§ 5.39 p.m.
§ House again in Committee on Clause 1.
§ Lord Northbourne
moved Amendment No. 3:Page 1, line 15, at end insert—("() In respect of any infant class, nursery class or reception class in any maintained school which includes one or more children under compulsory school age, the limits imposed by the Secretary of State under this section shall not exceed the limits from time to time established by regulations for the size of similar classes provided by the independent or voluntary sector.").The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 3 is a probing amendment. It is intended to clarify the Government's position on four year-olds in reception classes. It is widely held that the current policy for four year-olds in 522 reception classes places many vulnerable children at risk. I hope that the Government's intention in setting down Part I of the Bill includes the intention to use their delegated powers in such a way as to protect those children. However, on the face of the Bill there is no indication of that, and the noble Baroness at Second Reading did not give any indication of what policy is likely to be.
To give some idea of the scale of the problem, in 1997 there were 343,824 four year-olds in reception classes, representing 51 per cent. of all four year-olds. There are probably more than that today. It is quite an important group, yet there are no regulations whatever governing class size or teacher-pupil ratio for four year-olds. They seem to fall somewhere between the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment.
Perhaps I may remind Members of the Committee of the regulations in relation to other groups of four year-olds. These fall under regulations from the Department of Health depending upon the Children Act. In summary they require, for four year-olds in day care, a staff ratio of 1:8; in nursery schools, a staff ratio of 2:20, and in nursery classes, a staff ratio of 2:26. However, in the case of nursery schools and nursery classes the two adults have to be made up of a trained nursery teacher and a trained and qualified nursery nurse. Why is it that in a reception class we can have 35 four year-olds with one teacher? It is a ridiculous anomaly. It has to be said that the Department of Health in its guidelines, while it does not feel itself able to lay down what should be done in reception classes, does say:Local education authorities and schools should determine what staffing levels may be appropriate in particular cases".It also states:Studies by HM Inspectorate have shown that the provision made for those who are younger than 4 years 9 months has not always fitted their needs".In another section it says:For three and four year-olds research suggests an upper limit of 6–8 for peer group size [is best] to optimise peer interaction".What has been happening in practice? Why is this so important? The answer is that primary schools across the country for some reason, possibly financial, have been "hoovering up" four year-olds into their reception classes and very often numbers are reaching well over 30. This may be good for the schools' finances but it certainly is not good for any of those children who are vulnerable. It will be agreed, I am sure, that a child's success in integrating into school and benefiting from education is dependent upon the child having the necessary confidence, emotional maturity and social skills to cope when he or she arrives at school.
A four year-old from a stable, loving, supportive family who has gained self-confidence in the early years, a child who has learnt to play with other children, may be able to cope with a class of 35 children. By contrast, for a child who is just four, who has had little or no encouragement or socialisation, who lacks self-confidence, and who is often from a family suffering multiple disadvantage, to be plunged into a 523 class of 35 children, most of them older than himself, is a terrifying and traumatising experience. It can cause that child to hate and reject the school. Indeed, that very often is the case. Those children, as the noble Baroness said earlier, may well go on to violence, disruption, truancy and exclusion, and end their schooling functionally illiterate.
I hope that the amendment will enable the noble Baroness to give the Committee an assurance that the regulations which the Secretary of State will issue under this part of the Bill will ensure that four year-olds in reception classes have the benefit of class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios at least as favourable as those which, rightly in my view, are required from the private and voluntary sectors and for maintained nursery schools. I beg to move.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Maddock
I rise to support the noble Lord in raising this very important issue. I was somewhat disappointed that the Government did not take the opportunity in the Bill to clarify the whole area of the ratio of teacher or supervisor to young children. I hope that the noble Baroness can give us an inkling of the thinking of the Government on the issue.
Things have changed a lot in recent years. I think of my children; that is partly how I came to be involved in politics. I had to deal with all the bureaucracy of playgroups which I was helping to run. I look at what happened to my own children. They were fortunate enough to go to a playgroup; they were then able to go into their school at rising five—not actually as young as some children now—and have two or three days a week and then half-days for the whole term before going into school so that they could get used to the playground and to being in a big group. I fear that that does not happen so much today. The reason is partly because of what has happened in recent years, particularly the introduction of the nursery voucher scheme. There were difficulties. As the noble Lord said, schools were "hoovering up" four year-olds in some parts of the country because that was how they could get money into their schools. The noble Lord is absolutely right. That may have been in the interests of the schools, but it certainly was not in the interests of young people.
We have an opportunity today to look at proper provision for children from the time they go into nursery classes or into playgroups and to examine realistic, sensible and consistent ratios between those looking after the children and the children themselves. It clearly is a muddle and has become more so in recent years. I hope that the Minister will give us an inkling of how she sees this working out. It does not appear to me from the Bill that it is clear what will happen to these large classes of four year-olds. When someone just reaches the age of four they are very young and very vulnerable in a large school situation.
524 I return to the point. It is not just what happens in the classroom; it is all the other things that happen in school. The four year-old who enters the playground is a very small person in a big playground. I look forward to the response of the Minister.
§ Baroness David
I support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on this amendment. I am glad he said that it is a probing amendment. We want information. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. This all started with the nursery voucher scheme. The primary schools were anxious to get the extra money they badly needed—the £1,100—and therefore they were willing to increase class sizes to get children into the schools.
Many children are very vulnerable at that age. It is important that we know what the Government are thinking as to what is to be done about young children going into reception classes which are already probably too big and will have to be reduced. I look forward very much to hearing what my noble friend has to say.
§ Baroness Blatch
I had the privilege and, I would argue strongly, the pleasure of being the chairman of my local playgroup, serving approximately seven villages in my county of Cambridgeshire for eight years. Long before the voucher scheme was introduced, in the case of the local school, particularly in a county where there were falling rolls, or parts of a county where there were falling rolls, there was a tendency to take in four year-olds to bolster numbers in order to keep the teachers. For a long time, there has been pressure for four year-olds to go into those classes.
In principle I support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. As I suspect the Minister will say, the issue is more complex than that. The noble Baroness will be aware that I asked a number of questions about provision for under five year-olds. I believe that a review is taking place—I do not know whether it has reported yet—among the endless reviews being undertaken. It has always seemed to me deeply unfair that a playgroup was confined to having one adult for every eight children, and Montessori schools and private schools were equally restricted in the number of children they could have, yet the local school could take in children with no limit whatsoever on the maximum class size. For a long time there has been an unlevel playing field.
As we move towards the proposals and policies of the present Government, that problem is thrown into relief. The policy has begun to have an effect on playgroups. The pressures mean that the numbers of children in those playgroups will reduce even more quickly as the Government guarantee education for three year-olds. That was always an aspiration of the previous government. But as that happens, the playgroups are being exhorted to think about caring for children before the parents go to work in the morning and after they return in the evening. I have enormous respect for the playgroups organisation. But if we do not watch the situation carefully, it will be turned into a kind of babyminding service rather than an educational/play organisation. Where playgroups were good, they were very good and did a great deal to pave the way for 525 children moving into mainstream schools. Certainly the playgroup with which I was associated had an incredibly good relationship with the local primary school. Indeed, the headmistress or a member of the staff of the local primary school was always a member of our management committee. Therefore the relationship was a fruitful one.
Letters have gone out from the department to private nursery schools. Those bodies say that they cannot compete with the schools. The teacher/pupil ratio by which they have to abide under the rules is so great and uneconomic at the price the Government are offering in order to bring them into the scheme that they will be priced out of the market. I do not believe that it would be good for the country as a whole if playgroups, private nursery schools and, for example, Montessori schools found it impossible to continue. I understand that "top up" fees will be forbidden and that the Government will not accept those bodies into local government schemes if they levy a fee which is greater than that agreed by the local authority. That is a straitjacket that will seriously disadvantage them.
I come back to the principle of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Many four year-olds are inappropriately accommodated in reception classes in schools. They are not ready for that. But sometimes it is about numbers. The phenomenon goes back long before the voucher scheme. It has been a feature of rural communities for a long time.
§ Lord Whitty
The concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and others about the appropriateness of the treatment of children below school age are shared by the Government. It is an issue of which we are well aware. We share the concern about whether reception classes are the appropriate basis for four year-olds. While the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, may be right that there may be other pressures, it is also undoubtedly true, as my noble friend Lady David and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, indicated, that the nursery voucher scheme had the effect in some areas of encouraging LEAs and their schools to cram as many four year-olds as possible into their reception classes. We are anxious to reverse that trend.
In the Government's consideration of the early years development plans for 1998–99, we would have rejected any plan which proposed to meet our target by providing a free place for all four year-olds simply by increasing reception class intakes. We have also asked all authorities for details of the specific support their schools will provide for the younger four year-olds in reception classes.
The noble Baroness referred to a review. We have recently issued a consultation paper on the regulation of early education and childcare which addresses issues at the nursery stage such as staff ratios. Indeed, it specifically highlights our intention to review adult/child ratios for three to five year-olds in all the different settings in which they are currently taken into the system.
