HL Deb 10 May 1993 vol 545 cc1061-172

House again in Committee.

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 254F: After Clause 224, insert the following new clause: ("Extension of functions of the Chief Inspector .—(1) In section 2 of the Education (Schools) Act 1992 (functions of the Chief Inspector for England) after subsection (1) there is inserted— (1A) The Chief Inspector for England shall—

  1. (a) inspect each school in England where the governing body publish proposals for the purpose of acquiring grant-maintained status for the school, and make a written report to the Secretary of State expressing his opinion as to the extent to which the governing body (in so far as persons are named in the proposals as initial governors) would be capable of conducting the school efficiently and effectively if it acquires grant-maintained status;
  2. (b) keep under review the extent to which aspects of the conduct of grant-maintained schools in England could, in his opinion, be improved without disproportionate expenditure by means of advice or assistance being provided to the governing body of any such school or schools."
(2) In section 6 of that Act (functions of the Chief Inspector for Wales) after subsection (1) there is inserted— (1A) The Chief Inspector for Wales shall—
  1. (a) inspect each school in Wales where the governing body publish' proposals for the purpose of acquiring grant-maintained status for the school, and make a written report to the Secretary of State expressing his opinion as to the extent to which the governing body (in so far as persons are named in the proposals as initial governors) would be capable of conducting the school efficiently and effectively if it acquires grant-maintained status;
  2. (b) keep under review the extent to which aspects of the conduct of grant-maintained schools in Wales could, in his opinion, be improved without disproportionate expenditure by means 1062 of advice or assistance being provided to the governing body of any such school or schools."").

The noble Lord said: To a large extent, the amendment is self-explanatory. It requires that the office of Chief Inspector for England shall: make a written report to the Secretary of State expressing his opinion as to the extent to which the governing body would be capable of conducting the school efficiently and effectively if it acquires grant-maintained status".

It also requires him to keep under review certain aspects of the school which could, in his opinion, be improved when things are going wrong without disproportionate expenditure on the provision of advice or assistance to the governing body. The amendment makes similar provisions for Wales.

The reason for the amendment is that the Bill fails to address the longer term needs of grant-maintained schools in so far as they may have difficulties. If they fail, there is an emergency net in which to catch them in Clauses 61 and 65. However, if they have problems, no advisory support is available. No LEA support is available and the department is a long way away, often physically and spiritually. I suggest that the amendment may well provide for a basic level of support if things start to go wrong without there being the necessity to take drastic action. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I hope that I can be helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington. The 1992 Schools Act places Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools under a general duty to keep the Secretary of State informed about: the quality of education in schools in England; the educational standards achieved; whether the financial resources made available are managed efficiently; and the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at those schools.

The first part of this amendment seeks to impose a duty on HMCI to inspect a school for the purpose of commenting on the likelihood of a new governing body, named in proposals published by the existing governors, being able to conduct a grant-maintained school effectively. School inspections, whether conducted by HMI or a registered inspector, are designed to report on a school as they find it. In the course of an inspection they will comment on a range of issues affecting the quality of a school, including the effectiveness of the existing governing body. We do not consider that it would be an appropriate—or, indeed, a practicable—extension of that role to require an assessment of the potential capabilities of a new governing body.

Of course, I share the concern that schools should be approved for grant-maintained status only where there is a good chance that they will be able to thrive and fully take advantage of the opportunities greater independence would give them. The existing procedures laid down by the Education Reform Act already make adequate provision in this respect.

Following the publication of statutory proposals by the governing body of a school to acquire grant-maintained status, there follows a two-month objection period in which objections to the proposals can be submitted to the Secretary of State. In reaching a decision on whether a set of proposals should be approved, the Secretary of State takes into account objections he has received as well as the detailed information published by the governors' in their statement of case. He may also have regard to information from other sources, such as any existing reports on the school or published examination results. It is current practice that, when a school does publish proposals, HMI visit the school at the Secretary of State's request with a view to advising him on its suitability as a whole for grant-maintained status. I expect that this practice will continue, at any rate where the school has not been recently inspected.

The Secretary of State is already well-informed about a school before he takes a decision on an application for grant-maintained status. I hope the Committee will, therefore, agree with me that there is no necessity to amend the Schools Act specifically to require a report on every application for grant-maintained status.

I turn now to the second half of this amendment which would require HMCI to keep under review what sort of advice or assistance could be offered to grant-maintained schools. I am pleased to say that the 1992 Act already allows HMCI to make reports on any matters which fall within his general functions, which I listed earlier. This would include reporting on grant-maintained schools, if he felt it appropriate to do so. He is also required to offer advice on request to the Secretary of State, and to inspect and report on any school or class of school which the Secretary of State might specify. In addition, HMCI produces an annual report to the Secretary of State, which is laid before Parliament.

In fact, as the Committee may be aware, HMCI has recently produced a report on self-governing (GM) schools. I think that this provides incontrovertible evidence that the very worthwhile intentions behind this amendment are already adequately served by the 1992 Act.

I wish to re-emphasise the point which I know lies behind the amendment. It is already common practice to send in the inspectorate in order to advise the Secretary of State about the suitability of a school to become grant-maintained.

Lord Addington

I have listened carefully to the Minister's full reply. I am afraid that it was at a greater pace than I could keep up with. I must read her reply. I believe that she covered all the issues underlying the amendment. I give no 100 per cent. guarantee that I shall not return to the matter, but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 225 [Incorporation of governing bodies]:

[Amendment No. 255 not moved.]

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 255ZA: Page 136, line 20, at end insert: ("( ) Nothing in this section shall require the local education authority to transfer any property, rights and liabilities to the governing body.").

The noble Lord said: In speaking to this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 255ZB and 225A. Amendment No. 225ZA is a probing amendment to see whether the incorporation of governing bodies of county schools will lead to the transfer of any property rights or liabilities from local education authorities to the schools' governing bodies. There have been rumours that that may be the effect and this amendment seeks only to elicit a definitive answer from the Minister.

Amendment No. 255ZB is a probing amendment to probe the nature of funds which incorporated bodies hold. Clause 225 provides for all LEA maintained governing bodies to receive corporate status. One of the powers which the incorporated governing body will receive in Clause 226(2) (d) is a power to: accept gifts of money, land and other property and apply it, or hold and administer it on trust, for any of those purposes".

Schools have always held, for various purposes, monies that have not been received from the local education authority. The money may belong to a parent-teacher association and been raised through fetes and other fund-raising activities, or it may have been given to the school by parents and friends. While such sums have been small in the past, not much interest has been shown in them. However, with the recent restrictions on local government expenditure, schools have been expanding their income-generating capacity by, for example, asking some parents to covenant money to schools.

As I said, this is a probing amendment and, as such, I have a number of questions on the status of such funds to ask the Minister. First, are the gifts of money, land and other property that are held on trust governed by charity law? If so, how does charity law apply to those funds? Secondly, if the funds are held as a charitable trust, how are the governors to be alerted to the fact that they will also become charity trustees? Thirdly, what access will there be by parents and members of the public to inspect the accounts of those trust funds? Finally, do the provisions of charity law differ according to whether the school is a county or a voluntary school?

I turn now to Amendment No. 255A. The purpose of the proposed new clause is to empower the Secretary of State to make a national scheme for the payment to governors of LEA-maintained schools of out-of-pocket expenses incurred on governor service and to remove the little-used power of local education authorities to make such schemes for the schools that they maintain. It would put the reimbursement of expenses to governors of LEA-maintained schools on the same footing as for governors of grant-maintained schools under paragraph 14 of Schedule 5 to the Bill which re-enacts the provision of the Education Reform Act 1988.

It is unfair and, I believe, unsatisfactory that only governors of grant-maintained schools should be able to recover expenses, as they now can, while governors of LEA-maintained schools depend for that right on the LEAs' willingness to give expenses, with the result that they are rarely given. The inability to recover expenses is a deterrent to governor service for people who are, at present, most under-represented on governing bodies; namely, the poorest sections of our society. The need for subsistence allowance is minimal. However, the cost of travel to governors' meetings, training sessions, et cetera, can be significant—especially, again, for the poorest sections of our society.

Of the various financial obstacles to governor service, the problem of expenses is, perhaps, less serious than the fact that while governors have by law to be given reasonable time off by their employers, that does not have to be paid; and, indeed, it is usually not paid time off. Removing that larger obstacle would be a much more complex and costly undertaking. Therefore, for the time being and for the purpose of this amendment, we are at least trying to remove the lesser obstacle of expenses. We believe that expenses should be put on an equal footing with that which applies to grant-maintained schools. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Henley

If I may, I should like to deal with the amendments in a slightly different order from that put forward by the noble Lord. I shall start with the good news—although probably all my responses contain good news. However, as regards Amendment No. 255A, I think that I can give slightly better news. I do not agree with the noble Lord, but I am certainly grateful to him for the suggestion made in his amendment.

Section 58 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 gives LEAs the power to pay travelling and subsistence expenses of governors in accordance with a scheme made by them for that purpose. But because of the prohibition in subsection (7) it is not possible for governing bodies to reimburse their members' travelling and subsistence expenses where no such scheme has been made.

We have no hard evidence that the absence of such schemes has resulted in problems of recruitment and retention of governors, but, I accept that the absence of LEA schemes under Section 58 might cause difficulties for governors in some cases, as the noble Lord implied. We take the view that it is logical to move away from the discretionary powers of LEAs towards giving governing bodies the freedom to use their delegated budget for travel and subsistence payments.

To that end we propose to introduce a government amendment on Report which will allow governing bodies the discretion to use their delegated budgets to pay their members travel and subsistence expenses. I hope that that will go a considerable way towards meeting the very valid point made by the noble Lord.

I turn now to Amendment No. 255ZA moved by the noble Lord, and which he described as a probing amendment. As we understand it, the amendment is superfluous. The provision required in the amendment is already provided in the Bill. Clause 225(3) requires that any property, rights or liabilities attributable to a governing body immediately before incorporation shall be transferred to, and vested in, the body corporate. Subsection (4) explains that property is attributable to a governing body if it was held by, or on behalf of, any members or former members of the governing body. Similarly, rights and liabilities attributable to the governing body are those acquired or incurred by, or on behalf of, those members.

In most cases, these will amount to very little. Governors may have been given for the purposes of the school an item of equipment, for example, or money from parents to buy a vehicle. All the Bill does is to provide that such property is held by an incorporated governing body rather than the present unincorporated association.

Property, rights and liabilities of LEAs are not attributable to governing bodies and therefore cannot transfer to them. Taking the delegated budget as an example, there is no question of it somehow becoming the governing body's property. Expenditure under LMS schemes remains expenditure of the LEA.

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 255ZD. Under Clause 226(2) (d), incorporated governing bodies will have the powers to accept gifts, money, land or other property, as I said, and to apply or hold and administer them on trust. The amendment spells out that such a trust would be a charitable trust. Again, I have to explain to the noble Lord that the amendment is otiose. However, if I may, I should explain the purpose behind what we are doing. Governing bodies will only have power under subsection (2) (d) to hold property on trust for the purposes of any activities that they have power to carry on. As those activities are confined to the government of the school and related purposes, and as the advancement of education is, as the noble Lord will know, a charitable purpose, it follows that the only trusts which the governing body has power to administer are, therefore, charitable. They could not, for example, hold property on private trust for the benefit of particular individuals.

According to my limited understanding of charitable law and trust law, I presume, therefore, that they would be bound by charity law. I believe that the noble Lord is concerned that the individuals who might be trustees of a charitable trust ought to be alerted to the fact that there are slightly more onerous duties that apply to being a trustee than apply in many other fields. However, I certainly take on board the noble Lord's suggestion that, possibly, some advice ought to be offered by means of a circular, or whatever, to trustees to ensure that where a trust is set up, and where that trust is obviously charitable, they are aware of their onerous duties. I hope that that explanation will be sufficient to enable the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

Before the noble Lord does so—indeed, if that is what he intends to do—I would ask the Minister to look seriously at the probing amendment which uses the word "charitable". Governors will need to be aware that they may be trustees with the obligations, the fiduciary duties, that that carries, whether or not they are charitable trustees. It is quite a complicated area of law and not one with which those concerned would necessarily be immediately familiar. The Minister's suggestion that there might be some guidance is most helpful. There are very much larger sums of money being raised by, for example, PTAs which are then passed to the school for use as regards particular projects within the school. Over the past few years this whole issue has become a much more major one.

Lord Henley

My advice from lawyers—I do have to take advice—is that adding the word would for various reasons cause complications relating to interpretation. I was trying to remember the word "guidance" earlier but it was not on the tip of my tongue. If some sort of guidance could be made available, certainly we would consider it so that, as the noble Baroness puts it, they are aware of their obligation.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I think this is perhaps for me personally an historic event as it is the first time I have moved an amendment which has been accepted by the Government.

Lord Henley

I should make sure it is properly on the record that I was accepting part of the spirit of the amendment. To say that I was accepting the amendment would be going too far. I am certainly not accepting the amendment as it is. If the noble Lord examines the words that I use very carefully, he will discover that I accepted a degree of the spirit of the amendment. For a first that is probably enough for the noble Lord.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Will the Minister at least give us some assurance on this matter? I believe he mentioned the word "circular". He was honest enough—as he always is—to show that he was not too au fait with the law as it is. I do not complain about that as I believe this is a difficult area. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who I understand is a lawyer, has had experience of that matter. I believe that because of the difficulty of this area a circular should be issued which deals specifically with this point. I hope that we can at least get that assurance from the Minister tonight.

Lord Henley

The noble Baroness is, I understand, still practising as a lawyer. Most of the law I learnt was before the fairly recent changes to the charities law and that is why I was stressing that my knowledge is not quite as up to date as it ought to be. But certainly I can give the assurance that I shall pass on to my noble friend the suggestion that some guidance could possibly be issued in this field.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for pointing out that this day is rather less historic than I had first imagined. But nevertheless the noble Lord explained the concerns fully as regards the probing amendment, Amendment No. 255ZA. There were four specific questions which I put when speaking to Amendment No. 255ZB. I believe those concerns would be addressed by any guidance which might or might not be forthcoming. This is a genuine area of concern. Amendmeut No. 255A concerns the expenses of governors. I shall await with great interest to hear what the noble Lord comes forward with as regards that amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 225 agreed to.

Clause 226 [Powers of incorporated governing bodies]:

[Amendment No. 255ZB not moved.]

Clause 226 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 255A not moved.]

Schedule 12 [Incorporated governing bodies for county, voluntary and maintained special schools]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 256: Page 197, line I, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (3AA) below").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I speak also to Amendments Nos. 257, 258, 259, 260 and 261. With the leave of the Committee, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 261B, 259A, 261A, 261C, 261D, 259B, 261AA. Some of those amendments are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

Lord Dean of Beswick

I do not think I heard the Minister mention Amendments Nos. 259A and 261A. However, I may have misheard.

Lord Henley

I think I mentioned Amendment No. 259A. I apologise to the noble Lord if I did not mention Amendments Nos. 259A and 261C. I was going on to say that a number of these amendments are down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

Lord Dean of Beswick

I shall speak to those amendments in the absence of my noble friend Lord Howell.

Lord Henley

I am most grateful to the noble Lord. As the noble Lord will realise, my amendments are an attempt to meet the concerns of the noble Lord. Obviously I shall move my amendments, speak partly to some of his and then deal with some of the others in that grouping which stand in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others when I come to respond to my own amendments, if that meets the wishes of the Committee.

I shall start with Amendment No. 261B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and Amendment No. 261 standing in his name and mine and Amendments Nos. 256 to 259 and Amendment No. 260 standing in my name. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for the contributions he has made on this issue. We all recognise the part he has played in the development of dual use facilities. I am conscious that he was, as a Member of another place, a co-sponsor of these provisions in the form of a Private Member's Bill which unfortunately ran out of time at the end of the last Parliament.

We have no difficulty with the noble Lord's amendments in principle. The series of Amendments Nos. 256 to 259 and 260 follow up a commitment given by my honourable friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire at Committee stage in another place on 2nd February. The effect of these amendments would be to ensure governing bodies of both voluntary and county schools may enter into transfer of control agreements which provide for some community use of a school's premises when not required for the purposes of the school during school hours as well as outside of school hours.

The purpose of this part of Schedule 12 is to remove the current barriers to joint management arrangements where there is shared school and community use of a school's premises typically in the case of dual use sports facilities. The schedule rectifies an unintended consequence of earlier legislation. We have received representations from the Sports Council and others who have pointed out that there are cases where dual use agreements provide for some shared use while the school is technically still in session.

Section 22 of the Education Act 1944 provides for use of a voluntary school's premises to be under the control of the governing body during school hours as well as outside of school hours. We accept therefore that, as Schedule 12 is currently drafted, there could be an argument that the governing body of a voluntary school has no power to enter into a transfer of control agreement which covers a period during school hours. Amendments Nos. 256 and 257 accordingly secure that governing bodies of voluntary schools may enter into transfer of control agreements relating to the use of school premises when not required for school purposes during school hours as well as outside school hours.

However, control of the use of a county school's premises during school hours is not specifically vested in anyone. There should therefore be no barrier to governing bodies entering into agreements that provide for some dual use during school hours. We have concluded that an amendment to Schedule 12 in the case of county schools is not therefore required.

Amendment No. 258 provides for the local education authority to be consulted where a governing body intends to enter into a transfer of control agreement that provides for some shared use during school hours since the authority has an interest as a maintaining authority in the use to which a school's premises may be put.

Amendments Nos. 259, 260 and 261 make consequential amendments to the definitions of community use, school hours and transfer of control agreements to remove references to out of school hours.

I shall listen to the noble Lord, Lord Dean, but I hope that he will be able to withdraw Amendment No. 261B, or not move it when the time comes. On that basis I will then beg to move the amendments standing in my name. But, as I said earlier, I shall certainly respond to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on his particular points towards the end of the debate. I beg to move.

Lord Dean of Beswick

As I said a few minutes ago, I shall look after the amendments that concern sport in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who is abroad on business. I am grateful to the Minister for what he said in response to what was said in another place. However, people still have reservations about these measures. My brief has been provided by the local authority associations and the Sports Council. It is mainly their point of view that I shall be expressing.

Over the past 25 years governments of all political persuasions, sports councils, local authority associations and many other agencies have advocated consistently the community use of educational facilities. I noted the Minister referred to the fact that certain people "may" enter into an agreement. The word "shall" is not used, and that is where we may differ. That policy has been extremely successful. Millions of pounds have been invested by a range of parties to develop dual-use facilities. Our concern is to ensure that the legislation enables that policy to continue and does not positively deter future funding partnerships. At present local government finance is in a government straitjacket. Local authorities would find it difficult to fund a new sports project in an area where they were losing facilities due to the actions of the governors or some other body.

It is a pleasure to find something in the Bill to welcome, and we do welcome paragraphs 4 to 7 of Schedule 12. They begin to remedy the Government's mistake in the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 when school governors were given the duty of controlling the use of school premises outside school hours. They cannot delegate that responsibility. At a stroke, existing agreements for joint school and community use of premises were rendered void. Arrangements continue on the basis of good will but could not withstand legal challenge. New agreements cannot be made. So we welcome those paragraphs which are intended to legitimise past agreements and to make new agreements possible.

We also welcome acceptance in another place of a more all-embracing definition of the community than was in the original text, and Amendments Nos. 256, 257, 258, 259, 260 and 281 which, in the case of voluntary schools, will allow control-of-use agreements to cover parts of school premises during the school day as well as outside school hours. That helpfully recognises representations that have been made on a real point.

We are not clear why the same is not being done for county schools, hence Amendment No. 261 B. Current legislation does not spell out who is responsible for the control of the use of school premises during the school day, the LEA or the governors. The position needs to be clarified for the sake of current and prospective partners in control-of-use agreements at county schools. If it is argued that county schools, like voluntary schools, will be able to have such agreements which embrace some community use during the school day without new legislation to specify that, will guidance be issued to make that absolutely clear to all concerned?

Guidance might also address two other worries. Amendment No. 261D refers to the fact that most existing agreements will have been made by the local education authority on behalf of the school. Presumably it is not intended that such agreements (which will have been endorsed or accepted by governors) will be denied the legitimisation offered by paragraph 7. If it is not felt that the point needs to be covered specifically because it is implicit, that will again need to be spelt out in guidance to all concerned.

The relevant paragraphs of the schedule do not address the question of grant-maintained schools. At any school at any time a ballot of parents may lead to an application for grant-maintained status which the Secretary of State may accept. We understand that the Secretary of State intends to use his powers to ensure that the articles of government for grant-maintained schools line up with these provisions and that grant-maintained school governors will inherit any commitments under control-of-use agreements. That again will need to be clearly spelt out in guidance if future community use of education premises is to continue to be encouraged. It will need to be absolutely clear that future investment of community resources at school sites runs no risk of being diverted or lost. The commitments made by all parties to an agreement will need to be binding on their successors. As one knows, when children whose parents are governors leave the school, the governors change and new governors are elected or appointed. They may not have the same point of view.

Those points are essential preliminaries to the key amendments, Amendments Nos. 259A and 261A. As drafted, the new Section 22(3B) (c) of the 1944 Act and Section 42(2) (c) of the 1986 Act allow school governors to displace community use in favour of school use at any time. In effect, they will be able to override any agreement. That is not a satisfactory state of affairs if we are asking people to join in and invest in a project. The only limitation is that notice should be "reasonable" and that the use of the premises should be "reasonably" required by the school. As has been said many times in this place, what is reasonable to one party may be unreasonable to another.

The amendments would place more trust in governors to negotiate agreements appropriate to local circumstances. Most existing agreements will already address the circumstances in which school use may displace community use. Where an acceptable arrangement has been negotiated between the parties to the agreement, it is unnecessary and undesirable for legislation to override this. Where the point has not been addressed in an agreement, and in the case of new agreements, the amendment allows the parties to consider the matter and to specify the circumstances where school use may take precedence. The emphasis is on both parties acting jointly.

These are important amendments. It is unlikely that in future any district council, leisure department, parish council or voluntary body would be prepared to invest capital and revenue on developments on a school site for shared school and community use if any agreement on the arrangements for sharing can, by law, simply be overridden by the governors giving notice that they require use of the premises on a particular occasion.

We recognise that there will be occasions when school use during an evening or weekend is appropriate. We simply believe that healthy delegation should allow those matters to be sorted out locally. The heavy handed approach of the Bill as drafted could well be counter-productive. Local circumstances will vary and with them will vary the extent to which governors should reasonably be able to disrupt a programme of community activity.

A district council considering the investment of hundreds of thousands of pounds on a school site to provide a swimming pool which it could equally build elsewhere would need to be confident that its planned programme of community use cannot be disrupted. The school, which would not have had a swimming pool without the district council investment, will benefit from its use during the day and has not lost anything if its access at other times is subject to strict limitations. The law needs to recognise such circumstances and not simply assume that it is always a case of an existing school facility being made available for wide community use, in which case it may be reasonable to give greater priority for any school needs outside school hours.

The amendments are important if that part of the Bill is to achieve what is intended. It would be a tragedy to fall at this hurdle in trying to put right the mistake of the 1986 Act. We can all agree that it is in the public interest to make the fullest possible use of public investment. Where "leisure" and education funding is pooled in an investment on a school site for use by both school and community, better facilities can be created than would be the case if each side acted independently, or perhaps could not act individually because of lack of finance. Typically those arrangements relate to provision for sport. But there is no reason why that should not equally apply to music, drama and a range of other activities. Shared investment and shared facilities will enhance the opportunities and the curriculum for school children, will strengthen links between the school and its community, and will provide all sections of the community with constructive opportunities for leisure pursuits.

The successful implementation of the national curriculum is considerably enhanced by the vast range of dual use facilities that have been provided in the past. Future joint investments are crucial to future delivery of the national curriculum. We therefore need to continue to encourage such development, building on the undoubted success of the many existing schemes set up over the past 25 years or so.

However, that will not occur if we remain obsessed with ensuring that ultimate power and control rests with the governors. We can surely trust governors and local authorities not to enter into agreement unless they are satisfied that the terms agreed upon suit both parties. We do not help them by insisting on a clause which may deter serious investment from interests other than education. It is understood that governors need some reassurance. However, so do other sections of the public who may be investors.

The current wording will deter district councils and others from investing in joint use facilities because of the stricture on the moneys available to them. The amendments represent a solution which has the support of the Sports Council and the local authority associations representing both the leisure and the education interest in those areas. Duplication is not the answer and cannot be afforded. The provisions for agreement ought to be set out now. However, I believe that the provision should be more mandatory than "may". The provision should include "will" or "shall". I beg to move.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Perhaps the Minister will deal briefly with a matter that has caused some concern in recent years. It is related to the amendments. I refer to the wide sale of playing fields. Since my noble friend started speaking, I have sought to remember which provision in the law triggered off such sales. I confess that I am not sure at present. However, the reality is that playing fields are being sold. We have referred to dual use. The playing fields that I have in mind have no use now because in many cases school fields were built upon with the results that one would expect. I hope that the Government are aware of that. I am sure that they are because it has been raised on a number of occasions. Perhaps the Minister would like to say a few words about it.

Lord Peston

I think that this is a rare occasion, if I understood the noble Lord correctly, where we agree in principle. We favour the community use of facilities, first, because we feel that it is good to bring the community into the school and, secondly, because of the efficient use of resources argument.

I am not certain that I fully understood what the noble Lord said. I thought he said in his opening remarks that the problem, as defined by my noble friend Lord Howell, was exactly the one addressed by the Government's amendments and that, therefore, they would deal with all the problems on which my noble friend Lord Dean elucidated. I should like to know whether that is the case; if so, there is no problem. What we wish to do is to see that no obstacles are placed in the way of using the facilities, with people who are not part of the school putting in resources. Can the noble Lord clarify that?

The other point which I had difficulty in following—and unlike the Minister, I have no legal knowledge—is that I take it that the distinction between what happens in school hours and what happens outside school hours is crucial. I believe that more important is the use of facilities outside school hours, but the use of facilities, when available, in school hours is not uninteresting. Perhaps I may also place the burden on the noble Lord to say more of the distinction between the two.

My main point is whether we are in sufficient agreement that the government amendments achieve what my noble friend Lord Howell wanted.

Lord Addington

I thank the Government for making such movement as has come from their Benches. It is nice to know that they are listening and moving towards our arguments on certain occasions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in wishing for more clarification so as to be sure that there is no other area to which we shall wish to come back. I have the nagging suspicion that the Government have met most of the anxieties which have come from this side and, indeed, all parts of the Committee. We merely ask for a little more clarification for those of us who are not legally trained.

Lord Henley

I do not know whether anyone will speak to the two amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, or did the noble Lord, Lord Dean, address them?

Lord Judd

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. We have generally indicated that we want to believe that the Government have met our points. We have no reason to suppose they have not and welcome it. There is just the small point that if arrangements have been made for the use of school premises and then there is a clash of interests, there is an issue about ensuring that adequate notice is given and insisting on it. This is particularly necessary where lecturers may have a contractual relationship with students to supply the lectures which can only be possible if the premises are available. Therefore, the point needs to be checked.

Lord Henley

Perhaps I may start by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that our amendments will not necessarily go the whole way that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, wanted. What I was hoping to say in my generally reasonable manner is that I think we go a long way down that line and we have met a great many of the points. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Dean, is nodding—far more violently than the noble Lord, Lord Peston, so I have a degree of—

Lord Peston

If I may reveal my lack of expertise, I become intrigued. I was hoping that the noble Lord would tell me where he does not meet what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, wanted and why.

Lord Henley

Perhaps the noble Lord will bear with me. Perhaps I may start by picking up the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about flexibility, the time of notice and whether it should be a fixed time, as he was suggesting, or—as we would prefer—some expression like "reasonable notice". I could give some examples.

Perhaps I should preface my remarks by saying that I think that we are all at one in our aims in a desire to see a greater dual use, wherever possible. We see one of the advantages in our approach that in effect comes up in the noble Lord's amendment that by going for flexibility we make life considerably easier for schools by allowing for a reasonable period of time rather than the fixed two weeks which the noble Lord's amendment suggests. I think that we are more likely to encourage dual use agreements, if the governing body can have some flexibility. I think that flexibility would be better served, as I suggested, by giving that governing body reasonable notice, which should allow the needs of the school and other regular users of the premises to be reconciled rather than the requirement for a fixed notice period.

If I may, I shall go back to the points of the noble Lord, Lord Dean. Perhaps I may start with the first two of his points on county schools and their freedom to enter into agreements and the inherited commitment of the grant-maintained schools. Quite simply, the answer is yes. We shall be offering guidance to both which will make this perfectly clear. The noble Lord then went on to argue that I had said, "may" and he wanted something more definitive on the grounds of "shall". I think that he was referring to his or his noble friend's Amendment No. 261D which we believe imposes an unreasonable burden on the governing bodies of county and maintained schools.

