HL Deb 05 May 1998 vol 589 cc481-507

3.7 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

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

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

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I rise to take advice from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in that I wish to make a comment before we discuss the amendments to the Bill. I do not know whether to do so now or to wait until the Motion has been put.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will do so now.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his advice. I rise to express concern about the negative response to my letter requesting supporting information on four issues in the Bill. They are the creation of action zones; the power of the organisation committees and of the adjudicator; and the future of grammar schools. I shall deal with the detail in a moment.

No doubt the Minister will argue that a great deal of information was made available as the Bill proceeded through the other place and since. At the outset, I acknowledge that that is the case and I thank the Minister and her colleagues for making that information available. However, the information leaves very important questions unanswered.

It is important to repeat yet again that in this House we are engaged in making legislation. Therefore, it is extremely important to have an interest in the detail, especially as in the case of this Bill the impact on parents and children will be considerable.

The contempt with which this Government are treating Parliament is palpable. I take the first issue; namely, action zones. They are addressed by just four clauses in the Bill. The bidding documents in relation to becoming an action zone have been distributed widely. Indeed, they were distributed almost as the Bill received its Second Reading in another place.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, is it right to continue with this particular line? I thought that the noble Baroness was raising a question on a point of order. I believe that she is going too far.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am happy to be advised by the House but I understood that I could make this statement before the Bill proceeds to Committee. However, as I said, I am happy to be advised by the House.

Action zones are addressed by just four clauses in the Bill and the bidding documents were distributed widely almost as soon as the Bill received its Second Reading in another place. Civil servants have been out and about around the country—I can say—sometimes coercing a positive response to becoming an action zone. Ministers are saying one thing behind closed doors in the department, different from that which is said publicly or which is consistent with the written materials. The closing date to become an action zone was 20th March.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is going too far. I should like to have a ruling.

Lord Richard

My Lords, it was known on this side of the House that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is not perhaps entirely happy with the way in which the Bill is being presented to the House. The Motion before the House at the moment is that the House should resolve itself into a Committee. The question is whether the noble Baroness is speaking to that Motion or making a statement. She is entitled to speak to the Motion but if she wishes to make a statement, I believe that the House should pass the Motion following which the noble Baroness can say what she wishes on the first substantive issue that arises. I am fortified in that by those who are unmentionable in this House. Perhaps the better way to deal with the issue is for the House to agree to the Motion and then for the noble Baroness to make her statement at the appropriate stage.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the point I am making relates to our going into Committee on the Bill. In order for that to happen, there is information which we need, as Members of this House, in order to give proper consideration to matters contained in the Bill. Again, I shall be advised by the House. I cannot make this statement once the House is in Committee because we shall deal immediately with individual amendments to the Bill.

We had an unedifying experience on the Teaching and Higher Education Bill but at that time the Bill was already under way. I wrote to the noble Baroness and said that I wished to avoid a repeat of that on this occasion. However, the noble Baroness has responded negatively to my request. I know that there are many noble Lords in the House who are extremely concerned—as is the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee—and I wish to make this comment at the outset of our consideration of the Bill in order to elicit from the Minister the sort of information which we require in order to give it proper consideration.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords—

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have not concluded what I was saying and I should like to continue my statement. I am looking for advice as to whether I am able to complete what I wish to say. It relates to going into Committee on the Bill.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, my anxiety is the possible exceptions which the House may take in future if we adopt this procedure. Like all members of the Opposition, past and present, the noble Baroness is obviously alarmed and concerned about information which is available on approaching the Committee stage.

The purpose of the Committee stage is to elicit the information which the noble Baroness seeks from the Minister. However, I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that if this procedure were to be adopted in relation to every Bill which came before the House, we should have such a debate, taking half an hour or an hour, on every Bill.

The noble Baroness will well know that no Opposition—certainly none of which I have been a member for many years—have ever been satisfied with the material available to them in Committee. I believe that the noble Baroness should deal with these issues in Committee, pursuing them urgently and strongly. She can then decide whether she has received a satisfactory answer and what further steps she should take. I do not believe that the noble Baroness will receive a satisfactory answer in this way. I urge the noble Baroness and the House to adopt the recommendation of the Leader of the House.

At the end of the day, this matter affects us all and it is for each one of us to decide. The House is always willing to grant discretion but I believe we are going a little too far in this particular circumstance.

Lord Richard

My Lords, it seems to me that the proper way to proceed is for the House to move into Committee. If the noble Baroness then feels aggrieved or does not have sufficient information on a particular amendment, she can say what she wishes to say on that amendment. I do not believe that the Opposition are in any way prejudiced if we move into Committee. Indeed, I thought that that was broadly what the House would have wished at this stage.

I do not know of any circumstance or any rule of order of this House which would entitle someone merely to make a statement at the beginning of business without the business being before the House.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have been a Minister on the Benches opposite and I faced noble Lords when they were on these Benches. I dealt with this particular circumstance on a number of occasions. I recall the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who is not in his place, making a statement either at the beginning of a Committee stage or Report stage and his insistence on seeing a code of practice before we embarked on further discussions. The noble Lord the Leader of the House will well remember that on one occasion the House adjourned because we were pressed to bring forward a code of practice. We had to repair to the room of the Leader of the House in order to sort out that matter. I believe that we are ill equipped to discuss this Bill. If what has been said is the advice to me of the Leader of the House, then so be it. However, if that is the position, the noble Lord will forgive me if I leave the Chamber.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am not inclined to change the nature of my advice to the House. It is considered advice and I express it to the House consciously and deliberately and with a deal of consideration. This is a Committee stage of a Bill. I know of no precedent for this sort of behaviour at the beginning of a Committee stage. I have known it to arise later during our deliberations on a Bill. I put my advice to the House.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I did see the Government Chief Whip before we came into the Chamber and he knew that I would be making this Statement. He proffered no advice to me on the matter. If he had felt unhappy about it, he could at least have had the courtesy to tell me that it was out of order or that it would not be acceptable to the Leader of the House.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I should make it clear that when I saw the noble Baroness, I wished to get clear what action she was going to take. I thought that she was going to refer to the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. She said that she had some concerns about lack of information and I said that I would pass that on to my noble friend. I certainly did not expect or agree to a statement, as she said.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

moved Amendment No. 1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause— ("CHAPTFR AI KEY STAGE 1: ANNUAI. PERFORMANCE TABLES KEY STAGE 1: PUBLICATION OF ANNUAL PERFORMANCE TABLES .—(1) The Secretary of State shall publish annual performance tables for the results of National Curriculum assessments at the end of key stage 1 for all relevant schools. (2) The performance tables defined in subsection (1) shall Include the average class size."). The noble Lord said: The problem relating to this Bill is, in many ways, a lack of detail and the generalities which are presented in it. The object behind the proposed new clause is to enable us to relate class sizes to particular facts. As Members of the Committee know, there are disputes as to whether or not class sizes will be a total panacea leading to the success that it is hoped will be achieved. But these are actually discoverable facts.

