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Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 11:

Leave out Schedule 4.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Adjudicators]:

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 12:

Leave out Schedule 5.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 12 [Instruments of government]:

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Schedule 17 [Staffing of foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools]:

[Amendments Nos. 14 to 23 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

In moving the Motion, I would like to say a few words of thanks to all noble Lords who have spoken on the Bill. This is the fourth Bill I have taken through as a Minister and it has certainly been an interesting, even memorable experience.

I should like first to express my warm gratitude to my noble friend Lord Whitty for his support on this, the second education Bill we have worked on together during this session. I thank him for his diligence and patience when explaining some of the difficult-to-grasp, technical areas of the Bill. He has now become an expert on land transfers and the new school framework. I am also extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord McIntosh for his support and particularly his commitment to keeping all of us on the straight and narrow on matters of procedure.

I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Carter and all his colleagues in the Whips' Office for their advice and support throughout the Bill's progress in this House.

I turn now to the Opposition Front Benches. I must thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for the considerable part they have played in the lively and extensive debates. Our

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encounters have certainly been as challenging as I had anticipated. I was even told earlier this afternoon, along with my noble friend Lord Peston, that I ought to be ashamed of myself.

I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, for her contribution, and I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. I am most grateful to them for their constructive and considered contributions. Sometimes they agreed with us and sometimes they disagreed. Their wealth of knowledge and experience in local authorities have informed our discussions; particularly on the practical implications of various provisions.

On the very important issue of special educational needs, our discussions have benefited greatly from the constructive contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and the noble Lords, Lord Rix, Lord Addington and Lord Swinfen. I hope noble Lords agree that in respect of special educational needs issues the Bill will leave this House in a better state than when it reached us.

My warm thanks go also to the Right Reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon for representing the interests of the Churches as helpfully and courteously as ever. The constructive relationship my department has with the Churches has manifested itself in the thoughtful debate we have had.

I am sure my noble friends on the Front Bench would join me in thanking the noble Lords, Lord Lucas, Lord Baker of Dorking, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Northbourne. I am most grateful too to the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford, Lady Young, Lady Carnegy of Lour and Lady Park of Monmouth for their contributions.

I should like to thank my noble friends Lady David, Lady Lockwood, Lord Dormand of Easington and Lord Peston. I am also grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell, in his role as Chairman of the Council on Tribunals for his constructive approach to our discussions.

I must thank also all my officials, including my private office, the Bill team and the legal advisers. They have all worked harder than noble Lords realise.

I should also like to express my gratitude to Parliamentary Counsel for his hard work in drafting not only this Bill but also the Teaching and Higher Education Bill. He had continued to provide an exemplary service during the passage of both Bills.

Finally, I thank the doorkeepers and all the staff of House. They have been as helpful, courteous and cheerful as ever, even when our debates have clashed with the World Cup.

The Bill is a central plank in our drive to raise standards. The Government's manifesto clearly sets out our commitment to education, and since last May we have consulted widely, listened carefully and responded in a number of ways. We have identified priorities for immediate action, establishing the Standards and Effectiveness Unit in my department and the Standards Task Force.

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Our proposals will require local education authorities, teachers, governors and parents to work together in partnership. They will be able to focus their enthusiasm and energy towards ensuring that everyone has the skills and knowledge needed in today's world.

We owe it to our children to give them the future they deserve by tackling under-performance and raising standards for all, whatever the setting. I commend the Bill to the House.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I too should like to address some of the formal courtesies which, although formal, are no less heartfelt.

I have been helped enormously in my task of opposing the Bill by my noble friend, Lord Pilkington. He has endured a very real personal tragedy and his stoicism and great courage are a great testimony to him and his very good humour. I thank him profusely for his support. My noble friends Lady Seccombe and Lady Byford have not been involved in such a complex Bill before, but they have taken part with good grace and, on occasions when I have been less than graceful in my own demeanour, they have supported me and been steadfast in that support, for which I thank them.