We have been very careful to provide for agreements entered into before the Bill comes into force to be enforceable. This amendment would go further than that by forcing governing bodies to accept transfer of control agreements which may have been entered into by the local education authority without that governing body's consent. We believe that in that particular case the noble Lord's amendment goes too far.

Members of the Committee also asked why we had not included county schools in our proposals. I believe I made it clear that the use of a county school's premises during school hours is not specifically vested in anyone. There should therefore be no barrier to governing bodies entering into agreements to provide for some dual use during school hours. We therefore concluded that an amendment to Schedule 12 in the case of county schools would not be required. However, we would expect county schools to consult their LEAs should they wish to enter into agreements affecting the use of school premises during school hours. In the case of the county schools, the LEA will generally be—

Lord Dean of Beswick

I thank the Minister for his detailed reply. He referred to a county school. Let us suppose that one had a local authority which took a meaningful policy decision by a substantial majority in the council chamber that all the county schools under its control, as a matter of policy, had to share their school facilities with the community in which they were sited because there were no other facilities there. What would the situation be?

Lord Henley

Perhaps we are further apart than I thought. It is a matter for the school and not for the LEA. No doubt the LEA might encourage the schools as and where possible, and certainly, going the other way, we would expect, as I tried to make clear, county schools to consult their LEA before they entered into any agreements, because those agreements might affect the LEA, affecting the use of school premises during school hours. In the case of county schools, the LEA will generally be the owners of the premises. Again I stress that we shall certainly draw that out in guidance once the Bill has received Royal Assent.

I now turn to Amendments Nos. 259A, 261A and 261C. We have sought in Schedule 12 to include these admittedly rather complex arrangements as statutory terms in transfer of control agreements because it seemed to the Government that governing bodies should be able temporarily to regain control of premises that are included in a transfer of control agreement. Schedule 12 provides that the governing body must give reasonable notice and that the premises must be reasonably required for the purposes of the school.

I do not believe that should be burdensome on other parties to an agreement; it is simply a reflection of the primary purpose of the school premises. There may be cases where a governing body needs access; for example, when it wants a room for a parents' evening or to use the swimming pool for a school swimming gala. The schedule makes it clear, with safeguards for other parties, that the governors can have access under these circumstances. I believe that that is a safeguard for the governing body which will provide positive encouragement to governors to enter into dual use joint management arrangements.

Lastly, I turn to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, on the sale of playing fields. I have to say that it goes somewhat wide of the amendment. I note his particular anxieties and stress that the Government believe in appropriate use of playing fields wherever possible. If one can give greater use to, for example, playing fields by some dual use, that is surely in the interests of all concerned. I hope that the amendments we have discussed and the response of the Government have given assurance to the noble Lord, and to the noble Lord, Lord Dean, that we are certainly keen to ensure that dual use procedures should be allowed to work as well as possible.

Lord Dean of Beswick

I am grateful for the detailed way in which the Minister replied to the amendment and to the point made by my noble friend and colleague Lord Dormand. I do not want to go down that road again tonight. It is a fact that there is fear of a diminution of what I would call community facilities, which perhaps would be better incorporated into some of the schools, but which unfortunately are not there and are not anywhere else in the area. So some children are receiving no physical or environmental education in some areas because the school has no space and there are no facilities in the area. What few sports facilities were there for communal use have gone because of the tightening of local authority strings.

Having said that, we may be able to talk at length about those issues on another occasion. As I said, I am grateful for the Minister's reply. However, in withdrawing the amendment, I should like to say that the people who have asked me to put the case on their behalf tonight will want the Minister to have the courtesy to consider what has been said. They may be completely satisfied with his reply or there may be some caveat that they wish to enter at a later stage.

Lord Henley

I note what the noble Lord said. Obviously we note his concern. He spoke about withdrawing the amendment. I hope he will not do so because it is mine to withdraw and I have moved it.

Lord Henley moved Amendments Nos. 257, 258 and 259: Page 197, line 4, leave out ("outside school hours"). Page 197, line 14, at end insert: ("(3AA) The governing body shall not enter into any transfer of control agreement which makes or includes provision for the use of the whole or any part of the school premises during school hours unless they have first obtained the local education authority's consent to the agreement in so far as it makes such provision."). Page 197, line 28, leave out ("outside school hours").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move these amendments en bloc.

[Amendments Nos. 259A and 259B not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendments Nos. 260 and 261: Page 198, line 23, leave out ("and "outside school hours" shall be construed accordingly"). Page 198, line 32, leave out ("outside school hours").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move these amendments en bloc.

[Amendments Nos. 261A to 261D not moved.]

The Lord Bishop of Guildford moved Amendment No. 262: Page 202, line 10, leave out paragraph 10.

The right reverend Prelate said: I am never entirely at ease when dealing with schedules. If I have understood this one correctly, paragraph 10, to which my amendment relates, deals with the disposal of assets of a discontinued voluntary school. The Bill as drafted hands those assets over to the trustees.

I have no wish to be ungrateful, but it may be that this is not quite so sweet smelling a bouquet as appears at first sniff. Exactly what is it that will be handed over to the trustees? As I understand it, it will not be the school premises—there is unlikely to be any land. Any surplus delegated budget would belong to the LEA. So it may be that we are talking about a redundant computer, a vintage kettle and an unclaimed mack.

Furthermore, it is not only the assets that will be transferred to the trustees but the liabilities. What will the liabilities be? They could be staff redundancy costs or liability for personal injury claims that have not been met. In addition there could be a financial and administrative muddle because we are dealing with a discontinued school.

If I have understood the position correctly, therefore, this particular jumble sale collection of items, together with the liabilities, is probably best given to the LEA rather than to the trustees. But maybe I have misunderstood the purpose of paragraph 10 of the schedule, in which case I stand to be corrected. If I have got it right, I beg to move my amendment that this particular paragraph be deleted.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Henley

The effect of the right reverend Prelate's amendment would be to remove any provision for the handling of land and other property—a broken kettle or whatever—attributable to the incorporated governing bodies of voluntary schools, if the schools were to close. There needs to be some mechanism for dealing with such property. But we are aware that the present provisions of paragraph 10 are unwelcome to the right reverend Prelate and possibly, as he put it, do not smell quite right.

I understand that officials have discussed with Church of England representatives the difficulties that the Church perceives with paragraph 10. In consequence, we propose to table further government amendments on Report which would treat land and other property of incorporated governing bodies of voluntary schools upon closure in a similar way to those of county schools. We shall be keeping in close touch with the Church's representatives. Officials have recently written to them offering a further meeting to discuss the content of the government amendments.

It is therefore our intention that the Bill should provide for the handling of land and other property in a way which will be acceptable to the right reverend Prelate. Accordingly, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging response. In the light of it, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 262A not moved.]

Schedule 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 227 [National Curriculum]:

The Deputy Chairman (The Viscount of Oxfuird)

I must advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 262B is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 262C due to pre-emption.

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 262B: Page 137, line 26, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: The section in the 1988 Act for which the new subsection (4) is a substitute, is perfectly adequate for the Secretary of State's job. The 1988 Act currently reads: An order under subsection (2) (c) above may authorise the making of such provisions giving full effect to or otherwise supplementing the provisions made by the order as appear to the Secretary of State to be expedient; and any provisions made under such an order shall, on being published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, have effect for the purposes of this chapter as if made by the order".

While in themselves those powers are arguably too general, the practice that the Secretary of state has adopted for consultation on each year's assessment orders is one which has the broad agreement of those consulted even though it must be said—which is not a unique situation—that the Secretary of State does not always seem to listen to the views put to him.

The new subsection provides draconian powers for the Secretary of state. He will be able to target governors, local education authorities and head teachers individually for direction in terms of assessment arrangements if he so chooses. The Secretary of State will identify an individual —for example, the chair or chief executive of the SCAA—and give him or her full statutory responsibility for all aspects of tests, supplementary test material, audit arrangements which may be deemed compulsory for schools and so forth.

In addition, the assessment audit arrangements have been tightened to what seems to be the point of absurdity. The auditor will have statutory powers to enter the premises of a school, even to stand behind the teacher while the tests or SATs are taking place, and to take away any material he chooses. All that gives the auditor the status and powers of an OFSTED inspector. However, OFSTED and registered inspectors have to go through rigid procedures of consultation before they are able to enter schools for the registered inspection. In contrast, the auditor will have lightening flying squad powers which will only serve to alienate schools still further.

It should be noted that the Secretary of State's review of the national curriculum and assessment will include the central administration and auditing arrangements currently experienced by schools. Surely it is unnecessary to legislate for a specific type of auditing practice ahead of that review and to do so inevitably calls into question the validity and sincerity of the Secretary of State's commitment to the review.

Above all, the introduction of even more hard-nosed auditing will only serve to alienate still further a profession whose professional judgment collectively has been consistently undermined over the years by successive Secretaries of State. I beg to move.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

Subsection (4) really goes too far. The Government want a tight inspection and testing regime and, in spite of the hot water they are in at the moment, they will doubtless achieve something like it. But the kind of detail we are talking about here is an instance of over-egging the pudding. Not only that: it is offensive to the thousands of committed teachers whom the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for one, who is not in his place, went out of his way to praise so eloquently (and rightly) earlier in our proceedings.

Subsection (4) will go down terribly badly in schools. Do the Government want that? Can they not see the sense in moderation, in healing rifts rather than opening them? There is an insensitivity about these provisions which is astonishing.

I should like to quote the words of a serving head teacher on the subject. He writes: For educational legislation the use of language is worrying. Lay persons venturing for the first time into a closer study of this short section of the law about the curriculum may be forgiven, as they stumble across the liberal use of terms like 'impose', 'require', 'comply', 'authority', 'inspect', `pursuance', for imagining they have in error picked up copies of the latest Road Traffic or Customs and Excise Act. The connotations of some of these words give no hint of any further desire for partnership". I wonder how the noble Baroness the Minister would react if there was some authority which had the power to intervene in her daily work—power to enter her office, to inspect the briefing documents she was gathering for this Bill, to have copies of them taken away. She would probably regard it as an affront to her professional capabilities. Teachers have sensibilities too.

A motto for so much of this Bill seems to be "Mother knows best". But no good mother would behave like this towards her children, not, that is, if she wanted a decent relationship with them.

Since this is all about assessment, and heavy-handed assessment at that, I should like to quote a short extract which caught my eye in a medical journal last December. It said, and I quote very briefly: The Japanese secret for manufacturing industry may be applied to medicine too, says Robert Maxwell in a reyiew in Quality in Health Care. Quality is not achieved by inspection at the end of the production line, nor can it be imposed from above. It is a result of the shared aspirations and concerted efforts of all those concerned, for whom it is a higher priority than any personal interest". If in manufacturing and in medicine, then in education too. If we want to emulate the Japanese in all their material success, we could begin by adopting the philosophy that underpins it and have done with the worst of these impositions from above.

Baroness Blatch

In responding to the amendment I wonder whether I may open by posing a straight question to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. Given that Ofsted has reported inconsistencies of marking between schools and across local authorities, if there is to be confidence in the system, what form of verification would the noble Earl put in place; and would he require power to do it?

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

I do not think that it is for me to write the Government's legislation for them. I certainly would not produce anything quite so intrusive and, I might say, nannying as this particular one.

Baroness Blatch

That is an interesting and very revealing answer. What the noble Earl has refused even to acknowledge is that, if there is inconsistency, there is a need for public accountability of the system. If children are to be marked against national standards across the whole of the school sector, and if judgments are to be made by parents about the efficiency and effectiveness of that marking, there needs to be a system of verification.

Lord Judd

But will the Minister not agree that what she has just said underlines the whole problem? If we are talking about partnership into the future, why does she assume that teachers are not as concerned about consistency as she is and that by agreement it would not be possible to have perfectly civilised and reasonable arrangements for monitoring and getting agreed standards? What is unacceptable is this constant implication that teachers are not to be trusted and must be checked off and monitored impersonally. That is no basis for partnership into the future.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, again misses the point. It is those teachers who believe that they are marking well and believe that what they are doing is consistent with one another who find at the end of the day when the verification system is put in place that they are not.

What is important is that there must be confidence in the marking. We have faced that problem with the marking of GCSE scripts. There needs to be a consistency across the board if people are to have confidence in the system of assessment and testing. All I was asking in the question was that if you will not allow even the provision for allowing a verification system to be put in place, what will you do to ensure confidence in the system? Teachers deserve a proper system of making sure that the world knows that what they are doing is consistent with standards across the board. The answers were revealing.

Subsection (4) is on a very narrow point. It is there to make absolutely certain that the Secretary of State does have the power to put in place a system of verification by auditors so that there is a consistency of marking across the school sector. But the amendment would remove that important power needed by the Secretary of State—

Baroness Seear

I am grateful to the noble Lady for giving way. This is a genuine inquiry for information. When the noble Baroness refers to verification by auditors, who are these people and what are their qualifications to do this levelling out of the marking? Many of us who have been involved in marking know that it is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. I would hate to be given the job. Who are these auditors? The title "auditor" fills me with alarm in this context, but perhaps I misunderstand.

Baroness Blatch

They are actually educational professionals who do the auditing. For example, they can be the GCSE boards themselves who can put in place an auditing system. So there is no question of scripts marked by teachers being audited by accountants. They are audited by educational professionals who can give a proper judgment as to whether the system is consistent across the board. Ofsted has had a hand in that too. It was Ofsted which brought the information to us that there was inconsistency in parts of the education sector. The important thing is that there needs to be a system of verification.

As things stand, assessments are made in schools by teachers. Teachers also mark national curriculum tests. It is important that the standards they adopt should be consistent and that they should apply nationally. It is important for pupils when they move between schools, so that their progress should not be hindered; important for parents who need to know how standards in individual classrooms measure up to standards nationally; important for schools themselves, when results are published, to know that they are arrived at on a consistent basis. It is the importance of that consistency that seems to have been set aside by these amendments.

Subsection (4) of Clause 227 is designed to clarify the Secretary of State's powers to specify appropriate assessment arrangements: in particular the arrangements which may be made to verify the results of assessment and testing. That verification, or audit of the results, is essential if we are to have confidence that our children are being assessed against objective, external standards.

Auditors must necessarily examine test scripts and other evidence to ensure that assessments have been carried out correctly and to consistent standards. The provisions of subsection (4) enable auditors to achieve that end. Clearly, we acknowledge that the great majority of schools would wish to co-operate and assist in this process. All the evidence is that they do. The proposed amendment would simply prevent this being established as a requirement of the assessment arrangements.

Other provisions in subsection (4) are largely of a technical nature designed to specify particular ways in which the existing powers to make orders governing national curriculum assessment can be exercised. It also allows arrangements made by others to form part of national curriculum assessment and so allows, as I have said, the GCSE examinations to be key stage 4 assessments for 16 year-olds. As we know, that will be put in train very shortly.

There is nothing new or controversial in this subsection. It is already clearly understood by virtue of Section 10(2) of the Education Reform Act that local education authorities, governors and head teachers have a duty to secure the implementation of the national curriculum. Arrangements for the verification of results are a necessary part of the assessment process, and I ask noble Lords not to press the amendment.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I should like to ask her one question. Is she not at all concerned at the signals that this kind of thing is going to send out to schools?

Baroness Blatch

If there was a serious problem, I should have thought that it would have manifested itself before now. This system has been in place for three years. We have been auditing the testing of seven year-olds not just this year, but last year and the year before and we have not had the problem that is anticipated by the noble Earl. It is interesting that he comes forward with the problem now.

If we are serious about producing information for parents and about telling them that their children have achieved a Level 1,2,3 or 4 (up to Level 10), they need to have some confidence that a Level 2 means the same in Berkshire as in Durham or Cumbria. We need consistency to ensure that there is proper confidence. Most teachers would welcome consistency in marking across the system.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Judd

We are not going to pursue the amendment to a Division tonight because this issue seems so symptomatic of so much that is wrong with the Bill that, having listened to the arguments, proceeding to a Division would be a very odd way in which to register that anxiety. In fact, having listened to the Minister's arguments, I am even more concerned than I was before.

I want to level with the Minister and to explain the problem. She tells noble Lords that there is nothing controversial in this Bill—

Baroness Blatch

No, I did not.

Lord Judd

I am sorry; I beg the Minister's pardon. She has said that there is nothing controversial in this particular part of the Bill or in this proposition. If she reads Hansard, she will see that that is what she has told the Committee this evening. What I am saying is that that is her view, but many people in the teaching profession feel that it is a highly controversial proposition and have made very strong representations to other noble Lords about it. That illustrates the degree to which the Government, in isolation and in contact with their own bureaucrats, somehow form decisions about what is controversial and what is not but do not recognise that other people have views about what is controversial and what is not.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord that we know there are anxieties about the whole system of the national curriculum, assessment and testing. I said that there is no contention about this issue—or rather, that no contention has been registered with the department. We have had a great deal of contact with teachers—and, indeed, with teacher unions—but this is not a particular issue that has arisen in their anxieties about testing. There needs to be auditing. Local authorities exercise their own version of auditing because they want consistency across their authority. They have informal systems to ensure that there is a consistency of approach to the marking of scripts, and teachers have accepted that. There is only a dipstick approach to making sure that that consistency is robust, stands up to public scrutiny and ensures confidence in the system for parents.

Lord Dormand of Easington

The Minister said that there is nothing new in this—I do not think that she will dispute that those were her words—with the implication, "What are we all getting worried about?". I am glad that the Minister is shaking her head; but she said there is nothing new. The provisions mean that the auditor will have statutory powers to enter the premises of a school, to stand behind a teacher while the testing on SATs is taking place and to take away any material that he chooses. Can the noble Baroness tell me of any other instance where that is allowed to take place?

Baroness Blatch

What I can say to the noble Lord is that it is nothing new: that right was provided in the 1988 Act. Ever since the tests have been implemented, there has been that right to go in. There was some element of doubt about whether the 1988 Act covered all of this, and subsection (4) of Clause 227 is to put beyond any doubt the Secretary of State's power to put this arrangement in place. This has been going on since 1988 and verification processes have been taking place. If there has been a great deal of protest to noble Lords, noble Lords might, over the years, have done us the courtesy of passing those complaints on to the department.

Lord Judd

In conclusion, we must take seriously the Minister's observations that there have been no representations to her and her officials on the issue. I put it to her in all seriousness that if I were in her shoes I should be most worried by that. It suggests that many sincere, genuine and dedicated members of the teaching profession, because they believe that when they have strong views they are never listened to, are now so exasperated that they have given up trying to communicate. The point I am making is that they are communicating most strongly to the rest of us and we are left in no doubt about the situation.

All Members of the Committee are agreed about standards and we wish to have comparable standards across the country. We are saying that that can be achieved with a responsible profession on the basis of partnership and by inviting teachers to contribute to the issue of how that can best be done rather than the policing in the impersonal way suggested by the clause. The other issue which has not been established by the Minister tonight—it just has not been established—is why all the new draconian powers are necessary. The powers already exist; the Minister has the power to send in inspectors. Inspectors have the qualifications and the knowledge to make informed judgments about standards. Why the necessity for all the new powers? Why suddenly is all this required? That has not been established.

I feel most strongly about the issue but the tone of the Minister's response, not only the words with which we are dealing, indicates that it is a major strategic dimension to the Bill and we must find more strategic ways of tackling it.

Baroness Seear

I wish to clarify one point and I am searching for genuine information. Many of us who have been involved in the marking world are entirely familiar with the idea of the external examiner. We all accept external examining; one must have that. What is the difference between what we are being offered here and the external examiner, who has existed for years? They are not always consistent; one changes external examiners and all kinds of things change with them. But that is another issue which we cannot go into tonight. Cannot the exercise be carried out in the kind of way that an external examiner would do so? It is not necessary to stand behind people and grab their papers, or whatever it was we were being told they had the power to do, in order to carry out the job. What is the difference? I really want to get at the answer.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Baroness was referring to the involvement of an external examiner. There children take the tests in school and they are then whisked away to be externally marked. External examiners are concerned with consistency of marking at a distance. We are talking predominantly about a system which is marked in school by the teachers. Contrary to what we are led to believe by the newspapers, seven year-olds are tested by teachers over a long period of 10 or 12 weeks. There is nothing draconian about that. Teachers do not stand with the sword of Damocles hanging over them. The examiners work alongside teachers and watch and observe how the teachers are assessing young people in schools. They comment upon whether the marking of those children in those schools is consistent with the standard of marking across an area in order that we achieve greater consistency. They behave in a sensitive way. They are fellow professionals who themselves are in a classroom doing the same job. As regards the noble Baroness's question, the difference is that we are talking about marking, which is predominantly done in schools by teachers, and ensuring that there is a consistency of approach to marking.

Lord Judd

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 262C: Page 137, line 27, after ("order,") insert: ("— (a) after subsection (1) there is inserted— (1A) In exercising his functions under paragraph (b) of subsection (1) above, the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of the National Curriculum occupying not more than 70 per cent. of the time (in each key stage) which in his opinion is generally available in schools for the delivery of the curriculum mentioned in section 1 above. (1B) Subsection (1A) above does not prejudice the generality of subsection (1) above. (b)").

The noble Lord said: The amendment would insert an additional provision into Section 4 of the 1988 Act; it is the duty to establish a national curriculum by order. The existing provisions require the Secretary of State: to establish a complete National Curriculum as soon as is reasonably practicable … and … to revise that Curriculum whenever he considers it necessary or expedient to do so".

The intention of the amendment is to lead the Secretary of State towards revising the subject-based national curriculum, a process which is already in hand, so that it occupies not more than about 70 per cent. of school time. The remaining time will be used for religious education which is required—although not part of the national curriculum—and for the purposes of providing the Section 1 curriculum: a balanced and broadly-based curriculum which, first, promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society and, secondly, prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.

We believe that school time should be given to achieving all those aims. The current statutory provisions are given in Sections 1 to 4 of the 1988 Act for a balanced and broadly-based curriculum which includes a basic curriculum. That includes both religious education and, for pupils aged 5 to 16, the national curriculum.

The national curriculum comprises attainment targets, programmes of study and assessment arrangements for a list of 10 subjects or, with Welsh, 11 in Wales. It is split by age groups into four key stages. The attainment targets and programmes of study have been devised subject by subject on the advice of NCC and the assessment arrangements have been devised on the advice of SEAC. All are enforced by statutory orders.

A wide consensus has emerged that the statutory orders are over-detailed, over-prescriptive and have led to an unmanageable situation. Indeed, Sir Ron Dearing has now been appointed chairman designate of the SCAA and is chairman meanwhile of both the NCC and SEAC. In that capacity he was asked by the Secretary of State only last month as a first priority to map out a strategy to simplify the current framework so as to remove needless over-elaboration and over-prescription.

Nevertheless, in spite of that, no clear ceiling has been set for the overall size of the national curriculum and its assessment arrangements. The Government have repeatedly declined to address that problem. That is what the amendment aims to deal with.

The Government's original proposals in July 1987 in The National Curriculum 5–16; A consultation document made these two points: the foundation subjects commonly take up 80–90 per cent. of the curriculum in schools where there is good practice", but also included is an illustrative table of allocations of curriculum time for key stage 4 showing 75 per cent. to 85 per cent. of time allocated to foundation subjects, with another 10 per cent. identified as being available for, at that time, GCSE subjects.

During the Committee stage of the Education Reform Bill on 17th December 1987 the then Minister of State, Angela Rumbold, said: During the consultation period we discussed how to achieve what is required in the core and foundation subjects within a given time and whether the time allocated to them should be 60 per cent. during the primary school years, and 80 per cent. during secondary school years. Our view is that it should be possible for all the core and foundation subjects at secondary school level in most, or at least in many, cases to be contained within about 70 per cent. of the school curriculum time. We feel that there is sufficient time outside that allocation to core and foundation subjects for schools to allow children to study other important aspects within the curriculum. We are anxious to preserve a balance and breadth of the curriculum that has been part and parcel of the thinking that led to our introduction of a national curriculum".

The amendment suggests 70 per cent. as the appropriate limit for statutory prescription in each key stage. The figure of 70 per cent. in the amendment is intended to introduce a broad sense of proportion into the statutory arrangements. Of course a case could be made for other figures, higher and lower, but our principal long-term anxiety is that breadth and balance of the curriculum are driven out by an over-elaborate and over-extensive national curriculum.

The amendment has been drafted to allow elements of discretion and flexibility around the 70 per cent. figure. The Secretary of State would not be bound absolutely by it but would have to have regard to the desirability of that figure. There are also variations between schools in the length of the school day. Therefore, the amendment is drafted to take account of the time which in his opinion is generally available.

It should be remembered that quite a large proportion of teachers' work occurs out of school hours—for example, in preparation and marking—so the time constraints of the school day are not the only factor. But, as things stand, it is absolutely clear that under the statutory arrangements the teachers' workload in and out of school hours is excessive. The assessment arrangements of the national curriculum should be urgently cut back, as revisions of subject orders will properly take longer to complete.

It is quite clear to me—and, I believe, to many others—that the Minister's response to the amendment will be studied very carefully outside the Chamber. We very much hope that the Minister will take the opportunity of stating clearly the Government's intention of cutting back statutory prescription so as to occupy less time in total and in proportion within the school day and that she will state when such reductions will first take effect in schools. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Lord Addington

The amendment now before the Committee is an important one, not only because it states that not more than 70 per cent. shall be prescribed, but also because it says that 30 per cent. shall not be. It allows for a degree of flexibility which is not controlled from the centre. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, we are trying to introduce a bench-mark of flexibility where the national curriculum does not try to strangle other innovations outside the curriculum.

My name is attached to the amendment because I think that it is a constructive suggestion. It would stop the national curriculum becoming too tight and too constrictive on the general process of education so that it would end up working against itself.

Lord Skidelsky

I have much sympathy for the intention behind the amendment which of course is to allow some room on the timetable for non-prescribed activities. I believe that that is absolutely right. However, I wonder whether this is the time and place to do so in such a Bill which has statutory force. I also wonder whether there is any sufficiently thought-out virtue as regards the figure of 70 per cent.

I think that we would probably need to make a distinction between the requirements of a primary school curriculum and those of a secondary school. Already, between the ages of 14 and 16, there is 15 per cent. of non-prescribed time. It is possible that we should have different times prescribed in primary and secondary education. In any case, I have no doubt—although I am not privy to the matter—that one of the outcomes of the review will be to suggest such changes. I do not think that we should in any way pre-empt what that review is most likely to advise.

Baroness Blatch

I certainly wish to respond to what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said. However, I also want to respond to the amendment constructively and in the spirit reflecting the concern that I believe underlies the amendment. It is highly desirable that the national curriculum should not be all embracing and should leave time and space for other activities. The question is how we achieve that and whether something goes on the face of the Bill; for example a specific figure. It is worth saying that some children at the lower end of the ability stream may take a good deal of time on national curriculum subjects both to acquire and consolidate basic skills, while other children at the top end of the ability stream may not need anything like that amount of time to cover national curriculum requirements and can then move on to other activities. It is a matter which must be left to the professionals and to professional judgment.

I should like to echo a point made by my noble friend Lord Skidelsky. I believe that it would be inadvisable at this point to pre-empt the work of the review of Sir Ron Dearing. It is almost those kinds of issues that will be addressed by the review. I am grateful in any case to have this opportunity to debate manageability because I know that is very much a current issue. I know there is current concern,about the manageability of the national curriculum. I recognise that the implementation of the national curriculum has imposed great demands on teachers and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to their efforts in rising to what has been an incredible challenge. Through their hard work much of the national curriculum is in place in terms of the subjects being taught, and we can, from their experience of it, turn our attention to ensuring it is as manageable as possible as it comes together as a whole. The time it takes up, which this amendment addresses, is of principal importance in that debate.

This is an important issue but it is also complex. The extent to which the national curriculum is manageable for schools involves an inter-relationship between the time available in schools; how best to use that time; teaching methods, curriculum organisation and school planning; and the tension between teaching required content and developing pupils' depth of understanding.

We are aware of the importance of the issue and we have acted. Scope for slimming down the curriculum is one of the issues which Sir Ron Dearing will be addressing in his review. He will review the overall structure and weight of the national curriculum orders in order to ensure that there is sufficient time in the teaching day to provide a properly balanced curriculum. He will consult with teachers. Only today he met a large number of teachers in the London area and he has already written to 1,000 schools to invite their comments on how these issues might be addressed. The intention is that the review should build on classroom experience.

We have already addressed the manageability of science and maths in the national curriculum. We have offered primary school teachers the advice of the National Curriculum Council and Ofsted on the manageability of the primary curriculum and on teaching methods and curriculum organisation associated with efficient provision. The NCC itself has recently published further guidance to primary schools on curriculum planning at key stage 2.

I cannot accept the amendment as I believe it is restrictive and I believe it pre-empts the work of Sir Ron Dearing and his council. First, as I have said, it would prejudge Sir Ron Dearing's independent review. We want his advice on the issue before moving further.

Secondly, this issue is, as I have shown, rather more complex than simply putting a percentage figure in law. I understand the noble Lord's concern that the national curriculum should be part, rather than the whole, of the curriculum in schools and that the curriculum should not be over-prescriptive. We are addressing these issues through the current review. This is an important issue, but one on which this specific requirement in law would be over-simplistic.

