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Lord Walton of Detchant: I wonder if I may ask a question. The National Commission on Education, which I had the privilege to chair, after doing a great deal of research, recommended the maximum class size in nursery and primary schools as being 30, so I am glad to hear that that recommendation is now being accepted by the Government.
Baroness Blackstone: No. We shall come to this matter a little later. It is the Government's intention to ensure, as is absolutely right and proper, that all children of this age should be taught by a qualified teacher. That is what we will ensure happens.
Baroness Seccombe: We are talking about legislation and the rigidity of having 30 children in one class. If at a rural school which was miles from anywhere the parents of most of the children thought that it was right that a 31st child should be added, but one parent felt as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, feels, and insisted that another teacher was enlisted, what would be the situation as regards enforcement of the law? What would the sanctions be and who would be offending in that situation?
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: The noble Baroness said, and I am sure she pleased the Committee, that it was the intention of the Government to look positively at the thinking behind the amendment. I wonder if the noble Baroness would make it clear whether that positive look applies to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, of using the affirmative procedure. If, by chance, it does not, I should like to make the point, which I made very often when we were in government, at a time when I was doing my utmost to support Ministers, that I still recall some arguments which I had with my noble friend Lady Blatch, who is now in a different situation, on this very subject of affirmative procedures.
I understand very well that it would be extremely unfair to throw all the odium for this bad habit at the noble Baroness. It seems to me to have been for quite a long time an ingrained habit of the department she now represents to indulge in these thoroughly bad practices. I found, to my great distress, that complaints levelled from the other side of your Lordships' House had little effect.
Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may respond to the noble Baroness first. Of course, I do not believe that any school would want to fail to respond to what the law requires it to do in circumstances of this kind. It will be provided with the resources, and it cannot be in any school's interests to do other than commit itself to what the law requires. The Secretary of State could issue a direction to the school or the local education authority under Section 497 of the Education Act 1996 and get a court order to enforce it.
I now turn to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. We have been able to respond positively on the issue of affirmative procedures in relation to the Teaching and Higher Education Bill. We will, of course, look and think carefully about it in relation to this part of this Bill. However, I should say to the noble Lord, and I am sure my noble friend will agree with this, that given that we are conceding that the limit of 30 should be on the face of the Bill, that will obviously have some effect on what the thinking might be about the affirmative resolution. Of course, we will take this away, think about it and consult our legal advisers.
Lord Peston: Before my noble friend sits down and before the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, speaks, perhaps I may ask her doubly to reassure me. She said that she would take legal advice on the question of what goes on to the face of the Bill. I am always delighted when a Minister responds positively to someone in Opposition. Equally, I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and I suffering from the same besetting sin; namely, that we try to be consistent no matter where we are sitting, which I do not think will meet with approval from everybody. Nonetheless, on this matter we do.
I am a little worried that in following the recommendation of your Lordships' Committee the Government might be getting themselves into legal hot water, not far removed from what the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, implied might arise. Can my noble friend reassure us, in trying to respond sympathetically, that we will not end up with a worse state of affairs, including a legal minefield, than we had to start with? In other words, I do not wish to deflect her remotely from being supportive of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but I do not want her to give us a Bill that will become an Act of Parliament which, rather like one or two aspects, if I may say, of the Act introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, when he was Secretary of State, will be unenforceable. That would worry me a great deal. I refer, of course, to religious courses.
Lord Belstead: Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a question before she proceeds further with the Bill? I very much welcomed hearing the noble Baroness say that although the report of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House on delegated powers had only been seen by her Department last Thursday, nonetheless heads had been put together. I think the noble Baroness's words were that there would be consideration of necessary amendments. I hope I am not sounding as though I am niggling when I say that I think it would help the Committee if we knew how the noble Baroness intended to proceed. Can she give a very quick assessment of the report of the Select Committee, a Select Committee which, incidentally, exists in order to examine whether there are inappropriate delegated powers in Bills and which expresses considerable concern so far as this Bill is concerned. Eight or 10 of its recommendations would fall within the ambit of the undertaking given by the noble Baroness.
I apologise if I sound as though I am niggling. I do not think that I am; I think that it would help the Committee to know the way in which the Minister intends to give effect to the undertaking that she has given, which I welcome.
Lord Dormand of Easington: Before my noble friend replies, perhaps I may raise one point. I preface my remarks by saying that I am no breaker of laws, but I hope that the Minister will not get into too much detail about breaking the law with regard to the example that we are currently considering of the 31st or 32nd pupil. The first point to consider is where the money will come from for an extra teacher. I believe that it has been suggested that it might cost between £25,000 and £35,000.
I put it to my noble friend and to the Committee that we are breaking the law every day with regard to education. The law has been broken many times today simply because religious services--school gatherings for religious purposes--tend not to be held, although that is the law. There is supposed to be a daily religious service in our schools, but such services do not take place--and for a number of good reasons. First, in secondary schools in particular, there is not sufficient room for all the pupils. Secondly, in some cases teachers are unwilling to undertake such duties. I believe that the number of such teachers is increasing.
I hope that my noble friend will realise that certain practical difficulties have to be borne in mind. However, I am not saying that we should not have this as an aim. I tend to agree with some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Peston, particularly on numbers. At some point, I am sure that we shall say, "This cannot be done at present". At the moment, for example, there is a shortage of teachers and until we can move towards finding a solution to such difficulties, some of the problems being raised now simply cannot be met.
Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may begin by responding to my noble friends Lord Peston and Lord Dormand. Of course, we do not want to enter a legal minefield, but perhaps I should remind my noble friends that we have a clear manifesto commitment that five, six and seven year-old children should be educated in classes of no more than 30 children. That is a commitment, a pledge, that we intend to meet. I believe that schools will want to meet that pledge and that it will be in their interests to do so. The resources will be made available to enable them to do so. Therefore, there should be no legal minefields and no resort to the courts. I believe that schools and local education authorities will respond extremely positively.
I turn now to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. We shall, of course, let the Committee know, as we go on, how we intend to respond to the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. As I have already made absolutely clear, we intend to be extremely positive. Perhaps I may help the noble Lord by saying a little more about that now. The report makes a number of recommendations about appropriate resolution procedures. As I have said, we shall respond as constructively as we can to the recommendations in respect of the provisions covering, for example, the responsibility and functions of governing bodies; local management of schools; the LEA code of practice on LEA school relations and in respect of appeals procedures, relating to both appeals for admission to a particular school and exclusion appeals.
The report suggests tightening some of the provisions of the Bill. In particular, the Select Committee was keen to see clarification of the regulations governing foundation bodies and that the definition of "school lunch" should appear on the face of the Bill. It wanted the power in Clause 84(8) to determine or vary admission arrangements to be drawn more precisely. Again, the Government will respond positively to all those recommendations and, where possible, we shall bring forward amendments in Committee rather than delaying them until Report. However, there may be a few cases where, because of the legal complexities involved, it will be necessary to table amendments on Report. I hope that that helpfully answers the noble Lord's question.
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