who has had any dealings with Professor Tomlinson will be aware of the work that has been done and the enthusiasm for the proposal. As I believe the Committee may know, a General Teaching Council Limited exists and has done for some time. There is, too, the benefit—one noble Lord has referred to it—of the experience in Scotland.

Consultation by itself is important. However, on this issue it is simply not enough. It would be limited to matters thought by the Government, and to a lesser extent the teachers' associations, to be appropriate. What is more important is the need for a professional body competent to govern the profession and to offer advice and recommendations to Government, taking into account the whole of the profession. Most Members of the Committee would agree that few things in a modern society are as important as education, both from a personal standpoint and for the economic well-being of the country. The most important part of that service is the role of the teachers. All the fine words and elaborate arrangements, of which we hear so much these days, are of little use without the enthusiasm and dedication of the teacher in the classroom, the laboratory, the gym, the playing field, or wherever.

I am one of many who have said that teachers' morale is at a low ebb. I do not believe that that can be denied. However, I have never at any time doubted the teachers' integrity and strength of purpose. More than any other factor, I believe that the establishment of a GTC would raise morale in the profession. Most teachers require a "lift"—a tribute, a recognition of the vital work they do; a recognition that they are on a par with doctors, dentists, solicitors, nurses and other professionals. We cannot expect the usual response from the Government on this occasion that it would cost too much. If there is any cost at all, it would be negligible. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that issue when she replies.

There is considerable responsibility on the teachers too in this matter. They need continually to improve their academic and training standards, with training and retraining. A professional council without such standards would be almost without value and would mean very little in the eyes of the public and parents. That too must surely be of considerable importance. Most teachers, I believe, recognise that. A significant and continuing rise in standards in the teaching profession has been one of the most heartening features in recent years. It would be a central function of a GTC to ensure the continuation of those matters.

In his autobiography dealing with his education, Henry Adams said: A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops". That is absolutely true; and to teachers it must be both heartening and frightening at the same time. There must be few of us who do not comment at some time during our lives on some of our former teachers.

The Minister will have readily noticed the repetition in the speeches today and in the previous debates. I suggest that it merely emphasises the importance of the points made. I am sure that the Minister will take great heed. I believe that the Committee today can take an important step forward in agreeing to the amendment.

Baroness Faithfull

Unlike my two noble friends on these Benches, I support the amendment. People who are responsible for their own profession unite and produce much better work. My noble friend Lady Perry spoke with distress about young teachers who did not learn much at teacher training colleges. Why was the work not done well at some of the teacher training colleges? If there had been a general teaching council, they would have had a body to which to appeal. Much has been said in favour of the amendment by many Members of the Committee. Therefore I shall not repeat it except to say that I support the amendment.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

I should just like briefly to respond to what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said because I think she overstated her case, as she has on previous occasions in our debates. I think she also rather put the cart before the horse here. I feel, and a lot of us feel, that it is precisely because teachers have not been listened to for so long and have been overridden that we are in so much trouble, as we have been in recent years, that we have seen with the profession. We are in a sort of vicious circle. It reminds me rather of that apocryphal notice in the post office which read that, "Blotting paper will not be provided until the public stops taking it away". One has to step in and break the circle somehow and my strong feeling, and, I think, the strong feeling of many others in the Committee today, is that this amendment is, if not the way, at least one strong way in which to do that.

Lord Butterfield

I wish to say how grateful I am to so many people for picking up the theme of our previous debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for the work he has done in putting forward the amendment. I realise that in some quarters—indeed, in my own family—there is grave concern that a general teaching council would be hijacked by those parts of the profession who have a strong trade union tradition. I hope that the Minister can find some way of using the coming year to try to find a solution to a very important problem. That is all I wish to impress on the Committee. I feel that this is an important matter and a definite attempt is needed to solve it.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

I too wish to add a word in support of what my noble friend Lady Faithfull said. As the principal of an Oxford college, I have had occasion to know young women who went on to the PGCE training course. It is quite true that many found themselves deeply unsatisfied by the training they were receiving and were anxious about some of it. But there was nowhere to which they could appeal. I believe that a professional body is necessary, provided, as the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, said, a way can be found to ensure that it does not become an institution simply for lobbying against whatever people do not want. It is important that there should be an organisation to which people know they can appeal on professional grounds about professional problems.

Lord Lucas

I would like to say that it is a pleasure to belong to professional associations. They are wonderful things. However, I wish to make two points about a general teaching council. First, surely the Government are right that, if this is to be a respected organisation, the initiative must come from the grass roots of the teaching profession. Something which is created by the Government surely cannot satisfy that requirement. Secondly, one ought to be cautious about professional associations: some are good, some are not so good. There are two with which I am associated. First, the accountants: there are many who would say that they have given a great deal of latitude to companies using creative accounting to the disadvantage of their shareholders. The other association is the Council of Lloyd's—and the less said about that the better. Surely, we must be careful about giving a newly created professional body powers over training before it has proved itself.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I spoke in favour of the previous recommendation that we should move towards a general teaching council, and I support this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, seems to ignore the work that has been done in setting up the General Teaching Council Limited. The enthusiasm, care and consultation have already taken place. There is a great deal of consensus behind the development towards a general teaching council, and that includes the teaching profession and many other associated bodies.

I do not believe that it should be imagined by the Committee that nothing has happened or that the teaching profession has been sitting back idle. It has done a great deal of work. The opportunity is now before us to take imaginative action to break into a situation which many of us recognise as unsatisfactory.

There is demoralisation among teachers. They do not always behave as responsibly and elegantly as we could wish. I take due note of the criticisms of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. But it is precisely because of that situation that we need to break in and take some decisive, imaginative action which indicates that we want teachers to accept full self-responsibility. In such a way, it seems to me, we might gain an improvement.

Baroness Cox

Perhaps I may briefly respond to the challenge put to me by the noble Lord, who said that I overstated my case. As the mood of the Committee was so constructive, I tried to be constructively critical, and perhaps I understated my case. I had both the unfortunate personal experience in the state sector of teachers who behaved extremely unprofessionally and, in terms of national research, experience showing the great indices of concern in under-performance and in international research. Tragically, many members of the teaching profession have not behaved professionally and not been accountable to their pupils for too long. That is why I believe that the time is ripe for the teaching profession itself to develop a professional body with the good, qualified, dedicated teachers who care and for that to be the grass roots from which a teaching council could then grow.

I do not believe that a teaching council imposed from the top, which could easily be another vehicle for trade union activity, is the answer. I should love to see the dedicated teachers—of which there are many— developing their own professional association. I do not know why they have not done so so far. That would be the basis, in due course, for a statutory council. However, it must be professionalism first and recognition afterwards.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding here. There is nothing imposed from on top. We already have documents from teachers, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will refer to that later. We have all the work done already, and are coming to the Government to say, "Will you give statutory recognition to this?" The work has already been done.

Baroness Blatch

I believe that the noble Earl misses the point. What my noble friend is talking about is a record of being concerned about the professionalism of teachers. That is something which has not been addressed. What a general teaching council could do is simply come to us with a list of its members, and what worthy bodies they are. However, that does not address the points that have been made by my noble friend.

These arguments were well rehearsed on the first day of the Committee stage in response to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, to Clause 1. In response to that debate, I said that I recognised and shared the underlying concern to see teachers achieve a professional status and stressed that the Government have no wish to deny teachers the right to regard themselves and to be regarded as professionals, or to organise themselves into a professional body. But, I reaffirmed, as I again do so now, that the Government stand by the response they made to the Education Select Committee in 1990 that we remain unconvinced by the arguments in favour of a general teaching council. Recent events have served only to strengthen that view and to cast serious doubt on whether a teaching council, dominated as it might be by those very people who urge industrial action over testing, teacher appraisal and class sizes, strikes over pay and general opposition to the Government's reforms, could ever effectively promote or defend the professionalism of teachers, the interests of schools or of the education service as a whole.

The difference between us seems again to come down to the issue, not of whether there should be a professional body, but of whether this should be a body with statutory powers, as proposed for a general teaching council.

I referred in the previous debate to the attraction of various non-statutory options such as a Royal college of teachers or the Royal colleges as found in the health service. Perhaps I may say to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, that I believe that the osteopaths fall into that category, not into the category of a body with statutory powers. However, of course, I stand to be corrected if I am wrong on that. I repeat that we would be quite content to see established a professional body of such a kind which would promote the status of the profession and discuss matters of professional concern. Such a body could function very well without being encumbered by a formal statutory role. But I must re-emphasise that this is something for teachers to take forward; it is not the role of the Government to impose their own ideas on what such a professional body should look like.

The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, also referred to the Royal colleges. I believe he said that they were not trade unions; and that somewhat underlies our concerns here. No, they may not be trade unions, although I sometimes wonder why I hear the BMA giving its views on various aspects of how doctors are treated, and I need a little convincing about it. However, I believe that what we would have here, and what was certainly my experience in local government, is that the arguments about representation and the size of the representation would overcome all the genuinely good arguments that there are and the anxiety about the professionalism of teachers.

I remember with some distress the pain of the Professional Association of Teachers—one of our most professional associations—when it was trying desperately to get recognition at local authority level and was being pushed out constantly by the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, who constantly professed that they had more members and therefore they needed greater representation. It would be only a matter of time before we had that kind of debate getting in the way of what I believe concerns everybody in this Chamber; namely, promoting the professionalism of our teachers. Therefore, I do not believe that there is a great deal in a comparison with the GMC and the BMA relationship.

Yes, I rejected the idea of a statutory body concerned with the professionalism of teachers. But I did not reject the idea of a body concerned with the professionalism of teachers but not with statutory powers. I made that distinction, and Members of the Committee were right to remind me of it.

Reference has been made to the Scottish experience. There are some important distinctions between England and Scotland. I shall name just a few in reference to teaching. Certainly there are five times as many teachers. There are many more providers of teacher training, and a much greater diversity of courses, colleges and routes to qualified teacher status. Scottish teachers have only one trade union. That makes a great deal of difference. They do not have the internecine battling among six unions, as we have here in England. It would be much more difficult for a teaching council to undertake a regulatory function here than it is in Scotland, and arrangements for ensuring appropriate representation would indeed be more complex.

The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, said that such a body would be lacking in purpose. There is a serious difference of view here. If there is a gap at all at this moment for teachers, it is that they are not generally perceived to be as professional as we would all wish them to be. I do not believe that forming this kind of statutory body would achieve that end. That end would be achieved if professional teachers, concerned about their status and standing in the public eye, came together and concerned themselves with those matters. I have looked at the membership of the Professor Tomlinson organisation: eight directors; 30 associations; teachers' unions; teacher training bodies; and groups in the independent sector. I should like to see individual professional teachers coming together with one cause; namely, to enhance and do something about the professionalism of teachers.

The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, constantly carps away at my noble friend Lady Cox as overstating her case. I know that my noble friend has spent many years—not just hours, days and weeks, but years—investigating and researching her case. She always has a good, sound body of evidence to back her case.

The noble Earl said also in that same intervention that not only had my noble friend overstated her case, but that one of the reasons we are where we are at this moment is that we do not listen to teachers. I suggest to the noble Earl that he has been reading too many newspapers. Perhaps he would like—I shall make it available to him—to take my diary since 9th April last year, and that of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, to see not only on how many occasions we have talked to teachers, but when we have met them, both in the office and at school, and talked with all sorts of teacher bodies, which have had a real input. Indeed, one of the reasons we have a review of the national curriculum is almost precisely because of the feedback we have had from real teachers in real classrooms. When he believes the hype and says that no one is listening to teachers, I am afraid that I simply do not agree with him.

My noble friend Lord Lucas made two very good points. I believe very seriously that the establishing of any body concerned with the professional standing of teachers should come from the grass roots, from the professional teachers themselves. There is no divine right that setting up an established body with statutory powers necessarily makes it a good body. He gave good evidence of that.

The right reverend Prelate took my noble friend Lord Lucas to task for what he said, and said that he ignored a number of points. But he too, I believe, ignored the point that the Professor Tomlison body had somehow or other proved itself; it had set itself up well and it was working well. I do not disagree with any of that. It receives all the papers from my department, and we see it as a body that is doing a good job. But the idea seems to be that giving it statutory powers would make it even better. What I believe is being ignored here is that it would very quickly become a negotiating body; and then we get into the whole field of representation. For those reasons I believe that that would not be the right way.