Ofsted found that pupils were, on the whole, well able to tackle the work of the national curriculum. The question is not whether the content of the national curriculum should amount to 70 per cent. or 90 per cent. but rather whether the content is both sufficient to provide children with the knowledge they need as they grow to adulthood and at the same time not so much as to prevent children developing depth of understanding as opposed to superficial learning.

This Government have made changes to streamline the tests for seven year-olds last year and this. As I have said, Sir Ron Dearing's review is looking at ways of ensuring that assessment arrangements remain manageable for all key stages. It is undesirable—and impractical—to set a limiting time-scale for the process of end of key stage assessments. We recognise that as pupils approach the end of their compulsory schooling and face the choices they will make at 16, the curriculum needs to be flexible enough to allow them to approach these choices confidently while retaining the necessary breadth. We have made important changes to the national curriculum at key stage 4 by removing art and music from the compulsory curriculum, making history and geography alternatives and offering short course options in technology and a modern foreign language. I believe this framework provides optimum choice at an age where I recognise choice and flexibility to be particularly important.

I also agree that there is an important role for subjects outside the national curriculum. It is our aim to see that the demands of the national curriculum continue to allow the study of other subjects, for example, Latin, a second foreign language, home economics and other non-compulsory subjects where schools can offer those subjects as discrete subjects and pupils are keen to study them.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, is in the Chamber. She will remember with great pleasure our visit to St. Bede's School in Cambridge. That school had introduced the most innovative approach not only to teaching the national curriculum but also to introducing non-national curriculum subjects. It was achieving that flexibility with great success even under the present system. The issues that were discussed then have been followed up. I am meeting some of the members of staff of that school to discuss some of the issues that were not resolved on that day. A constant dialogue is going on. There is a constant attempt to address manageability and flexibility without losing rigour. For those reasons, I believe that we are close in terms of our aims with regard to the amendment, but the issue is whether we put something on the face of the Bill. I hope that the Committee will come down on the side of not putting something on the face of the Bill.

Lord Judd

I genuinely thank the Minister for that reply. It will come under close scrutiny in a most positive sense beyond this Chamber. I believe that it indicated positive signals of the opening of the Government's mind as to how this matter should be tackled. That is good news as the review starts. It is always a great privilege to hear sympathetic words from the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, when one is putting forward an argument because there are few of us in the Chamber with as much professional experience as he has to bring into deliberations of this kind. I am sure that we all admire, not for the first time in his political life, his demonstration of how, he is prepared to stand up for what he believes in.

Perhaps I may emphasise two points. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, the purpose of the amendment is not to be rigid but to establish benchmarks for judgment. The wording referred to the fact that: the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of the National Curriculum occupying not more than 70 per cent.". That is an indicative expression. But I am sure that the Minister will also agree that we should look at the national curriculum as a whole and that every one of us in this place tonight will take seriously the duty to promote: the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society", and will take seriously the need to prepare, such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life". I ask the Minister in her deliberations with colleagues and others in the months ahead as the review goes forward to bear in mind that among the less able—as the Minister put it—students there may be a need for more intensive work on what she regards as the core subjects, but the two principles that I have just read out are every bit as important for those less able children, and in some ways arguably more important, in giving them a chance on their own character and ability to participate fully in society. We must not lose sight of that fact.

In view of what the Minister has said, we must recognise that matters are a bit back to front, because the Bill is supposed to be set in the context for decades ahead, and as we are asked to handle the Bill, so a review is starting of a great deal of what will happen within the Bill's parameters. That is not a tidy way to approach the next century. However, that is what is happening, and in view of that, and the fact that we wish the review all possible success, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Stallard moved Amendment No. 263: Page 138, line 16, at end insert: ("( ) The reference to sex education in section 46 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 (sex education) shall include a reference to any related education given as part of the National Curriculum and accordingly in the said section 46 after the words "sex education" there shall be inserted the words "including any education about sexual matters given as part of the National Curriculum".").

The noble Lord said: I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 264 and 265 which relate to sex education. The purpose of Amendment No. 263 is to state clearly and beyond any shadow of doubt in primary legislation that all sex education within a school, including that under the national curriculum, must be done within the moral framework originally set out in Section 46 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986.

Amendment No. 264 establishes a new statutory right for parents to withdraw their children from sex education lessons. Amendment No. 265 puts a new onus on the schools to inform parents in writing about sex education lessons. Although the three amendments form a package designed to strengthen parental involvement in sex education, I stress that each amendment stands in its own right and can be accepted or rejected individually.

There are three aspects to my remarks. First, I wish to remind the Committee of the background to the issue. Secondly I shall comment on the new Government guidelines. I thank the Minister for sending me the guidelines a week ago. Thirdly, I wish to make a brief comment on each amendment.

Since raising the issue almost a year ago, I have been caricatured in some sections of the press and in correspondence as a religious fanatic, a narrow-minded zealot and someone totally out of touch with the real problems facing children today, especially with the challenge of sexually transmitted diseases including the HIV virus and AIDS. Most of those allegations have come from people who should know better. None the less, as well as being untrue such allegations make no contribution to the debate on this important issue.

I am a fervent believer in the importance of sex education including education about HIV and AIDS. I have never objected to the principle that such education should take place. I am concerned about how it is delivered, how parents are informed about it and the right of some parents to exercise their consciences in withdrawing children from such education. I have no desire to deny children the right to hear important information. I want children to hear it within the appropriate moral and spiritual framework and with the support of parents. Above all else, I look for a partnership between schools and parents on the issue.

I turn to the background of the amendments and to the debate on the subject on 1 1 th June last year. Clause 4 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 gave teachers, parents and governors certain rights regarding sex education in schools. The Act stated that sex education should be given in such a manner as to have regard to moral considerations and the value of family life. In the Act, governors were given the right to decide whether or not sex education should be taught in those schools and, if so, what form such education was to have. In the same Act, parents were given the right, subject to discretion of governors, to withdraw their children from any sex education to which they may object. Almost without exception those arrangements were working fairly satisfactorily until they were suddenly disturbed by the decision to include within the science part of the national curriculum—it is compulsory—education on HIV and AIDS, and other sexual matters. Suddenly education on some controversial issues was not optional but compulsory. At the same time evidence was accumulating that in some schools much was being justified under the broad heading of sex education that was causing deep concern to parents. The noble Baroness must have seen almost as many such examples as I have. The moral framework referred to in the 1986 Act had been abandoned in some lessons. The position was not helped by the department's guide to teachers on HIV/AIDS education which nowhere highlighted the need for a moral framework. We discussed that issue ip last year's debate.

Many of us believe that the Government have acted too quickly in expanding the scope of the science national curriculum without thinking through the consequences of the previous arrangements on sex education. One important example was that the government circular 11/87 had established the possibility of parents withdrawing their children from sex education lessons following discussions with governors. At a stroke that was removed in relation to some of the most sensitive aspects of sex education relating to the kind of sexual acts which might lead to the transmission of the HIV virus. Confusion reigned. I believe that we made some useful progress in the debate on 11 th June last year when the Minister clearly shared many of the anxieties that noble Lords had expressed. It was encouraging to learn that all sex education, wherever it came in the curriculum, was in the Government's view subject to the moral framework set out in the 1986 Act.

However, on other matters we made no progress. It seems that there was no room in the Government's thinking for some parents being able to exercise their conscience and being allowed to remove their children from certain lessons. We were told in effect that part of the arrangements under the 1986 Act applied to sex education under the science curriculum and part did not. We were told that the Government might consider looking again at circular 11/87 on the matter. Naturally I was disappointed, but I thought that the issue might subside, and that parents might be satisfied by the assurances from the Government. Perhaps we would be forced to accept the rather unsatisfactory position in which we were left. However, I have to say to the Government that the pressure has not gone away at all. It has got worse.

I have received many, many letters since that last debate, right up to this Bill and throughout it, on the issue. Parents and governors remain concerned and confused and I was urged to try to raise the issue again. With the opportunity of this Bill I felt it was right to do so. I was especially aware that when the Bill first appeared we still did not have any proposed new guidelines to replace circular 11/87 and to clear up some of the confusion.

I am encouraged that since my amendments were tabled, the Government have at last been prodded into producing new draft guidelines which the noble Baroness kindly sent me on 22nd April. But are these new guidelines sufficient? I have read them carefully and I must say that there was much that I agreed with and felt encouraged by in the guidelines. The department are to be congratulated for the strong emphasis given in the new draft circular to the moral framework in the context of sex education. The advice on that aspect is, for the most part, clear and helpful. But I do not believe that the guidelines go far enough. My concern is that it is obvious from this new circular that for the 11 to 14 year-olds, who are arguably the most important age group for sex education, virtually all education about sexual matters is now compulsory.

Reading the draft circular opened my eyes again to the fact that the science order is not just about AIDS, the HIV virus and sexually transmitted diseases—it goes wider. It is about education on a whole range of sexual matters, if we study the new circular. That is why I decided to change the wording of Amendment No. 263, to ensure that it covered all education about sexual matters under the national curriculum. That means that the governors' role, for instance, in relation to sex education for that group would become much more than just cosmetic, as it would under the provisions of the new circular.

Furthermore, the new guidelines do not even mention the possibility that pupils might be withdrawn from sex education lessons. I should have thought that at the very least the opportunity might have remained for lessons outside the national curriculum. But no, all references to the possibility of withdrawal have been removed and the discretionary right in a previous circular 11/87 no longer exists. In my view, that is a major gap in the guidelines, not least because some parents will request the withdrawal of their child and no advice is given to teachers and governors as to how to respond.

The guidelines duck the issue of parents being given an opportunity to exercise their conscience. The draft circular also includes many worthy words about consultation with parents. But my fear, based on a long experience of these voluntary arrangements, is that with the change to much sex education becoming compulsory, there is a danger of less rather than more consultation taking place. That is why one of my amendments addresses the issue of ensuring that parents are informed.

I should now like to turn briefly to the amendments themselves. I apologise for having taken so long to set the context, but I believe that it is an important issue and the Committee needs to be aware of the background. Amendment No. 263 would ensure that any education about sexual matters within the national curriculum is subject to the requirement of Section 46 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. That is: to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life".

I am aware that the noble Baroness said last June that that requirement applied. I have since had it repeated to me in a letter dated 20th March from the Prime Minister to whom I had previously written. We now have the same statement in the new guidelines. I feel, however, that this is such an important matter that we should have it stated in an Act of Parliament. Some people might think that that is being pedantic, but I simply point out that not all the provisions on sex in the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 apply to education within the national curriculum. For example, the requirements of Sections 18 and 19 of the Act, which give governors the option of not having sex education, clearly do not apply and have been overridden by requirements of the national curriculum. In effect, in my view the proposed guidelines represent a backward step rather than an improvement.

I therefore believe that this simple amendment establishes a very important principle. Since the Government and the noble Baroness, 4 the Government's spokesman in this Chamber, and the Prime Minister (in correspondence to me) all accept the sense of the amendment and the fact that the moral framework should exist, why do they not accept the amendment and save a lot of trouble? If they all agree, why will they not say it in writing on the face of the Bill? Why just leave it in guidelines which nobody might read or which may be totally missed? It ought to be in the Bill.

This amendment therefore seeks to establish that important principle; namely, that parents have a key role in the provision of sex education for their children. Amendment No. 264 introduces a new subsection to make sure that that happens.

Many parents would consider education on sexual matters an important part of their religious and moral views, and would see an equivalent between this new right and the existing statutory right of withdrawal from religious education. That will not be denied by people who understand how they think. While Amendment No. 264 creates an opportunity, I do not anticipate that many parents will seek to exercise it. I am essentially creating a backstop provision. Most parents are happy that their children should learn about aspects of sex education at school.

The right that I propose is most likely to be exercised in two circumstances: first, by the few parents who would prefer that all education on sexual matters should be provided within the home—that includes members of some religious groups such as the Brethren, who have campaigned so assiduously on this matter both inside and outside the House; secondly, the right might be exercised in circumstances where parents are unhappy about the kind of sex education being given and feel that the only option left following discussion with the school is to seek to have their children excused.

The Government may say that the new guidelines will ensure that such irresponsible sex education could never be given. My answer must be: "You can never say never". The evidence is that even with the 1986 Act emphasising the importance of a moral framework, many sex education lessons have been given which flouted that requirement and some right of conscience is necessary for parents. I believe that only the most concerned and responsible parents will seek to exercise that right, and they should be given it.

I am conscious, too, that the major argument which the Minister is about to trot out against the amendment is that it will create an undesirable precedent for opting out of a compulsory curriculum. I have to say that I am not impressed by arguments based on the idea of precedent. I think it is the favourite argument of civil servants and others to prevent something happening which has merit in its own right but which makes life a little awkward for them. A lot of people come into that category. I think that most people would accept that sex education necessarily trespasses into the area of personal morality and therefore of personal conscience. I seek to create a right of withdrawal by an amendment to an Act of Parliament. This is not some secondary piece of legislation or a Private Member's Bill that goes through unnoticed and gets forgotten about. This is a right in a primary piece of legislation. I suggest that it is important enough to be included; and that any other case proposing a right of withdrawal of pupils from the compulsory national curriculum would similarly have to be achieved through primary legislation. I totally accept that. Each case should be considered on its merits. I cannot envisage any other case that this Chamber or the other place would accept. I therefore suggest that this proposal should be considered on the grounds of whether it is sensible rather than whether it creates a precedent.

Finally, I turn to my Amendment No. 265, which puts a new responsibility on governing bodies to ensure that head teachers have established agreements whereby all parents of pupils in school will receive written notice seven days in advance of any sex education. The amendment goes to the heart of my view that sex education will be truly successful only if it results from a partnership between the school and parents. I want to encourage parents to take greater interest in the sex education of their children. I am a school governor, and I am afraid that with the best will in the world, whatever heady words are included in the new government guidelines about consultation with parents, as years go by it is easy for parents to become less and less involved in issues like this.

A discussion may take place at one stage, some materials may be looked at and a few lines included in the school prospectus or report to the annual meeting. But I do not believe that those actions are sufficient properly to inform parents. I want parents to know about sex education before the event so that they have the opportunity to discuss the matter with their children, and in the few cases where they have some worry about the approach that the school is taking, to talk it over with the school and with the head.

Surely the principle of involving parents and informing them ought not to be coming from me. I should have thought that it is entirely in line with the Government's stated philosophy, through charters, citizens' rights, parents' rights and the involvement of parents. It ought not to be me who is saying this. I ought to be listening to it. But I have to say it because in this particular case it is necessary.

I suppose that it could be argued that such a procedure would be too bureaucratic. I do not believe that it would, simply because schools already regularly send home a lot of information to parents about events happening in school or within the curriculum. The child quite frequently brings home a note asking permission to go on a school trip or take part in a sports event. Schools do not find it difficult to deal with such matters. Surely, in relation to such an important issue as sex education (which I would say is even more important than sports events or the next school fair) it would be simple enough to establish a new arrangement to ensure that parents were informed. At the beginning of term a single note setting out the proposals for sex education and the timing of lessons would suffice.

I apologise again to the Committee for taking so long to explain in detail the background to the amendments, but they are of crucial importance to many people. I also wanted to ensure that no one was in any doubt that the purpose of the amendments was not to sideline sex education but to increase its importance. It was to increase the involvement of parents while ensuring that those parents who have a genuine anxiety may be able to withdraw their children at an appropriate time. I urge the Committee to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Cox

I strongly support the amendments so comprehensively moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. In doing so, I should like to preface my brief contribution by emphasising that as a nurse I am intensely aware of the importance of educating young people about the significance of sexual activity, not only as it relates to moral and family values, but also as it relates to health and the risks of disease. The advent of AIDS has highlighted the need for health education to ensure that no young person is exposed unwittingly to risks.

I must also emphasise that here, as in so many aspects of educational policy, the need for legislation has been prompted by some unfortunate practices which have led to great disquiet among parents and the public. Therefore, while in an ideal world the advice given in the guidelines to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred might be sufficient to ensure good and acceptable practice in the classroom, some incidents in schools have given rise to widespread anxiety, making it desirable for the safeguards proposed in these amendments to appear in statute on the face of the Bill.

I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, in welcoming the recommendations in the guidelines produced by the DFE, especially the recommendation that matters pertaining to sex education should be taught in ways that take account of moral values and have regard for the values of family life. I also welcome the advice that schools should respect the needs and sensitivities of parents from certain religious and ethnic groups who may not be comfortable with public discussion of these complex and sensitive issues.

But there have been some serious disjunctions between the good policies recommended and the realities of life in the classroom. For example, there have been cases where offence has been caused by ways in which sex education has been taught. I think in particular of the Malachi Stone case in Gloucestershire as an example which has received publicity. In that instance a lesson was given by someone from Gloucestershire Royal Hospital's AIDS Department who began the class by writing on the blackboard words which I shall not repeat to the Committee unless requested. She then reportedly told the 16 year-olds about "fun" condoms, dispensed a supply of condoms, including mint flavoured varieties which a pupil was encouraged to taste, and divided the class into pairs so that they could practise putting condoms on each other's fingers. Prima facie, that might seem to be rather fun. It is perhaps a rather more fun way of promoting sex education than happened when I was at school. Apparently the whole lesson contained no reference whatever to any moral issues or to the value of practising sex within marriage. It appeared to promote sex as fun, to be practised on the basis of safety conferred by the use of condoms—an approach referred to as a "condom-based morality". In that context it actually ceases to be funny.

When one of the pupils and his parents complained, their complaint was dismissed because it was claimed that the lesson formed part of a series in which moral matters were addressed. But the overwhelming message of that lesson, as it appeared to the pupil, was an encouragement to promiscuity.

It was in response to similar concerns over amoral teaching of sex education and the associated explicit promotion of positive images of homosexuality that the 1986 Act provided for sex education to be made directly accountable to parents through the school's governing body. The Committee may remember that some of the examples of teaching materials used and recommended at the time of those debates were so extreme that they caused widespread offence; for example, the book, Jenny lives with Eric and Martin, which showed photographs of an eight-year old girl with her father and male lover in bed; or the book, The Milkman's on His Way, with explicit detailed accounts of sexual intercourse between a young man and his teenage boy lover—a book actually recommended by the ILEA.

It was that kind of teaching which the 1986 Act tried to circumvent by the provisions placing sex education under the control of governing bodies. But now, as the noble Lord pointed out, matters related to sex education can be addressed elsewhere in the curriculum, particularly under the aegis of AIDS education and especially in the science curriculum. That opens the possibility for a recurrence of similar teaching in other guises. Presumably many of the staff in post are still the same as those who were there a few years ago. Therefore to have provisions designed to prevent that kind of amoral, anti-family teaching limited to guidelines may be an inadequate safeguard and, surely, it is desirable to have them on the face of the Bill.

It is also desirable to build in the protection afforded by Amendments Nos. 264 and 265, although I would wish to make one stipulation. As I have said, I believe that it is essential that children are protected by health education so that they are aware of the dangers of promiscuity and of the risks of behaviour which exposes them to disease. There is a risk that if sex and health education, which should give them that necessary awareness, are left to parents who withdraw them from relevant lessons, those parents may not give them appropriate information. I should therefore like to see some guidance given to parents to ensure that they do educate their children appropriately in these sensitive, complex matters, which could be a matter of life and death for their children.

In conclusion, I believe that these amendments are extremely important, relating to issues of deep concern to parents of different religious faiths and of no faith, but who care deeply about moral concerns and the value of family life. Given the unfortunate experience of recent years, in which many parents have been deeply offended by some examples of ways in which sex and health education, especially relating to AIDS, have been addressed in some schools, I hope that my noble friend will look favourably on the amendment which proposes to put on the face of the Bill provisions currently recognised as desirable in the draft circular, and at the amendments designed to give parents rights to protect their children from what they regard as exposure to morally unacceptable educational experiences.

The Earl of Halsbury

I join with my noble friends in supporting these three amendments. The natural curiosity of the pubertal young will ensure that any sex education given in the classroom will circulate, uncensored, in the playground, where it will get mixed up with other sources of information, possibly much less desirable. We have all been pubertal youngsters at some time in our lives, and we know what curiosity is.

I want to paint a scenario where two parents—mother and father—ask to meet the person designated as responsible for their child's education. I suppose, for the purposes of the scenario, that they take an instant dislike to him or her and decide to overcome their embarrassment and embark on their child's sex education in the home, so as to immunise their child against the exposition that they attribute to the individual they distrust, justly or unjustly, rightly or wrongly, and which will circulate among other children as I have described. Are they to be denied this right? It is no use preaching that the family is the natural unit of a healthy society and then doing something calculated to undermine it. Sex is a delicate and sensitive subject. It is important that the family and the school should be pulling together in the same direction. When this is judged unlikely to be the case, is the family, represented by the parents, to have no rights at all? I say that it should.

I have just received a joint brief from two bodies called the National AIDS Trust and the Sex Education Forum. I extract from it, with respect to Amendment No. 263, comments which they say makes it unworkable. I quote: Aspects of sex education are now part of science". No, not all aspects. Sexual ethics are not part of science. The legal standing of minors and the protection given to people under age from molestation by their elders are not part of science. Sexual hygiene is part of medical science, but the current overemphasis on AIDS as the only affliction from which we suffer is being over done. There should be more reference to those historical diseases—syphilis, gonorrhea, genital herpes; in short, the pox—as part of the instruction in personal hygiene. The needle, not normal sex, is a major source of AIDS. Protection from that is part of personal hygiene and citizenship.

These amendments respect the rights of the family to go its own way, according to its own judgment. I join in moving them accordingly. If the noble Lord who heads the list, when he has listened to the noble Baroness's reply, chooses to divide the Committee, I shall follow him into the Division Lobby; otherwise, I shall respect his judgment.

Lord Kilmarnock

In introducing the amendments the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to the new draft circular issued by Mr. Forth, the junior Minister in charge of schools, which a number of us interested in this field have seen. The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, brought the circular into the debate. I am not at all sure that this is the appropriate moment to discuss and, in effect, vote on a draft circular which has just been issued. Although the Government's record on consultation has not been brilliant up to now, on this occasion they have given a perfectly reasonable deadline of mid-July for comments. I should have thought that the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have tabled the amendments would have wished to take part in that process to which they have been invited by the Government.

The technical aspects of the amendments have been explained very lucidly by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, so I shall not go into that in any detail. In effect, he requires, in Amendment No. 263, that any sex education given in the course of the national curriculum shall be subject to the same requirements as sex education in general; namely, that it be given in such a manner as to encourage people to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life, which is the basic requirement in Section 46 of the 1986 Act. But there are already hefty safeguards for this. That requirement is not only embedded in the 1986 Act in regard to sex education. On top of that there is the general requirement in Section 1(2) of the Education Reform Act 1988, which is stressed by Mr. Forth in his letter to me which I have in my hand, that the whole curriculum in maintained schools, (a) promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school", already quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, earlier, and of society; and (b) prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life". So the spiritual, moral and cultural requirements permeate the entire 1988 Act.

Furthermore, Curricular Guidance 5 on health education restates the Section 46 requirement to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life yet again, while key stage 3, attainment target 2, refers also to the need to have a responsible attitude towards sexual behaviour. I would have thought that any remaining doubts were addressed in the new draft circular.

I do not want to go into this in any detail because I do not believe that this is the appropriate place to debate it, in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, was suggesting that curricular questions should be deferred for the consultation which is going on in the National Curriculum Council. In the same way, this is not the appropriate forum in which to debate this circular in detail.

But I was amazed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, say that he thought it was a backward step. It seems to me to contain some quite draconian measures. I am sure that he has read with care Sections 3, 17, 24 and 27 which I am sure would have given to him and his noble friend a great deal of satisfaction.

There is one important point to make here from the outset. It may seem to be innocuous simply to repeat existing requirements. There is a sting in the tail to Amendment No. 263 which paves the way for Amendment No. 264. That amendment provides that a pupil may be excused entirely from receiving sex education. The twist here is that the definition of sex education, which is non-mandatory, has been extended by Amendment No. 263 to include, any education about sexual matters given as part of the National Curriculum". If this amendment is passed it could mean that a child may be excused part of a foundation subject of the national curriculum. It is therefore a back-door attack on a curriculum subject. There may be arguments for slimming down the national curriculum. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, ably advanced them, but I do not believe that they have been advanced by anyone as regards the inner core of maths, English and science. It certainly should not be done on a sidewind in an amendment on sex education.

As far as I know, there is no recent research which shows a request for withdrawal from sex education. The very large majority (95 per cent.) of parents want sex education in schools. This is obviously a matter which should be handled sensitively with parents. In fact, that is mentioned in the new draft circular. For example, Moslem parents might not want girls and boys to be taught sex education together. That is something which can be tackled at school level.

There is no evidence that early awareness leads to a life of more partners and greater promiscuity. In fact, the evidence goes the other way. I have been asked to say on behalf of my noble friend Lord Russell of Liverpool—one of the younger Members of your Lordships' House, with a young family—that he strongly supports that position; namely, that there is not any evidence that early awareness at an appropriate stage in education leads to any more permissive behaviour.

The final point is this. I believe that it was my noble friend Lord Halsbury who used the word "unworkable" in relation to one of the amendments. Certainly, Amendment No. 265 is simply unworkable. If sex education is taught on a cross-curricular basis, as recommended by the National Curriculum Council, it would be quite unrealistic to inform parents seven days in advance of each occasion on which some aspect of sex education might or might not crop up. Even if that could be worked out in advance it would impose the most unwelcome additional administrative burden on schools which could lead to a nightmare of bureaucracy. I am surprised that it has been advanced as a serious proposition at all.

Nobody doubts the great and abiding concern of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, about this matter. Indeed, he got the AIDS control legislation through this House. No one doubts his motivation. That has to be respected, but I must submit that this is not the right way to go about it. With a new circular freshly minted from the DFE before us and with an opportunity for all of us to comment by mid-July, this is not the moment to pass these amendments.

The Duke of Norfolk

I should like unequivocally to support the amendment moved by the noble. Lord, Lord Stallard. All three amendments are perfectly workable. I cannot agree with the previous speaker at all; I think that the last amendment will work perfectly well. I have received many letters on this subject, and I give the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, every possible support.

Lord Addington

I should like to encourage the Committee to reject the amendments for one very simple reason. They are a restriction on information and in this field information is the key. Nobody has ever convinced me that if one tells somebody that some sort of activity is dangerous, it encourages them to do it. We are not just talking about HIV and AIDS, which is an undercurrent that should not be ignored - indeed, it cannot be ignored - but also about unwanted pregnancies among the very young. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said that he thought that sex education would become jumbled up with schoolyard chatter. It has been my experience that if people are given accurate information, they do not listen to inaccurate information with anywhere near the same ready ear. I am afraid that we have to accept that one man's moral code is another man's draconian measure.

When it comes to considering what is the correct action, the Government Front Bench have proved to myself and to many other noble Lords that they are quite capable of making up their own minds and fighting their own corner. Indeed, that has been proved to us several times today. I suggest that the Government stick to their guns. AIDS has not spread quite as fast as many had feared and I think that the Government deserve a considerable amount of credit for the fact that they tackled the problem with information early and accurately and let people know what was going on. They have also borne in mind the fact that in our society sexuality has become part of our art form, literature and what is on television. We cannot avoid the fact that there is a certain amount of such information around. In my opinion, half-information is bad information. If we give people accurate information, they will be able to make their own judgments.

To those who are worried about moral guidance being subverted from our homes, I suggest that if parents who have so much more control over and opportunity to influence their children cannot convince them that the moral code that they are giving them is the correct one, no amount of information provided from other sources stands any realistic chance of having any great effect. That is the case. The first requirement for converting people to another point of view is that they are dissatisfied with the one that they already have. Bearing that in mind, I recommend that the Government and the Committee resist the amendment.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he could explain to the Committee on the subject of information how it is that, despite the amount of information that has been given out about smoking and the fact that everybody knows that it is bad for you, so many youngsters try smoking.

Lord Addington

If the noble Lord wants to go off the subject of the amendment for a short while, the answer to his question is that I am not sure but at least they know that it is bad for them. We are not telling young people to stop having sex for all time; we are just telling them to take the correct precautions.

Baroness Elles

On the question of information, surely the fact is that when children are informed and learn at school, they imbibe knowledge for the future. But information on the kind of sex education that is being given in schools today is not just information; it encourages them to act on it. It affects their moral outlook, their moral behaviour and their conduct in general. It is not just information. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and my noble friend Lady Cox and we know exactly the kind of thing that is being taught in schools under the heading "sex education". It is not just information; it is an encouragement to promiscuity.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, rightly said that one man's moral code is another man's piece of rubbish, so to speak. But some people believe that there is a moral code which children should be brought up to observe. If they are taught the kind of sex education of which we are being given examples, that will undermine and deny the moral code in which some of us—perhaps we should call ourselves a minority—certainly Christians and many leading religions in this country, believe. The provisions in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, should be supported by the Committee.