526 As noble Lords have said, it is a hugely complex issue. The current arrangements are diverse. Therefore the consultation is an open consultation. A copy of the consultation document was placed in the Library of the House when the consultation began last month. The consultation period will last until July. That is our present position on nursery classes and the admission of four year-olds to reception classes.
The noble Lord's amendment, by implication, raises the issue to which the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, also referred: whether the presence of one child under the compulsory school age in an infant class would mean that the class is subject possibly to two different regulatory limits. I refer either to an infant class size limit as in the proposed legislation, which would state the maximum number of pupils to be taught by one teacher irrespective of the presence of support staff; or the maximum adult/child ratio for classes containing pupils below compulsory school age, which is the situation so far as concerns nursery school guidance.
We shall need to consider how best to address the issue in the light of the responses to the consultation to which I have referred on the regulation of early education and day care and on the draft guidance on class size policy. Since the noble Baroness raised the issue of playgroups, perhaps I may say that part of that consultation will include the role of playgroups and other forms of private provision in the early education plans.
I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord recognises that this consultation period addresses the issue that he raised and that in the light of that he will withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Blatch
Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. Referring to cramming four year-olds into reception classes, he said—I took down the words—that it is the Government's plan to reverse that trend. Where do they intend sending those four year-olds?
§ Lord Whitty
We hope to improve both the quality and range of nursery provision. Some of the children to which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred do not fall within this category because they are effectively rising fives. But we hope that the outcome of our consultation on the nursery age provision will lead to more effective provision outside the infant school reception class.
We all appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has gone into some detail on the matter. I support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. He raised another important issue about four year-olds in mainstream schools. My understanding is that a rising five is defined as a child who will be five in the first term of his arrival at school. That is very different from the child who has just turned four, who really is very small. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, explained that there is consultation on this matter. But it is yet another part of the Bill which is very unclear.
527 I am surprised that the noble Lord needs to consult about the adult/child ratio. Why should not the regulations laid down for private organisations be exactly the same for public organisations? If they are not good enough for private schools they should be improved, and improved now, or we are left with the feeling that the children in maintained schools are unquestionably worse off because the same regulations do not apply. This inequality of treatment in this regard is a serious issue. Almost the most important thing with tiny children is the adult-child ratio. They require considerably more help, even than five year-olds.
Although I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, recognises that there is a problem, I am bound to say to him that it would be helpful to know whether he expects this matter to be resolved in the form of the result of the consultation before the Bill completes its passage through this place.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
The consultation period will not necessarily be complete in terms of the Government's assessment of it in time for this Bill. Indeed, it does not relate to the guidance covered by this clause, which relates to infant classes and their size.
The noble Baroness is right. There is differential treatment as between the private and public sectors. One aspect of the consultation will examine what is appropriate for the different forms of provision. But that does not affect the position in relation to this clause. I have said that the presence of the younger four year-olds to whom the noble Baroness refers will not prejudice the attainment of the targets for infant class sizes.
The problem raised by the noble Lord is being dealt with differently through this consultation period, which will, it is to be hoped, lead to some change in the guidance relating to pre-school provision—
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
Before the noble Lord sits down, do his remarks mean that we could find ourselves in a situation whereby children of statutory school age are in classes of limited numbers—I shall not enter into the argument as to whether the figure 30 should be on the face of the Bill, but I refer to a limitation on the number in the class—whereas younger children, because they are not statutorily a part of the education process, can be in much larger classes?
§ Lord Whitty
No, that is not the intention; nor is it the reality. At present, private sector pre-school provision is subject to regulation, and the public sector is subject to fairly firm guidance. There is no intention of relaxing that as a result of these regulations.
§ Baroness Blatch
I can tell the Committee that that is far from the practice in the field. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, as he shares the education portfolio on the Front Bench, ought to get out there and see that there is a vast difference between the restrictions on private playschool provision and what in fact happens in reception classes, where four year-olds frequently reside in schools.
528 Perhaps I may tempt the noble Lord, who hints at being empathetic and sympathetic to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. There seems to be agreement across the Committee that whatever the outcome of the review—I would not put numbers on it—and whatever the adult-child ratio is for one part of the sector for under-fives, that should pertain throughout, whether public or private. If the noble Lord can give acceptance to that idea, perhaps we can bring forward an amendment to set it down on the face of the Bill that equal treatment should be meted out to under-fives, whether in public or private provision.
§ Lord Whitty
No doubt the noble Baroness will consider whether she wishes to bring forward amendments to the Bill. However, this clause is not the appropriate point for such an amendment. I am not in a position to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation. The view may well be that differential arrangements are appropriate. I accept the noble Baroness's point that there are differing problems in different parts of pre-school provision. Clearly, that will form part of the consultation in which we are engaged with all groups—public, private, parents, local education authorities, health departments and so on. I do not wish today to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation. The noble Baroness is correct in saying that I have some sympathy with the point that lies behind the noble Lord's amendment.
§ Lord Northbourne
I am grateful to the Minister for being helpful. We have not by any means got there yet. I wish to make one point before withdrawing the amendment at this stage; namely, that the definition of "infant class" in the Bill is,a class containing pupils the majority of whom will attain the age of five, six or seven during the course of the school year".It therefore excludes all younger children.
If we are to have any kind of coherent, seamless policy, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment will have to get their heads together. I hope that they are both participating in the consultation. I shall withdraw the amendment at this stage so that I can look at the consultation and discuss it with colleagues. I may or may not wish to bring the amendment back in another form. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Byford
moved Amendment No. 4:Page 1, line 21, at end insert—("(c) provide that schools are separately reimbursed for any capital costs of complying with provision made under this section.").The noble Baroness said: I notified the noble Baroness the Minister that I shall move the amendments on behalf of my noble friend Lord Lucas, who apologises for not being able to be present today. Most are probing amendments. His Amendment No. 4 refers particularly to the capital costs of complying with provision for schools under this section.
529 The noble Lord wished to ask the Minister whether she is able to confirm that this amendment is unnecessary because schools will be fully funded for any improvements that they need to make and will not be expected to dip into their existing budget.
Earlier in the debate today she said with regard to this point that the cost would be met. However, at that stage we were not discussing capital costs. This amendment refers in particular to the capital costs—in other words, extra classrooms, extra buildings. Will the Minister tell the Committee who will be responsible for that extra cost? Will it be fully met by the Government, or will LEAs also be involved in the capital cost? I hope that that is indeed the suggestion that the noble Lord would have put to the Minister. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Maddock
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 21 in this group. I shall also refer to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness.
Amendment No. 21 is also a probing amendment. Its purpose is to encourage the Minister to make a commitment that the money made available from the abolition of the assisted places scheme will be transferred to the revenue support grant by September 2001. That is the date by which the Government have said their pledge on class sizes will be honoured.
In another place the Minister explained that the funding for the reduction in infant class sizes would eventually be distributed through normal grant mechanisms. However, there was no undertaking as to when that would happen. We seek to press the Government to commit themselves to a timetable for the policies that they have pledged themselves to introduce. That should not present a difficulty for them, unless in their hearts they fear that the Treasury may not be able to stump up the money that is required at a later date. We support the Government in this matter. I hope that they will realise that we are trying to be helpful to them in ensuring that the Treasury enables them to take forward their commitments.
I now turn to Amendment No. 4. Behind this amendment is another important issue; namely, space standards. The amendment relates to capital costs. However, in carrying out the reduction in class sizes, those classes will require somewhere to go. I know that the Government, like ourselves, were against the reduction in space standards under the previous government. I have experience of being a governor in a first school and I know how important space is if a large number of special needs children enter mainstream schools. Furthermore, modern teaching methods have seen the introduction of a lot more equipment for information technology. The ability to take small groups aside and help those who are failing, particularly in reading, requires space. Yet under the previous government we saw a reduction in space standards. I had hoped that this was one of the areas that this Government would reverse. Government Ministers, when in Opposition, heavily attacked the previous administration on the reduction in space standards. I therefore hope that today the Minister will give us 530 some hope that the Government recognise the problem and can assure us that capital will be available to ensure that children have not only enough teachers, but enough space in which the teaching can be done.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I have not previously joined in the discussion on the Bill. I was unavoidably prevented from speaking on Second Reading and I could not be here to discuss class sizes, which I very much hoped to do because there is a good deal of experience on that subject in Scotland.
On this point, I emphasise that we are not talking about sweeties; very large sums of money are likely to be incurred if extra classes have to be put in. I notice from a brief which the Local Government Association kindly sent me that it is anxious about how the Government intend the finance to be fed to the schools. This matters to it very much. The Government will incur huge expense, the amount of which is unknown, if they meet the whole of their aspirations on the reduction of class sizes to 30. It is a very good aspiration, which no one could possibly oppose, but it is important to know how it will be achieved and how the money will be found. I hope that the Minister has a clear idea of how the capital cost will be met so that the schools may have confidence in the Government being able to back them in what they are trying to do.