We have given serious consideration to the issue and made the Government's viewpoint clear when giving evidence to the Select Committee. We believe that it is very much a matter for teachers themselves to consider the formulation of a professional body. I hope that the amendment will be rejected.

5 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Perhaps I may say to my noble friend for the record that I think she has been given the wrong information about Scotland. There is more than one teachers' union. One is much bigger than the others. But they disagree just as much among themselves as do the teachers' organisations in England. I took the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, very seriously. Would that I agreed with him. But I believe that the way that the British Medical Association sees itself is very different to the way that teachers' unions see themselves. Did he say that the BMA was unashamedly a union? I was not sure whether my noble friend picked him up on that point.

Lord Walton of Detchant

It is a registered trade union, but not affiliated to the Trades Union Congress.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

The noble Lord said that it did the negotiating separately from the General Medical Council. I am sorry if I have misunderstood.

Lord Walton of Detchant

It is a very important point. I have to say, if I may disagree with one of the last points made by the Minister, that the General Medical Council has no negotiating function whatever. It is a statutory body, with its statutes and responsibilities defined by Act of Parliament. They do not include negotiation. That would be the proposal relating to the general teaching council.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I understood the noble Lord's point. But the point I wanted to make is that I believe the teachers' unions see themselves as having a very different role to that of the British Medical Association. There was a moment when Members on all sides of the Committee were anxious that the British Medical Association might go over the edge and get between patients and their treatment. Teachers' unions do not hesitate quite often to come between their pupils' education and union interests. That has happened quite often, albeit with members considering that that was the right way in the long run for the pupils. But they see themselves very differently. I think their contribution to a general teaching council would be very different. I believe that the comparison between a general teaching council and the General Medical Council is not valid.

Having looked a little further (since we are allowed to discuss this matter) at what happens in Scotland, I believe that to an extent that is a weakness. There is something quite important in what those who have spoken against the amendment have to say.

Baroness Seear

Nobody seems to have made the point, which seems to me extremely important, that if we had a general teaching council it might well be able to control some of the wilder approaches of the trade unions. That would be one of its very important functions. It is the absence of any self-governing body which gives such a clear and open road for the unions to do as they like. I suggest that if we had a general teaching council it is quite likely that we would not be having the problems over testing that we have now. They would have been dealt with by that body.

Baroness Blatch

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, that I stand absolutely corrected. Not only did I use the wrong word, but I used it wrongly. The point I wanted to make is that if one looks at the functions of, for example, the GTC in Scotland, and one looks at its review and advisory role—which is what it is—on teacher training, entry standards, teacher supply and teacher discipline, in order for members to come together to do that they eventually form themselves into some sort of council. That becomes the body that produces that information and the negotiation, or the jockeying for position—that might be a better phrase—of the teacher unions. We know that the record is such that it would be dominated, and at this stage dominated by the two largest teacher unions, and the others would become dwarfed.

I also stand corrected by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour about the Scottish unions. If there are two, I can only say that one of them positively eclipses the other.

Lord Judd

I am grateful to all those who have participated in what has been a very good and constructive debate. It has shown this Chamber at its best. There has been an absence of party political rancour and a willingness to examine the issues in a dispassionate and constructive manner. As a relative newcomer to this Chamber, I have been struck by that attitude every time that the issue has been raised in debate. It has been approached in the same way. Therefore, in this amendment we have tried to take that spirit a little further by suggesting that there should be an opportunity for a properly informed consultation throughout the country with all those who have a stake in the future of education, including parents and governors, not just the professionals. After that consultation has taken place—the amendment asks for nothing else—the Minister should come back and report to Parliament. He should give his (or her) views on the future course, saying whether or not an organisation would be appropriate and, if so, what form that body should take. That seems to me to be a very wise way to proceed.

Perhaps I may make the point that, if we are to have this Chamber, that is one of the ways in which this Chamber can help the political processes of the country. When we consider that issues have become too polarised, not reflecting reality as they should, we have a chance to make constructive observations about how the situation could be taken forward in the national interest. I believe that Members on both sides have today demonstrated very well that sense of responsibility.

Having said that, I must be careful not to shoot myself in the foot. I am sure that Members would not want me to come to this Dispatch Box to be sycophantic and avoid reality. I am sorry to have to make the point, but it struck me that again from the Minister and from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we have heard exactly what is troubling so many people in the country; namely, an intransigence and absolute refusal to believe that anyone outside the ranks of their own party has an intelligent contribution to make in the analysis of how matters should be taken forward. The Minister shakes her head. But that is all that is asked for in this amendment.

I have to say that, coming from a family deeply involved in teaching, I find the repeated insinuations about the teaching profession deeply offensive. In every professional analysis that has been done—one only has to read certain serious newspapers today to see the evidence—to test public attitudes at the moment (I would not refer to the formal democratic events of last week), it is clear that that view of the teaching profession is not shared by the overwhelming majority of people in this country, who back the teachers on many of the big issues that are before us.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

It is very important for me to put on the record, in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has just said, that nothing that I have said and nothing that I shall say in the future will cast doubt on the professionalism of teachers. All that I have said today—we have to agree that it is means to ends about which we are talking—is that I should like to see as much as possible done to destroy the myth and destroy the perception in the eyes of some of the public that teachers are not professional by allowing professional teachers to organise themselves into a professional body. The difference between us is that the noble Lord is talking about statutory functions and I am talking about the enhancement of professionalism. Nothing that I have said detracts from that. The noble Lord reads far more into what I said than in fact I meant.

Lord Judd

If I have been unfair to the Minister no one would be more genuinely sorry than I. All I can say is that there is an impression that has been formed. I believe in the candour of honest political exchange and it is important that I share that impression with the Committee if I have come to such a conclusion. I am glad that the Minister made her statement at the Dispatch Box just now. I hope that she can develop that spirit and that we shall feel it—it will not be just words—in the deliberations as we take the Bill forward.

It is absolutely clear that if there is to be any future for education in this country in the next century, teachers will be central to that future. Their commitment, their good will, their morale, their self-esteem and their contribution to what is right in training and right in standards are absolutely essential to that future. The Minister says that she is prepared to listen. She lays down the rules. She says that teachers must certainly be able to contribute and then they must take the form of organisation which she considers appropriate. Frankly, I find it extraordinary. All the teaching professions are involved in the deliberations of the GTC—the organisation set up to consider the situation at the moment. There is a great deal of good will between them in the deliberations that are taking place. They have come to the firm conclusion that a statutory body is required if the task is to be properly fulfilled. That is what they say.

We simply ask the Secretary of State to take that conclusion away for a year, talk to the teaching profession and to others and come back with a reasoned reply on the basis of the discussion that they have had. The teachers have put their view. They have said what they believe is necessary. The Minister cannot have it both ways. If she wants to listen to them, they are putting a case. We suggest that that case should now be considered more fully.

I shall briefly deal with one or two other points before I sit down. First, I must respond to some interesting points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. As I have just emphasised, all the teaching organisations are among the 32 key organisations in the GTC movement at the moment. They have agreed between themselves a proposed constitution and a set of terms of reference. They have all made it absolutely clear that they support this amendment. Furthermore, they have agreed on initial representation and beyond that they agree that after the initial representation there should be direct elections to the GTC. The teaching unions are agreed on that. Surely that disposes of the point about the anxiety—indeed, if I might be a little provocative, the neurosis or the fear—of union domination.

The noble Baroness also dealt with the importance of teacher education. I am sure she would not mind my making the point that teacher education at the moment is governed by a government appointed statutory body: the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. It is not under professional control. It works under government regulations. We believe that the time has come to take education out of the daily turmoil of party politics and the rest of such controversy and establish, for the reassurance of the nation, parents and children, that it is in the hands—

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Let me repeat what I said. I know that we are at one in our overall aims. Despite the existence of CATE (the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education), the local committees which now make the recommendations to CATE about the acceptability or otherwise of courses are entirely composed of teachers and teacher trainers. For the years between 1959 and 1984, so I believe, the Secretary of State delegated all powers for the recognition of teacher education courses, so that 90 per cent. of the teachers who are now teaching in the system were trained in courses that were entirely approved by the area training organisations, as they were called. The ATOs and the CNAA's education committee were entirely professional bodies.

I am sorry but we cannot get away with saying that teacher education has been laid down in statute by the Secretary of State. The vast majority of recognition of courses has been left up to the profession itself. My contention was, very sadly, that it has been a very badly done job and has failed what is most important of all; namely, the children who are being taught. That is what we all care about. We are not here to defend the teachers, much as many of us would like to do so. We are here to defend the rights of children.

Lord Judd

That is an illustration of what I said earlier about how this debate has been particularly good. That, by any standard, was a long intervention, but it was worth every second and we were very glad to hear it. However, I just do not agree. The position is that, whoever the people making the recommendations, the control is very firmly ultimately with the Government. That is very clear. Again, it is clear from all the analyses that have been done that parents and the wider public are worried that we have political leaders who are very determined to have a direct hand in how things shall be done.

Baroness Blatch

That was an interesting point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I thank him for allowing me to intervene. Perhaps I may ask a question. My understanding is that what is being advocated by the amendment—if, at the end of the consultation period it was felt desirable to have an agreement to introduce a general teaching council—is that it would be a review and advisory body. It would have no more powers than CATE has now. Therefore, at the end of the day, it would be the Government that would have control over supply of teachers and other matters.

Is the noble Lord saying that it should be more than the Scottish system? Is he saying that it should be more than a review and advisory body and that it should have powers and control?

Lord Judd

Time is a problem but perhaps the Minister could read what I said in my introductory remarks, where I dealt with that point fully. I spoke at some length about the powers and responsibilities to which the GTC could move forward once it was established.

I do not want to be accused of boring repetition by the Committee, but I made the point also—emphasised by several members of the Committee on all sides; the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, was, as ever, extremely telling in her observations—that we are concerned with self-regulation and the self-esteem and responsibility which comes with it. As the profession feels that it is increasingly responsible, it will behave responsibly. It will enhance the quality of everything that is being done.

In thanking those who have spoken perhaps I can mention the noble Lord, Lord Walton. He made a powerful intervention. I was particularly grateful that he felt able to speak although he is in a slightly difficult position as chair of a commission that has not yet reported. But that in itself enhances the timeliness of the amendment. He is suggesting that when the report comes out it will be able to be part of the consultation; that what it says could be one of the matters to be discussed between teachers, governors, parents and others and the Government.

I should like to make one or two other points. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was emphatic that the initiative must come from the grass roots, and the Minister supported the point. The initiative and drive behind the debate today—there has been great commendation in the Committee for those involved—have at least come from the grass roots. That is what is so splendid. It is the teachers who are giving a lot of time, together with other educationists, in developing the ideas on what is necessary and how it can be tackled.

My final point, which should be stressed particularly in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is this. She argued that the history of teacher education was one of failure. There may be different views on that in the Committee; it may or may not be true. But what is clear to anyone who knows anything about education is that something new is desperately needed. It is recognised that in Scotland, where there is a GTC, whatever its strengths and weaknesses—I am glad we heard about its weaknesses as well as its strengths—teacher education has been relatively successful. That is positive news.

There is much more that could be said. But this Chamber has debated the issue several times. There is obviously goodwill on all sides towards the teaching profession. There is a recognition of how a GTC would enhance the standing of the profession, the feeling of self-responsibility within the profession and how it would provide a basis of hope for real partnership into the future. All we ask is that there is consultation for a year with a fully-informed report back to Parliament at the end of the year. I am sure that Members of the Committee would like to go on record as being in favour of that. We shall therefore pursue the amendment to a vote.

Perhaps I may conversely make the point that if this view does not prevail, the anxieties, which are rampant in the country, that many people in Westminster are unwilling to listen to reason, to the professionalism and common sense of people throughout the country, will take a great new twist of public cynicism one stage further. I beg to move.

5.25 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 246) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 114; Not-Contents, 135.

