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Lord Henley: My Lords, in the noble Lord's first supplementary, he posed quite a large number of questions. In line with the guidance in the Companion to the Standing Orders, I believe I answered the noble Lord's first two points. I am so advised. I can confirm that unemployment is coming down by some 10,000 to 15,000 a month. That is a good, steady figure. If we could see an employment figure that was higher, that would be wonderful. But we are not going to try to create a figure by artificial means. We will continue to pursue the policy of creating jobs by means of pursuing appropriate economic policies.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that the level of unemployment among the unskilled, which is where unemployment primarily exists, is due

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to the failure not only of this Government but also of previous governments of another complexion to provide adequate training?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we do provide adequate training. The Employment Service provides something of the order of 1½ million opportunities of one sort or another and will be doing so in the coming year. Obviously, the noble Baroness is right to draw attention to the need for training. The more qualifications and the more training any individual can take up, the greater are his or her chances of finding a job.

Television Licence Evasion: Penalties

3 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many people are presently serving terms of imprisonment for failure to pay fines imposed for not having a current television licence.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood): My Lords, on 30th November 1995, the most recent date for which figures are available, there were 16 people in England and Wales serving terms of imprisonment for non-payment of fines imposed for television licence evasion.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, does he not agree that any reasonable person may take the view that to send someone to prison for non-payment of a fine resulting from the failure to pay a current television licence fee is a harsh penalty? Is not there another way of dealing with such offenders? Surely it is not beyond the means of man's technical ingenuity these days to find another way to deal with such cases; perhaps depriving viewers of their sets rather than sending them to prison.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I should emphasise that imprisonment for non-payment of a fine imposed for the non-payment of a television licence fee is very much a last resort. It takes place only after wilful refusal or culpable neglect on the part of the person concerned. The inability to disconnect television sets plays a large part in the thinking behind this matter. Were technology to be introduced to enable disconnection, that would be a major factor in our thinking. The Broadcasting Bill considers the advent of digital television and that technology may have a bearing on the point.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, how many of the 16 are women? And are figures available for Scotland?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I do not have the figures as at 30th November. However, in 1994 a total of 730 people were imprisoned under this heading, of whom 487 were male and 243 female. Figures are available for Scotland, but I am afraid I do not have them at the moment.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, is it not the case that there are other and larger classes of non-payers finding

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themselves in prison? For example, there are non-payers of poll tax, council tax and ordinary fines in prison. What steps are the Government taking to ensure the maximum possible use of non-custodial sentences for such offenders?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Lord's question goes beyond that on the Order Paper. However, as a matter of policy prison is a last resort.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, I acknowledge that this is not an entirely original question, but can my noble friend give thought again to the sellers of television sets being obliged to sell licences with those television sets, thereby greatly reducing the number of people failing to pay licence fees?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, that matter bears consideration. But if, for example, a television set has a life of 20 years and if, as is the case for next year, the cost of a colour TV licence is £89.50, it follows that the price of a television set, in order to recover a licence fee in respect of its economic life, would be hugely prohibitive.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, is not there another reason why the question of the Minister's noble friend is irrelevant? I refer to the fact that most people who buy television sets already own one and already possess a licence which is transferable. More seriously, the Minister gave an Answer in respect of England and Wales. Is it the case, as I believe it is, that in Scotland there are no cases of imprisonment for non-payment of fines of this kind? Though the Minister's answers have been extremely reassuring, would it not be desirable to follow the Scottish practice?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I understand that the procedures in this regard are different in Scotland and that distress is levied in a manner which is different from England and Wales. That is a step which automatically precedes the possibility of imprisonment. It follows therefore that more distress orders--or their Scottish equivalent--are served in Scotland, which can in turn have extremely serious consequences, particularly for those living with the person whose goods may be distrained and who may be dependent on the goods for their ordinary day-to-day lives. I understand that after that people may be imprisoned for non-payment, and it does happen.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, surely if one has a licence, one can be obliged to take it along when purchasing a new set. If one does not have a licence, then one may be compelled to buy one when purchasing the television set.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, under the current arrangements the person from whom one buys a new set is different from the person from whom one acquires the licence. In any event, it would have ramifications for the second-hand market.

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Business

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, with leave I should like to say a word about today's debates standing in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Morris of Castle Morris and Lord Carter. Other than the movers, the Front Bench spokesmen and the Ministers replying, other speakers will be limited to eight minutes in the case of the first debate and seven minutes in the case of the second. I should remind your Lordships that if any noble Lord were to speak at greater length, he would be doing so at the expense of subsequent speakers in the debate. I also remind your Lordships that when the digital clock shows seven minutes, the full seven minutes have elapsed and the speaker is already trespassing on the time of others.

Education

3.6 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris rose to call attention to the need of children aged three to 19 years for high quality education, with especial reference to the responsibilities of local authorities in their areas; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as your Lordships will recall most readily, the patron saint of teachers is St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, who insisted that all teaching should be received by pupils sitting perfectly still and in complete silence--small chance of that in today's schools or, come to that, in your Lordships' House this afternoon!

