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Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, over the past 30 years, the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, has been utterly consistent in his views on selection. I have heard him speak on this subject before in the other House and I have read his articles. He has been completely consistent. He believes totally, as he expressed very eloquently in the final few minutes of his speech, that the comprehensive system is the most effective system for our country.
The noble Lord was a friend and disciple of Tony Crosland. He did not quite express it in the extreme and memorable way that Tony Crosland used, but none the less he shared that view. Therefore, it is a grave disappointment to him that his Front Bench no longer holds to that belief with the intensity that he holds to it. As a result, it has devised a system of making electoral colleges around the country to do its dirty work for it. The noble Lord used the word "principled". It would be principled if the Government said, "We no longer believe in selection and we will bring in legislation to do away with selection". But they have not said that. That would be the principled position, but the unprincipled position is to say, "Well, we will create various electoral colleges around the country and let them do the work for us. If one of those electoral colleges comes up with the end of a grammar school, it will not be our fault; it will be the fault of the electoral college. We can walk by on the other side. We can wash our hands". What principle is there in that?
In effect, the Labour Party has decided to turn its face against selection. Certainly, the Prime Minister has. He has made a selection for his own children to go to schools that are not immediately in the catchment area where he lived. I do not quarrel with that at all. That should be the right of every parent. Indeed, when I held responsibility for these matters, one of the thrusts of our policy was to increase parental choice by having a wider variety of schools. That is a choice which our Prime Minister has exercised. I do not criticise him. But what of the Secretary of State? At a Labour Party conference before the election, the present Secretary of State made the famous, celebrated comment, "There will be no further selection. Watch my lips". He qualified that or rather explained it--
Lord Hattersley: My Lords, I am sorry to rise to interrupt the noble Lord but he must get these words right. The Secretary of State did not say "no further selection". That is what the Secretary of State says he said when he talked about it on Sunday. What he said was "no selection". The distinction between "no further" and "no" is very significant indeed.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, the noble Lord is digging a bigger hole for the Government. I am willing to accept that amendment. Of course, "no selection", and the Secretary of State says that it was a joke. So statements at Labour Party conferences by shadow Ministers or by Ministers are now a joke. "We will cut taxation"--that is a joke; "We will cut waiting lists"--that is a joke; "We will have an ethical foreign policy"--that is a hilarious joke. What the Government have done is to turn the Labour Party conference into a joke jamboree.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, and to the Minister that the process in Ripon has been deeply damaging. For three months, parents have been set against parents. Is that what the Government want? Teachers have been set against teachers and pupils against pupils. For three months, the whole of the community has been divided over a doctrinal issue and has not been concentrating on improving the
The process is damaging to education. The two head teachers, in the grammar school and in the secondary modern, which I am glad has now become a technology college, have shaken hands. They said, "No more. We don't want to do it again". They have already established an exchange of classes, because some of the departments in the technology college are better than those in the grammar school. Therefore, some of the pupils from the grammar school will benefit from that and some of the pupils from the technology college will go to the grammar school for the more academic lessons which are provided there. That is how it should be. One does not want conflict; one wants co-operation. However, the Government have invented a system of conflict. I think it should be abandoned. It is very damaging indeed.
Before I sit down, perhaps I may turn to the Liberal Party. I hope that the Liberal Party will be voting for us today; and if not, I hope that the chief spokesman for the Liberal Party, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will be voting for us. The official view of the Liberal Party is against selection. But when it comes to Sutton, where the noble Lord holds sway, it has grammar schools. There the Liberal Party at a local level not only does not attack grammar schools, but funds them. It is not going to campaign against the grammar schools. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will be in our Lobby tonight, because when it comes to changing from his national policy, he clearly is not embarrassed by scruple or hindered by consistency. Clearly, he has struggled with his conscience and lost.
I hope that when noble Lords consider the matter today--I appeal more to those on the Cross Benches than anyone else--they will be able to support the amendment. The system that the Government have devised is shabby and deceitful. If they really believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, believes, that selection should end, they should come forward with measures to do it. I profoundly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. I believe that grammar schools should remain. I believe in a certain element of selection, by aptitude and ability, in our education system.
