25 Apr 1996 : Column 1245

House of Lords

Thursday, 25th April 1996.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Government Statements: Repetition Procedure

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked the Leader of the House:

    How many Government Statements made in the House of Commons in the last year have not been repeated in this House, and how many of these were not repeated as a result of a decision by the Opposition.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, in the period from 1st April 1995 to 1st April 1996, 30 Statements were made in another place and not repeated in your Lordships' House. In each case a decision on whether or not to repeat the Statement was made in accordance with guidance recommended by the Procedure Committee and endorsed by the House.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if a Statement is important enough to justify being made in another place, surely this House is not being treated properly if the same Statement is not repeated here, and if this House is ignored by the Government for this purpose? In these circumstances, is it not particularly odd that a decision as to whether or not a Statement should be repeated here can be made by the party opposite whose attitude towards the whole future of this House is well known?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I would not be exaggerating the flavour of what seem to be a great number of Procedure Committee reports over the years on this subject if I characterise them by suggesting that there was a mild feeling that making Statements in your Lordships' House was an alien procedure from another place. I exaggerate a little to make the point to my noble friend. It might be helpful if I remind my noble friend that the Procedure Committee recommended that Statements should be repeated,

    "when in the opinion of the Leader, after consultation through the usual channels, they are on a matter of national importance".
If I take the first part of my Answer, I hope the House will feel that that is the right procedure. It is certainly in line with the nature and ethos of your Lordships' House.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does not my noble friend agree--and perhaps, on reflection, would not my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter agree--that a number of Statements made in another place are scarcely worth making at Hyde Park Corner on a Sunday morning, and

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1246

that they are made for reasons more concerned with intricate negotiations to avoid other forms of parliamentary debate than for their own merits?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, my noble friend tempts me strangely, particularly in view of the fact that I have heard him with some elegance make many Statements of an oral nature in another place. However, I think what my noble friend says undoubtedly supports the first part of the Answer that I gave to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is the noble Viscount the Leader of the House aware--I know he is, but perhaps his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter is not--that that same report of the Procedure Committee also stated that the criterion for oral repetition was to be,

    "strictly interpreted, so that the number of Statements taken orally is substantially reduced",
and that that recommendation of the Procedure Committee was accepted by the House?

Is the noble Viscount the Leader of the House aware that we on these Benches appreciate his courtesy in consulting us on the issue of whether or not a Statement should be repeated in this House? Is he also aware--I know he is--that any opinions expressed by us are of course within the usual channels? The noble Viscount will be aware that some of the matters that we try to take into account in considering whether or not a Statement should be repeated here are the state of business in this House and the importance of the Statement itself; that is, whether it falls into the "Tebbit category" or is considered in the opinion of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to be a matter of national importance. Is the noble Viscount aware that we take very much to heart what the Procedure Committee says the House should do with regard to Statements made in another place?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful, as always, to the noble Lord for what I think reflects entirely my sense of what the feelings of the House are. He is, of course, as aware as I am that the usual channels always work best when the details of that rather arcane procedure continue to be wrapped in mystery.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, I entirely agree with the comment that the usual channels should operate in confidence and, at the end of the day, through confidence, they stand by what they have agreed. Will the noble Viscount the Leader of the House draw the attention of his ministerial colleagues to the fact that it is no defence when questions are raised--certainly this has happened in this House in the past 12 months--as to why a Statement was not repeated here to say that the Opposition did not want it? In the light of what the noble Viscount has said, I think that much of the misunderstanding of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, will be put at rest. However, will the noble Viscount ask his colleagues not to use the phrase, "The Opposition did not want the Statement here and therefore we did not hear it"?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, with his experience in the management of business in this House, the noble

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1247

Lord will know that it is always wise to rest one's case on the exact phraseology of the Procedure Committee. With his permission, and the permission of the House, I shall continue to do so.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the value originally attributed to Statements being made in another place and repeated in your Lordships' House has been greatly undermined by the growing practice of putting down planted Questions for Written Answer in another place as a substitute for making a public Statement in the place in which it ought to be made?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, in view of the policies being advocated with regard to your Lordships' House by the noble Lord's party at present, I am constantly gratified, if surprised, by the amount of support that I find for your Lordships' House and its procedures. I leave it to your Lordships to draw conclusions as to the institutions with which those reactors are drawing comparisons.

Education: Selection

3.14 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have to extend selection in secondary education.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has recently consulted interested parties on proposals to increase flexibility in school admissions. This will take effect later in the year. We are also considering the options for further extending self-government for schools in the longer term, including in the area of admissions and selection.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, first, why should there be a possible extension of selection when there is overwhelming evidence that it is both unfair and inefficient and it is widely discredited by most educationists? Secondly, when selection is made, by whatever method, what happens to those pupils who are not selected? Thirdly, what becomes of parental choice when selection is made, in particular since the Government place so much emphasis on parental choice?

Lord Henley: My Lords, unlike the party opposite--as we know, it says that it believes in a universal comprehensive system, taking away both choice and selection, but practices the opposite--we believe in extending both choice and selection. We believe in diversity. But that does not mean that we propose to go back to universal selection. What we want to do is to go back to a diversity of different systems, which will allow parents the appropriate choice of schools.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the state system of education in

25 Apr 1996 : Column 1248

this country is in the trouble that it is precisely because it has paid too much attention to the views of "most educationists", as promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington? Is it not true that the state system of education delivered a much higher standard of education to all people in this country, including the poorest, when it was more selective?

Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to extensive reliance on the views of educationists. I remind my noble friend that we rely very much on the views of parents. I draw my noble friend's attention to a recent poll conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers which indicated that the majority of people in this country, and the majority of parents, are in favour of a return to a degree of selection.

Baroness David: My Lords, the DFEE proposals for changing admission arrangements were made in a consultative document with the rather dry title, Review of Circular 6/93: Admissions to Maintained Schools, and Grant-Maintained School Admissions Arrangements. That document was published on 8th January. Responses were required by 22nd February 1996. Can the Minister tell us when Her Majesty's Government will respond to their January consultation; or is this all wrapped up in the proposed White Paper?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page