Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: My Lords, our pledge is that junior school classes will not increase above the size they would have been prior to the introduction of this policy. The noble Baroness is saying that the reductions in class size at the lowest level ought to be automatically reflected throughout the system. I agree that might be desirable, but that is not our priority. Our priority is to reduce class sizes at the lowest level. If, at junior school, there are two classes--where formerly there were three--we are not increasing the size of junior school classes above what they would otherwise have been. Therefore the noble Baroness's contention is incorrect. She wants us to commit ourselves to reducing the maximum size of junior school classes. At this stage we are not in a position to do that. I think that is understood.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is not understood, but it is now clear that children will revert to being taught in larger classes in junior schools. My next point is a logical progression from this policy. If two classes are made into three classes with 20-odd children in each, the capacity for that school to take more children is

30 Jun 1998 : Column 558

increased. It must be a popular school if it has that problem in the first place. Therefore it takes in more children and instead of having three classes of 21, the classes increase to 25 or 26. When those children enter the junior school, do the classes then become two classes or do they remain three classes? I hope that the Minister will answer that point.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, on a point of order, we are on Report. Is it in order for the two Front Benches to become involved in an exchange of this kind at Report stage?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I remind the House that I was winding up on this amendment when I was interrupted by the Minister. I asked a question. My understanding has always been that with the leave of the House we can ask questions of the Minister. However, I shall leave the question on the table. We have received an interesting clarification that when two classes are split into three in an infants school, they return to being two classes in the junior school. That clarification is helpful and important.

Coopers & Lybrand produced a report for the Local Government Association on which the Government said they would not be commenting when I asked a Written Question. Following consultation with heads, teachers and governors, the report stated:

    "Whilst there was widespread support for the policy of reducing class sizes in principle, we found that many heads were not convinced that a slight reduction in class sizes in their own schools would recompense for the upheaval and loss of flexibility that could result".
The report went on to state:

    "At Key Stage 2"--
which is the point of one of my amendments--

    "if the development causes resources to shift towards Key Stage 1 at the expense of other Key Stages ... at Key Stage 1 and 2 if the policy causes a change to mixed age teaching ... at Key Stage 1 if non teaching classroom assistants are withdrawn"--
that is, if local authorities have to compensate in other ways in order to fund the change--

    "at schools in areas of social deprivation if the policy causes a shift of resources towards schools in more prosperous areas".
Those are real reservations that the Coopers & Lybrand report expressed to the local authorities. When the local authorities brought those matters before the Minister, they received short shrift. This is an important policy, and I wish to take the opinion of the House.

5.11 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 86; Not-Contents, 140.

Division No. 3


Ailsa, M.
Aldington, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Arran, E.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Baker of Dorking, L.
Beloff, L.
Belstead, L.
Berners, B.
Biddulph, L.
Biffen, L.
Blake, L.
Blatch, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L.
Broadbridge, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller.]
Butterworth, L.
Cadman, L.
Caithness, E.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L.
Chelmsford, V.
Colwyn, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L.
Courtown, E.
Cuckney, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Elton, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Grimston of Westbury, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Hayhoe, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Hooper, B.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Ironside, L.
Jopling, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Leigh, L.
Liverpool, E.
Long, V.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
McConnell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Mancroft, L.
Midleton, V.
Milverton, L.
Mottistone, L.
Mountevans, L.
Munster, E.
Naseby, L.
Northesk, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow of Woking, L.
Orr-Ewing, L.
Oxfuird, V.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Porter of Luddenham, L.
Rawlings, B.
Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Rotherwick, L.
Seccombe, B. [Teller.]
Sharples, B.
Stodart of Leaston, L.
Sudeley, L.
Swansea, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Warwick, L.
Tebbit, L.
Teviot, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Vivian, L.
Waddington, L.


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Alport, L.
Ampthill, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Avebury, L.
Barnett, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Blease, L.
Borrie, L.
Bridges, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Burlison, L.
Calverley, L.
Carlisle, E.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carrick, E.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Castle of Blackburn, B.
Chandos, V.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Beswick, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Fitt, L.
Gallacher, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Glenamara, L.
Goodhart, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Gregson, L.
Grenfell, L.
Grey, E.
Halsbury, E.
Hambro, L.
Hampton, L.
Hardie, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Islwyn, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Kennet, L.
Kintore, E.
Kirkhill, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Longford, E.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Mackie of Benshie, L.
McNair, L.
Maddock, B.
Mallalieu, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Meston, L.
Methuen, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Monkswell, L.
Montague of Oxford, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.
Ogmore, L.
Paul, L.
Peston, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Razzall, L.
Rea, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Ripon, Bp.
Rix, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
St. John of Bletso, L.
Sandberg, L.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Sewel, L.
Shepherd, L.
Shore of Stepney, L.
Simon, V.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thurso, V.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

30 Jun 1998 : Column 560

5.20 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15 not moved.]