Although key stage 1 tables are at present available to parents and to other people, they are not available at a national level. Therefore, one would like to see the results of key stage 1—that is, the results of the performance of children at the age of seven—known nationally, so that the country as a whole can make decisions regarding the worth or non-worth of the very extensive regulation and expense of reducing class sizes. I hasten to add that, in an ideal world, we would all believe in smaller classes. Therefore, the proposed amendment suggests that the actual performance of schools should be available to the nation at key stage 1, together with the size of the classes which produce those results. I commend that to the Committee because, basically, we are all aiming in the same direction; namely, to improve our educational performance.

As the Minister knows, we on this side of the Committee are worried about the excessive bureaucracy involved in the Bill and the lack of facts which is sometimes behind it. Therefore, I suggest to the Committee that the amendment before us is a practical proposal. I am sure that the Minister will see it as such; indeed, she may even see value in it. I beg to move.

Lord Peston

Perhaps the noble Lord could clarify his amendment a little further. If I remember correctly, when the noble Lord's party was in power something like the amendment proposed was not his party's policy. Therefore, this is a new development. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us about it. Further, did I understand the noble Lord to say that the point of his amendment was to assess the value of reducing class sizes for this age group? I thought that he said so, but I may have misheard him. If that is the case, does the noble Lord agree that what he needs to relate to class sizes is not performance per se but something which is nowadays called, "value added"; namely, what is achieved as an improvement by lowering class sizes, comparing like with like. Is that what the noble Lord has in mind? If that is so, the noble Lord will, again, have to explain to Members of the Committee why that suggestion was opposed by him and his colleagues only a few years ago when my noble friend the Minister, myself and other noble Lords on this side of the Chamber were pressing for precisely that aim. What has changed other than the Government to cause the noble Lord to put forward such a view at this time?

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

As the noble Lord knows, I have had greatness thrust upon me. Indeed, I cannot be accused of being concerned with the decisions of the previous government as I did not occupy office at the time. However, perhaps I may speak as a practical educationalist. As regards class sizes, I believe that, on the whole, a smaller class allows for better teaching. However, there are many other factors involved. The noble Lord knows, as well as I do, that the nature of the argument going on in education at present is whether or not whole class teaching is better than part class teaching. I am not prepared to comment at present on those particular arguments.

My amendment is designed to place on the national record facts which might help us when making decisions as and when particular issues arise. What I am asking is really very little. I am asking for the results of key stage 1 to be known nationally and not just to the parents of the children in the particular school. I am also asking that we should know the average class size of the various schools performing. The intellectual queries of the noble Lord and mine will be met if those facts are published. We are not deciding policy; we are deciding the little parts of the Meccano set which will make up policy. Indeed, I believe that much of the Bill reflects policy without having the Meccano kit. That is the essence of the amendment.

Lord Peston

I trust that the noble Lord will forgive me for returning to the theme, but it is one of great importance. If we published such results and related them to class sizes and there was no correlation between the two—or indeed if there was a rather perverse correlation that the smaller the class size, the worse the apparent performance—the noble Lord must know as well as I do that that would tell us nothing, unless we actually allowed, as he rightly pointed out, for all the other factors at work. I have in mind, in particular, the fact that if we reduce class sizes (a point I remember making some 20 years ago) in the worst performing schools, it will look as if there is a correlation between small class sizes and bad performance. However, all we are revealing is a sensible government policy; namely, that where schools are not performing well we ought to reduce class sizes in order to help them perform better. It is a common-place remark, although people did not fully understand when I first made it. But I make it again now. In those circumstances, the noble Lord's crude amendment will be unhelpful, not helpful. That is why I asked him to clarify the matter.

I know the noble Lord personally very well. Indeed, I know that he actually wishes to be helpful in the matter. Therefore, my own judgment is that such an amendment will not do what he wants; namely, to assess what we are achieving at this key stage. Either the noble Lord needs an amendment on the lines of "value added"—in other words, comparing like with like—or the suggested amendment will not do.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I rise to express my support for the amendment. I am fascinated by the argument produced by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. If he believes in what he just said, it seems to me that he should help my noble friend by devising a suitable amendment which would bring in the factor of added value as well as the simple matter of class size. Surely it must be better to take decisions in the light of some information than, apparently, in the light of none, which is the alternative if the amendment is rejected? Indeed, we should be moving forward.

I have one further point to make in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said when he first rose to speak. The noble Lord said that he could not understand why this proposal was being put forward now as it was not the policy of the previous government. I believe my noble friend has dealt with that on his own behalf, but I hope that the noble Lord was not suggesting that, because something was not a particular party's policy in the past, it should not be so at the present time. If that was the noble Lord's suggestion—and it was certainly implicit in his remarks—I believe that all Members of the Committee sitting opposite, and those in government, will find themselves in a very peculiar situation.

Baroness Blackstone

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his support in principle. I am sorry, I do apologise to the noble Lord; I should have said the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. Clearly that is a confusion that I should not have made. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for his support in principle for a policy of smaller class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds. I think that the noble Lord is aware, as other Members of the Committee will he, that there is now good evidence to show that children perform better at that age in smaller classes. I believe passionately that it was right for the Labour Party, prior to the election, to make a manifesto commitment to ensure that there are smaller class sizes for this group of children to enable us to achieve our goals of raising school standards.

In Section 537 of the Education Act 1996 we already have the statutory provisions necessary to enable the Secretary of State to require information from schools on pupil performance and to require the publication of that information in performance tables. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, was not on the Front Bench of the previous government, but he is probably pleased to hear that the government he supported enacted a power to enable the Secretary of State to require such performance tables. Like the previous government, this Government are committed to the publication of comparative data 9n school performance in support of our pledge to raise standards and to provide parents with information on the performance of their local schools. I believe that information is helpful and valuable to parents. It is often, of course, an important benchmark for teachers to gauge how their schools are performing.

We aim to provide as full a picture as possible of pupils' achievements. We have already introduced changes to the secondary tables, to enable parents to see at a glance how each school's performance has improved over time and to reflect better the achievements of pupils across the ability range. We have also delegated the responsibility for publishing primary school performance tables of key stage 2 results to local level, allowing LEAs to provide additional information on the performance of their primary schools beyond the core requirements and to set the results in a local context. I hope that Members of the Committee opposite will be able to support that initiative.