I should like to thank the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for putting up with me and for putting up a stout defence to the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has carried a greater workload than any Whip I know of on a major Bill and he is to be congratulated on that. I join the noble Baroness in thanking him.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has become almost a quasi-clerk to the House and has kept us in order by reminding us of the rules. I admit to being just a little aggrieved to have been called out of order when I was speaking to my own amendment, which was an amendment to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh's amendment. Such is his intimidatory style that I stood back and accepted what he said, only to be told by both the clerks and by the noble Lord on the Woolsack on the day that I was entirely within my rights and ought to have stood my ground.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness is entirely right: she should have stood her ground. I was entirely wrong and I apologise.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, that was not said in any way to criticise the noble Lord; I am just cross with myself that I did not stand my ground on that occasion. On a more serious note I was cross with myself because I was standing up for those people who had assisted places and who are now to be denied them. In relation to that point I know that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has received a letter from a lady whose letter I quoted in the debate. She calls into question some of the information we were given at the Dispatch Box, in that there were 170 applications and the Government are claiming that 100 of them have been dealt with. I should be grateful if that information could be confirmed or rectified in the days following the Bill passing from this place.

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In another place the schools Minister, Mr. Stephen Byers, wrote recently in the Fabian Review, which will be very familiar to noble Lords:

    "The new framework for the education service is based on some clear guiding principles: we need to shift the focus from the structural issues constantly highlighted by the last Government and focus firmly on standards--ensuring that all children, whichever school they attend, receive a good education. We need to get beyond the outdated ideological debates which have tormented education for a generation and focus on what works. We need to celebrate and highlight success".

This Bill is predominantly about structures, not standards. We have already highlighted how many of the clauses are about structures. If it was not about structures, there would not be an issue between us about grant-maintained schools, grammar schools, organisational committees and adjudicators.

The schools Minister went on to say:

    "We seek to put in place a virtuous circle which starts from the premise that every school should take responsibility for its own improvement".

I endorse that. He uses the right words, but the practice is very different.

The education adviser to the Prime Minister, Mr. Andrew Adonis, whose words I quoted the other day, has also gone into print in the Fabian Review. When addressing the failures of the comprehensive system, he said:

    "One can see why. In the 1997 [Financial Times] survey of A level performance, the top state school ranked a mere 71st. The best English comprehensive came outside the top 200.

    There are many reasons for the public sector's failure. Disparity in funding; the rigid separation of the two sectors; the abolition against their will of grammar and direct grant schools; and the anti-education culture that remains so deeply rooted within the British working class: all these are fundamental".

Those are not my words but the words of a political adviser to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Adonis in his book, A Class Act, goes on to condemn very strongly the past policies of the Labour Party that have again come to fruition in this Bill. Almost every leader of the Labour Party has wanted to do something about grammar schools and selection. The new Labour Government are bringing all that to fruition.

At one stage in this Bill I was accused of being over-passionate about my amendments. I make no apology for it. I am passionate about the rungs in the ladder for children, particularly bright children from low income families. They have now been denied assisted places at grammar schools and grant-maintained schools. Even the level of financial autonomy for which I fought today cannot be guaranteed by the Government. I find that quite dreadful. All attempts to guarantee that the benefits of grant-maintained status--that is, the operational and financial autonomy--should be sustained without loss for grant-maintained schools as they transfer have been rejected by the Government.

Another issue regarded as important by grant-maintained schools relates to their rights as admissions authorities. We know from Written Questions that should there be a disagreement with the LEA or any other admissions authority when a grant-maintained school apparently determines its

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admissions arrangements, that school will be bound by the decision of the adjudicator even if that decision is disagreeable to the grant-maintained school.

The headmasters of the grant-maintained schools who wrote to The Times on Saturday last ended their letter by saying:

    "As head teachers of grant-maintained schools of every kind, we believe that the independence which has been vital to our success is seriously at risk. The proposed legislation could seriously damage some of the country's best schools".

