HL Deb 24 June 1997 vol 580 cc1492-537

4.45 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, in 1845 when Bishop Samuel Wilberforce took his seat in this House Prince Albert gave him the following advice: A Bishop ought to abstain completely from mixing himself up with the politics of the day, and beyond giving a general support to the Queen's government, should take no part in the discussion of state affairs". That remains sound advice. The Prince, however, went on to say: … but he should come forward whenever the interests of humanity are at stake, and give boldly and manfully his advice to House and Country (I mean questions like the education of the people, the health of towns, measures for the recreation of the poor, et cetera)". In the debate in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech my brother prelate the Bishop of Ripon, who is chairman of the Church of England Board of Education, spoke supportively of the Government's commitment to education. I echo that support in general while disagreeing with the subject matter of this Bill. My right reverend brother, had he been able to attend the House today, would not altogether agree with what I am about to say. However, Christians can legitimately differ on many matters, as we do, and remain friends, as we do. Realistically, with the kind of majority that is at the disposal of the present Government, it would be naïve to hope to persuade them to change their mind about an issue to which they referred specifically in their election manifesto. However, there are certain considerations arising from the Government's proposals which I believe have not been given sufficient weight about which I wish to speak briefly.

The Government's proposal concerning assisted places is inextricably linked to the reduction of class sizes in primary schools. No one doubts the rightness of their aims. It is the method with which I and many others are deeply unhappy. Educationally, the assisted places scheme has nothing whatever to do with primary school class sizes. The only link between them is money. The hope is that the savings made by abolishing the one will supply the needs of the other; in other words, the prime declared motive for the abolition of the assisted places scheme is economic. If there is a positive educational reason for so doing it is hard to discern. Quite apart from the doubts already expressed in many places about whether the sums involved add up, there is a moral as well as economic issue at stake in terms of the rightness of destroying something that on any analysis has benefited the education of many thousands of children.

I speak with some experience of these matters and, I trust, without prejudice. My children were educated, at both primary and secondary levels, at local authority and independent schools. They were well educated in both sectors. Two of them are now senior teachers, one in a comprehensive school and the other in an independent preparatory school. For some years before my translation to Norwich I was the Archbishop's adviser to the Headmasters' Conference, providing a link between the Church and the independent schools. Like many in your Lordships' House, I have been a governor of several schools in both sectors of education.

Many of us have sad memories of the abolition of direct grant schools. It was a decision that did little to improve education generally. On the contrary, frequently there was an adverse result when many such schools became fully independent. That resulted in the narrowing of the social spectrum from which the pupils for those schools came. Entry was not a matter only of academic promise but of the ability to pay. The assisted places scheme had the effect, to some extent, of reversing that unfortunate development. The result of its abolition will undoubtedly be, once again, to limit entry to independent schools to the children of parents who are wealthy enough to pay the fees. That is neither good for independent schools nor for educational standards generally.

To comment upon economic matters is perilous territory for anyone on these Benches, though in the past I crossed swords many times with the previous government on the subject of the iniquitous VAT charges on ancient buildings, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, knows well. At the risk of talking as a fool, I do not understand why the improvement of education in one sector must necessarily be at the cost of destroying another; why budgets are so self-contained within one department that it is impossible to devise some way of finding money from some other source. Furthermore, successive governments have underestimated the willingness of the British people to pay the necessary costs of good education. The success of the Liberal Democrats in the recent election may not have been due just to tactical voting but to their forthright policy of increasing taxation to raise standards in health and education.

As far as I am aware, the abolition of independent education is not on the Government's agenda. Therefore one may assume that the Government have a concern for the children who are educated in those schools. The independent schools are part of our educational system, and a significant part. There is a tradition, dating back to the earliest days when the Church founded many such institutions, of pioneering experiment and innovation which has benefited the whole field of education. That tradition of experiment and innovation is still very much alive, and still of potential benefit to schools of every kind.

That benefit was explicitly recognised recently by the Secretary of State, because he has enlisted Dulwich College and King Edward's School, Birmingham, to assist the Department for Education in a scheme to promote reading ability in state schools. It is ironic, to say the least, that a Government who acknowledge an important function for independent schools and wish to work in partnership with them, should, at the same time, wish to deprive certain children of the benefits of an education in schools which they clearly value.

There is a further related and final point that I want to make. The abolition of the assisted places scheme will inevitably stifle some aspects of the pioneering educational work of independent schools, because it will limit the intake of children to an ever narrower social spectrum, or, rather, economic spectrum.

Among the proper concerns of all education is not just academic achievement but the development of the whole person, which includes an appreciation of what it means to live in a society that is socially and racially mixed. The limitation of entry to independent schools will undermine that primary purpose. The independent schools will survive and probably thrive, but they will be the poorer, because they will become the exclusive preserve of the wealthy. That, in turn, will increase division in a society which the Government are pledged to unite.

Excellence in education is the Government's declared aim. Excellence consists of developing what is good and eliminating what is bad. What, one might ask, is intrinsically bad about the opening of educational opportunities in independent schools to those who would otherwise not be able to benefit from them? Neither excellence in education nor unity in society is best served by the destruction of that which is good.

4.55 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, this is a short and limited Bill. It represents a small part only of the measures which the new Labour Government, through their election manifesto, are pledged to make to improve our education system. The object of the Bill is simple. It is to phase out the assisted places scheme which the previous government introduced in 1981, and which was one of the first measures that has led to the present divisive and failing state education system.

It is a controversial Bill, because it reflects a fundamental difference between the philosophies of the present Government and the previous government. It concerns the many rather than the few. The priority of the new Labour Government is to raise standards of education for all our children, while the priority of the previous government was to provide, in their view, a superior provision for a small minority of children.

The purpose behind the Bill is to use the resources to help bring down class sizes for the half a million or so primary schoolchildren aged five to seven years in classes of more than 30. As my noble friend said, it is most important that that be done among the younger age group in the first instance.

Members opposite will no doubt criticise, as did their friends in another place, the move on the basis that it will not provide enough money to meet its objectives and, in any case, reducing class sizes, even in infant schools, will not solve all our education problems. Of course they may be right in some respects. but at least the Bill is a step in the right direction. It is a step in the process of doing just that: improving our education system. It is part of a comprehensive programme many of whose facets are already being put in place.

Questions have been raised about how much will be saved by the scheme. Experts are coming up with different figures as to how much will be saved. I am not going to quote any of those figures selectively. There is no doubt that there will be some savings. Of course, if the previous government had continued in office, they would have increased the number of assisted places, which means, as we project into the future, that an increased amount of money would have been spent on a few, and therefore the amount saved will increase.

Currently there are some 38,000 assisted places in the scheme. The numbers involved, as I said, were set to rise under the new government, and so too was the expenditure: from £117.5 million in the current financial year to something like £180 million in the year 1999–2000.

Members of the party opposite have also criticised the Bill on the basis that it will lead to overcrowding and increases in class sizes and will reduce parental choice. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, made quite a point about parental choice. Those arguments are fallacious, as is the whole concept of any meaningful parental choice for the great majority of parents.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State believes that the children involved in the assisted places scheme can be absorbed into the state system. After all, what are we talking about? Of the 38,000 children currently involved, only 43 per cent. are on free places. For the remainder, there is some parental contribution, and as we have already heard this afternoon, one-third of the children already come from the private education sector. Therefore, one can assume that those and like-minded parents will attempt to keep their children in the system. In any case, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, many of the schools in the private sector are already seeking to build up funds to help provide bursaries for children. In effect, we are talking about the 10,000 or so pupils who would enter the scheme each year. It would be realistic to assume that approximately 50 per cent. of those pupils will remain in the private sector. Therefore, we are talking about an additional 5,000-odd pupils a year.

If the scheme is as successful as noble Lords opposite claim, those children should be evenly spread over the country, as are the 80,000 empty places within the existing provisions of the LEAs. Therefore, all could be easily accommodated. If the pupils are not so evenly spread, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, indicated and as I suspect, and there are clusters in more prosperous areas, the scheme is flawed on grounds of geographical as well as educational discrimination. According to the Audit Commission report on supply and the allocation of school places published last autumn, one in six schools currently has more than 25 per cent. of places unfilled while one in five is more than 5 per cent. above the MOE capacity; that is the previous government's open enrolment measure of physical capacity.

That position has been getting worse. Between 1994–95. the percentage of secondary schools in which the numbers on roll exceeded the MOE test increased from 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. The secondary school population was projected to rise by 12 per cent. between 1996 and 2004. At primary school level in England, 31.8 per cent. of pupils are in classes of more than 30. The percentage increased in each year during the four years prior to the 1996 audit. However, we must ask by what standard the Opposition criticise the new Labour Government, bearing in mind that they left the state system in such a situation. What plans had they in place to cope with it? So far as I can see, none, except to transfer further money to the private sector through providing more assisted places. That is an expensive and increasingly divisive approach to a problem which, according to the Audit Commission, arose to a considerable extent as a result of the tensions and conflicts in the policy objectives of the previous government.

The Bill seeks to end a mistaken and inequitable use of education resources. It does not attempt to put in place alternative policies. Such policies will be outlined in the anticipated White Paper to which my noble friend referred and in the subsequent Bill, which we shall have in the autumn. I look forward to the introduction of that Bill. In the meantime, I welcome this Bill as an important means of paving the way.

5.4 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Bill comes as no surprise to us. It was well trailed during the general election campaign. Although we knew that it was coming early, it is nevertheless both nasty and mean-spirited. In that respect, I agree so much with my noble friend Lord Henley. It is extremely difficult to see it as other than a political sop.

It is indeed ironic that the Bill comes from a government led by a Prime Minister who was educated at Fettes—an excellent school, which takes assisted-place pupils—who during the general election campaign asked the British people to trust him and who looked for the support of the whole community. The Government have hardly been in office five minutes before introducing a piece of legislation which breaks a promise that was made quite clearly during the general election campaign. We shall expect during the course of the Bill to have a more satisfactory answer than we have yet received.

The Bill does not take into account the whole community; it leaves out the children in assisted places. The way in which they have been referred to today is in many ways disgraceful. They are real children in real schools; they are not just numbers on a list. I wonder how many of those who are so critical of the scheme have met any of them, have visited the schools and have seen how so many children have had opportunities and have benefited in ways that would not otherwise have been available. I do not believe that such children are being helped, although I for one would include them in "the community". I was interested in the points made by the right reverend Prelate about the fact that the Government have already asked the independent schools to give them help in raising standards.

We should not be surprised by the Bill. After all, it follows traditional Labour Party policy. I well recall the previous Labour Government abolishing the direct grant schools in 1976, when the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was Secretary of State for Education. It would be difficult to argue that the abolition of the direct grant schools raised standards or helped the education of the people of this country. Undoubtedly, those schools were some of the academically best. Most scientists would agree that they produced a large proportion of this country's scientists and they were damaged by the ending of the direct grants.

Another untrue statement is that the assisted places scheme is a subsidy to the schools. The direct grant scheme was a subsidy to the schools, but those of us who were interested in trying to find a replacement looked to the assisted places scheme, which is a help to the pupils and not to the schools. It is difficult to believe that as a result of the Bill educational standards will rise.

I agree with the Minister on two points. We all want educational standards to rise and we would all like smaller class sizes. However, it is difficult to believe that the Bill will achieve either. There is no real link between the two points and, as my noble friend Lord Henley made clear, the sums do not add up. I shall not repeat the argument, because he made it plain, but I agree with what he said.

We know that independent schools have high academic standards. The figures are there for all to see. In 1995–96, 80 per cent. of 15 year-olds at independent schools gained five or more passes at grades A to C at GCSE, compared with an overall national average of 43 per cent. Furthermore, 80 per cent. of A-level pupils at independent schools gained three or more passes. The national average, including independent schools, was 58 per cent. No one can consider that that achievement is bad; it is what we want for all schools. It shows that independent schools offer high academic standards and parents would not choose to send their children to them if they did not.