§ Baroness Blatch
This is another practical example of how implementing the policy will cause local education authorities some heartache. It seems to us that the matter needs to be unequivocal, either on the face of the Bill or in Hansard using the Pepper v. Hart reference system. Where a capital cost is incurred which is directly related to the class-size pledge, if the Government do not meet it pound for pound, local authorities' priorities will be pre-empted because they will have to meet the cost. They will have no choice but to do so because it will be the law; the letter of the law will have to be met by local education authorities.
We have already heard that the Government can take action under the Education Act 1996. If that is the case, local education authorities will have no option. Where they are expected to meet a capital cost, if it is not reimbursed, their own moneys will be pre-empted. In many instances LEAs may have very different priorities, concerned with health and safety, for example. Their capital moneys under any government will always be limited. This becomes yet another way of pre-empting what local authorities want to spend and their ability to determine their own priorities. I believe it essential that there should be an unequivocal promise that where capital expenditure is incurred as a result of meeting this clear-cut class-size pledge—it is not an obscure policy; one can see it and measure it—the local authority should be reimbursed and the reimbursement should be at the time the local authority requires the money. Local authorities do not have the ability to put money up front in the hope that, through a bidding system, it may or may not come on-stream at some other time, as the case may be.
§ Baroness Platt of Writtle
I support my noble friend on the Front Bench. It seems to me that the detail of the 531 Bill has not been thought out. My noble friend Lord Baker talked about travellers' children. We all know that at some times, perhaps during the pea-picking season, travellers will come into a village, stay for six to eight weeks and then go. What does that mean in terms of capital costs for extra classrooms? There would not even be time to put in demountable classrooms. I cannot see how this will work. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell me.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My understanding was that we were also to debate Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 in this group. So far only Amendments Nos. 4 and 21 have been spoken to. All these amendments are about funding. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, would like to say a word about those two amendments before I respond to the whole group.
§ Baroness Byford
I apologise and thank the noble Lord the Minister for allowing me to come back. With regard to Amendments Nos. 19 and 20, my noble friend Lord Lucas would like to ask the Minister what kind of conditions he has in mind. With regard to Amendment No. 20, he would like to know what the Minister intends should be the scope of these powers.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for making that clear. The four amendments are linked and it is easier for me, if not for the Committee, to deal with them together.
Perhaps I may first respond to Amendment No. 4 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I hope to persuade the noble Baroness that the amendment is unnecessary. It would give the Secretary of State the power to reimburse capital costs which schools may incur in complying with limits on class sizes, but it would not place a duty on him to do so. Clause 1(3) above the new paragraph (c), which is introduced, says "may" rather than "shall".
I am pleased to be able to confirm to the noble Baroness that the Secretary of State already has such a power. Indeed, as I shall say to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, with regard to Amendment No. 21, he has already announced that we are making available £40 million in this financial year for the cost of the extra classrooms needed to accommodate more, smaller infant classes. This refers to the issue of space. I shall be able to give the noble Baroness an assurance on that point. Local education authorities have to submit applications by the end of this week, and the allocations will be announced in due course.
I can understand that some noble Lords may feel that schools require reassurance that the Government will provide enough capital funding to cover the costs they may incur. Clause 1(4) places a duty upon governing bodies, and also upon LEAs, to exercise their functions with a view to ensuring that limits on class sizes are met. Governors would not wish to be faced with such a duty if they did not have the financial support to exercise their functions as required.
532 I can give this reassurance. We shall provide the legislation and the funding and we shall expect them to exercise their functions so as to comply with class-size limits. Let me be absolutely precise to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. We shall provide the necessary capital resources to enable all LEAs to accommodate infants in classes of 30 or fewer. I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that we could not he more precise than that. We are confident that LEAs will do so, as they know that this policy has the support of parents. Infant classes in all schools will contain no more than 30 pupils from September 2001 at the latest.
Amendment No. 4 would not require the Secretary of State to do any more than he is already able to do. I hope that that reassurance will persuade the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we have no intention of placing duties upon governing bodies and then denying them the resources to fulfil those duties.
I should like to cover Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 together as they relate to the same issue. Again, I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness that we have no intention to place anything other than the relevant conditions upon the payment of grant. Under Clause 3(1), as presently drafted, the Secretary of State would not have the power to impose unreasonable conditions—he could be subject to judicial review if he did so—or conditions which bore no relation to the implementation of class-size limits.
Perhaps I may illustrate this point by reference to the draft regulations, which are in the Library of the House. We propose four conditions. First, the approval of the LEA's statement by the Secretary of State; secondly, the provision of such information as may be requested annually by the Secretary of State; thirdly, the provision of evidence of how funds have been spent in line with the arrangements set out in the statement: and, fourthly, compliance with arrangements set out in the approved statements to limit class sizes.
The Secretary of State also needs a power to impose requirements of an administrative nature such as, for example, requiring the repayment of grant if it is not used for the proper purpose. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not wish to prevent the Secretary of State imposing requirements designed to ensure that grants paid were properly accounted for and were used for the intended purpose.
If Members of the Committee have suggestions about the conditions I have read out, we shall, of course, be happy to consider them; but questions of detail of that kind can perhaps best be dealt with when we consider the regulations that we shall be making under Clause 3.
I turn to Amendment No. 21 which concerns how we will supply funds to local authorities to enable them to reduce infant class sizes. The amendment calls for us to move away from specific grant and to use the revenue support grant mechanism by September 2001 at the latest. I understand the motivation behind the amendment and the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. But there are two reasons why we do not want to do it in that way.
533 The first reason involves ring-fencing and the effective targeting of resources. We want to make sure that the extra funds that we provide to reduce infant class sizes are used for that purpose only. Specific grants make it clear that the Government are using all the savings from phasing out the assisted places scheme for that purpose. That was an undertaking we made last year in the assisted places Act.
The second reason involves a flexibility in funding levels. The needs of each LEA will differ. They start from different points. They have different class sizes at the present time and will need to take into account different factors when reducing their infant class sizes. The formula used in education standard spending assessments—that is what would be used if the amendment were accepted—may not allow us to provide sufficient funding in the transitional years to LEAs with specific difficulties. It is precisely in those authorities where class sizes have risen most that we must make a difference if we are to achieve our pledge.
However, we keep an open mind on the longer-term approach to funding. We will have to continue to use specific grants at least until our target has been met and the three-year group of pupils are in classes of 30 or under. That will be the case in September 2001. After that, it will be a question of maintenance rather than change. It may possibly be more appropriate then to move to the revenue support grant mechanism. We do not need to decide that now and may in fact decide it in the next Parliament.
I hope on that basis that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will feel able to withdraw Amendment No. 4 and that other Members of the Committee will not feel it necessary to move subsequent amendments in the group.
§ Baroness Blatch
Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may make one further point. The noble Lord referred to a period of time when we will be dealing with maintenance rather than new build. But that does not happen automatically when one makes a pledge to have class numbers below 30, or any number. It does not work like that.
In some local authority areas demographic changes mean that rolls rise and fall considerably. Families move in and out of the area. In 60 per cent. of the country, the difference can be critical when a family moves in or out of an area. I know that over half a century in my village one or two families moving in or out of the village has made the difference between class numbers being above or below 30.
I do not believe that we will ever reach the stage of pure maintenance, though we may get to the stage of over-provision in some areas and serious under-provision in others. Once that situation is made permanent, the local authority faces a serious problem. It is left with the cost of maintaining a situation in the face of pressures in other parts of the authority area. That is why I say again that it is a decision best taken at local level, where the local authority can make real 534 judgments about where to penny pinch and where it would choose to spend its money, given the ability to choose its priorities for spending capital.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I believe that we have an entirely benign misunderstanding. I did not say maintenance as opposed to new build. I was saying that the extra effort which will be required to bring down all class sizes to 30 will be at an end.
The noble Baroness is right to say that in both local areas and nationally there will be demographic changes which will affect the demand for places in infant schools. As she said, that has always been the case. There are movements of population; there are demographic changes in fertility, childbirth and so forth, all of which mean that local authorities will have to plan for changes after the initial push, so to speak, has been completed.
The noble Baroness is right also to say that local education authorities have the responsibility of planning for change. The difference will be that they will have to plan for it in future on the basis that they cannot allow class sizes to rise above 30. In all the rest of what the noble Baroness says in relation to future changes, she is entirely right.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
Did the Minister say that the Government would put in £45 million initially for the "push", for expenditure on classrooms?
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
Obviously the Government have done some costing, even if it is only speculative costing. Can the Minister say how many new classrooms they expect to get throughout the country for £40 million?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
The figure of £40 million is for this financial year only. It is intended to respond to applications from local authorities. As we are talking about a three-year programme of reduction in class sizes, it is not appropriate for me to do other than say that, on the basis of the applications and the way in which the £40 million is spent. we will have a clearer picture in terms of pounds per place or pounds per school. On that basis, capital allocations will be made for future years in order to achieve our objective.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his careful explanation of the position in relation to the money. He clearly set out how local authorities, for this financial year, will have to make their bids by the end of this week. That seems to be a rather short period of time, though they have probably been thinking about it for a while.
