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Kevin Brennan: Does my hon. Friend not find it strange that the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price), who is a member of Plaid Cymru, should seek to introduce in this House something that the

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National Assembly has not requested? Is that not a peculiar position to take for someone who is supposed to be in favour of devolution?

Mr. Timms: My hon. Friend makes an entirely proper point. I agree with him. A similar point was made by my hon. Friend the Under–Secretary of State for Wales in Committee.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Timms: No, because I need to make progress.

The Committee debated the arrangements for teachers' pay in Wales on a probing amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West. I reiterate that the question of whether teachers' pay in Wales should be a devolved matter was settled in the devolution arrangements made under the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the subsequent transfer of functions orders. Responsibility for teachers' pay and conditions was not transferred to the Assembly.

The establishment of a new School Teachers' Review Body for Wales, which would probably need to be provided for if we were to accept new clause 20 in principle, might have a marginal impact on the work load of the existing STRB for England and Wales, but it would of course create a substantial new work load and increased running costs for the Assembly. No doubt, for that and other reasons, the Assembly has shown no desire to determine teachers' pay in Wales under its own pay machinery.

Adam Price: Will the Minister consider giving the Assembly the right to submit its representations to the STRB under the terms of the Bill?

Mr. Timms: The STRB currently consults the Secretary of State and that position was settled in the Government of Wales Act 1998. I do not think that there is any case—in fact, there has been no such call from the Assembly or the trade unions—for those arrangements to be changed.

On that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough will feel able to withdraw his new clause and that the House will accept the Government amendments.

Mr. Willis: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 4

Selection by aptitude

'(1) The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 59) is amended as follows.
(2) Clause 99 (General restriction on selection by ability or aptitude) is amended by leaving out subsection (4)(b).
(3) Clause 102 (Permitted Selection: aptitude for particular subjects.) shall cease to have effect.'.—[Mr. Willis.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Willis: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 8—Grammar schools: Access to parental ballots and information

'(1) The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 59) is amended as follows—
(2) In section 105(2) procedure for deciding whether grammar schools should retain selective admission arrangements, paragraphs (b) and (c) are omitted.
(3) Section 106(1) (eligibility of parents to request or vote in a ballot) is amended by inserting "primary" before "schools".
(4) In section 106 subsection (2) is omitted.
(5) Section 106(3)(a) (proportion of parents required to request a ballot) is amended by leaving out "20" and inserting "5".
(6) Section 106(3) paragraph (b) is omitted.
(7) Section 107(3) (information provision by the authority or body on intentions or proposals following a successful petition) is amended by leaving out subsection (c) and inserting—
"(c) a statement by the authority or body on intentions or proposals for a non–selective education system which may include information on options, costs and planning assumptions in the event of such a result.".'.

New clause 9—Permitted selection: aptitude for particular subjects

'The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 is amended by omitting section 102.'.

New clause 12—Restrictions relating to petitions and ballots

'After section 106 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 there is inserted—
"106A Restrictions relating to petitions and ballots
Where a petition of parents has been initiated, or a ballot held, and no change to admissions arrangements has been agreed, no further ballot may take place within a period of six years from the initiation of the petition.".'.

Mr. Willis: New clause 4 is simple and, if the Minister readily agrees to it, we will not need to divide the House. However, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) might want to press new clause 12 to a vote.

Before the Labour party came to power in 1997, it made a strong commitment to the British people in the run-up to the general election. Several hon. Members, including the Prime Minister and the then shadow Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), stated that selection would not be extended under a Labour Government. We expected them to move swiftly and directly to end selection in our schools.

Nothing happened in 1997, but in 1998 the Government introduced their first major education Bill, which became the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. We eagerly went through that to identify the clauses that would end selection in schools. There was, however, no mention of selection other than the introduction of ballots for grammar schools. The Conservatives opposed that because they thought that it was a tortuous way of getting rid of grammar schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and I opposed ballots because we thought that they would be a bureaucratic nightmare and that no one would meet the conditions. Indeed, there has been only one ballot, for Ripon grammar school, which was so heavily rigged—

Mr. Brady: Ha!

Mr. Willis: Let me explain why. Half the people who could vote had their children in private schools where they

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were being groomed for the 11-plus so that they could get into the grammar school. All the kids who went to the state local schools could not get in because of the kids from the private schools. The ballot was lost and a significant amount of money was wasted. Those were the rules of engagement.

Mr. Brady: The hon. Gentleman knows that we oppose new clause 4. As I want to press new clause 12 to a vote, perhaps we can find some common ground. Does he agree that the ballot arrangements caused the remaining grammar schools immense uncertainty? In areas such as Trafford, which I represent, or Kent, where my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) has his constituency, attempts have been made to close those schools. That happened last year and it is happening again. Although there is not the requisite number to trigger a ballot, the process causes schools enormous uncertainty, which is an intolerable burden. I hope that when we press for a vote on new clause 12, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will support us in relieving schools of that burden.

Mr. Willis: I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman so much co-operation, but I am sure that he will feel able to support us when we call for a vote on new clause 4, in which case we will consider carefully what he said.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) indicated dissent.

Mr. Willis: Perhaps that degree of co-operation is not fully established.

10.45 pm

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the best way to draw a line under the matter would be to change the regulations, so that in places such as Kent we can have the ballot, and once and for all put an end to this mess and get rid of the corrosive evil that is selective education?

Mr. Willis: Of course when the hon. Gentleman fought a general election for the first time in 1997 he expected a Labour Government to do exactly that. Indeed, our party still believes that democratically elected local authorities—which I do not believe the Government intend yet to abolish, although they may do so before the end of this Parliament—should be able to make such decisions. Sadly, of course, that is not so. Until we start to return power and democracy to local people through local government, we will not be able to meet those aspirations.

Dr. Ladyman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?

Mr. Willis: I am sorry, but I will not give way again because I know that the hon. Members for Altrincham and Sale, West and for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) want to speak.

I apologise for digressing a little. I do not want to table a new clause that would get rid of grammar schools. All I want to get rid of with new clause 4 is what the Government introduced in the School Standards and Framework Act.

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We were promised no selection, but instead of dealing with grammar schools, the Government said that they wanted to introduce more selection, not by ability but by aptitude. The debate was tortuous. The then Minister for Schools Standards tried to persuade the Committee and the House that there was a significant difference between the two, but we were never able to see it. Someone thought that it was better to have the ability to fly a plane than the aptitude for doing so, but I could not work out the difference if it crashed. In reality, the Government wanted to allow 10 per cent. of students in specialist schools—that was their new idea—to be selected by aptitude.

I am glad that the Secretary of State has returned to her place.

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