Therefore, what is the point of the legislation? The Minister, in her concluding remarks, said that she objected to the assisted places scheme on principle. First, the argument is that parental choice is not enhanced. I did not follow the Minister's argument on that. It seemed to be that there is no parental choice because the schools determine who attends them. But all parental choice works like that. Indeed, the Prime Minister chose a grant-maintained school for his son, and I have no doubt that that school chooses whether to have the pupils who come to it. Moreover, when the Minister's right honourable friend, Ms Harman, chose to send her son to a grammar school, again such a school will choose whether it will admit the pupils who apply. That is not an absence of freedom of choice; it is the way that freedom of choice works.

We have also been told that assisted places have not been a ladder of opportunity. However, if one looks at the facts, it will be seen that 46 per cent. of assisted-place pupils come from socio-economic groups C2, D and E, with an additional 37 per cent. coming from socio-economic group C1. That means 83 per cent. are coming from what I do not believe anyone would describe as the richest section of society. As 11 per cent. of assisted-place pupils come from ethnic minorities, it seems to me that the scheme is providing a great service. About 42 per cent. of the places are free because the families concerned have an annual income of less than £9,873 and the average annual income of assisted-place families is £10,650. It is a ladder of opportunity, and I am sorry that it is being pulled away and not extended.

Further, we are told that the scheme does not add value. That is simply not true. In 1995–96, Dr. Anne West of the Centre for Educational Research at the London School of Economics, studied the A-level results of a group of assisted-place holders and compared them with the results of academically matched contemporaries who had been offered assisted places but eventually took up places in state schools. She found that the assisted-place pupils achieved results on average between one-and-a-half and three grades higher than their state school counterparts. As everyone knows, such results make an enormous difference when it comes to a choice of university and a course at university.

As I said earlier, the scheme does add value. It is not a subsidy to schools; independent schools will continue when there are no assisted places. Many of them could fill their places over and over again. However, for the reasons clearly spelt out by the right reverend Prelate, it is not in anyone's best interests for independent schools to become exclusively places only for the rich. Indeed, it would not enhance the reputation of the schools, it would not help children and it would not help the country as a whole.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said that Conservatives use the scheme simply to provide something for the few. If the noble Baroness reads through the policies that we pursued while in government, she will see that we did a great deal to enhance choice—not only parental choice as laid down by Act of Parliament early on in 1980, but also by the establishment of grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges, specialist schools for languages, and so on. Indeed, there was a great variety of schools, all designed to provide more opportunities for children with different abilities and talents. The assisted places scheme is one part of that whole.

Perhaps I may conclude on the rather heartless argument of saying that there are 800,000 places in the maintained system and they are empty. The first question that one has to ask oneself is: why are they empty? The chances are that those places are in unpopular schools; in other words, people do not want to send their children to those schools and, therefore, there are empty places. Is that the right place to direct assisted-place pupils? In effect, far from being given great benefits, it is quite possible that those children will be callously sent off to schools which are not very good. It is difficult to see how that will raise educational standards for them.

So far as concerns regional variations, independent schools are spread exactly evenly from one end of the country to the other. Therefore, one would expect to have regional variations. However, in so far as it has been possible, those schools which have wished to join the scheme have been spread throughout the country. If there are some areas without any assisted places, it probably means that they are without any independent schools where that would apply.

I believe that the assisted places scheme has given enormous opportunities to the children in it. It is only the children who will be hurt by this legislation. It is very sad that the scheme is now to be wound up. I do not believe that it will make any difference to class sizes because the sums do not add up. Further, the Government will have to find considerably more money than they presently intend to do if they are to achieve what they want. The Government will have to realise that once they say that no class size can rise above 30, popular schools may find that they will have to prevent many parents from having their first choice. I do not use that as an important argument because we would all like to see standards rising and class sizes falling. However, one has to ask oneself: what is the purpose of the Bill? I find it difficult to see that it will achieve any educational objective, despite having listened to arguments this afternoon put forward in support of the legislation. This is a very sad day for education; it is indeed a tragedy for the children concerned.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, there is one thing that I simply do not understand about the speech just made by the noble Baroness. She said that there has been criticism of the children who have assisted places. I do not remember either of my noble friends saying a single word against assisted places; indeed, they did not do so. Those children who now have assisted places will be able to finish their careers in their present schools. I believe that to be both generous and right. Nevertheless, I very much resent the way that we have been attacked for no reason.

It gives me very great pleasure to be taking part today in this Second Reading debate on the Bill which abolishes the assisted places scheme. The reason for my great pleasure is not only my strong dislike of the scheme and my disapproval of it as unprincipled in giving help to the few at the expense of the many, but also that, some 17 years ago, I led the opposition to the 1980 Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, then led for the government, and, judging from her speech today, as I would have predicted, her views have not changed at all—

Baroness Young

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness, but I feel I should stress that I thought I was right then and I think that I am right today.

Baroness David

My Lords, I am not surprised.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for her clear exposition of the Bill and the principles behind it. The aim to improve the standards of education for the very young by reducing class sizes for five to seven year-olds, to give them a better start in life, surely cannot be disputed. A good early education is recognised today as having a profoundly beneficial effect on the whole of a child's education. No parent wants to see their child in an overcrowded class with an overstretched teacher in charge. Those who query the size of a class making a difference should ask any teacher or, indeed, any parent who opts for a private school.

When shall we learn to trust the teachers and give them back the confidence that they have had taken from them over recent years? The flight from the profession by heads and deputy heads by means of early retirement is evidence enough of the poor treatment that they have had from these Tory governments. Indeed, yesterday we heard that the number of those entering teacher training this year is down by 11 per cent. If noble Lords opposite point to some teachers who have been stroppy—and they sometimes seem to enjoy doing that—they should remember the vast bulk of the profession who are dedicated, do a good job and are just fed up with the way that they have been criticised. They have had to cope with constantly changing policies (for example, changes to the National Curriculum and testing) and a huge increase in paperwork.

I looked back at the Second Reading debate on the 1980 Bill in which Lord Butler of Saffron Walden took an important part. He was not happy with various parts of the Bill, transport being one area that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will remember well for the defeat that she suffered there. Of the assisted places scheme Lord Butler said: I am not very taken by this clause". He went on to say: I therefore believe that this Bill is based upon the idea that a few assisted places may help; but now, when we find that the scheme has been halved—it is not going to cost £50 million in five or six years. it is going to cost only a few million in the next year or two; and in my view it cannot affect more than 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 pupils"— of course, the price has now risen to practically £160 million, with 37,000 students involved— I really wonder whether the money might not be saved on this and given over to rural transport. I would not regret that at all, partly because I am, as was indicated in an article in the Sunday Times, especially keen to see the sixth-form classes at comprehensive schools improved. They are slowly improving. I have now retired from a great college, but my college is beginning to take sixth-form scholars of comprehensive schools, and I am encouraging them to take more. That means an improvement in the classes. I think that what is really wanted in education is an improvement in the State system".—[Official Report, 25/2/80; cols. 1048–1049.] Lord Butler was an enlightened Tory, and, apart from some notable exceptions—a good many in this House—they seem a vanishing breed. He really wanted the state system to improve for the benefit of all children.

Over the years, the scheme—made out to be so modest in 1980—has expanded and expanded, as have the costs. In 1981, 220 schools took part, three more in 1983 and three more in 1984. The manifesto pledge that 35,000 places would be available by the mid-nineties meant that another 52 English schools had to be admitted. That was in fact achieved by 1989. But as there was some imbalance in provision in areas such as the Midlands and the North East—the same uneven geographical distribution had been the case with the direct grant schools-17 more schools were admitted to the scheme in 1996. To show what a good thing the independent schools think it is for them, 100 more applied to join.

I was amused to read in my files on the 1980 Bill an article by an education correspondent in November 1980 which ended, One thing is clear, the APS schools like the bookies, cannot lose. Apart from creaming off an invaluable proportion of talented youngsters from the maintained sector they are going to be paid handsomely for their trouble. With hundreds of applicants at each school paying registration and examination fees, I estimate in this aspect alone the APS is a £250,000 bonanza for the independent sector. With a bonus, I am sure, of many extra fee paying pupils who do not end up with a win in the APS competition". That correspondent was from the Daily Mail.

When the scheme started, it was intended for the very high flyers, and the schools to which they were to go were to be the really excellent. Before a school was admitted in those early years, HMI was able to comment on the quality of the school, and say if it deserved to have these special pupils and income from the state. That has not happened recently: and certainly some of the schools now in the scheme cannot compare with the best comprehensives. Another way in which the scheme has developed is in the age range at which pupils can take up a place—from 11 to 12, 13 and sixth form level. And then at the 1995 Conservative conference Mr. Major announced that the scheme would be doubled in size. So followed the cynical move in the final education Bill of the Tory Government to increase the scope of the scheme to include primary schools this year. That will mean the schools affected will go up from 293 to 355, and from some 5,700 entry places overall to 10,500. A piece of briefing that I received just before the debate states that the number of schools is now 477, but that does not match up with any other figure I have seen. Perhaps the noble Baroness can explain that. Unfortunately, although the 1997 Bill was severely truncated because of the early calling of the election, that clause was not deleted. The regulation that children must spend the two years previous to taking a place in a maintained school could no longer apply.

Regulations are issued each year, primarily to update the financial arrangements for parents' contributions in line with inflation. Not only did they do that very generously, in 1984, for instance, by over 6 per cent. when inflation was 5 per cent., and that at a time when student grants were to be increased by only 4 per cent. Also that year the provision that a child could be eligible for a sixth form place only if the local authority agreed, was revoked. (This had been put in to appease Lord Butler.)

The evidence I have seen seems to show that poorer families were well represented among those gaining places; two out of five households receiving help had incomes below £9,874. But the poll—incidentally it was an ISIS poll, therefore an independent school poll—showed that the proportion of professional and managerial families receiving financial support through the scheme had increased by 8 per cent. since 1991. ISIS suggests that this is through executive unemployment and business crashes. But we must also remember that a well-off household could receive help if more than one child in the family had a place, particularly if the children were at high fee schools. It is argued that the scheme has benefited the artificially poor. The middle classes, always smart at seeing what is to their advantage, have profited much more than the working classes. Professor Freeman of Middlesex University has pointed out that up to two-thirds of students taking up places at 16 are already fee-paying pupils in that school. What has happened to the rule that those taking up places should have spent two years in a maintained school? The original safeguards have slipped and slipped away.

I have emphasised my opposition to the APS as a matter of educational principle. The Government have said they will use the savings that accrue from its abolition to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds. It is vitally important, therefore, that the savings are as large as possible and occur as rapidly as possible. I know that my noble friend told us something about this in her opening speech but I think it needs to be made absolutely clear. Could she tell us when expenditure on the scheme will fall from the £160 million mentioned to zero? I understand that the savings are estimated to be only £100 million by the year 2000. Why is the figure as low as that? Is it to do with the extension of the scheme to primary schools in the 1997 Act? Apart from the entry class this year, can my noble friend assure me that the effect of this Bill is to limit the primary school concession to this year only? Am I to understand that we are committed to some of these pupils until they are 13? Other people have asked that. I hope she will answer these questions when she winds up.

The important thing to remember is that this Bill is about improving the state system of education in this country and raising standards. Professor Rutter in his book 15,000 Hours showed how a few bright children in a school could have a very beneficial effect on the whole school. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said: We, the profession, teachers and the majority of parents have agreed that class size matters. We must therefore ask, to which children does it matter? Does it matter to only a few, or to all our children in all our schools? The answer is very simple; we have a choice between excellence for a few or high quality education for the many. We have made a choice in favour of the many, because we know that, both for the individuals concerned and for social cohesion and the economy, literacy and numeracy matter to every one of us". I support the Bill.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, this Bill covers Scotland. There are of course different Ministers and systems north and south of the Border and it is no doubt convenient to deal with the same subject in one Bill. I find I am the only speaker from Scotland in the debate. That is one reason I decided to take part. Another reason was that I was in the chair for four years of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, since its inception in 1976. The council worked out a system of assisted places for Scotland which was adopted as the basis for the one now operating.

