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Assisted Places At Independent Schools

Volume 978: debated on Tuesday 12 February 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move amendment No. 111, in page 17, line 13, after 'whereby', insert:

'with the consent of the local education authority in whose area the school is situated.'.
You have gone to fast for me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I can scarcely be blamed, because I have a charming conversation partner.

We have come to the infamous clause 17. It refers to the assisted places scheme. The amendment is geared to the hope that the Government will relent at this late date, and will include consultation with the local education authorities as a prerequisite to the introduction of that scheme in any local authority area. One way to mitigate and rationalise the effect of the assisted places scheme is to include a requirement that local education authorities give their consent before any school participates in the scheme.

That is necessary as a result of the loathing with which that scheme is regarded, not just by the educational trade unions, the Society of Education Officers, head teachers and just about every commentator on the scheme, journalistic or academic, but by some hon. Gentlemen who have in the past demonstrated their affection for and trust in the maintained system of education. In that respect, if in no other, they are at severe odds with their leadership. After considering the further arguments, and, perhaps, taking this opportunity to further display their views, I hope that those hon. Gentlemen will join us in the Lobby.

11.15 pm

The view is put forward by the Secretary of State that the assisted places scheme is not the wretched enemy of the maintained system that we have described, but a kind of educational Quasimodo. However misshapen and misbegotten the proposal, it is there to engage in acts of mercy and rescue the odd, inspired urchin, drag him out of the gutter and give him all the advantages, privileges and assistance of an education geared to academic ability. The possibility of that occurring is less than nil. I believe that in the whole series of amendments that we have tabled on local education authorities, selection and parental income, we shall conclusively demonstrate that.

Since the Second Reading and the long hours in Committee spent considering this part of the Bill, the scheme has been effectively bisected. Even the Secretary of State now acknowledges that the prospect of recruiting 100,000 children to be beneficiaries—if that is the proper word—does not exist, and that the figure is more appropriately 50,000. We believe that the explanation is more likely to be found in the low rate of application than in the Secretary of State's seeing sense or the Cabinet, in its second round of cuts, recognising the need for not further offending the people of Britain by spending a ridiculous £55 million on that unwanted and unwarranted scheme.

Local education authorities have, without equivocation, shown, at the very least, suspicion, and, at the most, repeated and merciless criticism of the scheme. The reason is obvious. They know that the children on whom schools depend and for whom schools provide—the brightest children, the academically most able—will be creamed off by the scheme in many areas of the country where there is an incidence of independent schools that will participate in the scheme.

Local education authorities, by no means all of one political persuasion, are proud of their maintained schools. They recognise the need for further development of those schools. They also recognise that the most academically able pupils attract and retain able staff at those schools and act as an inspiration for their peers. It did not take Professor Rutter to demonstrate the importance of those children to the educational welfare of a school. Anyone acquainted with education has recognised that for a long period. The proposals are a direct threat to the continuity of that usefulness and of the advantage that those children derive from their schools.

As the National Association of Head Teachers and other bodies have pointed out, the group that the Secretary of State is hoping to attract into the assisted places schools is the small percentage who can be identified as being academically most able—those who demonstrate that ability by getting several high grade passes at A-level.

At a time of falling roll numbers and in areas where there is a high incidence of assisted places on offer, there is a possibility that the proportion of pupils from that highest academic ability range that will be taken out of the maintained sector and put into the assisted places schools will be so significant as dramatically to affect the quality of education provided and the character of the maintained schools from which those children come. I do not think that the statistical propositions of those directly interested in these matters have been seriously contested.

The possibility exists that if the scheme were fully implemented, had it catered eventually for 100,000 of the highest academic ability children in this country they would have constituted about one-third of the children in the whole school system. The result would have been an enormous and greatly damaging loss to the maintained system and the communities relying on the schools within that system.