Division No. 2
Acton, L. David, B.
Addington, L. [Teller.] Dean of Beswick, L.
Airedale, L. Desai, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Dormand of Easington, L
Ardwick, L. Eatwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Elis-Thomas, L.
Attlee, E. Ennals, L.
Aylestone, L. Faithfull, B.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Falkender, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Falkland, V.
Bonham-Carter, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Boston of Faversham, L. Foot, L.
Bottomley, L. Gallacher, L.
Brigstocke, B. Galpern, L.
Brimelow, L. Geraint, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Gladwyn, L.
Butterfield, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. [Teller.]
Castle of Blackburn, B. Gregson, L.
Chichester, Bp. Grey, E.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Guildford, Bp.
Clinton-Davis, L. Hampton, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Hamwee, B.
Craigavon, V. Hanworth, V.
Dainton, L. Healey, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Peston, L.
Hollick, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Plant of Highfield, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Hughes, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Rea, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Redesdale, L.
Jay, L. Richard, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Richardson, L.
Jeger, B. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Seear, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
John-Mackie, L. Serota, B.
Judd, L. Shepherd, L.
Kintore, E. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stedman, B.
Longford, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Strafford, E.
Mallalieu, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Mayhew, L. Thurlow, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Tordoff, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Mishcon, L. Walton of Detchant, L.
Molloy, L. Warnock, B.
Moran, L. White, B.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Wigoder, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Nicol, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Ogmore, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Palmer, L.
Aberdare, L. Elton, L.
Addison, V. Ferrers, E.
Annaly, L. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Archer of Weston-super-Mare, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Geddes, L.
Arran, E. Goschen, V.
Ashbourne, L. Granard, L.
Astor, V. Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Auckland, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone,
Bessborough, E. L.
Birdwood, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Blatch, B. Harrowby, E.
Blyth, L. Hayhoe, L.
Borthwick, L. Henley, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Hesketh, L. [Teller.]
Braine of Wheatley, L. Holderness, L.
Bridgeman, V. HolmPatrick, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hothfield, L.
Butterworth, L. Howe, E.
Caithness, E. Huntly, M.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Ingrow, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Carnock, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Killearn, L.
Cawley, L. Kimball, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Lane of Horsell, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Lauderdale, E.
Chelmsford, V. Leigh, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Clark of Kempston, L Liverpool, Bp.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Long, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Lucas, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Cox, B. Lyell, L.
Craigmyle, L. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Cranborne, V. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Crickhowell, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Cross, V. [Lord Chancellor.]
Cumberlege, B. Mancroft, L.
Davidson, V. Margadale, L.
Denham, L. Marlesford, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Merrivale, L.
Donegall, M. Mersey, V.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mottistone, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Mountgarret, V.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Munster, E. Skidelsky, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Spens, L.
Nelson, E. Stewartby, L.
Norfolk, D. Strange, B.
Norrie, L. Strathclyde, L.
Onslow, E. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E
Orkney, E. [Teller.]
Orr-Ewing, L. Sudeley, L.
Oxfuird, V. Swansea, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. Swinfen, L.
Pender, L. Swinton, E.
Perry of Southwark, B. Tebbit, L.
Perth, E. Teviot, L.
Peyton of Yeovil, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. Trumpington, B.
Rees, L. Ullswater, V.
Rennell, L. Vivian, L.
Renton, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Rodger of Earlsferry, L. Wakeham, L.
Rodney, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Ryder of Warsaw, B. Westbury, L.
St. Davids, V. Wise, L.
Seccombe, B. Wynford, L.
Shrewsbury, E. Young, B.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Resolved in the negative, and amendement disagreed to accordingly.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Wilberforce moved Amendment No. 246ZA: Before Clause 217, insert the following new clause: ("Corporal punishment Without prejudice to section 47 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, no corporal punishment shall be given in any school which would be a breach of Article 3 or Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.").

The noble and learned Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment, as have many other Members of the Committee. I have the impression that it enjoyed a certain measure of support. I appreciate that the Government may have difficulties with its wording, particularly in its reference to the specific articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. If this corresponds with the Government's intentions and a corresponding willingness is found on their side, I shall be more than glad to take the amendment away and discuss it with the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, or their advisers, with a view to bringing forward another amendment at the Report stage, either in my name, or preferably in the Government's name, which will deal with the matter. If that fits in with what the Government intend, I shall be very happy to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I am very much in favour of what my noble and learned friend on the Cross-Benches has said. I shall not delay the Committee for any period of time. There can be no objection in principle to the amendment and I hope that the Government's consultations will end in a favourable response. I really do think that on this question, which is one of principle, we have to legislate sooner or later for the United Kingdom as a whole.

If this amendment goes through I think that the Government ought to give some hope to those of us who on the whole support very strongly the feelings of Scotland about its separate system and Northern Ireland too and perhaps even the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. We cannot be heard to speak with two voices on this matter since all that my noble and learned friend has asked is that we should obey the terms of the convention to which we are already parties. I therefore think that the Government have an obligation, if the amendment results in a happy conclusion, to consider the whole situation.

Lord Renton

I support what my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has said and remind the Committee that in the very last subsection of the Bill, on page 163, we find that potentially the Bill can apply to Scotland. I shall read the subsection for the record: The amendment or repeal by this Act of an enactment which extends to Scotland or Northern Ireland extends also to Scotland or, as the case may be, Northern Ireland". We can take all that in our stride.

Lord Henley

I note what my noble friend Lord Renton says. I would also accept the concerns of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. Obviously, if we are going to do something here, we must be fairly sure that it extends to the whole of the United Kingdom—that is, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I would not include, as my noble and learned friend did, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands, where different conditions apply.

All I can do in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, is to repeat the assurance that I gave when we debated the earlier amendment. We are sympathetic to the ideas behind the noble and learned Lord's amendment but for the reasons that he gave, and I gave earlier, I do not think that we would be able to accept the amendment as it is. Certainly, we are willing to consider, in consultation with the noble and learned Lord and, as I said earlier, others, the form of a possible amendment that we might then be able to bring forward at a later stage in the Bill.

Viscount Mountgarret

Like my noble friend probably was, I was certainly surprised that there was not more vocal support in favour of the Front Bench on the previous amendment. I regrettably arrived a little late to hear the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and I felt that it would be a little discourteous to intervene in the debate if one had not had the advantage of the opening overs. Nonetheless, for various reasons, certainly as far as I am concerned, I hope he will bear in mind that a number of Members of the Committee might think that to accept either of the amendments or something on these lines could be a very retrograde step and might not be in the interests of what is, understandably, the feeling of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I would just ask my noble friend to bear in mind that silence does not necessarily mean that there was no support.

Lord Henley

I am sure the whole Committee is sorry that we missed my noble friend's intervention on the earlier amendment. I am grateful to my noble friend for his support in the Division Lobby. I would hope that it was as a result of the concession that I was able to make that other Members of the Committee, who possibly do not share exactly the same views as my noble friend, were able to support me on that occasion.

Baroness Young

I should just like to place on the record that when I spoke earlier I perhaps said that I was not in such full support of the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. But on reflection, and on hearing the debate, I am very pleased that my noble friend is taking this matter back. I see this as a positive way forward in a rather tricky situation.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

Perhaps I may say a brief word in case otherwise silence might be misinterpreted that I did not support the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. I would be very upset if anything I had said earlier could have been interpreted in that way. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for moving the amendment. If the Government are able to phrase it in such a way that it does what the noble and learned Lord wants, then a step forward will have been made. I shall be very interested indeed to see the outcome of the noble and learned Lord's initiative.

Lord Wilberforce

I am very much obliged to my noble friend Lord Henderson. His views are very close to mine. There is very little difference between us. I shall certainly take the benefit of his advice and wisdom before proceeding further in the matter. On the basis of what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has said, I am now very happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Judd had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 246ZB: Before Clause 217, insert the following new clause: ("Protection of children from abuse —(1) If at any time a governing body are satisfied that any member of the governing body is unfit to discharge the functions of a member on the grounds that they appear to present a risk to the physical or emotional well-being of pupils the governing body may by notice in writing to that member suspend him from office. (2) Permanent removal from office, which shall include office in any county or voluntary controlled or grant-maintained school, following a suspension under subsection (1) above shall be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State.").

The noble Lord said: In the Second Reading debate I put myself on record as saying that I thought that if we were preparing an Education Bill to take us into the next century, one of the issues which we must address, within the context of the quality of education, was the conditions in the classroom; namely, the size of classes and the rest, with which teachers were having to contend.

The problem of oversized classes must be addressed prior to any examination of surplus places. The amendment to Clause 219 introduces a safeguard against the Secretary of State directing the local education authority or funding agency to propose a reorganisation—

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My noble friend is dealing with the wrong amendment.

Lord Henley

Perhaps I can help the Committee. The amendment called was Amendment No. 246ZB which we have already spoken to on an earlier occasion. I believe that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is trying to explain to his noble friend. I also suspect that it is Amendment No. 246AA, when we come to it, which the noble Lord will wish to address.

[Amendment No. 246ZB not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 246ZC and 246A not moved.]

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 246AA: Before Clause 217, insert the following new clause: ("Order on class size The Secretary of State shall make an order to provide guidance on the ratio of teachers to pupils and class sizes in primary, secondary and special schools for infant education, nursery classes, practical groups, special educational needs, mixed range classes, post sixteen groups, standard classes and pupils with statements.").

The noble Lord said: I am very grateful to the Committee for being so tolerant. I also thank the Minister for having dealt with the matter with his customary skill. I believe that the arguments are equally relevant to this point and I shall not go over them in full. The problem of oversized classes needs to be addressed prior to any examination of surplus places.

The amendment to Clause 219 introduces a safeguard against the Secretary of State directing the local education authority or the funding agency to propose a reorganisation of its schools without his giving due regard to the effects on other local schools in terms of the sizes of classes or groups in which pupils are taught. This amendment seeks to prohibit the Secretary of State from ordering such reorganisation without considering the implications for pupil:teacher ratios if it can be shown that the schools affected by such an order would then have classes or teaching groups which exceeded in size that limit on class size which may be prescribed by order of the Secretary of State under the new clause before Clause 217.

It is sensible that reorganisation proposals take account of the overall circumstances locally. The amendment seeks to establish an appropriate context for any proposals and/or decisions by the Secretary of State. Class size has a significant impact on children's education. All six teacher unions are agreed on suggested limits to class size, but I understand that the Government are dismissive of such limits.

The new clause provides for the Secretary of State to detail government guidelines on class size. Perhaps it will be helpful to illustrate what we are talking about. The unions are arguing together with one voice that in infant education there should be a maximum class size of 23; that is, classes consisting wholly or partly of children in the first year of infant education. As regards nursery classes, there should be a maximum class size of 20. They should be staffed on the basis of two adults: one qualified teacher and one nursery nurse. In practical groups there should be a maximum class size of 18 including GCSE and other classes which involve teacher assessment of pupils. That was agreed in 1986, but things have changed on the examination front since then. The staffing ratios for special education needs, as recommended in DES circular 11/90, are that for a mixed age range there should be a maximum class size of 21. For post-16 groups, the staffing establishment should ensure a pupil:teacher ratio of no more than 10:1. In standard classes there should be a maximum of 26 other than for those which I have already illustrated. For pupils with statements, class sizes are to be adjusted appropriately where pupils are being integrated into the mainstream classes.

It is said that one factor that hinders those propositions for smaller classes is the absence of research showing the positive benefits in terms of pupil achievement associated with smaller classes. However, it has to be said in all honesty that common sense suggests that smaller classes must mean more teacher time per pupil. Most teachers would say that they could be more effective and more able to stretch and support each pupil appropriately if the classes were smaller.

It is not just a generality like that. There are findings based on research. For example, in 1984 the Education Select Committee of the other place stated in its report Achievement in Primary Schools: We support the aim of reducing the sizes of registration classes of 30 and over".

The junior school project in inner London found in 1984 that: Class size is particularly relevant: smaller classes with less than 24 pupils had a positive impact upon pupil progress and development, especially in the early years".

Following a study of primary teachers introducing the national curriculum, a report entitled Thirteen Hundred and Thirty Days (1990), found: lack of time was perceived as the major obstacle to teaching the National Curriculum, but teachers of classes over 25 identified large classes as the chief obstacle".