We are committed to the publication of measures of value added by schools—that point was raised by my noble friend Lord Peston—as the necessary data on pupils' prior attainment become available in a suitable form. Of course that takes a little while as we need to measure progress over time. The next step towards this—the publication of information on progress in secondary schools between key stage 3 in 1996 and GCSE results in 1998—will feature in this year's secondary tables. These are significant developments. They need to be planned carefully and introduced step by step, to ensure that we do not place unreasonable demands on schools or increase the burdens on teachers—something we are trying to reduce—or overload parents with too much information which is difficult to digest. I share the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to see more data on school performance becoming publicly available but I wonder whether the time is yet right for national performance tables at key stage 1, so early in children's education.

I refer to what my noble friend Lord Peston said with regard to some of the technical issues. I very much agree with his remarks on that. I say to the noble Lord opposite that I am not sure whether it is my noble friend's job to design new amendments for the Opposition Front Bench to resolve technical problems contained in their amendments.

I shall try to explain briefly why we do not intend to publish information on average class size in individual schools. Such figures were not published under the previous government for exactly the same reasons. Each January every school completes a form—known as the Form 7—one section of which records information on classes as taught. They must record the details of all classes being taught at a given period on the census day. For each class they record the number of pupils, teachers, support staff, the year group, the key stage, and whether it is an "ordinary lesson" or one such as sport, music or drama that may involve non-typical groupings of either larger or smaller numbers of pupils.

The information collected is thus a snapshot of a given moment. Like any such snapshot, there may be occasional anomalies at the detailed level. The figures are robust at national level and at LEA level, as "swings and roundabouts" will level out such anomalies. However, when reporting on individual schools, the figures may be misleading. For example, a school may hire two part-time teachers for one afternoon only and regroup pupils in small groups. To record their average class size at that time would not be a true picture of the whole week.

The schools census should, however, enable us to spot any classes that do not comply with limits. As our limits will cover all ordinary lessons for infant classes, there should be no single-teacher classes over 30 unless they have been brought together for music, sport or similar activities. If we make any limited exceptions to class size limits, of the kind set out in the draft regulations issued for consultation last week, we shall have to record those in the census. I thought it would be helpful to the Committee if I made that clear. The department's statisticians would discuss the practical details with their colleagues in LEAs. In those circumstances and in the light of what I have said about the Government's commitment to good performance indicators and the various steps that we are taking, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Baker of Dorking

I welcome some of the comments that the Minister has made in replying to the amendment. I very much welcome her comments on the importance of comparative figures at different levels as between schools. It ill behoves the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to chide us for modifying our views as regards seven year-olds when the views expressed by his party have not changed marginally since 1987—when I introduced the 1987 Bill—but 180 per cent. The party opposite voted against examinations and tests at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 and the publication of league tables. I welcome the fact that the present Government now accept all of this. I do not gloat over that at all. I believe it is a sensible change of policy on the part of the Labour Party. It recognises the reality that parents want to know how their children are performing at different levels. That is now fully accepted in respect of key stages 2 and 3.

It is interesting to note that the Minister reminded the House that in 1996 the previous Conservative government gave themselves the power to allow the wider national publication of league tables for seven year-olds. I drew some comfort from the Minister's words as she did not say that she would not use the power but that she would consider so doing in the future. I suspect that that will happen. When the tables are published it will be possible to measure some degree of value added. With the wider extension of nursery education one will be able to measure the performance of a child at various stages. That is, after all, what parents want to know when they decide which schools their children should attend. I welcome this provision. My noble friend who moved the amendment has done us a service by prompting a clear exposition from the Government of their support for this policy. I hope that we shall go a little further and that this provision will be applied to seven year-olds during the lifetime of this Government.

Baroness Young

I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Baker has just said. When he was Secretary of State league tables, testing and assessment were introduced. Those of us who sat on the government Benches in those days remember the hard battles that were fought on all these matters. We are extremely pleased to see the Government's conversion to league tables, testing and assessment.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I, too, welcome the indication given by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that local education authorities have been given the power to publish this information if necessary. This is one of the most important stages in the education of children. If they do not make progress at the beginning of their school lives they are more than likely to continue to fall behind. Everyone welcomes value added but it can so easily be used as an excuse for bad performance. At the end of the day what really matters is not the value added, or even the school, but rather whether the child has acquired the skills that it should have acquired at key stage I. Any information which will contribute positively to that is to be welcomed. It is not an argument about whether one should have larger or smaller class sizes or more teachers. What matters is whether at this important stage the children acquire the fundamental skills of reading, writing and numeracy.

Only the other day I read published evidence that children who drop out of school and quite frequently turn to crime are those who never learned to read. Once again we learn that. The sooner one identifies those children who are in trouble, the better. If one can identify them at the age of seven or eight, so much the better. Parents also require that information. Quite properly, parents are becoming increasingly demanding on the subject.

If the Minister does not feel able to accept the amendment as it stands, I hope that she will accept the spirit in which it is put down. I believe that we are all interested in the same aim. If necessary, perhaps the noble Baroness will bring forward an amendment which will meet some of the technical difficulties that she has identified. They are difficulties to which we shall return as we proceed through the first part of the Bill on class sizes.

Lord Dearing

I welcome the amendment and thank the Minister for her response. I agree that the performance of children at seven is probably the most important indicator of what their educational experience will be. It is right that we should be deeply concerned that parents and governing bodies have the information.

Perhaps I may add to what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said. Rather than looking forward to an undertaking that the information will become available during the life of this Parliament, I hope that with value added it will become available in the next two years or so.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I was extremely interested to hear the noble Baroness's very kindly rebuke and advice offered to her noble friend Lord Peston. I understood her to say that it is not her noble friend's job to find new or better amendments—

Baroness Blackstone

I think that there is a misunderstanding. I in no way rebuked my noble friend. The noble Lord opposite suggested that my noble friend should redraft the amendment put down by the Opposition Front Bench. I was suggesting that it was not my noble friend's job to do that. No rebuke was meant in any way to anyone.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I apologise to the Minister if I have misconstrued her. Perhaps I may put it this way. The friendly advice that she offered her noble friend was most interesting. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, took it in the most gentlemanly fashion.

However, the reason for being on my feet now is to express the earnest hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will not in any way be discouraged from offering improvements to the amendments of the Opposition Front Bench. Let me make it clear that I have unqualified admiration for my noble friend Lord Pilkington. Knowing him and admiring him as I do, I have absolutely no doubt that he will be very grateful, as the debate continues, to have advice from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on how his amendment should be improved.

Lord Peston

Perhaps I may respond. I did not feel that I was being rebuked by my noble friend. Indeed, I know that she would wish me to help the Opposition in their present plight.

However, I am little puzzled on one point. When the noble Lord, Lord Baker, introduced his Bill (as it then was) in 1987, I do not remember that he used the expression "league tables". I think that that vulgarity emerged elsewhere. I agree with much of what noble Lords opposite said. However, while the analogy with league tables may be appropriate for congratulating the Arsenal football team—I know that my noble friend Lady Blackstone will agree with me on that—I do not believe that looking at schools in league table form is helpful to schools, children or education in general.

