some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sorry to hear of the difficulties the noble Earl is facing. He is describing defects of management rather than of information technology systems.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I pick up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, relating to the question of defence, particularly defence in an international forum. My noble friend will be aware that I am a delegate to the Western European Union. My fellow delegates and I questioned the authorities within the WEU regarding what other countries in the organisation are doing to meet the problems of the millennium bug. We have not so far been treated with any seriousness by the officials who answered us and that is of great concern.

My question to my noble friend concerns what our Government are doing to raise the matter of the millennium bug within the international defence forums, particularly within NATO. The consequences of our NATO allies not addressing the issue with the seriousness with which our Government are addressing it can hardly be exaggerated. I shall be grateful to know whether the Government have any systematic approach to raising the issue.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: One of the most disturbing aspects for me of the Statement I repeated is not so much that we are falling behind, but that we are ahead of other people. It means that other countries are less advanced than we are.

When the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster raised this matter on 20th May, as I said in the Statement, he found that a number of other countries are significantly behind in their arrangements. Indeed, it is fair to say that only the Netherlands is at or beyond our level of preparedness. My noble friend is therefore correct.

In relation to weapons systems there are two kinds of failure. One is the kind which would make the systems go off unexpectedly and the other is one which would stop them from working altogether. I rather like the second kind of failure.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, it is good that we are having a report on this matter on a quarterly basis and I thank the Government for that. However, the Minister said that the Government are concerned about suppliers. Is there any merit in putting deadlines on suppliers so that we will know the full scale of the problem in time? The Statement did not have anything in that regard but I hope that deadlines have been fixed.

Also, an awful lot of scaremongering is taking place in relation to planes falling out of the sky in the millennium. From the point of general public comfort, is there any statement that the Minister can make in that regard to stop once and for all that scaremongering? People are becoming increasingly concerned.

8 Jun 1998 : Column 739

I should like the Minister's response to a further suggestion. Every large organisation is currently doing precisely the same thing that government departments are doing. I spoke about this in another country to a company linked in with a company on whose board I serve. The other company was carrying out its own research in a specific area of responsibility and I asked why it could not tell people in London what it was doing.

Bringing that experience to bear--this is a true situation--in the area of government, is there any merit in trying to get together the experts in, for instance, major FTSE companies and asking what are the areas in which they believe they have had a significant breakthrough and whether they are prepared to share the experience? It is not simply a government problem; it is a national problem, a world problem. We must try to harness all the brains to deal with it. I fear that there is a lot of, "not invented here" going on and a lot of multiplication of effort, not just duplication. I shall be grateful for the Minister's comments.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not in the position of being able to say that planes will not fall out of the sky or that one's microwave oven in the kitchen will not work. The noble Baroness is right to say that what government departments are finding is strictly comparable to what other kinds of big business are finding. In other words, they are finding that some of the problems they anticipated are easier to solve than it was thought they would be and some are considerably more difficult. I do not believe that we have yet come to the end of that process. It would be premature of me to seek to give comfort to ordinary people because my conviction is that, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong.

On the issue of getting together the best brains, the noble Baroness has a point. The Cabinet committees and ministerial sub-groups have not only set up this team in the Cabinet Office, but they are also bringing in outside advisers who attend these meetings. We will be able to announce names later this month. I am sure that they will take seriously the suggestion made by the noble Baroness in relation to bringing together experts from other countries and other sectors.

Lord Wise: My Lords, perhaps I can ask one question of the Minister relating to small businesses. As he knows, a number of suppliers are offering products allegedly giving solutions to the problem of the year 2000. I should perhaps declare an interest in that I am involved with one of those companies.

The prices and the efficacy of the products vary enormously, as do the attendant consultancy services. It is a difficult task for small businesses to judge and assess the quality and value for money of these products. Can the noble Lord tell me of any plans that the Government may have to provide small businesses with an approved list of the products and the suppliers?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wise, raises an important point. He is quite right in saying that it is not within the resources of small

8 Jun 1998 : Column 740

and medium-sized businesses to deal with the millennium date change. That can only be done with outside help. As he knows from the talks we have had, we are keen to make the suppliers of services to those businesses known to the people in government who are responsible. Access was provided in the case which the noble Lord referred to me. We take very seriously the need for outside consultancy for smaller firms. We shall certainly think very hard about the suggestion he makes of providing some kind of evaluation of the services that they provide.

School Standards and Framework Bill

6 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 62 [Power of head teacher to exclude pupils]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 186:

Page 48, line 35, at end insert--
("( ) No pupil may be permanently excluded from a maintained school unless--
(a) all reasonable steps have been taken by the school to avoid excluding the pupil; and
(b) the head teacher is satisfied that allowing the pupil to remain in the school would be seriously detrimental to the education or welfare of the pupil, or to that of others at the school.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 186 is the first of 18 amendments in this large group, and of those amendments Amendments Nos. 186 to 188 and Amendments Nos. 194 and 235 are mine. As regards Amendment No. 186, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has read paragraph (b) which states,

    "the head teacher is satisfied that allowing the pupil to remain in the school would be seriously detrimental to the education or welfare of the pupil, or to that of others at the school".

That answers the worry that the noble Lord had about an earlier amendment. Perhaps I may remind the Minister that this amendment was tabled by the Labour Party Front Bench in relation to the (now) Education Act 1997. It was also tabled by it in 1993 and, presumably, it was in favour of the sentence therein.

We have yet to encounter a head teacher or governor who has any objection to the grounds themselves. These are widely held to be a correct description of the circumstances when a pupil may--arguably, should--be permanently excluded.

