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The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will do so now.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his advice. I rise to express concern about the negative response to my letter requesting supporting information on four issues in the Bill. They are the creation of action zones; the power of the organisation committees and of the adjudicator; and the future of grammar schools. I shall deal with the detail in a moment.

No doubt the Minister will argue that a great deal of information was made available as the Bill proceeded through the other place and since. At the outset, I acknowledge that that is the case and I thank the Minister and her colleagues for making that information available. However, the information leaves very important questions unanswered.

It is important to repeat yet again that in this House we are engaged in making legislation. Therefore, it is extremely important to have an interest in the detail, especially as in the case of this Bill the impact on parents and children will be considerable.

The contempt with which this Government are treating Parliament is palpable. I take the first issue; namely, action zones. They are addressed by just four clauses in the Bill. The bidding documents in relation to becoming an action zone have been distributed widely. Indeed, they were distributed almost as the Bill received its Second Reading in another place.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, is it right to continue with this particular line? I thought that the noble Baroness was raising a question on a point of order. I believe that she is going too far.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am happy to be advised by the House but I understood that I could make this statement before the Bill proceeds to Committee. However, as I said, I am happy to be advised by the House.

Action zones are addressed by just four clauses in the Bill and the bidding documents were distributed widely almost as soon as the Bill received its Second Reading in another place. Civil servants have been out and about around the country--I can say--sometimes coercing a

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positive response to becoming an action zone. Ministers are saying one thing behind closed doors in the department, different from that which is said publicly or which is consistent with the written materials. The closing date to become an action zone was 20th March.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is going too far. I should like to have a ruling.

Lord Richard: My Lords, it was known on this side of the House that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is not perhaps entirely happy with the way in which the Bill is being presented to the House. The Motion before the House at the moment is that the House should resolve itself into a Committee. The question is whether the noble Baroness is speaking to that Motion or making a statement. She is entitled to speak to the Motion but if she wishes to make a statement, I believe that the House should pass the Motion following which the noble Baroness can say what she wishes on the first substantive issue that arises. I am fortified in that by those who are unmentionable in this House. Perhaps the better way to deal with the issue is for the House to agree to the Motion and then for the noble Baroness to make her statement at the appropriate stage.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the point I am making relates to our going into Committee on the Bill. In order for that to happen, there is information which we need, as Members of this House, in order to give proper consideration to matters contained in the Bill. Again, I shall be advised by the House. I cannot make this statement once the House is in Committee because we shall deal immediately with individual amendments to the Bill.

We had an unedifying experience on the Teaching and Higher Education Bill but at that time the Bill was already under way. I wrote to the noble Baroness and said that I wished to avoid a repeat of that on this occasion. However, the noble Baroness has responded negatively to my request. I know that there are many noble Lords in the House who are extremely concerned--as is the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee--and I wish to make this comment at the outset of our consideration of the Bill in order to elicit from the Minister the sort of information which we require in order to give it proper consideration.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords--

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have not concluded what I was saying and I should like to continue my statement. I am looking for advice as to whether I am able to complete what I wish to say. It relates to going into Committee on the Bill.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, my anxiety is the possible exceptions which the House may take in future if we adopt this procedure. Like all members of the Opposition, past and present, the noble Baroness is obviously alarmed and concerned about information which is available on approaching the Committee stage.

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The purpose of the Committee stage is to elicit the information which the noble Baroness seeks from the Minister. However, I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that if this procedure were to be adopted in relation to every Bill which came before the House, we should have such a debate, taking half an hour or an hour, on every Bill.

The noble Baroness will well know that no Opposition--certainly none of which I have been a member for many years--have ever been satisfied with the material available to them in Committee. I believe that the noble Baroness should deal with these issues in Committee, pursuing them urgently and strongly. She can then decide whether she has received a satisfactory answer and what further steps she should take. I do not believe that the noble Baroness will receive a satisfactory answer in this way. I urge the noble Baroness and the House to adopt the recommendation of the Leader of the House.

At the end of the day, this matter affects us all and it is for each one of us to decide. The House is always willing to grant discretion but I believe we are going a little too far in this particular circumstance.

Lord Richard: My Lords, it seems to me that the proper way to proceed is for the House to move into Committee. If the noble Baroness then feels aggrieved or does not have sufficient information on a particular amendment, she can say what she wishes to say on that amendment. I do not believe that the Opposition are in any way prejudiced if we move into Committee. Indeed, I thought that that was broadly what the House would have wished at this stage.

I do not know of any circumstance or any rule of order of this House which would entitle someone merely to make a statement at the beginning of business without the business being before the House.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have been a Minister on the Benches opposite and I faced noble Lords when they were on these Benches. I dealt with this particular circumstance on a number of occasions. I recall the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who is not in his place, making a statement either at the beginning of a Committee stage or Report stage and his insistence on seeing a code of practice before we embarked on further discussions. The noble Lord the Leader of the House will well remember that on one occasion the House adjourned because we were pressed to bring forward a code of practice. We had to repair to the room of the Leader of the House in order to sort out that matter. I believe that we are ill equipped to discuss this Bill. If what has been said is the advice to me of the Leader of the House, then so be it. However, if that is the position, the noble Lord will forgive me if I leave the Chamber.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am not inclined to change the nature of my advice to the House. It is considered advice and I express it to the House consciously and deliberately and with a deal of consideration. This is a Committee stage of a Bill. I know of no precedent for this sort of behaviour at the

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beginning of a Committee stage. I have known it to arise later during our deliberations on a Bill. I put my advice to the House.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I did see the Government Chief Whip before we came into the Chamber and he knew that I would be making this Statement. He proffered no advice to me on the matter. If he had felt unhappy about it, he could at least have had the courtesy to tell me that it was out of order or that it would not be acceptable to the Leader of the House.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I should make it clear that when I saw the noble Baroness, I wished to get clear what action she was going to take. I thought that she was going to refer to the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. She said that she had some concerns about lack of information and I said that I would pass that on to my noble friend. I certainly did not expect or agree to a statement, as she said.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

("Chapter AI
Key stage 1: annual performance tables
Key stage 1: publication of annual performance tables

.--(1) The Secretary of State shall publish annual performance tables for the results of National Curriculum assessments at the end of key stage 1 for all relevant schools.
(2) The performance tables defined in subsection (1) shall include the average class size.").

The noble Lord said: The problem relating to this Bill is, in many ways, a lack of detail and the generalities which are presented in it. The object behind the proposed new clause is to enable us to relate class sizes to particular facts. As Members of the Committee know, there are disputes as to whether or not class sizes will be a total panacea leading to the success that it is hoped will be achieved. But these are actually discoverable facts.

Although key stage 1 tables are at present available to parents and to other people, they are not available at a national level. Therefore, one would like to see the results of key stage 1--that is, the results of the performance of children at the age of seven--known nationally, so that the country as a whole can make decisions regarding the worth or non-worth of the very extensive regulation and expense of reducing class sizes. I hasten to add that, in an ideal world, we would all believe in smaller classes. Therefore, the proposed amendment suggests that the actual performance of schools should be available to the nation at key stage 1, together with the size of the classes which produce those results. I commend that to the Committee because, basically, we are all aiming in the same direction; namely, to improve our educational performance.

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As the Minister knows, we on this side of the Committee are worried about the excessive bureaucracy involved in the Bill and the lack of facts which is sometimes behind it. Therefore, I suggest to the Committee that the amendment before us is a practical proposal. I am sure that the Minister will see it as such; indeed, she may even see value in it. I beg to move.

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