We do not want to see obligatory teaching of such matters within the national curriculum. If parents want their children to receive sex education such as that being taught in schools it is up to the them to choose it. I am a grandmother and I am sure that there are parents and grandparents in the Committee who have managed to live a perfectly normal life without such sex education. I am sure, too, that others do not want their grandchildren and children to receive that information which is being given in schools. It is the kind of literature which 20 years ago would have been considered obscene and pornographic but it is now taken for granted. I strongly support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will feel strongly supported by a majority of the Committee in taking the line proposed in the amendments.

The Earl of Perth

I support the amendments. In my judgment they all hang together, although it may be necessary to change some of the words in one of them. I give the Government full credit for wanting to tackle the matter in the most sympathetic and earnest way. However, a more general consideration is embodied in the three amendments to which we should give serious thought. While sex education is essential today, and while it must be directed at disease and abuse, it is wrong that it should be the main responsibility of the Government as opposed to the parents.

Many parents may not wish to have the responsibility of so informing their children. That is fine but what do the amendments lay down? They lay down that the parents should be informed that that is what the school will teach. Then they provide that the parents shall have an opportunity in writing—and I stress "in writing"—of refusing and requesting that they do so themselves. That is where I believe there could be a slight change in the wording. The right people to undertake this most delicate task—I almost say "sacred" task—are the parents in the first instance, if they so wish.

Amendment No 264 goes on to provide: until the request is withdrawn". I understand that the Government wish to be satisfied that the child has been properly educated. Indeed, in saying to the parents, "We leave it to you", they must write stating specifically what must be covered. I recognise that there is a duty on the Government and on the parents. However, if the parents wish to undertake the task, and if they take the trouble to write, they are shown to be responsible people who should be encouraged. Let them do that.

We have all heard a great deal recently about the people's charter and how, under that charter, the people are to be given certain rights and the Government will intervene only as a last resort. I beg the Minister and the Government to recognise that the effect of the amendments is precisely to have the Government leave the matter to the people, except to ensure that something is done in relation to sex education. I very hope much that, if the Government cannot accept the amendments as they stand, they will at least give an undertaking that they will look at them again and accept them in principle.

11 p.m.

Lord Eatwell

I rise to oppose the amendments. I oppose them because I support most strongly the proposition that education about HIV and AIDS should be a compulsory part of the national curriculum.

In doing that, I declare two interests. First, I am chairman of Crusaid, the national fund raising charity which cares for men, women and children affected by HIV and AIDS. I spend a good deal of my time trying to alleviate the hardship, misery and despair which are the results of HIV infection and AIDS.

Secondly, as a parent I am concerned that my children should live in a society in which everyone is fully informed as to the character and dangers of that invariably fatal infection.

Awareness of and concern for the dangers of HIV and AIDS have been seriously undermined in the past week by irresponsible interpretations of the announcements by the Secretary of State for Health concerning changes to the structure of HIV and AIDS funding. For example, irresponsible reporting has suggested that HIV is a threat only to minority groups and that the fact that the epidemic has not reached the levels that were feared eight years ago somehow proves that the problem can be downgraded and that the need for universal education has passed or, perhaps, never existed at all.

We have heard some suggestions of such arguments this evening. I wish to make four brief points. First, HIV infection kills. It kills with certainty and it kills the young. Those characteristics distinguish the virus from almost all other viruses prevalent in the British population. Fortunately HIV infection is also preventable.

Secondly, as to the spread of the disease into the heterosexual population, I can but quote the figures given by Dr. Robert Kendell, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, in a speech delivered in Edinburgh last Tuesday, a speech which I heard. Dr. Kendell pointed out that there was a confusion in the reporting of Mrs. Bottomley's speech between the proportion of heterosexual infections in the total of infections so far recorded and the number of new infections which can be attributed to heterosexual activity.

Dr. Kendell reported that if we focus on new infections, the proportion of new infections in the Lothian region arising from heterosexual activity was in the past year 42 per cent. I have obtained similar figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland from the Public Health Laboratory Service. Excluding all infections associated with drug use, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, in 1985 2 per cent. of all new infections were heterosexual. For 1992, the figure is 28 per cent. Therefore, the idea that HIV infection is confined to homosexuals and drug users is simply and dangerously wrong.

Thirdly, as Mrs. Bottomley pointed out, the level of HIV infection in Britain is about 20,000 known cases. To some degree that is a measure of the success of the AIDS awareness campaign. It is folly to lower our guard now. That is to invite the growth of the infection which has been limited up to now.

Let us also remember that in other European countries in which campaigning has been less widespread and less well funded and where educational efforts have been less thorough, the HIV infection is much higher—there being about 120,000 reported infections in France, 120,000 in Italy and 100,000 in Spain. Not only do those figures suggest that the British campaign has been important; they also emphasise the need for the education of our children, for in which countries do so many of our children spend their holidays?

Finally, HIV infection is a social issue, not a family issue. It is not something which can be left to the responsibility of individual parents, since one family's decision—for example, not to educate its children in the dangers of HIV infection—may have severe, indeed fatal, implications for other families. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who suggested that those families who wished to withdraw their children from sex education may be those who are most responsible: they may well be those who are most frightened and ignorant. Ignorance can be truly fatal. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, so accurately stated, that is why it is society's responsibility to ensure that no one is ignorant.

On those grounds, it is essential that all children in the 11 to 14 age group should be educated in the facts about HIV and AIDS, about the transmission of the disease and about the steps which may be taken to prevent transmission. It is not an attack on family life; it is a defence of life itself. It would be thoroughly irresponsible for us not to educate all our children in those facts. I urge the Government to reject the amendment.

Lord Renton

I listened to the noble Lord with great interest and attention, but, before he sits down, I wonder whether he can explain how it is that since sex education in this country became the norm, teenage pregnancies and one-parent families have become so much more frequent.

Lord Eatwell

The noble Lord would have to look to a wide variety of changes in society and not just identify the characteristics of education as being the only key. After all, if he studies other European countries where sex education is less thorough than it is in this country, he will find that the rise in teenage pregnancies follows a similar pattern.

Lord Ashbourne

I welcome the amendments which reflect some important points of principle. They do not suggest in any way that sex education or education about AIDS and HIV is unimportant; on the contrary, such education is important and the amendments do not destruct the statutory responsibility to provide teaching within the national curriculum about AIDS and HIV.

The amendments are designed to give parents an increased role in the area and to ensure that they are aware of what is going on at school. They would facilitate further discussion between parents and teachers about those important matters. It is unlikely that many parents would seek to exercise the opportunity to withdraw their children from such lessons, but it is important that such provision is available.

Members of the Committee will be aware that, in some cases, we are talking about young and impressionable children. The amendments would help to ensure that such matters were dealt with sensitively. I understand that the new draft guidelines from the department do not allow governors discretion to withdraw a child from sex education at the parents' request. Therefore, the amendments are now more crucial than ever.

Having said that, I believe that the real answer for dealing with AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases is for the Government to take their courage in both hands and tell citizens that, if they want to avoid those diseases, they should be chaste before marriage and faithful within it. I commend the amendments to the Committee.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

I wish to oppose these amendments and—it may perhaps surprise the Committee—urge the Government to stick by their guns as regards these amendments. Other speakers have mentioned that. Recently I spoke on the same platform as Mr. Forth when the draft circular was introduced at a conference held last Saturday organised jointly by the Wellcome Trust, the Association for Science Education and the BMA. That conference was organised to consider the terms of the new draft and the way forward on sex education in general in this country.

The conference was designed for and aimed at teachers. None of the people in that conference room bore any relation to any of the caricatures—I must say they have been caricatures—of the people who provide the type of teaching which has been described here tonight. They comprised a group of responsible people who were concerned for the welfare of their pupils. I was delighted to join with Mr Forth in talking about the partnership which was needed between the professionals in that room and parents. As has also been mentioned here tonight, over 90 per cent. of parents in this country would like to see sex education conducted in schools.

I wish to mention the National Aids Trust which has been mentioned in a somewhat pejorative fashion tonight. In my experience as director of that trust I have worked with young people in schools throughout this country on a project entitled Living for Tomorrow. That project asked young people what they themselves thought about the sex education which they received in schools. Of course some of that specifically referred to HIV and AIDS and on those points I shall not repeat what my noble friend Lord Eatwell has already said with which I absolutely concur.

These young people were being asked whether they were satisfied with the type of sex education which they had received during their progress through school. Most of them said they were not satisfied. Most of them felt they had simply been given information and that they had not been allowed to discuss matters in broad terms. That matter has been mentioned tonight. There is no question but that a proper sexual health education includes discussion of relationships and of all the matters contained in the draft circular. I hope those matters will be appropriately interpreted when the circular comes into force.

But I have to say that the real underlying message from these young people was the sex education they were receiving was too little and too late. It was too late because although it may be somewhat disconcerting for the adult population, we know that 31 per cent. of young people today have already had sexual experience, more than half of them by the time they are 19. Before Members of the Committee who support these amendments say, "Ah ha, that just shows what we have been saying is true and that sex education encourages promiscuity", one must consider the position in some other countries. I would mention in this connection the question the noble Lord, Lord Renton, put to my noble friend Lord Eatwell. We need to look specifically at the experience of the Netherlands. In Holland, against a background that I think most Members of the Committee would regard as rather liberal in its sexual mores, a detailed, open sexual health education starts in primary school. That country has the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy in the industrial world. That compares favourably with our poor record in this country of the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe. The conclusions that can be drawn from that are obvious.

As my noble friend Lord Eatwell said in replyto the noble Lord, Lord Renton, if one looks at the comparative statistics on HIV and AIDS and at comparative sex education programmes, one finds that those countries in Europe which have had restrictive, inhibited sexual health programmes in schools have the higher rates of HIV and AIDS. As several speakers in the debate tonight have already said, we have a proud record in that context on which we should support the Government.

I have a further matter to mention in supporting my noble friends who have spoken against these amendments. We have to acknowledge that in this country today many young people have a sense of autonomy. They have a sense of their own understanding of what they want. Members of the Committee may regret some of the cases which have come before the courts where people who may be considered young children have asked for divorce from their foster parents or whatever it may be. It is frankly inappropriate in this day and age for us to assume that parents always know either what their children are doing or indeed what they want to do. In that instance it is inappropriate to say that parents can withdraw their children when that may be against those children's expressed wishes and needs.

I shall cite just one short example. When I was director of the National Aids Trust the head teacher of a London school asked me to talk to a group of girls who were doing a project on HIV and AIDS. I said that I would of course do so. The girls came to see me. Three of the girls were Moslems. Three of the girls explained to me privately that they had difficulty talking about those issues at home; but none the less they wished to be informed. They thought that it was their responsibility and choice that they should be so informed. I felt that it was worthy of them as young adults that they should make choices about themselves and their own lives. Today we cannot assume that parents know best.

11.15 p.m.

The Earl of Liverpool

I am aware of the lateness of the hour, and I do not wish to detain the Committee long. I hope that I can support the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, with the same admirable brevity as my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. I have enjoyed an alliance with the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. When he described the background, he talked about the first debate on the subject being on 11th June. However, we did have a Starred Question in my name on 5th March. He was kind enough to support me on that occasion. I supported him on 11th June, and I support him again tonight. I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider the amendments carefully.

I have had a great many letters of support for the amendment. One was from Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice which is under the patronage of Our Lady of Walsingham. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister recalls that about five years ago there was an interdenominational all-party pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham which I attended with her. We enjoyed that occasion. She now sits in an exalted position on the Front Bench while I am still on the Back Benches. I do not know what that tells me, but I hope that she will see whether she can have some sympathy with the amendments.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I have just had the unfortunate experience of catching the eye of—

Lord Graham of Edmonton

This side.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I am so sorry.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I support the three amendments so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Stallard. I hope sincerely that the Minister will feel able to support and, indeed, accept them. It is a great pity that she was unable to accept the amendments moved by my noble friend last June. That would have saved us a great deal of trouble tonight.

It is amazing that we have to try to instruct a Conservative Government in family views and to instruct not merely the Government but even some of my noble friends that the family still counts. There seems to be an idea abroad that parents should no longer be involved in decisions as to what their children should or should not be taught. Perhaps I may remind the Committee that in this country it is still the responsibility of parents properly to bring up their children with a due moral sense, and in the last analysis it is their responsibility to see that they are educated properly. I hope that the Minister will take cognisance of the views expressed by my noble friends and so many of her noble friends.

Let us not forget that my noble friend is not suggesting that there should be no sex education in schools; he is suggesting that parents should be involved in the type of sex education that is taught in schools. I should have thought that that was entirely reasonable.

We have been brought to this pass by the frightening claims made about AIDS and HIV over a long period of time. We have been told that there was to be a great epidemic. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Jay suggested that we might be on the brink of a black death. I have not heard people shouting, "Bring out your dead" yet. Those extravagant claims have been made. But now the Government have admitted—although some people do not apparently like the admission—that the long prophesied HIV and AIDS epidemic has not materialised in the way that was predicted. For example, Sir Donald Acheson, the Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, warned in 1990 that AIDS was spreading so rapidly among heterosexuals that anyone who had unprotected sex with a stranger should undergo an AIDS test. In the past 10 years there have been 5,000 deaths from AIDS but 150,000 deaths a year from cancer. That is the epidemic proportion about which we speak.

The number of deaths over the past 10 years has been 5,000, despite the fact that £880 million has been spent on the fight against AIDS in five years. That is as much as has been allocated to fighting cancer which kills 150,000 people a year. Indeed, five times as much is being spent on each AIDS case as on each mental patient and eight times as much as sufferers from terminal heart disease. It seems to me that we have been taken for a ride not only in relation to education but to public expenditure, too.

Baroness Elles

If the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, perhaps he will confirm that of the 5,000 regrettable deaths over the past 10 years only 62 involved heterosexuals.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Yes, indeed. Those are the figures that I have.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

Following that intervention, perhaps I may make two points. They may not necessarily be relevant to the conference, but I should be grateful if the noble Lord will direct me to the quotation in which I said that AIDS was equivalent to the black death.

Surely the point was made by my noble friend Lord Eatwell. Whatever the number of deaths, 28 per cent. of the current infections—I am sure that I do not need to explain to the Committee the difference between HIV infection and death from AIDS—are in the heterosexual community.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Those are figures brought out tonight. The meeting was only a week ago. Those figures have not surfaced yet. Bearing in mind some of the propaganda which has been spread about this disease, we need to examine those figures very carefully indeed. The noble Baroness asked for the quotation. It was from the Sunday Telegraph on 9th May. I shall read the article to her in full. It refers to Margaret Jay, former head of the National AIDS Trust, who stated in May 1989: I was one of the first TV programme makers here to treat AIDS as a mainstream political issue. There was no public awareness that if we did not act, we could be on the brink of a 21st-century black death". That is the quotation. If the noble Baroness disagrees with it, I am quite sure she will get in touch with the Sunday Telegraph to deny it. That is the quotation and I have no alternative but to believe it at this time.

In the schools, as we have heard, children are being taught a variety of information about the AIDS virus, how it spreads and the AIDS epidemic. I have one educational guide here which says: It is thought that about one in 10 people are homosexual or 'gay'". That is a downright lie, according to Dr Patrick Dixon, who is somewhat of an expert in these matters. He said at a meeting last month: One reason for revising estimates of HIV spread downwards in [the United Kingdom] is that the number of sexually active gay men has turned out to be much smaller than suggested by many—less than 21% [of the male population]". So we find that children in our schools are being taught that one in 10 males are homosexual and yet we have a medical expert saying that the number of homosexuals is less than 2 per cent. If we are to teach people about these matters in school, let us teach them the truth.

The fact is that there are many people worrying about the form that AIDS education and sex education generally takes in our schools. All my noble friend and I call for is to get parents involved in sex education and for them to have power over those who administer sex education in the schools, to the extent that if they are not satisfied, they may withdraw their children from the classes. I sincerely hope that the Committee will support the amendments if they are put to a vote.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I wish to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for attempting to speak before he did, as his name is on the amendment and it was the turn of his side to speak.

I wish to put the Committee at ease because I have now had the unpleasant experience of having my eye caught by my noble friend the Chief Whip no fewer than three times. I am sure he is right when he indicates through his glance that the sense of the Committee is that perhaps it is time to draw the debate to a conclusion. I shall therefore not trouble the Committee with some quite interesting and depressing examples from normal teaching manuals of sex education to children in primary schools. I feel that had I had the time to use them, they would have strengthened the case for the amendments which I wish to support. However, maybe I shall have the opportunity of doing that at a later stage in the Bill when I hope more time will allow it.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I feel that a debate on this subject would be incomplete if I did not attempt to say a word from these Benches. So knowing that the Chief Whip quite rightly wants us to get on, perhaps I may briefly say that I listened with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, who introduced the subject with great sensitivity and care. I fully respect that.

At the end of the day, I have to say that I cannot go along with the amendments and want to make one or two brief comments in that connection. I think that always when sex education is given, or when it is given in connection with HIV and AIDS, it must be given in a moral context. Not only that, but it is important that sexuality should be recognised as an enormous and great gift. It is part of our responsibility to use it in order to create and sustain fulfilling personal relationships. Unless it is seen in that context, we shall be leading people astray. That is important and needs continually to be underlined.

That leads me to say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that I do not for one moment stand by or attempt to defend some of the stories which she told about how sex education was given. It is important that teachers should be given considerable help and training. I do not think that just by their natural instincts or as a result of their training as teachers, they can handle such sensitive, delicate and complex issues.

Thirdly, I believe that we need to inject a sense of realism into the debate. We must—I return the Committee to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury—bear in mind the playground. Whatever may happen in the classroom, children learn the wrong things in the playground. It is no good trying to ignore that or thinking that by withdrawing people from classrooms one can keep them isolated and insulated from what is going on within their peer group. We have to be realistic and recognise that that is going on, as we also have to be realistic in recognising that there is such a thing as adolescent exploration. It will go on, whatever efforts we make. What we want to do is to give people the equipment, the knowledge and the advice to enable them to handle those situations.

In connection with the possibility of parents withdrawing their children, and thereby—

11.30 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I am most obliged to the right reverend Prelate for giving way. He said that it was desirable that sex education should be taught in the classroom rather than in the playground. Normally speaking, one would agree with him. But is he aware that the number of teenage pregnancies since 1986 has grown from 8.7 per thousand to 10 per thousand? The type of teaching given in the classroom does not appear to be effective in the way that he wants and I want.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I recognise that there is not necessarily a direct and immediate relationship between the education people are given and the action they take. We need nonetheless to give people the equipment in order to enable them to handle those situations and to make moral sense of their lives.

Finally, I should like to say a word about parents. We have to be careful about any idea that parents, by withdrawing their children from sex education and taking full responsibility upon themselves, may be landing themselves and their children in problems. I fully accept the responsibility that parents have for educating their own children in matters of sex, as in a great many other matters. But we need to be realistic and recognise that many adolescents do not find their parents the easiest people to talk to when it comes to matters of discovering their own sexuality. I feel that we have been in danger of overlooking that there have been a number of realisms, and those need to be brought back into consideration. The attitude that the Government have taken over the course of this whole matter and in recent debates seems to me to be one of total responsibility and realism. I fully support it.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

We on this side urge the Government not to accept, even in principle, these amendments. I should like to talk briefly about two features of the amendments which are of particular concern. First, they create practical difficulties in allowing a partial withdrawal. Even in the realms of religious education the choice is only between full attendance and full withdrawal. The second practical difficulty is the requirement for seven days' written notice which I would argue would be an administrative nightmare. Most sex education is part of a course: for example, in personal or social education or science, as a number of noble Lords have said. It would be wrong, I would contend, for a teacher not to follow a subject if it arose spontaneously—not to follow the arguments through in a science lesson, for example, just because a particular written notice had not been given.

Sex education is one of a number of areas within the curriculum where children will sometimes be taught something that conflicts with the values or beliefs of some parents. The best way of mitigating that conflict is through a dialogue at school level between parents, the head and governors. I believe that that is the current situation. I am not aware of any evidence that governing bodies generally have failed to make possible such a dialogue. Indeed, I have been involved in setting up such a dialogue during my time on various school governing bodies. But I wonder whether the DFE might make sure that such dialogues are taking place.

This has been a fascinating debate. Perhaps I may say that it has been by far the best debate of the afternoon. The noble Lord who summed up the arguments most effectively from my point of view was the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I could characterise his speech by saying that we are talking about making sure that children have the right information. There is no doubt at all that children will get information about sex. They will obtain it from a number of sources in our society. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, rightly said, if we make sure that they get the right information, they will be less interested in pursuing sources which give them the wrong or misleading information.

It was my noble friend Lord Eatwell who said, in a very powerful speech about the terrible problems of AIDS, that the regulations as they currently stand are not an attack on family life; indeed, they are a defence of life itself. Those are powerful words, but they convey the strength of feeling on this Front Bench of those who oppose these amendments.

In winding up the arguments, I cannot resist noting that some of the younger elements of this Chamber seemed to argue against the amendments while some of the older elements argued in favour of them. I wonder whether that is a reflection of the different and more open attitudes of people who have had quite a full education in sexual matters throughout their schooling. These days there is less prurience and more openness. That is something to be entirely welcomed.

I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendments.

Baroness Blatch

At the outset perhaps I could remind the Committee of what I was told a long time ago; namely, that people invariably hear what they want to hear. I want the Committee to know right from the start that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, say when he opened his presentation of the amendment that it was not that he did not want sex education taught at all in schools, but that he wanted it taught and brought under the provisions of the 1986 Act, thereby retaining the freedom of governors to determine whether and how sex education should be taught and that they should respect the wishes of adults who wanted to withdraw their children from it.

I do not take sides about the matter. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, say those words. But almost everyone who has spoken tonight against the amendments has accused the noble Lord of something quite different and of saying something that he did not say.

Lord Eatwell

Perhaps the noble Baroness will give way. It would help to have some clarity on this matter. I accept the argument that she makes. But is it not clear that, if it were the case that under the terms of the 1986 Act governors and parents could decide not to have sex education in schools, could decide the form of education or could withdraw children from sex education, the arguments of those who oppose the amendments would be entirely relevant?

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord misunderstands the point I made. My point concerns what I heard come from the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, when he introduced these amendments. He has been accused by a number of Members of the Committee of saying that he did not wish this subject to be taught in schools. My understanding is that he argued for it to be brought under the provisions of the 1986 Act. At the outset of speaking to this amendment, I want him to know that that is what I heard him say and what I believe he meant.

The Government are clear that all sex education should take place within a framework which encourages pupils to consider the moral dimension of their actions. They should recognise the value of family life and understand the importance of mutual respect. Indeed, that message is at the heart of a draft revised circular on sex education in schools which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State issued for consultation last month. It has already been referred to. Copies are available in your Lordships' Library and many Members of the Committee were personally sent copies by me. I cannot remember which Member of the Committee said it, but I should like to repeat the invitation for all noble Lords who feel strongly on the subject to make representations to my department as a result of that consultation exercise.

While, therefore, I sympathise entirely with the thinking behind Amendment No. 263, one of the purposes of the draft circular is to clarify some confusion, and I should like to take this opportunity also to explain the issue. The Education (No. 2) Act 1986 introduced two major requirements relating to sex education in schools. First, it specified that governing bodies should determine whether their school should offer sex education and, if they so decided, what its form and content should be. Secondly, the governors and others involved in providing sex education were also required to ensure that any such education was given in such a way as to encourage pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life. Those responsibilities and that clear moral framework remain in force, whether teaching sex education generally or HIV within the national curriculum science order.

Certain limited aspects of sex education are now included in the national curriculum. In respect both of those elements and of any other sex education a school may provide, all those responsible—governors, heads and teachers—must carry out their responsibilities in such a way as to bring home to young people the moral dimension and the prime importance of the family. We believe that that is a crucial safeguard of which all parents should be aware; and our draft revised circular seeks to help schools to understand clearly, and to implement, those legal duties.

The provisions of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 were therefore modified, but not entirely nullified, by the introduction of the national curriculum. To the extent that the science order includes certain requirements relating to sex education, governing bodies' discretion over the content of the curriculum is reduced. But the requirements to formulate and keep a written record of the school's policy, and to ensure that moral considerations are given due weight, apply to all aspects of sex education, whether or not they fall within the national curriculum. I hope that with that clarification the noble Lord will not think it necessary to press the amendment.

At the same time, I must accept that a tension and difficulty are created between the two Acts of Parliament; on the one hand, allowing the decision on the part of governors on a determination as to whether education should take place and, on the other hand, sex education within the 1988 Act being compulsory.

The Government fully recognise that sex education is a sensitive and often difficult issue for parents, and we fully understand the strength of feeling which exists about it. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has issued for consultation a draft revised circular which, among other things, firmly stresses that parents should be the key figures in helping their children to cope with the physical and emotional aspects of growing up and in preparing them for the challenges and responsibilities which sexual maturity brings. The teaching offered by schools should be complementary and supportive to the role of parents.

The law governing sex education incorporates important safeguards for parents. Their co-operation and support are essential if schools' policies on sex education are to be fully effective. Legislation provides several ways for parents to be involved and informed about this important aspect of their children's education and for schools to ensure that they give proper consideration to parents' and local community views. It might be helpful if I spell those out in more detail.

As I have already explained, in accordance with the provisions of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, the governing bodies of all county and controlled schools must draw up, and keep under review, a written statement of their policy on sex education. And under Section 46 of that Act, governing bodies and head teachers are required to ensure that any sex education which schools provide—whether or not it is required as part of the national curriculum—should be given in such a manner as to encourage pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life. All parents have the right to see the governing body's statement and, if they wish, raise the issue with governors at the annual meeting which every governing body must hold in order to allow parents to discuss the way in which they are discharging their duties. In addition, the department's current Circular 11/87 emphasises the need for schools to involve parents as fully as possible in the formulation of policies on sex education. And my right honourable friend's draft revised circular re-emphasises and reinforces that point, in particular making clear that governors should consider issuing to parents an invitation to raise at the annual meeting any concerns they may have about the school's approach to sex education.

If parents are unhappy with what is being taught or the form in which it is being taught, they have the right to take up their anxieties with the head teacher and the governors, and in the event that they fail to obtain satisfaction, they may pursue the matter through the complaints procedures established under Section 23 of the Education Reform Act 1988.

There has of course been a long-standing right under the Education Acts for parents to withdraw their children from religious education and collective worship in maintained schools. However, there has never been any right of withdrawal relating to the secular curriculum: pupils may not be withdrawn from the teaching of any aspects of sex education provided by their school, whether or not these are required by the national curriculum.

We are being confused by not the right of withdrawal but the governors' freedom to accept the preference that a child should be withdrawn. Under the 1986 Act governors were empowered to allow a child to be withdrawn. We took the view that to concede a right of withdrawal from lessons would work against the interests of securing an effective, broad education for every child. And to require schools to give parents seven days' notice of any sex education to be provided would be difficult in practice.

Schools' programmes of sex education are often part of their wider programmes of personal and social or health education. Pupils need to feel that they can spontaneously raise difficult issues, such as those relating to aspects of sexual behaviour, in such classes and have them discussed and dealt with fully. A requirement to give notice could inhibit a teacher's capacity to respond sensitively and appropriately in such contexts and could work against the development of a trusting and thoughtful approach to such issues.

We believe that the existing legal framework gives parents opportunities to register their views; we would encourage them to make full use of these and to pursue with the head teacher or governors of their children's school any anxieties they might have about what is taught or the form in which it is to be taught. And schools have a duty to discuss both their policies and approaches to sex education with parents and to consider sympathetically and to respond to the anxieties and suggestions of individual parents.

Having said that, I also want to say, in defence of many people who have spoken in favour of the amendments, that I know—not just I believe or I have a feeling that—that some of the AIDS organisations—I say this to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay—have been responsible for making available to schools wholly inappropriate literature which I understand has been used in the classroom—and for some children at the young age of 11 years who are studying at the beginning of key stage 3. That is not defensible. But I am sad to say that if a complaint was pursued it would not be upheld because it is permitted under HIV education in the science curriculum. It would have been nice for those who have spoken against the amendments to have at least recognised that it is not hype or artificial evidence that has been given by some of my noble friends. It is heart-felt and real.

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I feel that I must respond to that. Everyone would acknowledge that some unsuitable material may have come from some sources but I would re-emphasise what I said earlier. The vast majority of teachers, the vast majority of people representing AIDS organisations and the vast majority of people representing the National Health Service and the Health Education Authority in this country have behaved very responsibly. That is precisely why we have a much lower rate of HIV and AIDS infection than some of us feared in the mid-1980s.