The proposed grounds, already in DfEE circular 10/94, have two limbs. The first limb--that the school should have taken reasonable steps to avoid the exclusion--could be usefully developed in regulations or guidance, in terms of what steps are reasonable. However, the word "reasonable" ensures that where there is a genuine emergency, such as a violent assault, a pupil may be excluded straight away.

The second limb--that unless excluded, the pupil's behaviour would be seriously detrimental to the pupil's or others' education or welfare,--would prevent the exclusion of pupils for routine, very minor disciplinary misdemeanours.

8 Jun 1998 : Column 741

We believe that it is the key to obtaining the "step change" in exclusions desired by the Prime Minister because it fetters schools' massive powers in this area while at the same time introducing a clear, legal baseline which should operate for the benefit of all. All parties would, finally, be reading the same script and allegations of a system which unfairly discriminates against teachers, governors or LEAs, black children or looked-after children, or whatever, should be put to rest.

My next amendment is Amendment No. 187. However well schools organise themselves and however well LEAs work in support of them, inevitably there will be times when pupils have to be excluded for the safety of other pupils and the staff at the school. The challenge for the legislation is to ensure that, for pupils who are excluded, they are out of school for as short a time as possible and that during that time there is as much educational continuity as possible.

The 45-day total over the year of the fixed-term exclusions brought in by the Education Act 1997 will be confirmed by the regulations in this Bill. If it is not amended, this limit will come into effect this September. The 45-day total is too long. If the days were all allocated within one term it could mean that a child would miss nearly a whole term of education in one fell swoop. We wish to see the 15-day limit over one term re-introduced, combined with greater clarity about the provision of work during that period.

Amendment No. 188 aims to improve school responsibilities in relation to fixed-term exclusions. The Children's Consortium on Education, which is responsible for this amendment, believes that a clear distinction should be made between permanent and fixed-term exclusions which we believe should revert to their common name of "suspension". The grounds for a fixed-term exclusion can, we argue, be much wider than those for a permanent exclusion, including "automatic" suspensions; for example, for possession of a weapon or drugs. However, this amendment ensures that schools do not suspend children just to get a break from them and that they take appropriate steps when suspension occurs.

The consortium would also argue that the 45-day limit imposed by the Education Act 1997 reverts to a 15-day limit. The Truancy and School Exclusion report from the Social Exclusion Unit, emphasises the importance of reintegrating an excluded child into school and the lack of alternative education provision offered to them. That appears in paragraphs 2.21 and 2.22 of the report. This reintegration is difficult enough after a five-day exclusion. A week is a long time to a child. After a total of 45 days in a school year--or missing two and a bit months of school--it becomes almost impossible. Those who receive education otherwise--an estimated 25,000 according to the Social Exclusion Unit--receive only 10 per cent. of full education.

Under this amendment the head teacher is placed under a general duty to take steps to get a suspended pupil back into school as soon as possible. Two specific steps are mentioned: to make sure that any special educational needs of the pupil have been identified and

8 Jun 1998 : Column 742

to have a meeting with all the relevant people to agree causes and solutions. All of these steps were supported by the conclusions of the Ofsted Report on exclusions from secondary schools and the Truancy and School Exclusion report from the Social Exclusion Unit. This amendment was tabled by the Government when they were in opposition in 1996-97. It was very useful that the school exclusion report came out before we had to discuss these clauses in the Bill. I very much hope that attention will be paid by the Government to this very good report.

The terms of Amendment No. 194 have not yet been considered by the Government, either now or when in opposition. They are to ensure that unpopular schools are not forced to take all the excluded pupils in the area because the popular schools are full and therefore can resist any direction to admit a pupil. The excluded pupil filling the vacated place would have to satisfy any admissions criteria relating to academic ability or religious affiliation attached to the place, but not ones relating to attitude, aptitude or catchment area. This revolving-door policy would allow pupils to begin again at another school while protecting the unpopular schools from becoming the obvious place for all problem pupils and pupils with problems. That is especially true now that we know the majority of excluded children have unmet learning difficulties.

The amendment might be unpopular with some schools; for example, those who use exclusions as a backdoor method for selection. That should be offset by the gains to other schools.

An indirect, but important, consequence of this amendment, should be to concentrate the minds of schools before excluding a pupil because it might mean that they get someone worse. If accepted, Clause 88 might need some consequential amendment. We would argue that Clause 79 could, but does not have to be, abandoned since any need for it would be obviated. The "two strikes and you're out" measures which ensure that no single school is forced to admit all of the difficult pupils already excluded from other schools would become redundant. This amendment would support an LEA's obligation to provide an excluded pupil with a full-time and appropriate education as recommended by the Social Exclusion Unit in its recent report.

The proposed clause requires that parents and pupils agree to the placement in order to comply with the statutory principle of parental preference and the pragmatic principle of pupil co-operation. It is an important point that excluded pupils are looked after properly and reinstated as soon as possible. The longer they are out of school the less easily they will be able to reintegrate into the education system.

Finally, Amendment No. 235 is designed to secure that excluded pupils and others out of school such as sick children are entitled to full-time education. There is no disagreement that excluded pupils need full-time education--if anything, they need more than other pupils. The fact that they are not provided with full-time education is a matter of resources, not principle. Out-of-school education does not have to conform to the national curriculum. One can include activities such as

8 Jun 1998 : Column 743

work experience, which may well be very good for children. Failure to make this provision places parents in the invidious position of being in breach of their legal duty to secure their children's full-time education. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page