At any rate, the local authority has to think for the year ahead. I too have been in local 535 government and recall clearly the immensely complicated problems which arose unexpectedly from the building of a new estate and the consequent "bulge". Vast numbers of young families with young children move in and then they move on. A huge demographic change takes place.
I am anxious that in a matter as full of variables as this is (as the Minister admitted) with population growth, changing fertility rates, movements of population, with people moving from north to south and so forth, quite apart from the points made in relation to the movement of people for fruit picking and so on—which results in a local problem when numbers of children suddenly move into a school—if the local authority finds itself suddenly with classes of more than 30 it will be breaking the law. It is therefore an extremely serious issue. It is not a simple debating point. No doubt local government accounting officers and their lawyers will be quick to point out the difficulties should local authorities find themselves in that situation.
I make these points because, when the regulations come to be issued—when we shall see how all this works—a degree of flexibility will be required. I do not see how it can work and how we can guarantee that, from Land's End to John o'Groats, there will not be a single class with more than 30 children among the five, six and seven year-olds, desirable though that may be. Though it is extremely helpful to hear that £40 million will be available for building classrooms and for the extra teachers, the fact that it is difficult to predict movements of population by anybody who has ever tried to do it, means that the regulations will need to include some measure of flexibility as a recognition of the reality of the situation.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
Before the Minister finally concludes on this matter, perhaps he can answer a concern which I am beginning to develop. This is a difficult area for all the reasons that have been outlined. If we give a school or an LEA a responsibility to meet the target of 30 there is the problem of how to arrange the finance. For various reasons schools and LEAs get caught with sudden movements of population. I come from an area where we are used to having to plan for enormous and rapid changes in school population. We can plan the fluctuations up and we can plan them down again and life is very interesting in those circumstances.
Let us suppose that we have a hypothetical school—I know one should not deal with hypothetical situations—and that school finds itself in breach of the law. We are handing parents the right to take that school, or the LEA, or possibly the Secretary of State, to court for being in breach of the law. I am not sure what happens at that point. Is there a penalty? If so, what is it? If there is no penalty, what is the point?
I am absolutely clear that the intention is wholly benign and the intention is to get class sizes down to a particular target. None of us has any difficulty with that. 536 I am dealing with the practical implications of having a school that is temporarily outwith the law. What happens at that point?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I did not achieve the seniority in local education of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, or the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, but I have been a councillor in a local education authority and I and the Government are well aware of the valid points about the difficulty of making provision when there are variables in numbers and in location of pupils. That has been the case ever since public education first existed. Nothing has changed and nothing will change.
We are adding to the list of legal obligations which have always existed for local education authorities. They have always had duties to provide education. Many of those duties were taken away or reduced by the previous government who did not much like local education authorities. But we like education authorities, and we intend to give them the responsibilities and the resources to deal with those responsibilities.
We are not going to make exceptions. We are saying that it is educationally desirable—all the experts agree—that those aged five, six and seven should be taught in classes of not more than 30. That has been shown to have an effect right the way through the school career and throughout life. We are imposing this as one extra obligation on local education authorities and we shall provide the resources both of revenue and capital to deal with it. I cannot see what the Committee can object to in that.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
I am not objecting at all. When we get to 2001 the law will say that an LEA shall comply with this provision. I have no problems with that. I have no problems with the ambition. I have one or two worries about the provision of resources. What happens to the LEA or the school which, for a particular reason, finds itself in breach of the law at that point? If the Minister will forgive me, that is a point he did not answer.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I know my noble friend Lady Blackstone wishes to come back, but may I respond to that particular point? My noble friend has already answered that point. The Secretary of State could issue a direction to the school or the LEA under Section 497 of the Education Act 1996 and, if necessary, get a court order to enforce it.
§ Baroness Blatch
I support my noble friend in saying that we are not objecting. We are rather wide-eyed. We welcome the fact that the Government, on this single policy alone, says that it will be imposed. It will be inflexible; it will be met. Any expenditure whatever resulting from the application of the policy will be met pound for pound. The Minister has made that absolutely clear.
It has also been made clear in the guidance that there will be no inhibition of parental preference; no inhibition of denominational choice; and no inhibition of sending a child an unreasonable distance to another school. It shall not have the effect of sending a child to 537 a school which has a poor reputation and it shall not, at any time, inhibit enlarging classes anywhere else in the education system. In other words, the money will not disadvantage any other part of the education system.
That is manna from heaven for local authorities. They will welcome the statement. It is so unequivocal that it is my view that it should be on the face of the Bill. We shall bring forward amendments to that effect. The Government have absolutely nothing to fear because the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has been so clear and so unequivocal. There can be no doubt whatever. Local authorities have had the benefit of hearing what the Government have to say today on the matter.
§ Baroness Byford
I thank the Committee for participating in this debate on Amendment No. 4, with which we have considered Amendments Nos. 19 and 20. I wish to take up a point raised earlier with regard to the movement of children. My noble friend Lady Platt, who is not in her place at the moment, referred to children in villages whose parents have seasonable occupations. The concern arises also in inner cities where even within a term one can see many children moving in and out of schools because their parents, for whatever reason, are moved. When does the figure of 30 apply? Does it apply at the beginning of the term or during the term? I am concerned about the implications.
My noble friend Lady Blatch said that we are not objecting to the suggestions mooted in this part of the Bill. We are, however, pointing out the practical implications. I am grateful to the Minister for so clearly stating that the money will be there and that it will happen.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, although my noble friend Lord Lucas may wish to return to it at a later stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Tope
moved Amendment No. 5:Page 2, leave out lines 3 and 4 and insert ("shall be obliged, subject to circumstances specified in regulations under this section, to secure that that limit is complied with in relation to that class.").The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak to Amendment No. 6 and my noble friend Lady Maddock will speak to Amendment No. 22.
The effect of Amendment No. 5 is to make clear that LEAs and governing bodies are under a statutory duty to comply with class size limits, subject to tightly-defined exceptions set out in regulations. That would make it easier for the Secretary of State to use his powers contained in the Education Act 1996 to direct governing bodies to comply with those limits.
The purpose of the amendment is to probe the wording in the Bill which simply says that LEAs and governing bodies,shall exercise their functions with a view to securing that that limit is complied with".I wish to press the Government on what they mean by "with a view to securing". I am sure that most schools—probably all schools—would wish to comply with the class size but there are 13,000 schools with infant 538 classes. It is a near certainty that some of them, at some stage, are going to feel either that they cannot achieve it, for some of the reasons we have been talking about, or that they have other priorities. Will it be a sufficient defence for them to say, "We have tried to do so; we have acted in accordance with the Act in trying to comply, but we cannot do so"—or even, "but we don't want to do so"?
I am probing what the words "with a view to" mean. Do they mean, "You must do it" or "You must try to do it and you must demonstrate that you have tried?" There is an important difference. Given that 13,000 schools will be in that position, it is inevitable that, sooner or later, one, or probably more, will test that. The effect of the amendment, if passed, would be to make it clear that that is a statutory obligation.
I understood from an earlier answer from the Minister that the body responsible for non-compliance is the local education authority, although I thought I heard just now that the body responsible is to be the local education authority and/or the governing body. I should like to probe that a little more and here I speak as the leader of a local education authority, at least for another two days, and subject then to the will of the people. An LEA has no local leverage to require a governing body to meet the pledge. Having to be responsible for non-compliance is a bit hard if you cannot do anything to bring about the compliance. The amendment would deal with that problem.
I turn now to Amendment No. 6. At Second Reading and on many other occasions, I have made it clear that my party would have wished to extend the reduction in class sizes to all primary classes. I do not intend to return to that point specifically in this Bill except to reiterate that that remains our policy. We accept that if priorities have to be chosen, it is right to start with infant classes. Therefore, we fully support the policy that will be enacted under this Bill.
However, we remain concerned about the possible effect on junior classes and about what may happen if reducing infant class sizes has a deleterious effect on junior classes by increasing their size. When the Bill was being discussed in another place, the Government made it clear that they would not expect schools to accommodate the pledge on class sizes for infants by increasing class sizes at key stage 2. I am sure that they would not expect that—none of us would—but that may well be the effect. We are anxious to discover what the Government will do if that should come about. What will they do when they see education authorities' development plans which appear to have that effect? How serious are they in their intent? Do they still intend to fund plans which could have the effect of disadvantaging seven to 11 year-olds?
I happen to be a governor of a junior school. It is physically separate from its infant school, but I know that this is a matter of concern there. We need to know from the Government how serious they are about 539 these proposals. I leave my noble friend Lady Maddock to speak to Amendment No. 22, and I beg to move Amendment No. 5.
§ Baroness Maddock
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 22, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tope. This amendment goes a little further than did my noble friend in his other two amendments. It seeks before the next general election to extend the Government's policy on reducing infant class sizes to all children from the age of five to the age of 11. It assumes that by the beginning of the financial year 2000–01. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, will have reached the end of his commitment to stick to Tory spending plans.