Lord Stallard

I shall not delay the Committee any longer than I have to. I thank all those who have spoken in the debate, particularly those who spoke in support of my amendments. I thank the noble Baroness for mentioning parts of my speech at the beginning of her speech. I accepted that people came with prepared speeches and did not even listen to my speech. That is one of the problems. They did not even hear me. Then they proceeded to put words into my mouth which I certainly did not say. I do not absolve anybody from that accusation because it went right through the debate. I do not like saying it, but I was a little disturbed when my noble friend on the Front Bench seemed to be putting a party political slant on the issue and speaking as though it were a party decision. I do not accept any party decision on my conscience. I never will and I never have. I have made a note of the words.

Lord Peston

Perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend for a moment. One is always respectful to Back-Benchers, but occasionally, Front-Benchers have the right to say what they think.

Lord Sefton of Garston

Yes, but not from the Dispatch Box.

Lord Peston

Yes, even from the Dispatch Box.

Lord Stallard

I will accept that if it is made clear at the beginning that they are speaking in a personal capacity, but that did not come through clearly on these Back Benches.

Lord Peston

We debated this matter on the assumption that we were speaking for ourselves.

Noble Lords


Lord Stoddard of Swindon

A chap just got the sack for making that assumption!

Lord Stallard

I understand the loyalty of my noble friend Lord Peston to his Front Bench friends. I insist that that is how it came across—and most of the Back-Benchers who were listening will verify what I am saying and that I do not say it for no reason at all. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to discuss with any Front Bench spokesman these amendments before tonight. Tonight was the first time I heard any of them speak about them, which is sad as far as I am concerned. I would not make it a political issue and I do not believe that anyone else did until that matter arose. I was very sad to hear it.

The noble Baroness just repeats that the 1986 Act and the guidelines are sufficient. It is my case that they are not. They have not proved to be sufficient. The new guidelines will not be carried out any better than the old ones. The strictures in those provisions have been ignored and they will be again. The three amendments which I have put forward should all be written into the Bill where everyone will understand them. There will be no dubiety at all and everyone, whether here or elsewhere, will be bound by the Act if it appears with these amendments in it.

I have no alternative but to ask for the opinion of the Committee on this matter.

1.52 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 263) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 27; Not-Contents,56.

Division No. 3
Ashbourne, L. Lyell, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Norfolk, D.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Northbourne, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Brentford, V. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Perth, E.
Cox, B. [Teller.] Renton, L.
Elles, B. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Faithfull, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Grantchester, L. Stallard, L. [Teller.]
Halsbury, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Strange, B.
Liverpool, E. Swansea, L.
Longford, E.
Addington, L. Lawrence, L.
Arran, E. Long, V.
Astor, V. Lucas, L.
Blatch, B. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Brigstocke, B. [Lord Chancellor.]
Brougham and Vaux, L. Marlesford, L.
Caithness, E. Perry of Southwark, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Peston, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Chichester, Bp. Prys-Davies, L.
Cranborne, V. Rea, L.
Cumberlege, B. Redesdale, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Rennell, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. St. Davids, V.
Eatwell, L. Seccombe, B.
Elis-Thomas, L. Seear, B.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Skidelsky, L.
Goschen, V. Slynn of Hadley, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stewartby, L.
Granard, E. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Guildford, Bp. [Teller.]
Hacking, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Trumpington, B.
Henley, L. Ullswater, V.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Vivian, L.
Howe, E. Wakeham, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Judd, L. Wynford, L.
Kilmarnock, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 227 agreed to.

Lord Stallard had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 264: After Clause 227, insert the following new clause: ("Child to be excused from sex education A child may be excused from receiving sex education at the request of his or her parents, and accordingly at the end of section 46 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 (sex education) there shall be inserted the following subsection— (2) If the parent of any registered pupil at a county, voluntary, special or grant-maintained school requests the head teacher of the school in writing that the pupil be excused, wholly or in part, from receiving sex education, the pupil shall be excused accordingly until the request is withdrawn." ").

The noble Lord said: After that vote, I should like to look again at the reply which was given. At this stage I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 264 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 265 not moved.]

Clause 228 [Procedure for making certain orders: Wales]:


Lord Prys-Davies moved Amendment No. 265A: Page 138, line 27, after ("concerned") insert ("including Cyd-Bwyllgor Addysg Cymru, the Welsh Joint Education Committee").

The noble Lord said: For the third time in the history of the Bill it is my pleasant duty to address the Committee at midnight. I am grateful to the authorities for having grouped the amendment with Amendments Nos. 277 and 278. We are grateful for small mercies. I shall speak briefly to Amendment No. 265A.

The Welsh Joint Education Committee—or to give it its Welsh name the Cyd-Bwyllgor Addysg Cymru—which is referred to in the amendment and in Amendment No. 278, is unique in the British education system. It was set up by the Education Act 1944 and its constitution was amended by statutory order in January 1974. Members of the Committee will appreciate the relevancy of the amendment when we come to discuss Amendment No. 278.

The Welsh Joint Education Committee has 118 members of whom 84 are county council representatives. The remaining 34 are members of the teaching profession. Among many other things, it is an examination body. It is true to say that it is mainly answerable to the Welsh local authorities but the members of its examination committee must be approved by the Welsh Secretary of State. That was brought about by the amendment to the constitution by an order passed in 1974. The relevancy of that is that if the original order can be amended once it can be amended twice.

As the WJEC is such an important body in Wales it should be entitled as of right to receive a notice under Clause 228. That refers to a notice of proposal affecting the foundation or core subjects. It is an important notice and in our view it is wrong to bring in the WJEC under the description of "any other person". It should be referred to specifically in the clause as proposed in the amendment. I hope that the noble Viscount will accept this small proposal.

I turn to the other four amendments which have been grouped with Amendment No. 265A. They deal with two important issues. First, all the function of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority relating to Wales should be the responsibility of a Welsh body. Secondly, it raises the question: which Welsh body should discharge those functions? Amendments Nos. 277B and 279A deal with the first issue and they are based on the same arguments. Amendments Nos. 278 and 279B deal with the second issue but point to different conclusions. Our preference is for the WJEC.

Clause 237 establishes a curriculum and assessment authority for Wales so that the inference to be drawn is that it will exercise in Wales the functions of the SCAA in England. We warmly welcome that development although, as I have indicated already, we should prefer the function to be discharged by the WJEC, as proposed in Amendment No. 278.

The Committee will recall that the functions of the SCAA run to over half a page of nine subsections but, on the other hand, Clause 237 is skeletal. The clause tells us precisely nothing about what functions, if any, will be transferred to the Welsh body or when they will be transferred.

Clause 237 states: The Secretary of State may by order transfer any function to the Welsh body, but we say that that decision should not be left to the Secretary of State. There should be a mandatory obligation on him to transfer all functions to the Welsh body.

We have been given a clue as to what functions may be transferred to the Welsh body, although the Bill is silent on that. According to the White Paper, the functions to be transferred to the Welsh body will be the curriculum and assessment for Welsh language and, I believe, Welsh medium subjects—but I should be grateful if the Minister will clarify that—at key stages I to 4 but only to stage 3 for all other subjects. Stage 4 is the responsibility of the English body.

There is a great deal of worry about the proposed separation of the assessment function at Key Stage 4. The Minister of State at the Welsh Office claims that parents in Wales must have comparability with parents in England, but I am not aware of single organisation which has asked for that comparability and we note that parents in Scotland and Northern Ireland are not asking for comparability in that respect.

There are three main grounds for concern about the proposed division. I shall summarise them. First, in every subject at all stages, there needs to be a close link between the assessment and curriculum development. But when the curriculum is the responsibility of the Welsh authority and the assessment the responsibility of the English authority, then clearly there is no such link.

Secondly, the case in Wales is much worsened because the Welsh examination body—the WJEC—will have to deal with two different bodies in agreeing the syllabus for GCSE and A-levels.

Thirdly, it has been put to me that the new body must be seen as the responsible body for curriculum and assessment appropriate to Wales. Otherwise, there is the risk that it may be sidelined.

Fortunately the Welsh Office is becoming concerned about the arrangements proposed in the White Paper for oversight and approval of external examinations in Wales at key stage 4 and beyond. The Welsh Office announced at the end of last month that it is reviewing the administrative arrangement and the timing of the transfers which would be necessary if all responsibility for all examinations based on the separate national curriculum orders for Wales, or indeed examinations offered by the WJEC, were to be transferred to the ACAC. We are very pleased that that homework is now being undertaken. It is good news.

I wonder what the noble Viscount can tell us about the review. In particular, can he say when it is likely to be completed and what are its precise terms of reference? It would also be helpful if the noble Viscount could tell us when the Welsh Office intends to appoint a chair to that Welsh authority so that he or she could be involved in the important review.

It is felt in Wales that what is wanted is one undivided authority with both curriculum and assessment responsibility over all subjects, starting at stage 1 and finally arriving at stage 4 and beyond. There is in Wales a central body which is well qualified to undertake curriculum, assessment and examination work; that is the Welsh Joint Education Committee to which I have already referred. That brings me to Amendment No. 278. My noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas has tabled that amendment. I believe that his views are identical to mine on the issue. I shall leave it to him to advance the main argument in support of it.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies for speaking to the group of amendments. It enables us, at this early hour of the morning, to debate the Government's proposals in relation to Welsh education, though I must point out that there seems to be less interest in the latter than there was earlier in sex education.

Under Clause 237, the Government's proposals are perhaps a variant of their proposals for the schools funding council. They give the Secretary of State the powers to make transfers as in this case or to establish an authority as in the earlier case without specifying how or when that is to happen. I am sure that the noble Viscount is one of those who would argue that that proves how much autonomy the Welsh Office has been given under the Bill. In other words, it is up to the Secretary of State to decide how those transfers take place. I can understand that argument.

However, I should like to say to the noble Viscount and to others who may share that view that it is preferable to indicate clearly either on the face of the Bill or at least in guidelines which may be published later, or perhaps in something that the noble Viscount may wish to say tonight, how the Welsh Office intends to proceed. It is not satisfactory to devise primary legislation in this place for England and Wales and then allow Welsh clauses to be somehow open ended whereby the Secretary of State at some stage—whoever may be the Secretary of State; we know who holds the post at present, but it may be a different person by the end of the summer—may make such decisions. That is the first point: the fact that we have yet again an open-ended Welsh clause in terms of timing and implementation.

My second point is one made very cogently by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies; namely, why is there a division in the numbers, functions, areas or key stages as we call them in the technical jargon of assessment? Why is it that only certain areas are transferred and others are not? I ask that because, as we look at the national curriculum, there are four subject areas which are identified in what is known as y cwricwlwm cymreig, following the fashion these days of giving Welsh language titles to various bits of autonomous policy of the Welsh Office. Those are the areas of history, geography, art and music. They are separate subjects in terms of the curriculum. If they are separate, there is an argument clearly for separate assessment and for those areas to be transferred. I appreciate the reasons given why Welsh language and Welsh medium assessments throughout all the key stages apparently are to be transferred, but I think it is a mistake to make that division between the Welsh medium and Welsh language content of assessment and the rest of the key stage assessments for Welsh pupils, particularly when they are being assessed in any event on a curriculum which is distinctive in those subject areas which I indicated.

We can make a contrast with the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although of course that is not directly relevant to this Bill because we are not legislating here for Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, in those two countries or national regions, or whatever one wants to call them, there are responsibilities clearly divided between the curriculum councils and the assessment councils in a way which is different from the way set out here for Wales. The Northern Ireland schools examination and assessment council acts as an examination board and is also responsible for advising the Secretary of State on examination and assessment matters. That role will in Wales still be divided according to the Government's proposals.

It seems to me that it makes sense to bring together the assessment and curriculum functions. Indeed some of us argued this in another place when the 1988 Education Reform Bill was then going through. We argued that those two functions should be brought together. I believe the experience of the relationship between CEAC as a separate body based in London and the curriculum council in Wales and the assessment that went on in Wales has proved the validity of bringing these activities together in one body. My argument is that if we are bringing part of them together we should bring all of them together, as the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, suggested.

There is a further side to our argument which is indicated clearly in Amendment No. 278 which I tabled by way of a probing amendment to try to get a clear response from the Welsh Office on how it sees the relationship between all the bits of this semi-autonomous Welsh education system which we have. In particular, it is right that we should ask what the Welsh Office sees as the role of the Welsh Joint Education Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, indicated, it is a special body in terms of education in Wales and indeed in the whole of the United Kingdom. It brings together the professionals as teachers with local authority representatives. In the situation of the impending changes in local government it may well be the case that the WJEC can look to an enhanced role as an all-Wales education body.

I say that bearing in mind what the noble Viscount said earlier when we were debating the other open-ended clause about the timing of the setting up of the schools funding council. He stated quite clearly that it was his view that there was a distinctive educational culture in Wales and that there was perhaps a different relationship between schools, parents, teachers and LEAs in Wales as compared with the position in certain parts of England where there had been much more interest in grant-maintained status. He made it clear it was not the intention of his department, as it were, to push through the grant-maintained option and opting out of local authority control if indeed parents in Wales were not in favour of that.

It seems to me that the other week the noble Viscount was arguing for a strong role for local education authorities. If there is a role for local education authorities at a district and county level—I certainly believe that is the case after the latest local election results—then surely there is also a role for the WJEC as the all-Wales education authority at that other level—working alongside the new curriculum and assessment authority, or indeed actually taking on those functions itself.

There is another argument to which we want to hear the Minister's response. Would it be more appropriate to transfer the functions that are being transferred, taking into account our argument that we believe that all assessments should be transferred in all the key subject areas, and that all curriculum activities should be transferred, and that those transfers are to take place from the current Schools Curriculum Assessment Authority in England to Wales, rather than to create a new non-departmental public body? The WJEC's role should be enhanced to undertake that work.

I suspect that the noble Viscount will argue that by doing that we are confusing the relationship of the local authority with the relationship of a non-departmental public body accountable to the Welsh Office and therefore to Parliament. I would argue that, if he is serious about the distinctive educational culture and partnership within Wales, using the WJEC might be an appropriate way of pursuing the Government's intentions with regard to Wales. For all those reasons, I support the amendments in this group. I look forward to hearing the Minister make some major concessions at this early hour of the morning.

Viscount St. Davids

Amendment No. 265A would require the Curriculum Council for Wales and its successor, the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales to consult the WJEC on any proposals for changes to national curriculum orders. Clause 228 represents a significant improvement in arrangements for consultation in respect of National Curriculum Orders in Wales. It sets out in the statute book those arrangements and makes clear that those representing educational interests in Wales—associations of local education authorities, bodies representing the interests of school governing bodies and organisations representing school teachers—are to be included in the consultation process.

The amendment seeks to include on the face of the Bill the Welsh Joint Education Committee as one of the organisations to be consulted. The amendment is unnecessary and inappropriate. The WJEC is a joint committee of local education authorities. It is a body of high standing which acts on behalf of LEAs in a number of respects. The WJEC is included as a matter of course in all consultation exercises and will continue to be so consulted. But it would be inappropriate to single out the WJEC for particular reference in this context. It represents only LEAs. If we include particular reference to the WJEC then why not particular reference, for example, to the Parent-teacher Association of Wales, or those representing grant-maintained schools.

Amendments Nos. 278, 277B, 279A and 279B would permit the substitution of the WJEC for the Curriculum Council for Wales and thus transfer statutory responsibility for national curriculum assessment arrangements and public examinations to that body.

We have a great deal of admiration for the WJEC and the work it has done for education in Wales but the proposal is misconceived. The Bill proposes that statutory responsibility for assessment matters—just as for curriculum matters—should rest with a statutory Welsh body established for that purpose and accountable to the Secretary of State for Wales and through him to Parliament. The WJEC is a joint committee of local education authorities in Wales—it is answerable to local education authorities. It would be inappropriate for this statutory responsibility to be given to such a body.

Furthermore the WJEC is an examining body in its own right. It would be unacceptable for the WJEC both to approve a syllabus and to set criteria for examinations. Those functions must be kept separate. The Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority is not an examining body and it would be inappropriate to transfer its functions to such a body as the WJEC. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, asked what was the future of the WJEC. The future of the WJEC will be considered carefully as part of the local government reorganisation proposals. It is not proposed to change its present statutory basis until that consideration is complete. The overriding principle is that the WJEC is a body which is answerable to local education authorities and its future should therefore be determined largely by them. However, what will need to be borne in mind is its significant function as the leading public examination body in Wales.

Clause 237 provides the power for the Secretary of State to transfer by order some or all of the SCAA's functions to the Curriculum Council for Wales or, as it will become, the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales—A wdurdod Cwricwlwm as Asesu Cymru in Welsh. Clause 238 provides for use of both names.

Clause 237 therefore provides the means to secure our intention of transferring assessment functions to the Welsh body. The effect of Amendments Nos. 277B, 279A and 279B appear to be to require the transfer of every function of SCAA in relation to Wales to the Welsh body. While we may not eventually disagree with that proposal, our current position is that we have not yet reached that conclusion. The power is permissive so that it will permit the transfer of all functions if we reach that conclusion, but equally we are not required to transfer functions if it is not necessary.

It may be helpful if I explain the Government's present intention on the transfer. The White Paper, Choice and Diversity, proposed that the transfer should include assessment of Welsh at all key stages, including GCSE and A-level, and the assessment of all other subjects for Key Stages 1 to 3. The White Paper stopped short of proposing transfer of Key Stage 4 including GCSE and A-level for all subjects except Welsh. However, the Minister of State for Wales has recently commissioned a review of the arrangements for Key Stage 4 and beyond. The Chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority will participate in that review. The review will consider whether there are any issues in respect of educational standards, costs or timing which would stand in the way of a transfer to ACAC of all GCSE and A-levels and AS-levels. So far as concerns Wales, those functions would relate to such examinations offered by the WJEC or in respect of orders which are separate to Wales. The outcome of the review will be announced later this summer. I understand that we expect it in July. It is important that we maintain public confidence in the education system and ensure that, whatever the outcome, we protect the standards which parents and employers now expect from our examination system. There are therefore important issues to be considered before final decisions can be taken on a transfer of functions.

Clause 237, as drafted, provides us with the flexibility to transfer assessment functions from SCAA—either some or all functions—as and when it is considered appropriate to do so. The amendment, however, would require the transfer of every function without prior consideration.

I can assure the Committee as to our intentions. While I cannot give noble Lords the results of the review, I hope they will accept that we are looking carefully at all the options with the aim of giving the curriculum and assessment authority a significant role in assessment in Wales. We cannot accept the new clause and amendments which would pre-empt the results of that review.

I understand that the noble Lords also intend to oppose the Question that Clause 237 stand part of the Bill. I am astonished at such an attitude as it seems to run counter to the spirit of the other amendments. To oppose the clause would be to remove the transfer of assessment functions to the Curriculum Council for Wales and to leave all assessment functions in Wales with the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, a body which is responsible for curriculum matters in England.

It is our intention to bring together curriculum and assessment functions for Wales within a single body, thus to ensure coherence between curriculum and assessment matters for Wales. The Curriculum Council for Wales was set up by the 1988 Act and has been instrumental in ensuring the national curriculum in Wales takes account of the needs of Wales.

We now have separate orders for Wales in five subjects: Welsh, history, geography, art and music. The council has brought its expertise to bear in producing excellent non-statutory guidance for teachers in Wales and in developing the concept of a "Cwricwlwm Cymreig"—a framework for providing a curriculum which takes account of the social and cultural differences of Wales.

It is our intention to build on the strengths of the curriculum council by transferring assessment functions, as I have already explained. It will have the resources and the standing to be pre-eminent in education in Wales just as the schools curriculum and assessment authority will have that role in England. An important part of its functions will be in Welsh language education and we intend to give it responsibility for the development of Welsh language classroom materials.

Here again it will not be starting afresh but will be building on the achievements of the Welsh Language Education Committee of the WJEC or PDAG, as it is known. I should like to pay tribute to the excellent work of that body over the years; it has made an outstanding contribution to education in Wales. Unfortunately the arrangements made through PDAG have, however, been somewhat ad hoc and lines of accountability have not been clear. In framing these proposals we have also been aware of the need to provide for better management accountability and the most cost-effective use of resources. The curriculum and assessment authority for Wales will be the correct body for these functions, while bringing them together with curriculum and assessment functions will enable better use of and accountability for resources.

I shall conclude by saying that this Bill will set a new framework for education in Wales; it will establish a new statutory body capable of providing for the distinctive needs of Wales while building on the strengths of present organisations. This can only be good for Wales—for parents, for teachers and for all pupils in Wales. I recommend that the amendments be rejected and Clause 237 stand part of the Bill.

12.30 a.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Perhaps I may come back briefly on two matters: first, the review which the Minister carefully outlined to us. Is my understanding correct that, should the review recommend further transfers of functions, in relation to the curriculum and assessment, using the powers in Clause 237 which the Bill gives the Secretary of State, the Welsh Office might well decide to transfer more functions rather than less? If I understood him correctly, he said that, depending on the outcome of the review, there might be more functions transferred.

The second point which he kindly brought up is the future of the work of the Welsh Language Development Committee, PDAG, of the Welsh Language Education Committee. Am I right in understanding that much of the role is to be transferred to the new ACAC, the new curriculum and assessment body of the Cwricwlwm as Asesu? When that happens, will much of the activity of that committee and PDAG and its officials then be channelled through the new body? If that is the case, I think it is important to establish that there will be effective links between that body and the Welsh language board being established under the Welsh Language Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister could either take those two points now or write to us at a later stage.

Viscount St Davids

First, the whole object of having the review is to provide the Secretary of State with a framework for what transfers will be necessary. As to his other points, I should prefer to write to the noble Lord.

Lord Prys-Davies

I thank the noble Viscount for his comprehensive review of the position in Wales, addressing in particular the amendments which we have tabled. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas for supporting the amendments.

I wish to make a few quick comments on some of the points that the noble Viscount made. I thought that his response to Amendment No. 265A was disappointing. We say that the WJEC should be referred to specifically in Clause 228 because it is a unique body. The Welsh Office admits that it is unique, in as much as it represents both the local authorities and the teachers. So I would be grateful if the noble Lord could urge the Welsh Office to have another look at that amendment.

Turning to another point made by the Minister, I am not convinced that the constitutional position of the WJEC is an insurmountable difficulty. Parliament can certainly modify its constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, made the point that there is a precedent in Scotland and in Northern Ireland for giving to the WJEC the responsibility for both the curriculum and the assessment. I thank the noble Viscount for the information he has given us about the review that the Welsh Office has undertaken and I shall have to consider, and probably take advice, on the information that he has given and the comments that he has made.

Finally, the basic point which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and myself have been trying to make in our amendments is that the Welsh Office should start with a recognition of the value of the Welsh educational system which we have inherited and should seek to develop that system within the traditional framework, to the extent that that is possible.

In practice, we want a great deal less reliance on what happens in England. I can assure the noble Viscount that there is increasing interest within Wales about the Scottish approach and the Northern Ireland approach. The Welsh Office needs to be challenged about its willingness to be a junior partner of the education partnership. I would be grateful if the noble Viscount would convey those comments to the Welsh Office. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 228 agreed to.

Clause 229 [The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 265B: Page 139, line 12, at end insert ("and approved by the House of Commons Select Committee on Education.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to require that the initial members of SCAA should be approved by affirmative resolution and that all members should be approved by the Select Committee on Education in the other place. The amendment is intended to de-politicise the membership of SCAA.

One of the major complaints about the Bill—one which I realise that I have lodged from time to time—is its centralising tendencies. Currently, both the curriculum and the examination committees are literally stocked with political appointees, even though some of them have now had a very considerable impressive display of conscience which has led them to resign.

The approval of the initial membership of SCAA by both Houses would indicate that there was a wide political consensus around it and that the membership was not set up to propose a specific political viewpoint on the curriculum or on assessment.

The requirement for a vacancy to be filled with the agreement of the appropriate all-party Select Committee in the other place would ensure that the membership remained and was seen to remain fairly allocated. It is very clear from those who have watched the proceedings of the other place that such Select Committees have over recent years demonstrated themselves in a number of areas to be independent and able to take sensible and professional views. Therefore the Select Committee on Education would be ideally placed to approve the membership of SCAA.

Perhaps I may emphasise the importance of this amendment by reiterating that one of the profound concerns which exists in the country as a whole—among parents certainly, among the teaching professions, but more widely among the public—is that to an unacceptable degree this very precious asset of the nation, education, has become a party-political football. It would be tragic if, in the establishment of the SCAA, those anxieties were to be reinforced. This amendment is intended to meet that position. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear

At this time in the morning I shall be as brief as possible. I merely want to say that there are two very important points to be made in connection with this amendment. These are appointments to a committee of very great importance and significance in the development of education.

The first point is that whether or not it is true—the Government will deny it of course—there is a widespread view that committees of that kind have been staffed almost exclusively by people who support the political views of the Government. If that is not true, we shall be very glad to have it so demonstrated. All I can say is that it is a view that is very widely held. It is damaging to the Government and makes it more difficult to get the respect and co-operation needed by committees of that kind.

The other point is that it is very important that the various groups of people affected by the work of the committee should feel that they have had at least some say and that they have been consulted. They should have some idea as to why the people are where they are and feel that they are people whom they support on the committee. Therefore, if the Government want the committee to have respect and authority—if it does not have respect it will not in the long run have authority—I am sure that they would be very well advised to accept this amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

Amendments Nos. 266 and 266A are in this group and perhaps I may speak to those amendments. The amendment in my name seeks to ensure consultation with the Churches over the membership of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, just said, the membership of that body is crucial if the national curriculum is to have credibility and teachers are to have confidence and so on.

For historic reasons the Churches provide between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. of the schools in this country. Therefore they have a wide knowledge and experience of the whole curriculum. They have a specialist interest in religious education. It seems important that the Churches should be either represented on or consulted about membership of the SCAA.

Members of that body should be people who have a broad experience and are representative of the major interests. To put it the other way round, there will be a lack of confidence in the SCAA if such a significant quango contains people with unusual axes to grind. If the SCAA contains too many people of that kind, it will become known as the "Schools Carborundum and Axegrinding Authority". We need people who are representative of the broad interests of those who are concerned in this field. I hope therefore that the Government will indicate that they are happy to consult the major providers in the voluntary field before appointing to that body.

There is a technical difference between the amendment which stands in my name and the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. They are almost identical except that in the second amendment there is explicit reference to the Roman Catholic Church because of a point raised in previous amendments; namely, that there is some possibility that the Government are not happy about explicit reference to the Roman Catholic Church in primary legislation. However, the substance of the two amendments is the same.

Lord Sefton of Garston

Before the right reverend Prelate sits down, perhaps I could ask him a question and, to save valuable time at this time of the morning, also ask the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, whether he would like to reply when moving his amendment. The amendment of the right reverend Prelate states that: the Secretary of State shall consult with the Board of Education of the General Synod of the Church of England and such other persons or bodies as appear to him to be appropriate". I assume that the Church of England is mentioned specifically as an example of the kind of body that the right reverend Prelate wishes the Minister to consult. The amendment of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, includes the Board of Education of the General Synod of the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service. Again I ask whether they are the kind of bodies with which the Minister should consult? I see that the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, agrees with me. Perhaps I can ask whether other bodies would be considered as compatible for that kind of consultation?

The Duke of Norfolk

First, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his comments. Secondly, I turn to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Sefton. We would like to have the Catholic Education Service spelt out. In these ecumenical times we are a major religion in the country. As the General Synod of the Church of England is included, we would like the Catholic Education Service also to be included.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, perhaps I can say that the reference is made to, such other persons or bodies", because the Churches are not the only bodies in the voluntary sector. There are Jewish schools and others with no specific religious affiliation. We are concerned that the voluntary sector as a whole is adequately consulted.

Lord Sefton of Garston

I accept that completely. I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate can give us any idea of how many other kinds of bodies there are with which the Minister can consult.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am happy to leave that to the Secretary of State. I have not done specific calculations on exactly who they all might be. The equivalent body for the Jewish community would be one. If there were schools representative of other faith communities, they would be included. But there could be other schools in the voluntary sector which are appropriate bodies to be consulted.

12.45 a.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

Perhaps I can speak to Amendment No. 266AA, which is the one in my name linked to these amendments. It is a less thorough-going one than that of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, though perhaps slightly more thorough-going than the others we have heard about.

I should like to begin by saying that I believe the Government are quite right to bring curriculum and assessment under the same umbrella, so broadly we welcome this provision in the Bill. However, there are changes that we should like to see made.

It is an important issue. It is unfortunate that it arises at this time in the morning, but that is often the way it goes. The SCAA is really the place where it starts in terms of what goes on in the classroom, both the teaching and the testing side. As we have already heard, there is, sadly, a great rift between those who are responsible for the present Government's policies on education and almost everyone else who is concerned with the subject, both on teaching and, as we can tell from reading the newspapers almost every day, on testing. Strong passions are involved, and I am not principally concerned with who is right and who is wrong. The difficulty is the perception. Again, I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned this.

Only one side is being heard in some of the councils that matter, and one of the chief councils that will matter under the Bill is SCAA. That may be because the Government believe, on their side, that for a long time only the opposite view was heard. Again, it matters less who is right and who is wrong than that we have this pendulum swinging each time with the threat that each new government will undo what the previous government have established.