The whole point of the concept that we put forward then—I remember working with my noble friend and others—was that we did not want a league table approach but something a good deal more sensitive. Our views on value added were strongly rejected at that point. I stick to my view. I deplore the concept of league tables for assessing schools. One might say that that is just a matter of taste. But I believe that it is more than that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, the importance is what a school achieves for the individual child. A school can do a great deal for an individual child without appearing in a powerful position in any league printed in the press. That is and remains my concern with the amendment of the noble Lord. It, too, would lead to reinforcement of the league table approach which I hope I am not alone in finding not very helpful when considering education.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Perhaps I may intervene again; I had not expected to do so. The weakness of publishing any information is that someone else will turn it into league tables. However, that should not be a concern of this Committee. What other people do with information is their concern. If good information is published, parents will make good use of it. It must be better to publish information, acknowledging that there may be abuse by some in other places, with other disciplines and other interests. We have to learn to live with that.

When I suggested that there might be some co-operation on amendments to the Bill, I was well aware that the approach was not likely to be looked on favourably. However, that allows me to regret that in all too many of our discussions on legislation our concern is not always to produce the best legislation but to follow the conventions of party divisions, party discussions and party antagonisms. I think that that is a little unfortunate.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

I do not think that there is any party antagonism on this complex issue. I believe that performance tables rather than league tables is the more appropriate term, although it is always nice to have people sitting behind one who support the right football team. In that case there is a genuine league—and Arsenal won and is at the top!

However, perhaps I may pick up what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said. We shall want to look at the impact of the wider extension of nursery education. This is important new policy. It is necessary that in future we monitor it, and see what impact it has had. At the same time, we might regret rushing straight into performance tables for schools teaching these very young people. We have to remember that many children at present in this age group will be at school for only two years before the measures come into force. Some of those children will have a lot of catching up to do because of their social circumstances. Some will have arrived at school with poor language development, few social skills and a great deal to learn in that respect. In many of our cities, quite a few will arrive speaking little English. So it would be wrong at this stage to make a commitment to performance tables.

I wish also to support the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Peston. I do not believe that we should introduce performance tables until we have the value added methodology properly worked out and applied to the later key stages, in particular in secondary school. We are still in the process of doing that. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will agree with me that while we must identify and support those children who are in trouble—I could not agree more with her in that respect—performance tables for schools do not identify individual children. Nor should they. It is up to teachers, in the assessment they carry out, to identify children who need extra remedial help. The Government are very much encouraging that.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord—

Baroness Young

Perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive my intervening. She is on to a terribly important point, and one with which we are both in agreement. If I have understood her aright, she is saying that a performance table will not necessarily indicate how well an individual child is doing. That may well be so. However, it will give a clear indication as to how well the school as a whole is doing. I hope that she will consider this point further. The difficulty is that at this early stage a school can hide behind all these problems—language difficulties, bad homes, poor environment. We have heard them for years. I heard them 20 years ago when I was an education Minister. What is required is an answer to those difficulties. Performance tables are a real, public indication as to how well the teaching in a school is going.

Baroness Blackstone

It is certainly the case that this Government will refute any excuses that are made in relation to bad performance. The social factors listed by the noble Baroness are not reasons for schools to shelter behind poor teaching, inadequate use of resources and failure to intervene when early remedial help is needed. Those matters are absolutely vital. The noble Baroness is quite right. A child who does not learn to read at this stage is a child who will fall behind at all the later stages, and will often be one of those who later become disaffected with their schooling, become truants, drop out and then become involved in crime. Therefore the attention that we are giving to the early years is very important. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her support.

At the same time, it would be wrong to castigate those schools in difficult social environments which have large numbers of pupils needing a great deal of help and which receive lower scores than those schools in leafy suburbs, many of whose children are already well prepared to start school and in some cases have already been taught to read at home. They have certainly received a lot of support and attention and may have had two or more full-time years in a very good nursery school. So I do not want schools in any way to make excuses. But value-added tables are a much better way of ensuring that all schools are doing a good job. Without them, we cannot tell whether some of the schools that are in a privileged position in terms of entry are doing as good a job as they should be. They should get very high scores, and we shall not know that unless we are able to measure the performance of children when they arrive.

This is a difficult technical area. Measuring the performance of five year-olds when they first enter a primary school, particularly if they have not had any nursery school experience is difficult and tricky. I do not think that I can make any commitment to going down this road at this stage; but I do not want to rule out making progress in this sort of direction in the longer term.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

This is a probing amendment, though we may return to it on Report. To approach it from a broader sphere, the background to the amendment is this. Perhaps I may first take one historical example.

Towards the end of the last century and the beginning of this, the United States of America took people from everywhere in the world, many of whom did not speak English, and through the early school system transformed them into English-speaking Americans who took a great part in the development of their country. That is my first historical point.

The second is this. The noble Baroness touched on this matter and I must say that I welcome the approach that she has taken. Like my noble friend Lord Baker, I welcome the movement of the party opposite towards views of education that I have held for a long time. There is no joy in heaven so great as that for a sinner who converts. As the noble Baroness knows, it is a fact that in the same deprived area—I know the school where my daughter teaches—one school adjacent to another does amazingly better. Similarly, in privileged areas one school will do badly and another will do very well. My amendment may be crude, to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Peston; but it would go a little way towards helping.

Key stage 1 assesses very important areas—areas that will decide a child's future in later life, as the noble Baroness pointed out. I agree with every word that she said. Similarly, class sizes would be another piece of additional information. I accept, as the noble Baroness said, that these facts are available, though mainly to parents. Similarly, the facts about class sizes are available in local authority documents; they can be gained if one is prepared to approach the authority.

I have no disagreement in relation to the idea of value added—though I share the views of my noble friend Lady Young that it can, if not used properly, become a mask that excludes failure. I have seen that happen in schools. To return to my original statement, there are cases where one school in a deprived area, with people from a different ethnic background, does so much better at teaching language and numeracy than does the next one. My amendment would serve to reveal those facts.

