Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Blatch: My Lords, given the Secretary of State's publicly declared concern about the quality of legal advice he receives within the department, can the noble Baroness give the House an absolute reassurance that the powers taken in this Bill for transferring TEC assets are in fact legally sound?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes; I can give the noble Baroness that assurance. We sought legal advice before we introduced these new measures. We consider that they do not contravene the ECHR and that they are legally sound.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

124Clause 91, page 41, line 25, after ("Assembly") insert ("for Wales")
125Clause 92, page 42, line 11, after ("Assembly") insert ("for Wales")
126Clause 94, page 42, line 28, after ("Assembly") insert ("for Wales")
127Clause 95, page 43, line 4, at end insert--("(2A) In subsection (3) of section 24 for "(g)" substitute "(gg)".")

Lord Bach: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 124 to 127. I shall also speak briefly to Amendments Nos. 170 to 173, 230 to 261 and 265 to 276.

18 Jul 2000 : Column 802

This very large group of amendments serves to tidy up the Bill and ensure consistency and coherence. I can assure noble Lords that all of the amendments in this group are either purely consequential on the dissolution of the FEFCs and the creation of the LSC, CETW and the ALI, or represent minor technical changes in the light of the substantive provisions of the Bill. None of the amendments carries policy significance. I hope that noble Lords will accept that assurance and, in the interests of making progress, agree to the amendments without a detailed blow-by-blow account, which I am in a position to give if need be.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 124 to 127.--(Lord Bach.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

128Clause 96, page 43, line 39, at end insert--
("(7) The power to make regulations under this section is to be exercised by the Scottish Ministers so far as those regulations are to have effect for the purposes of any provision of, or made under, an Act of the Scottish Parliament authorising grants to be paid to, or in respect of, individuals in connection with their education or training; and for this purpose references in this section to the Secretary of State are to be treated as references to the Scottish Ministers.
(8) For the purposes of this section an enactment includes an Act of the Scottish Parliament.")
129After Clause 96, insert the following new clause--
QUALIFYING ARRANGEMENTS

(" .--(1) Subsection (2) applies if a provision contained in or made under an enactment requires arrangements to qualify under this section (or to qualify under it at a particular time).
(2) The provision is to be taken to require the arrangements to satisfy conditions specified by the Secretary of State in regulations made under this section (or to satisfy them at the time concerned).
(3) These conditions may be included--
(a) conditions as to the description of individual who may enter into arrangements;
(b) conditions as to the description of body with which arrangements may be made;
(c) conditions as to the nature of the arrangements and the way they are to be made;
(d) conditions requiring the arrangements to be identified by a specified name.
(4) Conditions as to the description of body with which arrangements may be made may themselves specify the description or may allow the Secretary of State to specify it in a way he thinks fit.
(5) The regulations may provide that a specification of a description of body with which arrangements may be made may include a requirement for bodies to have the benefit of approvals which have been given by the Secretary of State and not withdrawn.
(6) The regulations may contain provision securing that an individual may not simultaneously--
(a) be a party to more than one set of arrangements which qualify under this section, or
(b) be a party to arrangements which qualify under this section and to arrangements falling within subsection (7).
(7) Arrangements fall within this subsection if they are--
(a) arrangements which qualify under such provision of the law of Scotland as in the opinion of the Secretary of State corresponds to this section, or

18 Jul 2000 : Column 803


(b) arrangements which qualify under section (Qualifying arrangements: Northern Ireland).")
130After Clause 96, insert the following new clause--
QUALIFYING ARRANGEMENTS: NORTHERN IRELAND

(" .--(1) Subsection (2) applies if a provision contained in or made under an enactment requires arrangements to qualify under this section (or to qualify under it at a particular time).
(2) The provision is to be taken to require the arrangements to satisfy conditions specified by the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment in Northern Ireland in regulations made under this section (or to satisfy them at the time concerned).
(3) Subsections (3) to (7) of section (Qualifying arrangements) apply to regulations under this section as they apply to regulations under that section; and for this purpose--
(a) references in those subsections to the Secretary of State are to be treated as references to the Department;
(b) the reference in subsection (7)(b) to arrangements which qualify under this section is to be treated as a reference to arrangements which qualify under section (Qualifying arrangements).")
131After Clause 96, insert the following new clause--
QUALIFYING ARRANGEMENTS: FURTHER PROVISION