Rhetoric is one thing; action is another. What we see in terms of action is the destruction of excellence, the levelling down, the production of endlessly gimmicky schemes, the announcement of the same tranche of money over and over again in different guises--no doubt we shall get some of that in the weeks to follow in the context of the public spending review--the talking up of standards and yet an obsession with structures. It is not new Labour but "real Labour" which is in the driving seat of this particular vehicle.

The Bill marks the end of the most successful grant-maintained schools. No guarantees are offered by the Government to sustain their levels of autonomy. Over time there will be the demise of grammar schools by a rigged balloting system. I make no apology for using those words. There is also to be an end to selection, the use of unelected adjudicators, massive bureaucracy and greater central control.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, when speaking in a debate on Friday last said:

    "However, my wife and I took a conscious decision to send our own children to school in Northern Ireland. Our daughter has just finished her A-levels at a voluntary grammar school in Belfast and we have two boys currently at a separate voluntary grammar school in Belfast.

    I too welcome the information which the Minister gave so clearly, as he always does, on the provision of additional funding for voluntary grammar schools and integrated schools. In particular, I am very pleased that the boards of governors and head teachers of these voluntary schools will still have the wherewithal to decide how to apply the funds they are given and that the power is not to be vested in the education and library boards. That is a welcome move. I have no problems with the order before us today".--[Official Report, 10/7/98; col. 1528.]

There we have the same Government making it possible for further development of voluntary grammar schools on the one hand and yet on the other hand inserting into this Bill clauses to ensure that those schools do not survive for very much longer.

In thanking other noble Lords who have been active in this Bill, I must not leave out my noble friend Lady Young who is not in the Chamber at present. She has been the doughtiest fighter for education. She had success with one of her amendments. I hope that it will succeed in another place. However, given the might of the vote there, it may go the same way as that on tuition fees for higher education.

In conclusion, I should like to thank noble Lords on the Liberal Benches. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has said, we have not always agreed, but the debate has been conducted with great humour. I have enormously admired the staying power and boxing

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and coxing on those Benches and the humour that has been displayed. I thank noble Lords very much indeed for their contribution to this Bill.

7 p.m.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I begin by thanking both noble Baronesses for their kind words. At times over the past three months I have felt quite intimidated in intervening in the battles between the two noble Baronesses across the Dispatch Box. I particularly thank the Minister for her kind words to me and to my colleagues. I reciprocate by saying how much we on these Benches have appreciated her patience which at times has been sorely tested--occasionally perhaps by us as well--and her help throughout the Bill. The noble Baroness once said to me that she was "subbing" on this Bill. I recognise that this does not fall directly within her ministerial responsibilities. However, the way in which she dealt with the matter from the Front Bench certainly has not betrayed that fact.

Much has been said about the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and his contribution. I pay tribute to him. I believe that the most tantalising comment came this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, who announced to the House that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, had seen a lot of life. I am sorry that this is the last day of the Bill. We have yet to hear exactly what kind of life the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has seen so much of. If we could carry on for a few more days perhaps it would become even more interesting.

Reference has also been made to the role of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. We on these Benches have tended to mark our progress on the basis of how the noble Lord has responded to us. We began by tabling hopelessly defective amendments. Today I believe that we have made real progress: they are only mildly defective. That is a great step forward. Casting my mind back to what we have achieved over these long weeks, I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who almost accepted one of our amendments. When I moved an amendment which in effect suggested better wording in the Bill, all he could say was that he had not expected it and he would have to think about it. Lo and behold, at the next stage of the Bill an amendment was tabled in the name of the Minister which bore an astonishing likeness to the amendment that I had moved. I count that as my one and only success on the Bill, even if I was not allowed to move the amendment myself.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to the interesting arrangements on this side of the House. I was moved on one occasion to point out that there are two parties opposite. It has been an interesting and at times enjoyable experience working here. I have welcomed, occasionally with a little surprise, the at times passionate support from the Conservative Benches for local democracy and local education authorities. Even more welcome, into the early hours of the morning, was the constant supply of Polo mints from the Conservative Front Bench; on one occasion we had to send out for supplies ourselves so that we were not too much in hock to the Conservative Front Bench!