I hope that that will survive and I hope that the 164 grammar schools will survive. I beg the Minister to realise the damage that this process is inflicting on the education system in these areas. The Government do not have the courage to do what some of their supporters would like. They should abandon this shabby policy.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has not for the first time put the Government, and particularly the noble Baroness the Minister, very much in her debt. My noble friend has given the noble Baroness the opportunity, which she really must in her heart have been seeking for a
For myself, I believe that grammar schools are a useful institution and one of great merit. For a reason which I do not understand, but to which my noble friend has just referred, the Government have proved a little squeamish about coming forward openly and strangling grammar schools and killing them off, which, as my noble friend said, a whole host of their supporters would probably like. They have not done so. They have instead developed a system of death by a thousand cuts and putting them under a more or less permanent sentence of execution. Every four years there is an opportunity for campaigners. The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, is quite right in saying that there will always be campaigners. Some campaigns are campaigns of merit; others are rather deficient in that quality.
My noble friend has done us all a service in giving the Government an opportunity, of which they must make the most, to explain their position. If they are still animated by prejudice but are not prepared to confess it, they will get into a more and more shameful position. I very much hope that, if the noble Baroness cannot move this evening, she will tell your Lordships' House that this is the moment when she will go and tell her colleagues that she and they are drifting into an impossible position. They have to make their intentions clear and not leave the fate of grammar schools to this ridiculous and, if I may take my noble friend's word, appalling procedure which tortures everyone and satisfies no one.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I shall begin by declaring an interest in that I am a board member of an organisation called Support Kent's Schools, which is a private company set up to campaign to retain the present system of variety and choice in secondary education in Kent and to improve and sustain standards everywhere in schools in the area. Incidentally, I should point out that our chairman is Mr Eric Hammond, who is a distinguished socialist and former trades union member.
For 23 years I represented a constituency in Kent in another place. Throughout that time, I found that there was very substantial support for the four grammar schools in my constituency. It did not come exclusively from those who had had personal experience of them, though, for the main part, it did. Similarly, I did not find that there was any general implication in that support that, somehow or other, the non- selective secondary schools were necessarily inferior. They very obviously were not, as was perfectly clear to me from my visits to them, any more than the children thought themselves failures. Unfortunately, some are told by their parents that they are and that seems to me to be a great disservice to them.
Now we have had the outcome of the ballot in Ripon. It seems very much as though the parents there take the same view. I want to deal head on with what the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, said about there being no choice offered by the selective system. I find it impossible to understand that argument. No one is saying that all the schools must be selective, but, if you have a selective option, you have the choice of being considered by a selective school. You do not have a guarantee that you will be accepted--I see that the noble Lord finds that extraordinarily hilarious. That seems to me to be absolutely unanswerable. You have a choice of being considered by a selective school for admission, whereas if you live in a county where people share the views that the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, holds, you will have no choice at all: you will be told that you have the choice of going to the comprehensive, or to the comprehensive. Therefore, it seems to me to be beyond question that you have more choice if you have an option to go to a grammar school, if you happen to pass the selective criteria for that school.
If we were to have a ballot inflicted upon us in Kent, I guess--it would be presumptuous to put it any higher--that we would have a result that would reflect the one in Ripon, though probably more emphatically. Of course no one can tell, but I think that that would most likely be the case. The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, has some experience of the feeling in Kent. Although I did not have the privilege of being there myself, I am told that the noble Lord attended a widely-advertised meeting that attracted about 47 people, not all of whom were supporters of his way of thinking. I understand that there are those on the noble Lord's side of the campaign who utter despairing comments that it is impossible to get people to demonstrate enthusiasm for it. I do not know whether or not that is true.
I turn now to the system of ballots and of petitions that trigger the ballot. I believe that the Government have now rightly assessed that public opinion is strongly averse to what is proposed in the Bill. Therefore, given that state of opinion, I believe, for the reasons that have already been given, that the system has now become oppressive, as well as costly and extremely divisive. I suggest to your Lordships that the time has come to take heed of what the Secretary of State said the other day; namely, that what is now necessary is to get on with the business of providing the higher standards of education for our children that are possible and practicable. That is the important thing. We must set aside this argument that has gone on for the past 25 years.
In Kent we happen to have something like one-fifth, although I am not sure whether it is a quarter, of the remaining grammar schools that survived the attentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, when she was Secretary of State and an ally and colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. We survived then by the skin of our teeth, the general election intervened and we, therefore, have that number of grammar schools left. They are there
I believe that the existence of this system--I take seriously what the noble Lord said about those who will continue to try to operate it--is deeply damaging. I suggest that what we need now is a long period of stability during which those who attend the schools and those who teach in them can settle down to their proper tasks. I therefore support the amendment.
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