We have come to expect that the Secretary of State will not be terribly disturbed by that distortion. He told the annual dinner of the Manchester grammar school on 23 January that the private school sector
"provides the maintained sector with a standard of comparison of performance as well as having traditional excellence in various fields, from which the maintained sector could usefully draw."
That has been interpreted correctly throughout the maintained system as a calculated insult and a desertion of duty by the man whose ultimate responsibility is for the maintained sector. He is supposed to be the guardian of its interests in the Cabinet. Because the overwhelming majority of children in this country attend schools in the maintained sector, he should at least be relied upon not to demoralise that sector by the use of such phrases and assessments of relative values.

The Secretary of State is actually contriving to tell the maintained sector that it is second best; that the children attending schools in that sector and the teachers working within it are engaged in and dependent upon a second-rate system. We can put no other interpretation on those words. They must have been carefully chosen.

If the Secretary of State for Wales wishes to examine a press release put out by the Department of Education and Science he will find much more in the same vein—that this provides the maintained sector with a standard of comparison of performance. It does not, and it must not. The maintained sector can judge for itself. It can be examined by Her Majesty's inspectors and be exposed to the view of the whole country—indeed, the whole world. It does not need to depend on or borrow its energy from comparisons with the private sector. It is not in competition with the private sector, although no doubt the Secretary of State would like it to be, through the assisted places scheme.

The Secretary of State asks "Why not?" Does he really think that the education system of this country would benefit from a race for what he describes and defines as "excellence" between the private and maintained sectors? What child would be advantaged by that? How would teacher morale be raised? Who would benefit? No one at all. But it is apparent that the Secretary of State has espoused such ideas. That is rather unexpected. I thought that such ideas belonged to a darker and more sinister and backward section of the Conservative Party than the one from which he is supposed to have come.

The Secretary of State appears to be infected by the company that he keeps. I am the last one to preach guilt by association, but when he talks about traditional excellence in various fields that the maintained sector should apparently seek to emulate, that is an insult to the maintained sector schools and to the system responsible for that sector.

The hon. Gentleman is waxing eloquent, but let us consider what he is saying. Surely he accepts that some of the ex-direct grant schools had high academic standards. What on earth is wrong in saying that they provide a standard of comparison against which we can check the ability of the maintained sector? That is not an insult to the maintained sector.

It is not. Alongside the maintained sector there is another, and the fact that there are two gives us the opportunity to check one against the other. That is all that I was saying, and it seems reasonable and sensible.

In that case, I suppose that we should be grateful that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not Secretary of State for Social Services, since on the basis of the sort of comparisons that he makes we would be talking about second-rate health sector treatment and second-rate operations and asking the public sector of medicine to compare itself in terms of excellence of treatment with the private sector.

It is a damned cheek and an insult for the Secretary of State to talk about the superiority of the private sector. Our examination system is surely enough of a means of making a judgment on the academic performance of schools in whatever sector. Whether that system is an acceptable or wise way of judging the performance of individuals is another matter, but why should the Secretary of State seek, through the assisted places scheme or inane speeches like the one that he made in Manchester, to impose yet another criterion on a maintained sector that is consistently under attack and so seek to uproot the confidence in that sector?

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will either apologise for making that sort of attack or will make it even more publicly and deliberately, so that the people of this country can properly evaluate the sort of person who is responsible for the maintained sector of education.

The assisted places scheme and all that goes with it is an insult to the maintained sector. The elementary presumption of the scheme is that there are schools that can do that which the maintained sector cannot do. I can acquit the ignoramuses on the Conservative Back Benches on the basis of their ignorance, but the Secretary of State cannot be acquitted, because he is as familiar as anyone with the inspectors' reports and the education statistics.

The statistics demonstrate that for the most academically able children the maintained system provides at least as well as does any other system. Indeed, if there are any children who are not being as well served by the maintained sector as we should like, they are not the high fliers or the lowest performers but the children in between. That is the conclusion reached by several reports, including the reports of the Department's inspectors, produced at almost weekly intervals on all sorts of testing bases.

