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Business

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lord Sainsbury of Turville will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place in answer to a Private Notice Question on the Government's actions in relation to Motorola, Bathgate.

Business of the House: Standing Order 40

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

It may be helpful if I explain that the purpose of the Motion is to allow the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, to appear on the Order Paper next to the Motions in the

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names of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. This will mean that all the Motions relating to the Chinook helicopter crash will appear together and can be debated together.

Moved, That Standing Order 40 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Monday next to enable the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank to be taken immediately after the Motion relating to the second report of the Liaison Committee.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Learning Society

3.8 p.m.

Baroness Prashar rose to call attention to the role of national policy makers in creating a learning society; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this Government embraced the concept of lifelong learning as one of their six education promises. The 1998 Green Paper, The Learning Age, embodied the concept of a learning society. The commitment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the Minister, to lifelong learning is well known.

The European Council held in Lisbon in March 2000 confirmed the move towards lifelong learning, but what kind of a learning society do we want? What is our vision of such a society and what do we need to do to achieve that vision?

Alongside the excellent initiatives to provide and increase opportunities for lifelong learning, we need a debate about defining what a learning society is. That may seem like a small point, but clarity of vision will ensure that our means to achieve the goal are appropriate and effective, for learning is a means to an end.

We live in a complex social and political world, where predictability horizons are shortening all the time. Patterns of learning, living and working are changing. Societies are changing, and we must learn to live positively with cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Our approach to becoming a learning society should therefore reflect the democratic, diverse and free society that we really are and the multifarious ways in which people learn. It should be a society which places high value on participatory democracy and active citizenship, where government, management and employees and their representatives view learning skills and knowledge as a central feature of national economic success and competitive advantage. It should be a society where the climate is conducive to learning.

Our shared aim should be for everyone to have the opportunity to develop his potential to the full and to feel that he can contribute and belong. We should promote a system of education which allows individuals to enhance their quality of life through personal growth. It should dare people to think

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outside the box, equip them to climb outside the traditional frame of mind, and place primary value on the search for understanding. It should be tolerant enough to allow individuals the freedom to make and correct mistakes, and produce citizens who are endowed with the abilities to adjust to constantly changing and transforming situations. Not only should citizens be tolerant of difference; they should recognise that diversity holds great potential for creativity and innovation.

This Government's efforts to provide opportunities for lifelong learning and to change the climate for learning are admirable. The scale and breadth of initiatives are impressive. Progress has been made to create programmes to allow young and old to engage in some form of learning; for example, through the Sure Start programme.

We have seen massive improvements in the provision of nursery education. There have been efforts to improve the classroom environment, particularly at primary level. There have also been efforts on citizenship education, the establishment of the University for Industry, and of the learning and skills councils. There have been efforts to improve further and post-16 education, with learning direct centres, learning partnerships and initiatives such as Connexions, to name but a few. To some extent, wider initiatives, such as neighbourhood renewal, the New Deal for Communities, local strategic partnerships and others, also have wider implications for learning.

But we need to build on those initiatives. We need to tackle the structural issues which act as barriers, and some of the other weaknesses, such as the lack of coherence, missed opportunities for synergy, short-term funding strands and the lack of appropriate levels of funding for structural deficiencies.

In order to bring about coherence and synergy, those initiatives need to be underpinned by an active dialogue and debate which should begin to address our vision for a learning society. That will be most valuable as it will contribute to developing understanding and changing the climate. I believe that there is still much to be done to capture the necessary national imagination on this issue. At the same time, we need to consider seriously how people learn, how teachers teach, what is taught and how students are assessed.

In that context, I want to draw your Lordships' attention to two interesting proposals. One, proposed by Professor Claxton of Bristol University, is for a different set of 3Rs; namely, resilience, resourcefulness and reflection, which, he says, are the skills that should be developed in childhood and in formal schooling, and be honed and strengthened throughout life. I am sure that noble Lords will be relieved to know that I do not propose that they should replace the traditional 3Rs, but I believe that they deserve serious consideration.