Somewhere I feel that one has to break into that cycle and seek some consensus, otherwise the world of education will continue to suffer change and uncertainty. No one gains from this charade in the long run.

It is deeply unfortunate that the Government, while devolving many decisions down to school level, have, at the same time, gathered unprecedented powers at the political centre. That makes it more likely that the pendulum will continue to swing that way.

I would not pretend that our amendment, in its wording, can ensure that we get a measure of moderation and also professionalism at the centre where it matters. But it provides for two things that I believe are particularly important. One is the presence at this decision-making centre of at least some professionals who are active and expert in what is being discussed, with a need under (a) to have shown some "capacity", and under (b) a strong suggestion that some serving teachers should be included.

The other is a requirement to consult when looking for members with other experience, under paragraph (c). None of this is intended to be unduly restrictive—it does not, for example, demand that the Secretary of State consult everyone in the educational world about every nomination to the authority. But it goes some way towards plugging a perceived gap in the way arrangements have sometimes been conducted.

I was going to point out how the wording that we have—words like "shown capacity in", "currently engaged in", "carrying responsibility for the provision of education"—is taken from the 1988 Act, where it sets up the Universities Funding Council, and the Further and Higher Education Act. But I will not go into all that because of shortage of time except to stress that, if it was thought appropriate for funding councils, then how much more appropriate it must be for a curriculum and assessment body to have people of that kind on it.

I do not need second sight to know that the noble Baroness the Minister will tell your Lordships that this amendment is not necessary. But I believe it is very necessary educationally, to put a check on any temptation that there might be to appoint people the strength of whose opinions is equalled by the weakness of their hands-on experience but also, crucially, for reasons of morale. I spoke to a group of heads the other day whose top priority was to see a modest amendment of this kind in the Bill. It would give a very welcome signal—I stress this point once again—a healing signal in a time of strife. I hope that the Government will have the wisdom to accept what we are proposing; if not the exact words of this amendment, then something very like it.

Lord Northbourne

Perhaps I may take this rare opportunity to support the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, in what he is saying. To rebuild the confidence of teachers and to build a team is greatly needed at this time. Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to support the right reverend Prelate and the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, in their amendments.

Lord Judd

I should like to speak to Amendment No. 266B. The purpose of the amendment is to require the Secretary of State to include among his appointments to the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority someone who is indeed a governor of a state school. Such governors are, after all, responsible for securing compliance with the national curriculum and assessment under it and have a valuable non-expert contribution to make to the broad pattern and shape of both.

Lord Lucas

Perhaps I may make a couple of quick comments, first, on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. We see the appearance of the House of Commons Select Committee on Education which, so far as I know, is a body of no legitimacy in this matter. It is not answerable to anyone. It is an entirely inappropriate body to be involved in these things and raises the spectre, at least to my mind, of American-style inquisitions of candidates, which I would not welcome. Secondly, on what I might call the religious amendments, as drafted they raise the prospect of a large number of appointments. I calculate that there might be five under Amendment No. 266. I hope that my noble friend will resist the temptation to pack this very important committee with representatives of any special interest group.

Lord Henley

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will take very great care to ensure that membership of the authority has the necessary balance of experience and expertise to ensure its successful functioning. Equally, however, my right honourable friend is concerned to avoid being boxed in by a requirement to reserve seats for representatives of specific interests, as my noble friend has just put it. If he were to concede on representation in one case, however worthy, it would be very difficult to draw the line at other requests from organisations and groups which also have a stake in what happens in our schools.

We firmly believe that the dominant consideration in selecting members of the authority should be the contribution that they can bring as individuals. As soon as legislation itself begins to tie membership to people from specific backgrounds, that principle will suffer. This applies to the amendments in the name of the right reverend Prelate, the amendment in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk and to Amendment No. 266B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd.

Turning to Amendment No. 266AA in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and others, I freely acknowledge that we have no particular problems with paragraphs (a) and (b) of the amendment which adopts similar wording to that used in the section on membership of the funding agency for schools.

Clause 229 as it is simply makes the point more briefly, although I believe that the noble Lord will note that in the case of the SCAA it is a requirement rather than a mere desire to include persons with relevant knowledge of or experience in education. I am certainly quite happy to give the noble Earl an assurance on the Secretary of State's behalf that he will consider the desirability of including persons who are currently engaged in the provision of both primary and secondary education.

Paragraph (c) of this amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult organisations representing teachers and others on what expertise and experience, other than experience of primary or secondary education, are desirable among members of the SCAA. I know that my right honourable friend is willing to consider suggestions about the expertise or experience needed among members. He has already received correspondence on that point.

I do not believe that we need set up a statutory consultation procedure in order to allow teacher organisations and others to make their views known. That would simply result in an unnecessarily protracted procedure prior to each appointment. In any case, I suspect that this proposal is simply another way of seeking to ensure that specific interest groups can lobby for their specific representation on the SCAA. As I have said already, that route leads us away from the selection of individuals on their merits and we do not intend to follow it.

Lastly, I turn to the first two amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, which again seek to ensure that the best possible people are represented on the SCAA. However, the proposals contained in the amendments would result in an unacceptably unwieldy and unworkable procedure for the appointment of members to the authority.

Perhaps I may tell the Committee how that amendment would operate in practice. Before appointing a member the Secretary of State would be obliged to consult a wide range of national organisations. The names of the nominees would then be passed to the Education Select Committee which would recommend people for appointment on the basis of interviews. In the case of rejection, the Secretary of State would be under a duty to undertake yet another consultation procedure and produce a further list of names for consideration by the Select Committee and repeat that until the committee was content.

Moreover, that procedure would not be taking place just once for the appointment of initial members of the authority but every time a vacancy arose on the SCAA. At the risk of being somewhat less conciliatory than I have been in the past, I suggest that that is plainly ridiculous. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Judd

It is a pity that we always think that, because of our experience about how we conducted our political and constitutional affairs in this country in the past, we have by definition the best possible solutions. The procedure which is recommended is regularly followed in the United States in a whole range of key public appointments and results in building towards a situation in which broadly acceptable people are put into positions on behalf of the nation as a whole. I believe that it would be a very good thing in the sphere of education to start pioneering some new developments in our own area.

What the Minister has totally failed to deal with in his reply is the mistrust which exists at the moment. There is a widespread feeling—indeed, a conviction—that there have been very specific interests appointed to those positions in the past, interests which are purely politically partisan in their loyalties. There is a real desire that that should not be repeated in the new arrangements.

I am sorry that the Minister has felt unable to deal with the anxiety which is demonstrably there across the country. But again, as it is so characteristic of much broader issues in this Bill, and in view of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 265C and 266 not moved.]

The Duke of Norfolk had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 266A: Page 139, line 16, leave out subsection (4) and insert: ("(4) The Secretary of State shall include among the members of the Authority—

  1. (a) persons with relevant knowledge of or experience in education and
  2. (b) persons who appear to him to be representative of the principal religious denominations interested in the provision of education in voluntary schools and endowed grant-maintained schools.
Before appointing a person falling within paragraph (b) above the Secretary of State shall consult with the Board of Education of the General Synod of the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service and such other persons or bodies as appear to him to be appropriate.").

The noble Duke said: I shall not move this amendment. I am not at all happy. On this body religion should be considered and maybe have representation.

[Amendment No. 266A not moved.]

1 a.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 266AA: Page 139, line 16, leave out subsection (4) and insert: ("(4) In appointing the members of the Authority, the Secretary of State—

  1. (a) shall include persons who appear to him to have experience of, and to have shown capacity in, the provision of education or to have held, and to have shown capacity in, any position carrying responsibility for the provision of education,
  2. (b) shall have regard to the desirability of including persons who are currently engaged in the provision of—
  3. (i) primary education, or
  4. (ii) secondary education,
  5. (c) shall have regard to the desirability of including persons with other expertise or experience, and in carrying out his functions under this paragraph shall consult—
  6. (i) such organisations representing teachers, and
  7. (ii) such other persons
as he thinks fit in order to inform his determinations of what other expertise or experience is relevant.").

The noble Earl said: I should just like to thank the noble Lord for his comments. I am grateful for small mercies, certainly under paragraphs (a) and (b) and for the somewhat sympathetic reception they had. As to paragraph (c), it was not intended to be cumbersome and to make consultation on every conceivable instance. There may be a better way of doing it—I do not know—and there will be time to work that out at a later stage, but meanwhile I am grateful to the Minister.

[Amendment No. 266AA not moved.]

[Amendment No. 266B not moved.]

Clause 229 agreed to.

Schedule 13 [School Curriculum and Assessment Authority]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No.266C: Page 204, line 15, leave out ("with the consent of the Treasury").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to all the other amendments grouped with it. The effect of Amendments Nos. 266C to H is to bring the method of payment of SCAA members into line with Treasury guidelines. The effect of Amendments Nos. 275A and B is to redefine the period of the first financial year. This will now end on the first 31st March after its establishment in October rather than the second 31st March. This amendment brings the provisions for SCAA into line with those for the funding council.

The effects of Amendments Nos. 327A, 332ZA, 334B, and 341B are to list the SCAA as an exempt charity under the 1993 Act rather than the 1960 Act and to remove NCC and SEAC from the list of exempt charities under the 1993 Act. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 266D to 266H: Page 204, line 16, after ("shall") insert (", as regards any member in whose case the Secretary of State may so determine,"). Page 204, line 16, leave out from ("make") to ("as") in line 17 and insert ("provision for the payment of such sums by way of pension, allowances and gratuities to or in respect of him"). Page 204, line 18, leave out ("with the consent of the Treasury"). Page 204, line 23, leave out ("with the consent of the Treasury"). Page 204, line 23, at end insert: ("(4) A determination or direction of the Secretary of State under this paragraph requires the approval of the Treasury.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 267 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Skidelsky moved Amendment No. 268: Page 205, line 21, leave out ("shall be entitled to") and insert ("may").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 268, I should like to speak also to Amendments No. 269 and 271 to 275. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have added their names to the amendment.

The main purpose of the amendment is to deny representatives of the Secretary of State the automatic right to attend any meetings of the authority, the new authority or any committee of the authority as they are now entitled to do under subsections (15) to (17) of Schedule 13. The new authority comprises a chairman and between 10 and 15 members appointed by the Secretary of State. I am not quite sure for what initial period. In addition, there will be the permanent officials of the authority, including the chief officer—over 100 of them. Your Lordships might be interested to know that at the moment there are over 100 officials in the School Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC) and something like that on the National Curriculum Council (NCC), so there is quite a solid body of officials—quite a large number of them.

The provisions in dispute are those which entitle representatives of the Secretary of State, of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools and of the Chairman of the Curriculum Council for Wales to attend meetings of the authority by right. Instead of that automatic right, this group of amendments says that representatives of these individuals may attend if invited to do so by the chairman of the authority. We are trying to ensure that the advice that the authority gives to the Secretary of State in the areas of its remit, as specified in Clause 230, is not unduly influenced by the department to which the advice is being tendered. In other words, that the authority does not simply give the Secretary of State the advice which the department wants him to have.

In an ideal world it would do nothing but good for the Secretary of State to know what the authority is thinking, for the authority to know what the Secretary of State is thinking and for some reciprocal influence to develop between both. However, unfortunately in practice the relationship is far from symmetrical. The listening tends to be one way. The Government advisers listen to the Secretary of State through his representative. Even worse the authority tries to second guess what the Secretary of State wants and it tailors its advice to what it deems to be politically appropriate at that moment rather than to what it thinks is right.

The problem is aggravated by the fact that the officials of the authority will tend to give more weight to the views of the department than to their nominal masters in the authority. I speak from experience and I can assure the Committee that it is an uphill struggle to make headway against that very solid phalanx of officials. I fear to add to that struggle by the inhibiting effect of the presence of the representative of the Secretary of State.

I do not want to be dogmatic about all this. On many occasions and for many purposes it would be extremely useful to have outside officials in attendance but that is not denied by the amendment. The chairman can and often will invite those people to be present. The schedule which we are trying to amend denies the right of the authority or any of its committees to deliberate in private. That will make membership of the authority less attractive to independent-minded people and, more importantly, it will cast doubt on its independence and, therefore, the credibility of its advice.

Perhaps I may end on a personal note. One of the things which I minded most was the common assumption that the two bodies, on one of which I had the honour to serve, were packed with placemen of the Government. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, took the words out of my mouth by saying exactly that and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, also alluded to it. I do not believe that any members of the two councils can be so described. If anyone had been present at their meetings they would know that that was not so and that there was no shortage of independence. However, I can see why it was to some extent believed and that that perception damaged their authority. Anything which enhances the independence of the new authority can only improve public confidence in its advice. Nothing would help that better than the removal of the automatic right—

Baroness Seear

I did not say that that was so. I said that there was a widely-held belief that that was so, which is quite different but very important.

Lord Skidelsky

I thank the noble Baroness. That was what I said; that there was the perception that it was packed with placemen. Anything which enhances the independence of the authority can only improve public confidence in its advice. Nothing would help that more than the removal of the automatic right of the Secretary of State's representatives to attend all its meetings. It is that which the amendment seeks to achieve. I beg to move.

Lord Judd

Clearly these are important amendments. If the SCAA is to give genuine and independent advice to the Secretary of State, potential obstruction—intentional or even unintentional—by DFE and Ofsted officials to the framing of that advice should be demonstrably removed. It should be a matter of course that in the normal run of things the SCAA invites officials from both organisations to their meetings since both office and department have invaluable advice to offer. However, there may well be occasions on which the presence of officials inhibits frank discussion between SCAA council members or officials. That seems self-evident.

Indeed, the ex-chief executive of the National Curriculum Council, Duncan Graham, catalogues in a lesson for us all all too tellingly the impact of unwanted and uninvited DFE officials' presence at sensitive meetings. From his descriptions it is evident that their presence served on those occasions to act as a barrier between the NCC and the then Minister, Kenneth Baker, and generally inhibited discussion. I believe that these very timely amendments would help to overcome difficulties of that nature in the future.

Lord Kilmarnock

I speak as a layman. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, I have never belonged to any such body as that and I am not likely to. However, my reluctance to accept such an invitation would be much increased without the safeguard provided by the amendments. The issue is essentially the independence of the new amalgamated body on proper arms-length principles.

I understand that at meetings of the two previous bodies, officials from the department and representatives of HMI frequently dominated the proceedings, even to the extent of fixing the outcome in advance. If that is so, what on earth is the point of having such a body at all? Decisions may as well be made by the department at the outset. Sir Ron Dearing will have a difficult enough task in producing independent advice on very tricky current problems which the Secretary of State can accept or reject. But it is vital that the advice should be independent before the Secretary of State decides whether to accept, reject or modify it.

The officials will have his ear in any event without being included as of right in the authority's deliberations. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, they can be invited when the authority seeks their advice. That seems to be the right way round, the right balance. I hope that the Government will see the sense of that. My reluctance to be headhunted and the reluctance of others far better qualified than I would then be much diminished.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

In rising to support this series of amendments, I should point out that the two amendments which have been withdrawn, Amendments Nos. 267 and 270, were in my name. I withdrew them because I bow to the superior knowledge of the movers of these amendments.

My amendments would have permitted civil servants from the DFE and representatives of HMI together to attend only alternate meetings of SCAA. SCAA would have thus had one private meeting followed by another at which civil servants and representatives of HMI attended and so on. The object of my amendments was of course to allow SCAA some opportunity to meet and debate in private.

My amendments would also have prevented automatic right of access to sub-committees of SCAA. I think that this is an important point which I do not think that these amendments fully cover. As the Bill is at present drafted, it would appear to allow civil servants and HMI the right to attend even clandestine meetings of a few members of SCAA who have established themselves as a small committee, perhaps with the precise purpose of discussing the quality of advice which they might be receiving from the department.

I am aware that the ice may be getting a little thin under me at this point with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway who, in view of our exchange at Second Reading, I am relieved to see is not in his place. But I am sure that many of us who have had experience of sitting on government education quangos will be familiar with the moment when a discussion may be finely balanced and when a civil servant from the department intervenes with a phrase such as, "Perhaps it will help the council if I were to tell you how Ministers' minds are moving on this point". It has to be said that councils of this type are too often swayed by that sort of intervention and as a result usually take the wrong decision.

I would not dare to suggest that Ministers' minds may have been moving in the wrong direction and certainly not, of course, under the present Government so much as the civil servant may have misinterpreted his Minister's thought processes.

I trust that the cross-party support for these amendments indicates that these comments should not be taken to apply particularly to this Conservative Government or, indeed, to a government of any other party. In my view, they simply seek to limit the interference of Ministers and civil servants in the running of SCAA which would thus gain in independence to the benefit of our schools and our children.

Of course, there should be two fairly simple remedies for the kind of problem that I have depicted. First, a civil servant who makes that kind of mistake too often should be removed. Secondly, people who sit on the quangos in question should know their own minds and be strong enough, when necessary, to stand up against ministerial guidance whether accurately delivered or not. But the sad reality appears to be that neither of those two remedies is likely to be available in practice. That is why the amendments become so valuable. They will allow SCAA to meet and deliberate in private when its chairman judges that to be necessary. If the amendments were to be brought back at a later stage, I very much hope that allowance will also be made for its sub-committees to do likewise. In the meantime, I feel sure that they would do much to improve the quality of advice that SCAA will give. I hope that the Government will acccept the amendments.

1.15 a.m.

Baroness Blatch

We have been very conscious of the need to keep to a minimum the number of non-members who are entitled to attend meetings of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. The legislation proposes that their number should be limited to three individuals, each representing a key partner of the SCAA. It is already the case that no one other than the representatives of the Secretary of State, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector and the chairman of the Curriculum Council for Wales can attend unless authorised by the chairman of the SCAA. Perhaps it would be helpful for me to explain the thinking behind the decision to allow representatives of the Secretary of State, HMCI and the chairman of the Curriculum Council for Wales to attend.

It is essential that the Secretary of State is kept informed of the authority's activities and intentions. Just as importantly, for the authority to operate efficiently, it must be aware of the Secretary of State's thinking on curriculum and assessment matters. The most efficient way of keeping both parties informed is for a representative of the Secretary of State to attend meetings of the SCAA. Similarly, we expect that the authority will often look to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for advice and information. The best way of serving the authority in that respect is to ensure that HMCI, or his representative, can be present at meetings.

Finally, we come to attendance by the chairman of the Curriculum Council for Wales. Although many assessment functions relating to Wales will be transferred to the Welsh body, there will be a continuing interest in enabling assessment arrangements in England and Wales to develop in parallel towards the joint assessment at key stage 4. That is why we want to ensure that the chairmen of the English and Welsh bodies can each be represented at each others' meetings.

I hope that it will be seen that these three individuals have been granted rights of attendance to meetings of the SCAA for good reason—to allow the SCAA, the Department for Education and the inspectorate to work together to improve education in this country through mutual co-operation and the sharing of ideas. The legislation prohibits those non-members from taking part in the decisions of the authority and clearly they must not attempt to dominate or direct the discussions. It is for the chairman, Sir Ron Dearing, to make sure that that does not happen. But if we make it possible for those three officials to be excluded against the will of those they represent, it could undermine the process of mutual understanding and co-operation. That is the intention of the proposal in the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the amendments will not be pressed.

Lord Skidelsky

I do not intend to press the amendment at this point. However, I am not completely satisfied with what my noble friend the Minister said. It seems to me that she did not really address the point that the presence of officials as of right will simply prevent the private deliberation which is so necessary and which can, on occasion, formulate good advice.

Perhaps I may refer briefly to the remit in Clause 230. One of the functions of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority shall be to, advise the Secretary of State on such matters concerned with the curriculum for maintained schools … as he may refer to them or as they may see fit". It seems to me essential that if the authority is considering what to advise the Secretary of State off its own initiative, as it is perfectly entitled to do, it should be free to do so without feeling that it has to pay regard to the representatives of the Secretary of State who are attending by right. I seek to remove that automatic right. I do not think my noble friend has addressed that point.

I would not of course dispute that for many purposes and on many occasions it would be very natural for that process of mutual consultation which she described to take place, but it is the inability of SCAA to exclude a representative of the Secretary of State on any occasion—I think that includes its committees—that is in question. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 269 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 270 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 271 to 275 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 275A and 275B: Page 206, line 20, leave out ("second") and insert ("next following"). Page 206, line 21, leave out ("following that date").

The noble Baroness said: I have spoken to these amendments with Amendment No. 266C. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 230 [Functions]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 275BA: Page 139, line 28, leave out from ("and") to ("to") in line 29.

The noble Lord said: Unfortunately, political intervention has prevented the National Curriculum Council and the Schools Examination and Assessment Council from conducting genuinely independent research into the success of national curriculum subjects and into forms of assessment and testing. A positive initiative by the NCC in 1990 led it to review the introduction of the national curriculum core subjects in schools. What was unique about that review was that it systematically reflected teacher opinion about the success and failures of aspects of the subject order. But that exercise was never continued. As a consequence teacher opinion, now so vital to the Secretary of State's review of curriculum and assessment, has not been consistently recorded.

Controversies over the revision of particular subject orders could also have been avoided if the NCC had been able to commission independent research. One particularly good example is the background research leading to the Secretary of State's proposals to revise the English order. Warwick University, commissioned by the NCC to research problems of English implementation, has been prevented from opening its research results to public scrutiny. Had such work been open to public scrutiny and debate about the parameters and focus of the research, there would have been much greater likelihood of consensus among teachers and governors about whether the English subject order needed revising. Instead the Government's proposals are the subject of implacable hostility from the entire profession who perceive both the research, HMI/ Ofsted contributions, and other contributions used to justify the revision as being politically driven.

Similarly, the assessment debate has been dogged by lack of genuinely independent and accountable research into appropriate forms of assessment. For example, the publication of the research conducted by Leeds University into the 1991 Key Stage 1 standard assessment tasks was delayed by Government for over a year. Researchers and SEAC members were forbidden to discuss its contents.

In addition in-house SEAC and NFER research into pilot tests at Key Stage 1–3 have either never been published or published late. The evaluation of the 1992 2 per cent. pilot for the Key Stage 2 English tests has never been published yet. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, Chair of SEAC felt able to quote selectively large chunks of it in a copy of a speech which he sent round to all secondary schools. The Secretary of State has been able to do the same. Yet the evaluation has never been published. Research commissioned by the NCC and SEAC at the Secretary of State's behest has consequently inevitably been distrusted, especially by the profession, whether or not that distrust has been justified. In fact, the Secretary of State himself appears to have learned some of the lessons about no accountable research. In a speech to the ATL on 7th April he said: I have asked Ofsted to report its findings to me as soon as possible after the tests. That is why SEAC has commissioned an evaluation of the tests from the National Foundation for Educational Research. And that is why I will be encouraging the new School Curriculum and Assessment Authority before advising me on the 1994 assessment arrangements to take active steps to listen and to reflect the views of heads, teachers and teachers' organisations".

It would have been immensely valuable for all Secretaries of State post the Education Reform Act 1988 to have been able to rely upon research commissioned by the NCC and SEAC, however politically uncomfortable that research may have been at the time, in order to inform government policy on curriculum assessment.

It must be emphasised that the amendment does not prohibit the Secretary of State from asking the SCAA to conduct research. Neither does it allow an open ended research budget commitment. The Secretary of State would still have the responsibility to approve SCAA research bids and for the size of the SCAA research budget. What the amendment does is merely allow the SCAA independently to identify important areas of research and to argue for them.

More briefly on Amendment No.275D, the new SCAA should not be constrained to advising the Secretary of State on only those issues which the Secretary of State wants to hear about. For example, the DFE and the Secretary of State have resisted the concept of a value-added approach to reporting pupil achievement for a considerable period of time. Yet the evidence for a value-added approach is fairly conclusive. Children start from different baselines of achievement when they enter school, and they are affected by factors such as social deprivation and having English as a second language. If SEAC had been able to advise the Secretary of States on issues surrounding value-added approaches to assessment, it is unlikely that the Government would have decided to go for a league table of schools based upon raw assessment results.

On Amendment No. 275E, if that paragraph remains, it is possible for the Secretary of State to require the SCAA to carry out functions outside its curriculum and assessment role. Such functions would not even be defined by subsequent regulations put before this place. Although the word "activities" may merely cover additional research and advice, it could also cover other areas of education such as school management and governing body procedures. In fact, if the paragraph remains there is no limit to the activities of the SCAA.

On Amendment No. 277A, perhaps I may point out that subsection (3) (b) defines the reasonable subordinate role of the SCAA to the Secretary of State in reasonable terms. However, subsection (3) (a) allows the Secretary of State to direct the SCAA to do anything that the Secretary of State wants, however arbitrary, irrational or petty. The word "plans" in subsection (3) (b) implies that the Secretary of State has given consideration to the implications of any requirement he may place on the SCAA and that such requirements have been the subject of collective scrutiny. As such, I submit that subsection (3) (b) renders subsection (3) (b) redundant. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear

The crux of the matter once again is whether this authority is to be genuinely independent or whether it is to be a limb of government. That is why we were trying to ensure that people were appointed who were not placemen. We have been told by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that they are not, but there is no evidence that they are not. Similarly, if it is to be an independent authority it should be able to decide what research needs to be done and to get on and do it. It should not have to wait to be asked by the Secretary of State to do it. All the evidence is that the Government do not want an independent authority.

These are probing amendments to find out how genuine the Government are in their assertion that it is an independent authority. At present I fear that I am totally unconvinced that it is an independent authority of people who have knowledge and concern in that area and who are determined to act in accordance with what they believe to be best. In the proposed legislation, the Government really want a group of people of their own choosing to do their bidding. That is not what we on this side of the Chamber wish to see.

1.30 a.m.

Baroness Blotch

Amendment No. 275BA would enable the authority to undertake and finance research which the Secretary of State had not requested. I am concerned about the implications for financial control and accountability. We are not suggesting that research will be impossible unless the Secretary of State suggests it. If the authority considers that some research is necessary for it to fulfil its functions it can ask the Secretary of State to agree to it. But a blanket freedom to devote resources to such research as it chooses is more appropriate to a university department than to a body such as SCAA which has specific responsibilities. I suggest that it would be irresponsible to accept the amendment.

Amendment No. 275D would amend Clause 230(1) (g). This subsection exists because there may be educational issues on which the Secretary of State feels the SCAA would be competent to advise but which do not obviously fall within the functions agreed by Parliament. We believe that a mechanism should exist to enable the Secretary of State to take advantage of the authority's expertise in these circumstances, but we recognise that Parliament has a right to comment on the proposed extension of the authority's functions. That is why the Bill provides for an order to be made, specifying what the additional functions are.

But this amendment would allow the authority, of its own volition, and without any request from the Secretary of State and still less approval of Parliament, to offer advice on anything it wished in connection with school education, such as teachers' pay, for example, or the conduct of governing bodies. We believe that it would be quite wrong for a body set up to advise on curriculum and assessment to be able to spend public money developing advice on issues where it may have no expertise or which were outside its remit. That is why I urge that the provision be left as it is.

Amendment No. 277A is the third one which would increase the independence of the authority. It does so by freeing it from the need to comply with the directions of the Secretary of State. It is not our intention to set up a free-standing body which can ignore the national priorities signalled to it by the Secretary of State. It is being set up for a specific purpose; namely, to advise the Secretary of State and assist him in carrying out Parliament's wishes in relation to curriculum and assessment. The Secretary of State needs the power to require the authority to carry out certain activities if Parliament's wishes are to be fulfilled. That is why I resist the amendment.

Interestingly, Amendment No. 275E would narrow the remit. It takes out Section (1) (h). This section enables the authority to undertake activities ancillary to its functions, when directed to do so by the Secretary of State. It is there to ensure that the authority is not confined too rigidly. It might, for example, be desirable for it to look at the way the curriculum is organised in another country and to draw lessons for this country. That could be an entirely laudable objective. Proposals for such ancillary activities could originate either with the authority or with the Secretary of State. It is desirable that there should be a requirement for a direction from the Secretary of State so as to ensure that there is agreement upon the need for the activity. But we do not want to prevent the SCAA from taking the initiative. If the authority wishes to undertake something, it may ask the Secretary of State to agree to it.

To sum up on this group of amendments, I am sure that noble Lords will agree with my view that Clause 230 achieves the right balance between freedom and control. The amendments would upset that balance. I hope that in the light of that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Lord Judd

The hour is late and it is good of the Minister to reply at all in a sense. However, I begin to feel sorry for her because it seems to me that she is somehow or other trapped in a make-believe world in which she and her colleagues in the Government suppose that the situation in the world of education is as they wish it were rather than as it is. There is a massive crisis of credibility and confidence out there. The Minister must address the problem. This lack of confidence may be legitimate or it may be completely ill-conceived, but the fact is that it is there. If we are to generate a good future for education we must be able to demonstrate beyond doubt that advice is impartial and honest, that research is impartial and honest and that it is enabling the Minister, on the basis of objectivity and impartiality, to get the best comprehensive view of the possibilities and to make the best possible decisions for what should be done.

