|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Minister has made a convincing case. My only anxiety is that, although the Information Commissioner's Office appears to have been satisfied by the arrangements that the Government now have, we are not to be allowed to see the correspondence that passed between the department and the Information Commissioner's Office. The noble Lord has said that it is privileged communication; someone may like at some stage to make a freedom of information appeal to see whether
7 Apr 2010 : Column 1573
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, as I said at Second Reading, we welcome the Bill as far as it goes. Most of what is in it is long overdue and would not have caused us too much trouble even if we were to have had sufficient time to discuss it in detail in Committee. The Minister has been most careful to make sure that we have had as much help as we needed to bring us to where we are today, while the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has kindly removed the amendments that he had put down. We would have preferred there to be more in the Bill. I have not experienced wash-up before; I do not think that many of us are finding it very pleasant. We shall support the amendments. The Delegated Powers Committee made its recommendations and the Minister's amendments, which he has grouped together, support them. I thank him for his courtesy.
Lord Addington: My Lords, we remain supportive of the Bill and of the amendments, particularly Amendment 3. Not having to prise out the affirmative procedure from the Government is certainly a pleasant change.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. A copy of my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has been placed in the Library. I understand his point about confidentiality of information between the department and the ICO. One can think of some circumstances where the information in that correspondence would be the subject of an argument as to whether it should be released. That may be one of the reasons why, in certain circumstances, it should remain confidential. Whether that is so, the commissioner will at some point rule. I would be interested if the noble Lord were to pursue this matter through a freedom of information request; we shall have to see how he gets on. I am grateful.
"(7) If the Secretary of State makes, amends, or revokes, a determination in accordance with provision included in a support scheme by virtue of subsection (6), the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a memorandum of the determination, amendment, or revocation."
5: Clause 15, page 12, line 9, leave out from second "person" to ", and" in line 12 and insert "is a member of a household living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at reasonable cost"
(a) what is to be regarded as living in fuel poverty for the purposes of this Part;
(b) what is to be regarded as a reduction in the extent to which a person is living in fuel poverty for the purposes of this Part.
(a) specify what is to be regarded for the purposes of subsection (2)(a) as a lower income, or a reasonable cost, or the circumstances in which a home is to be regarded for those purposes as being warm;
(b) amend this section."
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, at Second Reading, many noble Lords will remember that we celebrated the successes of this Government and what we have achieved since 1997.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: We did! It was a great celebration. On this basis, we were able to provide guarantees for pupils and parents into the future. These would have been extremely important guarantees, such as that for one-to-one tuition for children falling behind in English and maths; they would have been funded through our commitment to protect front-line spending. We believe that such tailored support should no longer be the preserve of the wealthy and privileged but be a core component of the curriculum. Alongside them, we intended to strengthen home-school agreements so that head teachers and teachers generally had the powers that they needed to ensure good discipline in schools, and that parents took responsibility for their children. As behaviour expert Sir Alan Steer reported recently, it is important that schools have the confidence of knowing that they operate within a legal system that supports their endeavours and that both parents and schools know that the use of a parenting order is a possibility. However, these important reforms are now being withdrawn. Where we would offer guarantees, others would not; where we would give heads in our schools the powers that they want, the party opposite would not.
There are many other important clauses coming predominantly from our schools White Paper, published in June last year, which sought to drive further sustained improvement in schools and youth offending teams. They would have provided parents with the information that they need to ensure that communities are safe and secure. I see no reason why these clauses have been opposed, but they have, and as is the custom we are working together in the agreement.
We want schools to do the best for our children, and we all know that that means good teaching. On this basis, we introduced our proposals to introduce a licensing scheme for teachers. Our intention was to accompany that with a contractual entitlement to continuing professional development. We would be following what other professions do, such as doctors and lawyers, but it seems that there is no commitment to do that on all sides of the House. It is deeply regrettable, but it is something that I believe that we need to do at this point. With great regret, we oppose this stand part.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, we are delighted that the Government have tabled amendments to remove Clauses 1, 2 and 3 from this Bill. We on these Benches have made it clear that we think these clauses are a legalistic and bureaucratic way of trying to address the problems of poor standards in education. We do not believe that these clauses help to address the really important questions of how to ensure that pupils go to school where there is good behaviour, strong discipline, order and safety.
We are also thankful that the Government have removed Clauses 4 and 5. As noble Lords will be aware, we have consistently called for home-school contracts to be strengthened, but the Government's proposals for individual agreements here would have meant further, increased bureaucracy. We believe that agreements should be standardised for all pupils. We understand the value of taking into account parental opinions regarding school provision. Clause 6, however, was overly bureaucratic, with excessive planning, consultation and referral and very little in the way of real action. We are also grateful for the fact that they have removed Clause 19, which is a prescriptive approach to the management of a school. Surely, all heads should be free to seek advice which they find helpful. Why should it be required if others do not find it an efficient use of resources?
I thank the Government for removing Clause 20, which contains the powers for the Secretary of State to collect and publish all information required for their proposed school report card. We on these Benches argue instead that it is more helpful to publish as much objective and factual information as possible, rather than hiding it in an unclear overall report card. We are very grateful indeed that the Government have removed the bureaucratic, tick-box provision which would have brought in licences to practise as teachers. Those clauses showed a marked distrust of the professionalism of teachers. We are grateful for these concessions.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, this Bill is a complete car crash. Hardly anything remains of the old banger in one piece. There are bits remaining for which you might get a fiver in a scrapyard, things being sent to the crusher that should remain on the car, and parts that the Government do not propose to scrap but which should go to the crusher. It is a complete mess and completely unroadworthy-and all because of two sad facts. First, the Government have rushed through ill thought-out measures in a vain attempt to appear to have done something about schools and children before they finally expire and become a dead-parrot Government. Secondly, there is the fact that they carved this whole thing up with the Conservatives, behind closed doors, and did not bother their pretty little heads about the opinions of the party that represents about a quarter of the electorate; so much for their respect for democracy.
