HL Deb 17 March 1997 vol 579 cc654-714

3.10 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Relaxation of controls on changes relating to selective admissions]:

Lord Tope moved Amendment No.1: Page 1, line 18, after ("county") insert ("secondary").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a somewhat surreal atmosphere but we must nevertheless proceed as if nothing has happened. In moving Amendment No. 1, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 13, 14 and 15, and await any announcement before I get to the end.

The purpose of the amendment is to prevent the expansion of selective admissions to primary schools under the Bill. I make no apology for returning at the start of the debate to what I think is an important issue—whether or not we shall see selective intakes to primary schools and whether or not it is the Government's intention that we should do so.

The views in your Lordships' House about selective education in secondary schools are fairly clear. It is undeniably the purpose of the Bill to extend selective education in secondary schools. It is equally clear that we on these Benches are totally opposed to that. The position with primary schools is rather less clear. I hope that today we can get some clarity on exactly what are the Government's views about the desirability or otherwise of selection for primary schools.

In Committee the Minister confirmed that it is the Government's view that at present primary schools may select up to 15 per cent. of their intake if they so wish. In answer to a question he confirmed that that is not enshrined anywhere in legislation; it is contained in a legal opinion. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us whether that legal opinion has ever been tested in the courts. Subject to what he may tell me, I believe that it has not and that it remains therefore simply an untested opinion.

The Bill, which the Minister says is not a significant change, would enshrine it in legislation not at 15 per cent. but at 20 per cent. I see that as a significant change. It makes the position absolutely clear in legislation and it increases primary schools' ability to select their intake. In Committee the Minister stated: We do not believe that many—if any—primary schools will wish to select pupils by general ability".—[Official Report, 24/2/97; col. 944.]

That is what we would all wish to believe but I wonder whether that reflects reality as it is now developing.

Since the Committee stage of the Bill we have taken another step nearer to that, with the publication last week of the Key Stage 2 results, translated immediately by the media into league tables—schools with different positions in the league depending on which paper one reads. Nevertheless, the media inevitably, and as we all expected, chose to put them into league tables, even though there was some confusion about how they interpreted the results, which actually made the position even worse. We know that Key Stage 1 results are to be published. No one can have any doubt that they, too, will turn into league tables.

Already we are going down the road of competition. It does not take any great leap of imagination to think of what will happen. Governors and head teachers will examine their school's position in the league. They will examine how to improve the output—their school's performance—and they will consider how to improve the input—the quality of that input. Parents will look at the tables—they are already looking at those tables—and they will choose, or try to choose, the schools that appear to be highest in the league table. Oversubscribed schools will review their admission procedures and then the next step is obvious—governors will give serious thought to selecting 20 per cent. of their admissions. What to many of us is fantastic, ludicrous and obnoxious is rapidly becoming a reality. We need to know—and we need to know today—whether that is the Government's intention in the Bill. They may not believe it will happen. But it could happen, and we need to know whether they wish it to happen.

I have said before that I believe that to be a significant move in the wrong direction. The arguments against selection at age five were rehearsed in Committee: first, that young children develop at different rates, particularly at that age; secondly, that the selection of children at an early age is more perhaps than at any other age a reflection of variations in the quality of support within the home; and thirdly, that selection in the primary sector is even more likely to disadvantage children from ethnic minorities. We have had much debate over the years about being branded as "a failure at 11". If that happens at 11, it is much worse if it happens at five. Finally, the pressure on school places if there is a selective intake will be even greater and parents will find that they can no longer get places at their local primary school. This is already becoming a problem for local education authorities.

Unlike the Minister, I believe that these represent very significant changes indeed. In my view, they are changes wholly in the wrong direction. The amendment seeks to deal with that and to make the position clear that the provisions in the Bill for increased selection do not apply to primary schools. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendment No. 1 and the other amendments in the grouping. We on these Benches are shocked by a government proposal which will thwart parental choice by allowing into the equation a consideration which would override the need for children from the same family to attend the same school. It shows the Government's failure to understand that a sense of community begins in the family and moves into the local primary school for those families in communities who choose to send all the children in the family to the primary school of their choice and where that primary school serves the locality and has strong links with it.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, children at primary age develop at very different speeds. Within the same year group it is quite possible to have a child who is barely four who is advanced for his or her age alongside a child who is a late developer and who is chronologically aged five. That makes an enormous difference. No doubt the Minister will say, "This is only a small thing. It is only 20 per cent.". But only those schools which are oversubscribed or which are able to demonstrate certain approaches, through the Government's abuse of comparisons between schools through the publication of primary school league tables, will be able to use this mechanism to reject children. There would be no purpose in selecting by ability for 20 per cent. were that not to be the case. That competition which the Government espouse is quite clearly not competition which compares like with like.

We on these Benches make absolutely no excuses for schools which fail pupils. But at the beginning of their primary education children start with very different skills and levels of attainment; for example, the child from a family background where English is not the family language or a child with a special educational need—not the statemented degree of need, which can be regarded, but a non-statemented need which affects 18.5 per cent. of children. Such children could be seen by schools which espouse the Government's marketplace approach to primary education as, if possible, children to be avoided because they would bring down the school's league table result.

That is not the way in which the real world works for over 90 per cent. of parents in this country. They want a welcoming school in which they can participate as parents. They want a school to which all the children in the family can go. As the Minister has just said from a seated position, they want a good school for all their children. They want the same good school for the child who is a late developer or who has learning difficulties as his or her brothers and sisters, in order that the family can be together. These parents want their children to go to the same school because they know the teachers and have links with the school. The parents want the children to go to the same school so that, as good parents, they can attend functions at the school, extra curricular activities and play a full role in the life of the school.

We on these Benches are aware that a tiny percentage of parents in this country exercise the option to buy private education for their children of primary school age. Not being one of those parents, I find it difficult to put myself in their place. But it may be that they look at league tables; they have an au pair who can drive, or a nanny or housekeeper, and access to one or more vehicles. It may be that it is possible for the children to be driven to different schools and to split up the family. That is not what primary education is about. This small wedge—as the Minister would, no doubt, describe it—is open to abuse because, as I said at the beginning, it can deny parents the right to choose and allow schools to put forward a reason for rejecting children which does not stand up to the test of what the role of the community primary school should be. I support these amendments.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, I had to miss most of the Committee stage of the Bill for reasons beyond my control. But in catching up on the arguments which were advanced over this issue of primary selection, I was particularly struck by the curious position which the Government appear to have adopted.

On the one hand, the Minister accepted what the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and others were saying about young children developing at different rates and about the early disadvantages for those for whom English is not their first language and so on. One would have thought that these were strong arguments against selecting, not just by general ability, but also by particular aptitude at such a very early age as five. On the other hand, the Minister went on to say, However, we believe that primary schools should have the same option as most secondary schools".—[Official Report, 24/2/97; col. 944.] I find this impossible to reconcile. Like my noble friend Lady Warnock, I am no out-and-out opponent of all forms of selection. But if selection by ability at the age of 11 is generally discredited on grounds of reliability, as it is, then a fortiori it should not be contemplated at the age of five. I think it should be clear that in this respect at least primary schools must not have the same option as secondary schools as otherwise communities will be split, those who start disadvantaged will be further handicapped and much talent will go to waste. For those reasons I support the amendments.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I would like to make one point which, I believe, has not been made so far in the discussion on this amendment. It is a simple one. There will be some schools where there is a trust deed which governs the purposes of the education to be provided. In some cases that may specify that the site of the school will be held on trust for educating, say, the poorer classes of a parish. I realise that that is a somewhat dated way of looking at admission to a school, but nevertheless it is clear that, where there are such trusts, they will not necessarily specify that it is to be the cleverer classes who are to be admitted. So in addition to the arguments which have already been advanced, I suggest that there may be some conflict should there be a provision for selection for a primary school which is on a site for which the trust provides for some other criterion of admission.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, perhaps I may give a concrete example of what my noble friend was talking about earlier. The primary school league tables came out last week and four local primary schools in my immediate vicinity were included. One of them did relatively badly. It so happens that that primary school prides itself on taking in children with special needs. To compound its problem, it also had a number of children away on the day when the tests were done. The combination of those two factors meant that the school came quite low down in the league table in Wandsworth. My daughter's school did comparatively well. Already, her school is over-subscribed both in the reception class and in the nursery class. Parents are very keen to get their children into this school.

The problem that we see now in our very localised area, with four schools within about a mile of each other, is that the differences between them are being completely exaggerated in a way about which the schools themselves are very unhappy. The schools do not want to see themselves in competition in any way. They realise that there are different strengths in all the schools.

The problem of having the option of introducing selection at any level is that it will only exacerbate the trend which the league tables have started. I cannot see that they will give any benefit to any of the children at all in any of the local primary schools in my area. They will do harm to the schools which have the enlightened policy of actively encouraging children with special needs. I support these amendments. They are extremely important. I believe that the Government are wrong even to leave an opening chink with the possibility of introducing selection at the primary level.

3.30. p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, in supporting this group of amendments I take as my text an aspiration of our Prime Minister, John Major. He aspired to build a classless society in Britain. I suggest that our primary school system in this country approaches the classless society to which John Major aspired.

Apart from that very small category of our citizens which my noble friend Lady Farrington mentioned, which effectively buys primary education for its children, we can see that by and large the different classes in our society send their children to the local primary school. There may be a Church affiliation in some areas, but by and large over 90 per cent. of the children of primary school age go to the local school. That is beneficial to our society. In effect, it breaks down class barriers between young children. Indeed, it has been suggested that young people are egalitarian in other ways. It has often been pointed out that young children of, say, four or five are almost colour blind when it comes to putting members of their peer group into any particular category. That is a powerful reason for supporting this group of amendments.

Perhaps I may give an example from my own experience in Manchester. Three county primary schools are equidistant from our house. When my children were coming up to primary school age, we went round each of them. They were all run—I believe that the usual description is "controlled"—by the local education authority in Manchester. Manchester is regarded as having a monolithic education system. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each of those primary schools had a completely different character and ethos. It was not a question of one being better or worse than another. It was simply a case of the characters of the schools being different. That was partly because of the buildings, partly because of the geographical sites, partly because of the staff but particularly because of the ethos and attitudes of the different head teachers.

As, dare I say it, middle-class parents, we had to make a choice about the education of our children. We took our eldest daughter around each of those schools and, to be honest, she picked the school with which she felt most comfortable. It was not a question of saying that this or that school would be better, because we recognised that the standard of education would probably be the same. What made the difference was the ethos of those schools.

I hope that the Government will acknowledge that we all recognise the diversity of schools and that there is a general understanding in society that no one primary school is better than another. That enables parents to choose a school largely on the basis of proximity to home or on its ethos without putting the parents under the pressure of having to determine whether it is a "better" school than others.

Unfortunately, however, as we have heard in the House many times in debates on education, when it comes to selection it is not a case of the parents choosing the school but of the school choosing the parents. I hope that simply because a particular primary school in an area has a relatively new building, or has been tarted up with a bit of paint, or has a head teacher and senior staff who are very good at marketing themselves in the local community—they may not provide a better education but they may well generate an image of being better—we shall not end up with competition which would be deleterious in the primary school sector.

I hope that the aspirations of our Government, our Parliament and, indeed, all our people will be to ensure that our young children grow up in a classless society in which all can benefit from a good all-round education. We must recognise that different schools have different characteristics. We should revel in those differences between our schools. We should not point out the differences between them only in terms of the quality of education because that can then constrain parents to start making choices—and what we shall end up with is the schools choosing the pupils.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, I should have thought that you cannot get rid of competition. Whatever form of education we have, whatever the system and whatever the different types of schools, education will not be any good unless there is competition. Indeed, that is what children and youngsters like. It is nonsense to be afraid of competition. What counts in any school is not so much the building—naturally, it would be all the better if all schools could have nice or beautiful buildings—but the quality of the teachers. Even with a lovely building, unless there are good quality teachers, the education will not be any good.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, if I understood the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, correctly, competition is pretty well the answer to the whole thing, although the noble Lord qualified that slightly by stressing the importance of teachers. I agree absolutely. However, does he agree that a whole range of factors have to be considered if there is to be fair competition or "perfect competition", as it used to be called in the economics books that I studied? That is what makes such nonsense of the league tables which were presented last week.

I address this next question again to the noble Lord: what about the buildings? I do not know whether he has seen the recent television programmes, including one today, which show schools dropping to bits. They were nowhere near to meeting the basic requirements for providing a decent and proper education.

What about the structure of the teaching staff? An ideal school would have three or four very experienced teachers and perhaps one or two newcomers with new ideas. However, that does not happen. At the moment, because of cost constraints, the Government are trying to get rid of the more experienced teachers. The noble Lord shakes his head, but it is true. Hundreds of more experienced teachers have left. I am referring to the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, not the Minister, because he and I have talked about this previously. One could speak for a long time about the conditions that are necessary for the provision of a decent education. With great respect to the noble Lord, it is most naïive to say that competition is what matters. Competition, yes, but only provided that all the circumstances are right. I see that the noble Lord wants to intervene and I hope that he will agree that unless all of the conditions are right, competition as he has defined it is absolute nonsense.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, when I referred to competition, I was not dismissing other things; I was saying that you cannot completely dismiss competition.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity at Report stage, following the first intervention from the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, to welcome him back to our deliberations on the Bill. We were sorry that he had to miss so much of the Committee stage and we are pleased to see him back with us, looking as healthy and fit as he ought to do. We also appreciate the noble Earl's great struggle, if I may put it that way, to rise from his sick bed to vote for the party opposite in its ambush at 10.30 p.m. on the first Committee day on this Bill. The noble Earl is stronger than I thought.

I start by making one or two points on performance tables in response to the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Dormand. I was sorry to hear their views about performance tables whether in the primary or the secondary sectors. They will appreciate that I do not share their views. I believe that performance tables are one of the most valuable educational reforms of the past 18 years. They have two roles. The first is to provide information to parents, but they are not the only form of information that is available to parents. They are a relatively crude form of information. Valuable though it is, there is much other information available to parents through school prospectuses and other matters. Parents can take note of that and make their choice accordingly.

Secondly, they have an equally important role. They have a motivational effect on schools. We know that that effect has been dramatic in the secondary sector. It was for that reason that Mr. Rae, a former head of a distinguished public school—who I believe is not a supporter of my party but the party of the noble Lord, Lord Tope—said that performance tables had done more to raise standards than possibly any other reform that we had introduced because of the motivational effect on schools. That was why we were very keen to extend them to primary schools and why after the election we will be keen to extend them not just from Key Stage 2 tests but to the Key Stage 1 and 3 tests.

Turning to the amendment, it is designed to prevent entirely any primary school from introducing any selection into its admission arrangements. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that the effect of the amendment would be to return schools to the present regime governing selective admissions which allows just that. Although these matters have not been tested in the courts at any stage, we have every assurance that they will still be effective and allow schools to select up to a certain percentage.

