HL Deb 17 June 2002 vol 636 cc492-527

3.8 p.m.

Report received.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—


  1. (1) This section has effect notwithstanding anything in Chapter 1 of this Act.
  2. (2) A maintained school governing body may resolve to implement an innovative project which, in the opinion of the governing body, contributes to the raising of educational standards achieved by registered pupils at the school, subject to—
    1. (a) consultation with the parents or guardians of children at the school,
    2. (b) consultation with surrounding schools that would be affected by any project proposed under the first paragraph of this subsection, and
    3. (c) informing the local education authority.
  3. (3) Subject to subsection (4), the governing body may resolve to exempt any innovative project from any requirement imposed by education legislation on the governing body.
  4. (4) The Secretary of State shall by order designate any requirement imposed by education legislation on a school governing body as not subject to exemption, relaxation or modification by a governing body, even in the case of an innovative project.
  5. (5) Any project carried out under subsection (2) shall be evaluated, recorded and reported to parents."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the care that she has taken, between the end of the Committee stage and today, to consider many of the matters that were raised in Committee and for the copious letters that we have all received. We have all received copies of one another's letters, there have been offers of meetings, and, for some, there are concrete moves forward in the amendments on the Marshalled List. I thank the Minister warmly for all of that.

The nature of many of the amendments is to support the Government in what they say are their aims—encouraging innovation, giving earned autonomy as far as possible to schools that deserve it, allowing schools to operate more commercially at a local level and encouraging collaboration and co-operation between schools. My first amendment would allow all schools to innovate, with the aim of raising standards. Subject to consultation and only within the parameters set out by the Secretary of State, it would free the system from the bureaucracy caused by the fact that every application would have to go to the Secretary of State and be crawled over by people in the department and form a process of iteration involving the department and the school. We want to cut out all of that costly and time-consuming process in order to allow schools more freedom to innovate within the parameters set by the Government. The projects carried out by the schools under this heading must be recorded, evaluated and reported to parents.

The advantage of my amendments is to cut out all the bureaucracy and central control. Perhaps as an aside I may welcome Mr Miliband to the department because almost the first thing he said was: Out with central control and out with unnecessary bureaucracy. What we want to do is to set schools free to do what they do best". These amendments are tailor-made for Mr Miliband and his team to accept.

Schools are accountable: they are accountable to their governors and parents and more than ever to their local communities; and they are accountable in a more formal sense to the inspectorate. My proposals place no artificial time limits on innovation. Any project would be entered into in conjunction and in consultation with parents and local people.

If the innovation works, it can be absorbed into the school's programme on a permanent basis and it will not be reliant on Parliament producing a regulation for each and every project for every school. It is all very well for the Government to argue that primary legislation is time-consuming and that secondary legislation is not. I know of secondary legislation that is waiting in the wings for parliamentary time but the argument always is that there is not time for it.

If the project does not work, and if there has been proper evaluation, it can be suspended and set aside; or, a project that is accepted can be superseded when a better idea arises. Innovation is a dynamic, as are schools. They are always thinking of new and better ways to improve standards.

Nothing in law prevents good innovative ideas from being promoted or demonstrated to other schools. In many local education authority areas, in-service training is often based on the dissemination of such new ideas and developments with a view to raising the standards of teaching and learning in a particular authority or area.

I now return to the Minister's letter of 11th June. I was interested to see that the first part of Amendment No. 2 obliges the Secretary of State to have regard to the need for the curriculum to be broad and balanced and to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of children and society and the likely effect of a project on all children, which must include children with special educational needs.

In Committee, I argued cogently for just that to happen; for a link to be made with the need for a broad and balanced curriculum. However, we were told that it was not necessary because Clauses 74 to 77 oblige schools to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum. Now we have the Government's amendments placing that requirement on the face of the Bill. It is on the face of the Bill either because it is necessary or it is otiose and is there to pander to those of us who argued for it in Committee. I believe that it appears because it is necessary to the Bill. There was no connection between the early and later clauses. That is slightly puzzling because we called for that in Committee.

I want to refer to the debate which took place on 2nd May, which appears in cols. 810 to 812 of Hansard. The noble Baroness said: An example I have used before in your Lordships' House concerns the ability of schools to work more closely with further education and to look at workplace learning". We have yet to debate provision for 14 to 19 year-olds and still do not know what that will mean in detail, but they will address the whole issue. In the meantime, schools are working with further education colleges and there appears to be nothing to inhibit them from doing so.

The Minister then read out the words of a head teacher, who said: I have long wanted to do something that brought in the children and their families earlier to my school, specifically because it would raise standards. But of course I could not do it". That head teacher was concerned about bringing in under-fives and parents. What is to stop schools bringing in parents, mother and toddler groups, nursery groups, play groups, nursery classes and nursery schools? There is nothing in law to prevent that. There are mechanisms in law for developing nursery classes and for allowing the advent of nursery schools. I was chairman of a mother and toddler playgroup for about eight years and I know that collaboration and working with the feeder primary schools was almost a daily activity. Therefore, I cannot imagine what that poor head teacher is desperately waiting for the legislation to allow.

The Minister later said: In theory, Amendment No. 1 would do away with the Secretary of State's role of checking and approving innovative projects". I simply say, "Amen to that"; that is precisely what we are trying to do. We are trying to cut out the unnecessary intrusive meddling by the department in the natural activity of schools in trying to improve their delivery of services which improve teaching and learning.

The Minister went on to say: In addition, without the involvement of the Secretary of State, schools and LEAs would in theory be free to change the law at will". No, they will not. If my amendment is interpreted properly, it is for the Secretary of State to set the parameters; in other words, to set the limitations and the framework within which innovation can take place. That has been addressed by an amendment, so we, too, have done some thinking since the last stage of the Bill.

Finally, (at col. 812) the Minister stated: That brings me back to my main point; namely, the absolute importance of the Secretary of State's role in the process and in safeguarding standards".—[Official Report, 2/5/02; cols. 810–812.] Certainly the Secretary of State needs to have a concern about standards in schools, but he has so much assistance out there—the inspectorate, the fact that schools are openly and publicly accountable, and the downward pressure given by parents to schools. It is not necessary to have a daily grind of departmental interference in what schools do at a local level. At this stage, we need to trust schools to do what they do best; that is, to deliver education for their children. Where they do not, they will be found wanting.

I repeat that we support schools' constant search for improvement and the removal of unnecessary inhibitions to good innovative ideas. We believe that the framework within which such innovation and freedom to set aside statute should be set by the Secretary of State, a point raised by the Minister in Committee, and we support accountability and the involvement of governors, parents and local education authorities in the process. However, we do not support the Secretary of State, plus an army of civil servants and advisers, becoming involved centrally in the minutiae. That would increase bureaucracy and the need for endless guidance. It would increase the need to take up legislative time dealing with orders for each project and it would place arbitrary time constraints on the project.

For those reasons, I hope that the Minister will accept that we support and want to encourage innovation, but without the burden of central bureaucratic control. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley is attached to the amendment and I rise to speak in support of it. The Liberal Democrats have made no secret of the fact that we support the whole notion of innovation. We feel that all good schools should constantly be innovative. Therefore, in terms of the broad purpose of this chapter of the Bill, we are 100 per cent behind the Government. However, we are not 100 per cent behind them in the way they have sought to do it.

We believe that all schools should be allowed to innovate and that it should not be restricted to the few. Furthermore, the Secretary of State should not have the prime decision as to who should innovate. That is our main objection. So much power is put into the hands of the Secretary of State that any school contemplating an innovation that may require exemption from the current legislation must first submit such innovations for consideration. An important point to bear in mind is that not all innovation requires exemption from current legislation. Schools are innovating all the time and are doing so without the need to put the legislation aside.

That brings me to my next point. It is wrong that the main purpose of the first chapter of the Bill sets out the business of schools having to approach the Secretary of State and say, more or less, "Please, Miss, can we innovate?". That may be a rather crude translation, but essentially it is the case. Such a provision sends out the wrong message. Although almost everything that schools might want to do can be done within the current legal constraints, many schools would feel inhibited about trying anything new because, perhaps erroneously, they would believe that they must seek permission before the introduction of any innovation. Far from stimulating innovation, we feel that the message of the first chapter of the Bill will convey that permission will have to be sought before anything new can be done.

We believe that the Bill as presently drafted puts far too much power into the hands of the Secretary of State. In particular we are worried about Clause 2(1)(a), which will confer sweeping powers on the Secretary of State to put aside all education legislation. In addition, in this clause decisions are to be left to, the opinion of the Secretary of State". I make that point in light of the fact that the spokesman for this legislation in the other place could not cite any examples of what schools might want to do which they are not already able to do. In the debate in Committee in the other place, Mr Stephen Timms, the then Minister for Schools, rather weakly defined innovation as, "doing something new". In Committee we cited probably the best example of what schools might like to do with the power to innovate; namely, changing the school day to continental hours. We were not convinced that even that was necessarily a good example because already schools can change the timing of the school day, provided that they allow for a break in the middle of that day.