My third reason for taking part today is that I was Secretary of State for Scotland from 1970 to 1974 and so exercised central government's responsibility for schools in Scotland at a time when the future of the grant-aided schools had started to become a political issue. Incidentally, no Secretary of State from any party who has held that appointment before me is still alive. Consequently I feel I am in a good position to rehearse briefly the recent history that has led to the present situation in Scotland. I shall start 34 years ago when, following other roles in government, I was a junior Minister in the Scottish Office in 1963–64.

The grant-aided schools in Scotland were broadly the equivalent to the direct grant schools in England and Wales. Twenty or 30 per cent., or even more, of their costs were being met by government grants. There were scales for fee paying and various selection arrangements. Those schools set out in particular to take pupils with academic abilities. The intention was that parents of such children did not have to pay more than they could afford in fees. A Labour Government came into office in 1964 and froze the level of those grants. With inflation, the effect was their reduction.

When a Conservative Government returned six years later in 1970, the grant-aided system in Scotland was still in place and the new Government restored the earlier arrangements. I was Secretary of State; and I did so in Scotland. However, when the Labour Government arrived in 1974 they set about abolishing those grants altogether—they did not freeze them—by phasing them out. The schools then had to take decisions about their future. Individually they chose various courses.

In opposition, the Conservative Party studied how the principle could be retained. We were encouraged by many who hoped that bright and able children would still be enabled to benefit from appropriate schooling, although their parents might not be well off and could not afford the full economic fees. There were of course parents who were comfortably off as well.

The grant-aided schools in Scotland have produced leaders and successful professionals in all walks of life. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Steel—who made an outstanding maiden speech a few days ago—and my right honourable friend Mr. Malcolm Rifkind were at George Watson's in Edinburgh. I could give other notable examples. Those schools contained centres of excellence.

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools, realising that grants would be abolished, as they were, set itself the task of formulating a new scheme to continue the principle behind the grant-aided schools. As in England and Wales, we felt that starting again from scratch it would be fairest to attach future grants to pupils rather than schools. It would have been difficult and invidious to make a new selection of schools to receive grants. Some of the previous grant-aided schools had undergone considerable changes.

In those independent schools which joined the scheme, places would be offered subject to conditions. In the event, the large majority of schools joined, including, if my memory serves me right, Fettes College. After the Conservative Government took office in 1979, the assisted places scheme was introduced north and south of the Border. Now this Bill is designed to remove it. Parents of able and academic children—those parents may not be well off—will no longer be able to find appropriate places for the children. The scales of fees to be paid depended on the family circumstances. An efficient and popular system is to be scrapped.

I shall say a few words generally about traditional attitudes in Scotland to education. There has always been co-operation—I speak of a couple of hundred years; I do not refer to my own lifetime, but well before—in Scottish communities to help academic or talented young people to fulfil their potential. I am old enough to remember that in the 1930s both in the Highlands and in Glasgow there was no sense of envy. Combined efforts would be directed to helping a local child to continue his or her schooling and to reach university when it seemed likely that they would excel there; and very often they did.

In Scotland this value placed on education has been evident over a long period. I shall give examples from two centuries. At the end of the last century, one school, the High School of Glasgow, produced two Prime Ministers: Mr. Campbell-Bannerman and Mr. Bonar Law. In the 18th century, the same school produced two eminent generals: Sir John Moore, who died, still young for his rank, at Coruna, and is renowned still in the British Army for creating and training the first light infantry; and General Sir Colin Campbell, the first Lord Clyde, who was the son of a shoemaker. I could give many more examples from other Scottish schools. I do not suggest that those schools at that time were operating under the modern grant-aided scheme, but they were operating under the same principle.

I look forward to hearing my noble friend Lord Pilkington when he winds up and congratulate him on his position on the Front Bench. I have known him for 30 years since the time when he was a young teacher. He went on to exalted heights as the headmaster of more than one illustrious school.

In conclusion, I would have expected old Labour to do away with grant-aided schools, as they did in the late 1970s. Is it really consistent with the aims of New Labour to be destroying schemes that assist ability in the young where personal parental finance is lacking? Is it too late to have second thoughts? What about a review, ruling nothing in and nothing out? If the Bill goes ahead—I suspect for populist reasons—destroying the schemes will be regarded in the future as academic vandalism.

5.36 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, it would be hard to argue with the objective of reducing class sizes in junior schools or any other schools. I cannot help wondering whether this Bill does so in the way that I would have chosen. Should we do that by robbing Peter to pay Paul? Would it not have been better perhaps to throw new money at the problem? However, I gain the impression—I do not know from where—that this is a party political issue. It may be more appropriate for me from these Benches to take a more general view of the situation.

When the assisted places scheme has had a decent burial, I plead with the Government and express the hope that they will consider the great contribution which independent schools have made and could make in the future to the education of this country. I was much encouraged by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the Government's policy statement that they hope to work in partnership with the independent system.

I intend to speak today about my personal experience. Therefore I cannot avoid explaining a little of the background. For nearly three decades I have been a governor of Kings School, Canterbury. I attended the last governors' meeting this morning. I was given a very good lunch; I hope that that will not affect my ability to communicate with your Lordships. For over four decades I have been a governor of Northbourne Park School and a governor of two maintained schools.

I have nothing to declare because I have had no advantages from any of those situations. On the other hand, I and my family have made a commitment to reinvest the rent for the house—it belongs to me—from Northbourne Park School to help individual pupils to attend the school. From my long observation and experience I am convinced that there are young people who can gain enormous benefit from good, caring boarding education, especially when their lives have been torn apart by their experiences in the family. Children to whom that happens are not by any means restricted to those who are able to afford to pay. In our society today there are more and more children who could benefit from boarding education at some stage in their lives. There are parents who work long hours and are often away from home; there are broken homes; there are many fewer grandparents (and extended families) who are able to support their grandchildren.

I recognise the argument that the independent sector can be socially divisive. In so far as that is true, I deplore it. But surely the solution must be to widen the scope and range of those who enjoy the benefits which children in independent education enjoy today, and not to destroy the schools that provide those benefits.

Let no one be under any illusion that, by removing independent schools, what was described by Belloc as the "hoary social curse" will go away. My wife is French and I have the advantage of knowing something of French education and society. In spite of the fact that Frenchmen all call one another "monsieur" and nearly all send their children to the lycée, I assure the House that those who regard themselves as the upper crust in French society are no less arrogant and conceited than their opposite numbers in this country—far from it!

We should be looking at what independent education has to give. The assisted places scheme did not necessarily address that problem very effectively. The major advantages afforded by independent education in this country, which are not available to any considerable extent in the maintained sector, are: first, (in the better schools) good, caring boarding; secondly, high staff ratios and very good pastoral care; and thirdly (apart from the high standard of education) a wide variety of extra-curricular activities and sports which provide opportunities for children to build confidence and gain experience for life. In a perfect world those advantages should be available to all children who need them, both those who can pay and those who cannot, and in particular to those children who lack happy, secure, supportive homes. The cost of a boarding place in an English public school is about half the cost of a place in a special school.

Perhaps I may relate the story of one boy whom I shall call Peter, although it is not his real name. He came to the Stepney Children's Fund camps at the age of 10, about nine years ago. He was deeply disturbed. He had been rejected by both his parents and had had eight foster placements, all of which he had rejected.

The social services department was in despair as to what to do with him and decided that he needed boarding education. A place was found for him in a state boarding school at a cost of £28,000 a year. Quite reasonably, the department decided that it could not afford that. I was able to find a place for him in an independent school in Kent under the assisted places scheme. He was lucky enough to have an extremely intelligent and flexible head of social services who was able to agree to pay the boarding fee. He went to the school and was cared for under the pastoral care system there. He did well at the school. He is now about to pass out of college and already has a management training place with one of the major supermarkets. That is a small success story for the APS. The noble Baroness may well say that one swallow does not make a summer. My reply would be: de mortuis nihil nisi bonum—this story may be a useful epitaph for the assisted places scheme.

When the assisted places scheme has been laid to rest, we should not as a nation demonise the independent sector because of its weaknesses. We should examine its strengths and try to build on them, so as to enrich the total provision that we can make for all children in this country.

5.44 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. We have enjoyed arguing about education for many years and I dare say we shall continue to do so. The noble Baroness and her department will be hard put to compress the rising demand for education within the straitjacket imposed by the Chancellor; however, I wish her well.

The Bill is designed to phase out the assisted places scheme. From the year 1998–99 there will be no new entrants into the scheme. By the year 2004–05 no pupils will be educated under it. The object of the exercise, stated clearly in the explanatory and financial memorandum, is to realise savings, which will be spent on reducing infant class sizes in the maintained sector". I do not want to spend time debating the merits of reducing infant class sizes or how much that will cost. I mention in passing the interesting fact that between 1991 and 1996 the average pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools remained unchanged at about 22, while the percentage of pupils in classes of over 30 increased from 20 to 27. Evidently, it is not the pupil-teacher ratio that is crucial but the way in which schools organise their teaching and the ratio of administration to teaching. I hope the Government will give some consideration to reducing the administrative burdens on schools. That will lower the cost of reducing class sizes.

I should like to concentrate on one point. The Government have claimed, somewhat imprudently, that almost the whole cost of reducing infant classes to 30 can be met by abolishing assisted places. The savings are calculated at £100 million by the year 2000, which will more than pay for the new teachers and classes required. That has been challenged from two sides—the cost of reducing class sizes to 30 will be greater than the Government expect, and savings from abolishing the assisted places scheme will be less. I want to concentrate on the savings aspect since that is crucial to the whole argument.

The Government's view is that there is a choice between assisting some 40,000 pupils to get a superior education and reducing class sizes for approximately 450,000 infant school pupils—a choice, as the Secretary of State said in another place, between excellence for a few or high-quality education for the many". The Minister echoed that idea today.

My contention is that this is a false choice; and the arithmetic bears me out. Indeed, it is worse than that. If the savings from abolishing the assisted places scheme are non-existent, or negligible, its abolition imposes two costs on society: reduction of choice and the lowering of educational quality for about 40,000 pupils. Those are two costs without any compensating advantages.

Having examined the figures, I believe that the Government's estimate of savings is wildly optimistic. Their calculation is as follows. The Government spend on average £3,900 for an assisted place. There are, or are shortly to be, 40,000 pupils with assisted places. Abolishing the assisted places scheme will therefore eventually save about £160 million a year. The Government expect that the annual saving will reach £100 million a year by the year 2000. That is expected to be the net annual saving, the amount that would be available for reducing infant class sizes in the maintained sector in three years' time.

The Government's view of the savings they will achieve seems to be based on the extraordinary proposition that 30,000 or so pupils who by the year 2000 would have been deprived of an assisted place through the run-down of the scheme will be accommodated almost costlessly within the state system. Why do they believe something so absurd? Apparently the Government believe that these extra pupils will take up spare places in the maintained schools, which will cost the state almost nothing. We have the airy statement by the Minister for school standards in the other place, Mr. Byers, that there are 800,000 empty places within the existing LEA provision, leaving ample scope for absorbing additional pupils. The Minister said today that she expected "no significant additional burden".

Noble Lords should recognise that the figures of vacancies are totally irrelevant to the problem of cost. Schools are funded on a per-pupil basis. If school enrolment increases by 40,000, school budgets rise automatically in line with the standard cost per pupil in the relevant area. There is no mechanism for removing this extra cost. The extra children do not turn up at their school with a placard saying, "I would have had an assisted place, therefore you must take me at no extra cost to yourself". There is no way of identifying the source of extra numbers; schools simply budget for them whether or not they have spare capacity.

The only reputable way of calculating net saving is that adopted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies in its recent analysis. It assumes that the net saving is the difference between the average annual cost of an assisted place, £3,900, and the average annual cost of a maintained place, £2,700, a difference of £1,200. On that basis, net annual saving by year three of the run-down is not £100 million but £28 million, compared with the cost of restricting infant classes to 30 in that year of £105 million. That leaves a funding gap of £77 million.