I am sorry that the Minister has again illustrated how out of touch the Government appear to be with social and educational reality in the country at the moment. It has been happening repeatedly tonight and every night in our deliberations. I am becoming rather despondent about it, but it puts a heck of a responsibility on the rest of us in the Committee to try to drive the point home. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 275C: Page 139, line 36, at end insert ("including information to facilitate the avoidance of unlawful racial discrimination").

The noble Lord said: The wording of Amendment No. 275C, which reflects the spirit and to some extent the wording of Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, establishes the legislative authority to promote ethnic data collection and analysis. Ethnic data collection and analysis should be the cornerstone of any serious and systematic strategy for eliminating unlawful racial discrimination from the education system. It will result in the identification of precisely where and how unlawful racial discrimination operates. This will ensure that efforts to prevent unlawful discrimination could be both focus-efficient and cost-effective.

The Government's own ethnic data collection and analysis on the exclusion of pupils from schools have revealed a highly significant over-representation of Afro-Caribbean boys among those excluded. That data collection exercise has led to the problem being recognised and quantified and efforts being made to find a solution to it in the form of the DFE's discussion paper on exclusions of November 1992. This is a practical example of the value of ethnic data collection.

The same principle is illustrated by the Commission for Racial Equality's study of setting and banding in a North of England comprehensive school entitled Set to fail and published in 1992. This is able to show an unfair distribution of Asian children between bands on racial grounds, by a systematic monitoring of the ethnic origin of pupils.

Only this process of ethnic data collection and analysis can identify unlawful discrimination which can often otherwise remain unseen. The problem having been identified, ameliorative action can be taken. Indeed, in the case of the school just mentioned, procedures were very much revised. It is because of the need to identify discriminatory practices with precision and because they can remain hidden without systematic analysis that the Commission for Racial Equality argues that ethnic data collection and analysis should be applied comprehensively to the education system.

Currently, DES Circular 16/89 requires local education authorities to collect ethnic data on admissions to school at ages 5 and 11 years. Without also collecting data on applications, such an exercise will not reveal any unlawful discrimination that may occur in admissions to schools. In addition, despite the circular, the data are being collected haphazardly and in some areas not at all.

Because of that, the commission believes that the practice of ethnic data collection and analysis should be required by the Education Bill and that the scope of the data collection should be expanded from that defined in DES Circular 16/89 to include setting and banding, SATs, examination entries and examination results.

With regard to Amendment No. 276A, the Government accepted advice from the Commission for Racial Equality during the passage of the Education Bill through the other place to ensure that the funding agency for schools and the Schools Funding Council for Wales were covered by the Race Relations Act 1976, and amended Schedule 16 to the Bill to that effect. Following the Government's commitment to that amendment, the commission argued that it ought to follow that all other new bodies proposed by the Bill should also be covered by the RRA. However, in correspondence between the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for schools and the chairman of the commission, the Government have made clear their view that that should not be the case for the SCAA.

Part of the commission's argument for the applicability of the RAA to the SCAA was that it would carry out functions previously undertaken by local education authorities which are covered by the RRA. The Government have argued that the RRA need not apply to the SCAA because it will not be assuming functions previously undertaken by LEAs.

The commission disagrees and argues for the applicability of the RRA to the SCAA for the following reasons. When passing the RRA in 1976 it was clearly Parliament's intention that all public bodies should be covered by it. As we argued the other night in another context, the symbolic significance of a differential application of the RRA is powerfully negative. It communicates an equivocal message about government commitment to eradicating unlawful racial discrimination from the education system, which contradicts the Government's public statements on this issue.

When issuing guidance on the curriculum—for example, on the provision of English as a second language—such guidance should be provided within the RRA. In 1986 the commission published its formal investigation of English as a second language in Calderdale. That established a framework for such provision that should be reflected by the SCAA. The most effective guarantee that that will be the case and that similar examples of curriculum guidance are lawful is to ensure that the SCAA is subject to the RRA. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

I deal first with the noble Lord's Amendment No. 275C. We believe that the idea that the SCAA should be involved in elements of ethnic monitoring is entirely inappropriate. We believe that this matter falls more properly to the department, with its general statistical responsibilities. We do not believe that it is a matter which falls to the SCAA but no doubt it is one of which it can take account in its deliberations.

As regards the second of the two amendments, I do not believe that it is necessary to resort to legislation to ensure that the authority carries out its functions without any form of discrimination. I certainly expect that the commissioning letter to the authority will ask it when exercising its functions to take account of the ethnic and cultural diversity of British society and will emphasise the importance of developing a curriculum that promotes equality of opportunity for all pupils regardless of ethnic origin or for that matter gender. That is no more and no less than we have done for the National Curriculum Council and the Schools Examinations and Assessment Council. I hope therefore that with those assurances the noble Lord, while accepting that we understand the strength with which he speaks on these matters, the importance which he attaches to them and the importance which the Government attach to them, will not feel it necessary to press his amendments.

Lord Judd

It would be unreasonable at this hour to press the amendment. I have heard what the Minister said. We shall have to monitor and watch the situation very carefully. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.45 a.m.

[Amendments Nos. 275 D and 275E not moved.]

Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 276: Page 140, line 2, at end insert: ("( ) advise the Secretary of State on any religious education syllabus prepared under the provisions of schedule 5 of the Education Act 1944 and consider the extent to which any such syllabus complies with section 8(3) of the Education Reform Act 1988 and make its views public,").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment briefly I must emphasise that it is a probing amendment tabled in response to the recent National Curriculum Council's report which voiced grave concern over the content and quality of agreed syllabuses drawn up since the 1988 Education Reform Act. My noble friend the Minister is well aware of all the problems currently surrounding the quality and status of some agreed syllabuses and is well aware that the report found that 27 out of 36 updated syllabuses did not match the legal requirements of that Act.

It is to address that lack of quality and consistency that the amendment seeks to give the new SCAA a monitoring role in regard to agreed syllabuses. That role could include the issuing of general guidance as to the content of syllabuses and would also require the SCAA to report publicly on the legality of each syllabus in accordance with the 1988 Act.

As I said, this is a probing amendment. We believe that, given the problems, there is a need for some clear guidance concerning the content of agreed syllabuses. That would not go so far as a national curriculum for RE, although some people would not be averse to a prototype which might serve as a kind of option and/or a source of reference. This amendment is an attempt to try to address the problem. I hope that my noble friend will be sympathetic to the intention behind this probing amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Can I assume that reference is being made to the whole group of amendments?

Baroness Cox

I must apologise. At this late hour I forgot to mention that this amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 277, 279C, 280 to 282, 284A, 285, 329B and 329C. I apologise for the omission and to any Members of the Committee who may have been inconvenienced.

Baroness Blatch

I thank my noble friend. It is already the case that the various duties of local authorities are taken into account when standard spending assessments are calculated. The duty to support SACREs and syllabus conferences is, therefore, already considered by my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Education and for the Environment. They must satisfy themselves that sufficient resources are available for local authorities to carry out all their statutory functions. That will continue to be the case.

The corresponding duty of an LEA towards its SACRE and its syllabus conference will remain, along with other residual duties, even when the Funding Agency for Schools has acquired responsibility for school provision in an area. The duty to convene the conference, together with the statutory role of the conference itself, carries with it the necessary implication that the LEA is under a legal duty to fund the entire operation. Similarly, the duty on the LEA to constitute a SACRE and the statutory functions of the SACRE mean that the LEA is under a duty to fund its standing advisory council so as to permit that body to fulfil those functions.

Clause 230 has been carefully drafted to allow adequate but not excessive control over the functions of the SCAA and to ensure that the authority fulfils the functions for which it is intended. That already includes the requirement to keep under review the whole curriculum.

The responsibility for religious education is a local matter. It is first and foremost for local authorities to ensure that their syllabuses comply with the law. However, I am aware of and share my noble friend's concern about the adequacy of local agreed syllabuses, following the publication of the National Curriculum Council's recent analysis of syllabuses. Too many syllabuses are vague, lack detail and, in effect, present schools with a blank cheque to teach whatsoever they like within religious education, if indeed it is taught at all.

My department issued a letter of guidance to all chief education officers in March 1991, advising that a syllabus should give sufficient detail for it to be clear that the teaching carried out in schools under that syllabus would be consistent with the requirements of the law. The National Curriculum Council's analysis shows that very few post-1988 syllabuses contain sufficient detail to meet the legal requirements. That is a cause for concern, in that authorities have not taken account of our guidance and may therefore be laying themselves open to legal challenge.

The Committee will be aware that this Bill makes provision to oblige all local authorities which have not done so to bring their syllabuses into line with the Education Reform Act. All other authorities will in due course be compelled to review their syllabuses through the proposal for regular five-year reviews. We intend to give further guidance to local bodies to clarify the law in respect of agreed syllabuses to enable them to take informed decisions on these matters. It may be that further analysis of the kind recently carried out by NCC is required, and we will, of course, be considering with Sir Ron Dearing his detailed remit.

It may also be that a mechanism is needed whereby an education authority can request that its syllabus is checked against the legal requirements, or whereby an external body routinely examines all syllabuses as they are reviewed. I am willing to consider that matter further. I hope that, in view of this, and together with my assurance that RE will form part of SCAA's remit, my noble friend and the right reverend Prelate will not press Amendments Nos. 276, 277 and 282.

The right reverend Prelate proposes in new Clause 285 that the SCAA should provide general guidance and advice for agreed syllabus conferences and standing advisory councils, and advise my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State about SACREs' work. As I indicated, I agree that the authority has an important role to play in promoting RE in that way. The NCC has and continues to do much excellent work, such as the guidance it is preparing for agreed syllabus conferences. I am keen to see that work continue as part of the new authority's remit in relation to the whole school curriculum.

The Government agree with one part of new Clause 285: that SACREs' present duty to publish an annual report should be extended to include a duty also to send a copy to the SCAA. That would give real strength to requests from the authority for copies of annual reports. Amendments Nos. 279C, 329B and 329C together provide for that, and extend the right reverend Prelate's amendment to require SACREs in Wales to send their reports to the Curriculum Council for Wales and in due course to the new Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales when that body is set up next year. The amendment will help SCAA and the Welsh curriculum council in their task.

Government Amendment No. 284A seeks to enable unreasonable decisions taken by SACREs in respect of "determinations" to be remedied. Noble Lords will remember the debate we held on collective worship two weeks ago in the small hours of the morning. I outlined to the Chamber how Parliament introduced the system of determinations in 1988 because it saw that, for some schools, the requirement to provide Christian collective worship would be difficult to reconcile with the family backgrounds, ages and aptitudes of a specific group of pupils or, occasionally, of the whole school.

Where a school has a group of pupils of a specific faith or religion, the headteacher, having consulted the governing body, may apply to the local SACRE to provide alternative worship for that group. The SACRE, in considering the application, is charged to have regard to any relevant circumstances relating to the family backgrounds of the pupils at the school or of the pupils of the particular group in question. This is, of course, a complex decision, and SACREs may not always be right in granting a determination. My noble friend will remember the parent of a child at a school which had been granted a determination recently and who complained to my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State, about the collective worship at the school. In considering that complaint it came to light that the local SACRE had granted a determination for the whole school without giving proper consideration to the number of children attending the school whose family background was Christian and in the majority of groupings within the school. That resulted in the children of Christian parents being denied access to the broadly Christian worship which Parliament intended them to have. The SACRE's decision was thus wrong in law.

In such cases, my right honourable friend currently has no power to intervene in a SACRE's decision. We are therefore bringing forward this amendment to enable my right honourable friend to direct a SACRE to review its decision. What is proposed is a power of last resort: we do not anticipate my right honourable friend having frequent occasion to exercise it. But, at present, the only way to challenge a SACRE's decision is to seek a judicial review. That is a costly option for a concerned parent such as the one in the case I have mentioned. The provision in the new clause is, therefore, a necessary and timely alternative course of action for those exceptional cases where a SACRE has acted, or is proposing to act, unreasonably or in default of its duties in this complex area. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Lord Judd

In order to facilitate progress, I hope it is in order to speak to all the amendments in the group even if that means taking them a little out of order. I hope that we can bear with each other if we do that because it probably will help.

I shall speak, first, to Amendment No. 280. This new clause requires the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that there are sufficient resources available to LEAs to fulfil their statutory duties under the Education Acts with regard to the teaching of religious education and the workings of standing advisory councils on religious education. There has been, and there continues to be, a crisis in the funding of religious education teaching in our schools. Warnings about this have gone unheeded by government Ministers.

Indeed, the matter was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in the Unstarred Question on religious education in schools debated in the House of Lords on 17th June last year. She quoted from the 1991 report of the Senior Chief Inspector for Schools. The Senior Chief Inspector reported that religious education was taught superficially in many primary schools and in some not taught explicitly at all. For 14 to 16 year-old pupils in secondary schools the entitlement to religious education was often not being met. Only one in three of the schools inspected timetabled religious education under its own name at key Stage 4.

In her response the Minister blamed the lack of financial resources on local decisions.

Baroness Cox

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I would stand corrected, of course, but I do not think I attributed that lack of teaching to lack of resources. I think that it was a matter of other concerns.

Lord Judd

I stand corrected if that is the case. In her response the noble Baroness blamed the lack of financial resources on local decisions. I hope she will forgive me if I suggest that that was perhaps just a little complacent.

It has to be recognised that the LEAs have come under enormous financial restrictions in recent years, and the demands of the national curriculum have sucked in even more resources. However, the Government must recognise that if religious education is to be taught properly in schools, they must provide new sources of finance to LEA schools through which to fulfil those duties. For example, the new requirements on religious education agreed syllabuses in Clause 239 require a review of the syllabus every five years. One medium-sized urban local education authority has estimated the cost of agreeing a new religious education syllabus and providing appropriate in-service training for staff over a five-year period would be £100,000. Where is this money to come from?

The information which I am about to give was compiled by a local authority religious education adviser following a recent conference of advisers and teachers of religious education. The information may be of interest to the Committee. I shall summarise it. A recent problem has been that the demands of the national curriculum are squeezing our religious education. A grant-maintained school in a south west LEA has gone from 70 candidates for GCSE to zero in one year because pupils can now choose only one subject from a huge option list. A teacher in a comprehensive in a southern LEA had RE lessons taken away from her half-way through a year because pupils were falling behind in national curriculum geography.

Another recent problem is that governors and head teachers are supporting the national curriculum subjects by improving the seniority of teachers in these subjects and therefore reducing the resources going to religious education. There are examples of teachers on "B" and "C" incentive allowances leaving and being replaced by teachers on the standard national scale only. An excellent head of a department of religious education in a southern LEA has taken a post with a local Church of England diocese because she was told that there was no prospect of getting beyond an "A" allowance while she stayed teaching religious education.

Agreed syllabuses are being produced on a shoe string. For example, a northern LEA has seconded an "A" allowance teacher for one year and with no budget to be "administrator" to an agreed syllabus conference. She has been asked to set up and resource from scratch. An outer London LEA has given a commitment to fund an inspector only from GEST on a two-year contract. In almost all schools religious education is given lower capitation than other subjects. In one northern secondary school with more than 1,000 pupils the religious education teacher was given an initial capitation of £900 for the year but then had £300 clawed back part way through the year. This allowance had to pay for exercise books, photocopying, textbooks and so on.

Teachers from many authorities complain about having been disproportionately hit by inspectorate advisory posts being cut back and resource centres closed. Teachers are often dependent on those centres and the advice and training which they are able to provide. Several LEAs are considering reductions—Leicester, Warwickshire, Humberside and Lewisham, for example. Many fears have been expressed about the loss and/or disposal of artefacts, books and slide collections.

Religious education teachers fear that head teachers are becoming reluctant to invest in their continuing in-service education, especially compared with issues like training on appraisal, management and national curriculum subjects. I believe that all this underlines the importance of the amendment. I beg to move.

2 a.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for highlighting the importance of proper resources being available for religious education. I am not sure how the problem is to be solved, but I recognise the force of a great deal of what he was saying. I was very much encouraged by the Minister's unequivocal statement that the cost of SACREs and agreed syllabus conferences is quite clearly the responsibility of the local education authority. The question then is where are those resources to come from. I hope that further consideration will be given to that matter.

I thank the Minister for her very clear encouragement and the reassurances which she has given. That means that it is not necessary for me to move my amendments both on agreed syllabuses and on SACREs because all the points are covered either by her assurances or by her own amendments.

Perhaps I may ask two questions as regards Amendment No. 284A which refer to the Secretary of State's new powers to ask a SACRE to reconsider its determination. Under the new Section 12A a complaint can be made by any person, if I have read it right. Is the Secretary of State going to be glad for any person to make a complaint? That seems to be an open invitation to busybodies to start ferreting around and troubling the Secretary of State where it may not be necessary. Have I got that right and is the Minister entirely content with that?

The second question as regards the new amendment is where a SACRE considers whether to make a determination and decides not to. Is that something which is covered by this amendment and the Secretary of State can deal with it? It is not entirely clear from the phrasing of the government amendment whether it covers that particular situation. I shall be grateful for clarification on those two points. In other respects I do not believe that there is any need for me to move the amendments which stand in my name.

Lord Judd

On the point which the right reverend Prelate has raised, perhaps I may support it with a supplementary point. As I understand it—the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, will correct me if I am wrong—in June last year she raised the issue of complaints against religious education syllabuses and quoted the experiences of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, herself and Mrs. Bell of Ealing. In her reply the Minister said (at col. 276 of Hansard for 17th June 1992): Complaints procedures are designed to allow parents and others to raise objections about the curriculum in schools, including religious education. Complaints must firstly be heard at the local level. That is right given that responsibility lies at that level". Can the Minister tell us tonight, in pursuing the point raised by the right reverend Prelate, what has happened to change her mind?

Viscount Brentford

Perhaps I may say in one sentence that I was planning to support in principle what my noble friend Lady Cox said. But as I understand that my noble friend the Minister is accepting that principle, I shall not take the matter further.

Baroness Blatch

I thank my noble friend for that contribution. Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that absolutely nothing has changed. My answer to the particular question of the right reverend Prelate is that, of course, the local machinery must be exhausted first. The complaint would not come to my right honourable friend unless it had been exhausted.

Perhaps I may use again for illustrative purposes the case that has been used before—that of Mrs. Bell. It was the local SACRE that applied for the determination. It was a local authority that endorsed it and the largest single group in that school were Christians. The determination was applied for for the whole school, and given. So they became judge and jury in their own case. The lady—the parent—had to go to that local authority to make the complaint and the local authority simply did not want to know. It was in that case—and four and a half years later—that that lady, having gone through a considerable amount of intimidation and having been seriously debilitated by the process, had her case thrown out at the end of the day because my right honourable friend did not have the powers to intervene.

We are saying, of course, that the local machinery should be used and we believe that, in most cases, the local machinery would suffice, but when that is exhausted and a complaint comes to my right honourable friend, the power to which I am referring would permit the Secretary of State to intervene where a SACRE acts unreasonably or in default of its duties. In other words, it would have to be proven that it had been unreasonable and acted in default of its duties in respect of determinations lifting the requirements for collective worship to be broadly Christian; and to issue such directions to councils as he thinks expedient. It is an absolute end-of-the-line resort but, after seeing what Mrs. Bell went through, I think that it is very important that no other parent should be intimidated by the process.

Lord Sefton of Garston

It would be highly improper of me to describe proceedings in this Chamber as a farce, but I spent two hours earlier listening to a debate in which moral issues relating to sex were raised. I did not have a particularly firm point of view either way. I certainly did not intend to vote because it was all to do with parents' choice and I am not a parent. During that time, however, hundreds of people must have died in various parts of the world in obscene actions by human beings, and some of them will have died because of religion.

When the 1988 Act was going through this House, I tabled an amendment to the effect that we should have religious education, but that it should not be propaganda or further any particular religion. I wanted children to be taught about religion in all its aspects—all of its bad aspects, as well as all of its good aspects—and I wanted them to be taught about the different religions. Slowly but surely, however, we are getting back to the position where this House (and the Government) are about to resolve that we should be providing religious education only for the Christian religion—and the other religions will be ignored.

A later amendment restricts the study of religion to two or perhaps three—

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. First, we are not talking to that amendment now, although we shall be doing so in a moment. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that the law requires that children study Christianity and all other principal religions. That is how the law stands at the moment—

Lord Sefton of Garston

I know how the law stands. I was simply seeking to try to save a little time by trying to group the lot. I tried to give—

Baroness Blatch


Lord Sefton of Garston

Well, if the Minister does not want me to deal with that now, I shall sit down after dealing briefly with what we are talking about. I shall rise again later, and the Committee will sit for longer—

Baroness Blatch

I was not wishing to be discourteous to the noble Lord, but the amendment stands in my noble friend's name and it must be for my noble friend to determine whether she wishes to discuss all of these amendments together, but they relate to very different issues. I shall bow to my noble friend if she wishes it. I think that it is wrong for other members of the Committee to take it upon themselves to group another noble Lord's amendments.

Lord Sefton of Garston

I am tempted to use the word "farce". It is ten minutes past two in the morning and we are probably discussing one of the most moral issues that we could discuss. It is a ridiculous way to conduct our business.

The Committee may not want me to refer to the amendment which is to be moved later because we all know what will happen to it. At half past two in the morning the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, will move the amendment and then withdraw it. We shall not vote on it. Here we have been since the previous amendment on which we voted talking about the problems but no decision has been taken. All the amendments have been withdrawn, which is a ridiculous way for this Chamber to conduct its affairs. That is all I am saying.

I did not intend to speak about religion because I spoke about it when we debated the 1988 Act. I was quite content to let the matter go and see whether the people deciding what should be taught in schools had come round to my point of view. Evidently they have not. We shall now revert to the strict teaching of what are called "our principal religions". I shall repeat what I said in 1988. If our principal religions cannot look after their affairs much better than they do—I refer particularly to Northern Ireland—it is about time that we started abolishing religion in our schools and moved to a secular form of education.

Baroness Cox

Perhaps I may return to the amendment which I originally moved. I thank my noble friend for sharing the anxieties which underpinned the amendment, for the undertaking and willingness to consider some of the aspects further and for some of the initiatives which she has already taken. With great gratitude and appreciation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 276A to 277'A not moved.]

Clauses 230 to 236 agreed to.

Clause 237 [Transfer of functions in relation to Wales]:

[Amendments Nos. 277B and 278 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 279 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List].

[Amendment No. 279A not moved.]

Clause 237 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 279B not moved.]

Clause 238 agreed to.

Schedule 14 [Amendments consequential on section 238]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 279C: Page 207, line 9, at end insert: ("( ) In section 11(13), for "the Curriculum Council for Wales" there is substituted "the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales".").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 276. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount St. Davids moved Amendment No. 279D: Page 207, line 22, leave out sub-paragraph (6) and insert: ("The Charities Act 1993 In Schedule 2 to the Charities Act 1993 (exempt charities) for paragraph (f) there is substituted— (f) the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales;" ").

The noble Viscount said: Schedule 14 makes the necessary changes to past legislation resulting from the change of name of the Curriculum Council for Wales to the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales and its Welsh equivalent. The amendment provides for that change to be reflected in the Charities Act 1993. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

2.15 a.m.

Schedule 14, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 280 not moved.]

Clause 239 [Reconsideration of agreed syllabus]:

[Amendments Nos. 281 and 282 not moved.]

Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 283: Page 143, line 46, at end insert: ("( ) at the end of sub-paragraph (2) there shall be inserted— (c) it appears to the authority that the new syllabus has regard to the educational desirability of studying no more than 2, or where the authority are satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances affecting its area, 3 principal religious traditions at a detailed level provided that nothing in this sub-paragraph shall prevent an authority adopting a syllabus requiring at primary level greater concentration on the Christian faith." ").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is another probing amendment. I thank other Members of the Committee who support it. It seeks to ensure that LEAs, when adopting an agreed syllabus for religious education, have regard to the desirability of studying a limited number of faiths in detail rather than a large number of faiths at a superficial level. One of the two or three faiths studied will be Christianity and the amendment specifically allows a more detailed study of Christianity to take place at the primary stage.

There is a growing recognition among colleagues in religious education that for the sake of academic and theological rigour, there should be limits on the number of faiths to be studied in detail. It is perhaps relevant to note that the Schools Examination and Assessment Council has, in its new criteria for GCSE religious studies, limited to two the maximum number of faiths that pupils should study. The Board of Education of the General Synod has endorsed the view: that for any school to study more than three religions could risk a trivialisation of those faiths by not treating each one with the seriousness, depth and respect it deserves".

Moreover, the recent report from the National Curriculum Council has shown that it would be helpful for LEAs to receive guidance on the number of faiths to be taught in detail. That NCC report names 12 LEAs which put no limit on the number of faiths to be studied by five year-olds. A letter to The Times on 10th April of this year signed by 30 members of the General Synod—that is over 10 per cent, of the House of Laity—described that approach as "bad educational practice". Because the matter is so serious, perhaps I may quote briefly from that letter: Although less than 4 per cent, of the population adhere to a non-Christian faith we believe that young people should learn about the important non-Christian faiths represented in Great Britain. It is better to do this at the secondary stage and to ensure that all young people study one faith or, exceptionally, two faiths coherently and in detail, with introductory work on other faiths. Instead of this, many diocesan advisers have been backing syllabuses which set no limit on the number of faiths to be studied, even for children as young as five. This is bad educational practice and leads to teaching which tends to trivialise all faiths".

That point was also well made in this Chamber some years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, when he quoted the present Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: It happens with the best of intentions … a touch of Christianity; a dash of Judaism; a slice of Islam; and so on through a fruit cocktails of world faiths … In trying to teach all faiths, it is possible that we succeed in teaching none". This is such a serious matter that I must briefly underline the three anxieties which underpin the amendment. First, there is anxiety about the approach to the teaching of RE which has been characterised as the thematic multi-faith approach where themes or concepts are taken out of the context of major faiths and looked at in terms of superficial similarities; for example, spring festivals, fire or water. That leads to excessive superficiality because such concepts taken out of context cannot deal adequately with the complexity of theological systems of belief of major world religions. For example, one book which was widely used in that context, Beginning Religion, dealt with the Lord's Prayer on the same page as shamanism. A further example is that British pupils from British homes, when they were coming up to school-leaving age, still did not know the four Gospels, who the disciples were or who Pontius Pilate was and, as someone said, would not even know how to spell the latter's name. That really matters, not just because, primarily, Christianity is the main historical heritage of this land, but also because, without such knowledge, our young people cannot appreciate our cultural heritage. They cannot appreciate our art, literature or architecture; nor can they appreciate our social and political heritage which has largely been shaped over the centuries by Christian traditions and inspired by Christian ideals.

It is also significant to note that many parents of children from non-Christian traditions often choose to send their children to Christian-denominational schools. That is partly because they appreciate the fact that those schools transmit spiritual and moral values which they greatly appreciate, and partly because they are keen for their children to become acquainted with the religious tradition which has shaped the history of the land in which they now live.

Finally, and just by way of a reminder of an important caveat, it is important to remember that parents who do not want their children to study RE can always exercise their right of withdrawal. Moreover, in the 1988 Act there was the historic decision for pupils from other faiths, when they are present in sufficient or significant numbers, to have a religious education which reflects their own religious adherence. That was a very important right for representatives of non-Christian faith communities.

In conclusion, I should point out that the amendment deals specifically with RE teaching in primary schools. In that context, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, in his preface to the forthcoming Church of England's schools handbook, articulated the point underlying the amendment. When speaking for the great majority of children in this country who do not come from families of non-Christian faiths and about the limits on the number of faiths that should be taught in primary schools, he said that, young children should first be given a firm and unapologetic grounding in their own culture and in the religion of their parents, and only later be encouraged to compare and contrast other cultures and faiths. The stage of critical understanding requires maturity. If it comes too soon the child is exposed to a bewilderingly complex world before it has had time to establish its own personal and social identity". I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will respond sympathetically to the ideas underpinning the amendment which is designed to encourage syllabus conferences and LEAs to follow a more rigorous approach academically and theologically than the superficial approach which pertains too often at the moment and which can destroy the integrity and the coherence of any, and of all, faiths. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

When I first read the amendment I was a little worried, but as the noble Baroness's approach is primarily a probing one, my initial worries have been put to rest. The noble Baroness has a point here in so far as there is a certain limit as to how much you can do. However, there is a danger that the amendment is a little over-prescriptive in that it says that there should be a fixed limit. I have in mind the point about two religions. For example, if you try to include different types of religion, such as Hinduism, with one of the one-deity religions, you will have two very different contrasts. Indeed, there is a variety of contrasts across the board. There are different approaches within certain types of educational tradition which might have more similar origin. But, there again, that is possibly far too academic a point to take up with children at the first stage of secondary school. It will be interesting to hear from the Government exactly how far they think this type of study should be spread and to what level it would be appropriate for it to mean anything to any of the children involved.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Many of us were most concerned when this Chamber agreed in the Education Reform Act 1988 that local agreed syllabuses should be required to reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain. It was the first time that the Christian religion had been mentioned in religious education legislation. That appeared to some of us an unnecessary narrowing of religious education. It was particularly worrying to Humanists like me who feel that religious education is a matter for the home and the Church and not for our schools.

