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Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 2, line 18, after ("information") insert ("in such form").

The noble Baroness said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Lucas, I shall move Amendment No. 12 and speak to Amendment No. 13. The proposal is his phraseology, not mine. He considers the words to be inelegant and hopes that the Government agree that his suggestions are an improvement. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, came to see officials in the department, I understand that he is offering the amendments as a constructive proposal. I am happy to consider them in that spirit. We do not believe that they make a great deal of difference to the effect of the clause. The wording may be an improvement, but we must ensure consistency with similar references elsewhere.

I should be happy to take advice on the amendments and introduce them or similar government amendments on Report, or write to the noble Lord, with a copy to the noble Baroness, explaining why we do not believe them to be necessary to achieve the purpose set out. In that case, he can decide to return to them on Report. I hope that on that basis the noble Baroness will be willing to withdraw them.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for his comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment on the agreement that my noble friend Lord Lucas can return to them at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

9.15 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 2, line 46, at end insert--
("( ) The Secretary of State shall not approve any statement prepared by a local education authority under this section which envisages an increase in the average size of classes in junior schools or secondary schools in that authority's area over the level prevailing in the same area in 1997.").

5 May 1998 : Column 578

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 14, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 15 and 16. As noble Lords opposite realise, we agree with their noble intentions. But there is an old Irish story that you never say in confession that you stole a rope, forgetting to say that there was a horse on the end of it. The consequences of this Bill are not always realised.

I do not know which of the trio of heads will answer--is it a gorgon?--but I am not frightened. It is the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who was most generous. I wish to pin him down about the way in which Her Majesty's Government will support all the consequences of taking the rope and not mentioning the horse. We have isolated certain issues because governments can be not dishonest but careless and at times the Treasury can be over-powerful.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, have assured us that there will be no problem in relation to the subject of Amendment No. 14. Since Ministers' words are now in law absolute in this House, I hope that the noble Lord will assure us that there will be no increase in the average size of classes in junior or secondary schools. Although I admire the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in many ways, he has not run schools. They do not run as neatly as he says. The fact is that if classes are reduced in one section there is no guarantee that they can be reduced in another. The first amendment builds on the assurances given by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for which I admire him--they are written on my heart and on those of many other people--that there will be no danger of increasing the size of classes in junior schools.

Now we have a problem. The noble Baroness wishes to enhance travelling. I agree that she entered a greater note of caution than did the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, but I wish to have on the record whether there will be any problem in respect of travelling. The right reverend Prelate pointed out that some people who go to Church schools are not Christian. It is up to the right reverend Prelate and his colleagues to sort that out. However, it might be that a devout Catholic and a devout Anglican must travel 20 miles to find a Church school, as is the case in my part of the country. I am assuming that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, would not require that of a devout person who wished to attend a school of his parents' faith. Again, I ask for assurances.

The third matter relates to accommodation provided. At times, Her Majesty's Treasury is careful with its money. Members of the Committee opposite will know that some temporary classrooms have lasted for 20 years. I gather from assurances given that this will not be a cheap Bill. The Government are putting in £40 million and they are prepared to put in resources to ensure that their pledges are met. Therefore, it is not wrong for us to ask for those assurances which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, almost gave before. However, I should like just to see the commas marked and the full stops.

These are exploring amendments. I do not like this clause, which I shall speak against. However, my main purpose in tabling these amendments is to seek an

5 May 1998 : Column 579

assurance from the Government, which would stand up in court, that their heart is where their money is or more particularly, that their money is where their heart is. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will give me every satisfaction. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: As the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, made reference to Church schools, perhaps I may comment on what he said. The Church of England is in the education system in order to share in the total provision of education rather than in order to make provision for particular denominational members. Therefore, the basis on which we participate is quite different from that of the Roman Catholic Church. That is perhaps not always understood. In the light of the noble Lord's comment on my reference to those who may not be Christians but who nevertheless wish to attend a Church school, that needs to be made clear.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Perhaps I may ask the right reverend Prelate a question because although I am a priest of the Church of England, I was speaking for the nation in general. I do not believe that the Roman Catholic Church shares the view which the right reverend Prelate put forward. I believe that it holds a stronger view. I ask the right reverend Prelate that because no Roman Catholic Bishop is present. I believe that the right reverend Prelate has joined in discussions with that Church.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: The Roman Catholic Church holds a different view because it believes that it is making denominational provision for Roman Catholic Church members. Many Church of England schools are rural schools in tiny communities which serve the whole community. Therefore, they do not have a basis of denominational membership for attendance.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I recognise the position of the Roman Catholic Church in that situation. In the absence of anyone speaking for the Roman Catholic Church, its position should be borne in mind. The right reverend Prelate is speaking in a different sense. My noble friends have spoken of the problems of denomination and that should be borne in mind on the Government Front Bench.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I should start by warning the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, against a trap into which I have fallen too often, although not today; that is, irony. It does not work very well in this Chamber. It reads quite differently in Hansard. What he meant ironically will undoubtedly appear as wholehearted support for the position of this Government and remarks that I have made in particular. I do not say ironically that I find these amendments not so extraordinary in themselves but I find their provenance extraordinary.