The second is a "declaration on learning" written by 13 people who have researched and written extensively about effective learning. They came together in an experiment to see how far they could agree on a

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statement about learning that would be of benefit to others and, in particular, to policy-makers and those in leadership roles. They said:


    "[We] must make learning to learn one of the fundamental goals of education and training and reduce the excessive focus on knowledge and skills that can quickly become obsolete. Learning to learn is a skill that can never become obsolete".

Secondly, they said that we must,


    "support and invest in uncertified learning as much as in certified learning. We must abandon the preoccupation with controls that inhibit learning; for example, accreditation, inspection, audit and predefined standards".

Thirdly, we must,


    "recognise that there is no such thing as a non-learner. All people are learners. The challenge is to secure the kinds, amount and pace of learning that benefits individuals, organisations and society as a whole . . . [We must] encourage and support the self-management of learning, that is, learners to set their own goals and to choose how and when to learn to meet needs identified by themselves rather than by others . . . create schemes that remove financial obstacles to learning for individuals and socially disadvantaged groups . . . use participative democratic processes to promote inclusion and co-operation as a basis for learning".

I believe that that provides useful food for thought.

The elimination of barriers which exclude people from learning must be a priority. There is currently an expectation gap--that is, people do not yet have the expectation of an opportunity to learn throughout their lives. Removing those barriers will require the co-operation and partnership of those responsible for delivery and for fostering the right environment.

However, we have not yet succeeded in engendering the relationships which are necessary for the task of creating a learning society. Let us take, for example, teachers. Rather than working with teachers through the difficult task of catering for an ever-expanding population of students with an increasing range of needs and abilities, teachers have found considerable institutional changes imposed on them from above, and their autonomy curtailed.

Teachers should be partners in a process of ongoing personal and organisational learning. Maintaining standards is about continuous self-evaluation rather than a single snapshot event. We need to treat teachers as committed professionals. We need to value our teachers. The quality of formal provision depends on the recruitment and retention of quality teachers in all sectors. There are currently both schools and post-16 basic skills teacher shortages.

Major structural issues of teacher recruitment are not being tackled; they are simply being patched up. We need to tackle the question of teacher recruitment for the long term. Statistics show that the increase in staff is not keeping pace with the extra posts created by additional government funding. More temporary teachers are being recruited, but not enough to fill long-term vacancies. Other teachers may be quitting permanent jobs for a less stressful life.

We also need planning and delivery systems and perspectives to develop initiatives in a connected fashion at national, regional and local levels. There is much to do, for example, in linking learning and skills councils, learning partnerships and local education development plans with other policy drives and in

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harnessing fully neighbourhood renewal initiatives and other initiatives designed to tackle social exclusion. We need to recognise the connected dimensions of supply and demand, ensuring relevant supply for diverse demands. We need targeted initiatives to enhance learners' and potential learners' self-esteem and motivation.

Through my experience as chair of the National Literacy Trust and chancellor of De Montfort University, I am only too aware that this is a very complex area. However, unless we tackle some of the deep-rooted structural problems, we shall not be able to break down the barriers working against new participation in learning. Yes, we need to raise levels of achievement and widen participation; but moving from here to the desired goal is not a mechanistic exercise. In all instances, target-setting is not the answer. It is critical that more attention is paid to what is stopping the desired changes and to the restraining forces. We need top-down support for bottom-up initiatives and not simply directives. There is a need for preparedness to listen to those who deliver the programmes and to individuals and communities, and there is a need for the capacity to disseminate innovative and promising initiatives.

We need a long-term national strategy that will connect all the key contributors, build on a sense of shared responsibility for lifelong learning among all the key players, improve formal practices, link those practices to informal practices and engage more effectively the full spread of communities and agencies in lifelong and life-wide learning through debate and action.

We need to go beyond merely doing better what we currently do; we need to begin to make changes that will encourage and motivate those who deliver and those who engage in learning.

Such an important subject as this demands an holistic strategy if we want to create a dynamic learning society. I am grateful that provision was made for this debate and I greatly look forward to the contributions of noble Lords and to the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.20 p.m.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for giving us this opportunity to engage in such an important and interesting debate. This matter is close to my heart.

