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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, as the Member of this House who on Monday ran himself into the deepest trouble over the intervention of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, perhaps I may say that we are now in effect a working week further down the road on this issue. On Monday I said that my noble friend had raised a number of significant issues.
What I have heard since then, and what causes me concern, is that we now know that discussions are taking place, but that my noble friends who are deeply interested in this subject are not involved in those discussions. It is a fact that, when one is attempting to achieve an agreed conclusion in an area where there are differing points of view, agreement is achieved by discussion with all the parties and not only with some of them. Of course, one must accept that in politics, might can be right. It may be that if a sufficient number of people can, so to speak, be squared, then the views
Having said that, I had never assumed that these discussions would be easy. Still less did I expect conclusions to emerge. What normally happens in this kind of situation is that, in the event that a government are in disagreement, the government themselves attempt to put down amendments and seek a conclusion. However, we have not seen that. It may be that the matter is to be dealt with in another place. If that is the case, then we will have to deal with it when it returns to this House.
I say to my noble friend that I hope that he will not press his amendments tonight. However, I shall certainly support him in his argument that all interested parties in this debate should be involved in the discussions if we are to arrive at an agreed conclusion.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, this debate is a little strange. I understand some of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, but his remarks and those of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, reflect some of the misunderstanding of the Government's position here. I take the strictures made by the noble Lord on late amendments. Indeed, on occasion I have expressed my own irritation at the position Ministers find themselves forced into either by this House or through outside circumstances. However, as regards this Bill, perhaps I should make it clear that the Government have noted the views taken by this House on what is referred to in shorthand terms as section 28, and I do not intend to bring forward late amendments relating to that point.
For similar reasons, when the noble Baroness, Lady Young, shortly moves her consequential amendment, I shall certainly not oppose it because all the amendments are the logical results of the decision previously taken by this House. It is therefore the case that I shall not ask the House to reconsider that matter until we have received the view of another place.
An entirely parallel area relates to the education concerns that were widely expressed in that debate, but which cannot be dealt with appropriately in this Bill, because it does not apply directly to schools in England and Wales. Therefore, in the context of our education legislation, we have engaged in discussions with the Churches and with others as to whether there is a satisfactory consensus that could be brought forward in relation to education concerns in the education legislation which is not yet before this House.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is the noble Lord saying that discussions are taking place on the Bill with which I am involved that totally exclude noble Lords on these
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as was indicated, a commitment was given by myself and referred to by my noble friend Lady Blackstone that the Secretary of State for Education would consult with the Churches and others as to whether we could bring forward an amendment. That is the normal way for governments to consult with interested parties. At this stage, that consultation is not a multi-party discussion. Noble Lords opposite will be in a position to consider such amendments as we are able to bring forward in due course. Those amendments will have already achieved broad agreement with the Churches and others.
I believe that we are confusing several different issues here. We are confusing those issues that are appropriate to this Bill, some of which are being pursued separately in discussions--I think that the word "negotiations" suggests too institutionalised a form of discussion--between my colleagues in the Department for Education, the right reverend Prelate and others. It is hoped that the results of those discussions will be acceptable to this House when they are brought to fruition. They will then be dealt with in the Learning and Skills Bill. That is an entirely separate matter. It will then be dealt with in the normal way in the context of that Bill.
I turn to the amendments before us in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. I do not agree with the first amendment, Amendment No. 81, but it is appropriate in this Bill. The amendment introduces a general non-discrimination clause of a rather particular kind in relation to the activities of local government. In my view, the amendment is unworkable. One has only to consider the range of services applied by local authorities to recognise that they depend critically on being able reasonably and legitimately to discriminate between different sections of their community in different contexts. I believe that that point was made previously by the noble Earl, Lord Russell.
Sometimes that involves conflicting priorities in the allocation of scarce resources, and sometimes it means providing to elements of the community services and resources which are not provided to others. So long as the local authority acts reasonably in that respect and within the law, clearly that is an essential task of local authorities. In my view, Amendment No. 81 would cut across the whole of that activity by local authorities so that they would not be able to discriminate, for example, in relation to the elderly, the disabled and, indeed, the gay and lesbian community in the provision of any such services. I believe that that would gravely restrict local authorities. Therefore, if the amendment were taken literally and applied to the whole range of local authority services, I believe that it would be unworkable.
I turn to Amendment No. 82, to which the noble Lord also spoke. I believe that in a sense it is not appropriate because it does not acknowledge the respective legal responsibilities of school bodies and of
I take the noble Lord's intentions seriously and I understand that he has proposed these amendments in order to help us through this matter. However, I do not believe that the first amendment is workable or the second appropriate to this legislation. I hope that he will not pursue them.
Baroness Young: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he will clarify what he said about the arrangements on this Bill. Do I understand that negotiations have taken place between the Government and the Churches and others not named as I understand that no one, at any rate from this side of the House, has taken an interest in this matter? Do I understand that an amendment will be tabled to the Learning and Skills Bill which has a cross-over effect on Clause 82 of the Bill currently under discussion? Is that supposed to be an example of transparency or confusion?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there may be confusion among some noble Lords opposite. The matter has never been confusing to me. The education legislation is appropriate for education and local government legislation is appropriate for local government services. The discussions to which I refer, and which the noble Baroness and others tend to refer to as "negotiations", quite clearly are discussions. Their existence has been reported in the newspapers and elsewhere and they have been referred to by myself and by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. The discussions are a continuation of the normal discussions between the education department and representatives of the faiths, particularly the Church of England, which has so many schools to which this legislation would apply.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, perhaps I may put a question to the Minister for clarification. It seems to me that in this particular clause, put forward by my noble friend, we are discussing initiatives which might be taken by local authorities. I understand that that has happened on many occasions in the past when they have produced material, spent money on producing it and then presented it to the schools. It seems that that is a local government issue, not an educational issue.
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