This amendment confirms our fears that there will be continuing restrictions. Restricting study to two or, in exceptional circumstances, three religions shows a narrowness of view which should not apply to religious education of all subjects.

Section 8(3) of the 1988 Act specifically refers to the need to secure breadth, balance and flexibility. This permits our schools to teach about Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and other world religions; and, in my view, rightly so.

One of my regrets is that Humanism is not given its proper place. Children ought to be told that some people base their lives on moral standards which are not related to a god. This amendment will almost certainly cause difficulties with the existing arrangements. It will restrict the freedom enjoyed by locally based agreed syllabus conferences and threaten the good will that leads to their decisions. It would also reduce the representative composition of agreed syllabus conferences and therefore would also endanger relationships within local communities. I can think of little more disastrous than that in the field of religion.

It is interesting that letters have been received from organisations as disparate as the British Humanist Association and the Professional Religious Education Group. That latter group incidentally comprises five organisations concerned with religious education. I think I am correct in saying that they cover the whole area in the teaching of religious education. Among other things they say: It could generate reactions damaging to and within Christianity, not least because its reference to primary pupils and Christianity could be read to indicate aims which are other than educational". Surely that would be a matter of considerable anxiety to Christians. That is a pretty damning statement to make about the amendment, particularly as it appears to come from people who are Christians.

One of the great attributes of this Chamber is its tolerance and libertarian views. I find it difficult to believe that this restrictive proposal would be acceptable and I hope that the amendment will be rejected overwhelmingly.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

This amendment arises out of a very proper concern to avoid superficiality in the study of religion. Trying to cover Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and so on, can result in doing little more than giving a cursory glance at each and giving the impression that these are all of equal significance or insignificance in the history, culture and tradition of the nation. We should avoid superficiality with its risk of trivialisation. Having said that, I must say I am not content to go along with this amendment as it stands. I am not convinced that it is suitable for primary legislation.

Perhaps I can give my reasons. First, what I think we want to achieve is that so far as possible—the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, quoted the Archbishop of York on this issue—each young person should have the opportunity of studying his or her own religion. If we are familiar with and confident in our own tradition, we are more likely to be openminded and perceptive of other people's traditions. Which religions should be studied and how many? Surely that depends upon the cultural and faith background of the people in the locality and in any particular school. To be prescriptive by laying down that there should be only two and perhaps three religions taught could easily be far too narrow for the position in a number of schools.

Secondly, I think that all young people should have the opportunity of studying Christianity whether they belong to another faith or none because this is the faith and culture which has been and is most influential in our national heritage and identity. If we do not have a working knowledge of Christianity, we shall be inadequately equipped to understand much of British history, literature and art.

Thirdly, much depends on the way in which religions are taught to young people. In studying two or three religions, young people should be encouraged to recognise that they are indicative of a number of other religions. Someone who studies two or three languages often develops linguistic skills which enables him to appreciate and understand many other languages. But if a linguist tries to study all languages at once, he usually becomes a walking Tower of Babel. It is neither necessary nor practical to encourage young people to study all religions, provided that when they are being taught fewer religions they are encouraged to recognise that that gives them an opportunity to have an insight into a number of other traditions and religions.

Fourthly, I am not happy with the amendment, because it presupposes that all religious education will be carried out by studying separate religions. In general terms I support that approach which I believe to be the proper one. But there are some stages and some contexts in which the thematic approach is appropriate. Studying prayer across the religions can be instructive. The amendment too readily presupposes that such an approach is unacceptable.

My fifth reason—this touches upon what the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, has said—is that I am anxious about so soon adjusting the 1988 religious education settlement which was reached after considerable difficulty. We need to give more time to what was then agreed. Let us ensure that religious education is given by qualified and experienced teachers and that it is securely funded and resourced. Let us deepen young people's understanding of the spiritual and moral dimension of life. But I believe it is better not to risk—if I may term it such—this rather restrictive amendment. We might find that it is acceptable to move in this direction, at any rate to the extent of saying that at any one key stage there should not be more than two or three religions studied. If there could be flexibility between one key stage and another, that might give us greater versatility without risking superficiality. I understand the reasons for the amendment, but for the reasons I have given I am not entirely happy with it as it stands.

2.30 a.m.

Lord Judd

It is always good to hear the right reverend Prelate. His clarity and generosity are welcome. I wish we heard him more often during these long nights, because I always find what he says challenging. We must recognise that there is considerable anxiety about the real significance of the amendment. The second line of paragraph (c) contains the phrase "educational desirability". But what is the case for claiming that there is educational desirability in studying no more than two or three religious traditions at a detailed level? The history orders, for example, expect children at Key Stage 2 to study Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Ancient Greeks, Tudors, Stuarts, Victorians, Aztecs, and a past non-European society chosen from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, the Indus Valley, The Maya, Benin". It is possible that the amendment greatly underestimates the ability of young children to study religions.

There are a number of schools in a multi-racial area such as Southall where the make up of the school population is roughly 56 per cent. Sikh; 20 per cent. Hindu; 12 per cent. Moslem; and 2 per cent, other, including Christian. The amendment would entail the religion of 12 per cent, of those schools' populations (the Moslems) being all but ignored, even though Islam is the second biggest of the world's religious faiths and the second biggest religious tradition in Great Britain. There are more Moslems today than there are Methodists. Presumably, a similar situation can be found all over the West Midlands and in Yorkshire.

Furthermore, the amendment could lead also to Judaism slipping off schools' schemes of work, despite the historic importance of Judaism, and the importance many Christian educators would place upon children understanding Judaism as a necessary background to understanding Christianity. When considering her response, it is important that the Minister takes into account not only what is being said in this Chamber but what is being said by those outside.

I have received a number of powerful letters on the amendment. With the leave of the Committee, I wish to share a few of those letters with members of the Committee. The first is from the Professional Religious Education Group, an impressive body which has among its Christian members people who come from the evangelical and liberal traditions. I know that the Minister will recall the interesting meeting we had in her office some months ago with representatives of that organisation.

My noble friend has already quoted from this letter. However, I wish to give two other brief quotations. In referring to the amendment, the letter states: It would fundamentally alter the framework of RE set up in Section 8.3 of the 1988 Act (its breadth, balance, and flexibility). It would undoubtedly marginalise Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and other principal world religions present in Britain, any of which might not achieve 'second place' to Christianity". Among other arguments, the letter continues: It has the potential to cause division and disruption of inter-faith and other relationships, both nationally within the religious and secular mix of our society and locally in SACREs, ASCs, and local communities (including parents, governors, and teachers)". I have also received a letter from the Free Church Federal Council. The representatives of the Free Church state in their letter: This clause is modelled on the proposals relating to the GCSE criteria for the number of religions to be studied academically for examination purposes at the age of 16. It is totally inappropriate to include the restrictions of two or in exceptional circumstances three religions. It is not rational for two reasons". The letter continues: Firstly, although one does not want to encourage superficiality in religious education, pupils ought to be introduced to certain basic facts about the major religions other than Christianity which they will encounter either amongst their fellow pupils or as they read the press or later in life travel for business or pleasure". The representatives conclude their observations by saying: It would be extremely difficult to uphold in certain areas of the country particularly the limited choice of two, or even three exceptionally, religions without causing religious and cultural offence since one of the religions must always be Christianity in accordance with the ERA Clause 8/". Before concluding I must read from another letter which impressed me greatly. It comes from the National Council of Hindu Temples. Mr Deepak Naik states: Amendment No. 283 referring to Page 143, line 46 of the Bill. The force of this amendment would be to alter current interpretations of Clause 8.3 of the Education Reform Act. Currently it is expected that all new religious education syllabuses should cover Christianity and the other principal religions represented in Great Britain. The force of the proposed amendment would be to allow Agreed Syllabus conferences to interpret Clause 8.3 differently preventing the detailed study of no more than two or possibly three principal religious traditions. The adoption of this Clause could marginalise a religion like Hinduism which we believe should be properly understood by all young people growing up in this society. What hope can there be for good community relations without the possibility of mutual understanding generated by good education? We are not in the business of converting pupils to Hinduism, but are concerned that all young people in our society should have some understanding of our ancient tradition and know something of the people who practise that tradition in Britain". In his earlier observations, my noble friend Lord Sefton spoke about the damage that has been done to human relations in the name of religion. I suggest that we have tried to introduce, by legislation already in place, an approach to religious education which means education in depth, in perspective, which takes a broad look at what religion means and involves and which examines and respects the sincerity of people who come from other traditions. Anything which could curb that or narrow it would be unfortunate. I urge the Minister to reject the amendment.

Lord Sefton of Garston

This was the debate that I tried to short-circuit, but here I am starting it. I could have said what I wanted to say at that time but I was not able to. I remember one other occasion when we were discussing education. It was moved that I be no longer heard. I did not know why. I accepted that it was perfectly in order, but it drove me to table an amendment later to make sure that I would be heard.

I think that the Companion for this Chamber is absolutely right. It advises against the preparation of written speeches and people then coming here and reading them, whatever anyone else had said. That was why the debate this afternoon—I thought it was this afternoon; it was at half-past 10 at night—went on so long and the mover of the appropriate amendment said that people had come here having prepared a written speech but they had not heard what he was saying. That is why I do not have a written speech.

Now that we have had the debate I should like to pick up some of the points. First, I shall give a quotation from this organisation which is new to me, the Professional Religious Education Group, referring to the amendment: If unchanged, it could lead to segregation of schools upon racial or religious lines, and exacerbate local division and mistrust". That is because the new amendment seeks to take away the local control, and that is the danger in it.

Perhaps I may go on to a wider field. The right reverend Prelate thinks that a person should study his or her own religion. I do not know exactly what he meant. A person may be born a Catholic, a Christian, a Methodist or something else. What is "his or her religion"? It is what society has taught a child, and it has never really understood any of the problems. It is the religion that it is supposed to have. A child of five goes to school and is asked: "What are you, a Christian?" He answers, "I'm a Catholic" or "a Protestant". The child is no such thing; our society brought it into the faith and that is where the division first started. The finest words of wisdom that have been spoken on Northern Ireland were by a 14 year-old Catholic girl. After a tremendous massacre, she and a Protestant girl decided that no longer would they go to school in segregated buses. That has been the problem.

I said that this situation would happen. We have had an echo tonight of what happened over the Education Reform Act 1988. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, moved an amendment; the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London opposed it and asked her to withdraw it because he realised that it was so over the top that it would introduce animosity to many people who would not otherwise suffer it. Now we have it again. The noble Baroness proposes something; the right reverend Prelate advises her in almost the same words, "Don't press it. It is going too far. Let's move slowly". We shall move in this direction, but let us not move so quickly that we offend anyone else. That is the whole principle.

At the end of the day both my noble friends Lord Judd and Lord Dormand have referred to what will happen. The amendment will minimise all the other religions. We may say that that is not important in regard to our country. It may not be, but our world is global. I tried to point out earlier, while we were discussing moral attitudes in relation to sexual conduct, that there were remarkable actions going on all over the world which we have not even bothered to debate. At the basis of it all, one can see religion and nationalism, and they threaten the very existence of this world. Whenever one sees the new movements breaking up a country, one always sees the Churches. If we give the impression that we can retain our own Christianity without having a human attitude to morality, then we shall never live in the world, and the world will never be at peace.

I do not know whether the noble Lord the Chief Whip wants to say something. He is looking at me and pulling a face. Does the noble Lord want to say something? If he does not, he should not be looking at me and pulling faces like that. If the noble Lord wants to say something, he should say it —I do not mind how much time it will take. The attitude is the same. The noble Lord just walked into the Chamber and heard only half of what had been said, but because he does not think it is right, he expresses his disfavour. That happens over and over again. People do not even think about what they say. Out of courtesy, I shall conclude on this note, but I could go on for much longer.

Tremendously important issues face the whole world. If we are part of that world, then we have to examine the real problems. Those problems, by and large, stem from the religions that have no scientific basis. They are merely repetitions of myths, most of which are untrue. None can be demonstrated to be true. Certainly the history of the religions of this world has demonstrated that if they are anything at all, they are downright wicked.

2.45 a.m.

Viscount Brentford

It is very important that young people study the Christian and non-Christian faiths in a way which respects their coherence and integrity. I believe that that is exactly what the right reverend Prelate was saying; namely, that we need to avoid superficiality. I say to him that the reason this amendment is being brought forward is that experience over the past four or five years has shown that many of the young people who are being taught in this way have acquired only a muddle and mish-mash from five or six different religions, and they cannot get the basics of any of them.

Something along the lines of this amendment is called for as a result of the experience that has been gained. That is why I wish to support the principle of what my noble friend Lady Cox pushes for in this probing amendment. We want the boys and girls to understand something of the non-Christian, as well as the Christian, faiths. I believe it is better to study just two or three others in detail—perhaps we can be a bit more flexible than this amendment—rather than give them the superficial treatment that has gone on in too many schools recently.

Baroness Blatch

I too join with my noble friends Lady Cox and Lord Brentford, and the right reverend Prelate, in believing that in this amendment my noble friend was concerned to avoid superficiality and what we have come to know as muddle and mish-mash, but also to take proper account of how much a pupil can absorb, especially younger children.

The arrangements set in place in 1988 have several advantages that would be lost by the adoption of this amendment. The Government are committed to the position of religious education as a subject for local determination. Local conferences should have flexibility in drawing up a syllabus that best meets the needs of their local community. That may be a local community where, even within a single school, many different religious traditions are represented. I do not think that it would be helpful to such schools to be required to teach a syllabus that failed to offer even the opportunity to address many of those religions. We should not restrict local autonomy more than is necessary.

The requirements of the 1988 Act with regard to content complement this local flexibility. The position of Christianity is quite rightly already of central importance in the teaching of RE. While this amendment refers specially to this issue, the Committee should have no fears on that score. But, as well as securing the place of Christianity, the 1988 Act requires that local conferences should take account of the practices and teachings of the other principal religions in this country in drawing up a syllabus. That is an important requirement. It ensures that, in the spirit of this country's belief in religious tolerance, all our school children are able to learn and appreciate something of each other's beliefs in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

The law at present requires syllabuses to include all principal religions. An agreed syllabus which covers the period from age 5 to age 18 should ensure that by the time children reach the end of their school education they have at least a basic knowledge of all the major religions, in addition to a more detailed knowledge of Christianity, which lies at the heart of British culture.

I accept that at any particular stage of education it may be appropriate for children to concentrate on fewer religious traditions. Such an approach seems to me more likely to ensure that they will learn about each religion as an integral study rather than acquiring a confused ragbag of knowledge about all religions but being unable to distinguish between them. We plan to make that point in guidance issued after this Bill has completed its passage through Parliament.

But that does not mean that we should seek so to inhibit syllabus conferences that pupils will end their education knowing next to nothing about certain religions. That would be contrary to the 1988 arrangements and contrary to our hopes for a tolerant and understanding society.

What is important in the teaching of religious education is the integrity of each religion. That integrity should be preserved. The plea of the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, was for the inclusion of humanism. Humanism is not a religion. It does not achieve the objective of enhancing the spirituality and spiritual dimension for young people.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Perhaps the noble Baroness will give way. She is absolutely right in what she says. There is a certain illogicality in claiming that humanism is a religion in so far as humanists reject religion. However, I hope she will agree that for young people—the right reverend Prelate, the Minister and other noble Lords have said so—there should be teaching of the other religions of the world. It seems to me that it would be very proper for the children in our schools to be given some account of what humanism is about. I hope that the Minister will comment on that point as well.

Baroness Blatch

I am sorry but I have to differ from the noble Lord. I do not believe that humanism is a religion, and we are here talking of religious education. I do not believe that it achieves the objective of enhancing the spiritual dimension and spirituality of young people.

As I was about to say to my noble friend, the amendment contains a technical difficulty in that it would apply as drafted only to the case where an agreed syllabus conference recommends that an existing syllabus should remain in force.

My noble friend argued strongly that we should address that point further. I shall do so gladly. I shall look particularly at whether guidance will be sufficient to address the point, which I know was raised by the right reverend Prelate, that the number of religions studied in depth at any one time should be manageable. In the light of that promise I expect my noble friend not to press the amendment.

Baroness Cox

I am most grateful to all those who have taken part in this debate. It is probing amendment and therefore somewhat of a learning exercise. I am pleased to learn from every contribution that is made. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his sympathy with the essence of the amendment in so far as it tries to avoid superficiality in the study of major world religions which trivialises them. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brentford who pointed out that again the heart of the amendment was not a lack of respect for different faiths but that it was precisely respect for them that prompted us to put forward this recommendation. It was to prevent superficiality and to prevent studying so much at once that young people would become confused and not appreciate the significance of the complexity of major world faiths.

That was the focus of our concern; namely, that we wanted to do justice to various world religions and respect them. This is a probing amendment and we are sympathetic to variations on the theme of our concerns and particularly sympathetic to the idea that perhaps there would be a serial study. There should be a limit on how many world religions should be studied at any one point in time rather than an overall limit which might be—I sincerely accept—a deprivation in that it reduced young people's understanding of the other major world religions, especially those whose communities are living in this country at the present time.

I conclude by thanking my noble friend sincerely for her undertaking that she will consider whether there are ways in which she might bring forward the spirit of the amendment. With that appreciation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 284 not moved.]

Clause 239 agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 284A: After Clause 239, insert the following new clause: Power of Secretary of State to direct SACRE to revoke determination or discharge duty (". After section 12 of the Education Reform Act 1988 (determination by advisory councils) there is inserted— Power of Secretary of State to direct advisory council to revoke determination or discharge duty. 12A.—(1) Where the Secretary of State is satisfied, either on complaint by any person or otherwise, that any standing advisory council on religious education—

  1. (a) have acted, or are proposing to act, unreasonably in determining for the purposes of subsection (1) or (5) of section 12 of this Act whether it is appropriate for the requirement for Christian collective worship to apply in the case of any school or any class or description of pupils at a school, or
  2. (b) have failed to discharge any duty imposed under that section,
he may give the council such directions as to the revocation of the determination or the withdrawal of the proposed determination or (as the case may be) the discharge of the duty as appear to him to be expedient; and the council shall comply with the directions. (2) Directions under subsection (1) above may provide for the making by the council of a new determination to take effect in place of the determination or proposed determination to be revoked or withdrawn by them. (3) In this section, "requirement for Christian collective worship" means the requirement imposed by section 7(1) of this Act or, as the case may be, section 131(2) of the Education Act 1993." "). The noble Baroness said: This amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 276. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 285 not moved.]

Clause 240 [Arrangements for admissions]:

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 285A: Page 144, line 13, leave out ("approved by the Secretary of State") and insert ("made by a local education authority").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 285A I shall speak also to Amendments No. 285B, 285C, 285D, 285E, 285F, 285G, 285H and 285J.

The purpose of the amendment is to take the Secretary of State's power to make arrangements for co-ordinating the admission of pupils to LEA maintained and grant-maintained schools and to replace it with the local education authority exercising that power.

The LEA has been responsible for co-ordinating the admission arrangements for county and voluntary schools for nearly 50 years. That has been successfully done, on the whole, with over 90 per cent, of parents receiving their first choice of a secondary school. Re-organisation of the education system with the invention of grant-maintained schools has reduced the proportion of parents achieving their first choice, and with unfortunate consequences as were seen in Bromley and Hillingdon last summer, where children were offered places at schools often many miles from their homes when it was likely that a place would eventually be found at a much nearer grant-maintained school.

The purpose of the amendment is to replace the power of the Secretary of State with that of the LEA. The LEAs have a proven track-record in co-ordinating admission arrangements between the schools and should be allowed to continue that role. It is preposterous to imagine that the Secretary of State will have the local and detailed knowledge with which to impose a co-ordinated admission arrangement scheme between LEA and grant-maintained schools. It is much better that a locally elected, democratic body with a local knowledge should determine how the admissions arrangements should be co-ordinated.

The Government have recognised that there are limits to the powers of the Secretary of State as shown by the amendments to Clause 244, where the Secretary of State will no longer be required to supply names of people who sit on admission appeals committees. If the limits of the Secretary of State's power have been recognised, why do the Government wish to impose the Secretary of State's solution on what should be a local matter; namely, the arrangements for the admission to schools?

The amendments have the support of the Association of County Councils, the Association of London Authorities, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the London Boroughs Association. In other words, they cover all political shades of opinion in local government. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

It is the Government's policy to encourage voluntary co-ordination of admission arrangements between LEAs and GM schools—which is, of course, possible under existing legislation.

The background to our proposals in Clause 240 is the problems experienced by parents in Bromley and Hillingdon last summer. But we should keep those in their proper perspective. The problems were concentrated in a handful of LEAs and affected a few hundred pupils, all of whom were offered places by Easter. The problems were not without a silver lining; valuable lessons were learned by the schools and LEAs concerned. The consequence has been that, for this year's admission round, co-ordinated arrangements have been developed and implemented by the LEAs and GM schools themselves on a voluntary basis—in Bromley and Hillingdon, and in other areas, too. Those voluntary arrangements appear to have worked more smoothly, although, inevitably, there were still some teething problems. The department is keeping a close eye on voluntary arrangements already in place, with a view to propagating good practice. It is organising a conference in June for LEAs and grant-maintained schools that have been involved in arrangements so that they can discuss their experiences and outline possible ways forward.

I am optimistic that the majority of co-ordinated arrangements will work perfectly well without the need for any central intervention. But I recognise that we cannot rely solely on voluntary arrangements. The Secretary of State's power to impose co-ordinated arrangements on a group of admission authorities is designed as a last resort to be used when admission authorities are unable to agree co-ordinated arrangements in an area when they are clearly necessary. Clause 240 will also give the Secretary of State the power to impose common arrangements on all, or certain categories, of admission authorities.

The noble Lord's proposed amendments would remove all the Secretary of State's powers relating to co-ordinated admission arrangements, and would transfer them to the LEA. This would mean that the party making the final decisions in cases where agreement could not be reached would not be an impartial outside observer, but one of the interested parties involved in the dispute. These amendments would give LEAs power to impose their own arrangements on grant-maintained schools, which should no longer be under the control of LEAs. I cannot accept these amendments. As I have already said, it is important that the Secretary of State should have a reserve power to impose co-ordinated arrangements where agreement at local level has proved impossible. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed; and if it is, that it will be rejected.

3 a.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I shall not be pressing the amendment to a Division tonight, although I have to say that I am disappointed with the reply we have received. The idea that the Secretary of State will be more impartial than the locally elected authority when dealing with these problems is something I find slightly difficult to believe. Nevertheless, given the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 285B to 285J not moved.]

The Lord Bishop of Guildford moved Amendment No. 286: Page 145, line 10, at end insert: (" () After section 7(4) of the Education Act 1980 (appeals against admission decisions) there shall be inserted— (4A) The local education authority shall be responsible for meeting all costs and expenses incurred by an appeal committee established to hear appeals in respect of schools maintained by it and shall indemnify the members of any such appeal committee against all costs and liabilities which they may incur in respect of any action taken or decision made by them acting as such member in good faith.".").

The right reverend Prelate said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 287B. These two amendments deal with the cost of appeals against exclusions and admissions decisions in aided schools. I think I am right in saying that the 1980 Act required the admission appeal committees to be set up and the 1986 Act required exclusion appeal committees to be set up. They are committees neither of the governing body nor of the local education authority and there is doubt therefore as to who should meet the costs.

There is the further point of indemnity should litigious parents take the appeal committee to court. It seems reasonable to ask the local education authority to meet these costs although I recognise that the LEA will want some kind of control over matters such as travelling expenses and legal advice. I am not quite sure how this is to be obtained. I move the amendment because there seems to be a grey area and I think that we need something in black and white. I therefore move it in the hope of eliciting a response from the Government. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

I can give the right reverend Prelate something of an assurance. We accept in principle the main purpose of these amendments—to protect appeal committee members from legal costs associated with their decisions. But as currently drafted the amendments themselves would require LEAs and governing bodies to reimburse any expenses which members incur. We do not accept the principle that LEAs and governing bodies should be required to reimburse all costs other than legal costs incurred by members of appeal committees. This might, for example, be taken to include generous attendance allowances and claims for loss of earnings.

We will therefore accept the principle, as limited as I have described, of these amendments and will table government amendments at Report stage. Parallel amendments will also apply to grant-maintained schools which are not in fact covered by the right reverend Prelate's amendments. With that assurance I hope that the right reverend Prelate will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I look forward to having sight of the amendments in order that they can be considered and understood by our officials. In the light of what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 240 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 287 not moved.]

Clauses 241 to 244 agreed to.

Schedule 15 [School admission appeals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 287ZA: Page 207, line 42, leave out from beginning to ("and") and insert ("who are eligible to be lay members").

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this with Amendment No. 158A. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 287ZB: Page 208, line 20, leave out from beginning to ("and") and insert ("who are eligible to be lay members").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 287ZC: Page 208, line 41, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 209 and insert: ("Lay members 4A.—(1) A person is eligible to be a lay member for the purposes of paragraphs 1(2) (a) and 2(2) (a) above if—

  1. (a) he is a person without personal experience in the management of any school or the provision of education in any school (otherwise than as a governor or in any other voluntary capacity), and
  2. (b) he satisfies the conditions specified in sub-paragraph (2) below.
(2) Those conditions are—
  1. (a) in the case of a person to be nominated as a lay member for the purposes of paragraph 1(2) (a) above, that he does not have, or has not at any time had, any connection with—
  2. (i) the local education authority in question, or
  3. (ii) any person who is a member of, or employed by, that authority,
of a kind which might reasonably be taken to raise doubts about his ability to act impartially in relation to the authority, and
  1. (b) in the case of a person to be nominated as a lay member for the purposes of paragraph 2(2) (a) above, that he does not have, or has not at any time had, any connection with—
  2. (i) the school in question, or
  3. (ii) any person who is a member of, or employed by, the governing body of that school,
of a kind which might reasonably be taken to raise doubts about his ability to act impartially in relation to the school.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 287ZD: Page 208, line 41, leave out ("Secretary of State's") and insert ("local authority's").

The noble Lord said: The effect of Amendments Nos. 287ZD, 287ZE and 287ZF, would be to transfer responsibility for the keeping of a list of lay members from the Secretary of State to the local authority in respect of LEA-maintained schools. The Bill proposes that all admission appeal committees should have one lay member. The Bill does not suggest how "lay member" will be defined. Admission appeal committees are already independent of the LEA. Their membership is comprised of a mixture of members of the authority and other people with educational experience or local knowledge, which can include parents.

Existing legislation already ensures that there should be at least one person who is not a member of the authority on an appeal committee, but who has local knowledge or expertise. The code of practice issued by the local authority associations and approved by the Ombudsman and the Council on Tribunals, also suggests that a local authority should maintain a panel of names from which members of appeal committees can be drawn.

It is not clear that the proposal in the Bill would add much to existing arrangements other than an extra layer of red tape. Every summer, thousands of admissions appeals are held: some authorities will hear upwards of 1000 each. For hearings related to an individual school, the membership of the panel must be constant. The same group of people may have to hear 50 or 100 or more appeals for one school alone. The timetabling of these hearings already presents a formidable challenge. Arrangements must be as convenient as possible for parents, but are inevitably also dictated by the availability of panel members who are not paid for this often stressful work. I can bear that out from my own local authority experience.

For this reason, authorities need to have considerable flexibility in making nominations to committees. Last-minute substitutes may sometimes need to be made. What must not be allowed to happen is that an authority is unable to arrange hearings, or must cancel them, because no-one is available from the Secretary of State's list and no nominees can be approved and processed by the DFE quickly enough which may occasionally mean in a day or less.

It is not clear how the Secretary of State will exercise his control over the list and, in particular, what criteria will be used in judging whether a nominee is "lay". Presumably, however, the Secretary of State will be using open, objective criteria to judge the laity. Why not, then, allow LEAs to apply these? This would allow authorities to keep lists up-to-date and sufficient for their needs at all times. The alternative is unnecessary centralisation of the process. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I believe that I am able to help the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, because I do not believe that he has picked up that I actually made amendments on 27th April, and tabled amendments to Schedules 5 and 15. They removed the requirement that lay members of admission appeal committees must be appointed from a list drawn up by the Secretary of State. The Government believed that the requirement to appoint lay members from a central list was too bureaucratic, just as the noble Lord has suggested, and that it would be more within the spirit of local management to allow admission authorities to make their own choice, subject of course to certain safeguards designed to help to ensure that the individual is truly independent. Therefore, I believe that the noble Lord's amendments have been superseded by those amendments. With that, I hope he will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I am most grateful. I am happy to beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 287ZE and 287ZF not moved.]

[Amendment No. 287 A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Schedule 15 agreed to.

Clauses 245 and 246 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 287B not moved.]

Viscount Astor

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House Resumed.

House adjourned at eleven minutes past three o'clock.