In her speech, the noble Baroness ranged far and wide--she gave a tour d'horizon of what has been achieved and what still needs to be done. There are many definitions of a learning society; mine would refer to a society in which all members are learning and to the fact that the society is learning about itself and the way in which it changes. Such a society would enable everyone to navigate a future for themselves in what can be a high-risk social setting.

There are many reasons to be cheerful. The learning world has been turned upside down in recent years not just by the Internet and the external revolution but by

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an internal revolution, which involves what we know about the way in which the brain works. I hesitate to say more on that in your Lordships' House because many noble Lords have great neurological expertise. We know more about the way in which learning works than we have done for many years.

The outlines of the learning society are developing before our eyes. The most recent version of the Fryer report contains no less than 23 separate initiatives--and, I admit, a mass of acronyms--several of which have already been mentioned. They are making a profound difference to our access to learning. They involve radical steps but those steps are the right ones. Any government would have been at fault if they had not taken advantage of the ferment of new ideas and possibilities that are now available.

The mass of changes raises two paradoxes. First, if the learning society is potentially so inclusive, what shall we do about people who are still left out? Secondly, if we cater so well for individual learning opportunities, what is the government's role? How can governments be as effective as possible in relation to the new prospect that involves when, where and how people learn?

The doors to the learning society may be open to individuals. The Government's role is to hold those doors open and that of the community is to enable people to pass through them. Only the Government can take the lead in that regard by dismantling the structural and cultural barriers that continue to hold people back.

Those who want to join should not be left outside and those who are left outside are, I am afraid, only too well known to us. I refer to the 30 per cent of adults who experience no further educational training after formal education and to disaffected pupils, who become disaffected adults. Such people are most likely to be unskilled workers, lone parents, part-time or temporary workers or ethnic and linguistic minorities. Those people need to be able to access courses and qualifications and to afford them. They also need childcare facilities, mentoring support and individual support. That would help them to appreciate that such initiatives are for them.

Unless we provide such coherent extra support the learning society will become a learning market that is open only to those with information and expertise and access to that market. People are banging on the doors. Much more needs to be done, particularly, as the noble Baroness said, in terms of integrating learning with social renewal.

That is already happening on a small scale, but it is an inspired initiative. A network of learning partnerships is springing up across the country. It contains learning towns, learning cities and learning regions. They are already showing new ways of engaging people. They are largely funded in parallel to the formal education system through single regeneration budgets and European and lottery funding. In many areas, they have become the key to local regeneration and they are powered by the needs of skilled people. In some areas--for example, the

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family centre in east Leeds--priority is given to families and in other areas priority is given to those who are traditionally excluded, such as those with disability. The Torfaen initiative in the Valleys, for example, is developing a community valleys university. Blackburn and Darwen take particular care of their Asian communities and are creating new opportunities for them. Such initiatives take learning into everyday situations in which people gather together. As the noble Baroness said, they risk falling between different funding strategies and regimes, and in many respects they are failing to connect with formal learning, which can give extra power and effect.

The second set of barriers involves the cultural barriers that are placed across the workplace and the community as a whole. Many noble Lords can speak with great expertise about the workplace. I say only that we have a particular challenge with regard to small firms and small voluntary organisations, in which much innovation is taking place. Unless we provide extra help, they will not have access. For example, I want the Government to measure the gap between the corporate policy for training and employment development and what is happening on the ground. Are the marvellous plans that were set out in the annual report being accessed in practice by individual workers?

When it comes to dismantling the structural and cultural barriers in the community, we have a working model before our eyes. We have a proud tradition of community education, which is now reborn through the concept of full service schools which can bring into schools new opportunities to learn and health, career and family centres--everything that the community needs. Why should not such facilities be offered in schools? Adults can access, for example, fitness or ICT training. It is not a far-fetched idea--it is already happening in some schools in parts of the United States. We have a blueprint in the Social Exclusion Unit report, Schools Plus, and there is a commitment to implement that. I am delighted by that. I hope that we shall continue to invest in the concept and the reality.