We are now faced with an appalling carve-up without either moral legitimacy or logic. The Conservatives are seeking the support of the electorate on the basis that they will bring change. This old two-party alliance has been going on for as long as I can remember, even in the face of the fact that half the electorate voted for
7 Apr 2010 : Column 1577
Having got that off my chest, I turn to the matters in this grouping. These clauses sought to introduce pupil and parent guarantees, home-school agreements, parental satisfaction surveys, regulations on school improvement partners, powers for local authorities on schools causing concern, licences for teachers to practise, and regulations on the supervision of youth offending teams. In the short time that we have had available, we on these Benches have opposed all that as being unrealistic, undeliverable and too bureaucratic-apart from the youth offending regulations, which we think are okay but which have not been properly debated. Despite the sneaky way in which the Government have acted behind closed doors, then, we are happy to support dropping all these clauses.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, what the Liberal Democrats are experiencing is a moment-a very rare moment-when we act as if we had PR in this country, and matters are decided between parties rather than in open debate.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: At Second Reading, I made a long speech which the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, can perhaps take the trouble to consult in Hansard if he is really interested. However, I do not think that other Members of your Lordships' House would be very pleased if I were to repeat those arguments this evening.
I have, with my noble friends Lady O'Loan, Lord Northbourne and Lord Hylton, tabled a series of amendments which are on the Marshalled List today. I am extremely grateful to the Government and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for having listened to those concerns and for withdrawing from the Bill the clauses that touch on those issues. I also pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and her friend Michael Gove for the way in which he has responded to the genuine concerns which were raised at Second Reading. I made the point then-and I will conclude with it-that the finest piece of education legislation in the 20th century was the Education Act 1944, which was based on agreement between political parties and stood the test of time. I hope that after the general election there will be a consensual approach to the making of education policy. Many of the ideas that Mr Gove has put forward in recent weeks should commend themselves to all sides of your Lordships' House. These should not be matters of party-political contention. I hope it will be possible for a new Bill to come forward in the new Parliament-one which we will all be able to support.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I will not detain the Committee. I simply want to say that I am grateful to the Government for the action they have taken. Many of the intentions in the original drafting of the Bill were good. They were objectives which we should try to follow at a later date and reintroduce in a more practical form in which they would work. My reason for opposing some of the clauses was that I simply did not believe that they would work.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I feel like the boy who stood on the burning deck when all around had fled. I and so many others have campaigned for so long to give children their right to life-saving and life-enhancing education by making PSHE a statutory subject in schools. Now our young people have been betrayed by the old alliance of old parties-the "Labservatives". The Government and the official Opposition have conspired behind closed doors to drop all the provisions that would have given children the high quality PSHE for which they have long asked, which they deserve and to which they have a right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is the most truly shocking betrayal of my political life.
The Conservative Party asks the electorate to vote for change and yet there is not a tissue paper now between it and the Labour Party. There is no change there. The Government have shown no backbone. There is no determination to do the right thing for children, even with their dying breath. They do not deserve to be re-elected. All this is so unnecessary. If they had consulted with the Liberal Democrats, instead of just caving in to the wrong-headed prejudices of the Conservatives, we would have supported them in retaining these clauses. They did not do so; that was their mistake. It is one I hope they will not repeat in the weeks to come.
Before I look at what these two old dinosaurs of political parties are joining together to throw away, I would like to speak to my Amendment 16 in this group. Subsections (8) and (9) to Clause 11 were inserted into the Bill at the last minute in another place, along with a whole lot of other changes, at the behest of some of the churches which do not want
7 Apr 2010 : Column 1579
"It simply puts beyond doubt something that we believe was already clear. All schools will still be under a duty to comply with the principles regarding accuracy, balance and diversity, as I have just described. Faith schools will still-as now-be able to teach pupils about the stance of their church".-[Official Report, 8/3/10; cols. 125-6.]
The Minister is wrong. If she really believes that, she has been well and truly conned. It is now clear that faith schools believe that their rights under subsections (8) and (9) override their obligations under the rest of the Bill. They are putting it about that this is a victory and they will not have to change their ways at all. They will be able to ignore the very sound and reasonable principles for teaching SRE in the Bill. This could affect teaching on homosexuality, sexual relationships outside marriage, abortion, contraception, divorce and remarriage. The Government claim that all schools will have to teach the full curriculum and abide by the principles. This is not the case. Subsections (8) and (9) were seen as a great victory by the churches because the wording clearly means that these principles will not have to be followed. I do not believe this is really the Government's intention so I hope that they will follow me into the Lobby when I put this matter to the vote a little later.
Let us now look at the wider issues of this set of amendments. The Government and the Conservatives are now seeking to delete Clauses 11, 12, 13 and 14-in other words, all the clauses about having compulsory PSHE in schools. PSHE is not just sex and relationship education-although much of the focus has been on that-it includes careers, business and economics, individual safety, personal finance, nutrition and physical activity, sex and relationships, emotional health and well-being, alcohol and other drug education. Effective PSHE education is well planned, well taught and is appropriate to the age, ability and needs of the learners. These subjects are so important to the life chances of children that they deserve their place in the national curriculum. I congratulated the Government on bringing them forward.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|