I welcome the noble Lord's idea. I am quite happy if the Government wish to add to my amendment a provision in relation to value added. Having been in education, I am afraid that arguments about value added are like those as to how many angels are dancing on a pin. It may mean that this idea is never realised. We have to face the point made by my noble friend Lord Baker: one of the engines fuelling the advance in education has been the performance that has actually occurred in schools. That is what the Government have realised. It is the legacy they have inherited from their predecessors and on which they are building. That said, I shall not force the amendment now. However, we may return to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

If the next amendment, Amendment No. 2, is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 3 because of pre-emption.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 9, leave out subsections (1) to (3) and insert— ("(1) The maximum number of pupils that an infant class at a maintained school may contain while an ordinary teaching session is conducted by a single qualified teacher is 30. (2) The Secretary of State shall by regulations fix the date by which the limit set out in subsection (1) is to be met by such schools. (3) Regulations under this section may—

  1. (a) impose different limits (subject to subsection (1)), and fix different dates, according to the age groups into which the pupils in infant classes fall;
  2. (b) provide that, in any circumstances specified in the regulations, the limit set out in subsection (1) and any limit imposed by the regulations either is not to apply or is to operate in such manner as is so specified.").
The noble Baroness said: This amendment will give the Government their first opportunity to respond positively to the report of the delegated powers scrutiny committee. Perhaps I may at the outset read from paragraph 6 of that report. It states: The committee accepts the need for flexibility in implementing this highly significant change in schools policy, and thus the need for regulations. But regulation-making powers should be used in this area only insofar as they are essential to achieve the necessary flexibility. In the view of the Committee, the most important parameters, including the all-important target of the maximum number of pupils in an infant class, should appear on the face of the Bill. The House may therefore wish to consider whether the Bill should be amended to include the target maximum number of pupils on the face of the Bill. It may also think the use of negative procedure inappropriate for such an important power, and may thus wish to consider amending the Bill to allow for the affirmative resolution procedure". The Committee will see that the amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List will address both of those recommendations—first, in that the figure 30 should appear on the face of the Bill. After all, in this instance the Government have produced draft regulations whereby they commit themselves to the figure 30. Therefore it should not present a difficulty for them to lay that figure on the face of the Bill. If they intend this policy to be in place by 2001, then it is unlikely that they will go for a figure lower than 30 within the period of this Parliament. Indeed, it is likely, if the Government wish to pursue smaller classes in schools, that they will wish to address classes for seven, eight and nine year-olds before going even lower for the infant classes. In either case, the Government would still have to return to this House with primary legislation. Therefore they should accept this amendment.

I wish to refer to a disquiet that I have about this pledge, laudable and desirable though it may be, which, if my newspapers are to be believed, is a disquiet shared by members of the Government. It is that the practical difficulties of implementing this policy are legion. I have always held the view that, if local education authorities and schools themselves had more money, it would be for them to determine their priorities. I suspect that it would be almost inevitable that primary schools and/or infant schools would tend to give priority to younger-aged children. I would trust the local education authorities and the schools themselves to use the money in this way if it were made available. But the Government have hooked themselves on taking control of this policy at national level.

We all know that, where a guarantee is as inflexible as it is in this Bill, the 31st, 32nd or even 33rd child will happen randomly across the country. A school that has 31 children in a class today may have 28 next year. In small schools in the heart of rural England, not only is class size an issue; so too is the age range within a class. In my own village in the county of Cambridgeshire, the school has five, six and seven year-olds in one class, seven, eight and nine year-olds in the second class and nine, 10 and 11 year-olds in the third class. There is a world of difference between a class of 30 five, six and seven year-olds and a class of 30 five year-olds, a class of 30 six year-olds and a class of 30 seven year-olds. In no way does this policy recognise the sensitivity of that very real distinction. If one is measuring the burden on a teacher in the classroom, which is what I believe we should be doing, the burden on the teacher dealing with an age range of three years is vastly different from, and more onerous than, the burden on the teacher dealing with 30 children of a single age group.

I posed the question at Second Reading as to what happens to the 31st child where the school is a long distance from another school or where another school of the denominational preference is not nearby. We know the answer to that now: the answer is that the child will be given a teacher and that the local authority will provide that teacher.

There are huge problems with that. Are the Government saying unequivocally that where there is a 31st child which impedes parental preference, which does not enhance parental preference, which means that a child will travel an unreasonable distance, which means that denominational choice is not nearby, the school will be provided with an extra teacher for one or two children, when numbers in a school can fluctuate downwards or upwards from term to term and from year to year?

If local education authorities are expected to have that kind of money pre-empted from their budgets on a term-by-term basis, it will be hugely expensive across the country. Pupil/teacher ratios will be vastly changed. This money will come from the education budget. A later amendment from the Liberal Democrats urges that this money should go into the revenue support grant. Once it goes into the revenue support grant, it is clear that every time a teacher is produced for as few as one or two children, that resource is denied to the other age groups, the seven year-olds and upwards.

The practical difficulties with this policy, however laudable and desirable it is, are legion. It is no surprise to me that the Treasury has concerns about it. It is certainly no surprise to me that, as time goes on, the practical difficulties presented by the policy increase. Because of the way in which the Government have chosen to implement this policy at national level rather than allowing local education authorities to operate at their own level, the minutiae of information which will have to go into the plans to be presented to the Government for their approval or disapproval, as the case may be, and the inevitable paper-chase that will be involved as the plans are handed back down to the local education authorities and then back up again, will mean that much needed resources will be dissipated. I believe that it will cause enormous problems.

The report from the delegated powers scrutiny committee is the strongest that has ever been made of a Bill in Parliament. I hope that that message will be well received by the Department for Education and Employment. My own memory of being a Minister in that department is that a Minister, particularly one in this House, has to work very hard with officials to persuade them that this point is important. They have an in-built aversion to affirmative resolution procedures. When we come to the later amendment, I shall argue for that procedure. In the meantime I believe that, if the Government are serious about this policy, it is only right that we should follow the recommendations of the scrutiny committee and put it on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Maddock

Before I came into the Chamber this afternoon, I was asked by a reporter what the interesting points would be today. One of my comments was that, having followed education over a number of years, I was a little bemused and I thought he would see Members of the Government Bench and the Opposition Bench saying different things and interpreting things differently from the way in which they interpreted them when they sat on the other side of the Chamber. My second comment was that one never knows what will take anyone's fancy in a Committee debate and what will cause excitement. When I made that comment, I had not anticipated that the excitement would happen so early in the day.

In the past there have been fierce arguments about who believes that children do better in small classes. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, on at least sticking to the policy that was accepted in another place that it is important but is one of a number of measures that need to be in place to improve standards. I made an impassioned speech about this matter at Second Reading. Having been a practising teacher, I have no doubt that children can receive more attention in a small class. I have yet to see a parent pay to send a child to a school that has large classes. Indeed, I know that one of the reasons why parents pay to send their children to certain schools is that they know there will be small numbers in the classes. At least we have more or less agreed here today that this is a very important point.

We support the amendment. It has been recommended by the Select Committee that looks into the way in which we deal with regulations and make laws in this place. I believe we should heed what the committee says. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, laid that matter out clearly, and I will not repeat what was said in the report.

The noble Baroness also pointed out that there are knock-on effects from insisting that there should be 30 children in a class. We support that policy, which was contained in the Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last election. We shall discuss the knock-on effects of that policy when we discuss other clauses this afternoon. It is important for us to recognise that not only are there difficulties about where one puts the 31st child; there are considerable difficulties about how one accommodates extra classes in schools. Those will be matters that we shall look at later on this afternoon.

