Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Monkswell: I do not argue that great pressure may have been put on, but the fact is that there was no legal requirement.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: It cannot be described as "great pressure": it was an order. Mr. Crosland said himself, "I want to get three Cs; comprehensive schools, a common examination at 16 and common sixth forms. You have two of them and the third is to be worked for". I can assure the noble Lord that it was an order because I have read it.

Lord Monkswell: We obviously operate in a slightly different context. Perhaps I may point out that the local education authority for Trafford, which is next door to

17 Jun 1996 : Column 26

Manchester where I live, still has selective education even today. Therefore, an order may have been issued by the Labour Government education secretary in the 1960s, but it has still not been adopted by a Conservative local education authority.

What would be the situation now if a Labour local education authority, in response to an order from this Conservative Government, said, "We are not going to implement it"? All hell would break loose. The Government would send in the commissioners. It would be totally illegal. The local authority would not be allowed to do it in that way. What is suggested is that as regards education Labour governments operate rather differently from this Conservative Government.

I have given a little background to this matter because we have the opportunity now, with this measure in front of us, to do things a little differently. We have the opportunity of a pilot scheme which will enable us to look at what is happening and the changes that the nursery voucher scheme engenders in three local authority areas. They are different and they will give a clue as to what might happen in other parts of the country. The pilot project should be allowed to run long enough for it to be evaluated sensibly. The Government should allow the project to be evaluated sensibly and then make a decision on how the scheme will be implemented throughout the country; whether it should be modified or not implemented at all.

One of the other advantages of this series of amendments is that it enables Parliament to be involved in the decision-making process. As I suggested earlier, we accept assurances given by government Ministers. I hope that the Government can give us an assurance that these pilot schemes will be allowed to run long enough and then for there to be a period of searching valuation. There will inevitably be teething troubles and that occurs with any new scheme. If we can have an assurance from the Government that those teething troubles will be addressed; that there will be a full analysis and review of the pilot schemes and that that review will be available for parliamentary discussion and debate, I am sure that we can allow the Bill to go forward as it is at present.

That is what we are asking for and that is what I ask for, in trying to take out party political debate from this subject. It does politicians no good to have party political divisions on such an important subject as education and to force something through without proper evaluation. It has been said on all sides of the Chamber already this afternoon that we all agree that nursery education is so important for the development of our young people that we should aim to see how best we can develop it. That is the plea that I make to the Government to try to take politics out of this particular debate. If the Government insist on putting forward a party political slant on the matter, as a number of speakers on the government Benches have done so far, I hope that the rest of the Committee will support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: After that speech, I suggest respectfully to the Committee that we shall

17 Jun 1996 : Column 27

only do justice to the importance of this amendment and to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, by constructive and short speeches directed to the important issues of the amendment. While I am on my feet, for my part I wholly accept the sincerity of the noble Lord when he said that this is not intended to be a wrecking amendment. I hope that we may proceed in a more sensible fashion.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I shall be both brief and historical. I want to refer directly to the business of having to wait a year to carry through this very important educational change. Perhaps I may draw the Committee's attention to three of the greatest changes ever made in English education. I refer first to the Elementary Education Act 1870, which introduced state primary education for the first time. Mr. Gladstone's Government did not ask for a year's pilot scheme. They relied on the existing models of primary teaching in Church schools.

I refer secondly to grammar schools and to the Education Act 1902, which was the first time that the English state took it upon itself to provide secondary education. The government of the day did not rely on a year's pilot scheme, but looked to the existing endowed secondary schools and to the practice in Germany.

I turn thirdly to the disputed change to comprehensive schooling, possibly the most profound change made in English education since the 1902 Act. Circular 10/65 stated that every local authority had to come forward with a scheme for comprehensive education. It is true that some doughty Tory councils delayed--and have delayed to this day--but it was not the intention of Mr. Crosland that they should.

Perhaps I may remind the Committee of another great change in English education when a noble Baroness, who sits in this House on a different Bench but is not here today, abolished direct grant schools. No one said that there needed to be a year's evaluation.

