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Lord Dormand of Easington: I am interested in what the noble Baroness has said but in fact my question was addressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Perhaps she will respond. She may well agree with what has just been said. But that contribution went much wider, if I may say so, than the specific question which I asked.
Baroness Young: The noble Lord will not, I hope, just sit and interrupt me like that. I entirely accept that the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, addressed his question to my noble friend Lady Blatch. It is the normal procedure during the Committee stage of a Bill--perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Orme, that I have been in this House for a very long time--that people can intervene to respond. If one supports what one's noble friend on the Front Bench says, it is quite normal to stand up and say so. I quite agree that I widened the point but the narrow point made by the
Baroness Blatch: I am not only delighted with what my noble friend said, but I am also delighted to have her intervention at this point. The Committee stage is a less formal stage than Report stage. Any Member of this House may intervene before I or the Minister sits down and join in with other Members of the House. That is entirely within the rules of the House and no convention has been broken.
The points that my noble friend made are pertinent. Why are the Government asking parents to vote on whether a grammar school should exist, or in one ballot getting rid of every single grammar school in the whole of an area--for example, in Kent, Lincolnshire, Trafford or Buckinghamshire? Why not have a ballot of parents to see whether they want comprehensive education in their area? Why not have a ballot of parents to see whether they want specialist schools or whether they want voluntary-aided schools?
This is a vindictive policy. It started with Crosland. Almost every Labour Party manifesto and every old Labour activist has pursued a vendetta against selection, grammar schools and the collegiate system of Oxford and Cambridge. There is now what is called, and what is reputed to be, new Labour and enlightened Labour, with old Labour policies. This Bill is old Labour writ large.
In the previous debate the noble Baroness took us back to the glories of ILEA. Those of us who remember ILEA have some pretty painful memories of the standards that it produced. It spent the most money on children and produced the worst educational results of the whole country. I have said it before: as long as I have breath I shall fight for what is good in education. I believe that our grant-maintained schools and our grammar schools have added immeasurably to the quality of education in this country.
What we have before us is a licence for those who are disgruntled, disaffected, bigoted and philosophically opposed to good education. If we do nothing else we shall make sure that it is more difficult to bring about the end of these schools which, in many cases, have been established not just for decades but for centuries. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, this question: what is democratic about giving a vote for a raft of schools to cease to exist when there is not another vote given to ask whether we want non-selective education in our area or specialist schools, CTCs or anything else? Why single out grammar schools? I believe that this is pernicious and politically bigoted. It is old Labour and we oppose it most vigorously.
Lord Peston: Some of us have listened with great tolerance to the noble Baroness on the Opposition Front Bench for several days now. We have listened to her speaking wide of any amendment down in her name or that of any other Member of this House. On the whole,
I fought for 30-odd years for comprehensive education. We believe that it is desirable on educational grounds. Some of us sent our children to comprehensive schools. In my case, and in many others, that was highly successful and the children had a very good education. I am not willing to sit here and listen to the noble Baroness making such disparaging remarks about the majority of children and schools in this country.
We disagree about selection. I am implacably opposed to academic selection and the segregation that results from it. I have intervened in these matters over the years with a modicum of restraint and intelligence. I shall not be here for the next few hours, but those who have to sit it out should not have to suffer the kind of remarks that the noble Baroness has made. On reflection she may feel that she does not want to make such remarks.
Perhaps I may add that she made her remarks not merely about one or two Members of your Lordships' House. I take them personally because she knows that I have been involved with comprehensive education for a very long time. She has made remarks about my honourable and right honourable colleagues, one or two of whom are no longer alive. They were reputable people and held sincere views on education. We should not have to sit and listen to the suggestion that we are not committed to education. To suggest that those of us who sent our children to comprehensive schools were not committed is not acceptable. The noble Baroness should think about the language she is using, especially as my noble friend Lord Dormand asked a fairly innocent question. How we have got to this stage I do not know, but it must not be allowed within the self-governing nature of your Lordships' House and permitted to continue in this way.
Baroness Blatch: If the noble Lord can point to any single statement that I made about individuals when speaking to this amendment I shall consider an apology. I referred to the policy that we are talking about here. I make no apology for that. The noble Lord accuses me of making disparaging remarks about all other forms of education and comprehensive education in particular.
My children went to a comprehensive school and they did extremely well. Like my party, I believe in the full tapestry of provision for education. I believe in grammar schools, comprehensive schools, specialist schools, city technology schools, voluntarily controlled schools and voluntary aided schools. I have no philosophical objection to any one form of education, but I do have a philosophical objection--and this is where my remarks were directed--to a fully comprehensive system. That has been the policy of the Labour Party over the years since Crosland. It is also the policy of the party today.
My comments about philosophical objections and a bigoted and pernicious Bill have everything to do with the policy and nothing to do with personalities. If the noble Lord is irritated by what we do my answer is that we are doing a job in this House, just as the noble Lord did when he was in opposition and I found it tiresome to have to listen to people taking Bills apart. The truth is that we shall fight this Bill vigorously. I shall fight with all the enthusiasm that I have and use every technical facility I have at my disposal. I am fighting for the survival of a category of schools and I will be joined by some of my noble friends. We shall fight until it is over. With the might of the vote in the other place the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has not long to wait. Because of the might of that vote he will get what he wants, and that is the disappearance of some of the best schools in the land.
Lord Peston: The noble Baroness still goes too far. I am fully committed to comprehensive education and I have never resiled from that. But I do not use words like "bigoted" about the noble Baroness and her views. I use words such as, "I believe that she is mistaken". When I was in opposition I did not use such words as "bigoted". I do not find it acceptable. It is all very well for the noble Baroness to say that she has not named an individual, but she knows perfectly well that people like me were involved with my late and much missed right honourable friend Mr. Crosland and many others in pursuing comprehensive education. I am perfectly willing to be persuaded on that or any other matter that I am mistaken, but I am not willing to have the word "bigoted" used about me or, directly or indirectly, about my friends or my noble friends on the Front Bench.
I have no objection to vigorous opposition. As the noble Baroness is aware, that was what I most enjoyed doing. It is much more enjoyable than sitting on this side of the House. But there is still a form of language that we use and we have responsibilities in that regard to your Lordships' House. I do not believe that we should debate these matters about which we disagree with language as intemperate as the noble Baroness used.
Lord Shepherd: As an elderly hereditary Peer, perhaps I may seek to calm the waters. Unless the fire brigade is called out to calm the waters, then heaven help us by the time we finish the Committee stage this evening. That will not be to the benefit of this House nor the benefit of the legislation that we are considering. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord have spoken with considerable power and very deep conviction. Perhaps we should now seek to proceed with the Bill. If we cannot be so persuaded then it is open to noble Lords on either side of the House to decide what to do. In the interests of this Committee and the Bill, I do not think that we should continue to have a great argy-bargy at the moment. Perhaps it would be appropriate later at night, but now, at the very beginning of this business, I think that we should call it a day and get a move on.
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