The Minister went almost as far as to say that, because we were asking schools to think the unthinkable, by definition she could not think of any examples of what they might do. In contrast, the amendment before the House asks Ministers to define very clearly what schools cannot do. For example, in Committee it became clear that the power to innovate could not be used to allow schools to introduce fees, to introduce more selection or to put aside their provision for special educational needs.

We appreciate the broad aims of this chapter of the Bill. Schools should be innovating and trying out new approaches. Indeed, from these Benches we would argue that good schools already innovate; they have a great deal of leeway in which to do so. By and large, those schools do not need this legislation. The only area where currently schools feel thoroughly constrained is in the curriculum, which we shall come to later when we discuss earned autonomy. However, as I have already made clear, we fear that this heavy-handed legislation will inhibit rather than encourage innovation.

We appreciate, too, the degree to which the Minister herself has sought to meet our reservations expressed in Committee. We were worried about the sweeping away of the provision for special educational needs. Now specific mention is made on the face of the Bill of the need to provide for special educational needs, along with the fact that such provision will not be exempted. We were worried about the position of local education authorities because it is necessary that they should be consulted. Again, on the face of the Bill the right to consultation has been conferred on local education authorities. We are extremely grateful to the Minister for those concessions.

However, while those are real advances, what the Minister has not done is to confer what would be achieved if Amendment No. 1, which we share with the Conservatives, were to be accepted; that is, to introduce the key element of allowing all schools to innovate.

Again, the reasons why we are backing this Tory amendment are that, first, it offers an opportunity for all schools to innovate by offering them encouragement rather than seeking to inhibit them. Secondly, it reverses the onus of proof. It would he up to the Secretary of State to define those areas, such as fees, selection or SEN, where schools may not be exempted from education legislation.

Thirdly, through the mechanism of affirmative regulation, the system would become open and transparent. Schools, local education authorities and other qualifying bodies will know where they stand. Lastly, the amendment would allow the Secretary of State a good deal of flexibility. We have argued that perhaps it would not be appropriate for schools in special measures or those showing serious weaknesses to have wide-open powers to innovate. Again, that point is of particular relevance when we discuss earned autonomy.

In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, made much of the fact that it is precisely those schools with difficulties that need to be able to think the unthinkable. I agreed strongly with his comments. The amendment would give such schools the power to do so, but it would be for the Secretary of State to decide those areas where schools would not be allowed to trespass beyond the current legislation. Having said that, we have always argued that perhaps some schools should be encouraged to "stick to the knitting" rather than to seek to experiment. Equally, however, we would be happy to see a degree of flexibility written into the provisions.

I conclude by saying that, so far as concerns these Benches, the Minister has in effect failed to meet our key demand that all schools should have the power to innovate. We believe that the Government's ideas remain innately muddled and inoperable. While we are grateful for the concessions that have been made, in essence they are only cosmetic concessions, putting on to the face of the Bill what was already included in regulations. For those reasons, we support the amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

My Lords, after two such powerful introductory speeches in support of the amendment, I rise with a fair amount of trepidation. Perhaps I may say first that we all support innovation in our schools, wherever that is possible. Furthermore, we all pay tribute to the Minister for the kindly and gracious way that she has discussed these matters with us. The noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Sharp, have already indicated their appreciation.

However, I wonder whether this amendment would achieve its intention. It appears to put all innovative power, irrespective of merit, into the hands of individual schools. But schools with a head teacher keen on innovation already have powers to act in a maverick way. The amendment states that the LEA is to be informed, but what does that mean? What is the LEA to do with the information? Why, in the case of Church schools, would not the diocesan authority be included in such consultation?

Very properly, provision is made for consultation with neighbouring schools. Who is to define what are the "surrounding schools"? Furthermore, if those schools do not like the new proposals, what action could they take to prevent a particular innovation? On reading the amendment, it appears at first sight to be somewhat loosely drafted.

I turn now to the nitty-gritty of the matter. We are all concerned about striking the right balance and encouraging the right partnerships in the process of innovation. This amendment would create a kind of free-for-all which could possibly—even probably—undermine important statutes, perhaps even to the extent of undermining the religious character of a school. That would be a matter of great concern to these Benches.

But then the freedoms promised by the amendment may disappear, since the Secretary of State would be required to produce a list of statutory requirements or exemptions that would inhibit innovation. As a cautious person, I have to admit that if I were the Secretary of State, I would err on the side of caution, in particular with regard to the education of children with special educational needs and with regard to the sensitive issues of collective worship and RE—matters which could be affected by the wrong kind of innovative process. We need to give a great deal of thought to exactly what is being proposed in the amendment and whether it might, in the attempt to secure greater freedom for schools, in fact limit those schools.

Furthermore, should we not be concerned by the powers conferred by the amendment on this and subsequent Secretaries of State? It appears that she or he could exempt whatever she or he chooses. What would that mean for the future?

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that we shall all know where we are, but I wonder whether, in a desire to ensure that innovation is positive and good, the Secretary of State may not err on the side of being cautious. That may not be beneficial. We must remember that when we are talking about children it needs only an innovation which lasts for six months or a year to do a whole lifetime's damage to a particular generation. Inspections of schools do not happen, all that frequently and parents can be swayed before they know the outcome of the innovations being proposed.

I have great reservations about the way in which the amendment is drafted. I prefer to stick with what the Government are proposing and I shall vote against the amendment if a Division is called.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords., I, too, rise with some trepidation on this subject—but with less trepidation than in Committee. As your Lordships will know, I remarked then that I found the Bill largely incomprehensible—if we could do the whole thing again over the next year I believe we may get there—but bit by bit I am beginning to understand it. I think that I understand this part of the Bill and, therefore, I believe that this amendment is based on a misunderstanding and is misplaced.

If I may start by pouring oil on troubled waters, we all agree that we favour innovation and the raising of standards that takes place to a considerable extent—but not entirely—through innovation. Both the Government and the Opposition are committed to the view that standards in our schools have risen continuously over the past few years and therefore they must have at least some presumption in favour of the innovative status quo—otherwise they would have to explain how it is that they are committed to how well the schools were doing.

The central point is derived from the heading of Clause 2—that is, "Power to suspend statutory requirements etc". That is what this clause is about. It is not headed, "Innovation—what you must do to get permission to do it", or to do any of the things the noble Baronesses said. The clause seems to deal with schools which have certain innovative ideas but have discovered—or it has been drawn to their attention—that these potential innovations clash with existing statutory requirements and so on.

If that is the case, how should it be dealt with? My original view of the clause was that it looked bureaucratic and that we should find a way into this area without involving, at least to any great extent, the Secretary of State. But on reflection, as a result of what was said in Committee, it seems to me to be of the utmost fundamental importance that if we are discussing the power to suspend statutory requirements we could not possibly place that power in the hands of schools or even in the hands of the local education authorities. Although I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate that we need to ensure that the local education authorities are involved in these matters, this power must rest with the Secretary of State. Therefore the Government are on the right track in that regard—not because of anything to do with education but because of matters to do with the power to suspend statutory requirements of any kind.

Having said that, we could ask whether the way the issue is set out in the Bill in any way inhibits innovation. The reply to that question will depend on what my noble friend the Minister says in response. It is possible to interpret the Bill by saying that the Secretary of State will be extremely negative, will mostly reject innovative projects and will not let people know what has been agreed in other schools, so that the whole subject then becomes the new "Secret garden". But I see no reason why that should be the case. It is at least as possible that schools will propose to the Secretary of State something that they want to do and say, "It looks as though this clashes with statutory requirements. What do you think?" The answer may be, "It does not clash and so I do not want to get involved". Alternatively, the Secretary of State may say, "I think that, prima facie, it does clash. Put up a case to me", and the Secretary of State will be bound to respond to that.

I am glad that the amendment has been tabled because it enables us to get a clearer view of what this is all about. It certainly enables my noble friend to say what she thinks on this matter. Neither the amendments nor the arguments—good though they always are—are right or convincing. In my judgment—it is, of course, for the noble Baronesses to decide what they want to do—it would be a great pity if the House divided on the amendment. One thing I know from all my years here is that once we start going down that road everyone digs their heels in and there is no room for compromise. We should at least wait until we have heard what my noble friend has to say. For once, there is a good case to be made on the Government's side. I know that my noble friend may collapse at that point, but she should wait until she hears what I have to say on one or two other amendments. We can then go on to one or two other matters without being too upset about where we have got to so far.

Lord Dearing

My Lords, as someone who stands in long grass, I am very glad to hear of the extent of the consultation between the Front Benches to try to find an agreed way forward. At least we are all of one mind as to the objective. I am only sorry that so far we do not have an agreed way forward.

As to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I was very concerned that the power to innovate should extend to all schools. Indeed, I believe that the particular power in Clause 2 does so, as opposed to the curriculum power. I was concerned that schools in trouble, provided that they were well led, should be able to innovate. I believe that this is all right in terms of applying to all schools.