Perhaps the greatest challenge involves another set of barriers--the personal barriers to learning. That involves motivating those who do not want to learn or who do not appear to want to learn. I agree with the noble Baroness--I do not think that there is anyone who does not want to learn. William Morris said that the essential point about education is that it must build on the desire to learn. I believe that everyone instinctively has a desire to learn.

The terms "lifelong learning" and "the learning society" are slightly problematic. I remember some years ago seeing a cartoon of two little boys going unwillingly to school. One was saying to the other, "Bad news--there is something called lifelong learning". Many people have the same reaction to the concept of a learning society, which may appear to involve being on a treadmill.

There are new ways of offering learning and new places and situations in which to do so. We are already doing that. One example involves the "playing for

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success" initiative, which I know is dear to the heart of the many noble Lords who love football. The initiative places homework opportunities in football clubs. There are already more than 30 such schemes in operation and they are highly successful. Summer learning is another initiative that has developed during the past three years, and it covers the curriculum. Summer universities and summer schools are now springing up all over the country. They are highly successful at raising people's skills and motivations. The schemes show that the way to succeed is to find out why young people enjoy learning and to provide more of it. We need to build on their voluntary commitment to learn.

Today's debate is timely for another reason. We have been rather short in this country of hard evidence to show why the funds for out-of-school learning work. Today the first national cohort study of 8,000 young people is being published. Those young people have been followed for three years to establish their commitment to out-of-school learning in homework clubs and so on. The results show conclusively that young people who have been taking part do significantly better in their GCSEs. They have shown better attendance in school and they have a more positive attitude towards school. That is a very fine achievement and I hope that it provides us with a platform on which to build.

Finally, the key question is: what can the Government do? I would say that the key task of the Government is not to invent or manage informal learning or the learning societies. They have the more difficult task of steering, supporting and co-ordinating that and ensuring that there is sustained cultural investment. There are a plethora of partnerships and a mass of initiatives. If we are not careful, they will all contradict and cut across each other. We need to have a strong framework to bring this together. That framework can ensure that those opportunities are equitable and accessible. That is the key task in ensuring that education and social policy really work together.

That must be done in view of the alternatives in terms of the social and economic costs. We only have to look at the fate of looked-after children or the fate of children who are excluded from school to see the huge costs which continue throughout their lifetime. We simply cannot afford those costs. I believe that if we do not do that, we shall not have a learning society but we shall have a learning enclave within a wider society which does not value learning or society, and we certainly cannot afford that.

3.31 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for introducing this debate. She has obviously struck gold with two debates in two days. What a wonderful contribution we had from her. Perhaps I may say also how much we, on these Benches, are looking forward to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. We shall certainly listen to her with great care, as we always did when she controlled the other place.

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I welcome this debate directed at the role of national policy makers in creating a learning society. I intend to confine my remarks solely to education and the Prison Service. There is so much neglect in our prisons that, at times, it seems almost hopeless to suggest any reforms. I read with much interest an editorial in a magazine of the Prison Reform Trust which said:


    "Education gained in prisons can transform lives. Opportunities to write, play music, paint or perform can unlock doors to closed emotions. Employment and training, access to gaining qualifications and a prospect of a real job on release all undoubtedly reduce the rates of reoffending".

No one should be sent to prison because he would benefit from educational opportunities behind bars or the chance to develop work skills prior to release. Prison reduces employability and adds to social exclusion. Many prisoners lose their homes or tenancies, contact with their families, educational places and jobs or careers as a result of incarceration.

I do not believe that many sentencers take such factors into account. That is a high price to pay. It is justifiable if, and only if, the crime is so serious and the offending so persistent as to warrant those social outcomes.

We spend too much time locking inmates in their cells rather than creating a learning environment which would benefit them individually. What do we achieve when we lock up inmates for up to 24 hours per day? My time as a member of the board of visitors made me realise how little time and consideration we had given to education in a closed environment. Many of the inmates lacked numeracy and literacy skills and yet little has been done to put that right.