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Reference has been made to my two noble friends Lady Maddock and Lady Thomas. I have felt that at times I aroused their maternal instincts. On the last day of Report stage, I had been on the 6.30 a.m. plane to Brussels and still had to get my car out of Gatwick Airport that evening. As we droned on towards 11 o'clock, my two noble friends sent me off to catch the Gatwick Express. I was enormously grateful to them for their consideration. I shall not suggest that my noble friend Lord Addington has any maternal instincts towards me, but he has been most helpful and supportive as regards his interest in special educational needs. That has been much appreciated.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne who made a valuable contribution on a subject of great importance to her and to all of us--the profoundly deaf. She kindly invited me to a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I know that some progress is being made. I hope and believe that she will return to that subject in your Lordships' House. I look forward to that.

I thank my team. I believe that it is not customary practice--I am not sure why--to mention those who have been particularly supportive but who are not Members of your Lordships' House. The Minister referred to her own department. I wish to make an exception and refer to two people whose help has been exceptional. Denys Robinson volunteered to be my education adviser. He recognised a need and felt that he would wish to give up some of his spare time when he retired as a teacher to help me with that. When he volunteered for the job he did not realise that a School Standards and Framework Bill was coming. He has worked tirelessly in briefing and supporting us. We could not have managed without that help.

I wish to single out for special mention Carolyn Rampton in our Whips Office. She has to support us on education, health and a range of other subjects. Her unflappability and tireless good humour and support have been invaluable. If I am in breach of convention in mentioning them, I make no apology because I believe that they deserve that mention.

We began the Second Reading debate on 7th April at about the time I launched a London borough election campaign in my borough. The first day in Committee was two days before polling day; and I am now three months into our fourth administration. We have been through not only my annual council meeting but also the World Cup. I think that it was one of the most bizarre experiences that I have had in your Lordships' House. These Benches are nearest to the door. We were getting the signals first, and from time to time could hear the noises off as people watched the TV annunciators, which for once were not tuned to the Chamber. It was a strange but interesting experience. When we finally had the result, I noted that a rather surprised looking Opposition Chief Whip sat on the Woolsack as the Lord Chairman had briefly to leave the Chamber to cope with his sadness!

In conclusion, through the Minister, perhaps I may express thanks and appreciation for the help we have received from the Minister's private office and the

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department. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, occasionally suggested that she had not received enough information. She must speak for herself, but at times I have felt that I have had information overload. The mountains of paper which I have accumulated throughout the Bill have been memorable. I came into my office and found five empty crates. I thought that someone had been considerate, knowing that today was virtually the last day of the Bill. However, I understand that we simply have to pack up the office because something is to be done during the Recess. I shall need more than five crates for the paper arising from the Bill.

I do not intend to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in commenting on the Bill except to say that we have won some and lost some. I am grateful to the Government for what they have given us on special educational needs, a subject important to all of us. I am grateful for the short debate on Nonsuch High School; and the recognition of an unintended effect of the Bill. I am grateful for my one victory in correcting the legislation on collective worship in Clause 78. I am disappointed that the Government are likely to reverse the amendments made today on the iniquities of school organisations and adjudicators. I believe that the Government are wrong with regard to foundation schools. I am sad that they have not listened on the issue of parent organisations in schools. That is the one criticism I wish to make. There are times when we know that we shall not change government policy. We do not expect to and perhaps it would not be right if we could do so. But sometimes on the lesser subjects perhaps the Government could show their strength by listening and conceding more.

That is the only slightly churlish comment I wish to make. We all share a sense of pleasure and relief that we have at last reached this stage. I do not wish to prolong the matter, but merely echo the thanks given to the staff of your Lordships' House and all noble Lords who have taken part.

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