The fundamental question is: who takes the decision? I remember hearing in chats—not on the Floor of the House— expressions of some concern that even a Secretary of State should be able to set aside legislation. It is quite something to say, "Madam, you can do it". I have sat on two governing bodies—we were worthy folks—but I wonder about the wisdom of allowing a governing body to have the power to set aside main statutory legislation. If the one causes me to quiver, the other causes me to bolt.

I share the right reverend Prelate's fear if the Secretary of State has to set the boundaries. The reasons for individual items of legislation are sound—otherwise they would not have been enacted—and if the Secretary of State were to have on her back every interest group in the country, with very good arguments as to why a particular piece of legislation should not be within the field of innovation, I fear that that would too much circumscribe the possibility of ideas that we have not even thought of.

I understand the objective of the amendment, which is to reduce bureaucracy. I spoke out with concern that officials, with great respect to them—I was an official for a long time—would not have local knowledge, and I referred to the importance of the involvement of the LEA. I have read the amendments. One amendment seeks that there should be consultation with the LEA. I would want in addition to that an assurance that the views of parents and the LEA will be before the Secretary of State when she makes her decision. I would hope that the views of the LEA would carry great weight.

I do not believe that there will be an avalanche of proposals, for the reason adduced in the House when the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, posed the question—she had a long list—"What would you want to do?", and there was a stony silence. I hope that a good number of proposals will come forward, but I do not think that there will be an avalanche. While I welcome the spirit behind the first amendment and want to encourage sensible innovation, we should be cautious. If I have to choose between the two approaches in a Division, as a cautious man, I shall go with the Government.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I find myself somewhat baffled by the amendment. However, I have found the debate useful. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I wonder whether the amendment will achieve its intention. I also feel that it gives out a somewhat negative message.

For clarification, am I to understand that the Secretary of State would be able to draw up a list of areas in which schools cannot innovate? If so, how would that he done? Would it be proactive or reactive? This proposal sounds like an enormous, powerful centralisation. I am rather surprised that the Liberal Democrats are going along with it.

Are we to understand that there would no time-frame in terms of trying out ideas and evaluating their effectiveness? Surely that is an essential component of innovation, and one which seems to have got lost.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I support the amendment. I thank the Minister for listening carefully to our debates in Committee and for giving a number of concessions addressing our concerns.

Nevertheless, the reason why we should support this amendment has been capably set out by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford and by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. It may be helpful if I address some of the concerns raised.

The Minister may argue that the amendment would mean that 24,000 governing bodies would be free to change the law at will. She may argue that governing bodies 'would therefore need to be au fait with the panoply of education law. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, indicated in the debate on Clauses 10 to 12 in Committee, the Government expect governing bodies to know and understand every detail of the legislation relating both to companies and to education. The Government cannot have it both ways.

The amendment does not prevent schools seeking advice from LEAs about the innovations that they intend to make, or from other schools, or from the DfES. Indeed, the Government intend to set up an innovation unit. How novel it would be if, rather than simply acting as gatekeepers, civil servants could work in real partnership with schools, providing support and advice rather than bureaucratic control—that really would be innovative. Whether we leave the Bill in its present form, or whether we pass the amendment, one way or another the Secretary of State will have a say in the matter; and there will he considerable protection as regards the innovations that can be made.

The concern has been expressed that the amendment would leave open the possibility of fly-by-night or madcap schemes. But the proposed new clause has been revised to address issues of consultation and accountability. I urge noble Lords to read it carefully in that respect. Government Amendment No. 10 provides the further safeguard of annual parliamentary scrutiny. I very much welcome that particular amendment and I thank the Minister for it.

The Government have emphasised their intention that all schools will be free to innovate. However, without the amendment, some will halve less opportunity to do so than others. Proper innovation means risk-taking and a leap of faith by those involved. It means trusting the schools. The sad thing is that, given all the centralist pressures that they face, many schools find it difficult to take risks. More often, it is only schools which are already successful and innovative—those whose reputation is secure—that will try out innovative projects. The Bill as it stands is unlikely to change that—which is why we want to broaden the situation.

The amendment seeks to remove the need for every school wanting to innovate to apply separately to the DfES. By making the legislative parameters transparent to schools, and by removing the need for an overly bureaucratic and expensive bidding process, the amendment will mean that more schools will have more opportunity, freedom, time and money to think seriously and creatively about raising standards. It is simply because we agree with the Government's intention to allow schools to innovate that we have added our names to the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, I understand the intention behind the amendment. However, having heard the remarks of the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Dearing, I am concerned about its possible impact on vulnerable children, such as looked-after children or those with special educational needs. I should therefore appreciate some clarification from those who have tabled the amendment as regards the possible impact on these two groups.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I wonder whether the, Minister can help me to understand the implications of the proposals in the Bill as drafted by stating when she thinks that this particular part of the Bill might come into force. How many applications does she anticipate being made in an average year once the provision is up and running? How many officials is it proposed will handle the flow of proposals, and what will be the grade of the senior official? What kind of time limit or target does she envisage setting officials for turning round an application from the moment it is received to the moment when it is either definitively approved or rejected? It would be a great help to me to know how the Government see the system working in practice.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, I, too, speak from the angle of special educational needs. The Special Educational Needs Consortium has concerns about the amendment. It is pleased that there is a provision for exemption from certain provisions, and it imagines that this has to do with special educational needs. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that they were already catered for. However, we have not heard that this would be sticking to the basic legal duties that were introduced under the 1981 Act. I should like to know more about that.

I shall not bore the House with the speech that I made on 2nd May, at Cols. 845 and 846, about the linkage in the chain from assessment, statementing, etc. It is important that all these are maintained. But the consortium says that there are no eligibility criteria; therefore, any school could vary whatever duties it chose. The consortium is also worried that there are no criteria to be met in deciding what contributes to the raising of educational standards in a school—merely the opinion of the governing body. The ramifications of changes made to any of the duties of a governing body may be many and unforeseen. They may impact disproportionately on the education of children with special educational needs. The consortium says that some innovative projects might benefit only one group of pupils, and that it is possible to envisage that other projects might benefit the education of some and not of others.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, I begin by thanking noble Lords for their kind and warm words. I have indeed tried to address all the issues raised in this House and, where possible, to meet the needs of the House. I shall pass on to David Miliband the congratulations of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I thank her.

On the point about a broad and balanced curriculum, Clauses 74 and 75 refer to earned autonomy. Later amendments that we have tabled in order to place such a provision on the face of the Bill are in direct response to those in this House who felt that it was important to do so. We shall discuss this matter later.

I agree with the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp about, "Please, Miss, can we innovate?". It is important to recognise that we are of one mind: we all want our schools to innovate. Sometimes, it is about making sure that they know that they can and feel that they can. I accept the comments of all noble Lords that we are seeking the way forward in this regard; we are arguing about how best to achieve it. It is in that spirit that I address the amendment.

I have thought very carefully about the amendment, and I have listened very carefully to the debate. I reiterate: the debate is not about the principle of innovation; we all want to see that happen. The debate is about whether this particular amendment should become law. Therefore, not surprisingly, I want to focus my remarks on the legal effect of the amendment as it stands.

First, the amendment would allow every school in the country unilaterally to vary the law. If everyone can vary the law, then it is no law at all.

Secondly, the variations are not limited. Noble Lords have rightly argued that there must be protection in the legislation for children with special educational needs. They have asked us to write explicitly into the legislation the protection of a broad and balanced curriculum. We have listened, but the amendment contains no such protection. There is nothing to ensure that schools must take into account the interests of children with special educational needs. There is also nothing to ensure an independent assessment of whether others might be disadvantaged. There is a requirement to consult other schools, but there is no provision for independent assessment of that consultation. Schools would do what they believed was in the interests of their children. If that meant bringing back some kind of selection or ceasing to admit children with special educational needs, theoretically there would be nothing to stop them.

Thirdly, there is no time limit to the amendment. This is no longer about pilot projects from which we can all learn. Noble Lords will remember that when we began this discussion it was about accepting that schools have much to teach us and finding ways of ensuring that we can learn. We felt that we should allow schools to alter the law where we felt that it might be in the way of innovation, perhaps particularly for the vulnerable groups referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, but in a time-limited way. The power under our clauses would disappear after four years. There is no time limit in the amendment. It is about permanent change. I do not believe that we as legislators should give schools the power to change the law. That is not their function.

Noble Lords opposite are relying entirely on the Secretary of State to exempt certain areas of the law from exemption. That is not the best way to encourage innovation. It is also an extraordinary power. If a section of an Act is in an order made under subsection (4), then it is the law, but if it is not in such an order, any school can vary it at any time. That would effectively give a future Secretary of State the right to repeal any law by making or varying such orders.

Noble Lords from various parts of the House have pointed out that Secretaries of State change. Are they sure that every future Secretary of State would produce a list of provisions that could not be varied with which they would be comfortable? It would be possible for a future Secretary of State to introduce a process of academic selection as part of raising standards. There is a legitimate argument and debate, which we have had in your Lordships' House and which I have had in many other places, about the role of academic selection in raising standards for all children. It would be possible for the Secretary of State to take that view under this power. It would simply be a case of allowing schools to be exempt from that part of legislation.