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 16:

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--

Making and approval of general guidance on class size reduction plans

(" .--(1) Guidance given under section 2(2) may include guidelines setting out aims, objectives and other matters, including the interpretation of the law, in relation to the discharge by local education authorities of any function under sections 1 to 4.
(2) The Secretary of State shall publish any such guidance for the time being in force which is applicable to all local education authorities, or a class or description of local education authorities.
(3) Where the Secretary of State proposes to issue or revise guidance provided for under subsection (1) he shall prepare a draft of the guidance, consult such persons about the draft as he deems fit and consider any representations made by them.
(4) If he determines to proceed with the draft (either in its original form or with such modifications as he thinks fit) he shall lay a copy of the draft guidance before Parliament.
(5) If, within the 40-day period, either House resolves not to approve the draft, the Secretary of State shall take no further steps in relation to the proposed guidance.
(6) If no such resolution is made within the 40-day period, the Secretary of State shall issue the guidance (or revised guidance) in the form of the draft, and it shall come into force on such date as the Secretary of State may by order appoint.

30 Jun 1998 : Column 561

(7) Subsection (4) does not prevent a new draft of the proposed guidance from being laid before Parliament.
(8) In this section "40-day period", in relation to the draft guidance, means--
(a) if the draft is laid before one House on a day later than the day on which it is laid before the other House, the period of 40 days beginning with the later of two days, and
(b) in any other case, the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the draft is laid before each House,
no account being taken of any period during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the first of a number of amendments put down by myself and my noble friends to express our concern on the issue of guidance. Since this is the first occasion on which it arises, it might be helpful to your Lordships if I spent a little time speaking generally about our concern rather than specifically to Amendment No. 16. Then I shall not need to do so every time one of our amendments is raised.

I can summarise our concerns on the issue of guidance and our reasons for the amendments as being threefold. First, we wish to draw attention to the increase in the statutory guidance provisions in the Bill. Secondly, we wish to find out why some guidance is subject to parliamentary scrutiny and other guidance is not. Thirdly, we wish to find out what the Government hope to achieve by making guidance statutory.

I say at the outset that I accept that the drafting of some of our amendments may not be perfect and in some cases they may be in the wrong place. I believe that that does not matter too much, as I do not intend to press them to a Division. Our purpose and intention are clear, or will become so.

On the general issue of statutory guidance, the Bill introduces at least 10 new powers, and perhaps more, for the Secretary of State to give guidance to which LEAs, schools and other bodies must have regard. They are: class size reduction plans, education development plans, sale of other premises, consultation on establishment alteration or discontinuation of schools, approval, imposition and revision of LEA financial schemes, exclusion of pupils, admissions, home school agreements, early years development plans and LEA/school relationships.

The status of the guidance seems to vary. The guidance on admissions and LEA/school relationships is accorded the title of "code of practice" and a form of negative resolution procedure is provided for parliamentary scrutiny. No such scrutiny is provided for any other statutory guidance in the Bill. Interestingly, our Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee commented only on the admissions and the LEA/schools relationship codes of practice, but not on the others. The DfEE memorandum mentioned only the admissions code of practice. Could it be that the term "code of practice" makes the guidance more important? The Minister's view on that would be welcome.

I recognise, of course, that the importance and role of the 10 areas of guidance which I have just mentioned vary. For example, the guidance on the sale of other non-school premises is minor and we have not raised

30 Jun 1998 : Column 562

any amendments on it. But the importance of guidance in other areas is enormous, in particular in education development plans and exclusion of pupils. Can the Minister therefore explain to us why some statutory guidance documents are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and others are not?

The mushrooming of statutory guidance has not been subject to any parliamentary debate and that is in part our purpose today. Our Amendment No. 16, and others to be moved, will ask for parliamentary scrutiny similar to that for codes of practice on admission and LEA relationships. There has been some confusion in the press and elsewhere about the effects of the Bill. Some argue that it gives enormous powers back to the LEAs. Others, for whom I have slightly more sympathy, take an almost directly contrary view.

Time will test the overall effects of the legislation, but the increasing ability of the Government to require LEAs and school governing bodies to take account of the Government's views is a noticeable feature of the legislation and must result in increased centralism over the next few years. Every new piece of statutory guidance takes away from local government and schools the ability to think through and act independently in their joint task of raising standards. It makes the LEA the authority of the GAPs. We shall have to look at a number of separate documents provided by central government to find out the LEA's role. Once the new arrangements are in force, there may not be much local discretion left which is not directly controlled by secondary legislation or by guidance.

The implications for free-standing LEAs and schools of having to work around an increasingly large number of codes of practice and guidance, all having statutory force to which they must have regard, reduces such bodies to mere cyphers of central government and, arguably, that is an impediment to creativity and innovation, the lifeblood of raising standards. By giving parliamentary scrutiny over the guidance, there will at least be some brake on the power of the Government.

I turn now specifically to Amendment No. 16, having made the general point which I shall not repeat with future amendments. The consultation on the draft guidance on reducing infant class sizes closed on 12th June. Perhaps the Minister can tell us something about its outcome. That draft guidance contains a rather obscure paragraph, paragraph 13, which attempts to provide guidance on meeting parental preference, while still achieving the class size pledge. The Secretary of State will use the published guidance to determine whether or not to approve a plan, with significant consequences, if the plan is not approved, in loss of grant.

The problem with paragraph 13, as currently drafted, is that it is obscure. It uses terms which are not defined such as "poor schools" or "popular schools" or "schools with high standards". It does not address such issues as whether popular schools can be extended. Parliamentary scrutiny of the guidance would enable us to have a full debate on it, and to tease out and understand better the meaning of such guidance.

30 Jun 1998 : Column 563

I hope that this first amendment offers the Minister an opportunity to clarify the three areas which I described. That would be of great service to those of us who will be subject to the guidance as it emerges. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page