The presumption in the assisted places scheme, that there is a haven or refuge for children of such high ability that they are not being served by the maintained system, is demonstrable nonsense.

The vein running through the whole proposition is that "bought is best"—that in order for something to be excellent, admirable and superior, a price tag must be attached. I say, without sentimentality, that there is a truth held to be self-evident on the Opposition side and by some individual Conservative Members that the worth of an education system, a health system or any caring system, or system of inspiration in a modern State, is not demonstrated by the price tag but by the provision made.

11.30 pm

In order to hold to that, we have to disagree profoundly with the right hon. and learned Gentleman and oppose by every means his assisted places scheme. We do not believe, and we shall not concede, nor shall we assist people into the idea of thinking, that there must be a label, a price tag, a purchase price, attached to something to give it real worth. Certainly, in the case of educational provision and opportunity it would be the vilest kind of attack on our system of education to teach parents and teachers, and pupils—because they recognise and understand these debates upon these matters—that unless people qualify for the purchase system of education they are somehow being betrayed, sold short or involved in a second-rate system.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. He will have to disprove the words that he uttered in Manchester, and he will have to wipe this clause out of the Bill if he seeks to demonstrate that that is not his attitude towards the maintained system.

In their attitudes—we heard it today again in the debate on the new clause on nursery education, and we have heard it otherwise—there is a well-developed Tory talent for giving general praise to the publicly provided services and then either denying the means for those services to be operated effectively or importing or supporting an alternative system, which is held up as a model of excellence.

In his approach to these matters, the right hon. and learned Gentleman reminds me greatly of the Arab sheikh who became converted to Catholicism and kept a mermaid for Fridays. Disraeli's phrase about organised hypocrisy is very true, even in 1980, a century or more after he uttered it. It is demonstrated yet again through the means of the assisted places scheme.

We had extensive opportunity in Committee for giving evidence from various bodies—some of a political persuasion and some of absolutely no political persuasion—in opposition to this scheme. I do not want to prolong the proceedings, because I realise that hon. Members on both sides of the Hosue wish to speak on this matter, and some of them have not had a previous opportunity to do so. However, there is one question that I want to raise with the Minister about his conduct of the assisted places scheme.

When the Department sent out the circular letter on 6 December to the Governing bodies of direct grant grammar schools and the proprietors of independent schools and sent a covering note to the chief education officers of the local education authorities, the Minister said specifically in that letter that
"It would be appreciated if the form"
—that is, the form demonstrating interest in participating the scheme—
"could be returned quickly, and in any case, not later than 31 January 1980."
In the first week of February we were told by the Under-Secretary that the forms were still coming in. I presume that the forms are still coming in. We would be interested to hear how many additions there have been to the 371 that had arrived by the first week in February, and how long the right hon. and learned Gentleman intends to go on extending the closing date.

I wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman were organising the football pools. because that would mean that we would all be winners. We could post our coupons on the Monday after the Saturday on which the games took place. It was said to be not later than 31 January. We are already in the middle of February and there is no sign of the guillotine being slammed down on the assisted places scheme in the way in which it has been slammed down on the House of Commons.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, and his hon. Friends, throughout the whole of the debates on the Bill have applauded the idea of giving more and more authority, discretion and judgment to local education authorities. They say that that is a central theme of Tory education policy, of local government policy and of the Bill. There are various eccentricities to that theme, as we have seen demonstrated in other debates in the House.

On this occasion, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman has confidence in the assisted places scheme, if he believes that it is a token of excellence and a model of inspiration that provides for poor children—I note that he has stopped using that phrase now—or less affluent children with the opportunity to gain an academic education—though we have yet to hear a definition of what he means by "academic"—the least he can do is to bring together his two principles of pride in the private sector of education and of confidence in the judgment of the local education authorities and insert at the beginning of clause 17 the words in our amendment. By marrying those two principles, at least he will ensure that the provision of assisted places does not distort, disrupt or cream off the talent from the maintained sector of education where it is well served and continues to be needed.