As to the current regime, I believe that during our debates at Committee stage there was a degree of confusion. Noble Lords opposite appeared to believe that the Bill broke new ground in permitting primary schools to introduce any selection at all. That is not the case. At present, the rules regarding selective admissions to primary schools are exactly the same as those for secondary schools. An admission authority would have to publish statutory proposals if the proportion of pupils they wanted to admit by selection would amount to significant change in character. In my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's view, selecting up to 15 per cent. of a school's intake whether primary or secondary does not constitute a significant change of character, so the admission authority for any school, either primary or secondary, can at present introduce up to 15 per cent. selection without publishing statutory proposals. The Bill sets a new statutory baseline of 20 per cent. for selective admissions, with higher thresholds for specialist and grant-maintained secondary schools. We believe that, just as the present regime does not discriminate between primary and secondary schools, the new baseline should apply to both. The Bill maintains the current principle of parity between primary and secondary schools in relation to selection. It does not break new ground in this respect; nor does it seek to encourage primary selection, as some noble Lords opposite have argued in the past. Decisions on whether to introduce an element of selection will remain a matter for the admission authorities concerned, whether that be the school, the LEA or whoever. The Bill does not require primary school governing bodies to consider annually whether to introduce or extend selection. It merely makes a marginal increase to the current baseline above which statutory proposals are needed.

I should like to deal with the point raised by the right reverend Prelate as to whether there is a conflict between primary selection and any given trust deed that an individual school, particularly a church school, may have. I reassure the right reverend Prelate that nothing in the Bill would enable a school to introduce admission arrangements contrary to anything specified in relation to admission in a school's trust deed. That matter would have to be resolved in other ways relating to the trust deed itself.

We do not believe that many primary schools will wish to select pupils by general ability, although some may want to do so by aptitude for a particular subject. I believe that my honourable friend Mrs. Gillan gave the example of music when she spoke on this matter in another place. We believe that primary schools should have the same options as most secondary schools. That is what the Bill gives them. The amendment seeks to undermine that. For that reason, I do not believe that noble Lords would be able to accept them. I urge the House to reject the amendment.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. He began by responding to points that had been made in the debate about performance tables. Perhaps I may do likewise. We on these Benches are wholly in favour of more information being made available to parents. But that needs to be good, reliable and accurate information in the proper context. The experience last week of the publication of the performance tables for Key Stage 2 illustrate the point extremely well. They were published quite properly by the DfEE not in league table form and were made available to the press. The press immediately interpreted them as league tables.

In moving this amendment, I made a passing reference to the fact that a school's place in the league table depended on which paper published it. I speak from experience in that I am a governor of a junior school. The school had a governors' meeting two days after publication of the tables. It appeared that the English tests had been mislaid through no fault of the school. They had apparently—and literally—been lost from the back of a lorry. The DfEE league tables were published with a symbol that simply said that the tests had been lost through no fault of the school, but newspapers interpreted that information quite differently. I was pleased to see that in the London Evening Standard my school was top of the league because of the way that newspaper had interpreted the missing results. In a number of other newspapers, one of which was the Independent, the school was bottom of the league because instead of averaging three it had averaged only two. That is a practical illustration of how the information is of no benefit to parents and certainly not to the school. My school was extremely upset about it, not least because it had just received an extremely good Ofsted report. That is the problem with league tables.

The Minister said quite rightly that league tables increased motivation. That is part of my concern, because in the competition to get up the league table the pressure on primary schools to select by ability and to improve intake and its position in the league table—because that is what parents will be looking at—will be all the greater. We do not believe that many primary schools, if any, select by ability now. We are heading down that road. The pressure on some schools to select by ability, particularly GM primary schools who can select up to 50 per cent., will be even greater. The effect that that will have on the remaining county primary schools does not bear contemplation.

We have repeatedly rehearsed the arguments on this point. We accept that these amendments do not mean that there will be no selection. They mean that we keep the status quo. Although I may regret it, I believe that that is better than to enshrine in legislation that primary schools may select up to 20 per cent. or more depending on their particular status. To enshrine it in legislation and to put it beyond doubt is to encourage it. I believe that this is a very significant change within the Bill. I totally disagree with the Minister's view on this matter. For those reasons, I should like to test the opinion of the House.

3.47 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 94; Not-Contents, 116.

Division No. 1
Acton, L. Kintore, E.
Addington, L. Lockwood, B.
Annan, L. Longford, E.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Lovell-Davis, L.
Barnett, L. McCarthy, L.
Blackstone, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Blease, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Borrie, L. McNair, L.
Bridges, L. McNally, L
Bruce of Donington, L. Marsh, L.
Calverley, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Carlisle, E. Milner of Leeds, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Monkswell, L.
Clancarty, E. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Nelson, E.
Clinton-Davis, L. Nicol, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Northbourne, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Peston, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Plant of Highfield, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Prys-Davies, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Donoughue, L. Redesdale, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Richard, L.
Dubs, L. Ripon, Bp.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Ezra, L. Russell, E.
Falkender, B. Sainsbury, L.
Falkland, V. Sefton of Garston, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Serota, B.
Fitt, L. Sewel, L.
Freyberg, L. Stallard, L.
Gallacher, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Strabolgi, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Gregson, L. Taverne, L.
Grey, E. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Halsbury, E. Tenby, V.
Hamwee, B. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Tope, L. [Teller.]
Hayman, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Warnock, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. White, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Wigoder, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Williams of Crosby, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Aberdare, L. Astor of Hever, L.
Addison, V. Attlee, E.
Ailsa, M. Balfour, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Banbury of Southam, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Ampthill, L. Belstead, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Blatch, B.
Annaly, L. Blyth, L.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Boardman, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Lucas, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Lyell, L.
Bridgeman, V. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Brigstocke, B. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Burnham, L. Merrivale, L.
Butterworth, L. Mersey, V.
Byford, B. Miller of Hendon, B.
Cadman, L. Milverton, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Carew, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Mountevans, L.
Carnock, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Moyne, L.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Munster, E.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Northesk, E.
Courtown, E. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Orr-Ewing, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Palmer, L.
Cumberlege, B. Park of Monmouth, B.
Davidson, V. Pender, L.
De Freyne, L. Quinton, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Rankeillour, L.
Denbigh, E. Rawlings, B.
Denham, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Reay, L.
Dundee, E. Rotherwick, L.
Ellenborough, L. Rowallan, L.
Ferrers, E. St. Davids, V.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Gainford, L. Seccombe, B.
Geddes, L. Selborne, E.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L. Sharples, B.
Goschen, V. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Haddington, E. Strathcarron, L.
Haig, E. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Swansea, L.
Harding of Petherton, L. Swinfen, L.
Harris of Peckham, L. Swinton, E.
Hayhoe, L. Terrington, L.
Hemphill, L. Teviot, L.
Henley, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Holderness, L. Ullswater, V.
Hood, V. Vivian, L.
Inglewood, L. Westbury, L.
Lauderdale, E. Wise, L.
Long, V. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.56 p.m.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [Schedule inserted after Schedule 5 to the Education Act 1996]:

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 4: Page 57, leave out lines 23 to 30.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 5, 17 and 18. Amendment No. 4 seeks to ensure that before a grant maintained school extends its age range to include post-16 students, or introduces or increases the number of students admitted to a sixth form by reference to ability, such proposals should be subject to a more rigorous process of consultation and approval than would otherwise be the case.

The Bill would allow schools to increase the number of pupils to be selected by reference to ability and aptitude, and, in the case of grant-maintained schools, significantly to increase the number of pupils on the roll without their having to follow the long-standing procedure for the publication of statutory proposals. The threshold beyond which a school would have to publish a statutory notice would vary depending upon the status of the school and whether it a primary or a secondary school.

In all cases a limit is to be set to ensure that beyond a certain point the proposal is properly published, debated, and not allowed to proceed without the consent of the Secretary of State. In the case of a grant-maintained secondary school, it is envisaged that a school without a sixth form could create one without that being regarded as a significant change in character. Before reaching a decision as to whether a school should be allowed to open a sixth form, the Secretary of State has always considered the likely demand for extra places, the impact on the demand for places elsewhere, the range of courses which would be available, the experience and quality of the teaching staff and the cost of the new provision.

In addition, the Secretary of State has had regard to the view of local electors, the FEFC, the FAS and LEAs. The range of bodies which has been consulted reflects the fact that in the case of sixth forms, education and training provision extends beyond the school system. Significant changes to the number of places in schools' sixth forms may impact upon existing provision and the planning decisions of all those other providers.

The fourth amendment in the group seeks to ensure that before a school can establish a new sixth form, the legitimate interests of prospective pupils in terms of the range of courses available and the effectiveness of the teaching are considered, together with the impact on provision elsewhere, including any overall increase in public expenditure. It would also enable proper consideration of the circumstances of young people who might be denied a place in a school sixth form if the school wished to change its entry requirements.

The intention is not to prevent a school from opening a new sixth form or to stop a school with a sixth form from becoming wholly selective, but to ensure that schools seeking to make such significant changes are subject to a more rigorous process of consultation and approval than would otherwise be the case. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, as Amendment No. 5 is also being spoken to, I should point out that, if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 6.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I support the noble Lord. I am sure that the Minister, like myself and many other Members of this House, has received a number of letters from sixth-form colleges which are concerned about the impact of new sixth forms in their area. The fact that someone puts pressure on you does not mean that you have to agree with what he is saying. However, in this case I do. All the experience of successful sixth forms shows that they need a certain number of pupils before the full curriculum can be delivered. The sixth-form colleges have been extremely successful in getting that critical mass of pupils together. Therefore, each pupil who goes to the college can have a wide range of choices and be taught in sufficiently large classes to make the teaching of each subject economically viable.

There are in existing secondary schools some successful sixth forms where the same critical mass has been achieved. My fear—and I believe it to be legitimate—is that if schools whose age limit is 16 begin to create new sixth forms the effect will be to reduce the number of pupils going to colleges, which will have a deleterious effect on them, and to produce smaller sixth forms. In other words, instead of having one or two sixth-form colleges or good sixth form provision in a particular area, there will be three or four inadequate institutions. My argument relates to the quality of education in a sixth form and for that reason I support the amendment.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, what concerns me in so much of what appears in the early parts of the Bill is not only, or not principally, what the Government are encouraging schools to do, but the fact that they are empowering them to do it without regard to the interests of anyone else.

If I decide that my own development can best be furthered by bursting into song or performing acrobatics while the Minister is replying to the debate, noble Lords can propose that I be no longer heard. In the last resort I can be removed from the scene. But if a school decides to go its own way and drive a coach and horses through local co-operative sixth-form arrangements, such as operate successfully in the Oxford area where I live, it will be able to do so without further restraint.

This is not self-government for schools; it is selfish government for schools. There will no longer be statutory procedures where objections, if any, can be heard. A school will be able to create a sixth form without that being regarded as a significant change in character, which seems to me an offence against language. The Further Education Funding Council was concerned enough about the destabilising effect on the viability of existing sixth-form provision, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, to write about it to the Secretary of State last autumn.

It is noteworthy that the welcome increase in staying-on rates, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, drew attention in Committee, has taken place without the deregulation provisions of this Bill, quite uninhibited by the existing system of checks and balances. These amendments are designed to retain the consultation and approval procedures without which a free-for-all would work against the interests of post-school age pupils as a whole. I support them strongly.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we too support the amendments. It is difficult to debate with a Government whose use of language and adherence to policies is becoming so strange. Earlier today in your Lordships' House we learnt that, if the Opposition Benches put on a three-line Whip and win a vote, that is called "an ambush". That is a strange use of language.

Since 1979, the Government have exhorted local education authorities to make the best use of available resources with regard to financial and educational effectiveness in what they are able to offer as a range of options to pupils post-16. It was this Government which exhorted the local education authorities to review post-16 provision in their area. The terms of that review were to look very hard at sixth-form colleges of less than 200 pupils because it was not possible to offer the proper range of courses without undue public expenditure.

At that time in the 1980s, the Conservative Government said that their real concern was that schools were using resources intended for pupils who were not reaching the desired levels of attainment in the 11 to 16 range. The resources for those pupils were being diverted into the competition to attract greater financial benefit by encouraging more young people to stay on. It was a difficult exercise. There has to be consultation and discussion at local level. The Secretary of State of the day had to agree to the proposals concerned. However, the real concern was to ensure the quality of each subject offered and the range of subjects.

We in this country suffer from too few young people taking sciences and modern languages. Even with large, viable sixth forms, we are finding it difficult to recruit sufficient numbers into the sciences and languages, particularly the languages which are essential if we are to be effective members of the European Union. Young people will also need languages in order to work effectively in industry, the law, education and a wide range of professions. The amendments are modest, asking that due consultation and consideration is given to the interests of those young people.

I fail to understand how the Government can have performed a complete U-turn in their approach to what ought to be on offer. The Minister smiles at my presentation of what happened. It is an accurate description of what happened in the early 1980s and it was important that that took place. However, the voluntary sixth-form colleges, for instance, raised money in order to be able to develop a good provision. There has been no proper consultation so that parents and governors of the schools concerned can have an opportunity to understand all the facts. Instead there is to be an immediate decision to expand provision, thereby damaging the chances of a generation of young people. The Government cannot believe that that is in the best interests of education.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, the education authorities of the Roman Catholic Church also are concerned about the proposal to extend the right to develop sixth forms. The education authorities of that Church attempt—rightly or wrongly, and I believe rightly—to ensure that there is a coherent provision for children whose Roman Catholic parents want them to have an education based on Christian values. In doing so, they have set up sixth-form colleges, in many cases very good ones.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, made an important point about critical mass. I accept that the Government's philosophy is one of market forces. But while market forces sort themselves out, the education of a great many children could be destroyed through classes which are too small, making departments uneconomic, and preventing them from offering the degree of diversity and quality of education which those children deserve.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I support all the amendments in the group and I shall speak in particular to Amendment No. 18 to which I have put my name.

As has been made very clear again and again, this Bill would allow grant-maintained secondary schools without sixth forms to create a sixth form without that being regarded as a significant change of character.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, all of us who have been involved with this Bill have been inundated with correspondence from those concerned about sixth-form education in this country. They have produced well-argued cases on their problems and worries about the future of sixth-form education in this country. I was impressed by that and most of the people who have received that information have been impressed by it.

The current statutory procedures involving the Secretary of State in considering the question of costs, viability, increasing choice and diversity and the impact on existing provision before deciding whether a new sixth form can be established seem the minimum that would be required before giving permission for any new sixth form to be created. On the basis of this Bill which the Government are trying to bring forward, only a scheme with serious shortcomings, which has already been rejected in one of those areas, would be likely to set itself up. In other words, it is the sixth forms which have already been rejected by that procedure that one can confidently expect to be among the first to be established once the floodgates open and they no longer have to go through the procedure which the Secretary of State has applied so far in giving permission.

