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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her statement. I am rather sorry that Mr. Kilfoyle did not include all the qualifications in his letter. That is the basis of the Opposition's objection to this particular measure.
I regret very much that the Government have used their majority in the Commons to overturn this amendment. I repeat: the qualifications made were not made in the original letter. That is the basis of my case. A promise was made, a promise without qualifications, and it has now been reduced to a discretion. Mr. Kilfoyle may have been over-generous; he may have been carried away by the conviviality of the prep school gathering. However, he made a promise.
The noble Baroness's command of English is almost certainly better than mine. She knows as well as I do that "discretion" means, "freedom to make decisions one way or the other"; while a promise means, "an agreement to follow a defined line". The Government know that what will happen to these worried parents is that they will have to approach bureaucrats in the Department for Education and Employment. Letters will be exchanged and an enormous burden will be placed upon them merely as a result, so far as I can gather, of the indiscretion of a shadow spokesman of the party now in government, then in Opposition.
I go further. I absolutely trust the noble Baroness's promise. Since she says that she will observe the spirit of the Kilfoyle letter rashly though it was given, as I gather from the qualification that she makes, I fail to understand why the Government are not prepared to accept this amendment since it was their Member, their shadow spokesman, who made this rash promise. This amendment clearly puts on the face of the Bill, without any equivocation, the intent of that letter. The noble Baroness has said on more than on occasion--and I repeat that I respect her assurances--that she will fulfil the spirit of the amendment. I remind the House
I make this comment for the record. For us this is a matter not just of principle but of integrity. It is a sad business when promises are not kept. I do not include the noble Baroness in this, but it is dishonourable. A member of the party then in Opposition and now in Government made a promise on which the Government are now reneging. We all know that "discretion" will mean endless letters and endless distress.
We have made our feelings clear. We shall not oppose the decision of the other place to remove the amendment from the Bill. We shall go to dinner and I shall enjoy my dinner more than noble Lords opposite in that I command the moral high ground. A promise was made and a promise was not kept. My digestion will be better than that of noble Lords opposite, particularly for members of a party who profess to believe in trust. We shall see what happens in the next four years, but this is a bad beginning.
However, I wish to say that there is nothing dishonourable about what we have agreed to do. We made a concession to look, on a discretionary basis, at those cases where people may have been influenced by the Kilfoyle letter and where a genuine promise had been made. We are not in any sense reneging on promises.
Finally, we on this side of the House will enjoy our dinner greatly because we shall have put through a Bill which was in our manifesto--a commitment which we made which we believe will help the many hundreds of thousands of five, six and seven year-old children in state schools who deserve to receive their education in smaller class sizes than the party of the noble Lord opposite was able to achieve when it was in power.
It is in keeping with the role of the non-elected revising and debating Chamber to ask the other place to think again on certain aspects of the Government's proposals. But when the other place disagrees with your Lordships' amendment, particularly when privilege is involved, we do not insist on the matter. Earlier today, Members in another place debated the principle of the amendment in some depth. So, while the reason given relates to the financial aspect of the amendment, I can assure your Lordships that the other place took full account of the principle behind the amendment in reaching the decision to disagree. I commend the Motion to the House.
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