Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I only reply for the sake of form because the noble Lord is correct: I was addressing my remarks to the amendment as it is on the Marshalled List. I can do no more than that.

Lord Henley: That is exactly the answer I would have given on many occasions. It is quite right that one should only address the amendment on the Marshalled List. We shall present an alternative amendment at Report stage. We shall take advice from those better able than myself in relation to drafting the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 5:


Page 2, line 1, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 5, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I am grateful to the Chairman of Committees for pointing out that if we pass Amendment No. 5 we would not be able to call some of the later amendments. I have no intention of pressing Amendment No. 5, although my noble friend may have other ideas about his amendments. I suspect that my amendment is defective, but that is another matter.

The purpose of the amendment is to deal with the situation of a number of children all through schools. I do not want to speak at any length on this matter because my noble friend Lord Peyton can do it far better. However, if I may, I should like to quote from a letter sent by the headmaster of Norwich School, which is celebrating, I notice, its 450th anniversary this year to my noble friend Lord Ferrers. In that letter the headmaster makes one simple point:


10 Jul 1997 : Column 774

    continuous from the moment of arrival right through until A-level. The pupils who entered the assisted places scheme at that point looked forward to their continuing throughout their time at the school. There may be a different case to be discussed where such places are held in free-standing prep schools, but our lower school is part of a whole."

We will come to the free-standing prep schools in due course when we discuss the amendment that will be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, the amendment that we call, in simple terms, "the broken promise".

These are important issues for such schools and for that reason I hope that we can address this amendment or, if not this amendment, the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I beg to move.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: During the debate I have been interested to note the support Ministers have enjoyed from the Benches behind them. I make this prophecy in a tentative manner: that as time goes on, while Ministers will be very glad to have their supporters sitting behind them, they would infinitely prefer them to sit in silence. That is for the future. At the moment I have no doubt that their relations are friendly and very pleasant. Noble Lords opposite are full of their manifesto but manifestos do not necessarily carry with them cures for defects in Bills.

I believe that it is a serious matter to interrupt the process of a child's education. The purpose of my amendments is to prolong, until after secondary education is complete, the enjoyment of an assisted place by any child.

I should like to exchange a number of thoughts with the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I find it very difficult to accept as valid the coupling of the abolition of the assisted places scheme with the reduction of class numbers. It is so unreal as to verge upon the bogus. I say that for two reasons: first, the amount of money to be saved is extremely uncertain; secondly, I do not know when one starts to spend the savings. Will they be accrued before they are spent on reducing class sizes or is it hoped that they will accrue in the amount hoped for?

There is uncertainty when the amounts will be available and what they represent. According to Mr. Byers, £100 million will be "freed up" by the year 2000. That figure is the raft upon which the noble Baroness has so far floated her arguments. She appears to be very confident about them. I wonder whether there is a danger of her playing the role of the White Queen in believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Maybe she has placed too much reliance upon this figure dreamed up by Mr. Byers. There does not appear to be any unanimity among Ministers on how much will be saved or when. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, put forward a figure of between £20 million and £50 million being available by 1998-2000.

Mention has been made of the fact that the Institute of Public Finance saw no possibility of any savings before 1998-99, and even then a mere £13 million. The Institute of Fiscal Studies, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, at Second Reading, said that in year three the savings would amount, not to £100 million--

10 Jul 1997 : Column 775

as predicted by the noble Baroness and others--but to £38 million. I wonder about that. I was rather surprised that the advisers of the noble Baroness had not seen fit to call her attention to that rather different forecast made by the Institute of Fiscal Studies as opposed to those upon which she and presumably her department were relying. Now that she has had time to reflect upon this, has she reached any conclusions or is she still certain that her figure is right and that of the institute is wrong? We on these Benches feel that there is real doubt about the merits of this measure. We have a nasty feeling that it may be a case of old Labour pulling strings offstage and insisting that the public and private sectors are separate and never the twain should meet. That is a pity at a time when one ought to be looking for bridges and not for gaps.