Until now the Secretary of State has always paid attention to the views of the Further Education Funding Council, the Funding Agency for Schools and local education authorities. I have always understood that the reason for that wide range of consultation was that it has always been recognised that as regards sixth forms, education and training provided those much wider than the schools system. Changes in numbers of sixth-form places will affect both the existing provision and the planning of all the other providers.

Amendment No. 18 seeks specifically to make sure that before a new sixth form can be established, consideration will have to be given to the range of courses available and the quality of the teaching. As my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has already made clear, those are surely legitimate interests for any prospective pupil. As well as that, consideration must be given to the impact on provision elsewhere. It would also ensure that consideration would be given to the question of young people who may be denied a place in a school sixth form if the school wishes to change its entry requirements.

I can only repeat the point made already about these amendments and this amendment in particular. The intention is not to prevent a school from opening a new sixth form; nor even to stop a school with a sixth form from becoming wholly selective. It is merely to ensure that schools making such significant changes, with wide-ranging ramifications, should be subject to a fairer process of consultation and approval than would be the case if these amendments are not carried.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, drew attention to the concerns of the Roman Catholic Education Service. I mentioned those concerns in Committee and I am glad that he has reiterated them. As he pointed out, the Roman Catholic Church has largely followed the route of providing sixth-form education through sixth-form colleges. The Church of England has done that more through sixth forms. Nevertheless, the same considerations would apply.

I should like to add one point to those which have been made already. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, used a mathematical illustration in talking about critical mass. I agree with the points that she made. The point about equilibrium is equally significant. It seems to me that under the proposals in the Bill it would be possible for a school to make a decision which would disturb the existing equilibrium, which is very positive. In a neighbourhood there are schools of different types and traditions. I can think of one town within my diocese where the provision comes from the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, a former grammar school and two other county secondary schools, which among them provide a splendid cross-section of opportunity for sixth-form pupils. It seems to be entirely right that any school which wanted to disturb that equilibrium should be subject to certain considerations and not be deregulated as proposed in the Bill.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, in supporting the amendments I could reiterate the arguments about the prudent use of public funds; I could reiterate the arguments about the limitations on the breadth of curriculum being offered; I could point out the risk of inadequate teaching; I could even reiterate the arguments that I used in connection with the previous amendment—that it was going against John Major's classless society aspirations. But in some respects, this amendment is too important for that.

I give an example of what I mean. Between the age of 16 and 18 I had the privilege of going to the North-East Essex Technical College and School of Art, which was effectively comprehensive tertiary sector provision. I was taking A-levels, as were a large number of other students. But there were also young people on vocational courses and I can remember in particular a bricklaying course. There was also a strong music school.

One of the problems which this country faces over the next few years is the need to ensure that we have the technical and vocational teaching which is so essential to provide the technicians who will produce the wealth of our country over the next 10 or 20 years. Japan, Germany, France and even the United States are producing far more of that calibre of student than we are. On the other side, we have almost an over-provision of undergraduate courses and graduates. The Government are talking of reducing the number of graduates because there are not enough economic openings for them in terms of jobs. I argue that we desperately need to improve education and training at the vocational level, particularly between the ages of 16 and 18, which is the age group that we are talking about.

Over the past few years we have heard how the number of students at universities or university-type institutions undertaking an undergraduate course has exploded. I believe that it is now more than 30 per cent. of that age group. I do not believe that we need many more graduates from universities. But we are desperately in need of the young people who will power the manufacturing revival that we require to survive as a country. We need the vocational education for those between the ages of 16 and 18.

I would argue that one of the ways in which we can do that is by building a truly comprehensive sector of education for that peer group, so that the pupils who are taking A-levels are seen to go to the same institutions as the people who are taking courses in bricklaying and metalwork and those who are studying foreign languages and music. All those people are essential and there should be some parity of esteem. It is to be hoped that, with that parity of esteem, will come parity of funding and of emphasis; that—dare I say it?—even the middle classes will start to think that these are good places; and that it is essential to support them and thereby build up a virtuous spiral of activity that will enhance, enable and empower the people of this country to rise above the decline which has beset us over the past 20 years.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to add my voice to the many others who have spoken to the amendments. I should like particularly to speak to Amendment No. 18. The debate takes me back to 1974 when I was on the Cambridge education committee. We were setting up sixth form colleges which were a new venture in the area; indeed, we set up two sixth form colleges in Cambridge itself, one in the old county boys' school and the other in the girls' county school. We had to be very careful that we did not have many sixth forms in the rest of the area, and we ended up with two.

The result of keeping the number of sixth forms down to two in the whole of the Cambridge area was that both sixth form colleges have been a tremendous success. They started with rather too many boys in one and too many girls in the other but that has evened out. Moreover, the range of subjects which can be taken is really miraculous; and, indeed, cost-wise it is very effective. It is interesting that both the Funding Agency for Schools and the Further Education Funding Council are very anxious about the steps that the Government are attempting to take. I do think that we would really be putting at risk the 110 sixth form colleges which have been so highly successful and produced such wonderful education. I hope very much therefore that the amendment will be supported. I also hope that the Government will think about cost. It really is over twice as expensive to set up a sixth form place in a school as it is to provide one in a sixth form college.

Lord Henley

My Lords, if the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, noticed an element of amusement on my face, it was really about what she said regarding the three-line Whip and what I described as the "ambush". I have to say that I did find it amusing; indeed, I found it amusing that the three-line Whip from the party opposite was able to drag from their sick bed members of another party entirely—that is, those from the Cross-Benches. I believe that that was a performance of which the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, in his great days as Chief Whip in another place many years ago, would have been proud. As I said earlier, we were more than happy to see the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, here at 10.30 on that night and more than happy to see him here voting on that occasion—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am quite sure that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, will confirm that I had no part in removing anyone at all from his sick bed. It may have been the illogical position that the Government were in that forced people to rise up and come to this Chamber.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I should remind the noble Baroness that we are at Report stage. I do find it the most extraordinary coincidence—as I am sure does the noble Baroness—that, at precisely 10.30, the noble Earl should recognise that that was the time to rise from his sick bed as he did. However, we welcomed him; indeed, we love to see him here. But at precisely 10.30, without any intelligence and without any information from the party opposite, I find it extraordinary that the noble Earl should rise from his sick bed in time to lend his support to the party opposite. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I rise simply to correct the noble Lord. This is information which he may in future find helpful, if not indeed useful. There is a distinction between a three-line Whip and an ambush. The two need not coincide; in fact, the best ambushes are not laid on three-line Whips. In the particular case to which the noble Lord referred, a three-line Whip was put down by this party. I made it quite clear on that three-line Whip that it might very well be that the House would divide at a particular time. I invited all my colleagues—and, indeed, any Members of the House of other parties—to attend at that time to see whether or not that was the case.

However, an ambush is quite different. On a previous Bill some time ago, I had the pleasure and duty of arranging an ambush. It was arranged quite separately to take place at a late hour and was by invitation only. An ambush by invitation only is something that I would recommend to the noble Lord if, in the unlikely event that he should ever find himself in the position on these Benches, he wishes to defeat a government proposal. One of the great dangers with an ambush is that, of course, it leaks. The secret of a successful ambush I will now reveal to the noble Lord: you make the ambush as late as possible in the day; you do not inform the people until as late as possible, then there is little chance of a leak; and you do it by telephone and write nothing down. I hope that the noble Lord will find that of help.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am most interested in and amused by the noble Lord's explanation of how the Whips' Office operates on the other side of the House. The point that I was making is a similar one; namely, that I was amused that those on the Cross-Benches on their sick beds should know quite so easily, despite their sickness, exactly what was going on. However, we shall leave the matter there because I do not think that the House wishes to debate the intricacies of whipping at this stage, and we have other matters before us.

This group of amendments raises a number of separate issues. However, there are one or two points that I should like to concentrate on in my opening remarks. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, talked about the problem of an alleged paucity of those taking sciences at different stages. In particular, she talked about the post-l6 level. I agree that we would like to see more people taking sciences. Indeed, in what I believe to be National Physics Week, we would like to see more girls taking up sciences, particularly in physics. Nevertheless, I believe that we can now say that we have got science into the national curriculum. By the end of the century all that will have fed the whole way through the system and we will begin to see greatly improved results.

I can tell the noble Baroness—and this is very encouraging—that something like one third of all university graduates are now graduates in either science or engineering. That is one of the highest rates in the entire OECD; it is something of which we can be proud and upon which we can build, bearing in mind that that is a third of a much higher number than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, about graduates, perhaps I may remind the House that there is still a growing demand for graduates. I forget the name of the survey which was published only last week, but it showed that the demand for graduates was rising, and rising fast. I shall look into the matter in due course and write to the noble Lord. I can also point to the fact that we have seen the incomes of graduate recruits—for example, in their first year—rise quite a lot over the past year. Again, that implies that there is a need for them. We have also seen the CBI call for a greatly increased number of graduates emerging from the university sector.

No doubt all those matters will be addressed by Sir Ron Dearing in his report on the future shape, size, structure and funding of higher education. Although I may possibly have misinterpreted what was said, it would be very remiss of noble Lords to imply that we are already producing too many graduates. Certainly that is not the view of the noble Lord's party and, indeed, not a view that I would share. Moreover, it is certainly one that we hope Sir Ron will address in due course.

I turn now to the amendments. As I said, they deal with three separate issues. The first two relate to selective admissions and the third relates particularly to sixth forms. I appreciate that most noble Lords and noble Baronesses spoke particularly to the third and fourth amendments and I shall deal with them in due course. However, I should say a few words about Amendment No. 4. I shall take Amendment No. 5 to be more of a probing amendment and one which I largely dealt with in Committee.

I shall begin with Amendment No. 4. Paragraph 3(1) deals with sixth form admissions and has nothing to do with the establishment of new sixth forms. It does not introduce anything new. Its purpose is to preserve the freedoms schools already have. At many schools the sixth form is made up entirely of pupils coming up through the school. So the issue of external admissions—which is what Schedule 1 is about—does not arise. It is only an issue for schools that admit pupils from outside the school at 16, and the number of admissions at that age is usually small.

Entry to sixth forms—whether from within or outside the school—has traditionally been on a selective basis. Because of this, and the small numbers admitted at 16, the department has always taken the view that changes in selection arrangements for admission to sixth forms do not significantly change the character of schools. Paragraph 3(1) does no more than confirm the current position by exempting changes in the proportion of selective admissions to sixth forms from the arrangements for triggering a requirement for statutory proposals.

Removing that exemption—which the amendment seeks to do—would place a new constraint on the relatively small number of secondary schools that happen to have external admissions to their sixth forms. That would be discriminatory and run counter to the deregulatory intention of the Bill. Therefore it is not an amendment that I would welcome.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 18, to which most noble Lords spoke, are designed to reverse the Bill's intention of giving grant-maintained schools more freedom to establish sixth forms. We believe that grant-maintained schools have a leading role to play in extending both choice and diversity. That includes provision for the 16 to 19 age group. We believe that the governing bodies of grant-maintained schools are in the best position to make a judgment about local demands and to respond to what young people and their parents want. The governing bodies will not invest time and effort in setting up a new sixth form unless they know the demand will be there.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and others that it does not mean that they would be able to set it up without any regard for the interests of others. If the noble Earl considers Clause 7(2) of new Section 265C of what I presume will be the 1996 Act, he will find that it states quite clearly that, In such a case the governing body shall, before implementing their proposals, carry out such consultation (if any)"— we shall discuss those or similar words later— as appears to them to be appropriate". It is obvious that they would have to consult all those who would be affected and have regard to guidance from the department. That guidance will make it clear that the schools will be expected to consult neighbouring schools and sixth-form colleges, the FE colleges and the FEFC. We expect schools to act responsibly in the light of the needs of the pupils in their areas.

A new sixth form will mean that there will be new competition for existing 16-to-19 providers in schools or even in the FE sector. One should bear in mind that the FE sector is perfectly free at present to expand, should it so wish. But just as the amendment makes provision for GM schools, so it is right for FE colleges, and there is nothing wrong with that. If existing providers are offering what young people and their parents want, they will have absolutely nothing to fear. If they are not, the appearance of a new provider will spur them into action.

Perhaps I may say a few words about the size of sixth forms and whether some may be too small to be effective. I think that we should all agree that there is no automatic right size for any specific school sixth form. Circumstances vary widely. In the interests of increasing choice and diversity, it may well be desirable for some school sixth forms to be relatively small without as wide a range of courses as larger sixth forms might provide. In making decisions of that kind, governors could respond to the needs of their pupils. We see no problem whatsoever with schools setting up sixth forms offering specialist opportunities—for example, just catering for GNVQs—as their contribution to the local pattern of provisions. Schools do not necessarily have to provide the full range of all A-levels and all vocational courses post-16. That can be a matter for the schools themselves.

As I made clear, we want to give all GM schools more flexibility to respond to the needs and wishes of the communities they serve. I believe that the amendments seek to prevent that. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response to my group of amendments. In the coming weeks I suspect that we shall all be honing our skills at using buzz words and reducing political debates to one or two phrases. Perhaps I may practise that skill as a result of this short debate. "Critical mass", "selfishness" and "equilibrium" seem to be the words which characterise the debate of the past 37 minutes.

The purpose of the amendments was to introduce a more rigorous process of consultation. As I believe every speaker made clear, it was not the purpose of the amendments to reduce the choice of sixth-form provision or in any way to damage the choice available to students.

The issue of critical mass was raised. While it may be the case that there can be different sizes and types of sixth forms, that does not address the argument that there must be some minimum size which does not detract from other sixth forms and from the range of provision that sixth forms can provide.

I am not satisfied with the response to the amendments. Nevertheless, I realise that we have much to get through today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 6: Page 57, line 43, after ("school") insert ("or involve a substantial increase in the numbers admitted to the school").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 6 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 16.

The purpose of the amendments is to test whether whole new age groups can be added to a school's intake where the proportion being selected remains the same. The issue was raised by my noble friend Lady Farrington in Committee (at cols. 960–961 of Hansard). My noble friend asked whether the provisions of paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 and the equivalent provisions in what is now Clause 5 meant that the Government have no intention of allowing schools suddenly to start recruiting destructively from adjacent schools—potentially pupils at the age of 13 or 14 years.

I understand that the Minister wrote to my noble friend on 10th March. He stated that the provisions of the paragraph would have no effect on a school's ability to recruit from other schools and that it was no part of the Government's intention to introduce any change in that area. That assurance is welcome so far as it goes but it does not answer the question as to whether the existing law is sufficient to prevent the adding of large numbers of pupils, even as many as whole new year groups, to the later years of the school.

Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 is a tangled thicket whose meaning can be, and I believe is, elusive. The purpose of the two amendments is to require that the publication procedure should apply where a school sought to recruit a substantial number of extra pupils on a selective basis under the protection that the overall percentage of selective pupils was not being altered.