Even that may be too rosy a picture. In estimating net saving, what we need to know is not the difference between the average cost of an assisted place and a maintained place but the difference between the average cost of an assisted place and the actual cost of the maintained place equivalent. Many pupils with assisted places would actually cost the state more than £2,700 in the maintained sector. For example, 9,000 of the assisted places are in sixth forms, where the difference in cost between an assisted place and a maintained place is much less than £1,200. In addition, the standard spending assessment per pupil in some areas, particularly urban areas, is much higher than in others. Assisted places pupils drawn from such areas may cost the Government less now than their maintained sector counterparts.

And that is not all. The average cost given for a state school pupil omits capital grants, whereas the fees of independent schools cover most of their capital spending. In 1995 independent schools spent an average of £550 per pupil on new facilities. Per-pupil capital expenditure in the maintained sector may well be less on average—I do not have the figures—but any allowance made under this head would reduce the difference in cost, and thus net saving, even further.

There is, of course, one way in which the Government could squeeze extra savings from abolishing assisted places, and that is by reducing its spending per pupil, and thus increasing class sizes, in its secondary schools. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether that is in fact the Government's intention. If it is, it will certainly come as a great surprise to those who voted for the Labour Party in May.

What are we to conclude from all this? A reasonable view would be that the net savings from abolishing the assisted places scheme would be very low—at most, in the order of £20 million a year over the seven-year run-down—as against the cost of reducing infant class size of £70 million a year over the same period. These savings are chicken-feed to the dragons of rising public spending on education. The financial link between the two projects—the claim that they are alternatives—is largely spurious.

What is left, it seems to me, is simply an old-fashioned piece of class war. Mr. Gerald Kaufman asked in another place why parents in his constituency should subsidise assisted places for a few privileged children, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, made the same point in this debate. The fact is that over the country as a whole the subsidy is massively the other way. Fee-paying parents save the state about £2.5 billion a year, £1.25 billion that would otherwise be spent educating 600,000 children in state schools and an equivalent amount that independent-school parents pay in tax for state education which they do not use. Let us at any rate be clear about who is subsidising whom.

I should like to conclude with a general observation. At present we have in this country a huge state education system which runs side by side with a very small independent sector. On the one side we have the planned provision of a standardised product; on the other side, variety, choice and a great deal of excellence. The Bill, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, raises barriers between the two systems even higher than they are at the moment. But there is really no reason to continue this way. Education does not have to be centrally planned and publicly provided; it is so only because since the war governments have, through heavy taxes, prevented most parents buying the education they want for their children. I should like to see the private sector in education expand. That ought to be the goal of my party, which should also challenge the reformers in the Government. Stopping people getting what they want is a characteristic feature of the old state socialism; it is the reverse of what we on these Benches think about education; and I submit that it should have no place in the thinking of New Labour.

5.57 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, the Bill did not come as any surprise to those on this side of the House; it was indeed among the issues mentioned before the general election and when it came we were expecting it. But the extraordinary pronouncements, conduct and attitude of the Prime Minister which appeared to show that new Labour was not so very far away from the policies and thinking of the Conservative Party certainly do not stretch to this Bill. The Bill has caused us to revert to our opinion of the Labour Party as it was in the 1970s—that is, old Labour. This return to old Labour restores its position to what it was before 1979 by abolishing the assisted places scheme and restores its lack of any clear policy to improve teaching standards in maintained schools.

I agree with what my noble friend Lord Skidelsky said about the way that this so-called policy has not been thought out. We have seen over and over again that school standards are not radically altered by the number of children in a class but by the qualities of the teachers, especially those of the headteacher. While there are some excellent teachers and headteachers whose standing and abilities are effective in their schools, that position is by no means general. There will be little change in the quality of schools unless consideration is given to more than just the numbers in classrooms. From the speeches we have heard from the other side of the House and those made in another place, it seemed as though a magic wand would be waved to reduce the number of children in a class to under 30 and all would be well; the children would become brilliant, would pass their exams and become great academics or whatever one wished them to be. We know perfectly well that none of that is true.

So far there has been no guidance on those issues, no evidence of an intention to improve on inadequate teaching, no information about methods to be used to encourage teachers and headteachers to apply successful methods, leading to improvement. There has been practically no information on the Bill at all, even to those who are keen and interested to know what the intentions of the Government are. A White Paper has been promised, but when will it be produced? It was going to be in June. It would have been helpful to have had it before debating the Bill, not after. It is to be hoped that in future the Government, when they have got used to being in government, will seek to ensure that a White Paper is published before introducing the relevant Bill. When there is no White Paper, as in the present case, it leads to the belief, regrettably, that the Government are determined to abolish a system that they dislike because it is not in accordance with their principles. It has nothing to do with whether several thousand children have benefited from new opportunities to learn and study at a higher level than might otherwise have been the case. That is not the reason for this particular Bill.

Those children have mainly come from families with very low incomes. Over 40 per cent. of those families have a gross annual income of below £10,000. We have been into all the figures and it has been pointed out that at least 83 per cent. of the families do indeed have low incomes. Yet, over 90 per cent. of those children have achieved high grades in their GCSEs and A-levels, far more than the average of the maintained schools at the same ages. The denial of that opportunity to a broad selection of young children is based on the old Labour policy of central planning and equality at the lowest common level. We have been given no evidence that standards in schools are to be or can be raised, strengthening the abilities and skills of the young. Reduction in numbers will not have positive effects in schools without other improvements and changes as well.

There is also anxiety concerning the financial consequences of the Bill. Other noble Lords have also touched on that matter. It is stated that savings will be around £100 million by the year 2000. But that figure at least is surely controversial. The figures can only be estimated and not known. Consequently, they vary—estimates always vary. A departmental estimate in 1996 forecast that reducing class numbers for five, six and seven year-olds could cost between £120 million and £250 million, those estimated costs being for additional teachers only. So said Robin Squire, speaking in the other place on 28th October 1996. The Institute of Public Finance estimated that to phase out assisted places schemes could cause a deficit of up to £250 million.

I know that those are controversial figures and that they are estimates. But we must recognise that they are estimates which are given by highly reputable organisations. They must be taken into account when planning some particular future policy. As I said, all those figures are only estimates but it is evident that, if class sizes are cut to 30 pupils or below, the choice of school available to a parent will be more limited. By the generally agreed principle of supply and demand, it will be the unpopular school—that is, the less efficient school—which will have places to offer. That will be the problem. As the assisted places are phased out, those children will not have the opportunity to go into schools where the classes are few and smaller but will only have the opportunity to go to those schools which have been neglected or are not recognised as good schools in the general neighbourhood where the children live.

One important issue affecting about 1,700 children has also been raised. There are 2,000 children at present in assisted places in junior schools, who, under the Government's current proposals, will cease to benefit from that education at the age of 11. It is understood that the Government will use their discretion as to those children who might be allowed to stay on until the age of 13 in those areas where there are not local schools which terminate at 11, when the children go on to the next stage of their education.

But it is no consolation to parents, or indeed to the children, to know what is to happen to them or what discretion will be used by the relevant Minister. It is not a way to treat children who have been working hard at a high level to get on with their studies and with their life just to chuck them out on to a kind of dustheap and to be told. "We are not going to keep you in this kind of school any more. You will have to go back to whatever school is in your area." It will not be the best school—as I said, those are the schools in which numbers are going down—and the children will have a very hard time of it.

The relaxation by the Government, under heavy pressure, to enable 330 children to maintain their assisted places up to the age of 13, so enabling them to go straight on to their next school, is indeed to be welcomed. But it does not solve the problem of the other 1,700 or so children who will have to be removed from their preparatory schools at the age of 11. Some schools have offered assisted places to some of those young school children. It looks as though schools themselves are seeking to raise funding to meet the costs that are now government funded. Those schools will contribute to carrying on in new ways the assisted places schemes which are now being brought to an end. The right reverend Prelate in his speech clearly expressed concern over that particular action. In fact, it is a typical case of the Government withdrawing funds and it being left to individuals to seek out new ways of solving a major problem and dealing with it.

I am sure we shall find that schools will react. Certainly that applies to Manchester Grammar School. The Girls Public Day Schools—there are 25 of them in the south of England—intend to find ways of getting round that problem. That is to be warmly welcomed. The Government should be thankful that there are still people in this country with the courage and initiative to meet these problems and that when the Government make a mess of things there are individuals who can get round the difficulties and find new solutions.

But perhaps the Government may have coherent answers to some of the problems that have been raised so far in today's debate. We shall certainly look forward to the noble Baroness's reply when she comes to wind up the debate. If we do not hear the answers from her, we may perhaps find them in that mythical White Paper which may be published next month.

6.6 p.m.

Lord Parry

My Lords, in the high summer of 1945, I left the training college where I had been prepared for teaching and went to teach in the public education system. Up to that date my preparation had been at the Neyland Board School, followed by two years at Trinity College, Carmarthen. Then I began to teach.

At that time, education in Britain was a patchwork. The type of education that you received depended on where you lived. It was a patchwork because not enough public money was devoted to it. In fact, only in certain areas were sufficient sums of money available to provide a decent education for those who could not afford to pay for it themselves. That is an issue that has been stated time and again. In this country there are a great many such people. The right reverend Prelate is not in his seat, so I cannot refer to what he said, but he was wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has put on this education debate an influence which is all his own. It ignores the fact that there are still thousands of families in this country who, even when they want to do so, cannot afford to educate their children. The system has to be rearranged and has to provide for those people.

In the past couple of days I have shown your Lordships the national newspaper of Wales. This debate applies to Wales. The noble Lord who used to be Secretary of State for Scotland, when the Conservative Party had Secretaries of State for Scotland, has told the Chamber that this Bill applies to Scotland, as it does to Wales. The headline in today's national newspaper of Wales is: Classrooms in chaos fear as teachers quit". The text goes on to sketch out the fact that the people who would normally have gone into teaching under the old system no longer see teaching as an attractive profession. There are great difficulties in the education system in Britain, which we forget when we boast of what we have contributed to it. The newspaper isolates the point that I would have made in response to the right reverend Prelate; namely, that if people do not go in for teaching, class sizes will be again radically altered. It is vitally important that the kind of financial contribution that this Bill seeks to make is made available to general education rather than to privileged education.

I am in no sense speaking the politics of envy. In my 32 years as a teacher, in the 20 years that my daughter has been teaching and in the time that my wife was ancillary to the teaching service, we have indeed been into the classrooms and seen the children. We know the advantages and the disadvantages that accrue to so many children in our classrooms in Britain today.

I congratulate my noble friend Lady Blackstone both on her elevation to the Front Bench and on the precise and concise way in which she presented the Bill. Many of the misunderstandings which are alleged to have arisen and many of the challenges that have been made to the Bill ignore the very points that my noble friend systematically made in her presentation. For example, I was astonished to hear the noble Lord, Lord Henley—again not in his place—make the charge that this was a mean-spirited Bill and that it represented only broken promises to the 11 year-olds when my noble friend had specifically outlined the provisions that will be made.

I forgot to say that, as well as being an old teacher, I am also Old Labour. In 1945 I joined the Labour Party. I am amazed that tonight the only references to the Labour councils of the past were so dismissive of everything that was done from 1945 on an impulse generated in radical liberalism which was, incidentally, fought, in Wales at any rate, by the High Church. Then, after the coalition presentation of the 1945 Act, we had a reconstruction of religious education. I wonder how many noble Lords who make the plea for the privatisation of education themselves benefited from the public education system. Certainly there are hundreds and thousands of people in this country who would not have attained the standards that they did if it had not been for Old Labour councillors—under-educated themselves but of brilliant intelligence—devoting their energy and morality to creating a system better than the one under which Labour had grown up. For instance, the University of Wales in Aberystwyth was funded by the pennies of the miners when their wages were derisory.

I was immensely impressed, and am glad I can be positive in this, by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I can support much of what he said. I believe that one of the areas that we have not really looked into in public education is the boarding system. There are great advantages that can be found in education in residential schools properly run. But first we must fund the provision for the general schools. One must make certain that those children who attend them are properly educated, and that comes hack to these simple facts.