Over recent years, falling roles have presented the opportunity for class sizes to be reduced to more acceptable levels and thereby lead to improved educational standards. But sadly, however, the decline in pupil numbers has been viewed as an opportunity to reduce public expenditure. I argue that that is a short-sighted and counter-productive economy, if ever there was one, because effective education is the best possible investment in our nation's future.

Local authorities currently fund teacher staffing in schools on the basis of authority-wide, pupil:teacher ratios. However, that ratio does not adequately reflect the actual class sizes existing in our schools. The funding of schools is determined by the formula applied under schemes for the local management of schools. The internal allocation of a school's budget is determined by its governing body and the introduction of the national curriculum has caused schools to reallocate resources. That reallocation, together with the continued constraints imposed by central government, has caused the national pupil:teacher ratio to increase.

It is critical that agreement on class sizes should be reached now in order that the excessive workload resulting from oversized classes can be reduced and parents and students can be guaranteed class size levels which are supportive of effective teaching. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

I rise briefly to support these two amendments which also bear the name of my noble friend Lord Ritchie who is unfortunately unable to be here. Very fundamental issues are put forward. The first amendment refers to the appropriate size of a class. Surely we are tackling something which is very basic to the quality of education provided within the classroom. It is very interesting in that there is reference to, mixed range classes, post sixteen groups [and] standard classes". Surely some definition given by the Secretary of State would give everyone some target to aim at; namely, the funding council and the local education authority. It would also give the opportunity to set down standards which would ensure that the type of education which is being planned from the centre will be capable of being carried out. I recommend this amendment very strongly to the Committee.

Lord Renton

I am sure that every Member of the Committee will agree that we should, if possible, both nationally and locally, try to avoid classes which are too big. But this amendment gives rise to great practical problems of implementation. I am not worried so much about the particular technical method by which it is done. To have regulations governing the matter would be unthinkable for reasons which I hope will become clear as I continue. The most that one could hope for would be a code of practice. I would not object to departmental circulars from time to time which could reflect the varying position.

Surely, however, the size of classes nationally and locally must depend upon two factors over which the Government have practically no control and nor have local education authorities much control. The first is the availability of enough teachers, and the other is the number of pupils. That depends on local birth rates and on the movements of population that occur from time to time. There have been tremendous movements of population in East Anglia under town development schemes and because of new towns. Mostly, people have moved out of London, but some have moved to East Anglia from towns in the Midlands. Having been so prominent and distinguished a member of Cambridgeshire County Council before she came to your Lordships' House, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Blatch is familiar with that particular problem.

Frankly, to attempt to limit the size of classes nationally to 21 pupils per class is asking for the impossible and for the impracticable. As I hope that I have made clear, the local situation is likely to vary very much according to the number of teachers and the number of students. Therefore, although we accept the ideal which, if I may say so, was so sensibly put forward, as always, by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, we cannot really hope to achieve just what he wants.

Baroness Hamwee

Perhaps I may make a slightly different point on these two amendments, which I wholeheartedly support. Looking ahead, Clause 219 states: Where the Secretary of State is of the opinion that the provision … is excessive then, for the purpose of remedying the excess"— he may make certain orders. However, it seems difficult to see how the Secretary of State can judge what might be "excessive" unless he has previously judged what is "appropriate". If the Minister is going to resist the amendment, I hope that she can explain to us either at this point or, if she feels it more appropriate, when we come to Clause 219, how the Secretary of State will arrive at an opinion that the provision may be "excessive" without the basis which is suggested in the amendment.

Baroness Young

I am sure that we all deeply sympathise with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is making about smaller classes. Everybody who is interested in education will support that point of view. However, I am bound to say to him and, to my noble friend the Minister that I share very much the point that was made by my noble friend Lord Renton. I do not think that it is appropriate to write such a provision onto the face of the Bill. In the course of my life I have seen various numbers adduced as the right size for a class and no doubt all of us would have a view on that. It is one thing to say something about class sizes in departmental guidance or something like that, but to write it on to the face of the Bill would make for great difficulties. Quite apart from anything else, suppose that one changed one's view about the right size for a class, would that mean amending the legislation? That seems the wrong way to go about things.

On the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised, I see exactly what she was driving at, but I suspect that in many authorities one will be able to identify surplus places where schools have become less popular for one reason or another. When making that distinction, one could look also at the pupil:teacher ratio, which I recognise is not the same thing as class size, but which is obviously a very real measure. My impression is that the pupil:teacher ratio has steadily improved over the years—perhaps my noble friend the Minister will confirm this when she replies—and that it is now at what would have been regarded as a very acceptable level 20 years ago. So for all those reasons, although I share the view about small classes, I do not think that the amendment would be appropriate on the face of the Bill.

Lord Lucas

This amendment appears to me to strike at the heart of local management of schools. The whole emphasis of the changes over recent years has been to give more flexibility, more power, more decisions at a local level—at the school level. The basic class size is dictated by the amount of money that the school has. If you have a certain number of pupils, most of the money you get is related to the number of pupils you have. Teachers cost a certain amount. The basic level of staffing—the basic size of classes—is already constrained enough by the amount of money that the school has. To constrain it further would almost entirely eliminate a school's ability to decide how to spend its money. It could not, for instance, decide to employ a very experienced teacher to teach a few more pupils. It would become very difficult to employ good, experienced teachers. You would have to be always going for people at the median or lower level in order to make them cheap enough to get the class sizes down.

It is very strange to me to hear the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who has argued so much against centralised power, to be putting forward this amendment which appears to remove all—effectively all—delegation from schools. At a local level, I believe that the problem that the noble Lord addresses does not exist. There is much pressure from parents for smaller class sizes. One of the main reasons that they choose schools is that the class sizes are smaller. There is therefore enormous pressure on schools at a local level to follow just the sort of principles which the noble Lord is advocating and I believe that pressure at that level is much more effective and much more appropriate than anything that could be done in this Bill.

Lord Skidelsky

Perhaps I may make just one point to reinforce something that my noble friend Lady Young said. Surprising as it may seem, the research evidence shows no strong correlation between a school's performance and its pupil:teacher ratio. Within wide parameters, one gets equal results with both larger and smaller classes. There is an enormous amount of American research to that effect. It is also true that in Japan the average size of classes and the pupil:teacher ratio is not as good as we want it to be in England. Therefore, whereas it is a commonsense idea—other things being equal, I think that most people would support the idea of smaller classes, more teachers and fewer pupils to each teacher—the research evidence shows that that is much less important for the success of schools and pupils than other factors in a school. To specify a ratio in instructions from the Department for Education is simply nonsense in my view. These things should be allowed to develop in line with local management of schools and with local ideas, as my noble friend Lord Lucas suggested.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to my noble friends for the way in which they have approached this issue. I very much agreed with my noble friend Lord Renton when he noted the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, presented his amendment.

This is something about which we all feel concern. It is important that, as far as practicable and given always that the resources available for employing teachers will always be finite, we should employ as many teachers as practicable. For that reason, although we are all entirely happy with the objective of this amendment, we are talking about means to ends.

My noble friend Lord Lucas made the point about how this matter cuts across local management of schools. My own authority gave schools their budgets long before it was fashionable to do so—back in 1980–81. We found out very early on that when schools have their own money they do more than any local education authority ever did to protect and, indeed, enhance their pupil:teacher ratios. We have already found evidence that schools in the grant-maintained sector which have control of their own money protect the number of teachers whom they employ and, where possible, enhance that teacher input.

I turn to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who was worried about Clause 19 and its implementation. It must be seen that the powers of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would not be triggered unless a view were taken that the local authority or the funding agency, whichever was appropriate, had not fulfilled its obligation to address the whole issue of spare places. We are talking about something different in this connection; we are talking about spare places. It is inconceivable that my right honourable friend the present Secretary of State, or any other Secretary of State from any other party, will trigger that power without having good evidence, which must be supplied, showing that there is an issue of spare places. If the Secretary of State used his own power to bring forward his own proposals, that would be subject to public inquiry and would be part of the evidence that would be taken into account.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, which also stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, would have the effect of interfering with the local management of schools, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said, and would impose a constraint on heads and governors on how they might best allocate their school budgets. We have sought to introduce the local management of schools so that decisions about the deployment of staff, whether on pupil:teacher ratios or on class sizes, can be taken at school level. That is where we believe such decisions need to be made and where, if schools are to respond to the needs of pupils and parents, it should happen.

My noble friend Lady Young referred to what has happened in recent years. It is worth noting that in 1979 the number of classes in the country with more than 30 pupils was 27.4 per cent. in primary schools. In 1992 the figure was reduced to 20.1 per cent. In secondary schools the figure was 10.3 per cent. in 1979 and now the number of classes with more than 30 pupils is down to 4.3 per cent. Even where the pupil:teacher ratio during that period has fluctuated only slightly we still see that the size of classes has been addressed by local education authorities and by the schools.

Members of the Committee would not expect me to go back on what we have achieved so far in improving the way in which operational management has been devolved to schools. For all the reasons that have been given—not because it is not desirable to have smaller classes but because of operational autonomy and always the flexibility that local authorities and schools will need in deploying their budgets—I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.

6 p.m.

Lord Judd

I am grateful for the observations that have been made. In view of certain courageous stands which have been made in recent days, I do not wish to take issue with the basis on which the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, reached his conclusions. However, in respect of this issue I must challenge him slightly. The most recent American research, which was undertaken in Tennessee and which was quoted in a briefing in March 1993 by the National Commission on Education, shows a clear correlation particularly for pupils in socially deprived areas. That is a matter which we must take into account.

The second issue, which perhaps we have not debated as we should have and which perhaps I should have emphasised more in my introductory remarks, is that we argue that the ratio should be a consideration and that guidance should be given prior to reorganisation. We leave room for judgment but it is a consideration, and a major consideration.

The only other point I wish to make is that we have a thriving private independent sector in education. I am fairly certain that any objective research carried out into the reasons for that thriving sector will quickly establish that one issue which parents consider to be important is that they will be able to guarantee their children's education in smaller classes. From that standpoint it is an ideal for which we should be striving in the state sector. However, I sense that this is not the hour to pursue the amendment and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 246B: Page 129, line 11, leave out ("after subsection (1)") and insert ("in subsection (1), after "county school" in paragraph (d) there is inserted "or to transfer a county school to a new site in the area" and, after that subsection").

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 171ZC. I beg to move.

[Amendment No. 247 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 248 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 248A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 217, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 218 [Proposals for establishment etc. of voluntary schools by promoters, etc.]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 248B Page 129, line 34, after ("schools)") insert ("in subsection (1), after "the school" in paragraph (b) there is inserted "or to transfer the school to a new site" and").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 171ZC. I beg to move.

[Amendment No. 249 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 249A: Page 130, line 9, at end insert: ("( ) After subsection (3) of that section there is inserted— (3A) Where the proposals are to transfer a school to a site in a different area, objections under subsection (3) above to the proposals may also be made by any ten or more local government electors for that area. ( ) In subsection (6) of that section, after "below" there is inserted— ("(a) in the case of any proposals approved by the Secretary of State to transfer a controlled school to a new site, it shall be the duty of the local education authority to implement the proposals (and any associated proposals for a change in the character of the school) so far as they involve the provision of premises or the removal or provision of equipment, and (b) in any other case". ( ) At the end of that section there is added— (8) Where proposals under this section for the transfer of a school to a site in a different area are approved—

  1. (a) in the case of any voluntary school—
    1. (i) the references in subsection (6) above to the local education authority are to the authority for the new area, and
    2. (ii) upon the transfer the duty to maintain the school shall transfer to that authority, and
  2. (b) in the case of any controlled school, the First Schedule to the Education Act 1946 (provision of premises by maintaining authority) shall apply as if the duty to maintain the school had been transferred to the local education authority for the new area.").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 171ZC. I beg to move.

Clause 218, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 219 [Directions to bring forward proposals to remedy excessive provision]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 249B: Page 130, line 23, leave out ("schools") and insert ("primary or secondary schools as the case may be,").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 249C, 251A, 253A, 254, 254ZA, 254ZC, 254ZD and 254C to 254E. I understand that Amendments Nos. 250, 251 and 253 will be dealt with separately.