There may be a misunderstanding here and the Minister has clarified that the Government have no intention of loosening the position in their drafting of paragraph 3. The Minister is asked, however, to confirm whether in his view the existing law would prevent a situation arising such as has been described and whether paragraph 3 introduces no changes in this respect. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

My Lords, it may help if I start with an explanation of paragraphs 3(2) and 3(3) of Schedule 1 which I accept are somewhat difficult to understand. I shall explain them as clearly and simply as I can. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will at least take the amendments away and consider that explanation in due course.

As I explained earlier, paragraph 2 of the schedule provides for automatic publication of statutory proposals where changes in the proportion of selective admissions cross set thresholds. Paragraphs 3(2) and 3(3) provide for an exception to this rule relating to new relevant age groups.

Before explaining why that is necessary, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord what a relevant age group is. It is an age group in which pupils are normally admitted to a school. A school may have more than one relevant age group. For example, some secondary schools admit most of their pupils at 11 years but also admit smaller numbers at 12 and 16. Under existing legislation, statutory proposals are required if a school extends its age range. But they are not required if the school starts to admit pupils to any existing year group. They would not, for example, be required if an 11 to 18 school started to admit 12 year-olds. Nothing in the Bill changes that.

The school might be a non-specialist county secondary school which was already selecting more than, say, 20 per cent. of its 11 year-old intake. For consistency it would probably want to select the same proportion of its new 12 year-old intake. Without paragraph 3(2), statutory proposals would be required for that because the proportion of pupils to be selected in the new relevant age group would exceed the relevant threshold. In other words, without paragraph 3(2) statutory proposals would be required where the school's character was not going to change at all, which would be senseless. That is why paragraph 3(2) is needed.

Paragraph 3(3) also serves two necessary functions. It confirms that the exemption does not apply where the introduction of a new relevant age group would extend the school's age range and in these circumstances statutory proposals would be required. They would deal with the proportion of pupils selected in the new relevant age group as well as the extension of age range.

Paragraph 3(3) also provides that where paragraph 3(2) refers to existing relevant age groups, that should not be taken to include admissions to sixth forms. That is necessary because admission to sixth forms is traditionally selective, as we discussed earlier. Without that restriction, paragraph 3(2) would enable a school which had fully selected a sixth form to select all its new 12 year-old entrants, even though the proportion of 11 year-olds was, say, only just over 20 per cent. Removing paragraph 3(3), which would have been the effect of Amendment No. 5, would have left schools free to select most or all of their pupils in a new relevant age group, even though the proportion of pupils selected in existing relevant age groups or statutory age groups was substantially lower. I am sure that the noble Lord would not welcome that intention.

Having explained that, these two amendments moved by the noble Lord would create a new requirement. Under existing legislation statutory proposals are needed where a school's age is to be extended or where significant enlargement is to he made to its premises and there is no requirement to publish proposals where a school admits more pupils to existing year groups.

The noble Lord's amendments would seek to change that position for certain schools. They would bite on schools with selective admissions above the relevant threshold. If such a school introduced a new relevant age group which substantially increased total admissions, statutory proposals would be required even if the new relevant age group was within the school's existing age range and the proportion of selective admission was no higher than in existing relevant age groups—in other words, the only real change was going to be an increase in the number of pupils admitted.

I believe that the noble Lord seeks further additional regulation. I suspect he fears that selective schools are likely to be popular schools. I believe that is right. Selective schools could become popular and selection is likely to make a school more popular because it offers a provision that many parents want. However, I do not see any reason for the extra controls that the amendments seek to impose on the expansion of those selective schools within the constraints that we already have.

I hope, therefore, given my rather detailed earlier explanation for paragraphs 3(2) and 3(3), the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his detailed answer to my amendments. I shall read his response with care. After listening to him as carefully as I could, I am not sure that he answered the question as to whether the existing law would prevent a situation arising such as I described in moving the amendment. Nevertheless, I believe it would be better if I were to withdraw the amendment and read his answer in detail. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 7: Page 59, line 18, leave out ("(if any)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these amendments, grouped with another series which affect Clause 7, are directed to the situation that arises where changes proposed by a school do not require publication but where the Bill states that the Government should nevertheless consider what consultation, "if any", the proposals are to be submitted to.

In Committee, we argued at some length on the inclusion of the words "if any". I believe I waxed quite lyrical on that very subject. We have attempted to satisfy the Minister on that point by the use of the idea that consultation will not be necessary, or consultation could reasonably be decided as not to be necessary, where the variation is one to which the publication procedure did not apply before the coming into effect of this schedule".

I am rather hopeful that, if the Minister takes our points on board, he will agree that by making a fairly minor change to the Bill he will achieve what he wanted. In response to our points in Committee he said that people will naturally consult on the proposals and that the guidance will encourage them to do so. He said that the only time that they might not consult would be in a situation where any such changes were, so small that formal consultation would be a waste of time, effort and money for all concerned".—[Official Report, 2/4/97; col. 998.]

So by removing the words "if any", we simply state what the Minister said the guidance would state—namely, that people should consult—and by adding in the words about a reasonable allowance for non-consultation on projects which would not have required publication previously we satisfy his point about allowing people not to consult on very small changes. I hope that those two points at any rate will meet with his approval.

The third point has to do with the period of time over which such consultations should take place. The Minister seemed to suggest that he thought a month was about right. We cannot agree with that, hence the suggestion that these consultations should take place over a two-month period. That would allow everybody who was interested in these changes—other schools, local education authorities and so on—to make their representations and to be given a reasonable time to do so. These are useful, not tremendously challenging amendments. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accommodate them. I beg to move.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I support all six of these amendments: Amendments Nos. 7 to 9 and 19 to 21, to all of which I have my name. Their purpose is to ensure that there will be consultation by admissions authorities or grant-maintained schools in all significant cases where there are proposals to increase selection or make other changes to grant-maintained schools such as enlargement to give all concerned the opportunity to know what comments are being made on the proposals and to allow them a reasonable period in which to respond.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, mentioned, the Minister made clear on the first day of the Committee stage that the words "if any" were there in relation to the statutory requirement to consult to cater for those cases where, there are bound to be some changes so small that formal consultation would be a waste of time, effort and money for all concerned".—[Official Report, 2/4/97; col. 998.] We have therefore taken his words into consideration in framing these amendments and exempting any minor changes which are not at present required by law to undergo the publication procedure.

Any change, no matter how small, can have an impact on children, parents and other schools in an area. The Bill seems to contain no provision to prevent a school making small changes which incrementally would lead to a small change in character. If the Government really believe in consultation, I do not see why there is anything to prevent the Secretary of State's guidance differentiating between cases where the impact is, in the Minister's view, small and other cases. Surely insisting that consultation is not justified when a school wishes to increase selection brings into question the Government's commitment to considering the legitimate interests of the whole community in which every school has to operate?

I, like other noble Lords, have been concerned about the Minister's response [Official Report. 24/2/97; col. 999] to the points we raised about the extent of consultation and its timing. The Minister did not make it clear—at least not to me—whether the guidance would ensure that all comments received during the consultation period would be available for public inspection. I understand that it has been common practice for government departments to make available to the public any responses from interested parties whom they consult unless the respondent does not wish it. That seems to me to be a very good practice which does not place any additional burden on the respondents.

With regard to the period of time for comment, the Minister referred [Official Report, 24/2/97; col. 999] to a period of not less than one month for interested parties to respond to proposals to increase selection. I know from my experience as a chair of governors that when parents and governing bodies of schools have to be consulted that period of time is wholly inadequate even during term time and is completely unacceptable at any other time. Let us try to live in the real world for a moment and accept that a proposal to increase selection is likely to arouse strong feelings in any area. It surely must be right that parents and governors should have time to consider the responses and should not be made to feel that they are being pushed or railroaded into making very important decisions.

The wording of the Bill as it now stands is unfortunate in these regards at least, if not also in some other regards, but that can easily be corrected. After all, public consultation should not be considered a burden or something only to be undertaken when very large numbers of parents or children might be affected. These amendments would simply ensure that parents and others concerned would have an opportunity to know about, and to comment upon, proposals to increase selection by ability or aptitude. I hope that the Minister will find it possible to accept these amendments.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, I support these amendments. I read with care what the Minister said in Committee. I was encouraged by what he said about the extent of consultation undertaken by his own department and consultation that could be expected from guidance to be issued on this point of varying admission arrangements under Schedule 1 and Clause 7.

Nevertheless, the words "if any" are unfortunate. In broad terms, I believe that they give the wrong message—the suggestion that consultation is less rather than more appropriate—and in narrow, legal terms they leave a significant loophole.

I do not believe that there is any disagreement of substance over what the Government intend, but it seems to me that this is one of the cases where, given the sensitivity of the issue in question, the Government could with benefit accept the minor change of wording, which concedes nothing in substance. Incidentally, I also associate myself with the two-month period even though my name was not down on those amendments.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I too wish to speak in support on this group of amendments and in doing so to draw particular attention to the points made so strongly on the issue of the period of time for consultation. The Minister cannot have experienced the process of change proposed for a school in a locality which affects other secondary schools and the primary schools in the area if he is prepared to support, and adhere to, the notion that such a consultation should take place within a period of no longer than a month.

When a change is proposed that will affect the school at which their children are pupils—or would become pupils, if they are primary school children—meetings for parents and public meetings in the locality tend to be packed. People are concerned; there is a wider community interest in the effect that proposals will have.

If a proposal to consult is begun by holding meetings, either the meetings have to be enormous and attended by so many that people become angry and say that they have not had an opportunity to raise the concerns of their school and their particular set of circumstances or it is necessary to hold meetings one night after another in different parts of the locality. I say that having had that salutary experience myself. I would be surprised if the noble Lord the Minister had not, in his time in local government, become aware of that phenomenon. I cannot think of any changes affecting the type of entrants into a school which have not attracted that degree of parental interest. It is therefore deeply concerning if the Government are not prepared to accept that a period of two months would be more appropriate and would avoid the Government being blamed for lack of consultation, lack of thorough consultation or lack of time to have due regard to the outcome of that consultation.

I cannot believe that the Minister would want to set in place a system doomed to failure. I cannot believe that the Minister would want to set in train a procedure that would lead to criticism from all those attending meetings. I am sure that the Minister is able to concede this very small point.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right, I do have very similar experiences to those she has, though probably not as frequent in terms of seeing the consultation process when a number of schools are threatened with closure or merger. I particularly remember one consultation process I was involved with in my own LEA. I think it was the year before county council elections. With a hung council, we were proposing closure or merger of a very large number of schools. The proposal had all-party agreement and, as one would expect, the whole thing fell apart at first instance, particularly after consultation. I believe that the document that the county council as a whole put forward containing these proposals was called The Way Ahead. I have ever since been deeply suspicious of any document called The Way Ahead; I have seen a great many over the years and most have suffered a similar fate.

Perhaps I may start by giving an assurance to the House, as I made clear at Committee stage and as colleagues have made clear in another place, that we intend that in most circumstances consultation will be required. I believe that in moving this amendment the noble Baroness accepted that there are some occasions when changes are so minor that formal consultation would be a waste of time, effort and money for all concerned—I use the same words as I used on an earlier occasion.

There are two ways in which one could approach this issue. One could either adopt the Government's approach—which I think is the better one—of using the words "if any" and then offer a degree of guidance (I will go into that in due course) or, at the cost of lengthening the Bill by an extra three or four lines, one could take the approach adopted by the noble Baroness in her Amendment No. 9 and the other amendment, Amendment No. 21, to much the same effect. I believe that guidance is the better route. It will be guidance to which the proposers will be required to have regard and will clarify which changes would not require consultation. It will also clarify what periods of consultation might be appropriate in those circumstances. I will come to the timing in due course. I believe that that is the way in which consultation is treated at the moment and I believe that these amendments are another example of a degree of detail that it is not necessary to have on the face of the Bill.

We accept that consultation will be important where the proposed changes would have a perceptible effect on the functioning of the school. That is why we have a specific clause on the subject of consultation. As I said, for the very minor changes—variation of a few per cent., numbers to be selected, for example—within the overall threshold, that consultation would not be necessary. Again, that would be set out in the guidance.

I can give an assurance that the guidance will include, within the changes required, all those changes currently requiring publication of statutory proposals as set out in the noble Baroness's two amendments. Further, the Bill also provides that other changes which do not currently require the publication of proposals but nonetheless are of importance to other schools in the area would also require consultation. I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, that in terms of access to responses to the consultation, we would certainly expect that the guidance would include an expectation that the governors should place copies of the responses to the consultation in a public place, such as a local public library, unless there is some very good reason to keep them confidential. The noble Baroness mentioned the fact that the respondents themselves specifically asked for their response to be kept confidential. That is the most obvious reason. There may or may not be others but I cannot think of one at the moment. That is something which could be left open. For those reasons in the main we consider that our more flexible approach of guidance is more appropriate.

There are also the two amendments which suggest that there should be a minimum period of consultation. Again, it is our view that the length of consultation will vary according to the type of proposal and the number of interested parties. I go back to my own experience in a particular LEA where a great deal of consultation was required because some major changes were proposed. But to take the example of an isolated rural school catering for rapid growth in pupil numbers, it may not impact on any other particular institution. In those cases, to restrict them to that two-month period might not be necessary. The key is that those with a proper interest are consulted in a way that enables them to give serious consideration to the issues before them. One could also say that there would be a serious risk of judicial review if they were not given that opportunity for a serious review of the issues before them. Again, I can give an assurance to the noble Baroness that we shall make sure that the guidance offers appropriate guidance on what should be the length of consultation in individual circumstances.

With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

5 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I believe that we have got a little further in that he suggested—so I understand—that the guidance would indicate that consultation is likely to be required on all those kinds of proposals which currently have to be published. That was one of our objectives. I should prefer to see some of the amendments on the face of the Bill.

I am a little worried about the timing proposal. Two months is not a very long time in the life of a school, of parents, of a local authority and of other schools. Meetings have to be put together and people have to talk to each other. It sometimes takes a little while for people to understand or even hear about proposals which have been put forward. I am not happy about that.

Although there are areas where I am still unhappy, I can see that the Minister will not change his mind and give way to what I call almost drafting amendments. Therefore I agree to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 not moved.]

Clause 2 [Duty of governing body to review selective admission policy]:

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 10: Page 2. line 24, at end insert— ("(2A) In undertaking its consideration in accordance with this section, the governing body shall have regard to any financial consequences which might reasonably he expected to arise for the local education authority from any variation in the admission arrangements for the school.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 23, which is its parallel in relation to grant maintained schools.

The purpose of the amendment is to require governing bodies, when they undertake their annual consideration of the expansion of selection, to have regard to the financial consequences which would be expected to arise for the local education authority were the admission arrangements to be changed; and, mutatis mutandis, the same would be true for grant maintained schools.

This point arose in debate on Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 at Committee stage (Official Report, 24/2/97, col. 1011). Those amendments set out a series of criteria which governing bodies might be asked to consider in taking their annual decision. Your Lordships will remember that in moving the amendments, my noble friend Lady Farrington referred in particular to the impact on transport arrangements, where one school decided to expand selection and altered the pattern of movement among pupils both to itself and to the neighbouring schools. There is in transport a network, a reticulation, of arrangements which, if one part is disturbed, has repercussions on other parts of the web.