Lord Peston

It seems to me, as someone who has never taught in an infants' school, that a class size of 30 is enormously large. I have lectured to hundreds of people but have never had to keep discipline or do anything of that kind. I assume that, in setting this as a target, the Government regard this as only the beginning of what we would aim at when we can afford it.

Again, if we are to make progress, we must come up with a number which says that the maximum must be such and such. Whatever number the Government come up with, someone will ask why, and what is to happen to the marginal child. I do not see how that can be a criticism of the Government. If they are going to move at all, they must start with a number and 30 is better than nothing.

Let me say, en passant, that it gives me enormous pleasure to see the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, back on the Front Bench. I was a bit taken aback when she said that she was not staying and thought she meant that she was never coming back. However, I gather her demonstration was simply for one amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, had greatness thrust upon him for only that one amendment, though some of us hold him in high esteem anyway.

It seems to me to be reasonable that the Government should come up with a number. It also seems to me—I hope I am in order in mildly criticising the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee—that if the Government come up with an objective of 30 but many believe that in due course the number should be progressively lowered, and if we consider the question of flexibility to be important, regulation is the correct way of achieving that. Putting a precise number on the face of the Bill does not make any sense. Why would we put a number on the face of the Bill if in due course our intention is to make it lower still?

For once our respected committee may be slightly mistaken. But I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that it is not mistaken in suggesting that we use the affirmative resolution procedure. It is part of the game that the Opposition always say that they would like to use the affirmative resolution procedure. But in this case I hope that the Minister can be supportive or will at least think about the position. It is quite separate from the question of a maximum, where I would not like to see a number on the face of the Bill. That would somehow imply that we regard 30 as being particularly attractive rather than that it is the best we can do for the moment but that we have ambitions to do more without changing primary legislation.

To summarise, therefore, flexibility means that we should do this by regulation. The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee is right that, in a matter as important as this, my noble friend ought at least to think about the idea of using the affirmative procedure.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Perhaps I can contribute briefly to this Committee debate. I am the father of a seven year-old and have nothing but admiration for anyone who can control any seven year-old, bearing in mind the way my seven year-old behaves.

I wanted to draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to the document published in April of this year entitled Reducing infant class sizes: guidance. In paragraphs 15 and 17 it addresses the points raised by the noble Baroness. Paragraph 15 specifically talks about rural schools and what happens if there should be more than 30 pupils. It goes on in paragraph 17 to talk of contingency funding and how the LEA may be able to apply for small amounts to address that point. I agree also with the point made by my noble friend Lord Peston.

Baroness Blatch

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree with me that it will be expensive to provide a qualified teacher? We are not talking about a teaching assistant; many infant teachers would welcome a teaching assistant for the 31st or 32nd child, which would be an extremely economic way of meeting a difficult challenge. However, we are bound by the legislation to provide a qualified teacher.

Does the noble Lord agree therefore that the cost of providing a qualified teacher, which may be anything from £20,000 to £35,000, to a school for one or two children is disproportionately uneconomic when the knock-on effect of that in a rural county will be substantial? It is pre-emptive moneys and nothing on the face of the Bill guarantees that pound for pound will be given to local authorities. They are simply invited to bid for small contingency sums, and therefore the money will come from a local education authority's budget, even if it is not the local education authority's priority or the school's priority.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Perhaps that is the reason it is not on the face of the Bill but is in regulation, so that that kind of consideration can be taken into account. From my point of view, I would be happier if there was a fully qualified teacher to take up the provision of education for a few extra pupils. The noble Baroness is gesticulating that it would be for only one child; I should like a fully qualified teacher to be involved in teaching my child.

My point concerned what my noble friend Lord Peston said. I agree with him that regulation is the proper place to put these considerations. The figure of 30 should be a maximum and I hope that the Government will seek to work towards reducing class numbers for five, six and seven year-olds to way below that figure.

Baroness Young

The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Blatch is extremely important. It follows from a recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. The committee makes a firm and clear recommendation in paragraph 6 of its report, which says, In the view of the Committee, the most important parameters, including the all-important target of the maximum number of pupils in an infant class, should appear on the face of the Bill". That is what the amendment seeks to do in subsection (1).

The answer to the important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, as to whether we want to see this as a maximum or a minimum, is that all of us, as a general principle, would think it desirable that class sizes should reduce in number. I do not believe that there will be a great deal of argument on that point.

It is a huge change in policy to legislate on this matter. It raised many questions, as my noble friend Lady Blatch indicated, which we now understand. I hope that we shall have even greater clarification on the matter of, where there are one or two extra children in a classroom, whether another teacher should be forthcoming. I hope I understood the position correctly. It seems to me that it will create immense expense, apart from anything else, far greater than anything that was anticipated.

When we turn to the sums, I believe that it was all going to be paid for by the winding-up of the assisted places scheme. I wonder whether that money will cover the provision of the right number of teachers. I can think of a school which I know well where at the moment a class is oversubscribed by four pupils. That creates immense difficulties for the school and for the poor teacher who usually has to confront the irate parents who cannot get their children in. There are therefore many subsidiary problems and it is important to have them cleared up.

I hope that the Government will consider the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that this is contrary to what the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee suggested, that this is not going to be put on the face of the Bill, and that the regulations should be introduced by affirmative resolution procedure. The issue is clearly important.

Baroness Blackstone

It may be helpful for me to speak now. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, these amendments reflect the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, which reported on this Bill only last week. We had sight of the report on Thursday afternoon. That is not a criticism of the committee. I know that the Easter Recess intervened and it is a large and complex Bill.

The Government noted the committee's report and we are now in discussion with our legal advisers in regard to the necessary amendments. We are only too well aware of the importance of the committee's recommendations on a wide range of issues, not just class size, and it is our intention to respond as positively as we can.

On the question of infant class sizes, I am pleased to confirm that the Government will give effect to the committee's central recommendation that the limit of 30 should be on the face of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that she was aware of the various knock-on effects and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, also raised the issue of money, as did my noble friend Lord Peston. There are, however, a whole range of later amendments down, including amendments on costs and on issues such as extra teachers versus assistants and so on, so I wonder if the Committee would agree that it would make more sense if I responded to those issues when we come to those amendments.

Meanwhile, I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Peston that, of course, 30 is not a magic number, but there has to be a firm limit. I am sure he would agree with that. We think that 30 is the right limit and the right limit to place on the face of the Bill.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her proposed amendment. My preliminary view is that wording such as that proposed for subsection (1) may be close to what is needed. However, we shall want to look carefully at the wording to ensure that there are no unlooked for effects. I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that we need to discuss these further with our legal advisers to make sure that the precise wording of the clauses reflects the intentions. Therefore, we shall introduce government amendments on this matter at the Report stage of the Bill. Given that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw these two amendments.