I quote with approval the sentence in the new White Paper on education which states at paragraph 35 on page 72,


    "The educational apartheid created by the public/private divide diminishes the whole education system".

I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, replies, he will treat that point seriously and explain why the guidance which is now available in the White Paper has not been followed in practice in the Bill. There seems to us to be a clear conflict between the two.

I make a brief reference to what one can only call the Kilfoyle pledge. It was quoted at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who said that Mr. Kilfoyle had said clearly,


    "If a child has a place at a school which runs to 13, then that place will be honoured through to 13".--[Official Report, 24/6/97; col. 1480.]

On the other hand the noble Baroness has said that the Government are honouring commitments that were made when they were in opposition and they never said that children in integral junior departments would keep their places through to the age of 13 or 18. I seek enlightenment here. Did the then Opposition spokesman say those words on 1st April? If he did, why are they not now being honoured; why are they being ignored? I may have the facts wrong and if that is so I welcome a correction; otherwise, we are owed some explanation.

I wish to make one further point as regards the wide discretion that is given to the Secretary of State in Clause 2(2)(b) which states,


    "the Secretary of State, where he is satisfied that it is reasonable to do so in view of any particular circumstances relating to that pupil, determines that he should continue to hold that place for a further period during which he receives secondary education, at the end of that period".

That is a wide discretion. I have made my next point frequently, including when I sat on the other side of the Chamber. When Parliament agrees to a discretion, Ministers ought to explain far more clearly than they have the basis upon which that discretion will be exercised. I suspect that it will be not much more than the following. If a particular case attracts a great deal of attention and clamour it is likely that Ministers, to save themselves embarrassment, will hurry to exercise the discretion now conferred upon them. That will be one

10 Jul 1997 : Column 776

more proof--if proof were needed--of the truth of that old adage that the axle that squeaks the loudest gets the most grease.

Before I conclude I wish to echo the comments of two people. At Second Reading my noble friend Lady Young asked why the Government should withdraw what she described as a ladder of opportunity. My next quotation comes from a recent article in the Daily Telegraph written by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich which states that the Bill,


    "will again drive a wedge between the private and public sector of education. The intake of children to independent schools will become limited to an ever-narrower economic spectrum".

Those are the concerns which I feel. I hope the noble Lord accepts that I do not put them forward in any narrow party spirit. I hope the noble Lord will be fair enough to recall that when I sat on the other side of the Chamber I was not always a mute supporter of my colleagues on the Front Bench. Today I believe I have behaved with great restraint in that I have been agreeable and more polite to Ministers of whose Bill I greatly disapprove and about which I have some deep anxieties than I would have been to my own side had they put forward a measure which had equally aroused my distaste.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: I shall take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and be as brief as possible, so as not to take up the Committee's time. I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, was an extremely effective Government Back-Bencher; I have no intention of being so effective as a new Government Back-Bencher.

Amendment No. 5--I believe it was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Henley--seeks to remove subsection (2) and subsection (2)(b) which would remove the Secretary of State's discretion. I am surprised. Perhaps it was just a device to debate this issue in general, but I would have thought that they would be pleased that that discretion was on the face of the Bill, and it seems to me that in general Amendment No. 8 (which we will come to in due course) achieves the type of thing that this current group of amendments seeks to achieve and does it somewhat more elegantly.

The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, rehearsed a number of arguments which went wide of the amendments themselves. That is a perfectly legitimate thing for him to do but I should like to confine my comments to the specific purpose of these similar amendments--that is, an extension of the assisted places scheme either to all through school or up to the age of 13 or 14. I should like to make this simple point to my noble friend. If parents are going to be moving their children into the state sector, is it not likely that they would want to move them at the same time as their peer group; namely, at the age of 11 for most children? That is the case for the majority of children in this country. There are exceptions to that but I cannot help harbouring the suspicion that this idea of extending it to 13 or 14 is just to get a couple more years of free assisted places with those parents harbouring the hope that somehow they will be able to raise the money to continue in the

10 Jul 1997 : Column 777

independent sector once the assisted places scheme runs out. In the light of that last point, I urge my noble friend to reject these amendments.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page