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State (or a person designated by him) may make arrangements with a body in connection with the making by that body of arrangements which qualify under section (Qualifying arrangements).
(2) Arrangements under subsection (1) may include provision for the remuneration of a body and the payment of its expenses.
(3) Arrangements under subsection (1) may include provision for a person designated by the Secretary of State to carry out on his behalf such of his functions under the arrangements as he specifies.
(4) The Secretary of State may pay--
(a) to a person designated by him under subsection (1) to make arrangements with a body, or
(b) to a person designated by him under subsection (3) to carry out functions on his behalf,
remuneration or amounts to meet the person's expenses.
(5) The Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment in Northern Ireland (or a person designated by it) may make arrangements with a body in connection with the making by that body of arrangements which qualify under section (Qualifying arrangements: Northern Ireland).
(6) Subsections (2) to (4) apply to arrangements under subsection (5) as they apply to arrangements under subsection (1); and for this purpose references in subsections (2) to (4) to the Secretary of State are to be treated as references to the Department.")
132Clause 97, page 43, line 43, leave out from ("regulations") to first ("may") in line 1 on page 44 and insert ("must provide that grants may be paid only to or in respect of individuals--
(a) who hold accounts which qualify under section 96,
(b) who are parties to arrangements which qualify under section (Qualifying arrangements), or
(c) who hold such accounts and are parties to such arrangements.
(2A) The regulations")
133Page 44, line 6, at end insert--
("(aa) conditions as to the way the arrangements qualifying under section (Qualifying arrangements) are conducted;")

18 Jul 2000 : Column 804

134Page 44, line 38, leave out subsection (7)
135After Clause 97, insert the following new clause--
GRANTS: NORTHERN IRELAND

(" .--(1) The Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment in Northern Ireland may make regulations authorising grants to be paid to or in respect of individuals in connection with their education or training.
(2) The regulations must provide that grants may be paid only to or in respect of individuals--
(a) who hold accounts which qualify under section 96,
(b) who are parties to arrangements which qualify under section (Qualifying arrangements: Northern Ireland), or
(c) who hold such accounts and are parties to such arrangements.
(3) Subsections (3) to (7) of section 97 apply to regulations under this section as they apply to regulations under that section; and for this purpose--
(a) references in those subsections to the Secretary of State are to be treated as references to the Department;
(b) the reference in subsection (4)(b) to arrangements which qualify under section (Qualifying arrangements) is to be treated as a reference to arrangements which qualify under section (Qualifying arrangements: Northern Ireland).")

Lord Bach: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 128 to 135. These amendments were spoken to with Amendment No. 13.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 128 to 135.--(Lord Bach.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

4.15 p.m.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

136Leave out Clause 98

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 136. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 136A to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which I shall urge the House to reject. In speaking to Amendment No. 136, I am happy to set out the Government's position on selective admissions to grammar schools and the reasons why I must urge noble Lords to agree with the government amendment.

We made a commitment in our manifesto that, although we do not support further selection by academic ability, we will empower parents, by means of petitions and ballots, to decide whether selective admissions to grammar schools should continue. The reason for the commitment is that we know many parents have strong views about selection. We thought then, and still think now, that it is only fair and right that parents should be able to decide the future of selective admission arrangements at grammar schools. We delivered this manifesto promise with Sections 105 to 109 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

On 14th March, by a majority of just five, this House voted to remove those provisions from the 1998 Act. In doing so, it removed the right of those most directly

18 Jul 2000 : Column 805

concerned to decide the future of local schools and placed that power back in the hands of local authorities. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear in another place the day after that vote, as I did in this House, that the Government's position on selection remained the same. We therefore pledged to restore the provisions for petitions and ballots to the School Standards and Framework Act. That was achieved while the Bill was in the other place, and I believe that noble Lords should join me in underlining that position here.