Lord Walton of Detchant

I wonder if I may ask a question. The National Commission on Education, which I had the privilege to chair, after doing a great deal of research, recommended the maximum class size in nursery and primary schools as being 30, so I am glad to hear that that recommendation is now being accepted by the Government.

Taking on board the point that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, if it turns out that in a particular school at any one time there are 31 or 32 children in a class, is it a requirement under the law that the extra one or two must be taught by a qualified teacher, or is it possible that for a temporary period they might be taught by a teaching assistant?

Baroness Blackstone

No. We shall come to this matter a little later. It is the Government's intention to ensure, as is absolutely right and proper, that all children of this age should be taught by a qualified teacher. That is what we will ensure happens.

Baroness Seccombe

We are talking about legislation and the rigidity of having 30 children in one class. If at a rural school which was miles from anywhere the parents of most of the children thought that it was right that a 31st child should be added, but one parent felt as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, feels, and insisted that another teacher was enlisted, what would be the situation as regards enforcement of the law? What would the sanctions be and who would be offending in that situation?

As a magistrate I always think of how one enforces the legislation. It would be interesting to know the thinking of the noble Baroness on that point.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

The noble Baroness said, and I am sure she pleased the Committee, that it was the intention of the Government to look positively at the thinking behind the amendment. I wonder if the noble Baroness would make it clear whether that positive look applies to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, of using the affirmative procedure. If, by chance, it does not, I should like to make the point, which I made very often when we were in government, at a time when I was doing my utmost to support Ministers, that I still recall some arguments which I had with my noble friend Lady Blatch, who is now in a different situation, on this very subject of affirmative procedures.

I understand very well that it would be extremely unfair to throw all the odium for this bad habit at the noble Baroness. It seems to me to have been for quite a long time an ingrained habit of the department she now represents to indulge in these thoroughly bad practices. I found, to my great distress, that complaints levelled from the other side of your Lordships' House had little effect.

I am extremely hopeful now, supporting as I do the point made with great cogency by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that his argument will commend itself to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may respond to the noble Baroness first. Of course, I do not believe that any school would want to fail to respond to what the law requires it to do in circumstances of this kind. It will be provided with the resources, and it cannot be in any school's interests to do other than commit itself to what the law requires. The Secretary of State could issue a direction to the school or the local education authority under Section 497 of the Education Act 1996 and get a court order to enforce it.

I now turn to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. We have been able to respond positively on the issue of affirmative procedures in relation to the Teaching and Higher Education Bill. We will, of course, look and think carefully about it in relation to this part of this Bill. However, I should say to the noble Lord, and I am sure my noble friend will agree with this, that given that we are conceding that the limit of 30 should be on the face of the Bill, that will obviously have some effect on what the thinking might be about the affirmative resolution. Of course, we will take this away, think about it and consult our legal advisers.

Lord Peston

Before my noble friend sits down and before the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, speaks, perhaps I may ask her doubly to reassure me. She said that she would take legal advice on the question of what goes on to the face of the Bill. I am always delighted when a Minister responds positively to someone in Opposition. Equally, I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and I suffering from the same besetting sin; namely, that we try to be consistent no matter where we are sitting, which I do not think will meet with approval from everybody. Nonetheless, on this matter we do.

I am a little worried that in following the recommendation of your Lordships' Committee the Government might be getting themselves into legal hot water, not far removed from what the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, implied might arise. Can my noble friend reassure us, in trying to respond sympathetically, that we will not end up with a worse state of affairs, including a legal minefield, than we had to start with? In other words, I do not wish to deflect her remotely from being supportive of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but I do not want her to give us a Bill that will become an Act of Parliament which, rather like one or two aspects, if I may say, of the Act introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, when he was Secretary of State, will be unenforceable. That would worry me a great deal. I refer, of course, to religious courses.

Lord Belstead

Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a question before she proceeds further with the Bill? I very much welcomed hearing the noble Baroness say that although the report of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House on delegated powers had only been seen by her Department last Thursday, nonetheless heads had been put together. I think the noble Baroness's words were that there would be consideration of necessary amendments. I hope I am not sounding as though I am niggling when I say that I think it would help the Committee if we knew how the noble Baroness intended to proceed. Can she give a very quick assessment of the report of the Select Committee, a Select Committee which, incidentally, exists in order to examine whether there are inappropriate delegated powers in Bills and which expresses considerable concern so far as this Bill is concerned. Eight or 10 of its recommendations would fall within the ambit of the undertaking given by the noble Baroness.

The next recommendation made by the Select Committee relates to Clause 21 which we shall not reach today. However, I am raising the issue to ask the Minister whether she will be revealing to the Committee, point by point as we reach the relevant clauses, the Government's thinking on the regulation-making powers in those clauses or whether she is considering making a statement to the Committee—possibly when we sit next or the time after that—about the way in which the Government will tackle the Select Committee's recommendations.

I apologise if I sound as though I am niggling. I do not think that I am; I think that it would help the Committee to know the way in which the Minister intends to give effect to the undertaking that she has given, which I welcome.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Before my noble friend replies, perhaps I may raise one point. I preface my remarks by saying that I am no breaker of laws, but I hope that the Minister will not get into too much detail about breaking the law with regard to the example that we are currently considering of the 31st or 32nd pupil. The first point to consider is where the money will come from for an extra teacher. I believe that it has been suggested that it might cost between £25,000 and £35,000.

I put it to my noble friend and to the Committee that we are breaking the law every day with regard to education. The law has been broken many times today simply because religious services—school gatherings for religious purposes—tend not to be held, although that is the law. There is supposed to be a daily religious service in our schools, but such services do not take place—and for a number of good reasons. First, in secondary schools in particular, there is not sufficient room for all the pupils. Secondly, in some cases teachers are unwilling to undertake such duties. I believe that the number of such teachers is increasing.

I hope that my noble friend will realise that certain practical difficulties have to be borne in mind. However, I am not saying that we should not have this as an aim. I tend to agree with some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Peston, particularly on numbers. At some point, I am sure that we shall say, "This cannot be done at present". At the moment, for example, there is a shortage of teachers and until we can move towards finding a solution to such difficulties, some of the problems being raised now simply cannot be met.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may begin by responding to my noble friends Lord Peston and Lord Dormand. Of course, we do not want to enter a legal minefield, but perhaps I should remind my noble friends that we have a clear manifesto commitment that five, six and seven year-old children should be educated in classes of no more than 30 children. That is a commitment, a pledge, that we intend to meet. I believe that schools will want to meet that pledge and that it will be in their interests to do so. The resources will be made available to enable them to do so. Therefore, there should be no legal minefields and no resort to the courts. I believe that schools and local education authorities will respond extremely positively.

