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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I appreciate the welcome given to these regulations from the Opposition Benches for the limited effect that they have. I appreciate also the recognition from those Benches of the good reasons why I invited Sir Peter Middleton to conduct his review. He is reviewing for me the Woolf proposals and legal aid together. I have always maintained that reform of legal aid and the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, should go together. They should not be evaluated separately. The reform of legal aid is not, as has been recognised, a distinct issue, hermetically sealed from the reforms of the civil justice system itself.

A major defect in the approach of our predecessors was to address each separately. I therefore welcome what has now been said from the Opposition Benches. That is precisely why Sir Peter is reviewing them both together for me. I expect him to report by the end of September. I hope and plan to make major decisions in October.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[Sitting suspended from 8.16 to 8.45 p.m.]

Education (Schools) Bill

House again in Committee on Clause 2.

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 2, line 10, at end insert ("or
(c) unless the Secretary of State in exercising his discretion has particular regard for pupils in--
(i) non-tied preparatory schools that finish at age 13; or
(ii) schools situated in local education authorities with middle schools,
and deems otherwise.").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may start by offering my congratulations to the noble Baroness on the slick way in which she moved the House back into Committee and also the speed with which the noble Baroness, the Deputy Chairman of Committees, pre-empted her words.

10 Jul 1997 : Column 800

Amendment No. 11, which I wish to speak to very briefly, is an alternative to what we were debating earlier. It is obvious that the Government at this stage are not prepared to move on the question of the broken promise. That is why I gave an assurance that I would be prepared to come back to the matter at Report stage. However, I probably will not be here; it may be someone else. Certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will want to come back to it on Report, as will my noble friends.

The Government should be ashamed of themselves to some extent in terms of the refusal to move on the broken promise. I offer this amendment as an alternative in terms of allowing them to move some small way.

The Bill itself as drafted, as the noble Baroness pointed out on the last amendment, offers a discretion to the Secretary of State to make provision for some of the 11 to 13 year-olds who will be affected by the broken promise. It is a discretion which I do not believe goes far enough. If I may speak for the noble Lord, Lord Tope, remembering what he said on the previous amendment, perhaps I may say that we believe it is wrong because we believe it is a matter properly left to the parents, whatever the rights or wrongs of moving at 11 or 13 years of age. I see perfectly the justness of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that very often it is far more sensible to move at the age of 11 rather than at 13. That is a decision both I and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, believe is best made by the parents.

I appreciate that my amendment is probably not as well drafted as it might be. I do not have access to the draftsman that the Government have. No doubt we will try to improve it at a later stage. My amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State himself, when exercising his discretion, should generally give the benefit of the doubt to the particular classes mentioned in the amendment rather than the other way around, which seems to be the case with Clause 2 as it now stands. I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness has to say. I have no intention of pressing the amendment at this stage of the Bill but, subject to what she says, I may wish to return to the matter at a later stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: Amendments Nos. 11 and 27 seek to incorporate into the Bill a requirement that the Secretary of State pays regard to the particular circumstances of children in non-tied preparatory schools and in areas where middle schools operate.

The amendments are unnecessary. The Bill as originally drafted provides a wide discretionary power. I have made clear that we shall have regard to the circumstances of children in preparatory schools and children in areas served by middle schools. I have given assurances that we shall use the discretionary power sympathetically and in a way that takes account of the particular circumstances of the child concerned.

Making specific provision in the Bill for discretion to be considered in particular circumstances would detract from the unfettered simplicity of the discretionary power and could cast doubt on its scope by specifying

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particular circumstances where discretion may apply. Examples not mentioned could be viewed as carrying less weight.

We have deliberately provided a wide discretionary power because we want the flexibility to be able to respond appropriately to all those cases that are presented to us. We do not want anything to be ruled out on a technicality when there are good reasons for extending support. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Henley: I gave an assurance to the noble Baroness that I did not intend to press the amendment. I still do not believe that she has addressed the crucial question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and myself. We feel that, in the end, it should be for the parents to make up their minds and not the Secretary of State. The amendment pushes the Secretary of State's discretion further because, obviously, when one is offering discretion to a Secretary of State, one must lay down guidelines as to how that discretion should be exercised. I do not believe that the noble Baroness has gone as far as we would wish but I do not wish to press the matter further this evening. I shall look carefully at what she said. I shall withdraw the amendment, but it may be that we shall need to return to the issue at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 13:

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--

Power of local authority to continue to assist pupils

(" . Nothing in this Act shall prevent a local authority from reimbursing a former participating school in respect of the fees of any pupil resident in the area of that local authority whom the authority determines may benefit from education at that school.").

The noble Lord said: The noble Baroness will be delighted with this amendment because it is very co-operative and is designed to help the Government. I never know who is going to speak to the amendments. Of Judy and Punch, I believe that this time it is Punch. What I am asking for--I shall develop my case in a few moments--is that a local authority should be allowed to spend the grant which every local authority is given for the education of a secondary school pupil at an independent school.

There have been arguments about the balance, but it is about £1,000 to £1,400. The emphasis of the amendment is that the balance of the fee would be provided either by charitable grants from educational charities, some of which are interested in this matter, or by funds raised by independent schools.

Why should one bother to do that? It is merely to help the Government. The problem is that, as the noble Baroness pointed out, 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of assisted places are mainly held at former direct grant schools. And, of course, as the noble Baroness has indicated and as was pointed out in the debates in the

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early 1980s, the direct grant schools were unevenly distributed; in other words, they were concentrated in various areas of the country.

In that case, the Government must face the fact that a greater burden will fall on some local authorities rather than others. For example, it was pointed out in the other place that Guildford has 400 assisted places because of the old Royal Grammar School in Guildford and Guildford High School, former direct grant schools. But the local authority says that state secondary schools in Guildford are already over-subscribed. Therefore, the Government will face the problem that places will need to be provided for those children in areas where there is at present over-subscription.

This amendment is not malicious or nasty. It is designed to give local authorities the power, without costing more, to use the independent schools in their area, to raise money and to help the state and relieve the pressure on the whole system. It is a good opportunity to comply with the request at page 72 of the White Paper for co-operation between the independent and maintained sectors because the independent sector would provide money, £1,400 per year, and also for improved parental choice because parents could choose, for example, the Royal Grammar School at Guildford.

I gather from discussions in the other place that there are problems also in Totnes. My own home town of Newcastle has about 1,500 direct grant places. Half the pupils at my old school, Dame Allans, are taken on a direct grant basis. I can assure the Committee, having been a member of that school, that it has no endowment. But those schools could possibly draw from city companies and such establishments. In other words, the amendment meets the noble Baroness's plea made earlier in the debate for co-operation and constructive debate. I hope the Government may pay some attention to it. I beg to move.

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