Education Bill

[back to previous text]

The Chairman: I call Mr. Turner.

Mr. Turner: On this occasion, Mr. Griffiths, you kindly called me before I had even risen, let alone caught your eye.

Column Number: 229

The Minister is saying that the Secretary of State may give or make arrangements for the giving of financial assistance in relation to England, or the National Assembly for Wales may give or make arrangements for the giving of such assistance in relation to Wales. My honest interpretation is that that is not the meaning. What does ''give'' mean? Does it mean that the Secretary of State will give the financial assistance in England? That would not prevent someone from using the financial assistance to buy an independent education in Argentina. It does not even mean that someone could not give money to a Uruguayan to buy financial assistance in Argentina.

Mr. Timms: I think it is apparent that giving money to a Uruguayan to purchase education in Argentina could not be described as being ''in relation to England'' or ''in relation to Wales''. I have taken skilled legal advice on the point and I can assure the Committee that the provision has the meaning that I have assigned to it.

Mr. Turner: On the basis that I may return to the matter later, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Turner: I beg to move amendment No. 165, in page 9, line 18, at end insert--

    (6a) The promotion of and provision of courses leading to proficiency in written and spoken English of persons of all ages.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 172, in page 9, line 35, at end insert—

    '(c) academic education (including provision of education for highly able children).'.

No. 173, in, page 9, line 35, at end insert—

    '(cc) provision of educational services for children with special educational needs.'.

Mr. Turner: This amendment was tabled following certain comments by the Home Secretary, but that was not the only reason. I worked for the London borough of Southwark for a while, and one of our problems was the need to educate a wide range of people in the English language. I want to probe the Government on whether they believe that education in written and spoken English for people of all ages is important, and whether the Minister would consider giving assistance for that.

Mr. Brady: I rise to speak principally to amendments Nos. 172 and 173, which seek to improve the clarity and focus of the provision. They are a complementary couplet of amendments. Amendment No. 172 relates to children with special educational needs because of their exceptionally high ability--known in the jargon as gifted and talented children. Amendment No. 173 refers to the more usual definition of special educational needs. The two amendments seek to make it explicit in the Bill that the clause can apply to those groups.

Column Number: 230

Ministers may say that the provision is unnecessary, just as they said that it was unnecessary to legislate for the provision of education credits because the Bill already allows for that. Subsection (3) includes certain elements in its definition of education. I assume that the list is not intended to be exclusive, because it defines education as including

    ''vocational training (including the preparation of young people for employment in general), and . . . social and physical training (including the promotion of the development of young children), but does not include higher education, and 'educational' shall be construed accordingly''.

For the purposes of the clause, therefore, two types of education are included and higher education is excluded. Amendments Nos. 172 and 173 seek to establish whether ''education'' might also include academic education, and the provision of education for highly able children and for children with special educational needs. By partially defining a key term in what is potentially the most important clause in the Bill, rather than going the whole hog and offering an all-encompassing definition, the subsection gives rise to a potential danger.

The amendments attempt to probe the Government's intentions, and I offer them to the Minister in the anticipation that he will say that the matters to which I referred are already dealt with in the definition of education in clause 13(3). If so, I ask him to explain the precise parameters. An intelligible, sensible definition would be for ''education'' to constitute anything relating to children of compulsory school age, or to those in further education. However, to exclude higher education, apart from two specific elements, might lead to the exclusion of other matters, and in that regard I look to the Minister for a little clarification.

Chris Grayling: I want to raise a couple of related points. In the context of the Bill as a whole, I find the phraseology in the clause completely baffling. It sums up the all too frequent examples of bad drafting that we have tried to point out to the Government. The clause states:

    ''In this section—

    ''education'' . . . does not include higher education''.

The title of part 2 is ''Financial Assistance for Education and Childcare'', but as I have said, ''education'' does not include higher education. However, the purpose of subsection (2)(c) is to enable

    ''any person to undertake any course of education, or any course of higher education, provided by an institution within the further education sector''.

How is it possible for ''education'' not to include higher education when the clause specifically refers to a

    ''course of higher education, provided by an institution within the further education sector''?

It does not make sense.

If there is no clear answer to that, surely it is an example of poor drafting. When the Opposition, in a constructive spirit—that is how the discussions should be pursued—come up with sensible word changes that are designed to enhance the quality of this legislation,

Column Number: 231

surely the Government should not refuse dogmatically to consider them and use their whipped vote to resist them.

I should like to commend the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight. Our society is becoming more cosmopolitan and we are welcoming more people from overseas. We have a proud tradition of welcoming political refugees to the United Kingdom, and that tradition has certainly been continued in recent years. In order to ensure equality of opportunity for all those who live in our society, from whatever background, it is important to focus on ensuring that we maximise every child's knowledge of the English language and on providing them with the opportunities that they need for the future. [Interruption] As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight rightly points out from a sedentary position, that should apply to every adult as well. For every citizen in this country, a command of the English language is an essential pre-requisite to academic and professional success.

Therefore, I commend this sensible addition to the legislation. We are simply establishing a signpost for our schools—for our education system—to ensure that equality of opportunity is provided to everyone in this country. No matter what the background or circumstances, we must make sure that we are at least providing a real focus on building expertise in the English language. We must deliver the right kind of opportunity for the future.

Mr. Ivan Lewis: I do not think that we disagree with the objectives of the Opposition's amendments. We share those objectives. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West for giving the answer as well as the question. He is absolutely right. We do not believe that by being specific about written and spoken English, about academic education of highly able children or about educational services for children with special needs, in any way adds to the definition of education that is covered in the legislation. In fact, there is probably an argument that it could have a perverse affect in that anything not included in the list is regarded as not having the same importance or the same priority as the specific issues that Opposition Members have chosen to include in the list, which is inevitably selective. So, although we do not disagree with the objective, we do not believe that the amendments add any value to the existing legislation.

Mr. Brady: The Minister makes our case for us. If including something specifically complicates the issue and implies different priorities or that other things that are not listed are not included, is that not then the effect of subsections (3)(a) and (b)? By specifically including vocational training, and social and physical training, the Minister is implying an order of priorities in precisely the way that he described.

Mr. Lewis: There are specific references there, in situations where there may be ambiguity and confusion. It would not necessarily be accepted as the norm, so where those have been included, it is for that purpose. However, if we move towards extending that

Column Number: 232

to a selective list of additions, what are we saying about other equally important issues that are not part of the list that Opposition Members have sought to add to the legislation. We simply do not believe that the amendment adds any value to the legislation. In fact, we believe that it poses a risk.

Mr. Brady: In the few seconds remaining —

It being Seven o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [28 June] and the Orders of the Committee [11, 13 and 18 December], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

Clauses 13 to 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Sitting suspended.

 
Previous Contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 18 December 2001