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Baroness Blatch: I rise to suggest what might cheer the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, because I believe my understanding of the letter that I received from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in terms of the reserve powers to the Welsh assembly, is that the amendments are not needed, and that almost everything that the noble Lord wants is achievable.

I say that for two or three reasons. First, under the law as it stands, even without this Bill, and which will not be invalidated by this Bill, there are powers to disapply the national curriculum. Cases need to be put to the Secretary of State, but it is possible to do that. That would allow for disapplication and for something else to take its place.

Secondly, there is provision within this Bill for those schools that are in action zones to disapply the national curriculum and disapply all sorts of other things, so clearly some other diversary provision will take place within those schools, irrespective of the structure of the schools.

The third reason, which, rather sadly, has not been raised in the course of our deliberations, is the Welsh dimension in this Bill. It seems to me, reading the letter that came to me from the noble Baroness in relation to Wales, that the Welsh Secretary, or indeed the Welsh assembly as it will become, has the powers to turn this Bill into something completely different. It could look completely different from that in England because the secondary legislative powers that will pass to the assembly are couched in such a way inside this Bill that they will, not technically, but in effect be equivalent to primary legislation. It will be possible for the Welsh assembly to do their own thing. For example, they do not have to have adjudicators; they do not have to have organisation committees. The Welsh assembly or the Welsh Secretary will, in fact, take on the role of what, in England, is the Secretary of State.

My understanding of both the Bill and the statute as it prevails at the moment, and will continue to prevail following the passing of this Bill, and indeed the effect of the devolved powers to the assembly, is that I do not believe these amendments are necessary.

Lord Monkswell: In speaking very briefly in support of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, perhaps I may say

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a word in support of England. There is a recognition that the situation in Scotland and Wales may be different in the future. However, for the vast majority of people in this country, the situation in England will be the basis on which we deliberate.

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, mentioned that the object of the national curriculum enshrined originally in the 1988 Act was to improve school standards. We would all agree that that is a laudable aim.

We also need to bring to bear the recognition of experience. Perhaps I may give a couple of examples. The first is the experience of Summerhill School between the wars. Four members of my father's generation went to Summerhill. One became a doctor, one became an electrical engineer, one became a teacher and the fourth became a potter. In terms of the positive, successful outcomes, which is the important essence of what we are seeking to achieve in education, one cannot gainsay that Summerhill was successful.

The other example is the flexibility which pertained within the Rab Butler Act of 1944. It enabled the Conservative administration in Leicestershire County Council to introduce the concept of comprehensive education. That has had amazingly beneficial results in education in the past 40 years.

Diversity in education can produce significant positive outcomes. I believe that it was a little ingenuous of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to suggest that such flexibility is already enshrined within the law. That has not been the experience of practitioners in education. I hope that the Government will respond positively to this probing amendment and say that they are minded to believe that pluralism is important.

I was advised tonight that in Holland, which has one of the most successful education systems in Europe, there are seven different educational characteristics. Six, as well as its own national curriculum, are supported by the state and are beneficial to the education of the people of Holland. I hope that the Government will respond positively to the advantage of pluralism and to state support of it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: If I begin by saying some discouraging things about the wording and effect of both amendments, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will not think that I am taking them lightly. I will address the issues which lie behind them.

Amendment No. 114 would not work because it is attached to a part of Clause 27 which enables proposals to specify the establishment of a middle school by extending the age ranges which may be considered as the admission ages for a particular school. If we were to put the provision in there rather than in a more general part of the Bill it would be incoherent and would not achieve what the noble Lord seeks.

As regards what he is seeking to achieve, I am sympathetic to what has been said about pluralism in education. During the chaotic period immediately before and during the early years of the war I attended a number of progressive schools. Noble Lords opposite may think that it shows and that my character has been deeply

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damaged as a result. I do not regret it, although the disturbance to my family was great. On two occasions I ran away from one school, taking a group of other seven year-olds with me. I did not get very far. However, as a result of connections with central Europe I am sympathetic to various progressive movements in education. Let me say from this Bench that the conditions in which we encourage schools to be maintained schools within the state system are rather different. We are of the view--and I think this has been the view on all Benches--that in order to maintain and increase school standards, there has to be a national curriculum, and, in general, teachers in maintained schools should have qualified teacher status. The Steiner Waldorf schools have chosen not to conform in those ways, and good luck to them. I am not saying anything against the work that they do, but the thrust of this Bill is the improvement of school standards by the means that I have been suggesting. I believe that that view is shared across the political spectrum.