The issue was picked up by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon (col. 1011) who pressed the Minister to respond to the point that a governing body would be able to take decisions which had financial consequences for others and in particular for the local education authority. Transport simply forms a single direct example of the additional financial commitments with which the LEA might be faced. There are others. The likely consequence of an increasing number of appeals, for example, arising from an expansion of selection represents another potential area in which the LEA would incur additional cost.

But this amendment is not confined to those particular kinds of cost. It is set in a context of community. I remind your Lordships that in that previous debate I drew attention to the fact that schools are part of a wider community. We on these Benches place a great deal of importance on the community aspect of schools. A decision by one school to introduce or increase the proportion of pupils who are selected by reference to ability or aptitude is bound to have an impact, and an impact of varying magnitude, on other schools within its area and within the whole local education community. It will impact on the way in which primary schools conduct themselves. The way things are developing through this Bill, it will in fact affect how nursery schools work and the provision of nursery education in a community. In certain cases, the effect will radiate far beyond the area of the local education authority itself because people will be attracted to certain schools from well beyond the official LEA boundary. So we believe that no school should be able to take such a decision without due regard to the full implication of its actions.

I said a great deal more than that but I shall spare your Lordships my further reflections and turn simply to what the Minister said in his response. It was a long day and a long debate. One should not perhaps be held too rigidly to the precise sense of every phrase that one utters in the heat of the moment or even the battle of the day. But I must confess that, in looking at the Minister's response—I have read it carefully more than once—I note in it things which cause me worry, things which cause me confusion and certain things which I should be grateful if he would explain.

The Minister said, governors will obviously consult and talk to local people. If others have a view that serious financial consequences may arise, that is something which can be taken into account. But I do not believe that it would be right to undermine the right of governing bodies to consider those matters. I believe that those matters can be adequately considered and on some occasions—and I take the example of school transport—costs might rise on the one hand but diminish on the other".—[Official Report, 24/2/97; col. 1011.]

Although the Minister says, governors will obviously consult and talk to local people", it is by no means obvious that that will be the case if there is no requirement on them to do so. The overwhelming majority of people in this country will not commit murder. It would therefore be superfluous to create a law for perhaps one in 10,000 people. The vast majority of people go through their whole life without committing a single murder; people act in a rational and reasonable sort of way. The law deals with those people who do not behave in a rational and sensible way.

Obviously the majority of governors will consult and talk to local people; but what if they do not? That is what the law is dealing with. The sanction is vitally necessary. The Minister went on to say, If others have a view that serious financial consequences may arise, that is something which can be taken into account". What "others"? Who is the Minister talking about? He said, that serious financial consequences may arise, that is something which can he taken into account". Obviously anything "can" be taken into account. Does the Minister mean "needs" to be taken into account? Does he acknowledge that it need not be taken into account? He goes on, But I do not believe that it would be right to undermine the right of governing bodies to consider those matters". That is perhaps the most arcane sentence in what he said.

We are asking that governing bodies "shall" consider. How can that undermine anything? The Minister went on to say that he considered that transport costs, like other things (which he did not specify), might well balance each other out on different occasions. That I find extremely opaque. Is there any known example where that is the case? Can he point to any specific balancing out of transport costs as a result of the kind of activity which is the subject of this specific section of the Bill? Indeed, how could the transport costs balance each other out? How would he or anyone else know whether that had happened? Who gathers the statistics on the balancing out of transport costs in the event of that kind of activity taking place? Have any such statistics been previously published? Does the department have any intention of giving us the benefit of that kind of research?

I am afraid therefore that I found that the responses given by the Minister, though marvellously convincing at the time, do not stand up to the cold light of day when one sees them in print—that is something which affects us all. The Minister seems unclear as to whether he is arguing that governors "should" take such issues into account or whether expecting them to do so would undermine their right to take a decision. The legislative position, as the Bill is drafted, is perfectly clear: there is nothing to require a governing body to consider these matters at all, nor to talk to anyone else about them if it does not wish to do so. On that basis, the Minister's claims are simply without foundation.

Amendment No. 10 was tabled—it applies to both maintained and grant-maintained schools—to propose a minimum requirement that governing bodies should have regard to the financial consequences to another body—that is, the LEA—from its own decisions. The amendment does not bind the governing body except to the extent that it should have regard to that factor in making its decision. If the Government wish governing bodies to act responsibly, they can have no logical reason for resisting this gentlest possible amendment. The request is utterly minimalist and I can see no reason why the Government should now reject it. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment No. 10 and to bring attention to the transport costs that could arise from changes envisaged in this section of the Bill.

Transport costs already amount to a considerable proportion of an education authority's costs; it is usually several millions of pounds. The system is that pupils who live within a certain distance from their school do not receive free transport, but those who live further away than the minimum limit—for secondary schools it is three miles—and cannot gain access to a closer secondary school receive free transport.

If we were to allow secondary schools, for example, to increase their level of selection, bearing in mind the economic effect on the local education authority, a situation would be created where those pupils who are excluded from a school as a result of an increased proportion of selection would have to travel further afield. By definition, secondary schools are more widespread in their geographical distribution than are primary schools; they are big.

As a result of haphazard changes in some schools, a situation will arise where pupils cannot get into a school to which they could walk or pay their own public transport fares and will have to travel further to another school where the transport will be paid for by the local education authority. That could impose a serious cost on local education authorities.

I have struggled for years with the question of school transport and am horrified at the apparently light-hearted way with which the Minister dealt with the issue. It is an extremely serious business. The cost of school transport to a local education authority and to those who do not receive free transport is probably the most frequently raised objection with local councillors in relation to the education process in general. That is certainly the case in my authority. Rightly or wrongly, people there have a fairly benign attitude towards the education system but are outraged at the cost of travelling to school if they choose one school as opposed to another.

Children who come into a selected school from a distance will not become the responsibility of the local education authority because they are choosing to move further than they need. But the cost of those who are prevented from attending their nearest school will come on to the shoulders of local ratepayers. It is time therefore that the issue was given the serious consideration that it deserves.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I am glad to see this amendment before your Lordships today. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for the practical considerations they have put before the House. I wish to underline what seems to be the principle here. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, describing the words of the noble Lord the Minister in which he said that a governing body can take account of consultations. I suspect that what the Minister meant to say was that a governing body may take account of such consultations or conversations. Frequently we use the word "can", especially in the process of speaking quickly, when we should use "may". I should be interested to know the Minister's view of that.

In any case, neither of those words is the same as "shall". The amendment says that a governing body, shall have regard to any financial consequences". This is a question of principle—and a very important principle—that governing bodies are being encouraged to act responsibly. They are being encouraged to take responsibility for the life of their schools. However, in doing so they must surely also act responsibly in relation to the community in which they are set and in relation to the effect of their decisions on others. If it is the case that a decision taken by a governing body means that other people have to pick up the financial costs of it, surely that is something a governing body ought to have regard to. I believe that it is right that this should be on the face of the Bill and that the word "shall" should be included here. I should like to underline what I believe to be the very important principle behind the amendment.

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I may begin with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on my earlier remarks. He is being somewhat premature in getting into the most intricate detail of how the consultation may operate. The department is rarely criticised for being less than comprehensive in drafting guidance and circulars. I can give the noble Lord an assurance that we shall be as thorough as he would wish in drafting and consulting on our guidance on consultation and will then take account of the specific points raised. But I do not think that they are necessarily suitable matters for the face of the Bill because we do not want to prescribe precisely the factors which governors should take into account when considering whether selection is right for their schools and for the parents they serve. We believe that the governors themselves are best placed to assess just how their schools should develop and they will take into account all relevant factors in reaching that decision.

When the governors of a county or controlled school decide that they wish to introduce or extend selection and the statutory proposals are necessary, the LEA, as the relevant admission authority, if it is the relevant admission authority, will consider any financial implications in deciding whether to publish proposals. The same will be true when an LEA considers a request for the introduction of selection when the statutory proposals are not required. Where the governing bodies of voluntary aided or grant-maintained schools decide to introduce or extend selection, Clause 7 of and Schedule 1 to the Bill will place them under a duty to carry out consultation as appropriate—that is the reason for the distinction between those schools and the others—even where statutory proposals are not needed. I certainly believe, as I think I said on an earlier occasion, that if there are any financial consequences for the LEA arising from any proposed change, I am sure that the LEA, as the admissions authority, would make the school's governing body more than aware of that fact during consultation.

Perhaps I may also go back to the possible costs of selection and to the example given on a previous occasion—transport. I accept, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, put it, that transport is a major figure in the accounts of local education authorities and is a major concern for a number of parents. However, I do have to say—and I repeat what I said at an earlier stage—that there is no reason to assume that more selection will necessarily lead to an overall increase in the costs of home-to-school transport.

In some areas the introduction or extension of selection may mean some pupils travelling long distances to schools. But the Bill does not change the rules on home-to-school transport in any way and pupils will continue to be entitled to free transport to the nearest suitable school, as the current legislation puts it, at which places are available if that is beyond the statutory walking distances of two or three miles, depending on their age. That means that some parents whose children would have been entitled to free school transport to the nearest non-selective school may forgo that right in order to send them to a selective school further away. That, in effect, was the example given by the noble Baroness. That could certainly offset any extra transport costs which might or might not arise from other pupils acquiring an entitlement to free transport because their nearest suitable school with places available was now further away.

I have to say, therefore, that I do not believe that the amendment is necessary and I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I would not deny for one moment the assiduity with which the Department for Education and Employment carries out its consultation exercises. We had an example of this so recently as last Thursday when across this very Dispatch Box the noble Lord and I discussed the Deregulation (Provision of School Action Plans) Order. That order was an eye-opener to me because I had not realised the extent to which consultation over tuppence ha'penny could extend. It was a small matter. It was not an earth shaking issue. However, the consultation list was enormous and the cost of that consultation staggering.

The extent of consultation in this area is something about which I would have no worries. Guidance, on the other hand, is something about which I would not feel the same way. Guidance can be given but guidance is not law. The Minister said that a local education authority could make its views to the governors very clearly heard. It could indeed. The LEA could squawk very loudly. But am I not correct in saying—before I make a final decision as to whether I shall withdraw the amendment I should be grateful if the noble Lord could help me on this—that the governors could, if they wished—if this was no more than a matter of guidance—turn a deaf ear to the loudest noises made by the LEA, however many times they were made? They could indeed extend the two fingers of scorn to the LEA and say, "We shall have nothing whatever to do with this".

I am reminded of that moment in Act IV of The Merchant of Venice when Portia says, Then must the Jew be merciful". Shylock says, On what compulsion must I? Tell me that". Portia has no answer to him and has to say, The quality of mercy is not strain'd; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven", which has nothing to do with what has been said and is no answer whatever to the question. If the governors say, On what compulsion must I? Tell me that". What is the reply?

Lord Henley

My Lords, there would be LEA governors on the governing body of the schools, because we are talking about county schools on this occasion.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, if the Minister assures me that that would be ample justification and that there would be enough to force that decision, I hear what he says and must consider it more carefully. But I have the greatest worry about leaving a matter of this kind in the area of guidance. I would be much happier if it were not there. However, time is getting on. We must be aware of the fact that there is a great deal ahead of us. For that reason, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 11: Leave out Clause 2.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 24. The purpose of this amendment is to remove the duty on governing bodies of county, voluntary and grant-maintained schools to review their selective admissions policies at least once every school year; to conduct a secret ballot; and to explain their decisions in their annual reports. I mentioned earlier that last week I attended a governing body meeting of the junior school of which I am a governor. It was the meeting at which we were required to go through our annual ritual of deciding whether this junior school wished to start the process to become grant maintained. Although it is by no means the first year that we have had to do it, my fellow governors were still puzzled as to why we were required to go through this ritual. The decision took almost no time at all. If it is of any reassurance to the Minister, they were not in the least bullied by an LEA. Neither myself nor the Conservative nominee had any need to say anything at all. All the governors were convinced that it was a pointless question and that they had no need whatever to be grant maintained.

What took the time was thinking up additional reasons to those that we gave last year. The reasons given last year were basically to do with the excellent relationship and partnership that they had with the LEA and the other schools which they did not want to put in jeopardy. If I remember, five reasons were given last year, and they felt that this year they should find at least two more reasons to re-emphasise the point that they wished to stay with the LEA. As I said, that was done with absolutely no bullying at all from the LEA; nor do I believe that that happens with the overwhelming majority of schools when required each year to consider this matter.

The purpose of my mentioning this is because this Bill has yet another requirement to make governing bodies consider something which they may not wish to consider, but which is something that they will have to consider in the normal course of events. The Bill places a duty on the governing bodies of the schools to review their selective admissions policy at least once a year.

There are two objections to it. The first is that it is unnecessary. In the case of county schools, the relevant LEA, as the admissions authority, must consult governing bodies every year about their plans for admissions. Any county school governing body which wishes to review the authority's admissions policy in relation to its school has the opportunity to do so on an annual basis. History has shown that very few of them, if ever, wish to consider a selective intake. We have debated selection in this House on previous occasions and I suspect that we may well do so again. It is and remains our view and that of the vast majority of school governors throughout the country, that selection reduces choice for most: it does not increase choice for many.

They are, therefore, able to consider this matter anyway. There is no need for a requirement in the Bill to do so. The same is true of voluntary and grant-maintained schools which are themselves their own admissions authorities. It would be natural for them to consider any change to their admissions policy at the time of the annual review. So governors of all these schools are free to raise the issue of selection at any time. They already have an opportunity to do so at least once a year in the extremely unlikely event that any of them wish to.

The other objection to the Bill is that it is yet more of an imposition on the conduct of governing bodies and the content of their annual report. In the past few years the Government have pressed many additional responsibilities on governing bodies. Indeed, the fourth edition of the DfEE guide to the law for governors of county controlled and special agreement schools, extends to over 150 pages of extremely helpful advice. Included within this booklet is a reference to the governing body having to prepare and publish an annual report which will explain, among other things, how the governing body has put into practice its plans for the school since the last report. In addition, it must include by law such information as the school's special educational needs policy; national curriculum and GCSE results; details of the further education training or jobs which pupils have gone on to; a summary of the school budget; pupils' absence information; details of governing bodies' discussions on whether to ballot parents on grant-maintained status and so on. This Bill seeks to add a further imposition of what must be included in the annual report and that should be resisted.

The statutory content of annual reports by the governing bodies of voluntary and grant-maintained schools is equally long and, to add one further burden by insisting that the annual report shall give details of the decision taken in relation to the school's admissions policy and an explanation of the reasons for the decision, makes no sense. It also assumes that the author of the report can reflect accurately the reasons why a large number of governors reached a decision through a secret ballot.