We believe that parents are best placed to decide the future of selection at grammar schools. The high turn-out of 75 per cent in the Ripon ballot--far above the turn-out in local and national elections--clearly showed that parents want to express their views.

On previous occasions the Opposition have argued, and may do so again, that petitions and ballots represent a threat to some of our best schools. Yet, in the 25 years before the 1998 Act, 18 of which were under a Conservative government, the number of grammar schools fell from 809 to 166. To continue to attack this Government's grammar schools policy would simply be to fuel an old debate and, in the case of the Opposition Front Benches, to demonstrate (if I may say so) some inconsistency in relation not only to grammar schools but parents' ballots. After all, it was the Opposition who when in power introduced the principle of parental ballots on the issue of grant-maintained status.

Noble Lords have on previous occasions heard a great deal about statistics and how they prove the relative merits of the comprehensive or selective systems. We have recently published statistics which show that the average GCSE point score for 15 year-olds in grammar schools (who make up roughly the top 25 per cent of the ability range in selective areas) is 60.7, compared with 60.9 for the top 25 per cent of 15 year-olds in comprehensive schools. Objective consideration clearly shows one thing: broadly speaking, bright pupils perform as well in comprehensive schools as in selective schools. I hope that noble Lords will help us move on from this outdated debate which pits grammar schools against comprehensive schools and support the Government's schools agenda. This agenda is founded on a clear drive for higher standards and the promotion of greater diversity, including the specialist schools programme. This agenda is vital if we are to prepare young people better for the challenges of a rapidly changing and technologically advanced world.

I turn now to Amendment No. 136A. In my remarks so far I have sought to set out the rationale for the balloting process--our belief that parents should have the opportunity to decide this issue--and that is why I ask noble Lords to resist this amendment. We publicised and consulted widely on the details of the balloting process. We believe that the arrangements

18 Jul 2000 : Column 806

that we have put in place are fair and sensible. Indeed, we listened to reasonable arguments and sought to reconcile, on the one hand, the principle of allowing parents to raise petitions and, on the other, the need for stability in schools. We entirely recognise the need for this stability. That was why we introduced a five-year moratorium for ballots after one had taken place. It is a means of providing a balance between allowing parents the opportunity to express their views and not distracting attention from the crucial work of raising standards in schools.

The five-year moratorium means that if there is a ballot during the first year of a child's time at an 11 to 18 grammar school and the outcome is to keep the existing admissions arrangements at that school, a further ballot can be held only after five years. Should the result of that further ballot be in favour of changing the admissions arrangements, the time-scales for implementation would be such that the child would be able to complete even his sixth-form education at the school before the change was made. A five-year moratorium, therefore, offers an entirely appropriate period of stability in relation to admissions. It ensures considerably greater stability than the Opposition were prepared to offer when in government in respect of ballots on grant-maintained status where the moratorium was for one year only.

In contrast, Amendment No. 136A seeks to extend this moratorium from five to 10 years. At a stroke, that would remove the opportunity for many parents ever to have their say about the future of selective admission arrangements to grammar schools. For feeder school ballots, where the electorate is drawn from the parents of primary pupils, a 10-year moratorium means that children would pass completely through the age range from which the parental electorate would be drawn before a further ballot could be held. For area ballots, where all parents of children up to 16, including those who turn 16 during that year, have a vote, a 10-year moratorium is still a very long time. Why should the parent of a child of five at the time of a first ballot not have the chance to vote again on the issue until the child is approaching the end of its compulsory school years? In these circumstances, we cannot reconcile this amendment with the clear aim of the ballot policy to place power in the hands of parents. I must, therefore, urge noble Lords to support government Amendment No. 136 which reinstates the ballot procedure set out in the 1998 Act and to resist Amendment No. 136A.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 136.--(Baroness Blackstone.)


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page