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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, following the changes to our ancient rights of privilege as Members of Parliament last year as a result of the amendment to the Defamation Bill, I am aware of concern expressed by Commonwealth parliamentarians--many of whose parliamentary systems are based on our own--about the implications of the changes as regards their privileges as members of parliament in their countries. While I am sure that it would not be right for us to defer to any outside considerations in determining any future system of parliamentary privilege for our Parliament in Westminster, perhaps the Joint Committee will bear in mind any knock-on Commonwealth implication. In its deliberations, perhaps it will consult with the Commonwealth regarding those implications.

Lord Peston: My Lords, will the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal bear in mind that my generation of Peers joined your Lordships' House at a time when no one told us anything? I knew nothing then, and I have learnt nothing since.

Will the noble Lord ensure that the committee has a partly didactic purpose so that it can tell some of us what parliamentary privilege is and what privileges we have? I have listened to people talk on the subject for the past decade. None of it has borne any resemblance to the reality that I have experienced. It would be nice to know what parliamentary privilege is so that we can decide whether it is a privilege that we want or one that we need to reform.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. Perhaps I may say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, that I disclaim paternity for this progeny. It is always a great satisfaction, having expressed one's views, when, purely coincidentally, some months afterwards, other people seem to share those views. Perhaps that is my situation today.

I seek to answer the questions posed. A number of noble Lords referred to the terms of reference of the committee. They will be deliberately wide. The objective of the exercise is to have a general review of parliamentary privilege for many of the reasons that I gave earlier. The terms will be wide enough to cover the two points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I am sure that the European aspect in both the forms raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester and by my noble friend Lord Bruce will be within the terms of reference of the committee. I am sure that if the committee finds it helpful, it will consider the Commonwealth situation, as called for by my noble friend Lord Monkswell. I am sure that it will have in mind the knock-on effect, if I may so put it, of what occurs here in relation to other legislatures which have based themselves on the Westminster platform.

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Perhaps I may say this to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. There will indeed be adequate representation from this House. I am not in a position today to give any guidance as to the chairmanship. It is being considered quietly and discreetly, as I think the noble Viscount knows, by the usual channels. When the usual channels reach the stage that they can bring forth, no doubt they will do so.

Finally, perhaps I may say the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that I hope that we shall all learn a lot from the committee. It is an important but slightly arcane subject. I hope that the Joint Committee will be able to shed some light on these perhaps not over-illuminated parts of our constitution. I commend the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and it was ordered that a Message be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

Education (Schools) Bill

3.57 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [Transitional arrangements for existing assisted places]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 5, at end insert--
("( ) in the case of a pupil with an assisted place at a school providing education for children up to the age of 13 but not beyond, at the end of the school year in which he attains the age of 13; or").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have put forward this amendment because it concerns a broken promise. As was said in Committee and at an earlier stage, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Peers believe that a promise was made on behalf of the party now in government that children should be allowed to remain in their preparatory schools until the age of 13.

Noble Lords opposite argued that it is better for a child to move from primary to secondary school at the age of 11 years. The Minister spoke of the advantages of moving to secondary school at that age as most of the children within the maintained sector move at 11. But surely in the end it is the parents who should make that final decision.

The noble Baroness also spoke of the powers of discretion which the Secretary of State has with regard to 11 to 13 year-olds. I do not doubt her sincerity when she assured the House that these powers would be used sympathetically. However, we on this side of the House maintain that it is for parents to make that decision and not the Secretary of State. We feel that we would be failing in our duty as a revising Chamber if we did not put forward this amendment.

A promise was made, and a promise is now to be broken. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of the letter which was sent to the chairman of the Association of

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Preparatory Schools, referred to at Second Reading and again in Committee last week. It stated:

    "If a child has a place at school which runs to 13, then that place is to be honoured"--

a clear indication by the then Opposition spokesman on education, Mr. Peter Kilfoyle. On 15th May 1997 Mrs. Gillan, the Member for Chesham and Amersham, asked the Secretary of State in another place whether he would confirm,

    "that only a few weeks before the general election he allowed the new assisted places to go ahead from 1 September".

In his reply the Secretary of State said:

    "The hon. Lady is correct. During the general election campaign, I said that children who have been allocated places will be permitted to take them up. We shall legislate within weeks to ensure that schools do not abuse the licence that was given to them to look after the interests of children by agreeing to places for 1998 or 1999 onwards. The hallmark of this Government will be to put children before dogma. It will be to ensure that the interests of our children come first on every occasion".--[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/97; cols. 182-3.]

If that is not a promise, I do not know what a promise is.

This is a moral issue to which I do not feel the Government have given the full attention it deserves. I hope that the Government, having had time to consider the arguments, will alter their original decision. I do not feel that the moral issue has been addressed properly. A promise was made, and that promise should not be broken. I beg to move the amendment.

4 p.m.

Lord Tope: My Lords, this amendment is, word for word, the amendment that I moved a week ago today in Committee. On that occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in supporting me on this issue, said:

    "there is scarcely a cigarette paper's difference between the noble Lord and myself".--[Official Report, 10/7/97; col. 784.]

The noble Lord is far better qualified that I am to know the dimensions of a cigarette paper. It may well be that on this particular point our views have converged. However, I feel it necessary to start by saying that, to the extent that they have converged on this particular point, they do so from almost completely opposite directions.

We have consistently opposed the assisted places scheme. We have opposed its extension; indeed, the very recent extension of the scheme which in effect is the subject of this amendment I myself opposed vigorously earlier this year. Almost the last words I spoke in this House before the general election were spoken in very reluctant acceptance of the clause that gave effect to it on the basis that commitments had already been given and we accepted that they had to be honoured.

However, at that time I asked how those commitments could have been given apparently a month before discussion on the Bill that would make provision for such commitments to be made. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, has complained several times that he has not received answers to his questions. Neither then, nor since, have I received an answer from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, or any of his colleagues to that particular point.

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In Committee I set out the background to this issue fairly fully and set out my views. I do not intend to take the time of the House today in going over the same ground. It would not greatly profit us. I understand, and I think I accept, that the Minister does not wish to see a blanket provision of this nature on the face of the Bill. She has given her reasons--one being fear of possible abuse. I wonder whether in replying she might say rather more about what she has in mind in terms of that abuse. Although it was not the intention, the impression could have been given at Committee stage of a suggestion that all preparatory schools in this position will seek to exploit their position, perhaps against the best interests of the pupils and perhaps without even advising parents of what might be a better option.

As I said then, I accept that in most cases it will be a better option for children transferring to the state sector to do so at age 11 where that is the normal transfer age. However, I stressed last week, and the noble Baroness has just done so again today, that that decision belongs with the parents concerned and not with the Government.

What I sought last week, and seek again, is that what I termed the spirit of the Kilfoyle letter should be honoured--in other words, the Government when exercising their discretion should start with what might be called the presumption of innocence, the presumption in favour of those pupils and parents who find themselves in the position to which the Kilfoyle letter referred. That is what we seek today. The Minister moved some way towards that position last week. If she is able to take a few more steps towards that today, I shall certainly listen with interest. I have absolutely no wish to extend either the life or the operation of this scheme one day longer than is necessary.

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