Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may put one other probing point. The noble Lord was an experienced local government man in years gone by. He explained that the money saved on the assisted places scheme would go to local authorities to reduce class sizes. Can the noble Lord inform the Committee how the Government intend to ensure that the money goes to the cause intended? Will it be ring-fenced? If so, does the noble Lord, as a local government man, approve of it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I thought that my noble friend Lady Blackstone had already made that clear both today and in the Statement that she made about the Excellence in Schools White Paper. We do not need primary legislation for some of the purposes, but in so far as we do require primary legislation that will be introduced following the consultation process with schools and local education authorities that is promised in the White Paper.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: That was not what I wanted to know. Is the money that is to be given to local authorities for this purpose to be ring-fenced so that it must be spent on that and not on something else? If so, does he approve of that?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That is a perfectly valid question. It is for that reason that there will be consultation. At the end of the consultation we shall reach a decision. If and when legislation is necessary it will be introduced. I understand perfectly well the point

10 Jul 1997 : Column 761

that the noble Baroness makes about the ring-fencing of this particular expenditure, but she anticipates the results of consultation which I suggest it is unwise to do.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: There is not to be a White Paper in Scotland. How will consultation take place?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There is no reason why there should not be consultation in Scotland as well as in Wales.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 2:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Report on effect of abolition of assisted places schemes

(" . Within one year of this Act coming into force, and annually thereafter for a period of not less than seven years, the Secretary of State shall make a report to Parliament on the effect of the abolition of the assisted places schemes.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2. The effect of this amendment is to require the Secretary of State to make a report to Parliament on the effects of the abolition of the assisted places scheme annually throughout the period during which it is intended to phase it out; in other words, for a period not less than seven years.

We have debated at considerable length the uncertainties as to the effects of the scheme. I said earlier that I suspected that one side was playing down the savings and the other side was exaggerating the costs. Nevertheless, there must be uncertainty. Until it takes place one cannot know the savings, the costs of reducing class sizes or the speed at which the abolition is achieving that. It is very important that the effects of abolition are closely monitored, that Parliament has that information in the necessary detail and, if appropriate, has the ability to debate it. It is for that reason that we call for an annual report to Parliament on the subject.

I anticipate, perhaps wrongly, that when the Minister replies she will say that that information will be included in the department's annual report. If so, I hope that she will say a little more about the extent and nature of the information in the department's annual report. In anticipation of that, excellent though that annual report always has been, and I am sure will continue to be, I do not believe that that is adequate for something as important as this. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, will agree with me. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, will recall that we debated the question of a report to Parliament versus an inclusion in the department's annual report previously in connection with the Education (Student Loans) Bill. I recall the memorable moment when the noble Lord, Lord Henley, offered the noble Lord, Lord Morris, a copy of the then current annual report which the latter said he would keep by his bedside, treasure and read thoroughly. I make no comment on how well rested he looks today. I am sure that he has done that as he said he would. However, not all of your Lordships, still less all members of the public, will be taking the department's annual report to their bedsides or studying it with such loving care and attention to detail.

10 Jul 1997 : Column 762

I suggest that that is not enough. The department's annual report contains an enormous range of information. One has no means of knowing whether the information that it will contain on this important subject will be adequate or in a form that is useful and enables one to monitor the progress that is being made. I urge that a subject as important to all of us, albeit for different reasons, as the phasing out of the scheme, in particular the reduction of class sizes, warrants its own annual review and report to Parliament, not merely a paragraph or even a section in a department's annual report which must of necessity cover a wide range of subjects.

I believe that this is a very reasonable amendment. I am sure that it will be accepted in a spirit of support and in the hope that the intentions of the Bill are fulfilled. I move it in that spirit. I very much hope that the Minister will feel able either to accept the amendment or at least to go some way to assure noble Lords how she will otherwise meet the intentions behind the amendment.

Lord Henley: Perhaps I may offer a degree of tacit support to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for the amendment. I am not sure whether I still have my copy of the annual report from my days in the department, but perhaps I could put forward a request to the noble Baroness for her to send me a copy, should they still exist, and possibly a copy of the new one whensoever it is produced. Indeed, I am sure that she will have it in mind to send me a copy.

I was quite amused to see that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, had tabled the amendment. I remember him saying on Second Reading that one of his personal reasons for welcoming the Bill was no longer having to go through the annual debate on the regulations related to the assisted places scheme. I wonder whether withdrawal symptoms, or something of that nature, have caught up with the noble Lord and that, therefore, he feels it necessary to continue having an annual debate on the scheme as it winds down so that he can wean himself off it as slowly as possible.

Having said that, I believe that there are arguments for including certain matters in the annual report and no doubt the noble Baroness will tell us whether that is the case. On the other hand, as the noble Lord said, there are also perfectly good arguments for a proper individual report on the winding down of the scheme. If there were to be such a report, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and myself would certainly like to ensure that the usual channels made some time available to debate it in due course.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: A few weeks before the late glorious general election, in a debate on that ill-fated Education Bill in this Chamber, I was able to say to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that between the education policies of his party and mine there was only one pennyworth of difference. Alas, the gap has widened fractionally since then, though it would still not amount to tuppence halfpenny. Although I have a great deal of sympathy for the impulse behind the

10 Jul 1997 : Column 763

amendment, upon mature reflection and careful thought I feel unable to support it as fully as I would otherwise have liked to do.

First, the requirement for a mandatory annual report on the face of the Bill to both Houses of Parliament and for it to be there discussed at length seems to me to be taking a drop forge hammer to crack a walnut. It is not a very big Bill; indeed, it is not an awfully complicated one. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to the principle of Occam's Razor, with which he is no doubt well acquainted, now expressed in the pithy Latin phrase, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitas. For those Members of the Committee who were not brought up to the purple, that could roughly be translated as, "categories should not be multiplied unnecessarily".

Such an annual report could only provide information about the numbers still in the scheme, the movement towards reducing class sizes in the maintained sector, a review of whether or not the savings which were to be achieved were actually being achieved and any new or unforeseen factors which had entered the equation since the previous annual report. All that, and anything new which the noble Lord might wish to know, could be achieved by the simple, normal parliamentary means. For example, a Starred Question to raise the issues, a Written Question to elicit the facts and the figures or an Unstarred Question to allow a deeper and more leisurely look at the progress of change.

In my view the amendment is not a necessary safeguard in this particular case. In the event, if we are to have such an annual report for seven years after the initial year, by the end of the seventh year--which would, if I may say so, be well into the Labour Party's second term in government--I feel sure that there would be virtually nothing to say. Therefore, while seven years is a fine Pharaonic figure, there is very little to justify that extent in this case. So while I approve of the need for vigilant monitoring of the progress of this scheme, I think that perhaps an amendment for this Bill is too big and blunt an instrument to deploy. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page