In another place the Minister responsible for school standards, Stephen Byers, said, at col. 79 of Commons Hansard:Obviously, as the class size pledge rolls on year by year, it will benefit seven, eight, nine and ten year olds. This will he a clear consequence … We do not intend to deliver it for key stage 2 children by way of regulation. Those who know how schools operate will be conscious of the practical consequences of introducing a class limit of 30 for five, six and seven year olds".It is for precisely that reason that we have tabled Amendment No. 22.
If one establishes a reception class of below 30, it is naÏve and simplistic to expect that group to stay intact as it moves up the junior part of the school. That is an over-optimistic view. We know that when schools are strapped for cash they will make different arrangements. They will be required by law to limit the size of their infant classes. We heard explicitly this afternoon about how the law will bite. However, if schools make different arrangements because of cash difficulties, other children may suffer, irrespective of the assurances we have been given to the contrary. We believe that such assurances must be backed by cash. We do not think that it is unreasonable to ask that priority should be given to improving education by extending the policy to pupils at key stage 2.
I hope that the Government will agree with us in principle. They may find it difficult, with the footsteps of the Treasury behind them, to commit themselves to it, but I hope that they will agree with the principle. Before the general election, their cry was, "Education, education, education". We, as a party, were also committed to education. Therefore, I hope that the Government will agree with us. Indeed, they seem to be in a fairly good financial position at the moment. The Treasury coffers are doing much better than anticipated, so I can see no reason why the Government cannot make some commitment. I hope that they will look favourably on this proposal. It is a little pie-in-the-sky to think that one can insist on infant classes of fewer than 30 children, but fund only that part and that there will be no effect on the children subsequently.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hardy of Wath
I wonder whether the noble Baroness can explain where the extra money will come from. For two years and at the last general election the Liberal Democrats claimed that their party would 540 increase spending on education by the equivalent of one penny extra on income tax although the Government are already spending more. Where will the extra money come from? Clearly, we are going far further than her party promised at the last election.
§ Baroness Maddock
I am happy to respond to the noble Lord. His intervention reminds me of being in the other place. This is the way in which we used to debate matters there. There is a dispute about the figures. We as a party do not accept the noble Lord's figures. Indeed, in the other place and elsewhere we have vigorously expressed our disappointment about current spending on education. We believe that the Government have misled people. They are not spending as much as we would like on education.
§ Lord Whitty
We have some understanding of, and sympathy with, the reasons behind this group of amendments, but we do not believe they are necessary. The intention of the Bill is clear. We do not seek to finance the limitation on infant class sizes by a knock-on "deleterious"—I think that that was the word that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, used—effect on junior school classes.
Perhaps I may deal first with Amendment No. 5. At first sight, it seems an obvious amendment, seeking to place a duty on LEAs and governors to secure compliance with limits rather than just to exercise their duties so as to secure such compliance. I am sure that the amendment is intended to be helpful, but I hope that I shall be able to reassure the noble Lord that the present wording of Clause 1(4) already suffices. I should also record the fact that our own legal advice has been that the noble Lord's amendment might in practice weaken the duty on LEAs and governors to secure smaller infant classes. The amended text would constitute a duty on those bodies, but it would be one of many duties, and there would be no indication that that duty takes precedence over any others. I am sure that that was not the noble Lord's intention, so perhaps it is better if I explain why the present wording should suffice.
The Bill is drafted to require LEAs and governing bodies to perform all relevant functions under the Education Act with the objective of ensuring that class size limits are met. In response to the noble Lord's question about where the responsibility lies as between the governing bodies and the local education authorities, I advise him that each of the bodies concerned will have to perform all of their relevant functions so as to secure compliance with the class size limits. If the limits are not met then the responsibility will be with whichever of those two bodies was in breach of those duties. I reassure the noble Lord that each of those bodies will have to perform its relevant functions to secure compliance with those limits. When they both do so those limits will be achieved. Therefore that is an obligation and not a pious aspiration as, I believe, the noble Lord was hinting. In the light of that I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the present drafting makes that obligation clear and that his amendment, if anything, might weaken those obligations.
541 Amendments Nos. 6 and 22 are concerned with the size of junior or key stage 2 classes. The noble Baroness clearly wishes to ensure that the benefits of class limitation apply to key stage 2 pupils as well as to infants whereas the Bill clearly restricts its specification to limits for infant classes. However, the noble Lord's amendment is concerned simply that LEAs and schools may allow key stage 2 class sizes to rise in order to free funds and resources to pay for more infant teachers. I recognise the logic of that concern and in doing so I would not wish to suggest that we believe that there are grounds for LEAs to behave in that way and drawing resources from other areas of funding to meet the infant class size element. The Government are determined that that should not happen, but we believe that the amendment, as drafted, does not represent the best way of ensuring that it does not happen.
The Secretary of State's power to specify the information that will be required from local authorities in their initial statements, together with his power to approve or reject those statements, represents a sufficient safeguard. I am not sure whether the noble Lord has yet had an opportunity to consider the draft regulations and guidance that were issued for consultation on this issue last week. If Members of the Committee have not had such an opportunity, it is perhaps worth my drawing attention to a couple of the points in those documents.
In the information to be provided by LEAs we specify that their initial statements of their strategies to meet these objectives must contain measures that they are taking,to ensure that smaller infant classes are not delivered at the expense of key stage 2 classes".In paragraph 19 of the draft guidance we make the position abundantly clear to LEAs that,plans will not he approved that show reductions in infant class sizes being achieved at the cost of increases in key stage 2 class sizes arising from a transfer of funding from junior to infant classes".These documents are still in draft at this stage and I would obviously welcome any proposals for improving or strengthening the drafting. The difficulty with the amendments to the Bill as such lies in linking cause and effect at school level. It will be necessary to prove that a change in key stage 2 classes which were considered to be a disadvantage had arisen directly and solely from action to cut infant classes. In some cases I suppose that that would be obvious. It might be clear that if four junior classes of 30 were changed to three classes of 40, then it is pretty obvious that a transfer is taking place. But in many cases the link would not be so evident. We believe that the most effective way of ensuring that there is no risk of disadvantage to other age groups in the delivery of the infant class size pledge is through the initial approval of the statements produced by the LEA and then through the effective monitoring of the measures taken on the ground by the LEA and the school. I hope that the noble Lord accepts that that is our intention.
I shall now deal with Amendment No. 22. I wish to make it clear that our principal approach is that the Government are committed to providing higher 542 educational standards for all pupils. We have established a clear priority here in placing limitations on infant class sizes. That is why our pledge to the electorate was focused on this group. The intention of the Bill is to deliver that pledge. There is plenty of evidence that class size at that stage in the education process is the most significant. That is the point at which chances of educational success can so often be determined. Research shows that the benefits of having been taught in small classes early on can still be observed even where the children concerned were later taught in larger classes. Therefore, that seems to us to be the clear priority. The extra funds that we have provided for schools this year will help to maintain teacher numbers at all stages, but we are not convinced of the priority needs or case for imposing statutory limits on older year groups.
I turn to what the noble Baroness said and to the quotation from the Chancellor. While we have no plans to impose class size limits on junior classes, the progression of pupils through primary schools will, in time, mean that in practice most junior classes will contain 30 or fewer pupils. In typical one or two-form entry schools, children are likely to remain in their groups of 30 or fewer as they move through the school. In addition, junior schools and class sizes will benefit in the short term from the £835 million extra funds for schools in England that the Government have provided. In the longer term they will benefit from this automatic progression although I do accept that there will be situations where that does not apply because of particular complications in individual schools.
§ Baroness Blatch
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He has just said that as the numbers work through the schools the classes in junior schools will become smaller. If extra teachers are provided for five, six and seven year-olds, but not for eight, nine and 10 year-olds, how is it that that smaller progression goes all the way through the school? The year groups are the same: they do not simply drop off the end. If there are fewer teachers per child in year groups eight, nine and 10, then the smaller classes cannot be replicated lower down the school without the teachers.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
Perhaps I may add a further complication. There are primary schools which have two published admission numbers. There is one for five year-olds and another for eight year-olds. There will be a complication because additional pupils are coming in after key stage 1.
§ Lord Whitty
As regards that last point, clearly there will be some situations where there is no automaticity of class structures moving from the infant stage through to the junior stage. But in most situations there will be some congruence between the structure of infant classes and junior classes. As regards resources and the number of teachers, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred, we have already provided substantial additional resources which will benefit junior schools as well as infant classes. Given the priority of education I am sure that those priorities will continue without pre-empting 543 anything that my right honourable friend the Chancellor may say in future. Nevertheless, we have already provided substantial resources which will allow for improved teacher numbers and not just in those places where we are prescribing the class size.
Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that the priority must be on prescribing limits on infant class sizes rather than on reflecting it all through the junior school system. It is clearly our intention that all pupils will eventually benefit from that process. I also hope that the noble Lord will accept that the drafting as it stands meets his point rather better than the amendments he has tabled here. Therefore, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw them.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
The noble Lord has dealt with the scenario of a governing body meeting these commitments—that is to say, by possibly shifting resources from the junior to the infants. He has explained why he does not believe that that will happen. Another way in which governing bodies might attempt to meet this commitment is this. In a one-form entry school one would expect three classes in the infants consisting roughly of one class of five year-olds, one of six year-olds and one of seven year-olds. It would be perfectly possible to have a different structure which would consist of three equal forms each having within them, five year-olds, six year-olds and seven year-olds. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to that possibility earlier and also to the possibility that that might impose greater demands on a teacher.
If one followed that system then it would give more flexibility to a governing body. If one simply has classes with one age group, a six year-old arriving would have to be accommodated in that one class. If one had a vertical structure then one would have an option of three classes into which such a child might be placed which would give governing bodies a little more flexibility. Is that not one possible way in which some governing bodies might choose to give themselves just that little bit of leeway that they might need?
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
In general, the advice about the structuring of classes has been based on age cohorts, but obviously there are some schools, particularly those with a small intake in rural areas, where a different structure has been chosen and agreed by the school and the local education authority. It is conceivable that that situation may lead to a more flexible follow on into junior schools. However, I do not suggest that that is a general trend or something that we recommend beyond those areas where special circumstances apply.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
The noble Lord has raised an interesting point. In Scotland for many years the contractual agreement with the teaching profession is that there should be no more than 33 in any class in any school for pupils of any age. Where there is a mixed age group the limit is 25. The teaching profession regards it as being very much more difficult to teach a mixed age group class. I wonder whether the Minister really believes the brief that the noble Lord has just read 544 out. I am astonished, given my experience of what happens when there is an absolute limit on class sizes. I know that in one city not very far from where I live schools flatly refuse to admit anybody when that would bring the class size over 25 or 33, regardless of brothers or sisters, choice and all the rest of it. That is the only way in which they can make the system work. I do not believe that that is a good idea. What the Government intend to do is much better, but I do not believe that they have the slightest idea of the costs and complications of this.
§ Lord Whitty
I note the point just made by the noble Baroness. I suggest that because class limitations have applied in Scotland for some time Scottish local authorities and schools have managed to meet those criteria. We are trying to avoid the kind of situation just described by the noble Baroness in which an absolute limit takes no account of differing pressures and choices. That is intrinsic to our whole approach to this matter.
§ Lord Tope
When I moved this amendment I made clear that it was essentially a probing amendment. I had no intention of pressing the matter at this stage. As to Amendment No. 5, the Minister has received legal advice that it is better as drafted. I must take seriously that advice. I am not sure that I wholly understand it, but I certainly accept it tonight and will look at it further.
As to Amendments Nos. 6 and 22, I accept that it is not the Government's intention that this measure should have a deleterious effect on junior classes. My concern was to press the Government on how they intended to fulfil their intention. The Minister referred to the draft regulations issued last week. I confess that, given the London borough council elections on Thursday, I have not given a high priority to studying those draft regulations in the past week. Perhaps I shall have time to do so next week. I shall certainly look at them carefully. However, I remain concerned about how the Government will fulfil their intention, which I wholly accept is right, that this measure should not have an adverse effect on junior classes.
My noble friend may wish to comment further on Amendment No. 22. In moving this particular amendment we are attempting to help Ministers. We are on the side of the Government in this respect. It is well known that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have an enormous war chest by the turn of the century. We are trying to help Ministers ensure that they can secure a little more of that war chest to follow through this very good intention. We all accept that the priority to reduce infant class sizes is right, but those infants will grow older; they will turn into juniors given the period that we are considering here. I do not suggest that they will necessarily go straight from classes of 30 or fewer to classes of 40, but they will be going into larger classes. The Minister may well be right in saying that in some cases the lower class size will follow through, but the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is undoubtedly right that there will be occasions when that does not happen.
545 We seek to support Ministers in their endeavours rightly to persuade the Treasury that a larger proportion of the war chest should be used for the continued support of children up to and beyond the age of seven. I am sure that the Minister recognises that we are on his side in moving the amendment. If we return to this matter at a later stage, I am sure that he will equally welcome our intentions. However, at this stage, subject to what my noble friend may say, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Maddock
I very much welcome the view of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that something should be done about the older children in junior schools. I regret that he does not have the same commitment today to ensuring that that happens, although I understand very well that the Chancellor's footsteps follow the Minister's.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 6 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 7:Page 2, line 4, at end insert—("() Notwithstanding the provisions of any regulations made under subsections (1) and (3) above, the governing bodies of aided and foundation schools with a religious character shall be entitled to exercise discretion in admitting a child to an infant class where so to admit him would exceed any class size limits imposed under this section, provided that there is no school of the same religious character within reasonable distance of the child's home with the capacity so to admit him.").The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 7. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, much regrets that he is unable to attend the Committee today. At the opening of my remarks I make it quite clear that this is a probing amendment. In the course of the Committee stage we have already learned a great deal about the intentions of the Government in relation to maintained schools. I welcome this. I shall look very closely at Hansard. My amendment is concerned particularly with foundation and aided schools. In those cases another consideration comes into play. Parents who choose either a foundation or aided school for their child do so because they particularly want that type of education for their child. I believe that parental wishes in this regard are of the utmost importance.
At Second Reading we discussed what happened with the 31st child in the class. We have heard the Government's response to this matter in relation to maintained schools. But there are many Anglican and Catholic parents who would far rather have their children in somewhat larger classes in denominational schools than in smaller classes in maintained schools. I believe this to be a very important point.
It would be helpful to have from the Minister an answer to a number of points. I deal first with a point made clearly by my noble friend Lady Carnegy about the position in Scotland. There class sizes have been determined by statute. My noble friend has said that in that case authorities simply say that no one else is to be admitted because the class is full. What is the position in aided and foundation schools where the governors are 546 responsible for determining this matter? What is the freedom of choice for parents in those circumstances? What will happen if the governors wish to admit more? Will they be taken to court in these circumstances? Will the local education authority have the right over and above the school to determine how many pupils there should be? Referring to the £40 million that has been set aside for extra classrooms, what will be the contribution that Churches make to the capital cost of building in certain circumstances? Will they be expected to pay once again if it is necessary to provide an extra class, even supposing that the Government pay the full revenue costs of an extra teacher?
I do not pose these questions as debating points. They are very serious matters. I move the amendment because I have had drawn to my attention the considerable anxiety of a number of schools about how the whole policy will work.
It is infinitely easier to determine how the policy will work in maintained schools. However, in the case of aided and foundation schools it is infinitely more difficult and in many cases infinitely more important. It is important to consider the wishes of the parents and cases in which all the children of a family go to the same school. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify those points so that we might understand more fully how the policy will work in relation to such schools.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for moving the amendment, although I have some hesitations which I shall express in a moment. I understand that as a result of the policy there will be no reduction in the number of denominational places. If a class in an aided school has to be reduced from 35 to 30, the loss will be made up either by the provision of additional teachers or by the expansion of popular schools, many of which are Church schools.
I am also grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining clearly the point about capital costs contributions. Revenue costs are not met by the Churches, but a 15 per cent. capital cost must be met. If additional buildings were required under the legislation, would the cost have to be met by a 15 per cent. contribution from the Churches?
My hesitation about the amendment relates to the question of where one stops. The amendment gives no indication of whether 30 or 31 is to be the limit. Why should it not be 32? One is into a game of arbitrarily guessing the limit. That will put great pressure on governing bodies which are already powerfully lobbied over admissions. Indeed, I am lobbied by people who want their children to attend Church schools. If the amendment were passed, governors would be subject to immense pressure by parents who want their children to attend Church schools. That desire is not always as a result of denominational allegiance; parents choose Church schools for other reasons.
Perhaps I am reading too much into the amendment, but there is a possibility that it could be used to override the admissions criteria. I am looking at Amendment 547 No. 8 rather than Amendment No. 7. Under Amendment No. 8 three criteria are required. The first is the desire expressed by the parents. Many parents express a desire for Church schools. The second is the willingness of the admissions authority. It does not state that it must comply with the admissions criteria. The third is that no alternative place is available. If one goes down that route there is a possibility of putting immense pressure on governing bodies to override their admissions policies and a possible relaxing of admissions criteria to which governors strictly adhere.
While I sympathise with the concerns of the noble Baroness, I am not convinced that this way of handling them is an answer.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 10 are in the group and I shall address those when addressing Amendment No. 7. I do not share the right reverend Prelate's cynicism about the amendment—
§ Baroness Blatch
I detected a note of cynicism that parents will want; that simply, because they want, the pressure will be too great and therefore it should not be acceded to. There is one small addition to that. I am sure the Committee will find that parents do not want their children in classes of 35, 36, 37 and 40. Therefore, the policy will become self-regulating for the school and will strengthen the arm of the governors in setting the limit. After all, the governors are the servants of the parents; they are mediators between the school and parents.