After the major issues which we have discussed today Amendments Nos. 249B and 249C appear to be minor issues. I tabled the amendments because I was not clear how in Clause 219 LEA and grant-maintained provision were related to one another. For instance, how can provision in one sector be regarded as excessive unless provision in the other sector had been assessed? It appeared to me that the probing amendment suggesting that one should have regard to—I apologise. I am reading notes which were written while on a train last weekend and I started to read the wrong note. However, I have an anxiety about Clause 219.

The point is that if the Secretary of State considers that provision for primary or secondary education is excessive, as drafted the order is directed to the LEA or to the grant-maintained sector as a whole and does not distinguish between primary and secondary schools. The probing amendments suggest that at the relevant points in the Bill there should be a reference to primary or secondary schools, as the case may be.

The substantive amendments in the group are Nos. 254ZA and 254D, which are also tabled in my name. The first amendment suggests that if, after taking into account responses to consultations, an authority is of the opinion that it is not appropriate to publish particular proposals, it shall inform the Secretary of State that that is so and give reasons. I tabled the amendment because under Clause 219 a new power is given to the Secretary of State which appears to be unchallengeable. The amendments are designed to allow a reasoned disagreement with the Secretary of State and then, under Clause 222, recourse to a public inquiry.

I do not believe that the Secretary of State would wish to be accused of making use of a power of direction which is unfettered and unchallengeable. The relationship between Clauses 219 and 222 provides that the main content of the Secretary of State's directions under the first clause may not be challenged in a later inquiry. Subsection (6) states: It shall not be open to the inquiry to question the principles specified in the order under section 219 or 220 of this Act".

May there not be circumstances in which an LEA or funding authority has a strong case for deciding not to comply with the direction? Even so, Clause 222 would prevent that case being heard. Should it be solely in the gift of the Secretary of State to withdraw or vary his direction if he thought it was wrong? It seems to me that that is an inadequate arrangement and a public inquiry would provide a safeguard.

A public inquiry would have the power to question the original direction which is at the root of the dispute. The amendment deals with the responses to consultations so that reasons for non-compliance would rest mainly on new evidence; in other words, the best type of consultative process is one whereby not merely are there reactions to consultations but those to whom they are directed are in a position to react to them. I am sure that the Government will not wish to ignore entirely the result of local consultations with regard to the removal of surplus places. I take the points made by the Minister this afternoon with regard to the process, but local knowledge and opinion, as well as being accepted by those who are concerned in government now as being important, should be seen through this mechanism to be on the face of the Bill. That should give the Secretary of State the protection that the procedure is in place.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, tabled Amendment No. 254ZD which proposes an inquiry. One reason that I am glad that we shall debate this issue is that I am concerned that subsection (5) of Clause 222 may jeopardise the effectiveness of paragraph (4) (a). The Secretary of State must refer certain of his proposals to an inquiry unless he forms the opinion that his own proposals should be implemented, unless he subsequently forms a different opinion which, as I understand it, must mean that he changes his mind. I shall be glad to hear from the Minister whether the relationship between subsections (4) and (5) is as I have interpreted it to be. If, as I understand it may be, the important words are: appear to him to be related to the proposals made under section 221"; in other words, where there are unrelated proposals, then the Secretary of state would be free to determine them separately. That was information obtained from the department but I should be glad to have the Minister's confirmation of it.

If that is so, the Committee will be interested to know what are related proposals and what is separate for this purpose. It seems to me that there could be scope for the Secretary of State to tilt the balance in favour of one type of provision over the other. Given the Government's anxiety to promote grant-maintained provision, he may tilt it in favour of grant-maintained provision over LEA-provision by choosing to settle issues concerned with grant-maintained provision before dealing with LEA-provision. That goes back to Clause 219 where LEA and GM places are to be dealt with separately. The reason that I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is that a public inquiry for an area simultaneously covering both grant-maintained and LEA places would deal with the anxieties that I have raised. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

Do I understand that the Secretary of State for Education can make an order for the local authority or the funding agency to close a school or vary the purposes of that school? I believe that there are 20,000 schools in the country. That being so, on what basis can a Secretary of State evaluate whether a school should close or its purpose change?

Amendment No. 254 lays down that the community where the school is situated should be consulted. Consultation should take place at a time when the proposals are still at a formative stage; sufficient reasons should be given for the proposals to permit of intelligent consideration and response from the community; adequate time should be given for consideration and response; and the product of the consultations should be conscientiously taken into account.

I refer in particular to small village, infant and primary schools. In the past many small schools have been closed. I refer not exclusively to village schools because some schools in the centres of large towns have been closed. Such closures have caused great distress to the families, to the villages and small communities in the towns. The hours are not long for young children in infant and primary schools. It is not in their best interests to have to travel by bus or be taken by car 10 miles to the nearest school. It makes for great difficulties for the parents. It may be that parents have one or two older children at schools which are not close by. For example, a parent may have to fetch one child at 3 o'clock from a school which may be 10 miles away, return with that child and then go back to collect the older children. By the same token, where a primary or infant school closed in a built-up area, traffic and difficulties as regards reaching the school must be borne in mind.

One must consider also the ethos of a village. In times past, and indeed today, the village school is part of the community. To take away that village school is to take away something from the community.

As regards transport, if a school is closed in a village and it is 12 or 13 miles to the next school, is the local authority or the funding agency responsible for transport? Who pays for the transport? I speak on behalf of the small village schools, many of which have been closed to the detriment of the children from that village and community.

Lord Skidelsky

I do not propose to speak to Amendments Nos. 250, 251 and 253 with this group of amendments. I should like to speak to Amendment No. 250 separately and to the other amendments at the conclusion of this debate.

Lord Judd

Our argument as regards Amendment No. 253A is that the Secretary of State's powers of direction are at present too broad. In directing an authority to address a problem, we submit that the Secretary of State should identify the problem and the timescale for the proposals to be brought forward. It is inappropriate for the Secretary of State to fetter the discretion of the funding authorities in the manner in which they address the problem.

It is not unreasonable for the Secretary of State to have a power to direct the relevant funding authority—whether this is the LEA or a funding agency or council—to address the need to rationalise school places. As presently drafted, subsection (3) (b) gives the Secretary of State wide powers to specify the principles to be applied by the funding authority in complying with his direction. The nature or scope of those principles is neither defined nor limited on the face of the Bill. It is not really clear why that power is required. In broad terms, rationalising provision should be undertaken to save public money and improve the efficiency of the service.

There are a number of factors that a responsible funding authority should always take into account, many of which will be specific to a particular locality. The prime concern is the geographical distribution of the population of children of school age within the area, and future changes, having regard to demographic and population movements in and out of the area linked to economic and social development. Such changes are more difficult to predict over a long time-scale, but the large investment measured both in cash and in disruption of existing patterns of education requires that authorities should be as sure as they can be that changes are necessary, appropriate and justified in all the circumstances.

While the technical problems associated with rationalisation are significant, there are also invariably social and political considerations to be taken into account. Closing schools is rarely popular. The need for a school in a particular geographical location can vary according to the social characteristics of local communities as much as, or more than, the physical distribution of the population. For all those reasons, the way in which a rationalisation is approached, as well as the task itself, is a matter best determined locally by those with local knowledge. We argue that it is difficult to see how the Secretary of State could be in a position to identify more accurately than a locally based authority how best to approach rationalisation.

I should like to speak briefly on Amendment No. 254ZC. The powers of the Secretary of State in respect of a direction to secure additional school places is again too broad. The amendment seeks to substitute a requirement that the Secretary of State should define the problem rather than influence the approach of the funding authority in its solution. As the Committee will realise, the arguments and reasoning behind the amendment are very similar to those in the amendment to Clause 219 which it parallels. The present amendment is arguably of slightly less importance, as bringing forward plans to increase provision is considerably less contentious than finding ways to reduce it. Nevertheless, where it is necessary to increase provision, it is undesirable for the Secretary of State to have powers to intervene in advance to influence the way in which a statutory authority exercises its power. His ability to control the final outcome of plans for new school building should be adequate.

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, wishes to speak. I give way.

Lord Renton

I am grateful to the noble Lord. It is better for me to speak now rather than speaking at the end of his speech. The noble Lord quite rightly said that the local authority should have the last word in the matter. However, if he looks carefully at Clause 219, he will see that all that it does is enable the Secretary of State to require the local authority to consider the matter within the powers under the Bill.

Lord Judd

That is an interesting point. During an earlier amendment under discussion this evening we were told by Members from the other side of the Committee that "to require" was a draconian accretion of power to the centre. I am sure that the noble Lord will realise that that argument can be used both ways.

Perhaps I may turn briefly to Amendment No. 254ZD. Its purpose is to cause a public inquiry to be held whenever rationalisation proposals are brought forward which result in objections. I must say a few more words because it is a most important issue. The White Paper Choice and Diversity: a New Framework for Schools underlined the Government's intention to remove surplus places from many schools. It estimated that there were 1.5 million surplus places being maintained, at a considerable cost to the public purse.

Local education authorities recognise that there is a need to remove surplus places in order to re-allocate the money to direct education provision for pupils. However, the work of LEAs in that area has been enormously hampered in recent years because of the tendency of schools that are proposed for closure or significant change to opt for grant-maintained status. But the threat of schools applying for grant-maintained status has clearly, it seems to us, prevented LEAs from developing rationalisation proposals. It should be noted that, of the approximately 500 operating grant-maintained schools, a significant number decided to seek grant-maintained status before the LEA began consulting on rationalisation proposals, although it was known that such proposals were in the air.

As I understand it, last year local education authorities were sent school-by-school information by the DFE which, much to the bewilderment of some LEAs, included a number of inaccuracies such as information on schools that had already closed and other distorting effects; for example, an LEA which by DFE figures should have been proposing the closure of six primary schools but which was in fact proposing to open a further one to meet the additional need in the area.

LEAs had to respond to the Secretary of State's request by the end of October. However, I understand that the AMA, for one, advised its members that they should not respond until a ministerial meeting had been held to discuss the issues. My information is that two meetings have now been held—one in December and the other, the most recent, at the beginning of May. It should be noted that the ACC is in full support of that initiative. It is not the AMA acting alone.

At the first meeting in December, Mr. Forth, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, was, I am told, receptive to ideas put forward by the AMA to help with rationalisation of school places. A paper was subsequently sent to him which considered such issues as a consistent national monitoring system of full school places and a means of calculating school places.

The third part of the paper proposed a rationalisation procedure that involved a public inquiry on all proposals to rationalise school places. The inquiry will be chaired by an independent person and a report submitted to the Secretary of State for determination. It will be very similar to planning inquiries. By having that public procedure, it is hoped to remove some of the secretiveness which apparently surrounds the manner in which decisions about school rationalisation proposals are determined by the Secretary of State. A part of the proposal was that, while that inquiry process was under way, there would be a moratorium on applications for grant-maintained status.

The amendment attempts to introduce a public-inquiry procedure for school rationalisation proposals. However, in view of the reported outcome of the meeting with Mr. Forth at the beginning of May, I am content at this stage to regard the amendment as a probing one. However, it would be helpful to hear from the Minister how she sees the situation and, indeed, how a moratorium, if it is to be introduced, might be applied.

Finally, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 254C. It is consequential to amendments to Clauses 219 and 220 to remove the ability of the Secretary of State to influence the approach to a reorganisation. Nevertheless, it would stand on its own even if this Chamber did not, by some strange event, amend Clauses 219 and 220. It would then allow for the possibility of independent review of the Secretary of State's original order.

For all the reasons that I have put forward on Clauses 219 and 220, the Secretary of State should be prevented from attaching conditions limiting the discretion of funding authorities in bringing forward proposals for rationalisation. Clause 222 provides for a public inquiry to be held when the Secretary of State has brought forward his own proposals, after a funding authority has defaulted on a direction to bring forward proposals.

If a Secretary of State was to attempt to influence inappropriately the way that a rationalisation plan was developed, or to limit the scope of the proposals brought forward, that could well be a material factor in the funding authority's failure to comply with the direction. In such circumstances, it would be most important for the public inquiry to be able to investigate the validity of any claim on the part of the funding authority that the Secretary of State's direction was unreasonable.