I turn now to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. We shall, of course, let the Committee know, as we go on, how we intend to respond to the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. As I have already made absolutely clear, we intend to be extremely positive. Perhaps I may help the noble Lord by saying a little more about that now. The report makes a number of recommendations about appropriate resolution procedures. As I have said, we shall respond as constructively as we can to the recommendations in respect of the provisions covering, for example, the responsibility and functions of governing bodies; local management of schools; the LEA code of practice on LEA school relations and in respect of appeals procedures, relating to both appeals for admission to a particular school and exclusion appeals.

The report suggests tightening some of the provisions of the Bill. In particular, the Select Committee was keen to see clarification of the regulations governing foundation bodies and that the definition of "school lunch" should appear on the face of the Bill. It wanted the power in Clause 84(8) to determine or vary admission arrangements to be drawn more precisely. Again, the Government will respond positively to all those recommendations and, where possible, we shall bring forward amendments in Committee rather than delaying them until Report. However, there may be a few cases where, because of the legal complexities involved, it will be necessary to table amendments on Report. I hope that that helpfully answers the noble Lord's question.

Lord Baker of Dorking

The noble Baroness was very frank at the beginning of her last intervention when she said that the clause was a Labour Party manifesto commitment and that it should therefore be implemented. In fact, if one considers carefully the Labour Party's policy before the election, one sees that this is its one specific declaration. The rest of the Labour Party's education policy amounted to the clever use of adjectives—but I believe that we have a government of adjectives. This is a specific commitment and it is therefore appropriate that it should be part of Clause 1 of the Bill. To the extent that it is a commitment, it should be on the face of the Bill.

However, I hope that the Minister realises the complexities and difficulties of implementing such a policy, which were mentioned by a noble Lord opposite. A class of 29 can swell to a class of 32 because of the influx of gypsy or travelling children or simply because new families have moved into the district. The school will then get an extra teacher. However, the situation could be reversed and the class may decrease to 28. It will then have to go back to having one teacher.

This is a random way of spending £120 million. I only hope that, as the debates proceed and the regulations become more specific, the Minister will indicate exactly how the provisions will work in practice. I suspect that such things are best left to local management of schools. It may well be that when a class temporarily increases to more than 30 children, the money could be better spent in another way rather than on an extra teacher. Only the school will know. A school may be situated in a rural area or in a difficult inner-city area. Even if we are talking about a manifesto commitment, it will be very difficult in practice for schools to operate within such a strait-jacket.

Baroness Blatch

I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Baker. I tabled the amendment because, given that the Labour Party had made such a specific promise, I thought that such a provision should appear unequivocally on the face of the Bill. I believe that local schools would like to be able to decide their own priorities. I agree with the Minister that, by and large, schools will welcome the thrust towards smaller classes in this age group. However, I want the Minister to know that delivering this policy will result in real pain. The 31st or 32nd child in a class will be bussed out of the village in which he or she lives and away from the school attended by brothers and sisters. Is the Minister saying that siblings will be protected, along with denominational preference and parental preference, and that no child will have to go to a school that is poorer in terms of performance standards than that in his or her locality?

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dormand; I took down his words precisely. He said, "Some of the problems being raised now simply cannot be met". That is right. The Minister will find that this is a blank cheque because capital moneys have been promised as well as moneys for teachers. Those of us who have been in local government know that, down the line, that means pre-empted local government moneys, irrespective of their priorities as local education authorities or the priorities of the schools themselves.

Perhaps I may clear up a slight misunderstanding with the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. If a school thought that it made more economic sense to have a teacher-assistant for the 31st or 32nd child rather than a costly, fully qualified teacher, I would not want anybody to think that I was suggesting that the teacher-assistant should be the teacher of the 31st or 32nd child. I was simply saying that that person might assist in the classroom with the management of the 31 or 32 children. Where the parents want it, the governors are happy to accept it and the school is also happy to accept it, that makes economic and educational sense. In those circumstances there should be flexibility to accede to local preference. That is not allowed for in the legislation. When one is considering the interests of rural England, I believe that to be a great pity. It is disproportionately uneconomic to tie up one qualified teacher for possibly one or two children.

Lord Peston

I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. I realise that we want to get on to other business. We do not want to delay the Lord Privy Seal or the Leader of the Opposition. But for my sake can she just clarify this matter? Does she want "30" on the face of the Bill or not? I am sure that it would help my noble friend if she answered that she wants that number on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

I am looking for honesty and integrity as regards this policy. We would not put "30" on the face of the Bill. We would be doing what we can to free up as much money as possible and as taxation will allow in order to provide the local education authorities and the schools themselves with the money to determine local priorities. I have said to the Minister that I believe most primary and infant schools wish to re-emphasise the importance of spending that money on the lower age groups. Therefore, I put my trust in the schools and governors themselves, supported by the parents, in proposing that that is the best way to deal with the matter.

The Government display a rigidity which will be difficult to deliver in practice. As I said, we have heard early mutterings of concern from the Treasury because this is a kind of blank cheque. We shall come later as to how much of the policy can be met by savings from the assisted places scheme.

My noble friend Lady Seccombe raised a very important point. If the Government mean what they say and intend to put this provision on the face of the Bill, and if action were to be taken under the 1996 Act, then who would be the guilty partner? Would it be the school, the governors or the local education authority? If the school, the governors and the parents agreed to take the 31st child but one parent said—and the law says so—that she wanted her child educated in a class of 30, and if, as the noble Baroness suggested, action were to be taken under the 1996 Act, who is the guilty partner?

The noble Baroness said that she was discussing ways of giving effect to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I very much welcome that. I hope that I shall be able to welcome the next recommendation of that committee that the regulations which ensue will be through the affirmative resolution procedure. Perhaps I may ask one last question for clarification. Is the noble Baroness saying that in principle the ministerial decision is that "30" will be on the face of the Bill and that the discussions taking place are as to how that can be done and what the form of words will be, or is it the case that the Government are discussing with counsel whether it is appropriate to put that figure on the face of the Bill or keep it, as proposed at the moment, in regulations?

Baroness Blackstone

I shall answer the two questions that the noble Baroness has raised. I hope that she will then be able to withdraw her amendment and wait until we come forward with proposals. It is the Government's decision to accept the specific recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee on "30". As regards the specific question of what would happen if a school failed to obey the law in that respect, local education authorities will be responsible except in the case of voluntary-aided schools where the governors would be responsible. I hope that that answers the two questions asked by the noble Baroness. The only other point I wish to make is that I hope she does not believe what she reads in the newspapers about the views of the Treasury. That is pure speculation.

Baroness Blatch

On the basis that harmony has broken out in the Treasury and the Cabinet, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I beg to move that the House do now resume and that the Committee stage be adjourned until after the Statement.

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

House resumed.

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