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Lord Henley: My Lords, as we have made clear on a number of occasions, and as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made clear, we intend to allow grant-maintained and LEA schools to extend their selection from roughly 10 per cent. to something like 15 per cent. without coming to the Secretary of State for approval. Obviously if schools wish to go further, they can seek approval from my right honourable friend for such major changes should they so wish. I welcome applications from all schools, whether LEA or grant maintained.
As regards further steps forward, again as my right honourable friend made quite clear in her speech to the University of London Institute of Education, we shall bring forward further proposals in the White Paper in June; and we would want to introduce a greater degree of selection.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many people feel that the educational policy in this country is inadequate and has been so for a long time? The new theories to avoid selection and various other methods are not popular with the majority of parents.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I can accept a great deal of what the noble Lord says. We believe that education should be governed by the policies of this Government but also by the choices of parents because we believe that parents are the right people to make the right decisions as regards the education of their children.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I very much accept my noble friend's remark. As I have made quite clear, we do not propose any system involving a return to a universal 11-plus or its equivalent. We say that parents should be able to make the choice. A great many parents want to select schools. Whether that selection is made on the basis of their own specialisms or the ability of their children, they would like to make that choice. We believe, therefore, that schools have a right to select, and to select appropriately. We want to see a diversity of provision that will allow parents to make that appropriate choice.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, is not this harking back to the issue of selection a terrible diversion from the real challenges in regard to the provision of high-quality education to pupils of all ability in our schools if they are to face the future successfully and help this country to face the future successfully? When the Minister talks of parental choice, is he aware that those of us with experience of the system would like to have the choice of not having our five and six year-olds educated in classes of over 30, and not having to sell raffle tickets and hold car boot sales to buy textbooks for our 15 year-olds?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the education spokesman for the party opposite himself said that the comprehensive system of the past 30 years had failed, and then seemed to suggest a scheme that would widen it even further. That would serve only to remove all choice from parents. Choice can never be total. We want to extend choice as far as possible to as many parents as possible.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, apart from their own speculations, dreams and opinions, what hard evidence based on what research do the Government have to suggest that the introduction of more selection will improve the quality of education for all children?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the hard evidence is that it will extend parental choice. By extending parental choice one will increase parental involvement. As I believe anyone knows, even the noble Lord, parental involvement improves standards in schools.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that very many teachers find it quite absurd to be told that all children are equal and must be taught together and in the same way? There are teachers who have been crying out for some form of opportunity to teach children according to their innate abilities and talents. They would welcome some form of increased selection based on a range of different characteristics.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, in answering my Question and responding to others, the Minister once again emphasised parental choice. We on these Benches do not disagree with him. What we are saying--a point which he continually refuses to answer--is that thousands of parents do not have parental choice and that to a large extent education is based on selection. Will he answer that point?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I have never said that choice can be absolutely total. I have said that we want to make choice as widely available to parents as possible. We want to offer a whole range of schools: grant-maintained schools; local authority schools; comprehensive schools; specialist schools; city technology colleges; and technology colleges, or whatever. By extending that choice and diversity, we increase choice and diversity for parents.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, my right honourable friend's visit to Israel was made in response to a long-standing invitation. The visit provided the opportunity for discussions on a range of issues, including bilateral defence relations. My right honourable friend was also able to stress the Government's determination to see a diplomatic solution to the current crisis in Lebanon and a speedy return to the peace process.
The Earl of Glasgow: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness very much for that explanation. I have just returned from a visit to the Lebanon as a member of a parliamentary delegation. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government appreciate how desperately the Lebanese Government want peace at the moment; how much the people there have suffered, more so than any other Arab country, from the Arab-Israeli conflict; and also how very aware that government are of their helplessness against Israeli fire power? Yet they are invited by the Israelis, supported by the Americans, to do something that is impossible; namely, rid their country of Hizbollah while at the same time the Israelis occupy one-tenth of their country. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government still believe that the Israeli action against Lebanon is appropriate?
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, would not Mr. Portillo have been better advised, even at that time, to have urged an immediate end to the bombardment of civilians and the removal of occupying forces from southern Lebanon? Will my noble friend now assure the House that the British Government will use their undoubted influence in the area not only to secure peace but to see that, whatever guarantees are to be put in place, Lebanon is quickly re-established as a fully independent sovereign state?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, as I believe my noble friend knows, not only has the United Kingdom called for an immediate ceasefire. We have also been actively engaged throughout in diplomatic efforts to end the fighting. We remain in close touch with the Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli governments, with the Americans, and with our European partners. We were co-sponsors of Security Council Resolution 1052 last week. We will continue our efforts and use all our influence to bring about an end to the horrific war that is going on in southern Lebanon.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the Minister was perhaps a little reticent in regard to the second part of the noble Earl's Question. What have been the results? Is it not the case that Mr. Portillo--on an official visit, paid for, I assume, by the taxpayer--made certain pronouncements about the Lebanese situation which were perhaps different from those made by the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Rifkind? Will the noble Baroness, and the Government generally, ensure that when Cabinet Ministers make pronouncements on the same issue, they sing from the same songsheet?
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