Therefore, subsection (6) could vitiate the declared purpose of the clause to provide some independent review in circumstances where the Secretary of State brings forward his own proposal. Once again it should be noted that Clause 223 allows the Secretary of State effectively to ignore the outcome of the inquiry if he so chooses. The public inquiry should surely at the very least be able to comment on the content of the direction, even if its report is ultimately, as is all too characteristic, ignored.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in raising the issue of transport in this context. Almost always rationalisation of schools leads to higher transport costs. Will the additional costs of transport be taken into account in calculating the economic factors in favour of the rationalisation and, more importantly, does a commitment to transport children at the public cost last in perpetuity? At the moment there is some evidence, which I believe we shall consider on Report, which shows that undertakings to transport children as a result of school closures or rationalisations are subsequently being reneged upon by local authorities.

Baroness Blatch

This is a complicated grouping of amendments. I hope I have managed to keep track of the amendments that have been decoupled and regrouped. Before I come to the amendments in detail I would like just to set the scene by explaining why we are introducing these new powers for the Secretary of State to direct the LEAs, FAS or governors of voluntary schools to bring forward proposals to remove surplus places.

I believe there has been some misunderstanding about Clause 219. The provisions of Clause 219 and the Secretary of State's powers are triggered only where local authorities and/or the funding agencies have not fulfilled their obligations in addressing this whole issue of surplus places. Some Members of the Committee may question why we should interfere at all in the process of the rationalisation of school places. They may ask: why not leave it to the LEAs and schools themselves? The answer is simple. Whereas some LEAs have tackled the need for the rationalisation of school places efficiently, there is considerable evidence that others have failed to do so. This was despite the incentives and encouragement that they were given, not least by the high priority that we set on the allocation of capital resources for cost-effective surplus place removal projects; the national targets for the removal of surplus places that were discussed with the local authority associations and the obvious benefits that would be gained by a more streamlined school system.

Our national survey carried out in 1991 showed that in 1991 the capacity of our school building stock in England provided for up to 1.5 million more places than there were pupils, approximately 800,000 of these being in the primary sector and 700,000 in the secondary sector. We recognise that it is not possible to have a system where pupil numbers match exactly the capacity of the school buildings, but it is clear that with this level of surplus there is plenty of scope for the removal of further places from the school system and the achievement of substantial savings, especially in premises related costs. We all know that any money that is freed could be used to better effect in the rest of the educational service.

I must stress that the new powers in the Bill are there not to remove local initiative. We very much hope that LEAs, the funding authority and voluntary bodies, where appropriate, will take the initiative themselves but the Bill enables the Secretary of State to act where, despite all the other incentives, no sensible action has been taken. Even then the Secretary of State's first power is simply to direct the LEA or the funding authority to bring forward proposals for the removal of surplus places.

If the LEA or funding authority fails to bring forward satisfactory proposals, it is true that the Secretary of State can choose to publish his own proposals, but if he does so and these attract objections they have to be referred to a full public inquiry along with any proposals that have been submitted by the LEA or the governors of the schools involved. To ensure that this process is as quick and effective as possible, schools proposed for closure by their LEAs will not be able to propose that they acquire grant-maintained status until the closure proposals have been decided.

I should now like to turn to the particular amendments that have been spoken to. I turn first to Amendments Nos. 249B, 249C and 251A. These change a number of references to school to primary or secondary school as the case may be. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that this really is not necessary. Clearly where there are excess places in the secondary sector the Secretary of State's direction will by definition require proposals that will remove that excess. The excess will have arisen either in the primary sector or in the secondary sector. It would be extremely unlikely for such proposals to relate to primary schools where the excess was in the secondary sector or vice versa. I hope the noble Baroness will feel reassured by that explanation.

I now wish to turn to Amendments Nos. 254, 254ZA, 254D and 320A. I believe Amendment No. 320A has not yet been spoken to but it relates to the proposals we are discussing. However, I shall understand if the noble Baroness wishes to press that amendment when we reach the relevant part of the Bill.

My right honourable friend will be forced to issue a direction only where an LEA or the funding authority have not themselves taken action to remove surplus places. Before deciding whether a direction is needed he will have regard to information provided by the LEA or funding authority on the number of places in their schools and the number of places likely to be required in future years in line with demographic trends. As I have said in earlier debates, this matter must take the form of an annual return to the department. My right honourable friend will, I am sure, also have regard to any efforts they have already made to remove surplus provision and to any other representations they may care to make. But then it will be for him to decide, in the light of the available evidence, whether there is excess provision which should be removed and hence whether a direction should be issued.

Even when a direction had been given, an LEA or the funding authority could submit evidence to the Secretary of State that it was not in the best interests of the provision of education in that area for them to comply with the direction. If the Secretary of State were persuaded by these arguments, it would be open to him using the powers in Section 111 of the Education Act 1944 to withdraw the direction.

These amendments would in effect not require an LEA or the funding authority to comply with my right honourable friend's direction to remove surplus places if the response of the local community to the consultation undertaken prior to bringing forward formal proposals was unfavourable. This takes us no further forward. It will enable LEAs who are not willing to take unpopular decisions to continue to take no action to remove surplus places and to continue to waste resources on empty buildings. In view of this and the assurances that I have given that my right honourable friend will issue a direction to remove surplus places only after full and careful consideration of all the circumstances, I urge the Committee to reject these amendments.

I know that my noble friend Lady Faithful] is concerned about these matters. However, I cannot think of a single school—certainly not one I have ever been involved with—where there is not some opposition to a proposal that it should be closed. I have always been interested to note that the under-performing, least populated and hitherto unpopular schools suddenly become the most popular schools in an area if they become subject to a closure proposal. That is a fact of life. We want to make objective and sensible decisions about what action it is appropriate to take with regard to surplus places.

I now turn to Amendments Nos. 253A, 254ZC and 254C which deal with proposals to remove the references to the Secretary of State being required to state the principles to be followed and replace this with a requirement to provide information about the basis for his judgment that there is an excess or shortage of accommodation, as the case may be. Amendment No. 254C removes the restriction placed on the FAS to question these principles.

When making an order under Clause 219 the Secretary of State will clearly have to state the level of the excess provision or shortage of accommodation that he considers needs to be dealt with by the proposals. He may well specify the particular evidence upon which this has been based. The LEA and funding authority should themselves already know the level of provision. We therefore do not see it as necessary to put these further requirements on the face of the legislation. This is the kind of evidence that would be put before a public inquiry.

Further, the fact that the Secretary of State may specify the principles to be followed will help him to ensure that the proposals that come forward are cost-effective and in the best interests of pupils in the area. An example of the type of principle that the Secretary of State might wish to set would be that in bringing forward proposals the LEA should have regard to the desirability of protecting and, where possible, enhancing schools of particular popularity with parents. While I do not feel as strongly wedded to the need for the Secretary of State to be able to set down the principles to be followed where there is a shortage of provision, it may still be a helpful discipline in ensuring that those involved and any subsequent public inquiry understand what is to be achieved.

The principles that we have in mind will have to comply with ordinary law principles. That means that the direction and the principles would have to be within the purposes of the provisions of the Act in reasonably leading to the removal of surplus places. Further, the principles could not be ones that the authority could not itself put forward in fulfilment of its statutory duties.

It would clearly not be sensible for the public inquiry to be able to overturn those principles. If it could do so it could encourage those putting forward the proposals to ignore the principles set by the Secretary of State.

This is a vexed issue, and I hope that the explanation I have given goes some way towards allaying noble Lords' fears.

Amendment No. 254ZD is a rather more substantial proposal. It would require all statutory proposals that attracted objections (not just those resulting from a direction by the Secretary of State) that had not been withdrawn in writing to be referred to a local public inquiry. That would include any small change of character proposal by a voluntary school or a GM school as well as major reorganisation proposals.

Even if the optimistic assumption of six or nine months for the consideration of the public inquiry proved to be practicable, this procedure would significantly lengthen the time that it would take for a reorganisation to be brought forward and approved by the Secretary of State. Whereas such a delay may well be justified in relation to very difficult or contentious proposals such as those currently dealt with in Clauses 219 to 224 of the Bill, it would certainly not be worth while for the ordinary small-scale reorganisation proposal that attracts a few statutory objections. I say that bearing in mind that, however weak the case, there is usually a small number of people prepared to object to the closure of a school. I have already made that point with feeling. The average time taken from the date of publication to decide statutory proposals brought forward under Sections 12 and 13 that are not determined by the LEA is just over five months. That includes two months for statutory objections, and, in the case of proposals in respect of county schools, one month for the objections to be passed to the Secretary of State with the LEA's comments.

The current procedure provides plenty of opportunity for local people to express a view. The Secretary of State has made it clear that before proposals are brought forward he expects there to be full local consultation. That was a point made by my friend Lady Faithfull. But where a LEA or a funding agency fulfils its obligations to address the issue of surplus places it of course will carry out the full consultations. In the second stage, where it does not fulfil those obligations and my right honourable friend decides to invoke his powers of direction, he would then direct the funding agency or the LEA. Again, if it responded to that direction it too would continue to carry out the consultation.

When my right honourable friend enters the third stage, which is where the local authority has not only not fulfilled its obligation but has refused to do so in response to a direction, it is open to my right honourable friend to bring forward his own proposals. If he did that, of course the full public inquiry, with all the local input that would flow from that, would be allowed for.

When reaching a decision on proposals, the Secretary of State will have before him a considerable amount of evidence: a full statement of the case by those bringing forward the proposals, statutory objections and any other letters of concern that have been submitted and any letters of support, as well as comments from OFSTED (the inspectorate). He would also be able to take into account any existing reports on the schools in question or any published examination results. In addition Ministers frequently receive deputations from MPs and those wishing to object to proposals. I have met parents who understand the objectives that LEAs are trying to address. They have sensible alternative constructive proposals, and the Bill allows for those proposals to have at least an airing and a chance of getting through the system.

I am aware of the concern of the local authority associations to find a way of achieving more effective rationalisation proposals. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has pointed out, we have had meetings with them. My colleague in another place recently met the AMA. We are currently in discussion with them about the best way forward, and I fully expect that to result in an improved basis for bringing forward statutory proposals. I am not, however, persuaded that that cannot be achieved within the existing framework set out in the Bill and which is based on a well tried system under Sections 12 and 13 of the Education Act 1980.

The discussions to date have provided encouraging evidence that the associations are prepared to work towards the objectives of a good quality, cost-effective education service that meets the needs and aspirations of children and their parents. The new powers for the Secretary of State to direct the LEA or FAS to bring forward proposals ensures that the impetus for achieving the sensible rationalisation of places will not be lost, particularly in those, hopefully few, cases where those objectives are not so effectively pursued.

I also perceive that one of the concerns which underlies this amendment is the possibility that a school threatened with closure would seek to escape into the GM sector. I can assure the Committee again that that is not our policy, and that provided a local education authority brings forward a sensible scheme to rationalise surplus provision we shall not scupper that by approving for GM status schools proposed for closure.

I understand the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on that point, but where we know that a rationalisation is genuinely in the offing, I have held up consideration of an application for grant-maintained status on the grounds that we know that that is so. I have been persuaded by my officials that it is a good thing to leave the application on the table until we have the proposals before us. However, we cannot automatically go down that road because all the LEA would have to do would be to say, "We have a proposal in the offing", without there being any real signs that it means business. But where it does and we know that the LEA is actively considering the matter, we respond, I hope positively, to that concern.

My noble friend Lord Skidelsky has moved Amendment No. 250. It provides that the Secretary of State—

6.45 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky


Baroness Blatch

My noble friend has spoken to the amendment.

Lord Skidelsky

Perhaps I may make a correction. I said that I was not moving Amendment No. 250, which is in the group of amendments being spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but that I would speak to it after this debate was concluded.

Baroness Blatch

I hope that my noble friend will forgive me, but I thought he said that he was not speaking to the other amendments in his group but chose to speak to Amendment No. 250. If he did not, I shall leave it to another moment in the day, or night, or morning, as the case may be.