I take the right reverend Prelate's point that many people are desirous of their children attending a Church school. Such schools are enormously popular, and for good reasons. However, if the governors and their parent body take an annual view that the class limit should not exceed 30—I have always thought that it should be the exception rather than the rule—we should trust the governors and the parents to reach that view.
I strongly support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Young and I turn to the amendments standing in my name. I wish to speak up for siblings and parental preference. I have carefully read the draft consultation document on reducing infant class sizes. It makes pleasant reading for parents of children in school. But can the Government really deliver the policy? Paragraphs 9, 10 and 11 present a wonderful contradiction. The Government believe that classes should not exceed 30. For many good reasons, that is a limit they wish to impose by law. However, they make an exception. Can the Committee believe that the exception is for a special needs child? The burden on a teacher will be greater if the 31st child is a disruptive pupil, a child with special educational needs or whatever. The school will be able to exceed the limit and receive a special educational needs child. Therefore, the burden on the teacher will be greater than if the child exceeding the limit were without such special needs.
548 The Government are making a serious contradiction by stating that schools can break the limit in circumstances which will make life even more difficult for the teacher. If ever there was an argument for special assistance for a classroom teacher it would be in the school which in the course of a year was directed to take a special educational needs statemented child into a classroom which already had 30 children, perhaps when other schools in the area did not have such a problem and were treated more generously. I do not know why the Government are prepared to make a single teacher available to the 31st child with no special educational needs but are not prepared to make available a teacher to the 31st or 32nd child who has special educational needs. Where is the logic in that? It simply does not add up. There is a real contradiction.
Paragraph 13 states that, while it is not possible to guarantee all parents that their child will gain a place in the school of their choice, the class size plans of local education authorities must not lead to a reduction in parental preference. Indeed, it goes on to say that they must enhance it. Therefore, it will be difficult to enhance preference in the more popular schools. It says that LEAs should plan on the basis of enhancing the exercise of parental preference wherever possible. That would mean that no children should have to travel unreasonable distances. Surplus places in poor schools should not be filled by keeping children out of schools that offer higher standards and a better quality of education. Before the Bill passes from this House, it is important that we receive from the Minister information as to what the Government consider to be a poor school.
Let us take the example of a parent who chooses a school and the child is rejected because it is the 31st child. The school down the road is not a poor school but it is a poorer school than the chosen school. Is that acceptable or unacceptable under paragraph 13(c)? Paragraph 13(c) states that,where extra places are needed, they should be created in popular, over-subscribed schools with high standards".There should be an open-door policy for all popular schools to be expanded and government will pay. That is based on Ofsted reports and value-added, where available. Paragraph 13(d) states that,the proportion of denominational provision for any denomination should not he reduced".Again, that means that any child who cannot find an alternative denominational school will be allowed to attend that school, irrespective of the numbers, but the teachers will be provided.
In the longer term it states that LEAs,should seek to increase the proportion of provision in popular, over-subscribed schools with high standards".Paragraph 14—and this is in bold type so the Government mean to emphasise the point—states that:The Secretary of State will not approve plans that do not demonstrate that the LEA has given due regard to the exercise of parental preference".As former local government member and member of the local education authority, I would say that that is an equation which simply does not add up. I do not believe that that kind of money is sitting there, waiting to fall 549 from the Treasury as pre-emptive money; that is, money which comes before money to be spent on high standards, teacher training, capital for crumbling schools or whatever it may be. The first priority, by 2001, is class sizes and whatever it costs, that cost will be met. That is what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said earlier. The local authorities will be pleased to hear that. But those local authorities which have additional expenditure in order to meet the costs incurred by crumbling schools, training of teachers and governors, or improving standards in many other ways will find, before they do anything else, that are hamstrung by this concrete and unequivocal pledge which must be met and paid for.
Of course, I have already mentioned—and it will not be the last time I mention it in the course of our deliberations—that the 31st child shall receive a qualified teacher if it falls into any of the categories in paragraphs 13(a) to (e). The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has, probably more clearly than anyone, set out that unequivocal promise. Therefore, there is no problem about these amendments. There is not a problem above protecting denominational preference or sibling preference, because that would be a parental preference. There is no problem in relation to my Amendment No. 10 which provides an exception where the majority of parents agree by a ballot—and I suggest a ballot could be used.
Amendment No. 11 takes me right back to where we started painfully at the beginning of the day; that is, that when these regulations come forward, they really must be dealt with by the affirmative resolution. I am reminded that that amendment has now been degrouped. I shall deal with it when we reach the appropriate point in the Marshalled List.
If we put together the answers from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the answers that we have had so far from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, we understand that other areas of education will not be disadvantaged; no higher class sizes for junior school children; and no denial of denominational or parental, and therefore sibling, preference. If that is all written on to the face of the Bill, parents will then be really reassured.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My noble friend Lady Young understood me to say that there is a statutory limitation on class sizes in Scotland. I do not think that I did say that. The limitation is made by the teaching profession through its contract. The limitation is 33 for class sizes right through the school, unless they are mixed groups when the limitation is 25. There is a lower limit in relation to practical subjects at secondary schools. However, those limits apply to denominational schools as with all others and there is inflexibility.
§ Baroness Blackstone
These amendments cover the question of whether there is a need to disapply limits in certain circumstances. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 apply to foundation and aided schools. They would both allow denominational schools the discretion to have infants in classes of more than 30, if it were necessary to do so to admit a child who could not otherwise find a place in 550 a school of that denomination. The effects of the two amendments would be very similar, so I hope that the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Blatch, will be content for me to address these amendments together.
Responding in particular to what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, the Government are of course sensitive to the concerns of parents who practise a particular religion and wish their child to be able to attend a school of a suitable religious character. I also understand that the Churches wish to offer places to children of their faith. That is perfectly obvious and totally understandable.
But I firmly believe that infants in an aided school—or any other denominational school—have the same right as other infants to be taught in classes of 30 or fewer. That is a view that the Church authorities have supported in discussions with Ministers and departmental officials and it is a view which the right reverend Prelate expressed. And the strong mandate that this Government have for acting to cut infant class sizes extends as much to denominational schools as to others. The educational benefits are the same in those schools as they are in maintained schools. It would be extremely undesirable to have a situation where denominational schools had large numbers in their infant school classes—much larger than in maintained schools.
§ Lord Elton
I thought I heard the Minister say that the educational benefits were the same in the two different kinds of schools. In fact, the point of having Church schools is that the educational content is different. The Minister's statement was surely a false statement.
§ Baroness Blackstone
With respect, that is not quite what I said and I am sorry that I did not make it clearer. The educational benefits of smaller class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds are exactly the same in denominational schools as they are in LEA maintained schools.
Again, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon made clear, once one breaches the policy of a target of no more than 30 children, where does one stop? It would be extremely undesirable to have much larger classes in denominational schools.
We are seeking to achieve a situation where all children are taught in classes of 30 or fewer but where more children than at present are admitted to a school of their parents' preference. That does not apply only to schools of a religious character. We are aware that it is an issue for rural schools more generally. That is the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on several occasions.
In discussions in another place, the Minister for School Standards gave reassurances on rural schools. He said:Through the regulations and the code of practice on admissions, the Government will ensure that if a 31st child cannot be accommodated within a reasonable distance of a small rural school, the local education authority will be required to provide additional resources so that both problems can be addressed: the child can attend the school and class sizes can be kept below 30".551 The regulations and guidance on which we are presently consulting and which the noble Baroness has received—indeed, she just quoted from them—give further information on how that can be effected.
However, perhaps I may return to Church schools. As the right reverend Prelate said, we made it clear in the guidance that the denominational provision should also be safeguarded. We state that in meeting class size limits,the proportion of denominational provision for any denomination should not be reduced".Again, that is something that the right reverend Prelate made clear in his intervention.
Both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked about capital costs and whether Church schools will have to make the 15 per cent. contribution. Perhaps I may state clearly that the Government have decided that a 100 per cent. grant will be paid and that Church schools will not be required to make the 15 per cent. contribution in this instance.
We also made it clear that LEAs will have to consult Church representatives when preparing their class size implementation plans. LEAs must have regard to the demand for denominational provision and find ways to provide suitable provision within their plans.
The principle that all infants—whatever their school—are entitled to the qualified teaching support offered in a class of 30 or fewer is one that we will defend firmly. I do not need to say again that it was a clear manifesto commitment and one that has the support of both parents and teachers. I know that there are implementation issues on which we greatly value the views of the Church authorities; indeed, we have consulted them very extensively in that respect. Their officials have met those of the Department for Education and Employment on a number of occasions. The Minister for School Standards and I will be meeting Church representatives next week. We will of course listen very carefully to any issues that they may wish to raise. Given those reassurances, I hope that the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Blatch, will agree not to press their amendments.