Every piece of research that has been conducted into education in my lifetime has proved that the major influences on the education of a child are, first, the attitude of his home to the school in which he is taught; secondly, the quality of the teacher; and, thirdly, the amount of time that the good teacher can devote to the children in his or her care.

When my daughter began teaching in Pembrokeshire—not a bad area—an education system that won plaudits from all around, she found herself in her first years teaching in the school hall that was also the dining hall. She had 32 children—infants in the admission class—to teach under those conditions and every day her day was shortened by the necessity of putting up the tables for lunch. When one sees that type of education, how can one blame teachers? For 22 years in this House, every time someone criticised the teacher and blamed the ills in education on the teacher, I stood here and disavowed it. Far too often the House was turned into a place which challenged the standards of the teachers rather than the system under which those teachers taught.

In the article from which I quoted there is enough evidence to say: let us pass this Bill; let us pass it quickly. We have already been told that it is only one plank in a programme to which my party, new and old, is committed. We are going to drive it through and that is not in any sense out of envy; it is because we want the same opportunities for all the children that some of your Lordships have enjoyed.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Butterfield

My Lords, I speak from this side of the House but, first, I heartily congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on her promotion. It is good to find someone who has tertiary education responsibilities having so much influence in educational affairs. I am sure that there will be some fencing, but in general we shall be wearing masks.

I begin by saying that I regret that the opportunity was not taken by the Government in the Bill to build on the assisted places scheme in an upwards direction. The noble Lord, Lord Parry, touched my heart because one of my names is Hughes and I therefore have some Welsh genes. I understand what he says in relation to the differences that exist in different parts of the country. But it does not seem to me that we have given enough attention to the scheme. I understand that 46 per cent. of those on assisted places are from poorer families. I am not sure that that 46 per cent. should be sacrificed, as it seems they are going to be.

I hope it is acceptable if an old educationalist, as I like to believe I am, says that my philosophy is that if the quality of the pastures is different in different parts of the field—education is different in different parts of the country—I am not convinced that the right thing to do is to put up a barrier so that people cannot go where education is good. That is the sort of philosophy that lies behind the Bill we are considering.

I appreciated the speeches made at Second Reading in another place. I was impressed by some of the remarks made by the Secretary of State. All of us must admire him for his courage and fortitude. I have certainly enjoyed entertaining him to lunch in the past to talk over the whole question of trying to help the people's health generally by health promotion. However, I was distressed—bearing in mind my philosophy—when he said that we have a choice between excellence for the few and high quality education for the many. My feeling is that we should be trying to help the many obtain the excellence that is apparently available to the few.

It is important to realise that widening opportunity should be a general feeling in the country. That does not necessarily mean that we should take a few thousand children who are on assisted places schemes and dispose of them in favour of the many because, according to the Secretary of State, it will be a good thing—for individuals, for social cohesion and for the economy—to get rid of those places. I find that a very bitter pill to swallow. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has dealt with an aspect I wish to address. I am not convinced that it will have an immediate effect on class size. Long ago—not as long ago as the time referred to by the former Secretary of State for Scotland—I was Vice-Chancellor at Nottingham. One of the things we were always considering there, because it mattered to us, was population change. As I understand it, the population of young people is in decline. The number of births over the last five years has fallen by 7 or 8 per cent. If those figures are projected into the future—bearing in mind the concern that we all have regarding births to teenaged children—the chances are that the number of children coming into primary education will decline. I may be wrong, but that is my interpretation of the tables on population trends I have seen. I am not sure, therefore, that it is such a good argument to put forward at this time.

Mr. Don Foster, speaking for the Liberal Democrats in another place, said he wanted to get rid of the scheme because it was centrally controlled. I understand that. I suppose. But he also felt that it was encouraging independent schools to raise their fees so that they could get more money from the Government through assisted places. I find that a rather tortuous argument.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard said that the Bill was driven by dogma. The dictionary definition of dogma is "a way of thinking not based on or tested by reflection". This debate gives us the opportunity for such reflection. The important thing is that we do not seem to be paying very much attention to the competitive aspects of achieving an assisted place, or indeed to the competitiveness we need in the country and which we need to accept into our educational system. Nor is there any recognition of the confidence that a scholarship gives to those who achieve one, or any appreciation of the satisfaction that a scholarship in the family gives to parents. As chairman of the united medical and dental schools of St. Thomas's and Guy's Hospital, I saw many people of non-British ethnicity who had managed to get their children into those medical schools and see them qualify. It was obvious that involving themselves in competition had given them pleasure.

I have also been busy for the last 12 or 13 years giving scholarships to people from Hong Kong and Tokyo as well as from this country. We should not underestimate the effect on young people of success in a scholarship scheme. I have to declare a bias. When my father's business in Stechford ran into difficulties during the great depression I was very fortunate to be supported by a scholarship at secondary school, at medical school and also in order to go to the US.

I acknowledge all of that, but I remain concerned that only yesterday our Prime Minister drew attention to the need to protect the atmosphere by reducing levels of CO, and other gases, not least, he said, because of the future of our children. I certainly concur with that and admire his courage in standing up for what we heard in the Statement today. But there is another serious threat which we must not neglect. Having grandchildren, I am concerned not only about the environment but about our standard of living as we go into the next century.

I refer to the splendid speeches made in this House only a week ago about competitiveness in British industry. We all realise how important it is to face the competition which is growing in the East. Competitiveness is extremely important to our industry. Standing on the other side of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, conducted a splendid review of what we need in terms of competitiveness in this country. It is not simply productive competitiveness in selling our cars, our shoes, our clothes and so on. Design is very important. I believe that we must add to the case for education the recognition and encouragement, not only of aptitude but of competition, which is definitely a very important spur.

I am coming to the view that competition is an invaluable yardstick for our choice of policies as we move forward. I do not mean bruising competition. I recall, when a professor at Guy's, the nurse tutors saying that the girls who were trying to achieve high marks and win prizes in their examinations were not necessarily the good nurses. The need was for caring nurses. I concede that completely, but I fear that we must face competition.

I am concerned that we in this country are moving into the circle of saying what people like to hear and then giving it to them but not appreciating that we also have to think as well as do service to people's attitudes. I believe that in future consideration of our policies and in the coming century it will be very important to encourage a competitive attitude. That is why I regret the tone of the Bill.

6.28 p.m.

Viscount Hampden

My Lords, I begin with a confession. I hope when I have finished my brief intervention your Lordships will not say, "Thank goodness for that!".

My confession is that I have not spoken in your Lordships' House in an education debate since July 1979, when I supported the noble Baroness, Lady Young, when she introduced her education Bill, which I remember was vehemently opposed by the noble Baroness. Lady David. I remember being saddened that day on hearing so many Peers on the Labour Benches say how grateful they were for their own grammar school education but how determined they were to stop anyone else having a similar education. Having listened to some of the speeches from this side of the House this afternoon, I am not sure that anything much has changed.

It was with some trepidation that I intervened in 1979. I have the same trepidation again. I am not an educationist and I am not involved in local government hut, like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I have for over 30 years been involved as a governor of a school. The school was founded by my family over 400 years ago and is situated in Battersea. In 1979 we had just changed from being a grammar school, forced out by the then government's education policy, and had become an independent school. We were very much looking forward to involving ourselves with the assisted places which were about to be introduced.

In the past 18 years we have had many assisted places pupils going through our school. In fact we are probably one of the bigger users of the scheme. The idea that it is some kind of middle-class scam where people who have been clever enough kid the headmaster that they depend on the income to get their boys, and now girls, into the school is nonsense. When I said to the headmaster, "It looks as if the Labour Party is going to win the election. Will all our assisted places pupils' parents suddenly find that they have a grandmother who has a little nest egg?", he assured me that that was not so and that every single case was genuine.

Emanuel School is not a high-flying school. It is very much a community school which tries to provide a well rounded education, both academically and sportingly, and contributes to the community of Battersea. That was no better exemplified than when the terrible train crash outside Clapham Junction eight or nine years ago caused the school to be the centre for the rescue operations. The then government appreciated the efforts the school had made. This was demonstrated by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who was then the Home Office Minister. coming down to a very moving memorial service which was attended by the widow of the train driver who was killed and by the widow of one of the passengers who was killed. The noble Earl expressed appreciation of what the school had done.

This is the kind of school that the Government should be helping, not hindering. I know that it is not the custom in your Lordships' House to oppose a Second Reading. I also appreciate the convention that this was well signalled in the Labour Party's manifesto and the fact that the Official Opposition will not be opposing the Bill. However, I feel that it is a very poor start for this new Government. To be in opposition for 18 years, win an election with a thumping majority and then start off with this mean little Bill is a very bad start.

6.31 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, I too should like to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in conducting her first education Bill through the House and to say that in the higher education sector at least there is great rejoicing that we have someone making policy who knows about the sector.

I find it rather difficult to speak against any measure which attempts to find money to help children in the early years. It is quite obvious from what other noble Lords have said that they too have been seduced by the strength of the argument to improve the ratio in class sizes in the early years into feeling supportive towards the Bill. However, I feel it is quite meretricious to present the Bill as something which is about reducing class sizes for the early years when it is not. The Bill is about attacking the assisted places scheme and as such it must be judged.

Of course we all want to see class sizes reduced. Class sizes are very important in the early years, although I think that their importance is very much exaggerated for older children. I have no intention now of repeating the many arguments which have been made for the value and strength of the assisted places scheme itself. However, I must say that I am very sad at the opportunities which some children will lose because of the abolition of the scheme, most particularly those whose older siblings have benefited from the scheme and who themselves hoped and expected that they too would be fortunate enough to follow.

I should like to remind the House that the Minister's arguments about the number of middle-class parents who were involved were for me very unpersuasive. The professional classes of my experience are not particularly wealthy and quite often the professional classes who are supporting two and three children find themselves, particularly where they are in one-parent families because of separation, divorce or widowhood.

extremely strapped for cash. It has made a great difference to them to be able to get assisted places for their children.

I am also sad at the impact that the removal of the scheme will have on some of the independent schools themselves. As other noble Lords have said, it is very good for the independent sector to have a social and financial mix in their pupil populations. I would feel that we had lost something very valuable if the independent sector were to return to the days when only those who could afford to pay were able to send their children to independent schools. I know that the independent schools themselves will make great efforts to continue, through scholarships and so on, to provide opportunities. Nevertheless, there is bound to be a reduction in the number of children, particularly those from lower economic and financial backgrounds and from the very deprived personal backgrounds who have been the main beneficiaries, on anyone's analysis, of the scheme. I think particularly that it will hit some of the very good girls schools, which always find it harder to attract endowment money and therefore may be the most affected by this rather unfortunate measure.

Other noble Lords have made excellent points about the strength of the scheme. Therefore, I should like to make just two or three points which are particularly addressed to the argument relating to the reduction in class sizes for the early years. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will make it clear to anxious parents who have been whipped up by the media that reducing class sizes is not very easy. It is not simply a matter of producing a little money out of a hat and, hey presto, next year all the class sizes will be below 30. That is true for many reasons.

First, the LEAs now make many of the decisions about the way in which money is spent. I note that the Minister said that she intended to hold discussions with the LEAs about how they would reduce class sizes with the rather small sum of money that they are to be given. Nevertheless, I worry very much whether she has in fact from the Department of Education and Employment the authority to tell LEAs what they are to do, particularly as, if we continue the argument, the next stage is that the schools themselves have the final choice as to what they will do with the resources given to them.

As my noble friend Lord Skidelsky made dramatically clear, schools with quite low ratios of pupils to teacher can nevertheless decide whether they teach in large classes or in small classes or whether in fact, as many of them do, they divide the day up into periods of larger-class teaching and then smaller groups working with classroom auxiliaries on particular aspects of the curriculum. In fact there is already a ratio between pupils and teacher which is adequate to allow schools to teach in quite small classes—well below 30—if they so choose. I do not think that one or two extra teachers in a few schools will make a great deal of difference to the way in which schools organise themselves. I should be interested to know from the Minister how she intends to follow through this strange conundrum of intervening at the level of the schools' decisions as to what they do with resources.

