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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I have not said that. I gave the third example of a case where discretionary power might be used--and clearly a discretionary power is not prejudged by anything that I say at the Dispatch Box--where a clear promise has been given to an individual child. But that does not apply to the generality of integrated junior and senior schools.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I speak from my experience of life; it is where I worked. Very few pupils leave at 11. I acknowledge that new people come in. But in the seamless integrated schools like Norwich--the letter from the headmaster of the school was quoted--very few people leave. The pupils are part of the school and continue.

I was not being idealistic. These are facts. I would hope that the letters from the headmasters have also accepted those pupils to 18. Whether the Secretary of State acknowledges that, I do not know, but at some point the Government will have to make a statement on this. I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Lord always has the right to intervene and to continue. It is Committee stage of the Bill.

All I can do, as I have done, is to give the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, an indication of three examples of cases where discretionary powers might be used in the

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interests of the child. That does not mean in the cases of integrated junior and senior schools that the discretionary power would be used for that purpose. I do not expect that answer to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. However, the matter can be continued at a later stage.

Baroness Young: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. An important point has been raised. It is helpful that he has set out the three discretions available. If I understood the third correctly, it is where a clear promise has been given to the parent. It is difficult for the parent to understand--I do not fully understand it myself--quite what is meant by that. In these all-through schools, parents' understanding results from a letter from the headmaster or headmistress (as the case might be). But clearly that is not what the Minister has in mind. So will the noble Lord say what he has in mind; and how might parents raise their case so that ultimately the Secretary of State could exercise his discretion in favour of the child staying on?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I cannot go further than I have done. It is not the intention that discretionary powers should be used for integrated senior and junior schools. The question of a clear promise can indeed be debated further, and there is a further amendment on which that issue can be discussed. If not, further amendments can be tabled on which the issue can be debated. But I cannot go further than I have done, and I certainly do not wish to give a false impression that the Secretary of State is likely to use his discretionary powers in the examples given by noble Lords opposite.

I turn now to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I shall seek to do so briefly. He did not refer to them in his speech. The amendments would not have the effect which he intends.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I believe I said that the interruption of a child's education was a serious matter. The amendments were designed to remedy or to help, if not altogether to cure it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: If my memory is wrong, I apologise to the noble Lord. I did not catch him saying more than that in a speech of over 10 minutes.

The Bill provides for pupils receiving secondary education at the start of the 1997-98 school year to hold their assisted places until they complete their education at their current school, usually aged 18. The effect of Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 would not be to change these provisions; they simply have the effect of expressly providing for secondary pupils to retain their places. But removing the reference to primary education--which is what the amendments do--while still making explicit provision for children in secondary education might place in doubt the position of primary-aged assisted place holders.

The amendments also raise the issue of the position of a child of secondary age in a school which only provides education through to age 13. It would not be possible

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for the child's secondary education to be completed at the school and the amendments would therefore create an entitlement which could not be fulfilled.

I readily acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, made it clear that his intention was to prolong the "entitlement"--that was the word he used--to give all primary-aged assisted place holders the right to hold their places to age 18. Both I and my noble friend Lady Blackstone have made clear why that cannot be agreed to. It would mean an extension of the assisted places scheme far beyond any contract which exists or could exist and could make it continue for 13 years rather than the seven years at present provided for. On the basis of the merits of the case alone, even if one takes the noble Lord's amendments to mean what he intends them to mean--which I fear they do not--I cannot recommend that the Committee should agree to them.

Lord Henley: I imagine that we shall come back to this subject at a later stage. I do not think that the noble Lord's response was satisfactory, particularly in dealing with the question of the individuals mentioned by my noble friend Lord Pilkington, those at the all-in-one schools, those who would not have the opportunity of continuing until they were 18.

As the noble Lord reminded us, we shall have an opportunity to debate on a later amendment--and I believe that it is important that we debate it at an early hour--the very clear broken promise of the party opposite in relation to 11 to 13 year-olds.

In relation to the 11 to 18 year-olds and the amendments that we have been discussing, we do not consider the noble Lord's response to be satisfactory. For that reason I give an assurance to the noble Lord before I withdraw my Amendment No. 5--what my noble friend wishes to do with his amendments is a matter for him--that these are matters on which we shall feel it necessary to come back at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 5.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 6 to 8 not moved.]