These amendments do not seek to restrict the number of occasions on which governing bodies review their selective admissions policies as they already have the opportunity to do so at least once a year. Clauses 2 and 9 are both unnecessary and unnecessarily burdensome. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I support my noble friend. The amendments seek to remove something which already happens. Going through a process of selection does not add anything because everything that has to be done will be discussed and has been discussed. I do not know how many times we have sat in this Chamber discussing various processes and when one should review education selection. I wonder how many hours of parliamentary time have been used by this particular subject.

Basically, what always happens is we say that we must discuss this. The Government say that this must happen and then we say that it is already happening. The Government say that they will bring the issue forward again. We then find that it has been discussed on a vast number of occasions. The matter is then nodded at in a meeting and the whole issue is put back for another year. We can safely say that this discussion has taken place on other occasions and that we do not need to have it again. We can save the shorthand typists who are minuting various meetings a great deal of trouble if these amendments are accepted.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, I oppose these two clauses because I find them offensive. I have attended a good many meetings in my time, as I am sure most of your Lordships have, including governors' meetings. I find the notion of being told what to discuss by some outside body something of an insult to one's intelligence. It is unnecessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has already pointed out, and it adds another burden to already crowded agendas and annual reports.

Governors are quite capable of reviewing their admissions policy at any stage without prompting from on high. But, of course, this is part of the Government's continuing tactic of tilting the playing field at key points in order to make it more likely to get the result they want. A governing body may have no particular desire for selection, but eventually, given time, on some 'flu-ridden winter's evening the decision may scrape through and, bingo, the thing is done!

I vividly recall our debates during the passage of the 1993 Education Bill over the very similar proposal, already mentioned, for considering opting out. It was the right reverend Prelate the then Bishop of Guildford who, I thought, summed up the position with clarity and perception when he said that the insertion of the clause in question betrayed a slight loss of nerve as he put it, on the Government's part, as if the benefits on offer could not speak clearly for themselves. He added that he was surprised to see such a clause inserted; that he would be far happier to see it deleted; and that there was such a thing as "administrative fidgeting". Clauses 2 and 9 are prime examples of "administrative fidgeting". Do the Government believe that schools will be unaware, after the passage of this Bill, that they can raise the issue of selection? The idea is not credible. These are nannying clauses, they are manipulative and they should have no place in this Bill.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, it will do no harm to repeat two of the objections to this clause, which have already been set out by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. Those two main objections are, first, that the clause is unnecessary. That has already been said, and I should have thought that it was self-evident. Secondly, the clause is yet a further imposition on the conduct of governing bodies, as was stated so fluently by the noble Earl, and on the content of their annual reports.

I was intrigued by what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said. Perhaps I may say how valuable it is that in your Lordships' House we should be able to hear from people who have, almost literally, daily experience of governing bodies. To hear that the noble Lord's governing body, which is so manifestly a conscientious body, has to think of one or two extra reasons for not being grant-maintained and has to include them on last year's report makes one think that in about 10 years' time it will have about 15 reasons for replying in that form.

The date of the general election has been announced today. There is at least one part of this Bill—this clause is connected with it to a large extent—which will help to defeat the Government at that election in a few weeks' time. I am not only surprised—I am bewildered—that the Government should include such provisions in this Bill and that they have placed so much stress upon them, as does Clause 2. I refer of course to selection. We are constantly told that parents want selection—indeed, that they clamour for it. Who do the Government talk to about it? The polls all show little support for selection. The last one that I saw showed 70 per cent. against. Anecdotal evidence is strongly opposed to it and only a minority of professional educationists show any enthusiasm for it. Almost all Members of the Government—indeed, almost all Members of the Benches opposite—send their children to public schools—but perhaps I had better say to "private" schools. That is selection by money. That shows an inbuilt bias towards selection on the part of the Conservative party.

I should like to say a few words about selection, and about what was once the most frequently discussed aspect of it, but which has not been mentioned very much for some time. I refer to the fallibility of the selection process. I should have thought that the weakness of examination, interview or any other type of selection technique at about 11 years of age has been discredited for many years now. Perhaps I may add a personal note and say that this matter has affected my own family in recent weeks and months. I hesitate to take us back to my 11-plus days because they are so long ago. I mention this only because the same difficulties occur now as occurred all those years ago. When I went to grammar school, I left behind pals who for years had been brighter than I was at school. What happened to them? Almost all of them went down the pit, as they would do in County Durham where there was virtually no other employment. The tragedy of that waste still haunts me, not least because so many of my friends died prematurely with coal dust on their lungs. I saw the same thing happening as a teacher, and particularly as an education officer who had to administer such schemes.

No one is more conscious of that weakness than parents. I find it impossible to understand why the Government's policies, as in this clause, fly in the face of such overwhelming evidence. They have the evidence of the success of so many comprehensive schools. It is widespread evidence because some 90 per cent. of our children now attend such schools and—this is highly significant—we see no demand for a change in that particular system. There have been proposals for more selection in some areas, all of which were strongly rejected, so far as I am aware. If any of those proposals have been adopted, I hope that the Minister will tell us in his reply. Perhaps he could tell us where that has happened and how the adoptions compare with the rejections. More recently, we have had evidence from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools of the success of so much comprehensive education. I often wonder how much more evidence the Government need on this matter.

I turn to the criticism which is constantly made and which has been repeated many times in debates on this Bill in both Houses. It is an obvious criticism, but it is not recognised by the party opposite although I am sure that some Conservative Members must feel uneasy about it. For every child who is selected, one child cannot be selected. How many times do we have to say that? It is patently obvious, yet we have the inanity of the Prime Minister repeatedly calling for a grammar school in every town. If he is the honest man that he is supposed to be, and claims to be, I wonder when he will change his speech and say that he advocates secondary moderns—or any other name for them—in every town, because that is exactly what recommending grammar schools implies. The Government have never given an answer on this issue. That is not surprising because there is no completely satisfactory answer. They say, "Yes, we shall make the necessary provision in the non-grammar schools". But if the schools are different, as they are by definition, how can that be done? We ought to be told. Let it be repeated again and again that selection means grammar school for Jimmy but not for Jenny, regardless of whether the names "grammar school" and "secondary modern" are retained or changed.

That point is closely linked to the Government's favourite word and thought: "choice". I put to the Minister a question which I have posed both to him and to his predecessors on a number of occasions. If parents want their child to go to a school which has more applicants than places, what then? Parental choice cannot be met. The Government should be honest and say that there is no such thing as complete freedom of choice, but that is never said. I recall in a previous debate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon saying—I hope that I am right; the right reverend Prelate will correct me if I am wrong—that in Ripon itself there are only two schools. I see that the right reverend Prelate is agreeing with my interpretation. One is a grammar school and the other is a non-grammar school. It is pretty obvious—indeed, I believe that the right reverend Prelate said so—that it is not possible in the case of the grammar school for all parents to get what they desire. So much for parental choice.

The position is exacerbated by this Bill. It is certainly not helped by the clause which is now under discussion. As has been said many times, selection means selection by the school, not by the parents. Selection by ability means exactly that. That in turn means that the degree of choice is reduced for those parents whose children do not meet the entrance criteria decided by the school.

There are two closely connected issues to this aspect of the Bill. The first is the question of providing for consultation. We have just had a debate relating to that and I shall not repeat what has been said although I hope that the Government will take cognisance of the substantial contributions that have been made. Let us not forget that the proposed changes are of fundamental importance to a child's education, so the decisions have to be correct. Changes can alter the nature of a school to a very significant degree.

Parents and prospective parents may, where the school is grant-maintained, be denied the right to express a choice on the nature of a school unless the governing body decides to give them the opportunity to do so. That is a most scandalous situation. Why should such fundamental decisions be taken by the governing body without any reference to the community which the school is meant to serve? Again, my noble friend Lord Morris stressed that point in a recent contribution. The Government will reply that the governing bodies must "have regard to" the guidance published by the Secretary of State. I suggest that that is mere lip service to genuine consultation. The change in the nature and character of a school affects all the schools in the neighbourhood—how many times has that been said during our debates on this Bill?—and is therefore a matter for the whole neighbourhood. Why should the Government be afraid of that? I can think of one good reason. The grant-maintained type school was and is a flagship of the Government. Not only has it failed; it has failed miserably. The Government expected overwhelming support for GM status. After all the publicity, not to say incentives, only some 1,200 schools out of 26,000 have opted for grant-maintained status.

The Government say that it was never their expectation that there would be a massive change. That is simply not true. They have changed their tune because of the response. When the scheme was being introduced we were told many times that there was an overwhelming desire on the part of local communities and parents to adopt such a proposal. It is no wonder that there is such a reluctance to consult in a proper and honest way. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, made that point in a previous contribution.

I said that there were two connected matters in relation to this part of the Bill's proposals. The second aspect is wider accountability. I say "wider" because the whole of a community or neighbourhood is affected by a change in one school. There is, therefore, a role for the LEA. Opinions differ about the work and quality of LEAs but they are elected and represent a wider area. They are accountable and can weigh in the balance all of the changes being made in their areas. That is a crucial role which, by definition, is denied to governing bodies. There is no other body that can perform this role. Having regard to the Government's record on consultation and lack of sympathy for local authorities, their assurance on consultation is unacceptable. Stronger provision should be included in the Bill, in particular in Clause 2 which we are now considering.

I would genuinely like to know—because I do not know—how many of our partners in the European Union have selective systems of education. My impression is that few of them have. Indeed, none of them places much reliance on selection of the kind promoted by this Government. Because of the stress placed by the Government on the need for a well educated and trained workforce to enable us to compete in the EU and the world, the question I ask is: who does not need that? We all do. What cannot be denied is that present policies in this country are directed to the few and not the many. That speaks for itself. Every worker has to make his or her contribution towards our success, and it is the education system which is the foundation for all of it. For the sake of emphasis, I repeat that the Government's policies do not meet the views of parents, schools and others as to how progress is to be made.

As to choice—a matter so often repeated by the Government—appeals by parents whose children have not been offered the places of their choice have exploded from 21,000 in 1989–90 to 54,427 in 1994–95. As to the demand for increased selection, when the DfEE consulted on whether to raise the level of selection from 10 to 15 per cent., only 1 per cent. of consultees were in favour of it. That sounds like a rigged ballot. In the past five years only 24 schools have applied to select more than 10 per cent. of their intake and less than 4 per cent. of grant-maintained schools have applied to select up to 10 per cent. of their intake. Those figures have been taken either from Parliamentary Questions or the Library.

Your Lordships' House is a revising chamber. As a revising chamber it is expected to examine arguments objectively. The evidence against increased selection is so overwhelming that surely noble Lords from all parties will reject Clause 2, which is one of the principles of the Bill.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I should like to take a slightly different stance from other noble Lords in relation to this amendment. I do so on the grounds that I am by no means convinced that the requirement for an annual consideration will result in governing bodies increasing their selection. I take into account the parallel of the requirement that they should consider grant-maintained status. As the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, has said, the number of schools going for grant-maintained status is a very small proportion of the total: 1,200 out of 24,000.

The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, referred to a comment by my predecessor as chairman of the Church of England Board of Education, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. I believe that he commented that the provision for an annual consideration by governing bodies seemed to point to a loss of nerve on the part of the Government, who had to hold out some further inducement or requirement to persuade more schools to opt for this status. That took place against the background of a decision by the Board of Education (which I now chair) that it would be neither for nor against grant-maintained status but rather that it would recommend to the governors of each school the factors that should be taken into account in reaching a decision.

Nevertheless, the point made by my predecessor remains. The requirement to have an annual consideration appeared to be based on a slight failure of nerve that status itself would be sufficient inducement. But the outcome is that governors have not taken the road to grant-maintained status in large numbers. I believe that there is an argument that an annual requirement may have had the opposite effect and that governors have come to the clear view that they should not take that particular route. I suggest that this requirement for an annual consideration may have the same result; namely, that governing bodies will reach the firm conclusion that selection is quite wrong for their schools.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I support the amendment. I should like to recount to your Lordships the experience of many governors who serve on school governing bodies, in particular parent governors. They are increasingly concerned that they are required to consider matters that they do not wish to consider because the Government have decided that they must do so. Many of them are also concerned about the demand on their time that is made by the tasks that they have taken on. First, governors are appointed on the basis laid down by the Conservative Government or Parliament. Surely, if the constituency of the particular governing body is that which the Government require, it is quite reasonable for the Government to leave it to that body to decide whether to consider a particular item at a particular meeting of that governing body.

Secondly, I should like to give strong support to the points made by my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington. In this country there is no doubt that the process of selection among the age group where it has occurred to the greatest extent has had two effects. One was that those who were put in what was normally the C stream of grammar schools viewed themselves as somehow below average ability. The other was that for those who failed the 11-plus it was a long period of time, in some cases well into adulthood, before anyone managed to convince them that they were capable of achieving high levels in terms of careers, aspirations and professional qualifications because the process of failure was so rigid. It was not the same as graduating from a primary school into a comprehensive secondary school and moving between those subject areas where it was possible for a pupil to be in set 1 for French and German and set 3 for mathematics so that the level of tuition was appropriate to the ability and aptitude of the child. That is one of the main concerns about the selection process.

At previous stages in the Bill the Minister has been quick to say, "no secondary modern schools". Perhaps the Minister will say what in the Government's view, and in the campaign that they are about to mount for a grammar school in every town, would be the logical number of non-grammar schools to have in relation to the number of pupils in the area. If a locality had four secondary schools, would it be possible for it to decide to call them all grammar schools? If only a certain percentage will be able to call themselves grammar schools and be selective, what will be the ratio of pupils in that school to those who cannot go to the school?

There is one minor correction I would make to what my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington said. For every successful child there is not just one unsuccessful child. On average, for every successful child there are three unsuccessful children.

As my noble friend Lord Morris said at the beginning of the debate, if we look at this country's economic performance, at this stage we do not need a few highly educated people and a large number of hewers of wood; we need a highly articulate, highly skilled and highly flexible workforce. The worst possible way to achieve that is by dampening their self-esteem and self-expectation through a process by which the majority are told that they are failures.

6 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I may start by disabusing the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, of a number of misapprehensions from which I believe he suffers. First, he seemed to imply that grant-maintained schools are selective. That is not the case. There are grant-maintained schools which are selective; there are grant-maintained which are partially selective; there are grant-maintained which are specialist schools; and the vast majority of grant-maintained schools are fully comprehensive. The whole grant-maintained movement has nothing to do with going selective. One should divorce the two.

Secondly, the noble Lord implied that we had never answered the question about choice if there were not enough places. If the noble Lord looks back to my former interventions at earlier stages of the Bill—possibly on Second Reading, and certainly in Committee—he will see that I have always made it clear that choice can never be 100 per cent.; choice is never total; choice is, by definition, always limited. That will always be the case and always must be the case. It is limited by various other constraints.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so soon. If the Minister or the Minister in another place said that, it would be nice to have the references, but that is something with which we can deal later. What I do grumble about, and I thought that I had made it clear, is that the Government will not say that. They always talk about parental choice, and that is all, giving the impression that parents will go to any school of their own choice without any equivocation of any kind. That is the impression that the Government give, and it is just not true.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord has that impression. I have always been at pains, as I think have others, to say that we want to encourage choice and diversity so far as that is possible. We have always recognised that it cannot be 100 per cent.