Amendment No. 9 seeks to ensure that children may attend the same school as their siblings. Again, I believe that few of us would dispute that that is a reasonable aim. However, with my own children, who used to argue so much, I sometimes thought that they might have been better off attending different schools where they would not run into each other in the playground. Nevertheless, the amendment is unnecessary. I say that because admissions authorities can determine the criteria on which places will be allocated to children where a school is oversubscribed. The presence of siblings is a factor which almost all authorities—indeed, almost without exception—already bear in mind, though it is perhaps worth mentioning that, even now, a child who has an elder sibling in a school cannot be absolutely guaranteed a place there. There are occasions where that is not possible.
As well as being unnecessary, the amendment could undermine the implementation of the Government's manifesto pledge to reduce infant class sizes in a way 552 that I do not believe the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, had in mind. The amendment would allow any admissions authority that wished to disregard limits on class sizes to do so by excluding siblings from normal admissions criteria, knowing that they could still be admitted after the normal admissions round whatever the effect on class sizes. We expect that admissions authorities will continue to use the presence of siblings as one of their admissions criteria. The amendment is, therefore, unnecessary. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree not to press it.
The noble Baroness also raised the issue of special needs as an exception. This would only be allowable where the admission took place outside the normal admissions cycle. I believe that I should make that clear. The aim is to ensure that children with special needs are admitted to the most suitable school. I am sure that all Members of the Committee will agree that that is terribly important. However, that does not mean that extra resources will not be provided. We will ask LEAs to set out what they will do in such cases. We would expect extra resources to be provided in virtually all cases.
Amendment No. 10 illustrates, perhaps more than any other amendment tabled for discussion today, what seems like a fundamental opposition to the principle of the Government being able to set and achieve smaller infant class sizes in every school class in the country. Of course, the noble Baroness is entitled to hold that view, but I should remind the Committee that the commitment to reduce infant class sizes, which must involve some limits being imposed by the Government, is a pledge. The Government received a clear mandate from the electorate a year ago.
The amendment would enable any school to "opt out" from limits that the Government may impose. The circumstances in which ballots could be called are not set out in the amendment. But I cannot accept that such a fundamental and popular aspect of our proposals to raise standards in the early years should be open to school-by-school disapplication in the way suggested. I believe that that would be a betrayal of our pledge. I hope very much that the noble Baroness will, therefore, understand our purpose and will not press her amendment.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford
I have a question for the Minister before she sits down. In her response, the noble Baroness implied that it is important, if possible, for siblings to be able to attend the same school, although in her own family's case she might prefer that that did not happen. However, at this stage of the Bill, we are referring to Church schools where the case of siblings is even stronger than it would be at a normal maintained school. Can the Minister comment further on that?
Obviously, if the 31st place in a school arises, there is not, perhaps, another choice of Church school or denominational school for that child to attend. Therefore, if the amendment were not accepted, we could have a situation where it would be necessary to provide, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, suggested 553 earlier, a whole range of extra expense for one child which might disappear the next year. Can the Minister comment in that respect?
§ Baroness Blackstone
I thought that I had already clearly explained that it is the Government's intention to meet parental preference, especially one of this sort where there is a double reason why parents might want to send a child to a particular school: first, because it is a denominational school and they are members of the Church concerned; and, secondly, the fact that a sibling is already in attendance. It is our intention to ensure that children aged five, six or seven are in classes containing no more than 30 and that they are able to attend a school of their choice. I have already said—and my noble friends made it clear in the earlier discussion—that we will make the resources available to make that possible.
§ Baroness Blatch
I have two questions for the Minister. She said that the defence as regards the provision for SENs is referred to in the guidance document. I notice that a good deal of the guidance document does not in fact feature in the draft regulations document. That is a worry for us and one to which we shall certainly return on Report. The noble Baroness said that the reason for it is that SENs very often appear outside the cycle of the normal admission arrangements. However, that is also the case with gypsy families, with many children who have just arrived in a village and with the children of military families who have just returned from a posting in another area. Indeed, children are always arriving and leaving outside of the normal admissions policies.
It seems extraordinary that the policy allows for the payment for the 31st child if it is a child without special educational needs, but if a child arrives with special educational needs he or she is not part of what I will call from now on, "the McIntosh formula". The Minister referred to local education authorities and said that it is not a question of there being no money available because LEAs will be asked to provide. However, do the LEAs which are asked to provide in those circumstances—not the 31st child without special educational needs but the 31st child, or more, with special educational needs who is put into a school thereby breaking the 30-maximum barrier—come under the reimbursement programme? In other words, do they fall under the McIntosh formula? It seems to me that LEAs will be quite anxious if they believe that they will be expected to provide every time a child with special educational needs is assigned to a school where the maximum limit of class size has been broken.
Paragraph 13 refers to parental preference. The noble Baroness said that where possible parental preference must be met. Paragraph 13 does not state that local education authorities should meet parental preference where possible, but places a responsibility on them to enhance parental preference and go beyond that provision at present. There is an inconsistency in the answers given by the noble Baroness. We know that a 554 classroom cannot be built overnight and that therefore if a school is physically full it cannot take another child. But if a school is not full, it seems crazy for a sibling to be turned away, or to turn away, from a Church school a child with a denominational preference simply for the sake of satisfying a policy.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I have just said that we shall sustain parental preference in those circumstances. As regards a child with special educational needs, I should make clear that any exceptions made for these reasons will apply for the remainder of that academic year only. That is clearly set out in paragraph 8 of the document. As regards the point about resources, any child with special educational needs who is placed in a mainstream school will require additional resources—at least in most cases—but that applies at present. We would expect LEAs to make that provision. There is nothing new about that and it will continue under this legislation.
§ Baroness Blatch
What is new is the new policy which involves applying a pledge; namely, that no class shall contain more than 30. We have heard of a number of exceptions to the 30 rule, which trigger a new teacher, except in the case of children with special educational needs where that does not apply. The noble Baroness argues that that is because those children have entered a school outside the admissions cycle. However, that is the case with many other children. I have given examples of children of military families and gypsy children who enter schools outside the admissions cycle. If they are accepted, they will trigger a new teacher. Will the 31st special educational needs child trigger the McIntosh formula?
§ Baroness Blackstone
It is unusual for people in the military to send their children to a new school half-way through a term. These days military personnel can normally place their children in a new school at the beginning of a school term. Gypsy children move around and there has always been a difficult problem as regards adequately accommodating their needs. As regards special educational needs children, they constitute an exception to the pledge. They are not part of the pledge. I have made it clear that an exception is being made for those children who need to have an appropriate school place made available for them in a mainstream school—the most appropriate school for them—within the school year. As I said, that is an exception to the pledge. The local education authority is expected to provide those resources. They are not in any way part of the pledge. I hope I have made that clear.
We have had a good discussion on these important issues concerning aided and foundation schools. I am sure the Committee is glad of the further information that has been forthcoming, particularly on the point of the 15 per cent. capital costs. I note that the right reverend Prelate nods his head. However, there is always a downside to all these matters because once one gives up one's proportion of the money, one loses many of one's bargaining counters. However, that is a matter for the Church which will determine what it wants to do.
555 None of us knows for certain how all this will work out because we are entering new territory, irrespective of whether it is a manifesto commitment. I admire the confidence of the noble Baroness; I wish I had it myself. She said with complete confidence that the Government undertake that every parent will have their choice of school and at the same time no class will comprise more than 30. Let us hope she is right. It will be interesting to see what emerges as regards the appeals procedure. As regards the aided and foundation schools, what will happen when a child is admitted in error, when perhaps the child's parents are not committed? It will be interesting to see how that develops in future.
I apologise to my noble friend Lady Carnegy if I misinterpret what she said. However, I should have thought that as a general rule in life when introducing a new policy it is a good idea to check whether it is already in operation and to ascertain how it works in practice. The Scottish experience indicates perfectly clearly that parental choice does not operate for many parents. I suspect that that will be the case with the measure we are discussing. Regrettably it can be seen that this Government say everything which they think people want to hear. They think that by saying it often enough they will be able to bring it off. I do not think they will be able to do so. I believe many parents will find that they may obtain 30 in a class but they will not obtain parental choice. This is a matter for the future—
§ Baroness Blackstone
I should make it absolutely clear that I did not say that every single parent will always obtain their preference. I said that under existing provisions a number of parents cannot obtain their first preference where a school is hugely oversubscribed. Nothing that we are doing under this legislation will alter that. I said that we will do everything we can, working with local education authorities and the Churches, to ensure that we maximise the degree of parental preference. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I made it clear that if there is a double reason why a child should attend a particular school—it may be a denominational school and the child's parents are members of the Church with which the school is associated and there is a sibling at the school—we should try to accommodate that, but I did not say that every single child or every single parent will always obtain their first preference. That has never been the case and it never could be in the case of oversubscribed schools.
I accept what the noble Baroness has said but I believe she certainly gave the impression that that was what she meant. A year after the coming into office of this Labour Government we have come to understand that this is the case as regards almost every issue. Some people are taken in by their talk, but "old hands" see through it immediately. We have had a good debate. I said this was a probing amendment and that I would not press it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.556
§ Lord Hoyle
I beg to move that the House be now resumed. In moving this Motion I suggest that the Committee stage begins again not before 8.50 p.m.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.