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Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I accept that I said totally the reverse. I said, and can probably find it if I look, that it was being provided by additional money provided by the Treasury for that purpose. It was not being done at the cost of other expenditure. Of course there is some saving, but to suggest, as the manifesto does, that the gross cost of the scheme is the same as the savings that will be made is nonsense. The only fair system to follow is to assess the difference between the cost of education per child under the assisted places scheme and the cost of educating the same child in the state system. To suggest that merely because there are 80,000 spare places one can somehow accommodate all the children without any additional expenditure is economic nonsense. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, said that probably the truth lies somewhere in the middle and I agree with that.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. I have not given her notice of it and if she says that she cannot answer, I will appreciate that. It occurred to me, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to ask what arrangements have been made for the future financing of Chetham School, Manchester? At the moment the whole of its finance comes through the assisted places scheme. It is a music school of the highest calibre. What is happening to the equivalent school formerly in London, which is also being funded out of the scheme? What provision has been made for them? Do they come before the reduction in the size of the classes of four, five and six year-olds? Or is Chetham School in danger of having its whole future killed off?
There is nothing wrong--indeed I think it admirable--about the Government aiming to reduce the size of classes for five to seven year-olds to under 30. It is an excellent aim and should be encouraged. But surely the Government should have the honesty, like the Liberal Democrat Party, to say that more money should be provided for education rather than to suggest, bogusly, that it can be counteracted by savings under this Bill.
As I said, I believe that this is a nasty, mean clause and that it will reduce educational opportunities. It is particularly unfortunate for those who have been pupils at the great grammar schools of the northern industrial cities of this country. I do not understand--frankly, I never have understood--why members of the Labour Party, many of whom come from that part of the world and who have benefited from the education provided by those schools, should now wish to deny the same opportunity to others. It is hypocritical and wrong.
I have looked through the report of last week's debate which I was unable to attend. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that I was particularly taken by her speech. I appreciate that although we may have agreed on matters of penal reform in the past, clearly I have been removed from what she described as the vanishing list of enlightened Tories. I could not have agreed less with every word that she said on this subject. I reject wholeheartedly her description of the assisted places scheme as unprincipled. I object to the argument that it merely gave help to the few at the expense of the many. I believe that it gave opportunities to many, which they otherwise would not have had. It gave particular opportunity to those from whom opportunity had been taken away. I believe that the intended abolition of the scheme, which this clause sets out to do, will come to be looked on as a stain on the present Labour Government.
Lord Henley: Perhaps I may briefly intervene. My noble friend quoted from the Labour Party manifesto at the last election. I wish to quote from a more recent document, the Excellence in Schools White Paper, published at the beginning of this week. The noble Baroness will recognise the paragraph at page 72:
That was a statement of policy made by the Government. Clause 1 removes a duty from the Secretary of State to provide assisted places. Bearing in mind what is said in that paragraph and the evidence we have had of the success of the scheme and what it has done for a number of individual pupils--I shall not return to the research that my noble friend Lady Young mentioned, which came from the LSE and showed how much better children were doing as a result of the assisted places scheme than they might otherwise have done--and bearing in mind that it is just possible that the Government may change their mind, as has happened on a number of occasions in the past on a great many matters despite the fact that they have stuck to this view for 18 years, will they consider, having removed the duty, substituting a power? We shall be discussing later an amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in which he seeks some kind of annual review of the scheme and the effects of its abolition.
My skills at drafting are relatively limited, despite what I said earlier about offering advice on deleting part of the explanatory and financial memorandum. I am advised that drafting the appropriate number of amendments to the 1996 Act, which is what one has to do to substitute the duty with a power, would be quite tricky, but no doubt it can be done and it might be borne in mind for later stages of the Bill.
I ask the noble Baroness to address the question as to whether we might consider replacing the duty that we are seeking to abolish in Clause 1 with a power of the Secretary of State to run such a scheme if and when the party opposite changes its mind.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, made a very fine Second Reading speech. Under most circumstances I would take exception to that because the place for such speeches is at Second Reading, but not in the case of the noble Lord. After all, he holds a special position in relation to the Bill because he was the author of the original legislation for the assisted places scheme which we are now proposing to phase out. I believe that the Committee will forgive him for his passionate intervention and the way in which he made it. That is not to say that we agree with his arguments. We certainly do not agree with the very strong words such as "mean" and "hypocritical" which he applied to the Bill and to those who support it. I shall return to his point when I have considered the Question whether the clause shall stand part of the Bill and the issue of what part the clause plays in the construction of the Bill.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, recognised, those who support the Bill have always had deep-rooted objections to the principles on which the assisted places scheme was founded. The noble Lord disagrees with that, but that is a matter of fact and we cannot do anything about it. However, whatever the disagreements may be in principle, it is the disagreement about the practice which is now before the Committee. That is what we have to consider. The scheme has not met its objective. It has failed on a number of counts. It has not increased parental choice because it has sent children to schools which practise selection. Nearly one-third of the pupils on the scheme came from the independent sector anyway, so we have to ask whether those pupils need the help that is provided by the scheme. One in five pupils come from families with incomes above the national average. That means that the well off are often being subsidised by those poorer than themselves. As only 46 per cent. of pupils come from working class backgrounds, the scheme hardly represents a ladder of opportunity. The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, gave figures relating to the proportion of pupils who have their fees fully paid as if they were the poorest families. I must advise the noble Lord that in a significant number of cases they are not the poorest families but are separated parents, particularly mothers whose husbands' income is not taken into account for the purpose of the calculation.
Above all, the costs of the scheme are not justified. The average cost of an assisted secondary school place is £4,100 for the year 1997-98, which is 47 per cent. more than the standard spending assessment for pupils in the state sector. I am but one of many to have expressed concern about the way in which the SSA is calculated, but it is there and it is the best estimate that we have of the cost of education per pupil in the state sector.
Furthermore, the assisted places scheme fails to add value in educational terms. I do not want to return to the question which arose on Second Reading when some noble Lords used the unfortunate phrase "dust heap" to describe the state sector in which pupils would be placed instead of the independent sector. Nevertheless, there is no statistical evidence of value added in terms of results achieved at A-level.
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