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Lord Lucas: My Lords, perhaps I might say a few words as this was my amendment which I was rather surprised to win at the time. I was also surprised at the reason the Commons have chosen to give for rejecting it. If this is the extent of financial privilege, which the Commons now claim, I suspect that any reformed House will wish to challenge them on it at an early stage. That seems to me an extraordinary extension of the idea of Commons' financial privilege, and in this context, as my noble friend has said, a considerable arrogance, which I am delighted to say was not shared by the Minister opposite who chose to give us, in her terms, a reasonable explanation of what lay behind the rejection of this amendment.

I start by being fairly positive in my reaction to most of what the noble Baroness said. I am delighted that the Government are promoting a series of partnerships between independent and state schools. I hope that much good may come of this. I see considerable scope for that. It is a way forward. But what has been done as a whole by this Government is to increase the apartheid between the state and the independent systems, to increase the gulf and to make it harder to achieve one system with slightly different ways of managing schools and slightly different ways of looking at schools, which is what one understands from the Government's election manifesto is their eventual ambition.

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If a local authority were to purchase a place at an independent school for a pupil, it would be doing no more than it already does with state schools or foundation schools, or whatever they will become, in that it would provide education for a child at an appropriate school. Within the state system parents have a great deal of choice, which this Government support--and, I hope, are increasing in this Bill--to choose which school they send their child to. The local authority is obliged to respect that choice and to provide the funding to the school the child ends up at. I cannot see any fundamental difference in providing £2,500 a year to an independent school or to a state school, if that is the school the parents and child happen to choose.

I cannot understand either the justification for the following. If, for example, there was a scheme in Winchester, Winchester schools could benefit from the facilities of the great independent school in that town. That would be nice for them, but there may be a child in Southampton who is peculiarly suited to the facilities which are on offer there to develop his own particular talent, but he would be denied that opportunity just because of where he lives. That is a philosophy which punishes the poor for being poor and living in poor areas which happen not to be next to good schools. Those children are denied the opportunity to attend schools which may not have great academic records but which offer facilities which are peculiarly suited to their talents. I pursue this much more from a basis of supporting what is best for the child rather than what is best for a political philosophy or what is best for a school and local authority system. I would like local authorities to have the discretion to look after the children in their area as best they see fit. I am sad that the Government oppose that but I suppose I must accept that there is a basic difference of political philosophy. I hope that the Government may one day come round to my way of thinking.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has mentioned political philosophy. I suggest that it is his political philosophy, which is clearly shared by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that set up a scheme that this Government consider is highly divisive and which supports a small number of children who occupy more expensive places--in terms of the taxpayers' commitment--in independent schools when LEAs have a duty and obligation to provide adequately for all children, including those who are very able.

However, I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was at least able to support the idea of partnerships, although the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I am afraid, did not, or certainly did not comment on them. There is absolutely no intention by the Government to create an apartheid between the two systems. Indeed I believe the assisted places scheme contributed to an apartheid by removing bright and able children from state schools and thereby denying those schools the opportunity to educate them and to educate them well. No, our proposals are not about apartheid. They are about bringing the independent sector and the state sector closer together. The right way to do that is not by plucking out bright individual pupils, but by

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creating a genuine partnership within which large numbers of pupils can mix together and benefit from the best that the state system can provide and the best that independent schools can provide. I utterly refute the suggestion by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that this is the mean-spirited politics of envy. It certainly is not.

Nor can I accept that able children will suffer as a result of these proposals. LEAs can, and do, enable the brightest children to fulfil their potential. They would be insulted by some of the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

The objections that the Conservative Party has to these proposals are a clear attempt to undermine government policy on the abolition of the assisted places scheme and to undermine provision in the maintained sector. I invite noble Lords opposite to accept that this is not an appropriate issue on which to challenge further the clearly expressed views of the elected House.

I now turn to the issue of privilege. Perhaps I should explain that it is not the Government who decide whether an amendment passed in this House and then considered in another place is a matter of privilege. It is the Speaker of the House of Commons who has ruled that these amendments involve matters of privilege. That is because they are telling LEAs how they may or may not spend their money. So questions of public expenditure are involved. The convention is that, where privilege is used, it is the only reason used.

The noble Baroness referred to a scheme in Surrey which was commented on and described by her honourable friend Mr. Nick St Aubyn in another place. The Government have invited Mr. St Aubyn to provide further details of the scheme but up to now they have not been provided. A scheme will be outlawed only if it replicates the assisted places scheme. From the information that we have, it is a local assisted places scheme. I understand that the education committee in Surrey has delayed consideration of it for the time being until the legislative position is clear.

The noble Baroness also asked about individual applications. That point is not particularly relevant to this amendment, which relates to local APS schemes. However, I understand that 100 out of the 170 individual applications have been dealt with extremely flexibly and the Government have used their discretion in favour of the parents.

Our approach makes a clear distinction between the demands of national policy and the scope for local action. As I have said, the regulations that we have proposed will not inhibit LEAs which want to form genuine partnerships with the independent sector. We have a mandate based on a clear manifesto commitment to phase out the assisted places scheme. A local scheme is no less divisive than a national scheme. It is not an appropriate use of public money. Our firm intention is that the regulation should stop LEAs going via the back door and replicating the scheme locally. I therefore ask the House not to insist on their amendment to which the Commons have disagreed.

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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, it was my intention to insist on this amendment. I shall, however, bide by the Speaker's ruling in another place. I do not know whether there is now a mechanism for a Member of this House to ask a question. Where an amendment does not involve the extra spending of one single pound, how is it that financial privilege can be invoked? This scheme was intended to save, not spend, money. The noble Baroness gave another reason; namely, this would involve telling local authorities what to do. The amendment did not involve telling any local authority what to do. It was intended as an enabling power for the local authorities. So I--

Lord Carter: My Lords, the standing order is entirely clear. The noble Baroness is able to ask a question for clarification. My noble friend the Minister is not responsible for the Speaker's decision. I am absolutely staggered to hear that the noble Baroness proposed to divide the House on a question of financial privilege.

Baroness Blatch: No, my Lords, the noble Lord has got it wrong. I said that I do not intend to divide the House. I accept the Speaker's ruling that it is a matter of financial privilege. My understanding is that financial privilege is always invoked where extra funding is involved in an amendment. As I understand it, no money was involved in the amendment that was passed by this House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

LORDS AMENDMENT

140

Clause 120, page 91, line 30, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 on page 92.


The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason--
140A

Because the amendment would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further reason, trusting that this reason may be deemed sufficient.


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