I find it extraordinary that a Front Bench who were in government for 18 years, in the course of only the past 10 years of which the average primary class size rose from 25.4 to 27.5 and the average secondary class size rose from 20.3 to 21.7, should now put on that guise

5 May 1998 : Column 580

of concern for primary school class sizes. I find it extraordinary that a government who, over a period of 18 years, did nothing effectively--

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: The amendment that we are discussing is not about primary school class sizes; it is about the effect that these proposals will have upon them. I admire the noble Lord's picture of the record of the past and its history. However, I do wish that he would speak to the amendment about the effect of the proposals on future class sizes.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I shall of course speak to the amendment and do so directly. However, I am allowed to make a few comments on the provenance of the amendment which I find suspect.

As regards Amendment No. 16, I find it extraordinary that a government who held office for 18 years and left temporary accommodation, mobile classrooms, outside toilets and a grotesque deterioration in the physical condition of our schools, both primary and secondary, should now be expressing such concern for the physical condition of schools as a result of the improvements in standards that we propose.

Amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 16 would all require the Secretary of State to deny approval to LEA statements in specific circumstances. I believe that the amendments are unnecessary, but I will deal with each of them in turn. The first is Amendment No. 14. I want to make it clear, as did my noble friend Lord Whitty, that we do not intend to fund reductions in infant class sizes by allowing class sizes to rise in other key stages. We make specific reference to key stage 2 classes in the draft regulations and guidance that we have issued for consultation. In guidance, we state that,

    "plans will not be approved that show reductions in infant class sizes being achieved at the cost of increases in Key Stage 2 class sizes"--

to an old fashioned person like me, that is junior--

    "arising from a transfer of funding from junior to infant classes".

To put an amendment such as that proposed on the face of the Bill would stop the implementation of plans to reduce infant class sizes if there were unconnected developments in junior or secondary classes that might lead to small increases in those later key stages.

Perhaps I may stress that we do not envisage class sizes rising from January 1998 levels--and I am deliberately saying 1998 rather than 1997, as class sizes in January 1998 will have been the result of the spending plans of the previous administration. We are providing extra funding for schools (£835 million extra for schools in England this year) which should bring down, or at the least keep down, class sizes at all key stages.

The amendment would impose unnecessary restrictions upon the Secretary of State's consideration of LEAs' plans. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, will feel able to withdraw it.

We support the principle behind Amendment No. 15. We are aware that children in rural areas may only have one school within reasonable distance. It is important that they should therefore be able to attend that school. Indeed, Mr. Stephen Byers, the Minister for School

5 May 1998 : Column 581

Standards, has made it clear that children should not have to travel an unreasonable distance to school as a result of our pledge to reduce infant class sizes.

However, I am unable to support the amendment, in part, because I consider it unnecessary but, more importantly, because I do not think that it could be effective. The statements that LEAs have to produce will be quite detailed documents. I feel that LEAs would consider it more than a little unreasonable were we to ask them, as the amendment would require, to set out the travel arrangements of every infant pupil. I therefore do not think that the amendment could achieve what it is intended to deliver. I believe that we can, without such an amendment, ensure that children will not have to travel an unreasonable distance to school. Funds will be provided for an extra teacher--and, where necessary, for an extra classroom--when a child has only one school within reasonable distance and could not otherwise be admitted without an infant class exceeding the limit of 30. Our draft regulations make it clear that LEAs will have to provide information on how they will be handling such instances.

It is upon this broad level of the approach that an LEA intends to take that we should focus our attention. We can ensure that each LEA is adopting an approach that is suited to the demands of that particular area--and can pay particular attention to those areas where rural schools play an important role.

As regards Amendment No. 16, I shall explain why we do not require this amendment, but I must express some disappointment that the Opposition have raised this issue. As I said, under the previous government, schools suffered badly from under-investment in schools capital. This has led to mobile classrooms being used for extended periods, as well as many other unacceptable aspects of recent school life, such as leaking roofs and outside toilets.

Through the New Deal for schools, we are investing extra money in schools capital. A significant part of the first tranche of New Deal funding was directed at replacing old mobile classrooms with permanent structures. The Chancellor's Budget Statement provided an extra £90 million of capital to update boilers, to replace outside toilets and to provide extra classrooms for more, smaller infant classes. Our letter to LEAs wishing to apply for the class size capital funds makes it clear that their plans will have to be for permanent classrooms not mobile classrooms. The guidance we sent out states that,

    "Applications relating simply to the provision of mobile classrooms will not be accepted."

We are putting additional money into allowing schools to undertake real improvements, expansions or adaptations to allow them to accommodate more, smaller infant classes. We can control the use of mobile classrooms more effectively--

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