There are many nursery schools in this country. We do not need a year to study this. I say with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that when my pupils quoted Latin tags I often feared the argument that followed.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: Many of your Lordships will have received a great deal of material on this Bill. What has intrigued me has been the number of letters that I have received from private individuals--far more than I have received on any other issue since first becoming a Member of your Lordships' House 12 years ago. Some of the letters are simply signed circular letters, but many are individually written and refer not only to a particular school but, more importantly, to particular children, to the children for whom the parents are responsible. In almost every case, the writers state that they are looking for high quality nursery education which is locally accessible.

We all support the intention of providing nursery education on a wider basis--I certainly support that--but as has already been said, the question is whether this Bill will facilitate that. I am by no means opposed to

17 Jun 1996 : Column 28

the Bill, but I accept that many people in our society have grave hesitations about it simply on the grounds of what it will do to their child's nursery education. For them, it is not a political matter; it is entirely a family and personal matter.

As I said at Second Reading, I have taken the trouble to consult two of the diocesan boards of education which were involved in the pilot project. I have received comments from both about their hesitations which mirror the hesitations of many parents. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, referred to her talks with a primary head teacher in Norfolk. My information is that there are many models--four are spelled out in the paper that I have--for working to provide nursery education in Norfolk, of which the model mentioned by the noble Baroness is one. That seems to make the point that some sharing of experience and reflection on what is actually happening is essential.

Much of this work took place even before the nursery voucher scheme was proposed. Perhaps I may advise the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that the demand from Church schools for nursery provision was strongly in evidence even before the Bill emerged. Surely what we need is an opportunity for the kind of on-going evaluation which has been mentioned, but for that to be brought together in a reflective way so that there can be some sharing of experience. I do not see that that means that the existing pilot schemes must be halted, but I do think that it means that the scheme must be properly grounded. There needs to be an opportunity to share both the difficulties and the strengths of what is happening.

Clearly, the two boards of education which I consulted had very different views. One, in the rural area of Norfolk, was particularly concerned about a matter that has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. I refer to the need for local provision. That board is by no means clear that the voucher system will make available more local provision in rural areas. The concerns are different in urban areas and relate mainly to ethnic minorities and the need to ensure that information is available in a variety of languages. Clearly, such matters can be dealt with, but, if the scheme is to be properly founded, I believe that a certain amount of reflection on the experience gained from the pilots would be extremely valuable.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Parry: I begin by apologising to the Committee for my absence from earlier discussions on this matter. I have been handicapped and unable to come to the House. I am here now not because of the quantity of my postbag on this, but because of its quality. I am here not because of the organised circular letters to which the right reverend Prelate referred, but because of the friends who have asked me to be here this afternoon specifically to win a stay in what they consider to be progress towards implementing a scheme which may contain valuable provisions, but which they feel threatens the existing provision of nursery education.

17 Jun 1996 : Column 29

I make a short but passionate intervention on behalf of those teachers who have written to make precisely the opposite comments to those made uncharacteristically vehemently by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, whom I have faced in your Lordships' House in discussions over many years. I know of her concern for education, but what we have heard this afternoon has been the authoritative voice of government dictating to people who have concerns rather than listening to what they are saying.

We have heard it said that only those who support the Government's case are worth listening to in the staff rooms and classrooms of Britain. However, that is not borne out by the facts. There are many teachers of great experience who care about this matter as much as anyone. From this side of the House I have never questioned the care of those on the other side of the House. However, this afternoon I have heard history rewritten from that side of the House in authoritative and ringing terms, declaring that things that never happened in the history of education in Britain happened under the administration of the governments that I have always supported.

The teachers in the classrooms of Britain and the parents who work with them in parent-teacher associations do not like the scheme at the moment. They want it to be re-examined carefully. As was said by my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that is implicit. My noble friend made it perfectly clear that he is not seeking to halt the scheme, but to improve it. He is seeking to bring into the discussion the voices of those teachers who will work with the scheme. For heaven's sake, why don't we listen to them?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page