Surely there is a relevance between reduced offending rates and the availability of learning skills in our institutions. I have seen the positive effects of writers in residence in our prisons. The same applies to art and music. It is a constructive way to run our prisons. Education has a crucial part to play in reducing reoffending by released prisoners. Research evidence shows that released prisoners who do not have basic educational skills are 40 per cent more likely to reoffend than those who have such skills. Moreover, unemployed ex-prisoners are twice as likely to reoffend as those who get and keep a job on release.

Yet at present 60 per cent of the prison population is below NVQ Level 1 in basic skills, which rules them out of over 90 per cent of new jobs. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a group of highly intelligent offenders whose criminal activity has demonstrated a range of qualities which would be admirable had they been directed into legitimate pursuits--qualities such as drive, ingenuity, resourcefulness and an ability to influence and lead other people. Access to further and higher educational qualifications have helped many such offenders to turn around their lives. Without educational opportunities, it is much more difficult for released prisoners to obtain jobs comparable with their abilities and to lead a productive future life without breaking the law.

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The connection between educational failure and offending is particularly striking if one looks at the characteristics of young offenders. In 1997 the Chief Inspector of Prisons carried out a thematic review on young offenders. He found that over half the young offenders in custody had been excluded from schools and many others had regularly truanted. Two-thirds had no educational qualifications. Two-thirds had been unemployed before entering custody.

The following year, a research study published by NACRO entitled Wasted Lives looked at a sample of juvenile offenders in custody: 86 per cent of the sample had been persistent absentees, truants or excluded from school; and 46 per cent had no skills or qualifications of any description.

The Government have recently announced some welcome moves in relation to prison education, notably that prison education will, in future, be managed by a partnership between the Prison Service and the DfEE and that resources for prison education will be ring-fenced. Let us monitor the situation carefully and see how it will work out.

What more should be done to tackle the problem of prisoners' education and under-achievement? First, the Government should continue to increase the resources available for basic skills education in prison in view of the extensive need demonstrated by the survey and figures which I have cited.

Secondly, however, the Government should recognise that many prisoners can benefit from more advanced educational courses, many of which have been cut over the past few years as a result of Prison Service budget cuts. Providing basic skills education and access to further and higher education courses should not be seen as an either/or. Both are needed for different prisoners.

Thirdly, the Government should tackle firmly the problem of prisoners missing out on educational classes because prison officers are not made available to bring them from their cells to the classrooms. Time and again reports from the Chief Inspector of Prisons give examples of prisoners regularly arriving late at classes or not arriving at all, so that all classes are run with empty places or, in some cases, are cancelled completely if teachers are unavailable to take them.

Fourthly, we need a strategy to help prisoners to bridge the gap between education programmes inside prison and accessing courses on release. That should include changing the funding system for Employment Service training programmes to ensure that all areas of the country have a range of specialist programmes which cater for ex-offenders and other unemployed people who have special support needs. At present, the availability of such specialist programmes varies greatly from one area to another. In many areas, contracts are being withdrawn from organisations such as NACRO which can provide effective specialist programmes of that kind. Will the Minister look at that to see whether the matter can be rectified? I should declare an interest at this stage as I chair that particular charity.

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Fifthly, we need to ensure that prisoners who could safely be given temporary release to go out to educational programmes in the community during the day are allowed to do so. We currently have a nonsensical situation whereby low-risk prisoners towards the end of their sentence are rightly allowed to go out of prison to do paid jobs or community work but they are not allowed to go out to participate in employment training programmes run by the Employment Service. Yet that can be one of the most effective ways of getting prisoners into work on release. The Home Office, the Prison Service and the DfEE should jointly examine and change that anomaly as soon as possible.

We need to move away from the old concept that education was one way of establishing control and discipline in prisons. There may be some truth in that because, if you keep inmates occupied with purposeful activities, they are less likely to be disruptive. But in essence that is a policy about managing prisoners rather than promoting meaningful education.