The third matter about which the noble Lord asked was as to what was happening in the rest of Europe. Again, that was an issue raised on Second Reading and on other occasions. I have a little list that might be of interest to the noble Lord. He will discover that they have selective schemes in Austria, Belgium, Germany—its economic performance over the years is much admired by many—Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and, as we know, Northern Ireland, because I quoted the example on Second Reading of the selective system in Northern Ireland, where overall the results are considerably better than those in the UK. I appreciate that they have a comprehensive system in France which is selective in parts and in Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. I understand that there are unitary systems (primary and secondary education in single schools) in Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway. I believe that covers virtually all the countries of western Europe. I appreciate that I do not seem to have anything about Liechtenstein, Andorra or San Marino, but perhaps they are too small to count.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I believe that there is only one secondary school in San Marino.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I suspected that that was probably going to be the answer. Liechtenstein and Andorra I shall leave to others more expert than myself. This House normally produces an expert on most subjects. No doubt in due course an expert will emerge who can inform us about those countries.

I want to make it clear to those who have been peddling the idea that every country was pursuing a purely comprehensive system that that is just not the case. There is a range of different options—many equally valid. The debate should not be about selection per se but about considering selection.

When talking about selection, noble Lords imply that if we are talking about grammar schools, that, by definition, means that all others cannot be comprehensive. That is not the case. There is a case for some fully selective schools, some partially selective schools, some comprehensive schools and some specialist schools. If noble Lords are saying that every time we set up a specialist school or a partially selective school, that means that the other schools in the area cannot be comprehensive, they are making the case for getting rid of all schools other than fully comprehensive schools. We would have to get rid of the private sector, selective schools and specialist schools. Further, we would have to go on bussing pupils around to ensure that every school is a perfect match with whatever community it is supposed to be, because there is always selection by means of mortgage and people moving around.

Noble Lords cannot have it both ways. If they accept that there is a case for the specialist schools—I believe that the party opposite has now done so—they cannot then say that the existence of those specialist schools will prevent other schools from being fully comprehensive. The debate is about whether schools should go selective should they so wish. We believe that selection is an important matter. It is one that deserves proper consideration as part of the school's strategy for improving standards and responding to parental attitudes. We impose the same requirement on governing bodies to consider whether they should go grant-maintained.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, spoke about a school of which he was a governor. The governors felt that they had to produce new reasons every year. I do not believe that that is the case. It is important that schools consider each year whether to go selective. It is important to remind the House that when the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, says that the grant-maintained movement has been a failure, it has not been a failure: 20 per cent. Of secondary school children are now in grant-maintained schools. The important point to remember is that only one out of every 10 parents has been given the chance to have a ballot, because only one out of 10 governing bodies has offered a ballot to those parents. Out of those one out of 10 who has been so offered a ballot, some three-quarters or thereabouts have gone grant-maintained.

I suggest to all those school governors, and particularly the LEA governors on those schools, that they should take the risk of offering the parents the chance to have their schools go grant-maintained. They might then find that many more schools would go grant-maintained. However, if they have the courage of their convictions and feel that the movement has been a failure, then obviously the ballots will turn out as the noble Lord said.

The clause does not place any requirement on the schools to introduce or extend selection. All it does is require the governing bodies to consider that matter. We believe that it is right that the governing bodies should consider selection at least once a year. Local circumstances and local opinion can change. It is right that the governing body should keep those issues under review and be ready to respond. The clause will ensure that governing bodies consider introducing or extending selection on a regular basis.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, suggested that this provision was unpopular with the population at large and with parents. The noble Lord, as his party always does, relied upon opinion polls. The noble Lord will know from the last election, and no doubt following this election, that I do not always have the same faith in polls and surveys as the party opposite likes to place in them. Not all of them are as conclusive as the noble Lord suggests. He will remember the one I cited on Second Reading from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. It showed that a majority of parents was in favour of selection.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. If he studies that opinion poll in depth, he will find that those people who are of an age to be parents were not in favour of selection. It was the older people who were consulted—those of grandparent age—who were in favour. In the parental age group the figures were against.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, put it to me as an electoral strategy, suggesting that by introducing further selection we were committing electoral suicide. I am making quite clear that surveys suggest that a majority of people are in favour. I dare say that the noble Baroness is not suggesting that we confine those who may vote in the coming election to parents of school-age children, desirable though that might be.

I am not taking an intervention, we are at Report stage. I have spoken long enough and it is clear exactly where we differ on these matters. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I cannot accept the amendment. Should the noble Lord, Lord Tope, press it to a Division, I urge the House to reject it.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps he will answer my question. What is the point of wasting the time of governors year by year by requiring them to consider selection when for a large number of schools the question of selection must be totally absurd? I speak of schools which, sadly, become what is generally known as bad schools. They contain a large number of children who have been excluded from selective schools either because of their behaviour, because they are not bright enough or because they are not specialist musicians, gymnasts or whatever.

There must be not necessarily secondary modern schools but schools which contain those children who have failed to gain entry to selective schools. Such schools could be good and run in a way that is best for those children. However, the idea that they should decide to become selective is farcical. No parents will choose them. They are the schools which parents will try to avoid. The fear, which is the argument against selection, is that they will go from bad to worse and wither away. How can the Government ask such schools to do other than their best for the children? They should not require them to ask what must be a fantasy question about whether they too should go selective. I should be glad to have the Minister's views.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I should remind the noble Baroness and the House that we are at the Report stage. I was not aware that she had asked that question. The simple answer is that opinions and local circumstances can change. It is a matter for schools to consider those in the light of their own local circumstances. That is why we believe they should consider them on a regular basis. The schools about which the noble Baroness is talking might consider that, as part of their policy of improving themselves and raising their standards in one particular field they could introduce an element of selection without necessarily going fully selective.

Lord Tope

My Lords, it has been a useful and interesting debate in which we have learnt about the education system in San Marino. That was one answer that I was not expecting tonight. I found the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon far more persuasive in his argument as to why I should withdraw the amendment than I did the Minister. He pointed out that the requirement of governing bodies to consider going grant maintained has proved so spectacularly successful in preventing schools from going grant maintained that perhaps those of us who oppose increased selection should allow the clause to pass and encourage schools to consider selection each year on the basis that they will all refuse to do so. I find that a persuasive argument, but not persuasive enough.

Inevitably—and perhaps I started it—we were distracted by a discussion on grant-maintained schools. The Minister again proclaimed that on the one hand grant-maintained schools had been an outstanding success, but on the other not quite so much of a success because, as he keeps telling us, only one in 10 parents have been allowed to take part in a ballot. I should not need to remind him that all the parents who are clamouring so hard for their schools to become grant maintained need only collect a petition with 20 per cent. of the signatures and they can have a ballot regardless of what the governing body has to say. The fact remains that their policy for grant-maintained schools, which were the flagship of this Government and were introduced some years ago in the expectation that the vast majority—not 20 per cent. or whatever—would go grant maintained, has been a spectacular failure. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, the policy has been even more of a failure since governing bodies were required to consider it.

The purpose of the amendment is not simply to oppose selection—we do and we wish to reduce the chances of increased selection—but because we believe it to be unnecessary for governing bodies to be required each year to consider whether to increase their selective intake. As I said in moving the amendment, if they are so minded they can do so anyway when they annually consider their admissions policies. The amendment has been moved because the provision is unnecessary. In reply, the Minister has given me no reason why it is necessary for schools to be required to consider increased selection in addition to their normal and natural consideration of an admissions policy.

He has again reminded us of what the Government mean by "choice". We are all free to choose whatever we like. I can choose to become Prime Minister—at the moment I do not—and that is my free choice. I am just not going to get what I choose. That is the Conservative Party's vision of choice, but it certainly is not mine and I suspect that it is not that of the majority of parents.

I have heard no reasons from the Minister which convince me that I should withdraw the amendment and I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.

6.16 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 76; Not-Contents, 131.

Division No. 2
Acton, L. Desai, L.
Addington, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Dubs, L.
Barnett, L. Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Berkeley, L. Falkender, B.
Blackstone, B. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Blease, L. Fitt, L.
Borrie, L. Gallacher, L.
Calverley, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Carlisle, E. Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Halsbury, E.
Carter, L. Hamwee, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L Hanworth, V.
David, B. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hooson, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Hughes, L. Rea, L.
Jeger, B. Redesdale, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Richard, L.
Kennet, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Kirkhill, L. Russell, E.
Lockwood, B. Sefton of Garston, L.
Longford, E. Sewel, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Strabolgi, L.
McNair, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
McNally, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Mar and Kellie, E. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Marsh, L. Tope, L. [Teller.]
Merlyn-Rees, L. Tordoff, L.
Meston, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Milner of Leeds, L. Warnock, B.
Monkswell, L. Weatherill, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Wharton, B.
Nelson, E. White, B.
Nicol, B. Whitty, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Prys-Davies, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Addison, V. Flather, B.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Ampthill, L. Gibson-Watt, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Goschen, V.
Annaly, L. Haig, E.
Ashbourne, L. Harding of Petherton, L.
Attlee, E. Harlech, L.
Balfour, E. Harmsworth, L.
Banbury of Southam, L. Hayhoe, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Hemphill, L.
Belstead, L. Henley, L.
Blatch, B. Holderness, L.
Blyth, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Boardman, L. Howe, E.
Bowness, L. Inglewood, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Jeffreys, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Brentford, V. Kingsland, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Kinnoull, E.
Bruntisfield, L. Kintore, E.
Burnham, L. Lauderdale, E.
Butterworth, L. Leigh, L.
Byford, B. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Cadman, L. Long, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Lucas, L. [Teller.]
Campbell of Croy, L. Lyell, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Carnock, L. McConnell, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Chelmsford, V. Macleod of Borve, B.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Marlesford, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Merrivale, L.
Courtown, E. Mersey, V.
Craig of Radley, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Milverton, L.
Cranworth, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Cross, V. Monson, L.
Cumberlege, B. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Dean of Harptree, L. Mottistone, L.
Denbigh, E. Mountevans, L.
Denham, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Munster, E.
Devonport, V. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Dundonald, E. Newall, L.
Elton, L. Northbourne, L.
Erroll, E. O'Cathain, B.
Ferrers, E. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Orr-Ewing, L. Seccombe, B.
Park of Monmouth, B. Sharples, B.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Pender, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Platt of Writtle, B. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Rankeillour, L. Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Rawlings, B. Stewartby, L.
Reay, L. Strathclyde, L.
Rees, L. Swinfen, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Rennell, L. Torrington, V.
Renton, L. Vivian, L.
Renwick, L. Westbury, L.
Rotherwick, L. wise, L.
Rowallan, L. Wynford, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.25 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon moved Amendment No. 12: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—



(". After section 41 of the Education Act 1996 there shall be inserted—

"Change in character of primary school relating to nursery


41A.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), references in section 41 to a significant change in the character of a school do not include, in the case of a primary school, any change resulting only from persons beginning or ceasing to be provided with full-time or part-time education suitable to the requirements of junior pupils who have not obtained compulsory school age if the local education authority have consented in writing to the change.

(2) Where the governing body of a primary school propose to make a change which, by virtue of subsection (1), is not a significant change in the character of the school they shall—

  1. (a) before implementing their proposals carry out such consultation (if any) as appears to them to be appropriate and in doing so shall have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State, and
  2. (b) where the school is a Church in Wales school, a Church of England school or a Roman Catholic school, before implementing their proposals obtain the consent in writing of the appropriate diocesan authority.

(3) In this section "appropriate diocesan authority" has the meaning given by section 311(1).".").

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 116, which is an amendment consequential on the Education Act 1996.

This amendment makes provision for the establishment or the removal of a nursery class from a voluntary school without the necessity to publish proposals and to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State. The issue here is simple. Voluntary-aided or controlled schools are disadvantaged in attempting to establish a nursery class in relation to county schools. As I understand it, the position is that county schools have to obtain the approval of the LEA and, having done so, publish proposals. If there is no objection to the proposals, the decision stands; whereas voluntary schools are required to publish proposals and whether or not there are objections, they are then required to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State. Therefore, there is a double hoop through which the voluntary schools have to jump. It is that voluntary hoop which this amendment attempts to remove, so that there is only the single hoop—namely, the LEA—which must be gone through.

When I spoke about this matter in Committee, I made the point that there could be significant disadvantage to voluntary schools caused by the fact that there would have been a time lapse. The permission of the LEA may have been obtained and the funds would be made available from the budget. The approval of the Secretary of the State would need to be obtained and it may very well be the case that by the time that approval had been obtained, the financial year had elapsed and the money was no longer available.

I should like to make a further point in relation to this amendment. Not only is there the possibility of a time lapse but there is also the possibility that the Secretary of State will reach a different conclusion from the LEA. That is why I speak of the double hoop which must be jumped.

I give an example from the Diocese of Chester to make the point which I am trying to establish. In the past six years in the Diocese of Chester, the Diocesan Board of Education has twice received the support of LEAs for establishing nursery classes. In fact, they related to different LEAs. The first related to Trafford LEA and the school concerned was St. Mary's School, Sale. Trafford had a long-standing policy of establishing nurseries throughout the authority and that particular school, with the support of both the LEA and the Chester Diocesan Board of Education, was in 1995 approved as part of that policy.

The diocesan director of education then received a letter reminding him that the approval of nursery proposals would be given only when the proposals could be implemented without recourse to the Secretary of State's budget or when a particularly strong case exists. It is that latter phrase to which I wish to draw attention—"when a particularly strong case exists". Who decides when such a case exists?

Clearly for voluntary schools, it must be both the LEA and the Secretary of State. The diocese was advised that a factor which might constitute a strong case was that a school served an area of significant deprivation, but the department concluded that the information provided by the LEA indicated that the area served by the school was no worse off than Trafford taken as a whole. So the department's decision, recommended to the Secretary of State, was different from the LEA's decision. It is quite clear that in that particular case, had the school not been a voluntary school, it would by now have had a nursery.

The second proposal in that particular diocese to which an LEA agreed was in central Birkenhead. Wirral LEA decided that it could finally provide the revenue resources to support a nursery at the Priory School, which is a voluntary school in the neighbourhood. This is an area of severe social deprivation and the diocese was confident that the proposal would be successful. However, the department indicated to the LEA that it felt there were sufficient places within a two-mile radius and that the building costs for the nursery were too high. The LEA responded that there was in fact a shortage of suitable places for children around the school as five out of six nurseries were on the other side of the docks and there was no way in which children of any age could be expected to cross the docks to attend a school on the other side. There was only one nursery on the alternative side of the docks which had already had to be extended to meet the demand. Parental demand for a nursery at the Priory was high but a letter of rejection came from the department, as a result of the Secretary of State's decision, stating: On a careful and impartial consideration of all the information available to us, we concluded that there was no basis for treating the proposals as a special case". The point that I am making is that county schools do not have to convince the Secretary of State of the need for the establishment of a nursery class, unless there is an objection to the published proposals. The voluntary schools have to convince two groups: they have to convince the LEA and they have to convince the Secretary of State, through the department. It is that double hurdle that provides the difficulty.