The second reason is that five and six year-olds do not come in neat packages of 29, 28 or 27. They come in all kinds of different packages year on year. In the case of a very small infants school in a village which is relatively isolated, I should be interested to know what the Government propose they would do if in one unfortunate year that infants school in the isolated village found itself with a class of 32. Would they then take three children and bus them down the road to the nearest village, which I suggest would be extremely unfortunate for the three who were kicked out, or would they ask the school to invest the huge sum of money needed to bring in an extra teacher and provide an extra classroom in order to divide those 32 children into two classes of 16, so that they could somehow magically deliver their promise of having classes under 30? It is not simple. I hope that that honest truth is conveyed to the parents and the anxious public of this country.

Another matter in the noble Baroness's opening statement worried me even more. I feel very anxious about what she said as regards putting pupils who would putatively be recipients of assisted places into the surplus places of the maintained sector without any additional cost. My noble friend Lord Skidelsky suggested that that would be impossible. Certainly, under existing legislation it would be impossible. My fear is that perhaps there is some proposal to turn back from the principle that the money follows the child and that in future we shall have new legislation which will somehow say that the surplus places are no longer to be funded, but to be filled up to a certain level without any additional money.

That is a very worrying thought. I would hate to be the head of a school which was suddenly made to take five extra children and was told, "After all, we know that you haven't got any surplus places, my love, but down the road there are 25 such places. so I'm afraid that there isn't any funding for them and they are coming to your school now". Somehow they are fitted in, but however it is done and in whatever way those surplus places are distributed for the additional pupils without the assisted places scheme in independent schools, it would mean that in the state sector the overall unit of funding per pupil would have to go down. There would be less money spent per pupil because, just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is absolutely no such thing as a free place. Anyone who has ever run a school or an institution can tell you that.

My last point is this. I was very privileged to be one of Her Majesty's Inspectors for 17 years of my life and to share with schools and colleges their daily work. Very often nowadays we hear far too much about a tiny minority of schools and teachers who are failing. In parenthesis, I believe most teachers now feel that although the press in the past chastised them with whips, New Labour appears to be outdoing itself in chastising them with scorpions. Hardly a day goes by without hearing of yet more schools failing and that there are more bad teachers around. That does not do much to make the good teachers feel cheerful.

However, my point is this. In those years I visited many hundreds of schools in both the independent and the state sectors. I can say without any doubt that the majority of the schools were good and a substantial minority were excellent. Some were poor but there was absolutely no correlation with where the good, bad or excellent schools were to he found. Some were in the state sector and others in the independent sector. Although I have fought throughout my professional career against the idea that independent schools were necessarily always good and state schools were necessarily always inferior, I wish to say very strongly that I hope we shall get away from the idea that somehow independent schools are there to be raided for a bit of extra money if it is needed or they are somehow socially divisive and therefore a bad thing in themselves.

There is excellence in the state sector and also in the independent sector. Some of the excellence in the latter is of world-class quality. It seems to me that any responsible government would wish to ensure that it is excellence which is promoted wherever it is to be found and that bright children should have access to the excellence of the independent sector regardless of their parents' ability to pay.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, several noble Lords have congratulated the noble Baroness Lady Blackstone on her accession to office. On the contrary, I feel obliged to offer her my commiseration. After all, here is someone who has built up a justified reputation in the education world—with a very firm foundation in a grammar school, which is not the kind of school favoured by her party—and the London School of Economics, which, prior to the foundation of the University of Buckingham, was the last university institution to be founded wholly by private enterprise. Yet here is the noble Baroness obliged to begin her tenure of office by introducing this pitiful little Bill.

It could be called an anti-education Bill. But it is not a consolation to be told that it is only the beginning of a whole series of further measures which we are to hear about in the promised White Paper because one wonders if the philosophy which underlies this Bill will be the philosophy of the other measures which we are to expect.

I believe that expectations were raised by Mr. Tony Blair during his election campaign when he constantly stressed this aspect of policy. One may remember him going around repeating the mantra, "Education, education, education". That reminds me very much of something I learnt about his late Majesty, King Charles II. On the ship returning him from exile he was asked by one of his courtiers what would be the watchword of the new reign. "Alistair, my boy," he said, "it is obvious—chastity, chastity, chastity". So mantras do not always tell one a great deal.

But what has impressed me in this debate is something which was most clearly enunciated by the right reverend Prelate—that is to say, that there is a direct connection between the assisted places scheme and the abolition of the direct grant schools and that they in turn rest on a long tradition of founding schools in which the Church of the right reverend Prelate initially played the major role; namely, that independent education in this country, both for those who were to become the ruling or administrative class and for many others, existed long before there was a state system. The state system is a relatively recent accretion to the British educational system and all proposals for change might well take that into account.

I speak with particular concern on this matter. Although I am not a member of the right reverend Prelate's Church I enjoyed the fruits of the work of one of its great figures in the Renaissance period, Dean Colet. It is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is not in his place because I could point out that his school in Glasgow might have produced quite good generals: we produced, inter alia, Marlborough and Monty. Those who have appreciated the fact that they are enjoying something which goes back to thinking about education centuries ago must have some concern about what is the apparent philosophy of noble Lords opposite. I believe it was the noble Baroness Lady Lockwood who said that we are engaged in a controversy about the philosophy of education. While agreeing with her, I am not sure that I would define the difference in that way. There is no contradiction in the idea that there is an ineluctable contest between the education of an entire younger population up to their maximum and the selection and training of people of outstanding ability, but the contradiction clearly exists in the minds of Her Majesty's present Ministers as evinced by this Bill.

A good deal has been said about the disappointment of individual children whose careers may be cut off or the disappointment of parents who may suddenly find themselves unable to continue the education of their children in the way that they had hoped. As noble Lords will be aware, I am not a sentimental person. I do not go in for that kind of thing. I look at it entirely cold-bloodedly from the point of view of the national interest. It is in the national interest that wherever outstanding talent exists in any field the use of it for the nation's benefit, whether it be in commerce, administration or on the battlefield, should not be curtailed by the lack of funds in the particular child's family. That seems to me to be essential. But, in order to bring that about, one needs a great variety of schools, because there are different forms of excellence. One needs boarding schools as well as day schools. One needs a whole gamut of educational provision. What depresses me about the philosophy (if I may call it that) of the noble Lords opposite is that it is based on the belief that the nation's interests can be served within a system of only one kind of school. I believe that it cannot be done, and no serious country believes that it can be done or proceeds along those lines.

Since my noble friend Lord Skidelsky and others have demolished any argument that a serious financial contribution to the general education system will be made by this Bill—it appears to me that numeracy standards should be looked at in Her Majesty's Government before they are looked at in the population at large, but that is by the way—it seems to me that there is nothing to this Bill except a gesture against the notion of selection, the notion of differentiated schools, the notion that there is a national interest above the interest of any child, family or school and that that should be at the heart of education policy. I hope that one day it will be again.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, no Bill can have been more widely expected than this. Since its introduction in 1981 the assisted places scheme has been consistently opposed by the Labour Party. This year's manifesto spelt out the abolition of the assisted places scheme and the intention to use the funds to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year olds. This commitment was one of the five key pledges made by the Prime Minister to the electorate. No doubt it played its part in the victory on 1st May.

The noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky, Lord Henley and Lord Tope, and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, have questioned the financial calculations that make that pledge. I have read the paper to which they referred and listened to the arguments made by my noble friend the Minister. I am not sufficiently expert to be aware of the merits of the argument. However, there are two matters on which I am clear. First, the abolition of this scheme will release substantial sums for the DfEE to spend as it sees fit. Secondly, it was one of the five key pledges that class sizes would be reduced to 30. I have no doubt that that key pledge will be met.

For the record, the argument against the assisted places scheme is one of fairness. We believe it is fairer that 440,000 five, six and seven year-olds should have their class sizes reduced to 30 or less than that just 38,000 schoolchildren should be selected to attend independent schools. Irrespective of the use to which the money is put, no government should subsidise the independent sector at the expense of the children who are directly in their care. I believe that it was a tacit admission of failure by the previous government that they did not believe the state sector could offer high standards to all those for whom it was responsible.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Surely, the point at issue is whether it is at the expense of the 450,000. The noble Lord assumes that it is. I was making a rather strong argument that it is not.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I have understood the arguments of the noble Lord and have read the paper to which he referred. But the Government have been elected on two very clear pledges. Whether or not they are reconcilable, they will be achieved individually. But if this Bill goes through substantial amounts of money will be released and class sizes will be reduced to 30 or less for five, six and seven year-olds. That is the substantive point, and that is the intention of the Government. Of course, this places a grave responsibility at the door of the new Government. Many state schools achieve high standards, but not all. One cannot dismiss the aspirations of many parents to send their children to independent schools as elitist or mere snobbery. There is genuine and widespread concern that standards of discipline and academic achievement are too low in parts of the state sector.

The Government are pursuing various initiatives to ensure that best practice spreads to all schools. I wish them well in that endeavour. However, they must be realistic as to why so many parents aspire to independent schooling for their children. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, laid down a challenge to the Government when he spoke of the benefits to some children of boarding school education. He said that children had to be treated as individuals. I know from experience that some young boys benefit from boarding school education.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, said that a reduction in class sizes was not of itself sufficient to increase standards. She is right. However, I have never read an independent school prospectus that did not boast about the small class sizes that it had to offer. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said that independent schools benefited from the social mix of bright children coming from poorer backgrounds. The contrary argument is equally true. State schools will also benefit from these children and raise standards as a whole.

I have spoken briefly about why I believe the assisted places scheme is wrong in principle. When one looks at practice the argument is stronger still. Last autumn I had the privilege of addressing the Association of Independent School Bursars. My message was not well received. I emerged with only light flesh wounds. Nevertheless, all of the bursars were realistic about the resolve of the Labour Party to abolish the assisted places scheme. During coffee breaks I was regaled with stories about how the assisted places scheme was abused. I heard stories about the money paying for people's divorces and the general ingenuity of parents in accessing these funds. Those stories were told with a ribald humour which spoke volumes about the scheme's lack of success in helping the kind of children that it was meant to help.

However, the point was made that despite widespread abuse of the scheme, there were examples where children had been given life-enhancing opportunities that would never have been received without an independent school education. No doubt that argument was inculcated into the children themselves. I find that argument sad and fundamentally flawed, in that it consigns those who do not receive independent education to the second rank and fails to recognise that many state schools can and do offer a breadth of opportunity and achievement that encourages each child to make the most of his or her talents.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the Bill as nasty and mean spirited. They are wrong on both counts. The Bill puts the many above the few. If they call that old Labour, so be it. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, raged—I put it as highly as that—at the injustice of sending bright children to state schools. The noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, spoke of the sacrifice of children. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, spoke of throwing children onto the dust heap. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. called for a huge expansion of the independent sector. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, capped it all by speaking of anti-education. If the party opposite believes that, what an indictment of its education policies over the past 18 years. Does it believe that sending a child to the state sector will consign it to the dust heap? That is a shameful argument to use.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. My noble friends Lady Elles, Lady Young and Lord Butterfield said nothing of the kind. None of us on this side of the House has anything but admiration for excellent state schools, and clearly more children benefit from them than from the independent sector. The noble Lord has to advance a different argument, if he supports the Bill.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I wrote down the comments at the time they were made, and we can check Hansard. I stand by what I said. They were the arguments used against sending children to state schools when noble Lords opposite were arguing that the independent sector offered the only true opportunities.

I support the Bill because it narrows the gap between the unduly privileged and the underprivileged; it redistributes taxpayers' money from the private sector to the public sector; and, above all, I support it because our five, six and seven year-olds deserve smaller classes and a better start in life.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I reiterate what my noble friend Lord Beloff said. Never did I use such words as those which the noble Lord has attached to me, and nor did my noble friend Lady Young. I therefore totally disregard his speech because he could not have been listening to anything said from this side of the House.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, if I am wrong, I apologise. But, as I said, I wrote down the comments after they were made. We can check in Hansard tomorrow.