Of course I value the core curriculum that was established in 1995. The aim is laudable. The emphasis is on numeracy, literacy, intermediate technology and social and life skills. The purpose is to reduce the number of prisoners released without basic skills at Level 2 or above. However, there is a concern that art, drama and vocational classes now receive less emphasis, if any at all.

There is also a lack of support for higher skills. At least 30 to 40 per cent of inmates--on remand or in custody--have a higher level of education than Level 2 on entry to prison and such persons are told that there is nothing in the system for them. I refer to a case reported in the magazine of the Prison Reform Trust where an inmate said the following:


    "Prior to coming to prison I had started an OU course and I asked about continuing the degree whilst I was here. I was told that the department was unable to get involved--a question of resources, even though I was going to fund the course myself".

I draw the attention of the Minister to Professor David Wilson of the University of Central England in Birmingham, who has established the Forum on Prison Education to lobby for prison education beyond the provision of basic skills. I am sure that the Minister would find it helpful to open a dialogue with that particular body.

In conclusion, with an agenda that is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime we should remember that the promotion of a learning society offers the best prospect for reducing crime, criminality and the unacceptably high prison population.

3.41 p.m.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, I am indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for tabling her Motion which has enabled me to make my maiden speech in your Lordships' House. I confess that I rise with great nervousness. This is my first parliamentary speech on an issue of national policy in over 14 years. I know that at the start I must declare an interest, although it is an

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unpaid interest. The Open University made me its Chancellor seven years ago. It was the second best thing that has happened to me.

The difficult birth of the Open University illustrates the narrow line that sometimes exists between success and failure in our approach to education policy. One distinguished statesman described its concept as "blithering nonsense". I shall not mention the name of that statesman as that would be too contentious. Others in positions of influence were indifferent to its struggle to survive the Treasury axe during the economic difficulties of the 1960s. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, played a valuable role in keeping it afloat. The noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, was our first vice-chancellor who believed that the Open University could not only exploit new ways of teaching through the media, thereby encouraging a learning society, but that it could also promote better teaching in some of our conventional universities.

The noble Lord, Lord Perry, has described his exchanges with the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when she became Opposition spokesman on education as "sharp, short and furious". But the noble Baroness admitted to being better informed after their frank exchanges and the OU survived her scrutiny as Secretary of State.

Had it been allowed to go under in its early years we would have lost an academic institution that has pioneered new ways of higher education, stimulated thousands of people to become learners and which is admired and emulated in many countries. We would have been denied a university that has transformed the lives of 250,000 mature students--people from all walks of life and many without formal educational qualifications--who have won degrees.

Such achievements would not have been possible without the skills and dedication of a world-class academic staff, to whom I pay tribute. Nor would it have happened without the determination of its founders, notably my colleague and friend Jennie Lee, who served in your Lordships' House. My point is that when we, in this country, embrace a worthy cause, nothing can stop us. The Open University is living proof of that.

Perhaps I may tell your Lordships something of its finances without boring you too much. Its students appreciate it so much that last year they paid 102 million in fees and for the purchase of study materials. Of course, the nation contributes 137 million of the OU's income, but where else in higher education is there such enthusiasm for learning that students themselves provide 37 per cent of the university's entire income?

Nor do our students indulge themselves in subjects that some noble Lords may consider to be frivolous. Two of the five top courses are computer and Internet-related and another teaches health and social care. Today over 21,000 students are taking those two courses.

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When the Right Reverend Eric Devenport sent his entry to Who's Who with "BA (Open University)" after his name they queried it. Nobody does that any longer. The OU earned the maximum possible score for general engineering in a recent survey. It has become the largest provider of management education in Europe. I am proud to add that it is also the country's leading provider of higher education for the disabled.

I succeeded the noble Lord, Lord Briggs, who was our Chancellor for 15 years. We both followed in the tradition set by the late Lord Crowther, our first Chancellor in 1969. He was succeeded by a most distinguished Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, Lord Gardiner. But it was Lord Crowther who pinned the OU's colours to the communications revolution and it has since changed all our lives.

As a new girl in your Lordships' House I gather that I am entitled to a laptop. Is that right?


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