The amendment seeks to provide, in a well-worn phrase, a level playing field so that voluntary schools can have the same opportunity of establishing nursery classes as have county schools. When I moved a similar amendment in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, raised a difficulty. Therefore, I am moving it today in a significantly different form; namely, that the lifting of the necessity for proposals as regards the Secretary of State's decision shall only happen if the LEA has consented in writing to the change. We do not wish in any way to set aside the partnership that exists with LEAs but we want voluntary schools to have that double hurdle removed.

When I moved an amendment in Committee, the Minister talked about cherry picking because he believed that the voluntary sector was looking at only one element of deregulation and not at the whole package which is being offered in the Bill. I should like to ask the Minister to look at this amendment not so much in the context of deregulation but rather in the context of the particular issue which I have raised. It is a genuine issue regarding something which creates a good deal of difficulty. Whatever our attitude might be towards deregulation, the issue remains. Therefore, when he responds, I hope that the Minister will look at the circumstances that I have described. I also hope that he will consider the issue raised by this particular disadvantage to see whether or not there is some way in which he can move towards meeting the concerns that I have expressed. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, it is with great pleasure that from these Benches we are able to support the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate. As he said in his introduction to the amendment, it would produce a situation which was fair across the voluntary-aided and county-maintained sector and would create circumstances in which it was possible to plan to achieve the ultimate objective which my party supports of ensuring nursery education for all children whose parents want it.

At present, it is possible for the Secretary of State to block proper planning and to do so in the absence of the detailed knowledge that exists at local level. LEAs work very closely with diocesan authorities and representatives in order to ensure that the provision meets the needs of the particular profile of the local community. At the moment in the local authority of which I am a member—and therefore declare an interest—Lancashire County Council, the Secretary of State has turned down six proposals for nursery units to be attached to primary schools. The tragedy is that the Secretary of State has turned down those proposals because of the availability of alternative nursery provision. That alternative provision to which the Secretary of State refers, is, in five out of six schools, satisfactory nursery provision (in the Secretary of State's view) in that it is early admission to reception classes. In the case of Lancashire County Council, not only do we allow children to have a full year in the reception class but we also make provision at nursery level to recognise the needs of those children who are under statutory school age.

That policy was agreed by the whole community. It was agreed across the political parties; it was agreed by the diocesan representatives on the education committee; and, indeed, it was agreed across the whole community in a series of meetings. However, it was not agreed to as an alternative to nursery education but as a half-way house. It is with particular sadness that the parents of those children who would benefit from that nursery provision are having their aspirations blocked by the Secretary of State simply because the Secretary of State is allowed to penalise schools which have to apply to her or him in order to gain approval to develop nursery provision. That is grossly unfair. It is an unreasonable level of discrimination and, as the right reverend Prelate said, demonstrates the lack of a level playing field.

One of the schools which has been turned down is a school in Ormskirk; that is, in the absence of nursery provision in the immediate community. In Lancashire we have taken a view, as have most education authorities, to look, first, at the areas of greatest social need. Yet, despite that fact, our voluntary-aided schools are judged unequally and are given this unfair hurdle to cross. Moreover, they have the additional problem to face; namely, that those who make the decisions in Whitehall do so without having the detailed local knowledge to which the diocesan representatives, the voluntary-aided school governors and parents have an intimate access. I beg the Minister to accept the amendment.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I should like to express my support for the right reverend Prelate. He has put the case so clearly that I am reluctant to attempt to repeat it. Therefore, I shall simply ask the Minister quite straightforwardly if he can say whether or not it is the Government's policy that county schools should have an advantage over voluntary-aided schools in the matter of providing new nursery education?

Lord Renton

My Lords, subject to what my noble friend Lord Henley may say, I, too, support the amendment. I hope that my noble friend will find that he is able to give an encouraging answer.

I believe that it is absolutely right that the governing body should have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State. But it is also right that, in giving that guidance, the Secretary of State should be under an obligation to ensure that there is consistency across the board between all the schools in one specific group in a diocese. The amendment provides a simple way of achieving that.

We should pay tribute to the work which the various Church schools do, especially in the light of the reports on primary education. Various types of Church schools came out best. That is splendid, but it may not be sufficient to ensure that we achieve the results that we want. Consistent consultation should be the key to the matter.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I support the amendment. What I shall say will fit neatly with what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said.

Church schools are popular. If I may make so bold, they are sometimes particularly popular with speakers from the Government Front Benches. In recent statistics, those schools proved themselves to be successful in educating our younger children.

It seems particularly odd, therefore, that the Secretary of State should apparently display a bias against such schools opening nursery schools. I say that in the context of the arrival of nursery vouchers. As everyone knows who has thought about the issue or read about the subject, parents will try to get their child into a nursery class at the school that they wish their child to attend during his primary years. They will be one jump ahead, as it were. In the cases cited by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, far from being encouraged within the context of local authority planning to set up nursery schools, Church schools are being discouraged from doing so. Has the Minister considered how that will interact with the nursery voucher scheme? Perhaps in his own interests he might consider changing his mind on the matter.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I shall consider carefully whether I need to take advice from the noble Baroness about what my own interests are.

This is not a question as to whether Church schools are disadvantaged against county schools. We discussed the issue at Committee stage. The right reverend Prelate brought forward similar amendments allowing Church schools to open or close nursery classes subject to the consent of the diocese.

First, my principal objection was this. I believe that I used the words "cherry picking" that the right reverend Prelate mentioned. I made the point that the provision was cherry picking one element out of the wider grant-maintained deregulation package. Secondly, it could impose a potentially significant new financial burden on LEAs if voluntary schools had discretion to open new nurseries with the LEA automatically having to pick up the bill.

The new clause meets the second of those objections. It provides that schools would have to gain the consent in writing of the LEA before they could proceed. I accept that that would allow the LEA to constrain increases in spending to whatever level it felt it could afford. However, by meeting that one objection I fear the amendment reinforces my other objection—the cherry picking of one element from the deregulation package. The effect is that before a voluntary school could open a new nursery it would have to gain, first, the consent of the LEA and, secondly, the consent of the diocese, and, thirdly, it would have to consult with all interested parties. Further, even if the LEA supported a proposal to add a nursery, the Secretary of State paying capital grants where that was needed, the amendment would not change the need to obtain capital from and the permission of the Secretary of State. That means that we end up much where we were when we started. The new arrangements require much the same level of regulation and control, as the school has to go through in publishing its proposals.

Perhaps I may return to the expression of cherry picking and mix the metaphor. I think that the cherry the right reverend Prelate has picked is in danger of being so shrivelled that it is neither fish nor fowl.

Noble Lords


Lord Henley

My Lords, I said that I was mixing my metaphors.

If the right reverend Prelate wishes to support the Government in promoting serious deregulation of voluntary schools, obviously he would be most welcome. But I do not believe that the amendment would confer any serious deregulatory benefit. For that reason, I would not wish to support the amendment. I do not believe that it achieves the aims that the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate wish. Before the right reverend Prelate sums up, I shall give way to the noble Baroness.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the Minister confuses the issue unreasonably. Does he not agree that LEAs can develop their plans or proposals for nursery units and classes only in the light of the capital allocation that they receive? The voluntary-aided schools' building allocation situation is exactly the same. If the voluntary-aided sector puts in a bid for the right to capital allocation, it, too, has to wait. There would not be cherry picking. The only reason that the cherry to which the Minister referred is shrivelled is because this Government distributed part of the capital allocation unfairly in favour of the grant-maintained sector at the expense, among others, of the voluntary-aided schools.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I reject that totally. I do not accept the allegation that we have unfairly favoured grant-maintained schools. Grant-maintained schools are funded on a different basis. Now is not the right time to go into a debate on that other than to say that I do not accept the noble Baroness's allegations.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he did not answer my question. Are not the voluntary-aided schools disadvantaged in comparison with voluntary schools under the present system?

Lord Henley

My Lords, with the leave of the House—I remind noble Lords that we are at Report stage—we do not believe that they are disadvantaged. We do not believe that they should be given the same advantages as grant-maintained schools—that is the one element of the grant-maintained deregulation package. If the Church schools wish to go down that route, all well and good. But to take out that one element would not be right.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he justify his statement that voluntary schools are not disadvantaged in this respect? Every speaker made that precise point; they are disadvantaged. I am not clear that he has addressed that issue.

Lord Henley

My Lords, with all due respect to noble Lords—I again remind the House that we are at Report stage—I do not believe that the schools are disadvantaged. The amendment seeks to give further advantages to the voluntary-aided schools going down the line towards grant-maintained status. If they wish to have the advantage of being grant maintained, they should go down that route.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I am extraordinarily disappointed at the Minister's reply. He has totally failed to address the main issue. I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken from every Bench in your Lordships' House. I feel that there was considerable support for the point I made. If I dare say so, I believe that the Minister is circumscribed by the outlook enshrined in the Bill and has therefore been unable to address the issue raised. In my view, and in that of other speakers, the position was quite clearly one of disadvantage. I am sorry that the Minister cannot recognise what seems to the remainder of us to be so clear. However, at this stage of the debate I do not feel it right to press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Relaxation of controls on changes relating to selective admissions]:

[Amendments Nos. 13 to 16 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Relaxation of controls on changes in age groups for admission etc.]:

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 17: Page 6, leave out lines 28 to 31.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 17. I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 4. I was not satisfied with the Minister's reply and wish to ask the opinion of the House.

6.50 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 17) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 65; Not-Contents, 114.

Division No. 3
Acton, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Addington, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. McNair, L.
Barnett, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Berkeley, L. Marsh, L.
Blease, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Calverley, L. Meston, L.
Carlisle, E. Monkswell, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Carter, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Craigavon, V. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
David, B. Rea, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Redesdale, L.
Desai, L. Richard, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Ripon, Bp.
Dubs, L. Russell, E.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. St John of Bletso, L.
Falkender, B. Sefton of Garston, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Sewel, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. [Teller.] Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hamwee, B. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Hanworth, V. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Tope, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Tordoff, L.
Hooson, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Jeger, B. Warnock, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Weatherill, L.
Kirkhill, L. White, B.
Lockwood, B. Williams of Crosby, B.
Longford, E. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Addison, V. Bowness, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Ampthill, L. Brentford, V.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Annaly, L. Burnham, L.
Ashbourne, L. Butterworth, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Byford, B.
Attlee, E. Cadman, L.
Balfour, E. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Banbury of Southam, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Belstead, L. Carnock, L.
Blatch, B. Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Boardman, L. Chelmsford, V.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Long, V.
Clark of Kempston, L. Lucas, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Lyell, L.
Courtown, E. [Teller.] McColl of Dulwich, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor]
Cranworth, L.
Cross, V. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Cumberlege, B. Macleod of Borve, B.
Dean of Harptree, L. Marlesford, L.
Denbigh, E. Mersey, V.
Denham, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Milverton, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Dundonald, E. Monson, L.
Elles, B. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Mottistone, L.
Elton, L. Mountevans, L.
Ferrers, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Flather, B. Munster, E.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Goschen, V. Northbourne, L.
Greenway, L. O'Cathain, B.
Haig, E. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Halsbury, E, Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Harding of Pertherton, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Rankeillour, L.
Harlech, L. Rennell, L.
Harmsworth, L. Renton, L.
Hayhoe, L. Renwick, L.
Hemphill, L. Rowallan, L.
Henley, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Holderness, L. Seccombe, B.
HolmPatrick, L. shaw of Northstead, L.
Hothfield, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Howe, E. Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Inglewood, L. Stewartby, L.
Kimball, L. Strathclyde, L.
Kingsland, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Kinnoull, E. Ullswater, V.
Kintore, E. Vivian, L.
Lauderdale, E. Westbury, L.
Leigh, L. Wynford, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

7 p.m.

Clause 7 [Consultation and notification where proposals do not need to be published]:

[Amendments Nos. 18 to 21 not moved.]

The Lord Bishop of Ripon moved Amendment No. 22: Page 7, line 44, at end insert— (" () Guidance given by the Secretary of State under subsection (4) shall stipulate that governing bodies of Church in Wales schools, Church of England Schools and Roman Catholic schools should consult the appropriate diocesan authority before implementing their proposals.").

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, when we discussed this matter in Committee, the Minister said that it was not necessary that a phrase should appear on the face of the Bill requiring the appropriate diocesan authorities to be consulted because guidance would be given by the Secretary of State. This is a very simple amendment which makes the point that if guidance is to be given by the Secretary of State it should appear on the face of the Bill that that is the case.

The amendment concerns consultation by the governing body of a Church grant-maintained school which proposes to make changes which, by virtue of the deregulation provisions in the Bill, do not require the publication procedure to be followed. Clearly the appropriate diocesan authority will be an interested body with regard to any such proposals. As I argued at Committee stage, even though the school is a grant-maintained school, surely it does not cease to be a Church school? Indeed, that is written into the constitution of its governors. Clearly, therefore, the appropriate diocesan authority is concerned and needs to be consulted. This amendment simply seeks to put on the face of the Bill the requirement that guidance, which the noble Lord the Minister said would be issued, requiring that consultation should take place with the appropriate authorities should be mandatory. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendment. This Report stage amendment refers only to grant-maintained schools, thereby overcoming some of the points raised by the Minister when we debated this at earlier stages. The Secretary of State is required to provide guidance to GM schools that they should consult appropriate diocesan authorities. The Minister and the Government on this occasion appear to have forgotten the importance of the relationship between the diocesan authorities and the individual voluntary-aided schools within that diocese. That is extremely important and, we believe, very worthy of support.

It has been said on previous occasions by my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris that we are not dealing here with a situation where people behave reasonably and carry out the appropriate consultation, but with the few occasions when people fail to behave reasonably.

This is a very reasonable amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon in the light of the points raised by the Minister during Committee stage.

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by telling the right reverend Prelate that it is our absolute and clear intention that in any case where consultation is appropriate the relevant diocese shall be consulted. However, we consider that requiring consultation in every case, however small the change to the admission policy, is likely to prove too heavy-handed and could be a waste of time for the school and the diocese. I can, however, assure the right reverend Prelate that we recognise the important role that dioceses play in relation to voluntary schools; and the guidance on which we shall consult will take full account of the views of the diocesan bodies. As your Lordships know, we have already included the requirement to consult the relevant diocesan body in the existing guidance on such proposals given in Circular 23/94 and I imagine that that will be reflected in the successor circular. In view of that assurance, I hope that the right reverend Prelate will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and I take some comfort from his comments. I have to say that I am not entirely satisfied. I believe that it would have been a better way forward to have included this requirement on the face of the Bill but, in the light of his comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 7.35 p.m.

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