The amendment would give the Secretary of State a power more sweeping than any that this Government have proposed to exempt schools from any law, not for a pilot period, but permanently. I hope that noble Lords opposite will think carefully about this. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that she believed that, one way or another, the Secretary of State would have a say. I shall spend a moment pointing out the differences between the two approaches. We want schools on the front line to consider whether there is anything that they can do innovatively. If, in doing so, they feel that certain legislation is in the way, they can tell us what they want to do and ask us to think about varying the law. We can give them the ability to do that for three years, plus an extension of three years. That will be monitored and evaluated. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, now laid before Parliament is the power that we will have. The purpose of that is to put it in the hands of schools to think of the ideas. I do not want to exempt special educational needs, because I do not believe that any noble Lord would say that the current system is perfect for children with special educational needs. I do not want to exempt looked-after children. They are the most vulnerable children whose academic standards are very low. I want them to have the opportunity to have their standards raised by an innovative approach by a school.

We will let schools come to us. We will make sure that the local education authority will write them in if consulted by the school. We will look at the proposal, evaluate it, see whether it would make sense for more schools to be part of it and then come to your Lordships' House and another place to do that.

The alternative approach is to say that schools can do what they wish, but to give a list—I do not mean that derogatorily, but I cannot think of another way of describing the process—of what they cannot touch. The right reverend prelate is right that we should err on the side of caution, but that would mean protecting all kinds of legislation and preventing schools coming forward in a way that might lead to greater focus on more vulnerable children. That is the difference between the two approaches.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to bureaucracy. He wants to ensure that schools will not be tied up for two and a half years in a bureaucratic process. He asked some interesting questions about that. We do not expect lots of applications. I imagine that schools will come forward in small handfuls over time with individual ideas. The department is looking at the promotion of innovation more generally to address the issues that noble Lords have put forward. I cannot give exact figures, but I do not expect the numbers to be great. We do not intend them to be. This is about those schools that are able to think of innovative ideas where the law is in the way.

I expect a high grade senior official to be involved. The noble Lord may know that, even a year in, I sometimes find it difficult to get the gradings right. I know that the Secretary of State would want the issue to be handled at a senior level by the right number of officials, because this is very important. Part of the purpose of laying the annual report before Parliament—we have accepted the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on that— is to make sure that we give that information and that there will be a speedy turnaround, partly because we hope that, as ideas come forward and local education authorities are consulted, there will be a partnership approach. We want to work with schools from the moment they begin to think the issue through. I cannot be specific, but we will consider that we have failed totally if the issue is not given the weight that I know that the Secretary of State wants. I know that she will ensure that that is done.

I accept in principle that we are all searching for the best way to innovate. I do not say in other than a humble way that we believe that our approach is right. We recognise that noble Lords are concerned about the centralisation of power. That is why the Secretary of State is not in a position to do anything other than respond to schools. We hope that we have addressed that. We have sought to ensure that the safeguards that noble Lords have wanted are clear. This is a debate about the way forward, not about the principle. In that spirit, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Peston

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, does she intend to address the issue of transparency? Can she assure us that any agreement or disagreement by the Secretary of State within the context of these provisions will become publicly known and that the Secretary of State will accept responsibility for making sure that other schools know about any decision taken for or against any application?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am very sorry that I did not address that point. The Secretary of State is keen to ensure that the relevant people are consulted and that we have the opportunity to ensure that the quality of the idea has been tested. We must make sure that schools in the neighbourhood know about it and that, through the local education authority, we have information about what we think will happen. We must also ensure that as the trial period goes on, we have the ability to ensure that other schools can learn from it. That is the point of the exercise: to ensure that we can learn from and develop these ideas and then come with delight to your Lordships' House and ask for support to help good, innovative projects that have been developed by schools to grow in the system and eventually become the norm.

4 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this important debate. We all support the notion that schools should be encouraged to innovate. I was mildly amused by the Minister's defence for the LEAs' part in the process. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, she said that LEAs would provide the information that would help the Secretary of State. We have not dealt with the amendment yet, but LEAs were not originally to be statutory consultees in the process. Only after a great deal of pressure from both the Liberal Democrat Benches and our own were LEAs made consultees, but originally they were not even to be consultees. In responding to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, the noble Baroness said that all the schools in the area concerned would be informed of any proposal. However, that is not stated in the Bill.

The right reverend Prelate asked who should be consulted and about what. Subsection (2) of Clause 4 states that the qualifying body; that is, the applicant, shall consult such persons as appear to the body to be appropriate". The applicant would consult with whom it decided to consult about what it wished. There is absolutely no difference between us as regards the need for consultation, but the appropriateness of the consultation would be very much a matter for the applicant.

The right reverend Prelate also said that no one would know the outcome of a project. The Secretary of State will not know that either. An applicant can do no more than say, "We have an idea that we believe will work. We believe that it will raise the standards in a school". It is then for the Secretary of State to make a judgment on that, just as parents and the school governors initially made a judgment on that. The matter is second guessed by the Secretary of State and the people within his department.

The right reverend Prelate was concerned about the power that we are discussing and the status of legislation with regard to faith schools, special needs schools and vulnerable children. However, under the Bill, the Secretary of State has an absolute power. At the moment none of us knows which requirements of legislation may or may not be set aside. Every time an applicant approaches the Secretary of State with a proposal a decision is made and, as a result of that decision, there is circumscription as regards which requirement of legislation shall be set aside. We do not know how the Secretary of State will respond to such proposals. Until a certain period of time has passed we shall not know whether there will be consistency either as regards decisions taken by one Secretary of State during his period of office or as regards decisions taken by successive Secretaries of State. They will see each proposal on its merits as judged by the people in the department at the time. It is not the case that somehow or other schools themselves will circumscribe the limits of legislation.

I take the following key point most seriously. Anyone who knows me will know that both in government and in opposition I have fought at the Dispatch Box for a fair deal for children with special educational needs. Special educational needs are not included in the amendment partly because the Minister considered all the arguments that we put at the previous stage of the Bill and decided that a provision would be included on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I did not consider it necessary to second guess that provision in the amendment. There are amendments on the subject in the names of Liberal Democrat Peers and an amendment in my name. Therefore, we have belt and braces, as it were, on that issue.

I refer to a related point; namely, that no school should engage in an innovative project that will adversely affect the education of vulnerable children, cared for children, children with special educational needs or, indeed, adversely affect faith schools or the category or the particular ethos of another school. For that reason subsection (4) is included in the proposed new clause in the amendment. It will be for the Secretary of State—he will have to do this as regards every decision that is taken on a proposal—to decide those areas that cannot be exempted by a particular project of a particular school. If, as has been the case since 1997, Secretaries of State decide that there will be no more selection, that will form part of the barrier to innovation. I accept that that would he the case, however I would regard that with regret.

No school should be allowed to interfere with, or adversely affect, the education of vulnerable children or to affect the ethos of other schools whether they are faith schools or other distinctive schools. Certainly there should be no right for the project proposed by a school to have an adverse effect on other children. I noticed that the Minister's amendment, which protects children with special educational needs, does not mention the words, "children with special educational needs" but refers to all children. Subsumed within that, of course, are children with special educational needs. My subsection (4) of the amendment sets the parameters.

A leader in The Times Educational Supplement of 24th May became rather excited about the proposition that schools should be free to innovate. The article was as cynical and sceptical as I am. It states: One of the key principles of English law is that anyone can do anything which is not explicitly prohibited. When it comes to state education, however, this maxim is turned on its head. Since the late 1980s, central government has increasingly dictated what schools can and cannot do. Now, at last, there are signs that the tide could be turning. Writing in the press this week. Tony Blair made much of his desire to 'promote national standards while also empowering front-line workers'. Mr Blair cites new powers, contained in the education Bill currently before Parliament, which would allow heads to opt out of existing education legislation. But the fact that the majority of schools will have to go cap in hand to the Secretary of State if they want to 'innovate' undermines the Government's claims to be loosening its grip on schools". What the article is actually saying is that no innovative project can go ahead unless it has the blessing of the Secretary of State. As I say, different parameters will apply as each decision is taken. The proposals will be time limited. If a school proposes a measure that will raise standards in that school and wants to introduce it on a permanent basis, it may not be able to do so because after three years have elapsed it may have to go through another bureaucratic process to get an extension of three years. After that it will have to wait for primary legislation on a school by school basis. One school's innovative project is not necessarily a one size fits all project. It may stand alone. The notion that we should have primary legislation in this House to allow an innovative project to continue at one or, say, half a dozen schools, but not all schools, seems to me to be bizarre.

As I say, amendments have been tabled which seek to protect children with special educational needs. We should do what we can to promote the well-being and education of those children. As I say, subsection (4) of the amendment sets parameters in the matter that we are discussing. I keep returning to the question: why should the matter be time limited? If it is a good idea and it works, why should one have to apply a second time to a Secretary of State, wait for secondary legislation and, ultimately, for primary legislation? The reply that we were given was not satisfactory. We want to trust teachers. We also want to trust the Secretary of State to set the overall parameters within which schools may be free to exercise their professional judgment in consultation with other schools and parents, their own school staff and, of course, the LEA.