In introducing today's debate I shall not comment on the Government's proposed legislation because that would constitute an unwarrantable intrusion into private grief. I shall say nothing about student loans and their postponement due to the sad reluctance of banks and building societies to join in the game; hardly a word shall escape my lips about nursery vouchers, which only four authorities could be cajoled even to pilot; and I shall be silent about fast-tracks to GMS for church schools, which the Government unfortunately forgot to ask the Bishops about. It could have happened to anyone. Let us look, rather, at the roots of the matter; at the quality of the education that the Government permit our young people to enjoy.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that young persons between the ages of three and 19 must be in need of a high quality education. That is because, first, future citizens must be enabled to live fulfilling lives; and, secondly, because the nation needs a skilled, highly trained workforce with which to compete in the world economy of the 21st century.

It is equally true that they are not getting high quality education. At last week's North of England education conference, Mr. Geoffrey Holland, formerly the Permanent Secretary at the DFE, reported that the World Economic Forum rated the UK 24th in the world in terms of workforce skills, down from 21st place a year earlier. The forum described the UK as having an "inadequate educational system" and ranked it 35th in

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the world, despite it being at the mid-table point in terms of funding and class size in schools. So much for training our skilled workforce.

Then the day before yesterday the Government's chief curriculum adviser, Dr. Nick Tate, in an amazing speech, told us that many teenagers now leave school believing that morality is just a matter of "what is right for me". He told teachers that they must find practical ways of teaching morality, spirituality and universal human values. We know that schools are legally required to provide religious education for all pupils up to the age of 16. But school inspections found that one-third of schools failed to devote the minimum 5 per cent. of their lesson time to the subject. The best that the Government can offer is two new GCSE mini-courses from next September. I suspect that the mini-course will cover about as much as the mini-skirt, and be very much less attractive. So much for the fulfilled lives of our future citizens.

The Government, of course, will blame everyone but themselves for that dismal lack of quality. They blame the parents. They blame the Churches. They blame the trendy left-wing teachers and their Marxist masters in the training colleges. That cock will not fight. This Government have been in power for nearly 17 years, with majorities which enabled them to do anything they liked. No, the buck stops on the desk of the right honourable Mr. John Major and nowhere else.

Above all, the Government cannot pin blame on the local authorities this time. Things have changed in half a century since the Education Act 1944, but the LEAs have stood the test of time remarkably well. Gone are the days when all the detailed decisions about premises and purchases had to be taken in county or town halls. So let us hear no nonsense today suggesting that local government wishes to re-acquire "control" over schools. LEAs support schools and provide those general educational services which have to be organised on a wider basis, as, for example, provision for special educational needs. The LEA is essentially now a guardian and raiser of standards rather than a chain of command.

The LEAs now provide rapid response and organisational support when disaster unpredictably befalls any particular school. One thinks of the Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy, when it was reported that the Devon school concerned asked publicly where it would have been without the immediate aid of Devon County Council's Education Committee and its officers; and the recent tragic death of the London headteacher Mr. Philip Lawrence, when it was the LEA which provided immediate counselling and immediate help in dealing with the media. There are thousands of lesser examples every year.

Local education authorities also provide essential professional support for schools. The development of a national curriculum now commands general support, but its perpetual rejigging and its sempiternal bureaucracy does not. The years of bitter and wasteful wrangling with the teachers over its implementation were sorted out not by the Government but by the advisers and

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inspectors at LEA level; and what a nonsense it is to dismantle that professional LEA infrastructure and separate the functions of inspection and advice.

Among others, Sir Roy Harding, vice-chairman of the Royal Society Education Committee, voiced his concern recently about the decline in specialist support. Between 1992-93 and 1994-95, LEA advisory and inspector posts fell by about one quarter. Over the same period, advisory teacher posts fell by about one third. Approximately half the LEAs in his survey had fewer than 17 advisers or inspectors, the number which the Audit Commission considered an appropriate minimum in 1989. The decline in advisory teachers was across all subject areas, with the main national curriculum subjects mostly in the range of a 35 per cent. to 40 per cent. drop. Further reductions in specialist support are anticipated.

No LEA willingly makes those cuts; they are forced by underfunding. If LEAs cannot provide that support, who can do so? If no one can, is it not inevitable that the quality of education must be lowered?

Budget pressures also account for similar reductions in other front-line staff, such as education welfare officers, who are responsible for dealing with truancy problems--and truants in all our schools are arrogantly aware that they can seldom be brought to book: they can walk in in the morning, sign in, walk out and not appear again; or educational psychologists, who are not headshrinkers but experts in dealing with those disruptive pupils, who, as we well know, can wreck any school, however good, and who deal also with children with special educational needs. This afternoon, your Lordships will hear a great deal more about special educational needs, not least from my noble friend Lord Haskel. Those services cannot possibly be provided at school level. They demand the existence of an LEA acting in the general interest of the schools and children of its area.

