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Baroness Maddock: Perhaps I may--

Lord Baker of Dorking: Does the noble Baroness wish to intervene? I am happy to give way.

Baroness Maddock: I do not know whether the noble Lord was present when I was speaking about these issues. He has quoted John Stuart Mill at me. Perhaps I may quote back at the noble Lord one of the tenets of Liberals and Liberal Democrats today. We want to ensure that everyone has equality of opportunity and that the opportunity of one person should not be detracted from by the opportunity of someone else. That is precisely the point I was arguing earlier. I also made it clear that I thought the Government were in some difficulty on this matter. I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord says about the slightly devious nature of what the Government are doing. I made two points in my contribution. One was about where I stood on the issue of grammar schools and selection and where my party has stood for some time. The other point I made, from experience, was about reorganisation. I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing what is really a rather long intervention.

Baroness Blatch: Does the noble Baroness know that some Liberal Democrats support some of their local grammar schools around the country? Does that sit easily with what she has just said?

Baroness Maddock: The noble Baroness will know that we support different things locally from what we do nationally. We believe in local democracy. I know that in other places we have had a ballot of people to see whether they want grammar schools. Where they have said yes, we, as their representatives, have allowed that to happen. But it does not alter the fact that I happen to think that it is not the right thing to do.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I am very glad to be back at the wicket. The noble Baroness said that she thought that the process was devious. That was her word, not mine. I do not agree with her is when she says that the Liberals believe in that type of equality. I do not believe that one makes poor schools better by destroying the better schools. That is not the principle. I give her another basic founding principle of Liberalism--choice. There is choice now: choice between religious schools and non-religious schools; between single sex and non-single sex schools; and at the moment between grant-maintained schools and grammar schools. That choice is to be restricted. Choice was one of the great founding principles of Liberalism. So I think that the party has abandoned fundamentally quite a lot of the things for which the old Liberal Party stood.

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Perhaps I may continue by supporting the amendments. I believe that the Government's proposals are very damaging. The Government are disguising their real intention, which is to end grammar schools. Why do they not say it? Will the Minister say that he wants to see the end of grammar schools, because that will be the consequence of Clause 100? Say it! Say that that is the purpose of government policy! In this era of greater frankness and modernity of the Labour Party, may we just have a flash of truth occasionally as to the motivation of the Government? I believe that my noble friend's proposals build in certain safeguards.

When the Minister comes to reply he may well chide me and the Conservative Party on our record as regards grammar schools. It may well be uppermost in his mind that in the days of Mr. Heath's Government when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Secretary of State for Education, she closed grammar schools. I reminded her of that on two occasions, and I ducked! She was rather ashamed of it, not that one would expect the noble Baroness to admit such a thing. She thought that it was a rather bad passage in her career, and it was. The point I would make is that there are 167 grammar schools. They are good schools for the most part. Nearly all of them are very good schools. It would be very unwise for any government to set up a system to bring those schools to an end. I very much hope that we shall be able to build in safeguards. I assume that the Government are going to press ahead with ballots. I do not believe that they bring distinction to their party or to the Government by abusing democracy in this way. This is an abuse of democracy and we should oppose it.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Perhaps I may deal with one small and narrow point; that is, equality of opportunity. It would be easy to conceive of the county of Essex not having a small proportion of grammar schools. In large areas the system is comprehensive and there is a small creaming effect. But equality of opportunity?--never! Some schools are good; some are very good and some are not. The remarkable thing is that those who know and who research these matters will move, if at all possible, into the catchment area of the successful comprehensive school. There is a quite remarkable premium on houses in those catchment areas. Under this wonderful, equal, flat, superb, everybody-the-same system, the fact of the matter is that those who can afford it still get what they want.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: I intervene in this important debate because I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Baker. This is the crux of the Bill. The big issue of principle is embodied in the part of the Bill which this group of amendments seek to alter. My credentials are probably different from some of those that have already been given. I was not educated at a comprehensive school or a grammar school. I was educated at a public school and so were my children and grandchildren. But my constituents in Gloucester had the opportunity of being educated at one of five grammar schools and that with a population of not much more than 100,000. I fought and strove to keep those grammar schools and four of them are still in existence.