The right reverend Prelate asked what is meant by informing an LEA. It is important that an LEA knows what is going on. If a school adopts an innovative project which it will evaluate, record and about which it will inform parents with regard to its results, given an obligation on LEAs under a previous statute to raise standards, it is right that they should know what is going on. That is what is meant by informing an LEA. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

4.9 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 116; Not-Contents, 141.

Division No. 1
Aberdare, L. Cox, B.
Addington, L. [Teller] Craig of Radley,L.
Alton of Liverpool, L. Crathorne, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Crickhowell, L.
Astor of Hever. L. Cuckney, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Cumberlege, B.
Biffen, L. Dahrendorf, L.
Blaker, L. Dean of Harptree, L.
Blatch, B. Denham, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Dholakia, L.
Bradshaw, L. Eden of Winton, L.
Bridgeman, V. Elles, B.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Falkland, V.
Buscombe, B. Fearn, L.
Byford, B. Flather, B.
Caithness, E. Fookes, B.
Campbell of Croy, L. Forsyth of Drumlean, L
Carnegy of Lour, B. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Glentoran, L.
Chilver. L. Goodhart, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Hamwee, B. Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Hanham, B. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Higgins, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Holderness, L. Plumb, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Powell of Bayswater, L.
Hooson, L. Rawlings, B.
Howe, E. Redesdale, L.
Howe of Aberavon, L. Rees, L.
Howell of Guildford, L. Rennard, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Renton, L.
Kimball, L. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Laing of Dunphail, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Roper, L.
Lucas, L. Rotherwick. L. [Teller]
McColl of Dulwich, L. Russell, E.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Russell-Johnslon, L.
McNally, L. Scott of Needham Market, B.
Maddock, B. Seccombe, B.
Mancroft, L. Selborne, E.
Mayhew of Twysden, L. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Methuen, L. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Miller of Hendon.B. Smith of Clifton, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L
Moynihan, L. Stevens of Ludgate. L.
Naseby, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Newby, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Noakes, B. Tope, L.
Northover, B. Trefgarne, L.
O'Cathain, B. Trumpington, B.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L. Vivian, L.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B. Waddington, L.
Park of Monmouth, B. Walmsley, B.
Patten. L. Watson of Richmond, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. Wigoder, L.
Peel, E. Windlesham, L.
Ackner, L. David. B.
Acton, L. Davies of Coity, L.
Ahmed, L. Davies of Oldham, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Dearing, L.
Alli, L. Desai.L.
Ampthill, L. Dixon, L.
Andrews, B. Dormand of Easington, L.
Ash ton of Upholland, B. Dubs, L.
Barnett, L. Eatwell, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Elder, L.
Berkeley, L. Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Evans of Watford, L.
Billingham, B. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Blackburn, Bp. Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Blackstone, B. Filkin, L.
Blease, L. Fitt, L.
Bledisloe, V. Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Borrie, L. Gale, B.
Bragg, L. Gladwin of Clee, L.
Brightman, L. Golding, B.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Goldsmith, L.
Brookeborough, V. Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Brookman, L. Goudie, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Burlison, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Carter, L. Grenfell, L.
Chan, L. Grocott, L. [Teller]
Chorley, L. Harrison, L.
Christopher, L. Hayman, B.
Clark of Windermere, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. Howe of Idlicote, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Howells of St. Davids. B.
Crawley, B. Howie of Troon, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Hoyle, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Islwyn, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Jay of Paddington, B. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Jones, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Jordan, L. Richard, L.
Judd, L. Rix, L.
King of West Bromwich, L. Roll of Ipsden, L.
Kirkhill, L. Rooker, L.
Layard, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Lea of Crondall, L. Salisbury, Bp.
Lipsey, L. Sandwich, E.
Listowel, E. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Lockwood, B. Serota, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L. Sheldon, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Simon, V.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller] Slim, V.
Stallard, L.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L Stone of Blackheath, L.
Strange, B.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Symons of Vernham Dean, B
Massey of Darwen, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Temple-Morris, L.
Tenby, V.
Mishcon, L. Thornton, B.
Mitchell, L. Turnberg, L.
Moser, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Uddin, B.
Palmer, L. Warnock, B.
Patel of Blackburn, L. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Paul, L. Weatherill, L.
Pendry. L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Peston, L. Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L. Winston, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.19 p.m.

Clause 1 [Purpose and interpretation of Chapter 1]:

Lord Lucas

moved Amendment No. 1A: Page 1, line 8, leave out from "State," to "children" in line 9 and insert "benefit the education of The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment arises from another helpful letter that I have received, in this case from the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I echo what my noble friend Lady Blatch said about how extremely prompt and helpful Ministers have been in dealing with matters that we raised in Committee. The letter responded to the question whether LEAs could advance innovative proposals in relation to school transport under the powers in Clause 2. The noble Lord said that he was happy to reassure me that his department would be happy to consider any proposals from an LEA or an individual school about the way in which the relevant part of the 1996 Act might be adapted to allow either body to produce an innovative scheme involving local transport. However, he said that he must be clear that the purpose of the powers in Clause 2 as set out in Chapter 1 of the Bill is to facilitate the innovative project that may raise educational standards. He also said that it will be important for an LEA coming forward with such a proposal to demonstrate how it contributes to raising the educational standards achieved by children in England or Wales.

I see that requirement as an obstacle. It effectively prohibits the sort of innovation that I should like to see in relation to school transport arrangements. I have therefore sought in the amendment to broaden the definition so that it allows school transport clearly to come within it. I do not know whether I have succeeded in that regard but that is the aim of the amendment.

I believe it is important that we allow innovation to reach the area of school transport. Several difficult problems have beset school transport over a long period. There is a distance cut-off of two or three miles, or whatever it may be. These days, that is much further than most parents would allow their children to walk routinely and unescorted to school. It results in many parents having to be available to drive their children to school or having to rely on the lottery of there being spare places in LEA transport. They obtain those by paying for them, but there is no right to such places and, therefore, many parents are left without them.

Secondly, the provision would operate against choice in schools. If a local education authority does not actively seek to promote choice, the type of situation arises as it does, for example, in my children's local town of Winchester. There, the three secondary schools are within a short distance of each other. However, if a parent chooses the secondary school for his child which is not his by right, there is no school transport provision. The parent must therefore drive his child to school, even though it would be possible for the school bus, which goes to the allocated school, to trundle on an extra few hundred yards to the other school down the road. That also seems to me to present a source of difficulty.

There is also the problem, which the Bill at least starts to tackle, of transport for post-16 year-olds. Whatever distance they have to travel, those children are left entirely to the mercy of public transport. This week I shall have the pleasure of having three work shadows from Greenhead College in Huddersfield. As the noble Baroness knows, it is one of the best sixth-form colleges in the country. The pupils all report that they and their fellow students have difficulty in arriving at their classes on time because they rely on buses. There is a diverse catchment area for a college such as Greenhead. Students travel considerable distances. If one relies on essentially rural and cross-country buses to make one's journey, one ends up missing, or being late for, classes rather more often than is desirable or acceptable to the school.

All those problems could be solved if a local education authority set out to solve them. But, crucially, first, it would have to be allowed to do so and, secondly, it would have to be allowed to charge. Charging is at the heart of being able to provide a service. One is asking parents—for example, those who choose a different school for their children—to pay for, in the case of Winchester, perhaps 30 miles of car journeys a day in order to get their children to school. But one is not allowed to charge a penny if the local authority allows the use of a bus. The local authority is not allowed to provide a service for those children.

I believe that this is an area where a little local innovation and good will could go a long way towards solving some very long-standing problems. Therefore, I should like that to be brought within the ambit of Clause 2 of the Bill, and that is what the amendment seeks to do. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, as was discussed earlier, I very much look forward to schools coming forward with proposals. Of course, as I said on a previous occasion in your Lordships' House, we want to see proposals from schools and from local education authorities which have a positive impact on children's education in the widest possible sense.

It is important that we do not lose our focus on raising standards in this part of the Bill. The noble Lord has concentrated specifically on transport. and in later debates on the Bill there will be opportunities to return to that issue. I am sure that we shall do so.

I do not believe that the test of raising standards is inconsistent with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, seeks to bring forward in his amendment. Higher standards are intrinsically linked to improving and benefiting the quality of children's education. It is my view that one cannot have one without the other.

Perhaps I may take another one or two examples. If proposals were put forward to improve attendance or reduce the number of exclusions, I believe that that would both benefit the quality of a child's education and drive up the educational standards achieved by the school, LEA and individual pupils.

