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A noble Lord: Order! Please speak from the Government Bench.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: All right, I do not mind being a Bishop if the Bishops do not object, after all, they are some of the real people. Is it not a fact that corporate hospitality takes out of circulation a large number of the best seats at Wimbledon which remain unoccupied because the people on whose behalf they have been reserved prefer to continue in the hospitality tent rather than to watch the game? Meanwhile, the real people are those who care so much for the tennis that

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they are prepared to queue in the rain, often in the vain hope of getting a seat. Could we therefore have more "People's Days" which gave the viewers such an opportunity? If we cannot have "People's Sundays", can we have a "People's Weekday" now and then so that the people who play at Wimbledon can see that there are people watching them who really care?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, any of us who saw the Henman match on the Sunday and the Rusedski match on the following Thursday will agree that at the Sunday match the stands seemed to be full, whereas for the Rusedski match they were less than half full. That confirms the valid point which my noble friend Lady Castle made. In fact, 50 per cent. of the seats in the Centre Court go to public ballot whereas 25 per cent. are for debenture holders and corporate hospitality and it is that which is the major cause of empty stands during important matches. That is why we are keen to secure wider access and to have an extension of the days available for those who queue for their seats, as my noble friend said.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, be kind enough to reprimand his noble friend Lord Ewing, behind him, for saying that hereditary Peers are not real people? Does he agree that hereditary Peers are real people and that it would be quite wrong to consider that it is only the Life Peers who are real people, when in fact they are the ones who are not the real people?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I not only agree that hereditary Peers are real people but I am prepared to go further and say that perhaps their ancestors were real people as well.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, if a person is not a real person, what is he? Can the noble Lord suggest a definition?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we are enjoyably moving away from Wimbledon. I believe that the noble Lady has come to the point about hereditary Peers when she asks: if a hereditary Peer is not a person, what is he? With honourable and distinguished exceptions such as the noble Lady, the problem with the hereditary Peerage is that it is so overwhelmingly male.


3.20 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Blackstone will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the Dearing Report on Higher Education. I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement after the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen should be confined to "brief comments and questions for clarification".

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There is a mandatory limit of 20 minutes for Back-Benchers from the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen.

The House may be aware that, during proceedings on yesterday's Statement, two Back-Benchers occupied 11 minutes between them. My noble friend the Leader of the House was obliged to intervene. I hope he will not be obliged to do so again today.

Education (Schools) Bill

Read a third time.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

This is an important Bill. It is a Bill that will enable us to fulfil a clear manifesto commitment. We promised that we would reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds. Indeed, that was the first of the Government's key pledges. Through this Bill we are demonstrating that we are committed to raising standards in education without delay.

The Bill represents a re-ordering of priorities. The money we shall save from phasing out the assisted places scheme--which benefits only 40,000 pupils--will be used to give those 480,000 infant children in overcrowded classrooms a much better foundation of learning in their early years of education. Those early years are crucial to the future of the children in this country. It is only right that they are given the best possible start in their school life. Ensuring that pupils of infant age are not in classes of more than 30 is a significant first step on the road to raising standards.

We are also honouring our commitment to those pupils on the assisted places scheme. Primary age pupils will keep their places to age 11, when they can transfer to the maintained sector. Secondary age pupils will hold their places until they complete their education at their current school.

I made clear at Report stage that places in free-standing preparatory schools, offered and accepted in light of the letter from Peter Kilfoyle, will be honoured. Noble Lords were asked to express an opinion as to whether that went far enough. An amendment was passed which places an obligation on the Government to support all assisted pupils at free-standing preparatory schools through to the end of their education at such schools at age 13.

I can confirm that we remain of the opinion that that goes further than is required to fulfil commitments given and that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment will be asking members in the other place to overturn the amendment.

We promised the electorate that we would act quickly--and we are doing so. I make no apology for that. No one can claim there has been a lack of notice. Independent schools and local education authorities have a year to plan for the effects of the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. That in our view, is sufficient time.

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We have spent a lot of time debating the principles and mechanics of the assisted places scheme--not just the eight or so hours we have spent during the passage of this short Bill, but on the many occasions previously when debating the regulations and during the passage of the initial legislation.

It would take too much of your Lordships' time for me to thank all those who have taken part individually. So I shall simply place on record my thanks to all of them, without whom we would not have had such interesting debates. But I must single out one or two special contributors. I must express warm gratitude to my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey for his support at the Dispatch Box. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who is not in his place, appreciates the value of such support and he too has been helped by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the other members of his team, for performing their duties as official Opposition, sometimes passionately but, despite that, with good grace.

I should like to make particular mention of the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who, unfortunately again, is not in his place. I always look forward to his contributions, even when he probes for commitments and seeks clarification of the Government's position. I can always be confident that he will listen carefully and that, when he receives the assurances that he sought, he recognises them.

Support from the Benches behind me is always welcome and I thank my noble friends Lord Morris, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Peston and the noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Lockwood, for their most useful contributions. I look forward to their continued support during the debates on the major Education Bill in the autumn. In preparation for that I urge my noble friends to have a good summer. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I accept that the Bill fulfils a manifesto commitment of the Government. Yet, I remain worried about it. Our extensive debates have shown--I quote my noble friend Lord Skidelsky in this matter--that the money saved will not provide the amount of money needed for the worthy aim of reducing class sizes. Therefore, the Bill does not in fact fulfil what it is intended to do.

Because of that, I am very sad that a great opportunity has been lost for constructive co-operation between the public and private sectors. The schools with assisted places could have added to the policy of the present Government and their predecessor of establishing centres of excellence. They could have paralleled and been part of the centres of excellence that this Government propose to continue. The whole community would have benefited from that co-operation between the private and public sectors, as has been shown in those countries, such as Australia and France, where it occurs.

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Therefore, I fear again, as so often in debates on English education, that ideology has prevailed over common sense. At this last stage of the Bill, I only hope that at some time we may see English education escaping the shackles of ideology which have done so much destruction over the past three decades--the last 30 years.

I am sad about a promise having been changed into a discretion. I do not believe that my wife would have been very pleased when I made my vows at the altar if I had said that I was going to exercise discretion in the case of the promises that I made. It seems to me that a promise was made, and I do not regard it as sufficient to be replaced with a discretion, however generous. I accept the noble Baroness's assurance that the discretion will be used generously.

Finally, at the end of these long debates I want to express thanks to the noble Baroness for the patience, kindness and care she has shown in the conduct of the passage of this Bill. I also want to express my thanks to my noble friends on this side who have given me so much thought and to noble Lords on the other side who have given me so much to think about.

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