I believe I am correct in saying that I should address Amendment No. 254E. I do not believe anyone will object to that. I understand the suggestion in the amendment to be that the Secretary of State, rather than the LEA, should fund proposals brought forward by the governors of voluntary schools after directions by the Secretary of State, but we believe that it would be simpler for that to be handled by the LEA. We shall of course provide the LEA with cover within its annual capital guidelines to cover that expenditure. My understanding of that proposal is that it is cost neutral. I believe that amendment is tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was worried about the circular that had gone out to local authorities and that there were errors in the first circular. He is right of course, because what the department had was crude information, and the whole point of sending out to local authorities was to say, "This is the information that we have. We should like you to look at it, correct it for us and send it back to the department". The next stage—I believe that the noble Lord will understand this—is that it is one thing to say, "This is the number of surplus places there are", but it is another for a local authority to have a view about how many of those places can be removed and how many it is practicable to remove. We are now in the second stage of looking at what is practicable out of the 1.5 million places that exist. We are talking to the authorities.

I believe that I have covered the point regarding the moratorium on GM schools in my reply to another amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull raised the question of school transport. There is no wholly straightforward answer. If the alternative provision for children below the age of eight is greater than two miles and for those above the age of eight greater than three miles, the local authority has a statutory obligation to provide transport for those children if it closes a school. However, if the alternative, as it often is, means that the distance is fewer than two miles for children under eight or fewer than three miles for children over eight it falls within the discretionary powers of the local authority to respond.

My own local authority has a good record in recognising that where it closes a school it is reasonable to provide transport to the alternative school for the children. However, it is a discretionary power. It lies with the local authority to make a judgment about whether it provides it. For children in very rural areas, other factors are taken into account too, including the relative safety or otherwise of the journey that children would have to make to the alternative provision. I personally have always operated on the basis that if the alternative provision one makes when closing a school is not at least comparable to or better than the previous provision, one should not go down the road of closing the school. However, that is a personal view about closing schools.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has no power generally to withhold parts of the proposals from the public inquiry. That is not the purpose of Clause 225(5). The limited purpose of this section is to separate and proceed to implement sensible and self-standing parts of an LEA's proposal.

I am sorry that that reply was "bitty" but so too is the group of amendments. I hope that those that I have opposed will not be pressed.

Baroness Hamwee

I waited to see whether the noble Lord who had put their names to other amendments in the group wished to speak. In the interest of reaching the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, before dinner rather than at some time tomorrow morning, I shall proceed.

It is a sensitive issue. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was right in defining rationalisation as meaning in most cases "closure". Adding places to a school, increasing the number of forms of entry—for instance, where demographic changes mean that there are more children of a particular age to be catered for within a group of schools—is an equally sensitive issue because of the anticipated effect of the provision for the children who are already within the school.

The Minister has given many assurances for which we are grateful. I was glad to hear what she said in blunt terms about not scuppering local proposals by allowing a school to take the escape route of GM status if that would prejudice proper consideration of those local proposals.

I thank her too for the assurances she has given about consideration of primary and secondary provisions. I wished to have them on the record.

On Amendment No. 254ZA, the Minister has told us to what the Secretary of State will have regard in giving directions. She has referred to Section 111 of the 1944 Act. It might be better if the various provisions were in the same place in the same Bill. Even if they cannot be written on one side of a piece of A4 paper, it is a little difficult to have them jotted around. It might be a matter of comfort for the Secretary of State to have safeguards on the face of the Bill which would not lay him open to an accusation that he has not considered everything.

Having heard what the Minister said, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 249B.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 249C not moved.]

Lord Skidelsky moved Amendment No. 250: Page 130, line 28, at end insert: ("and (c) where a new grant-maintained school has been proposed and approved under sections 45 or 46 and 48, he may by order direct that surplus school premises be transferred under suitable arrangements for the use of the grant-maintained school.").

The noble Lord said: It was my misfortune to move my last group of amendments as the clock was about to strike midnight; and we are now about to go to dinner. Nevertheless, I wish to move Amendment No. 250 and, with the Committee's agreement, to speak to Amendments Nos. 251 and 253.

The purpose of the amendment is not quite the same as that of the amendment standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, or the noble Lord, Lord Judd. As I understand it, the purpose of their amendments is to make the management of supply less flexible whereas the purpose of this amendment is to make it more flexible.

The group of amendments seeks to address the problem that, as I understand it, no outside entry into grant-maintained status will be allowed, unless there is a basic need, defined as the absence of surplus places in the area concerned. That was stated emphatically by the Secretary of State in another place. I understand the Treasury view in the matter, that to fund extra places when there is already surplus capacity does not make sense. However, there is another principle involved which is important: that the supply of places should have regard to parental wishes. It is a problem of balancing the two considerations of demand and supply.

Clause 219 gives the Secretary of State power to close down surplus places. The intention of Amendment No. 250 is that he should exercise that power in such a way as to allow unmet demand for particular types of education to be met by closing down places for which the demand is deficient. Thus, for example, if there is an empty local education authority school in Hackney, and there is an application for grant-maintained status from a vastly over-subscribed Jewish school in that area, the Secretary of State would have the power under the amendment to direct that the empty school be transferred to the use of the new grant-maintained school.

It may be that the new school divides into two, or that the local authority will receive the value of the site of the old school in compensation. But the new subsection provides for such common-sense arrangements to be possible.

The machinery of Amendments Nos. 251 and 253 is more radical although their objective is exactly the same. Their purpose is to loosen the grip of the Department for Education or LEAs on the management of supply by arranging variations in funding according to a reasonable formula. They would give schools financial incentives to expand and they would also face a failing school with financial penalties.

An important feature of the amendments is that they will allow the Government to retrieve some of the capital grant which will normally be required to attract new sponsors. The amendments provide for clawback from existing schools of capital advanced to new promoters.

That is all I wish to say on the details of the amendments. Perhaps I may re-state the principle once more in broad terms. We seek to insert an element of parental demand into the management of supply. That is the principle of the amendments. Unless demand and supply are brought into a relationship, there will be no new entrants into the system. Therefore one of the objectives of the Bill will be defeated.

I fail to see that the Bill addresses the problem of demand. It provides a purely administrative framework for managing supply. A greater role for the internal market in the provision of school places would make some of us very happy. I hope that the Minister will see her way to accepting that idea.

Lord Kilmarnock

I support the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on an amendment which he has explained with his usual admirable clarity.

On Amendment No. 250, I wish to bring forward a minor technical addition with regard to suitable arrangements for the transfer of the school. Although not specified in the amendment, might it not be a good idea to use the Education Assets Board which already exists? As most of us know, the board has responsibilities for assisting the transfer of local authority schools and higher education institutions. It has a rather successful record and it makes every endeavour to secure completion by agreement with the local authority transferor. To date, it has only been necessary to refer one issue to the Secretary of State for determination.

The amendment is a little mechanical suggestion as to how Amendment No. 250 may be put into operation. The point is that the amendment would not, I suggest, require the setting up of any complicated new machinery. That machinery already exists.

As regards the other two amendments, Amendments Nos. 251 and 253, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, they are slightly more radical. As he told us, the intention is also to make it possible for the Secretary of State to give serious consideration to applications for new schools, while going some way towards meeting anxiety over surplus places. As I said on Second Reading and once or twice during the passage of the Bill, choice and diversity require some slack in the system, as it would be impossible for parents to exercise choice if every school were full to capacity.

An earlier amendment, Amendment No. 152, proposed in general terms that the Secretary of State should use his powers under Section 219 to take out excess places as a quid pro quo for easing the entry of new schools. The amendment provides a more specific mechanism, which the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has explained.

I emphasise that Amendment No. 251 relates to LEA-maintained schools, and Amendment No. 253 applies exactly the same mechanism to grant-maintained schools. So there is no favouring of one sector over another, there is a level playing field. Poorly performing grant-maintained schools would attract exactly the same penalties as LEA-maintained schools.

A short word on the general principle: some people may argue that the state should not be in the business of cutting budgets to state schools to pay profits to private promoters. However, profit is not essentially different from interest in education expenditure, for every pound of capital which the private sector provides is a pound which the state does not have to provide. That is an extremely important point, where the state is already much over-borrowed and there is a consequent squeeze on public expenditure which is likely to last for many years to come. Private sector capital saves the state the interest it would otherwise have to pay on its borrowings through the issue of gilts and the increase of servicing charges on the national debt.

If the notion of profit still offends some sensibilities, it is worth stressing that there is no real distinction between profit-seeking delivery of public services and rent-seeking public officials doing the same thing at a cost to the PSBR, as I have just indicated. By different routes, they each receive the rewards of their efforts and labour.

However, it is worth pointing out also that the amendments would additionally ease the path of voluntary bodies such as denominational or secular educational trusts which do not seek a cash dividend but would use their surpluses for other purposes. There is no reason why a private promoter should not be allowed to enter the field, and presumably Clause 46 provides for that. But they will not necessarily do so; and, in my view, are not likely to be the biggest players. The main aim which we have been pursuing in the whole series of amendments is to ease the process of bringing new schools into the state system and to encourage the plurality and choice which the Government say they desire. I support the amendment.

7 p.m.

Baroness Cox

I speak briefly especially in favour of Amendment No. 250, which bears my name. I feel strongly about it because it addresses the surplus places argument which has been used up to now to inhibit the development and funding of new schools. That is an entirely unacceptable argument because many of the surplus places in the local authority schools are not only a result of the demographic trends which have caused the 1.5 million empty places, about which we have already heard, but also many of them have been caused by parents who have voted with their children's feet. They have gone to those schools which are now trying to opt into grant-maintained status. Those are new schools which manifestly meet parents' wishes. They have been set up at great cost and sacrifice, they have been denied funding up to now and their continuation may well be jeopardised as a result of that. I know that many of them are likely to go under soon unless they can obtain funding. They are falling over the trip-wire of the surplus places argument, precisely because they have created the surplus places inadvertently because they are meeting parental wishes.

I realise of course that there is the question of duplicating places, the Treasury question which has up to now been a stumbling block. But the neatness of Amendment No. 250 is that it allows the transfer of surplus places from schools not chosen by parents into the new schools, which are popular with parents who are not well off, at which they currently have to pay, and schools whose survival may be jeopardised unless they can receive funding. So I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at the principle of transfer of surplus places to the popular new schools.

Lord Peston

I have been interested for a great many years in the dynamics of school expansion and contraction, but I say to those noble Lords and the noble Baroness who proposed the amendments that I find them bewildering. Apart from the misuse of language, at least in terms of how it is used in the various pieces of educational legislation which we have before us, it seems to me not to show the slightest understanding of what actually happens.

To start with, I should have thought that after last week's electoral debacle for the Government the fewer examples we get of "he may by order direct", the better off we will be, or at least the better off the Government would be, if they were to refrain from making too many orders.

I take it that we are largely discussing grant-maintained schools. In other words, we are not discussing other schools, private sector schools. The important point is the use of the expression in Amendment No. 250 of "surplus school premises". Surplus school premises consist of a building, a premise. That is quite different from the expression used by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky of "surplus places" which are not the same as surplus school premises. We may have quite a lot of surplus school places; but given the indivisibility of a building, there are no premises surplus at all. So the amendment is simply wrong to start with, it makes no sense. It does not address the problem.

Secondly, unless I misunderstand it, "suitable arrangements" is not a term known in the education legislation before us. What does "suitable arrangements" mean? Does it mean that if the LEA has a school building which it does not want or need, it can sell it to a grant-maintained school? Is that what it means? If it means that it can sell it, where will the grant-maintained school obtain the money? If it does not sell it, perhaps I may remind the Committee that the school premises belong to the local education authority. It seems to me that it is a problem which we have had before, and it is not exactly right in my mind, nor in most noble Lords' minds, that the Secretary of State should simply be able to take away the property that belongs to local council tax payers and give it to grant-maintained schools.

The next point I have to raise from my understanding of what happens in education is that I do not know the expression "normal per capita maintenance grant". Maybe the noble Baroness will tell me that there is something called "normal per capita maintenance grant", but so far as I know there is no such thing. I should like elucidation on that.