Therefore, I very much hope that we shall see proposals which benefit the education of children in England—and Wales, for that matter, although Wales is not referred to specifically in the amendment. But we must not lose sight of why we have introduced the power. We have done so in order to give schools and LEAs the opportunity to drive up standards even higher. If, within that, a proposal were to be brought forward which included the issue of school transport, it would be within the ability of a school to propose that under the power to innovate and for us to consider the matter carefully in that context.

Therefore, I believe that we are taking the same position on this matter. If it would be of benefit, between now and Third Reading I should be very happy to discuss the issue of transport with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, because that is what he has specifically raised today. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am delighted by the noble Baroness's offer and I shall certainly take it up. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 11, at end insert— (1A) In forming an opinion as to whether a project may contribute to the raising of the educational standards achieved by children in England or Wales, the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales shall—

  1. (a) have regard to the need for the curriculum for any school affected by the project to be a balanced and broadly based curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of children and of society, and
  2. (b) consider the likely effect of the project on all the children who may be affected by it."
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 6 in this group. I have said previously in your Lordships House that it is important to ensure that all children continue to receive a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of children and society. I do not want anything in the Bill to change that.

I hope that I have also been absolutely clear that the power to innovate must not be used to benefit one group of pupils at the expense of another. We want proposals to be brought forward which, if successful, will benefit pupils in schools all over the country.

I hope that noble Lords will know that I take extremely seriously the educational welfare of children with disabilities and special educational needs. We have had much debate on this matter, and I am committed to ensuring that no part of the Bill has a detrimental effect on children with disabilities or special educational needs.

In Committee, I was able to offer the reassurance to noble Lords that the guidance covering applications for the power to innovate would state clearly that, in determining whether or not a proposal raises standards the Secretary of State will have regard to:

  1. i) the need to raise standards for all children, including those with Special Educational Needs; and
  2. ii) the need to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of children and society through a broad and balanced curriculum".
We have said here, in another place and in the draft of the guidance to be issued that we want to see higher standards for all children, including those with disabilities and special educational needs. Proposals which had a negative impact on education provision for special educational needs pupils would not be considered to raise standards. However, in answer to, and in sympathy with, the concerns expressed by noble Lords in this area, I want to create additional protection for this important group of children.

I am happy to respond to those concerns by writing safeguards into the legislation. That is why I have put forward Amendments Nos. 2 and 6. They make clear that no order can be made if it appears to the Secretary of State or National Assembly that the proposed order would be likely to have a detrimental effect on the education of children with special educational needs. They also make clear that, in reviewing a proposal, the Secretary of State or National Assembly will be considering the likely effect on all children who may be affected by it.

In moving Amendment No. 6, I hope that I can offer further reassurance to noble Lords about the way in which the proposals under the power to innovate will work. Guidance will make clear to applicants that they should take explicit account of the interests of children with special educational needs in relation to all projects. That must mean promoting their interests, as well as protecting them. We have already made clear that any proposal should be the subject of consultation with all parents, which should certainly include, as always, the parents of children with special educational needs whose children might be affected either beneficially or adversely. Again this should be an area where we consult children with SEN, as we learn how to do so more effectively.

Following that, we shall set out in guidance that we would expect the Secretary of State's attention to be drawn to any SEN issues in the proposal. Once flexibilities have been agreed, I can confirm that monitoring, including in relation to the annual report and when deciding whether to extend a project, will look at SEN issues. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to support Amendments Nos. 2 and 6. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have attached my name to one amendment in this group which, in the light of the Minister's remarks, I shall not be pressing. I have one simple question. Where a school, or schools put together a committee of parents representing all parents—this would certainly apply under federations if they come into being—such a committee would not always specifically represent children with special educational needs. However, when speaking to the government amendments, the Minister said that consultation with parents would include consulting parents who specifically represented children with SEN. Therefore, for the sake of the record, perhaps the Minister will answer the following question. If there are children with special education needs in a school but the body of parents representing all children in a school do not have specific expertise in the subject or represent children with SEN, will it be possible for a parent representing those children to be included in the consultation process?

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, my name is also attached to Amendment No. 4, which noble Lords on these Benches will not be pressing. That is partly because we are extremely grateful to the Minister for Amendment No. 6, which answers almost all that we required. However, it does not quite meet our concerns, and other noble Lords may wish to speak and express one or two reservations. The wording of Amendment No. 4 is slightly different in that it refers to such provision being made, except [in] legislation relating to the education of disabled children and children with special educational needs", while the Minister's amendment makes it clear that such an order would be made where, it appears to the Secretary of State … that the proposed order would be likely to have a detrimental effect on the education of children with special educational needs". I take the point made by the Minister that there could be cases where a proposed innovation that is affected by the legislation is, nevertheless, regarded as being a good way forward. We would not wish to exclude such an amendment. I take it that that is the spirit in which we have achieved slightly different wording.

I welcome Amendment No. 2, especially the little phrase at the end, which refers to the, likely effect of the project on all the children who may be affected by it". When schools propose to innovate, the Minister was right to point out that our amendment does not make it clear that there might be repercussions as regards other schools; and that, therefore, there should he discussions with other schools. I am pleased to see that we now have a recognition on the face of the Bill that an innovation pushed through by one school could have quite a detrimental effect upon other schools. Such considerations must be taken into account. Indeed, if the effect were too detrimental, I hope that the Secretary of State would not allow it to go ahead.

I very much welcome the two government amendments from the Secretary of State. I thank the Minister for the work that she has put in to ensure that such amendments were brought forward.

Lord Rix

My Lords, as president of Mencap I am delighted—although, I am glad to say, not speechless—by the generous amendments that the Minister has just offered to the House, especially Amendment No. 6. Indeed, all that Mencap requested is contained in that amendment, coupled with the statement that the Minister made afterwards about the need for taking explicit account of the interests of children with special educational needs. The list that the noble Baroness was able to give is most welcome.

I am sure that noble Lords will be happy to hear that Mencap has asked me to move no further amendments on the Bill. I am sure that that means that your Lordships will be able to get to bed a little earlier than usual, and that I shall be able to switch off the light tonight, before I have my milk and honey, with an absolutely clear conscience. I am most grateful to the Government for listening so closely to our needs and desires.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, I should like to join my noble friend Lord Rix in commending the Government for the way in which they have gone about the consultation process in this part of the Bill. Indeed, as has already been said, the Minister's actions have been quite commendable: she has engaged with people from different parts of your Lordships' House in trying to find constructive ways forward. I believe that to be a good model for others to consider when they deal with legislation in the future.

I welcome both Amendments Nos. 2 and 6, and especially what the Minister said on the issue of monitoring. I raised that issue previously in Committee. Before we leave the question, can the Minister tell us a little more about how the monitoring will be conducted? For example, who will undertake that process; and, subsequently, after the information about the way in which people make provision in their schools for children with SEN has been collated, how will such information be made available at a public level?

From the earlier group of amendments that we debated, the Minister will know that the one issue that caused more concern than any other in this House was any question of the diluting, through innovation, of provision for children with special educational needs. These two amendments answer that problem adequately, and should leave no one in any fear about the implications of innovation.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, I, too, should like to welcome Amendments Nos. 2 and 6, but I wish also to speak in favour of Amendment No. 4. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, indicated that some of us would not he totally happy with the situation. I am hugely grateful to the Minister for the efforts that she has made; for the assurance that she gave today as regards guidance; and for the meeting that was arranged. At that meeting, I was more or less convinced that we had what we needed. However, I believe that I indicated through her office the fact that I would not be totally happy.

I am patron of IPSEA, which is a member of the Special Educational Consortium. It has volunteers on the ground who appear at tribunals, and who understand the whole statementing process. The panel would be very worried if any of the links in this chain—for example, the duty to identify children, to assess children, to make statements for children, to specify SEN provision, and to maintain the statement—were to be broken. IPSEA's volunteers, and the overwhelming majority of children's disability organisations, know from first-hand contact with parents and carers of children with SEN that a clearly written statement saying how much help is to be provided is fundamental to children's needs being met.

Although the Special Educational Consortium very much welcomes the Minister's amendments—and this applies particularly to the RNID and the National Autistic Society, which have advice lines, and so on—it believes that SEN legislation should be exempted from any power to vary legislation. If the Government are not willing to exempt such legislation, can we have a clear recognition that the variation of the duties on LEAs to identify, assess, and make provision for SEN would be detrimental to the education of disabled children, and those with special educational needs?

We also need a clear recognition that a variation of the duties on governing bodies to use their "best endeavours" as regards children with special educational needs would be detrimental to the education of disabled children, and those with SEN. Can the Minister assure the House that the Secretary of State would not believe that it was a good thing to get rid of the duty to assess in the innovative process? We need guarantees that all those links in the chain are not matters that could be disapplied when one is innovating.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, perhaps under the rules of the House I can ask a question as I am slightly unnerved by what the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, has just said. My question is an extension of the same point. Having read the government amendments, I made the assumption that it was almost inconceivable that a piece of legislation that related to special educational needs would be set aside for any single project. It would be helpful to have a guaranteed statement on the record that the intention would not be to set aside any legislation that afforded protection to children with special educational needs.

