HL Deb 10 June 1998 vol 590 cc1079-80

(" . Section 102 applies, with such amendments as may be necessary, for enabling the admission arrangements of a maintained school which is not a grammar school to be revised so that it has selective admission arrangements, either wholly or in part.").

The noble Lord said: The Bill introduces the concept of open plebiscite-type democracy over the future of selective schools. If we are changing a system of education which, at least in some parts of the country, has existed with the support of the democratically elected council for the best part of 50 years, and in some cases for the best part of 96 years, it seems only fitting that, where schools want it, they should have the opportunity to move to a selective system if they so wish. If that is not to be allowed, it looks as though this Bill is ideologically motivated. Schools are allowed to change one way but not to change the other way. The amendment provides that the governing body could apply for selective admission. In view of what I said with regard to the previous amendment and the doubts that I expressed about the governing body, I would be happy that parents should be consulted in whatever way possible. What is allowed for one should be allowed for another, otherwise it is not always—dare I use the word—fair. I hope that, to escape the accusation of being ideologically motivated, the Government will accept this amendment. As I say, if the Government accept it, I am prepared to include parents in the decision-making. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have already read out what our manifesto said. We are absolutely clear on this point: we are opposed to any extension of selection which makes a distinction between those who are successful and those who are not successful at far too early an age, the age of 11. Amendment No. 234A would allow further selection. It would allow new grammar schools to be created. It is at complete odds with the Government's firmly stated policy on the future of grammar schools and partial selection.

We made clear in our manifesto that there would be no return to the 11-plus. We also made clear that we would rule out new partial selection, apart from the permitted forms of partial selection provided for under Clauses 95 to 97 of the Bill. Yet this amendment would allow schools to introduce admission arrangements which are partially selective. The new clause proposed under Amendment No. 234A drives a coach and horses through our policies on selection and partial selection. It is clearly a wrecking amendment. It would completely overturn the effect of our earlier provisions on partial selection and grammar schools.

The noble Lord claims that the grammar school provisions are one-way. We made it absolutely clear in our manifesto, as I read it out, that there would be no return to the 11-plus. It was on that basis that the people of this country returned a Labour Government.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

I am delighted that the noble Lord has additions to his party. I hope that the noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches remember what happened to them when they last entered into a close alliance with the Labour Party: they were swallowed, and barely the bones survived.

On the one side, the Government want a monochrome system and, on the other side, they say they want to give choice. There is an element of ambiguity in the Government's plans in that they will allow selection where pupils show special ability in certain subjects. I do not want to repeat all the arguments with regard to aptitude or ability. If there is to be a special case for those with special aptitude or ability in certain subjects, there will be a form of selection, since some pupils do not have that aptitude or ability. We cannot avoid that fact. In the end, when we want to raise standards in education, we will have to have some form of selection, and the noble Lord's colleague, Mr. Byers, realised that. It will be selection by stealth. But as I said to the noble Baroness earlier, even 2 per cent. movement is better than none.

I believe that in essence the Government are pragmatic. Whichever way we view them—the wolf or the sheep—they are wearing the animal's clothing and some of it is not too bad. I expected the answer I received. I shall delight when I see the Government introducing selection in a veiled form. Be assured that I shall congratulate noble Lords opposite on that occasion. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 235 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.30 p.m.

House resumed.