When we turn to the problems of children with special educational needs, we see the Government's casuistry at its most blatant. It is now LEAs which must identify children with problems, assess their needs and, in severe cases--there are many of them--issue a statement of special educational requirements. How splendid! But as soon as a statement is issued, the LEA becomes legally liable for the cost of its recommendations. The new tribunal system looks likely to generate more expensive outcomes than hitherto and thousands of teachers report that their LEAs are desperately reluctant to "statement" a child, even when the need to do so is glaringly obvious, because they know that they cannot afford the expenditure that it will involve.

Yet perhaps the most telling example of the disdain of this Government for the vital work of LEAs is in the matter of school admissions. LEAs are the admission authorities for maintained and controlled schools. That is a sensitive and complex requirement. However, the Government's ewe lambs, the grant-maintained schools, are their own admission authorities, and so they can admit pupils of their choice. Since the 8th January they may even increase the proportion of pupils admitted by reference to

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general ability from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent., and interview parents to help them make their choice. Is it any wonder that LEAs feel themselves threatened, harassed, undervalued and arrogantly ignored by this Government?

Apart from fulfilling their statutory requirements to the highest standards, the LEAs have shown themselves vigorously active and inventive over and above their legal duties. Perhaps I may give, briefly, two examples.

First, in Leeds they have developed a "Family of Schools" initiative, to attract additional finance into primary and secondary schools, to improve the co-ordination and effectiveness of council services, and to enhance the learning opportunities for children and young people within the FE community services--all that and much more. There is already evidence of considerable success, especially in generating a new and powerful community feeling in that part of Leeds. The Leeds initiative could be paralleled in dozens of other local authorities. It is evidence of the vital work being done by co-operation--not competition--at the local community level, organised by democratically elected authorities responsible to the communities which voted them into power.

Secondly, the work of the National Music Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in its local education authority music awards scheme reveals the astonishing depth and range of LEA provision for music in and beyond their schools. Croydon Music Teaching Agency has established a most exciting involvement with the London Mozart Players--I wish that I could do so; Cornwall, through Performing Arts Cornwall, has secured a three-year contract with substantial sponsorship from Classic FM to be a training centre for curriculum and instrumental music in the West Country. Shropshire developed INSET courses comparing Elgar with L.S. Lowry, Hockney with the Beatles and Turner with Beethoven. The list is endless. Every initiative is local. Nothing like it could have emanated from Whitehall. It is a triumph for the LEAs.

Yet instead of recognising all that and encouraging it with the allocation of appropriate resources, the Government have ignored or disparaged the LEAs, and concentrated all their attention on forcing grant-maintained status on people who do not want it and waving those silly little vouchers for nursery education to tempt gullible or greedy parents.

The two central problems which the Government must tackle are underfunding and undermining. In 1995-96 local authorities are already budgeting to spend £18,076 million on the education service. In 1996-97 the Government think that this should be £17,962 million--the gross total standard spending for education. That is a reduction of £114 million.

Add to this the underfunding on school buildings and it is clear that the Government are not investing in the education of young people sufficiently to make the improvements we all want.

Far more damaging in the long run is the relentless undermining of LEAs by the Government. The responsibility of LEAs for higher and further education has been removed in the past seven years. So, partly,

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has the careers service and the school inspection service. LEAs have shown their flexibility by managing these changes, but perhaps what has been most damaging has been the constant undermining of LEAs by government Ministers and paid government officials.

I give one example. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools wrote a booklet published by a Right-wing think tank just before Christmas entitled A Question of Standards: Finding the Balance. He used the opportunity to undermine LEAs by questioning the continuing LEA role in providing professional support for schools. One would have hoped that he, above all, would have been supportive of the LEA role. But no.

Local education authorities are doing an excellent job, and contributing powerfully to the quality of education. I hope the Minister, when he replies, will not say, "We value the LEA contribution very highly. We can't see why they are worried". He may think that; he may believe that. The point is, they don't.

If tomorrow he and all his officials can go out to mend fences with the LEAs, fund them more effectively and stop publicly demeaning them and sneering at them, we shall not have wasted our time today. I beg to move for Papers.

3.21 p.m.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, for introducing the debate and I should very much like to give a word of welcome to the two maiden speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. We shall much look forward to hearing what they have to say.

All of us taking part in the debate will be in agreement about the importance of education for all those aged three to 19--those are the terms of the debate--and, indeed, beyond, although I think that that is not within the terms of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, was right to call attention to the need for high quality education. We all agree with him on that. It was also very brave of him from the Labour Benches to put his head over the parapet and offer observations on any subject at all. We are so used to the Labour Benches being completely silent now that they obviously have a three-line Whip of silence on every subject. So perhaps we may turn to the question before us this afternoon.


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