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The noble Lord, Lord Peston, is not in his place. I would be very happy if he were to return and call me bigoted, if it is being bigoted not to be committed, as he said, to one particular form of education, but to be committed to the best possible education, and to the best possible educational opportunity right across the board. We are not talking about the very high echelon of academic education, but those marginal children in selection who get into a selective school or a grammar school. They might be at the very margins of those selected, but they have educational vistas open to them by stimulating their imaginations. They have the competition from their peers which they would never have had if that type of education had been denied them.

In addition there are regional considerations. Throughout the whole period that I was in my constituency we had below-average unemployment. I do not know what the position is today. Companies from all over the country wanted to build their factories and bring their businesses to the constituency because of the educational opportunities offered. I apologise for intervening so forcefully, but I feel very strongly that this particular clause will wreck the education system and everything that is good in it.

Lord Dormand of Easington: Before the noble Baroness sits down, can she say why, if the grammar schools were so good, she sent her own children and grandchildren to private schools?

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: They would not have qualified because they did not live in the constituency. I should have been very happy for any of them to have been educated in any of those grammar schools. When I visit them and I go to their speech days my heart swells with pride at the achievements of those schools and what they have done for the benefit of the children who have been fortunate enough to be educated there.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Young: I wish to reinforce one of the points that my noble friend Lord Baker made on these amendments. This is the nub of the Bill. We are not going to convince the Government that grammar schools are worthwhile and they are not going to convince us otherwise. We have been round this course many times in our lives. What is so deplorable about the arrangement is that the Government have not the courage of their convictions to say that they wish to end the remaining grammar schools. They are having devious ballots which are very damaging to the schools.

One has to think of the individuals involved, such as the teachers in those schools. What are the Government thinking to themselves now? Perhaps the Members on the Government Benches believe that the teachers can move on and get a job somewhere else. Not everyone necessarily wants to do that if they have been long-established in a school and imagine that--as they probably are--they are doing an extremely good job. They will be subjected to this kind of devious, unpleasant balloting every single year until the schools are finally destroyed.

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When this kind of thing was applied to housing I believe it was called Rachmanism. Tenants could be got out by putting an unpleasant person next door until the neighbour was driven out. There have been various examples of that in public life. What we shall find now is a way of dealing with schools year by year so that they are got rid of. As we all know with new Labour, the reason why it does not come out and say that it is going to destroy the grammar schools is because it is hoping to hang on to the Conservative votes which it managed to collect at the last election. It has also its own supporters, like Mrs. Harman who is sending her son to a grammar school. Ironically, she was quoted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon at an earlier stage in the debate. The Prime Minister himself sends his children to a selective grant-maintained school. They have all these inconsistencies and they are very much afraid that that will upset Middle England.

This is all in the name of the wonderful new Labour words "transparency", "clearness", "co-operation", "friendship", and everything else. Just before the by-election in the Wirral and shortly before the general election, it was made quite clear by Mr. Blair that the grammar schools "are safe with us". He must have known perfectly well that these measures were in his mind. So it was a complete con on the electorate. It is rather like the hospital service saying that it is going to reduce waiting lists when they have almost doubled.

So the whole thing is a con of a very unpleasant character. When one has not the courage of one's political convictions--and that is what this is about--it is a weakness and a failure. One has not the courage to stand up for what one believes. The Government may not think we are right, but we at least have the courage to stand up for what we believe and to do that publicly. We are seeing this con on the electorate and on the local education authorities by the appointment of the adjudicator. The Government Ministers can then hide behind the difficult decisions which someone else has to make. That, too, is a con. We have a Government who fail to take a single difficult decision of any description whatsoever.

At the end of the day, by all these fiddles, about 170 schools will go. That will be their epitaph. I hope that they will be pleased with themselves. I hope they were pleased with the triumph when the direct-grant schools went. In fact, at a stroke more independent schools were created than ever before. I hope that any grammar school that can do so will become independent. That is what they should do because it is the only way to survive. In that way a school gets out of this outrageous system of fraud.

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