7.15 p.m.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 2, line 5, at end insert--
("( ) in the case of a pupil with an assisted place at a school providing education for children up to the age of 13 but not beyond, at the end of the school year in which he attains the age of 13; or").

The noble Lord said: I should again make it clear that I am as keen as the Government to see the end of the assisted places scheme and that I have absolutely no wish to extend its life unnecessarily. However, I believe that commitments which have been given must be honoured. Indeed, the Government have said that they will honour commitments that have been given. Perhaps the key to this matter is the question of whether a commitment has been given.

The circumstances are probably well known to Members of the Committee. They are fully set out in the Lords Library Note 97/006, pages 19 to 23. I shall not detain Members by quoting at length. The matter

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hinges around the correspondence which took place between the chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools and Mr. Peter Kilfoyle, at that time an Opposition spokesman on education.

The Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools was concerned, since most preparatory schools take children up to the age of 13, to clarify the position of those children should a Labour government be elected and implement its manifesto pledge to abolish the assisted places scheme. On the second attempt to seek clarification of the Labour Party's position, the association received a reply from Mr. Kilfoyle in which he said:

    "If a child has a place at a school which runs to 13 then that place will be honoured through to 13".

As far as I know, there were no "ifs" and "buts", qualifications or reservations. The statement seems clear and unequivocal. The purpose of my amendment is to give effect to it in respect of pupils at preparatory schools where the normal ending age is 13.

It is perhaps a matter of interpretation as to whether a commitment could be given to that effect. At Prime Minister's Question Time on 11th June, the day after the Third Reading of the Bill in the other place, the Prime Minster said:

    "In respect of those children who have been given a promise or an understanding that they will go through to the age of 13, that, as was indicated by the letter [the letter from Mr. Kilfoyle] must be honoured".--[Official Report, Commons 11/6/97; col. 1136.]

One would have hoped that that would be sufficient and that perhaps at Second Reading or Committee stage the Government would give effect to it. I and other noble Lords raised the matter on Second Reading. I accept that the Minister was trying to be helpful in her reply, and I am grateful to her for that. She said that,

    "making blanket provision on the face of the Bill for places to continue to 13 is unnecessary. I regret to say that it would also be open to abuse".

She went on to say:

    "We intend instead to use the discretionary power which will enable the circumstances of each case to be checked. Each case will be considered carefully on its merits".--[Official Report, 24/6/97; col.1535]

That was not the general undertaking that parents could reasonably have thought they had had in what I will call the Kilfoyle letter that the places of children in schools which go through to 13 would be honoured but rather an intention that each case would be considered on its individual merits. The purpose of the amendment is to try to tease out exactly what is meant.

The Minister objects to having a blanket provision in the Bill--and presumably regards the amendment as a blanket provision--because it is open to abuse. I am not sure what abuse she has in mind. It may be that she does not feel it appropriate to tell us tonight, but it would be useful to have some indication to help us to frame a more appropriate amendment.

If the Minister is not able to accept the amendment, I hope that she will be able to give at least some assurance that the spirit of the Kilfoyle letter will be honoured and that where parents have children in schools where the normal ending age is 13 those

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children will continue to have their assisted places until the age of 13. In other words, the presumption will be that pupils in such schools are able to continue with their assisted places through to age 13 if their parents wish them to do so.

I share the view expressed on the Government Benches that, generally speaking, the best age for transfer will be 11. Because of my belief in the state education system, I hope that most of those children will transfer to state provision at age 11 or even earlier. I understand that only 2,000 pupils in total would be affected. I hope that in the event the number will be significantly smaller than that.

I believe that, rightly or wrongly, a commitment was given in the Kilfoyle letter. Those parents who know about it--and I have no idea what publicity the association gave to it--would reasonably be entitled to believe that they had been given an assurance. In those circumstances, that assurance ought to be met, and the purpose of the amendment is to give effect to it. If the Minister is not able to accept the amendment, I hope that she will be able to give some indication of the way in which the discretion which the Government feel they need to retain will be exercised.

In the passage I quoted earlier from the Second Reading debate, the noble Baroness said,

    "In due course, we shall let the schools know in detail how that discretion will be exercised".--[Col. 1535.]

It will be of considerable reassurance tonight if the Minister is able to give some indication of how that discretion will be exercised in respect of parents who, whether knowingly or not knowingly, believe or could reasonably have believed that they received that assurance through the Kilfoyle letter.

It is an important principle and one that the Government should honour. That is the purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.

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