7.3 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, the noble Lord may be as puzzled about that as he was about finance. It is plain that the purpose of the Bill is to release money to improve educational standards. Despite the philosophy of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby: "When I say a thing, it means what I say", which he asks the Government to apply to themselves, I shall be interested in the Minister's reply to the lucid indictment by my noble friend Lord Skidelsky of the financing that lies behind the scheme. If the finance does not stand up, then the Bill is revealed, as suggested by the right reverend Prelate, and my noble friends Lady Young, Lord Beloff, and many others, as the product of an educational ideology—an ideology which has played a large part in reducing standards and limiting opportunity. It is an ideology that destroyed grammar schools and the direct grant schools, and now does this. Naturally, as a child of poor parents and a former pupil of a direct grant school, I feel strongly about it.

The Labour Party, whether in government or in opposition, has always opposed any co-operation between the independent and the maintained sector of education. The fact that a large proportion of present independent schools, particularly the direct grant schools, maintains selection, when the state established non-selective area comprehensive schools aggravated that opposition to co-operation.

The Prime Minister professes to have learnt a great deal from the Labour Party in Australia. But I am afraid that old Labour prevails in education. In Australia, the Labour Party has never opposed the use of public funds in the independent sector. It is happy to give grants to schools as selective as Sydney Grammar and as exclusive as Geelong. But the Government have no interest in any co-operation.

There are poor parents. I was High Master of St. Paul's for seven years. I ran the assisted places scheme. I must have seen income returns from some hundreds of people. We admitted about 20 pupils a year, but received many more applications. I never saw incomes above £15,000. With regard to middle class children, it is true that some had been in the private sector. They had lost a parent, parents had lost jobs, or a mother had suffered a divorce from a husband who did not have enough money to support two families. Those were the children who came from the independent sector. The myth of subsidy to the middle class is just a myth. It should not be used, because it is dishonest. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hampden. One would find that to be so from the headmasters of many schools.

Let us look at the reason, because it is important. Why did poor parents elect to leave the maintained sector and take up assisted places in independent schools? It was because those schools offered specialist courses which were not available to the children in the maintained schools in the area where they lived. I shall give some examples. Some children have an aptitude for languages. In areas such as Hackney and Stoke Newington, few schools offered more than two modern languages, and many did not offer that. At St. Paul's, as did many other independent schools, we offered four or more modern languages as well as Latin and Greek. Because of our nature as a selective school, we had a fine mathematics department at post-16 level which could offer double mathematics and the whole range of mathematical studies. I can assure the Minister that those courses were not available in the area comprehensives from which those children came. That was especially true of the poorer areas of the city and certain ethnic areas of the city. That is why they came.

Paradoxically, the Government recognise the value of the specialisation that exists in many independent schools. Only last week, in a press statement, the Minister's colleague, the Minister responsible for schools standards, Estelle Morris, said: Specialist schools are popular with schools, parents and sponsors alike". So I am delighted that the Government are continuing the previous government's policy of creating such schools to specialise in languages, technology and a whole series of other areas. I think that the Prime Minister talked about sports, mathematics, and such subjects. They are seeking private finance to assist that development, as did the previous government.

It therefore seems to us—as my noble friends have said—odd and ideologically motivated that a government who are prepared to set up specialist schools are not prepared, as are the Australian Government, to take advantage of the specialisations which already exist in independent schools and are available to poor families through the assisted places scheme.

As a headmaster of 17 years standing, I can assure the Minister and her colleagues that if they believe £100,000 and an extra £100 a pupil can create language departments equivalent to those which exist in independent schools and which are the product of years of work, of choice of staff, and years of investment in satellite dishes, language laboratories, and so forth, and that they will have the equivalent of the language department of St. Paul's available now to poor children, they are mistaken.

Perhaps I may underline a point made by the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords. The main candidates for assisted places are pupils in the former direct grant schools. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, was right when he said that this scheme was created to try in some way to continue the tradition of the direct grant schools. Everyone must acknowledge that they were sacrificed on the altar of ideology because they withdrew from the state sector and became independent, sadly and reluctantly, so as to maintain their academic specialisation.

These schools, many in the great northern cities such as the one I attended, have a long history of serving the talented children of poor parents. I very much doubt whether poor parents in Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle will find any even designated maintained schools which will replace the existing excellence of schools such as Bradford Grammar, Manchester Grammar, the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, King Edward's, Birmingham, and so forth. As one of my noble friends said, they are schools with an international reputation for excellence.

As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and others, the tragedy is that the money released by depriving these able and poor children of access to schools such as those will not achieve the transformation of the education system that the Government claim. I repeat that I shall be delighted if the noble Baroness, with the support of her officials, can shoot down the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in flames. It will be a great gladiatorial combat, to which I look forward.

However, perhaps I may go further and underline what was said by my noble friend Lord Henley. If class sizes are reduced to 30 the popular schools—those are the best schools which are full—will have to turn away pupils. If a law provides that classes must have no more than 30 pupils anyone with a child at a bad school who wants to move to a popular school which has classes of more than 30 will be told, "No luck, my son. You stay where you are". If I were a parent I should prefer a class of 32 in a good school rather than a class of 30 in a bad school.

I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about that, but the Government could solve the problem in a simple way. They could spend more money on buildings in the popular schools so that the popular and best schools can take more children. But we return to the mystery of money. Where will the money come from? In that respect I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the Liberal Democrats. If you want to improve things and not force children to go to bad schools just because you limit the class size you must spend money on the good schools. The end result will be to force children to remain in poor schools. Therefore, the result of this sorry little Bill will be to abolish the chance of bright pupils to go to schools such as Manchester Grammar and force others to go into classes of 30 in bad schools.

This country needs both smaller classes and specialised academic courses for academically able pupils. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, that a country which does not value its academically able pupils is a country doomed to decline. As I have said often in this House, in every other part of Europe there are post-16 centres of excellence for able pupils; brilliant sixth forms equivalent to that of Manchester Grammar. The assisted places scheme provided some chance for that in our country. I must therefore say that it is a mean, nasty little Bill, as my noble friend said. and many will suffer.

In Committee, I and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will press the Minister about the proposal to force children to leave at 11. I shall be interested to hear how the Secretary of State will offer his appeals system. There are some difficult cases. I know of a dyslexic child aged 10 in an independent school. Will he be able to go to a dyslexic unit? There is another point which the Minister might dismiss but which I believe is important. If at a private school a pupil started to learn French at eight and Latin at nine, is it good for his or her education to have to begin French again at 11 and possibly abandon Latin altogether?

I cannot imagine any other European country depriving poor and clever children of a chance to attend schools which are recognised as excellent and have produced many people who have contributed to the nation. I refer to schools such as Manchester Grammar, St. Paul's and Westminster, but I could extend the catalogue further. The Government are saying that such pupils should not attend those schools, and the end result will be children forced to remain in unpopular schools and in classes of 30 in bad schools. It is a bad Bill and owes a lot to an ideology which desires and believes only in a state monopoly of education. It obstinately refuses to see that co-operation between the independent and state sectors would help to improve education.

When the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, used to stand at this Dispatch Box I constantly reminded him that he was like the Bourbons; he had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. I am afraid that I must apply the same epithet to the Government. This Bill ought not to have been put forward.

7.16 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have congratulated me on my new post. I am delighted to be in it. I am grateful for the commiserations of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, but I do not need them. I am very happy to be standing at the Dispatch Box introducing this Bill. It is a change which for a long time the Labour Party in opposition signalled that it would wish to introduce. It was part of our general election pledge that we would phase out assisted places.

I hope that noble Lords opposite and on my own Benches will forgive me if I fail to answer all the questions that have been asked today. We have had an informative debate, but how useful it has been I am not sure. However, I am sure that it has set the scene for a lively Committee stage. I hope that in Committee we will be able to go into more detail, which I shall be unable to do in the time available to me tonight.

Lord Henley

My Lords, will the Minister offer to write to me and to other noble Lords who have made points that she cannot answer tonight, and do so before the Committee stage? I am still awaiting answers to a number of questions that I asked during my speech on the humble Address, which was a month ago.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the noble Lord anticipated what I was about to say. Yes, of course, we shall write to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and who put questions that I do not have time to answer today. I am sorry if during the debate on the Queen's Speech the noble Lord put questions which were not answered. I was not aware that my noble friend who wound up the debate made a commitment to answer any questions that he put. The noble Lord asked many questions and I apologise if they were not answered.

It might be easier for the parliamentary section of my department to answer questions put in this debate if the noble Lord's noble friend Lord Lucas would refrain from tabling so many Written Questions. Of course, we welcome Questions, but perhaps I may inform the House that he has now tabled almost 50 in seven weeks. That reaches an all-time record. We are answering them, but I mention the fact because it is hard work for the civil servants concerned.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I take great exception to what the Minister has just said about my noble friend Lord Lucas. He has been working extremely hard as a parliamentarian—indeed, as parliamentarians should do—to examine the case that the Government are making. It is his right to table Questions. I hope that nothing that the Minister has said implies that he does not have that absolute right. There are rules and procedures in this House about the number of Questions that can be tabled. No doubt the Clerks will advise my noble friend whether he has broken any of those rules. However, it is my understanding that he has not done so. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to recognise the absolute right that my noble friend has to table such Questions.

Further, if the Minister's civil servants are too tired to answer such questions, then as Minister responsible she ought to consider reorganising her department to ensure that there are enough civil servants to do so. After all, it must surely be one of their most important roles to reply to Questions tabled by Members not just from this House but also from another place. I should add that the point just made by the Minister is not one that she would have got away with if she had made it in another place.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the noble Lord. Lord Strathclyde, has now taken up quite a bit of my time which I would otherwise have used in answering questions which have been put to me in today's debate. Of course I am not denying that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has a right to table Questions. He has the right to do so and they are all being dealt with. I am simply trying to explain that I believe it is a record for 50 Questions to be tabled in a period of seven weeks. It also amounts to a great deal of work for the civil servants concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, also complained about the timing of the Bill. However, the legislation has been introduced right at the start of the Session so as to give notice to the schools involved about the phasing out and to avoid any further uncertainty. It is a short Bill with a limited number of clauses. We made a pledge in this House with respect to the Bill, and any others introduced, that we would abide by the normal timetable. We shall of course do so. The Bill has nothing to do with dogma or envy. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and to my noble friend Lord Parry for their recognition of that fact.

Several speakers referred to "old Labour". I should point out that New Labour was elected on a large mandate—indeed, with a huge mandate—and it defeated divided Conservatism. The electorate endorsed our proposals to phase out the scheme and spend the money saved on reducing class sizes in infant schools. Unfortunately, noble Lords opposite seem to be a little out of touch with the views of the electorate on such matters. However, I am glad that the noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Campbell of Croy, accept that we do in fact have a mandate to make such changes. I am sorry to tell the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, that, given the fact that we made it absolutely clear in the election campaign and in our manifesto that this was something that we were going to do, we have no intention now of undertaking a review.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, talked about what she called the "mythical White Paper". She asked why it had not been introduced before the Bill. I believe I explained why we needed to introduce the Bill very early in the Session: we want to be fair to the schools concerned. However, we shall be publishing our White Paper early next month. It is a very wide-ranging document and one which covers a huge range of issues, not just matters which might be relevant to the question of class sizes. There will be plenty of opportunity to debate the White Paper and we shall be consulting widely. I should stress that we took office only on 2nd May and to expect a White Paper of this kind to be introduced in less than three months after taking office is rather a tall order. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that fact.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said that it was in the national interest that outstanding talent should be developed. I entirely endorse that view. It is in the national interest that outstanding talent should be developed. However, what depresses me about the philosophy of some noble Lords opposite is that they seem to think that private schools have some kind of monopoly in relation to developing and sustaining talent. I believe that came out particularly in some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. I see the noble Lord shaking his head, but he did go on and on about a small number of independent schools—

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but I merely pointed out that there were certain independent schools that have centres of excellence, as indeed do certain state schools. I therefore thought that, rather than children being forced to go to their area school, they should be given a chance in both. I never denied that many state schools have centres of excellence. I just wanted to point out that the legislation would deprive certain poor children of the opportunity to attend such centres of excellence. The Minister has misinterpreted what I said.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for intervening and saying that he does not deny that there are many state schools which make excellent provision for children.