Following something which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, clarified for me, I take it that the proposal is meant to be symmetric, that the Government would act in the case of an under-subscribed grant-maintained school, the Government would see to it that its financing was reduced so that the school would be bankrupted if it were under-subscribed. I believe that is what he said when he said there was no bias in the amendments for or against LEA schools as against GM schools. I must say that it seems a strange view for those who support GM schools—and I certainly do not—that at this early stage in their lives we should be introducing "reforms" which might place their whole existence in peril.

Lord Kilmarnock

The noble Lord referred to me and it is perfectly true that the technical effect of the two amendments is to apply exactly the same mechanism to local authority-maintained schools as to grant-maintained schools. I made what I thought was a fair point that there was a level playing field there.

One other point, the noble Lord talked about the ownership of property and premises, and he criticised the phrase "suitable arrangements". It is a little loose, but there is no reason why "suitable arrangements" should not include suitable payment to the local authority for the premises concerned.

Lord Peston

I understand the point that the noble Lord makes. My own view is that if one puts forward an amendment of this sort, which means that the property of local authorities is confiscated, one might at least spell out what "suitable arrangments" means. I take it that the amendments are put down as serious amendments. I at least treat them seriously.

There is one last point on the dynamics of this matter which interests me. Let us assume for the sake of argument that in a particular area the grant-maintained school is over-subscribed and the LEA schools have some surplus places. Let us forget for the moment the problem of premises. If the grant-maintained school then expands, the local education authority schools will be even more under-subscribed. One has a dynamic system which essentially undermines totally the local education authority school. I take it that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, wants. He wants to damage the under-subscribed schools in order to enhance the ones that are over-subscribed.

Lord Skidelsky

I would like to undermine the financial viability of schools to which parents do not want to send their children.

Lord Peston

The noble Lord indicates that he does not know anything about what happens. A school that is, say, two-thirds subscribed contains a large number of parents who are very happy with that school. The fact that it is under-subscribed does not mean that there is something wrong with that school so far as those two-thirds of parents are concerned. That is why this kind of market model simply will not work. It is not the same as buying ordinary things. That is, I am afraid, what some protagonists of these models do not understand about the way education works. When one takes resources away from a school, one damages the school for the parents who are happy with it. That is why this is a mistake.

I understand that those who are committed to GM schools are trying desperately to make the process work. My own view is that, given the results of the local authority elections last week, the matter is over and done with for the time being. I do not blame them for that. I worry, however, if they make any kind of intervention which is damaging to the education of the large number of children in schools over-subscribed, under-subscribed or equal-subscribed. This is a different kind of world from the ordinary market world. That is why in the large part we do not allow the market mechanism to dominate education.

Baroness Cox

I understand the point that the noble Lord makes. But there is also a question of scale, size and rationality. Does the noble Lord accept that a comprehensive school kept open in one particular local authority with just 11 pupils per intake per year is a viable proposition; that to keep open a comprehensive meant to be a 10-form intake with 11 pupils is a reasonable way of behaving?

Lord Peston

Of course not. I was not able to speak in the previous amendments on rationalisation. I am a strong believer in rationalisation, not just on grounds of saving money, but also because certain schools are too small to do the job. Nothing I say is meant to be against rationalisation. Indeed, I support anything that the Government do to prod authorities which are reluctant to rationalise into doing so. I am concerned about not allowing interventions that damage certain schools which are under-subscribed but are not doing as well as certain other schools. That is the nature of the problem. Therefore I believe that these amendments not only fail as amendments—I believe that they are technically unsound, but that is not the point at issue—but are extremely unhelpful in terms of any educational advance.

Lord Skidelsky

Perhaps I may intervene once more. As I understand it, the noble Lord is in favour of rationalisation by administrative fiat, by the fiat of the local education authority, irrespective of the wishes of the parents for whom he showed so much solicitude a moment ago. Local authorities have rationalised places by administrative fiat. What he is absolutely against is that any element whatever of parental choice should enter into that process.

Lord Peston

I am afraid that I really will not accept that. I argued for parental choice before the noble Lord had any interest whatever in education. I have been a long-time supporter of parental choice. I ask him to believe that there is rather more to parental choice than he seems to understand. I appreciate that there are some parents who would like their children to go to a particular school and not to another school. The noble Lord must understand that lots of parents want their children to go to the under-subscribed school, and their choices have to be taken into account.

I would go further. I do not believe that it is just a matter of parental choice. I believe that the pupils themselves count in this decision, which people often forget. Therefore, I do not buy parental choice to quite the extent that the noble Lord does. I think that sometimes parents might ask what their children want. That is by the way. The point is that it is not an issue of parental choice. I take the point that one has to manage the resources, but I do not see that, when a particular industry or a particular firm manages its different plants and rationalises them, that is regarded as somehow incompatible with choosing the final product. The local education authority, it seems to me, is perfectly reasonably—I shall sit down in a moment—able to rationalise the use of its places. That is simply not incompatible with parental choice. Quite the contrary. In many cases it corresponds to parental choice. Indeed, the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, would correspond to parental choice if that particular school were rationalised and other schools were made more viable.

Baroness Blatch

I cannot resist the temptation to come back to the noble Lord on his professing to have been interested in parental choice long before it was fashionable. I look forward to his support for grammar schools, grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges, bi-lateral schools, technology schools and for other specialist schools. That is what choice is about, but the noble Lord is opposed to all of them.

Lord Peston

Perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene. As always, we seem to have these arguments at just the wrong time when we are considering other matters. That is not what parental choice is about. That is precisely the point. That is where we disagree. There were large numbers of parents who did not want the grammar schools to survive.

Perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness of the early history of comprehensives. The early comprehensives were introduced by Conservative local authorities, not by Labour local authorities. They were introduced often for rationalisation reasons. They were introduced because parents did not get choice. Some did—their children got to grammar schools—and the overwhelming majority got no choice at all. So the noble Baroness cannot get away with the notion that only her particular choices are parental choices. They are not. There is a broader dimension to this question.

Baroness Blatch

I take it from that that choice is all right so long as it is comprehensive. It adds up to nothing else. If there is opposition to grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges, grammar schools, bi-lateral schools, schools that specialise and schools that are technology schools, then I have to deduce that the noble Lord is in favour of choice so long as it is comprehensive. That is an aside, but the noble Lord tempted me by making that remark.

I understand that my noble friend feels very concerned about the issue of newly established grant-maintained schools and how one can allow that policy to be more consistent with parental preference.

Amendment No. 250 proposes that when making an order under Clause 219 the Secretary of State may direct that surplus school premises shall be transferred under suitable arrangements to a new grant-maintained school approved under Clauses 45, 46 and 48.

As we discussed during our earlier debate on Clause 46, that proposal cuts across the criteria for the establishment of a new grant-maintained school which includes the need to ensure that there are not surplus places in the local education authority or grant-maintained sectors. If those conditions are satisfied, and there are redundant LEA school premises that have already been taken out of school use, it would of course be open to the promoters of a new grant-maintained school to seek to purchase those for the use of the new grant-maintained school. The Secretary of State could pay grant of up to 85 per cent. on such a purchase. A change such as is proposed by this amendment would cause difficulties and indeed tensions in relation to the duties of local authorities in relation to the use of assets, and in any case could not include the property of voluntary schools.

I know that my noble friend disagrees with the Government's view that surplus places criteria should be an impediment to the establishment of a new grant-maintained school. Amendment No. 251 proposes an additional per capita payment for each pupil in excess of the standard number. As the Committee will be aware, the local management of schools formulae for funding schools are already firmly based on the number of pupils at the school and therefore directly benefit those that are successful in attracting additional pupils. Therefore a school that has pupils above the standard number will indeed receive the money for them. Local education authorities must allocate at least 80 per cent. of the money going to schools on the basis of pupil numbers. I hope that my noble friend will agree that Amendment No. 251 is unnecessary.

I do not consider it appropriate to give popular schools double funding for attracting additional pupils. It would be an unfettered market principle to give a school that is losing pupils an additional amount. I believe that that would send too many schools too quickly to the wall. However, I understand the points that my noble friend made.

Amendment No. 253 removes the restriction placed on the Secretary of State by Clause 219(4) not to name a particular school and removes the provision of subsection (3), which requires the Secretary of State to give the date by which a direction shall be carried out and the principles to be followed in fulfilling that requirement. It replaces those with a requirement that, before making an order under Clause 219(2), the Secretary of State shall consider whether the interests of the area will not be better served by directing the funding authority to follow the procedures set out in subsection (1) (c).

I assume that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, referred to the proposals under Amendment No. 250, which provides that the Secretary of State may direct that surplus school premises should be transferred under suitable arrangements for the use of a new grant-maintained school. As I have already explained, we do not believe that it would be appropriate to seek to achieve the redistribution of premises in that way.

I know that my noble friend is meeting with officials in the department to discuss these and other amendments which were pressed at an earlier stage and are of concern to him. In the light of what I have said, and where we agree to disagree about matters, I hope that he will continue to explore the issues with my officials in the department and will not press the amendments tonight.

Lord Northbourne

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I should like to ask for some clarification. I find it very difficult to see under what circumstances it will be possible to start a new grant-maintained school under Clause 46 unless one is building a new town or a new housing estate or, as indeed in Tower Hamlets, the school population happens to be growing so fast that there is a need for a completely new school provision. That must occur very rarely under normal circumstances.

Baroness Blatch

It is always conceivable that a new school would be needed if, for example, instead of having surplus places in an area there was a tension for places in the area. Instead of always looking towards local education authorities to provide, the funding agency could look to promoters to fill that gap. That would certainly be one way into the system. However, I admit openly that it is a tension.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, and I are to some extent saying that there is the world that operates now and it is very difficult to use the process of replacing almost at a stroke one school with another. I also believe that there is considerable scope in this Bill for doing more to remove unpopular schools. In any rationalisation programme I hope that local authorities would look very carefully at where parents are voting with their feet and would respond positively by taking up those schools which are not patronised by parents, doing what they can to promote, enhance and seek the survival of schools that are popular.

I omitted to answer a question from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about per capita maintenance grant. There is such a thing as per capita maintenance grant for grant-maintained schools. It is called annual maintenance grant and is allocated on a per capita basis.

Lord Peston

Is that to say that there is no term of art normal per capita maintenance grant? It has a different name from that. Is that right?

Baroness Blatch

It is the annual maintenance grant but it is a lump sum plus a per capita amount. So it is a per capita allocation.

Lord Skidelsky

I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. I hope that I have a chance over an excellent dinner to expose the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. He made some very dubious statements with a great deal of dogmatism. We do not want to detain the Committee by arguing now. In view of the Minister's reply I am happy to withdraw the amendment standing in my name.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 251 and 251A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 252 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 253 and 253A not moved.]

Baroness Faithfull had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 254: Page 130, line 41, at end insert: ("(3A) An order under subsection (1) (a) or (2) above shall not have the effect of requiring any proposals to be published where the local education authority or, as the case may be, the funding authority are of the opinion that this would be inconsistent with their having conscientiously taken into account the responses to consultation undertaken by them in contemplation of making such proposals. (3B) Where the local education authority or, as the case may be, the funding authority are of the opinion mentioned in subsection (3A) above they shall give notice of that opinion to the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: I have spoken to this amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 254ZA and 254ZB not moved.]

Clause 219 agreed to.

Clause 220 [Directions to bring forward proposals for additional provision in maintained schools]:

[Amendment No. 254ZC not moved.]

Clause 220 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 254ZD not moved.]

Clause 221 [Publication of proposals by the Secretary of State]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 254A Page 132, line 24, at end insert ("for the area").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment has been spoken to with Amendment No. 171ZC. I beg to move.

Clause 221, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 222 [Public inquiry into proposals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 254B: Page 133, line 18, at end insert ("in exercise of their powers to make proposals for the alteration of their school").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment was also spoken to with Amendment No. 171ZC. I beg to move.

[Amendment Nos. 254C and 254D not moved.]

Clause 222, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 223 agreed to.

Clause 224 [Supplementary provisions]:

[Amendment No. 254E not moved.]

Clause 224 agreed to.

Viscount Astor

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage of the Bill begin again at half-past eight.

House resumed.

Back to