In my book, the consequence of that would be that some children somewhere would not enjoy the protection and, therefore, there would be an impact upon children with special educational needs. If I am reading too much into the statement of the noble Baroness it would be helpful to have that on the record. If that is not the case, I believe that we would want to plug that loophole at a later stage of the Bill.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments made by noble Lords. On the first question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, there is a requirement to consult all parents and we shall put in the guidance a requirement to ensure that parents of children with special educational needs are specifically included in that. Therefore, any proposal that did not do so, could not get through the process. I hope that that is clear.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in talking about our amendments and Amendment No. 4, is right. I shall deal with the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy de Knayth and Lady Blatch, in a moment. This matter concerns the opportunity within special educational needs to consider what can be done to further the education of children with special educational needs as part of the process. Therefore, does one rule it out or in? I want innovation on special educational needs to improve matters for such children for the reasons that I gave earlier. I do not believe that any noble Lord would say that the legislation could not be better and that there may not be things that we could do. I do not believe that we have got everything right in terms of support for children with special educational needs and I want schools to consider that.

I shall miss the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I shall not miss his amendments, but I shall miss him if he is not to speak in your Lordships' House in the next few days of this Bill. I am extremely grateful to him for meeting with me and for discussing the issues in detail. I hope that we have addressed his concerns.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke of the monitoring issue. We shall require schools to set out their plans for monitoring and evaluation as part of the proposals that they put forward. We shall ensure that that information is taken into consideration when we consider the project and its extension. We shall ensure that the initiative as a whole is evaluated and the results made widely available. This matter is partly about ensuring that other schools can learn.

I turn specifically to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. I understand her concern. IPSEA is an organisation that stands full square on wanting to ensure, as she puts it, that there is no apparent break in the chain. It is practically inconceivable—I say "practically" because there may be one in a million—that one could envisage a situation in which not assessing children could possibly raise standards for them or anybody else. We could not envisage that.

I shall give an example—I am often accused of not giving examples. I have been conducting work with special schools on how we can work more closely with them and how we can ensure that they are supported by local education authorities. Noble Lords have said in the House and elsewhere that we should have the right kind of provision in the right kind of areas. There are issues about low incident special educational needs and the provision that we can supply within a local education area or a national area.

One issue that I want to discuss on special schools—we have just begun a piece of work on this—is the idea of regional provision. Local education authorities could come together to provide regional provision that could be better for parents, particularly if support has to be residential. That would require us to consider the power to innovate with a group of local education authorities. Technically we could not do that now. I do not propose such a provision in this Bill as in relation to Wales there are differences in provision and I am not sure that we would want to do that. However, that is a specific example.

I hope I can allay the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. This is not about saying that we should not assess children; and this is not about providing support for children with special educational needs in school. It is about including all legislation and ensuring that if something creative could support our children with special educational needs it should come forward. But we shall not be interested in anything that is to their detriment. These children are far too important and far too special. They require the kind of support and concern that noble Lords have expressed, and which I share. I believe that this is the way forward.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, perhaps with the leave of the House I could ask one question that arises out of the Minister's reply to me. I do not believe that I am being stupid, but in the example that she gave I believe that one would need to assess. There would be no need not to do any of those things. I do not understand why she cites that example.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I cite that example because in an amendment to remove all special educational needs legislation from the power to innovate, that would be removed as well.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Power to suspend statutory requirements etc.]:

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 23, after "applicant")" insert "and in consultation with the relevant local education authority where that body is not the applicant The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we tabled Amendments Nos. 3 and 7 before we knew what the Government were proposing, although in Committee the Minister gave us cause to be encouraged. Government Amendment No. 8 is welcome. By placing the requirement to consult with LEAs on the face of the Bill rather than simply leaving it under guidance, the Minister has gone further than the reassurance that she gave noble Lords in Committee. Therefore, we shall not press Amendments Nos. 3 and 7. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 8. In view of what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said, I am not sure that the brief that I have is appropriate. As I have said before, local education authorities play a vital role. We know that they have a track record of successful innovation; for example, in working with education action zones, in developing literacy and numeracy strategies and in turning around schools in special measures.

I believe that local education authorities have demonstrated the potential to have a real impact and to make a real difference to standards in their schools. I want them to build on that experience and where they have new ideas for innovative ways of raising standards to be able to come forward with proposals. We believe that that will be particularly important for projects that involve collaboration between schools where the LEA will he best placed to make that work.

We have always said that where a school comes forward with a proposal, the local education authority should be consulted. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said, I am responding to the arguments raised in Committee that this could helpfully be added to the face of the Bill.

Lord Dearing

My Lords, I apologise for pressing this point because it is so obvious. Will the Minister give an assurance that when statutory consultation of this kind takes place the results will be in the hands of the Secretary of State when she takes her decision?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

Yes, my Lords.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No.4 not moved.]

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

moved Amendment No.5: Page 2, line 28, at end insert "except any requirement relating to religious education or collective worship The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, Amendment No. 5 is specifically concerned with provisions affecting community schools rather than Church schools. I apologise to the House and the Minister for not raising this matter in Committee—possibly I was slow on the uptake—but it arises out of a number of anxieties expressed to me in the intervening period by a number of people and groups relating to the statutory requirements affecting religious education and collective worship in community schools.

In my view, in a pluralist society, religious education is of greater significance than once it was if the desire is to have a tolerant society in which religious hatred has no part, as I am sure all noble Lords would wish to be the case. Of course, I am ready to agree that opinion is divided on the matter of provision of collective worship. But that is surely a sensitive matter for Parliament to decide rather than either the Secretary of State or a school governing body.

Of course, that works both ways. The present statutory provision allows the withdrawal of pupils from RE and collective worship. So Amendment No. 5 would also serve to protect the rights of such parents from governors who felt that the withdrawal rights stood in the way of good or sound education, or innovations that they may want to make.

I do not want to labour this point. The Minister's amendment goes some way to meet the concerns expressed; but if I hear what I hope to hear from the noble Baroness, to which response I shall listen carefully, I may he persuaded to withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, when we spoke in Committee on admissions to schools with a religious dimension, I can recall shortening my speech by saying that, in following the right reverend Prelate in his speech, I would follow the example of the Back-Bencher who followed Edmund Burke in the 18th century and simply say, "Ditto to Mr Burke".

But I shall be marginally more expansive on this occasion with an exotic example from a 1944 Act and the parliamentary proceedings upon it. On that occasion the late Lord Eccles introduced an amendment that there should be equal pay for men and women as soon as the war was over. It was the only time in the whole of the war when the government were defeated, and they were defeated by 117 votes to 116. In addition to the late Lord Eccles, the late Lord Hailsham, Lord Thorneycroft and my late noble kinsman all voted against the government. The Prime Minister, threatened by that experience and determined that Dr Goebbels should not make any use of it, insisted on Report that there should be a massive three-line Whip and the amendment was reversed by 425 votes to 17.

The reason I mention this is because the Prime Minister then sent for the late Lord Eccles, who was in his first year in the House of Commons and said— shall put it in oratio recta—"Young man, I am not unsympathetic with what you are seeking to do. But to bring in a clause of this sort on this Bill in the midst of a major conflict in which this nation is engaged is, if I may say so, like putting an elephant in a perambulator". For exactly the same reason I share the views of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn that we should not run any risk that that should happen, by accident, as a consequence of this legislation.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not claim to be able to follow the eloquence of my noble friend.

Lord Peston

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene, I am a little lost—as one always is—on our procedure. Can I ask the Minister, since her amendment is included in this group, whether she is proposing at some point to speak to her amendment, then sit down, and then reply to the whole debate? Is that how we are going to proceed? That will determine when I join in.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my understanding is that the right reverend Prelate is taking Amendment No. 5 on its own.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, Amendment No. 5 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. I intended to deal with both at the same time; that is, speak once to my amendment and the other amendments. I thought that was the procedure.

Lord Peston

My Lords, when does my noble friend expect the rest of us to speak?

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, in the absence of anybody else rising, and without wishing to put an elephant in the perambulator as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, suggested, I rise briefly to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and Amendment No. 5.

These debates tend to be cyclical. We have had debates both here and in another place over the past decade on whether or not it is desirable to have daily acts of worship, collective acts of worship and religious education in our state schools. The overwhelming decision in this place and in another place has been that that should continue to be the case. I therefore agree with the point the right reverend Prelate is making: if one wanted to change that, it should be changed as a result of new legislation, not merely by something in the gift of a Secretary of State.

I add one other point. At a time when there are enormous pressures on young people—we live in a very dysfunctional society—the quiet places we have in our lives are important. It is important that in the hurly-burly, the cacophony of life, with so much noise and so many pressures bearing down on young people, we should not squeeze out the opportunity for them to understand something of the spiritual in their lives. It may not necessarily be Christian beliefs. In most people there is some kind of spiritual impulse. Where daily acts of worship and religious education are conducted well, it can meet a real need in young people.