So although one is sympathetic to pluralism in education, we hope that it will continue. It is not necessarily the case that for it to continue successfully there should be a change in the requirement for maintained status and for membership in the state system.

The second amendment has an unfortunate literal effect in the sense that it would enable the Secretary of State to act, as it were, by decree rather than by making regulations, whereas the Bill as drafted would enable him to act in the way that the noble Lord wishes, by regulation in the normal way.

The fundamental answer I can give to the noble Lord--and I am glad to hear that it affects so many subsequent amendments--is that, yes, in the Bill "Secretary of State" will, in due course, mean the national assembly, with the exception that he himself referred to. It is the intention that these powers should be devolved to the Welsh assembly in due course. On that basis, reflecting the seriousness with which the amendments have been proposed, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

11 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to noble Lords who spoke on Amendment No. 114. It is important that we signal that we should like to return to this matter at a later stage. I feel that the Minister, despite his generosity in describing some of his personal experience, did not respond to the issues that were raised.

We deployed the argument that excellence in the attainment of the equivalent of the national curriculum, as mentioned in the report I quoted, should be recognised and that there is a difference between decreeing certain standards in the national curriculum and being able to deliver the equivalent in pluralistic alternative forms. That is the argument that we deployed and to which there has been no response, either in this Chamber or in another place. We may well want to return to that matter.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part and I am grateful to see that there is a wonderful consensus, for once this evening, between both Front Benches about the meaning of the Bill, at least so far as concerns the National assembly for Wales. It may be that the Steiner

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Waldorf School will have to turn to the national assembly for Wales for some kind of recognition within the United Kingdom.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Notice by governing body to discontinue foundation or voluntary school]:

[Amendment No. 114A not moved.]

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Proposals for establishment, alteration or discontinuance of community or foundation special school]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 114B:


Page 29, line 14, leave out ("special school or a new") and insert ("or").

The noble Lord said: These amendments are the batch which survived the late night barrage by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the other night and which I withdrew at that point. I have written to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and to the two opposition Front Benches at some length explaining the whole batch of amendments that we tabled at that point. I shall have to return to some of the others on Report.

I shall quickly explain the nature of these amendments, which are technical and consequential. Amendment No. 114B, together with Amendments Nos. 122A, 129A, 156A, 256B and 257E, deals with the question of clarifying the expressions "community" or "foundation special school". Amendment No. 256B is really substantive and is an addition to Clause 130, which defines expressions used in the Bill. That amendment makes it clear that such references should be read as meaning a community special school or a foundation special school. The rest of the amendments to which I have just alluded are in fact consequential on Amendment No. 256B.

Amendment No. 145A deals with the clarification of property transfers when schools change category. The amendment makes it clear that the regulations under the schedule will govern all property transfers, including transfers to and from group foundations, where a school changes category. Moreover, rights and liabilities associated with property will transfer with the property itself. The term "property" on its own would not cover the full range of rights and liabilities that might be associated with the premises; for example, it would not necessarily cover third party user rights which would, in that sense, be a liability associated with the premises. That is why it is necessary to make those explicit regulations under Schedule 8.

Amendment No. 206B deals with stamp duty. It is an amendment which has had to be approved by the Inland Revenue; and, indeed, it has been. It exempts transfers to local education authorities from payment of stamp duty. That is because transfers to charities do not attract stamp duty, so there is no need to exempt transfers to foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools or foundation bodies. Those are the technical and consequential amendments that I am putting forward tonight. As I said, some of the others which appeared in the rather longer list

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the other night will, I am afraid, now reappear at a later stage in the Bill's proceedings. I therefore commend those amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.


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