However, one of the underlying themes of what was said by noble Lords opposite—and my noble friend Lord Ponsonby commented on this rather eloquently—is that the state system does not somehow match up. I am sorry, we on this side of the House are determined that in this Government we will promote a strong state system that can educate all of our children to the standards that they deserve. If I may say so, to assume anything else is insulting to teachers in our state schools, many of whom are excellent and many of whom are doing a fantastic job in more difficult circumstances than would be true of many teachers in the independent sector who are not coping with the kind of disadvantaged backgrounds which, unfortunately, characterise some of the pupils in the state system.

Finally, by way of introduction, I should like to say that we in the Government believe that the assisted places scheme is also the product of an educational ideology. Of course it is; there are ideological differences between us. It would be surprising if that were not so. Many rather insulting remarks have been made about the ideological basis of our wish to make changes. Yes, of course, our views are different and our priorities are different. I would not expect otherwise.

I should stress that the cost of the scheme simply cannot be justified—£160 million this year for the schemes in Great Britain, rising to £200 million at the turn of the century under the plans of the previous government. Over time, the previous government would have had to spend double that amount to meet their commitments. Our priority is to reduce class sizes as part of our strategy to raise primary school standards. We never said that we would achieve the class size pledge overnight. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, questioned whether the abolition of the assisted places scheme would in fact lead to the reduction in class sizes to which we are pledged. I should tell them that reductions will be made progressively as the APS savings arise. The resources freed by phasing out the scheme will allow us—and this is our pledge and commitment—by the end of this Parliament to meet our class size pledge. That is the time-scale.

The previous government had started a substantial expansion programme in the scheme so that significant savings will accrue as a result of phasing it out. The noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Tope, asked about the savings and queried what they would buy. I believe that was also true of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. We predict that the savings will amount to about £100 million in total by the year 2000. That represents the cost of employing around 4,000 primary teachers for a year. Of course more savings will follow after the year 2000 which will enable us to appoint additional numbers of primary school teachers.

The range of figures quoted during today's debate on the cost of reducing class sizes was considerable. Much depends on the underlying assumptions. I do not want to get too technical in this Second Reading debate and I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not do so. Two past pieces of independent research show a cost of around £65 million a year for the reduction of class sizes. That is within the sums that we shall be saving from the assisted places scheme in the next five years. We need, of course, to review the costings with local authorities. I am absolutely ready to concede that a review will have to take place as we go along. As the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, we intend to talk to local authorities and consider the costs in the light of all the practical issues that they will have to face. Of course, there are practical issues when one makes any change of this kind, but we shall address them.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked about the mechanisms for ensuring that the money saved would be used to reduce class sizes. Available funding will be distributed between authorities on an equitable and transparent basis and in the light of needs. The distribution must reflect past decisions by authorities so that we do not penalise those who have already taken measures to cut class sizes by favouring primary schools in their spending decisions. Initially at least we expect to ring fence the APS savings to be spent on specific measures to reduce infant class sizes. However, as I said, the details of the process will be discussed with local authorities and others in the coming weeks. I do not think noble Lords could expect me at this stage to have every fine detail in place on how that will be achieved. I ask for the understanding of noble Lords in that respect.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and others, this Bill is about the phasing out of the assisted places scheme to help us to meet our pledge on class sizes. We shall provide full details on the arrangements to achieve smaller class sizes in the White Paper and in the autumn education Bill. However, what is clear is that phasing out the assisted places scheme will lead to significant savings to help us meet that pledge and to reduce infant classes by the end of this Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, said that he has grandchildren. I, too, have grandchildren. I have a five and a half year-old granddaughter in a local authority primary school and she has three year-old twin sisters who are about to start in a nursery school. I want my grandchildren to benefit from this Bill. I want to see excellent primary schools and classes of a size that makes it possible for teachers to achieve that excellence.

I turn now to a number of concerns that were expressed as regards the impact on the maintained sector of abolishing or phasing out this scheme. Various dire predictions were made by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, but I think they were based on a false premise that all the places would be withdrawn with immediate effect. The noble Lord shakes his head. I take it back if that is not what he meant. I reinforce what I have already said; namely, that we are phasing out, not abolishing, this scheme outright. The noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Henley, claimed that there would be significant extra cost to the state sector. However, I think I am right in saying that they were assuming average costs when marginal costs are the relevant measure here. Incidentally, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, for his kind words about my appointment. We do not always agree about many aspects of education but debating with him has always been enjoyable and challenging and it is always conducted in a good natured way. His intervention today was rather more good natured than, I am afraid, were the speeches of some noble Lords opposite.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her words and also for giving way. However, I was not of course talking about marginal cost pricing because that is not the way the state sector costs its pupils. We have a clear difference. The Government have predicted £100 million of savings in year three. The Institute of Fiscal Studies says that it will be £28 million. It has used a sophisticated methodology and seems to have relied on realistic assumptions. Which figure does the noble Baroness believe in? If the Institute of Fiscal Studies is correct, how will the gap in funding be met?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I have made it absolutely clear that the Government believe that there will be savings of £100 million from the scheme. I have not seen the report of the Institute of Fiscal Studies but I shall certainly look at it to see what it has to say.

Last year there were 815,380 surplus school places in England. There was not a single LEA where the number of entry assisted places exceeded the number of surplus places within that LEA. Therefore every local education authority has the capacity to absorb the number of pupils no longer entering the assisted places scheme. There are about 10,000 new assisted places available each year. That represents only one-eighth of 1 per cent. of the school population. Most entry places—some 6,000 of them—are available at the age of 11, compared with half a million children transferring from state primary schools. That is fewer than two pupils for every secondary school in England. With over a year's notice, local education authorities have plenty of time to plan and make the appropriate arrangements. The comments that have been made by noble Lords opposite who have suggested that this will be terribly difficult are misconstrued.

Pupil projections underpinning the local government finance settlement for 1998–99 will make assumptions as in previous years about the size of the independent sector as a whole rather than for the assisted places scheme itself. Many assisted places scheme schools are predicting that they will have absolutely no difficulty filling their places with fee paying pupils. This leads us to conclude that overall it is unlikely that the phasing out of the scheme will have any major net effect on maintained sector provision. However, we shall keep the matter under review. For the present we do not believe that educating children who may otherwise have had assisted places will result in a significant additional burden on local education authorities.

Several speakers, including my noble friend Lady David, asked about the position of children in assisted places in primary schools. A number of noble Lords opposite were critical of our decision to cease support at the end of primary schooling. But that is the most sensible age for a child to transfer to the maintained sector. I do not accept that it is unreasonable to expect a child to change schools at the age of 11. Half a million children do so every year. Those who argue for a general extension of support through to the age of 13 do so on the ground that the scheme should provide the bridge until alternative sources of funding are available for them to complete private education through to age 18. I question whether those pupils are genuine candidates for support.

We are honouring commitments made in opposition. We never said that children in integral junior departments would keep their places through to age 13 or 18. Our commitment to those pupils is to the end of the primary phase of their education.

We also made clear that discretionary power to extend support beyond the age of 11 will be used flexibly and in a way that is sympathetic to the needs of individual pupils. For example, we indicated that we propose to exercise discretion in favour of all 10 year-old children who take up entry places at a secondary school. We take the view that although such children may be receiving primary education, they are attending a school which has an age range of 10 to 18, which is essentially a secondary school. Any pupil in a preparatory school going up to the age of 13 who had a clear promise—and I mean a clear promise or understanding—of having a place up to that age will have that place honoured. We shall use the discretionary power already in the Bill to extend places beyond the age of 11.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, and, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked about promises before the election to preparatory school children. We always made it clear that we would phase out the scheme over a seven-year period, and that is what we shall do. It would be quite wrong to continue to subsidise private education at the taxpayers' expense when no such promise or understanding has been given. I think that we would be letting down the electorate if we were to do so.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, making blanket provision on the face of the Bill for places to continue to 13 is unnecessary. I regret to say that it would also be open to abuse. We intend instead to use the discretionary power which will enable the circumstances of each case to be checked. Each case will be considered carefully on its merits. In due course, we shall let the schools know in detail how that discretion will be exercised. That is the proper way to safeguard the public purse. It ensures that we put the consideration of what is best for the pupil—and that is what we are concerned about—ahead of the school's interest.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, raised the question about middle schools. We have always said that we would exercise discretion in favour of children in areas with a later age of transfer to secondary schools. That we shall do.

A number of noble Lords raised the question of our attitude towards independent schools. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, mentioned the importance of building bridges between state and independent schools. Perhaps I may reassure him, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the right reverend Prelate, that there is no vendetta against the independent sector. Nor is there any intention of destroying the excellence of those schools. Indeed, the Government wish to promote excellence for the many children and not the few, as my noble friend Lady Lockwood pointed out. We already make a substantial contribution to the education of children with special needs in independent schools. We provide specialist provision in music and ballet which is not readily available in the state sector. We shall continue to do both those things.

However, we do not think that the scheme is a sensible way of promoting links. But I welcome proposals from the independent sector to build real bridges and forge substantial collaborative partnerships. We shall say something about that in the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is wrong to say that we have no interest in supporting bridge building of that kind. We most certainly do.

I am running out of time. Many other issues have been raised including questions by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about value added. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that I am afraid we disagree about the facts. I have read closely research undertaken by the London School of Economics. Our interpretation is that it does not bear out what the noble Baroness said. There is little value added for the bright children who transfer from the state schools to the independent schools under this scheme, These are able and talented pupils who would have done just as well, I am glad to say, in the state sector.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, raised questions about boarding education. We accept that boarding can be valuable especially for children from very disrupted and disadvantaged homes. Questions were asked about whether abolishing the APS would narrow the intake to independent schools. Again I cannot accept the claims made by noble Lords who suggested that.

A number of my noble friends commented on the fact that the assisted places scheme has not entirely reached those for whom it was intended. I remind the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that the scheme was not designed for the professional classes to whom she referred. It was designed to help poor children from low income homes. In my introductory speech I made it clear that although some children in that category have benefited more than half the children on the scheme are from higher income families or from middle class families. Some may be from middle class families who have fallen on hard times. Some are the children of divorced or separated parents from middle and upper middle class backgrounds where the income of the father is not taken into account. I do not think that that is an appropriate way of defining eligibility for the scheme.

I do not have time to answer all the questions raised. However, I conclude by picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. He made rather much of it. He suggested that there were wonderful modern language departments in independent schools. I have no doubt that he is right about that. But as someone who spent 19 years living in Stoke Newington, about which he made some rather derogatory remarks—

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, perhaps I may—

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I may finish. We are running out of time and I have given way on a number of occasions. Many schools in Stoke Newington are making a very good stab at teaching modern languages to state school pupils. What the noble Lord said was extremely unfair to teachers of modern languages in state schools. A modern foreign language is a compulsory subject in the national curriculum for secondary schools. The noble Lord should know better than to suggest that some state schools do not teach it. A number of state primary schools also make provision for early years French. I do not accept the central thrust of the noble Lord's argument. The state sector can provide for the able child, and offer the curricular breadth that he or she needs which is both stretching and relevant.

The right reverend Prelate said that there was no educational reason for phasing out the scheme. I beg to differ. This is about educational priorities. After all, that is what politics is often about. It is about defining our priorities. It is about trying to find a more sensible use of scarce resources. There are many calls on the education budget and many improvements that we want to make. The very limited educational benefits of this scheme simply do not justify the educational expenditure made on it.

I have tried to deal with the main points raised during the course of the debate. I look forward to further debate in Committee and during the remaining stages. The Bill honours a pledge to the electorate. I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.