I do not see this as a Cinderella question or as being on the margins of our debate; it is central to the way we form young people for the future. I hope therefore that we receive a reply from the Minister today that will reassure us; and that if schools bring forward innovative proposals which remove religious education or the daily acts of worship in their schools, as she has already been able to say in special needs education, she will be able to state categorically that that is not to be the purpose of innovation.

Lord Peston

My Lords, the whole process seems to be in a mess. I want to speak to Amendment No. 5. Equally, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. Normally I like to speak to amendments after the movers have made the case for them. However, I shall speak only to Amendment No. 5 at the moment and we ought to find a way whereby the noble Baronesses who favour Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 can put their case so that we can argue about them as well without breaking the rules of Report stage in your Lordships' House.

I want to say the reverse of what the right reverend Prelate said; namely, that I am totally opposed to Amendment No. 5. I have a simple logical question— nothing to do with quiet time or anything of that sort; namely, if it is the view under freedom of choice and related matters that parents ought to have the right to have religious schools, does it not follow logically that other parents ought to have the right to have purely secular schools? That right should not simply be met by opting-out procedures, but by not having the religious element in the school.

It is entirely right that the right reverend Prelate raises this matter. It enables us to try and obtain from the Government, at least on one occasion, a logical basis for the position they are taking on parental choice. My view is that if parents within a school wish that school to be wholly secular, then the whole spirit of the legislation before us is that they ought to be able to say, "This is an innovation we want. We have thought it through. We will put it to the Secretary of State as a suggestion we should like put in place."

I am not saying that the Secretary of State should necessarily agree. But if that is an innovation that parents want, they should not be denied the right to have it. I am extremely glad, therefore, that the right reverend Prelate moved Amendment No. 5. I hope that he will now seek to divide the House so that at least one person can vote against him; namely, me. That would solve many of my other problems in getting myself on the record as putting my money where my mouth is. There is a fundamental question here to which it is about time that we faced up. If noble Lords believe in freedom of choice, they must apply that to all parents, including parents like myself. In practice, of course, in schools to which parents such as myself sent their children, the religious bit was so derisory as not to bother us. But we ought to have the right to say that we want an innovation in a school to make it a secular school. That follows absolutely from the Government's position.

5 p.m.

Lord Dearing

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that point—I thought that he might. Is not Chapter 1 about raising educational standards achieved by children? I cannot see how removal of worship or removal of religious education contributes to raising the standards of education. It withdraws children's opportunities rather than adding to them, so I should have thought that it is outside the scope of the clauses.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I wish that I could be as sanguine as is the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about that. There are schools—in some numbers, I am afraid—that would regard not having to carry out daily worship or include compulsory religious education as leaving space in the curriculum to do other things that they would argue raised the school's standards. It is not inconceivable—it may even be reasonably probable—that such an application would be made. It would then be a matter for the Secretary of State.

I have received an Answer from the noble Baronesses on this matter, and it is unnerving. That Answer is the reason why I strongly support the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate. My Question was: What would be the status of compulsory subjects such as the core curriculum, religious education and daily worship, and citizenship, if proposals were to come forward under Clause 2 of the Education Bill linking the dropping of subjects with the raising of standards"? The reply from the noble Baroness was: Exemptions under clause 2 of the Education Bill may be conferred for a temporary period only, and only for the purposes set out in clause 1". We know that the temporary period is for up to six years and could thereafter be extended for all time if legislation followed. The Answer continues: That is, exemptions may be conferred only 'to facilitate the implementation by qualifying bodies of innovative projects that may—(a) in the opinion of the Secretary of State contribute to the raising of the educational standards achieved by children in England, or (b) in the opinion of the National Assembly for Wales contribute to the raising of educational standards achieved by children in Wales.' The Secretary of State would have to approve any such proposals, and would do so only if she were convinced it would lead to higher educational standards".—[Official Report, 25/3/02; col. WA 25.] So, as I said, it is conceivable that an application could be made that made a good case that good use could be made of the time freed up by removing daily worship and religious education from a school. Therefore, technically, if the Secretary of State decided that compulsory subjects could not be set aside—if so, that should he in the Bill—and took the view that that school would not be raising standards on the grounds that it would displace a compulsory subject, the applicant could go to judicial review and win. There is no protection in the Bill for that subject.

The Education Act 1944 enshrined the right of all children to receive religious education and enshrined the daily act of worship. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, reminds us at regular intervals that that is contentious. I have believed for a long time that education without a spiritual dimension is a pretty arid and clinical experience. Unless it is enshrined in law, many children will not receive religious education. That is a double jeopardy fate for them, because we know that many children do not receive religious education at home. For a large number of children, the only anchor in their life and the only way in which they will receive any kind of spiritual dimension to their lives will be through school. As a nation, we should at least protect for our children a spiritual dimension to their education through the promise made in the 1944 Act.

We have dealt with special educational needs. The Government were sufficiently moved to include protection for them in the Bill. We need some protection on this matter in the Bill, whether it is this amendment or something akin to it. Exhortation on the record at this stage will not work because I have a Written Answer to a publicly placed Question which is contrary to what the noble Baroness may say today.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, perhaps I may say a brief word about Amendment No. 11. I am grateful to the Minister for tabling her amendment, which achieves exactly the same effect as that tabled by the Liberal Democrats in Committee. It may be helpful to the Minister and the rest of the House to know that I do not intend to move Amendment No. 11 as a consequence.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I shall now try to be helpful to the House with regard to procedure. I apologise to your Lordships, but it is my first ever day on Report. so I am trying to follow what I believe to be the correct procedure. It may be helpful to noble Lords if I suggest, having been advised that it is up to me, that from now on I shall speak to the amendment that I am moving and then wind-up at the end of the debate. That may make things slightly easier and I apologise to the House.

I shall now speak to Amendment No. 10 and then wind up on Amendment No. 5. First, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. As she knows, in Committee, I agreed with the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley, that it is important to keep a public record of the power to innovate. That is precisely why I have proposed the amendment. It will require the Secretary of State or the National Assembly to produce a report. As I said, it is important that the Secretary of State is involved. We want there to be a public record of exactly what legislation is to be disapplied; exactly who the disapplication applies to; and for how long it will last.

But I also felt—I believe that noble Lords shared this feeling—that it might be helpful to have in one place and on an annual basis, a summary of the orders that have been made during the course of the year and those orders that continue to apply from previous years. That would ensure that no school, LEA, parent or pupil was in any doubt about exactly what legislation had been disapplied and for how long that would continue. Amendment No. 10 achieves that.

I turn to Amendment No. 5. Noble Lords will be aware that Amendment No. 2 alters the Bill by inserting the requirement to have regard to the need to promote, the spiritual, moral, cultural —the list continues—education of children. I hope that noble Lords understand from that that we are as keen as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, whom I entirely support, to ensure that children receive the kind of spiritual education that they would want. That is precisely why I listened carefully to what noble Lords said in Committee and agreed that it is important that that is stated in the Bill.

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn for tabling his amendment. It gives me an opportunity to put on record that the Government cannot conceive of any situation in which exempting requirements to RE or collective worship would raise the educational standards of children in England or Wales, not least because of the protection already enshrined in the Bill for children's spiritual, moral and cultural education.

The Secretary of State can disapply legislation for the fixed time period only if it will raise standards for children—and in the context of the amendments that we have already made to the Bill. The amendment is therefore unnecessary. We have already ensured the protection that the right reverend Prelate seeks. I shall be clear again: we would not regard the requirements relating to RE or collective worship as suitable matters for disapplication. On that basis, I hope that the right reverend Prelate will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and to all other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am also very grateful for the Minister's assurance. I shall want to reflect on both the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the Minister's reply. I believe, however, that Amendment No. 2 provides the assurance I seek on spiritual, moral and cultural education, thereby, protecting both RE and collective worship. As I said, however, I shall very carefully read those comments. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 6: Page 2, line 44, at end insert— (4A) The Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales shall refuse an application for an order under this section if it appears to the Secretary of State or the Assembly that the proposed order would be likely to have a detrimental effect on the education of children with special educational needs. On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3 [Variation or revocation of orders under section 2]:

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Applications for orders under section 2]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 8: Page 3, line 39, leave out "consult such persons as appear to the" and insert—

  1. "(a) in the case of an Education Action Forum, consult each local education authority by whom any participating school, as defined by section I 0(6)(b) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31), is maintained,
  2. (b) in the case of the governing body of a school maintained by a local education authority, consult that authority, and
  3. (c) in any case, consult such persons (or other persons) as appear to the qualifying"
On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 10: After Clause 4, insert the following new clause—


  1. (1) Where the Secretary of State has made any order under section 2 in any academic year, he shall—
    1. (a) prepare a report on all the orders made by him under that section in that academic year, and
    2. (b) lay a copy of the report before each House of Parliament.
  2. (2) Where the National Assembly for Wales has made any order under section 2 in any academic year, the Assembly shall prepare and publish a report on all the orders made by the Assembly under that section in that academic year.
  3. (3) In this section "academic year" means a period beginning with 1st August and ending with the next 31st July."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved]

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 12: Before Clause 5, insert the following new clause—