My contribution to the debate will be short. It was not an easy decision for me, on Second Reading, to withdraw my support from the Government. I did so for two reasons. First, I felt apprehensive about the whole question of school transport and, secondly, I am opposed to the introduction of this concept of assisted school places at this time.

No one in 1975 voted with more conviction and enthusiasm than I did when we opposed the decision of the then Labour Government to phase out the direct-grant schools, but, as often happens, a party in opposition tends to make instant judgments, which take no account of the circumstances that may exist when that party returns to political office.

I have three basic objections to the introduction of this scheme. First, as the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) said, it makes an assumption that schools in the private sector have something to offer that schools in the maintained sector have not. The great majority of children of secondary school age attend schools in the maintained sector. I believe that all Governments, whether they be of the Left or of the Right have an obligation to place the maximum resources available to the Department of Education and Science into the maintained sector.

I am a product of a grammar school. My daughter attends the local comprehensive school in Liskeard. Like the majority of parents—indeed, all parents—of children who attend that comprehensive school, I want it to offer the best education to our children. Therefore, even if we accept the assumption that schools in the private sector can offer something that schools in the maintained sector cannot, I object to the creaming-off process.

I do not think that my area will be able to take advantage of the scheme, because there is no private sector school within daily travelling distance. But that is irrelevant to my basic argument. I am doubtful about a situation that assumes that because some schools are in the private sector they can offer greater facilities and greater opportunities for more academically gifted children. I believe that we on the Government Benches, particularly, have an obligation, at a time when savings are being made in the overall level of public expenditure—the Department of Education and Science is sadly not exempt—to be seen putting as well as wishing, all available resources into the maintained sector.

I have the greatest respect for my right hon. and learned Friend, but it is politically unwise at this time to be carrying out this measure. We are making savings and attracting a certain amount of political unpopularity while pumping in money, albeit indirectly, through the parents, into the private sector. I recall that the Conservative Government in 1971 put through the Education (Milk) Act, involving the abolition of school milk. The savings at that time were £9 million. Frankly, with the benefit of hindsight, it was not worth the political "aggro" and the political flak that we suffered as a consequence of going through with that measure.

I must put on record my view. I am opposed to the introduction of this scheme at this time. It is politically misguided. Even at this late hour, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to reconsider their attitude in respect of the two clauses dealing with the assisted school places scheme. I believe that it does not matter whether the figure is £55 million, over the full period, or half that figure. It is totally wrong that a party that believes in providing maximum opportunity especially within the maintained sector, should be seen to be going directly against that trend in the current economic climate. It is also wrong educationally.

I shall speak only briefly because I understand that there are Conservative Members who wish to intervene. The speech of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) is, I believe, the authentic voice of the Conservative Party—far more so than the measure brought forward by the Front Bench.

When the Second Reading of this Bill takes place in the other place, where there are five pre-1964 Secretaries of State and Ministers of Education from the Conservative Party, that fact will be brought home to the Government. The tone of the debate will be much more in tune with the remarks of the hon. Member for Bodmin than with the arguments that we have heard from the Government Front Bench.

By introducing the assisted places scheme, the Government are going against the whole educational, legislative tradition that has existed in this country since the 1870 Act when compulsory education was introduced. Clause 1(1) of the Education Act 1944 enjoins, as a duty, on the Secretary of State
"to promote the education of the people of England and Wales…and to secure the effective execution by local authorities, under his control and direction, of the national policy for providing a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area."
11.45 pm

When our predecessors in 1944 insisted that it was the Minister's duty to introduce the national policy they meant just that—the national policy by local education authorities under his control and direction. On every single previous occasion when independent schools have been funded with public money, it has been for one purpose and one purpose only—to fill in gaps in local provision, which local authorities have not been able to fill with their own resources, and when local authorities have themselves requested that independent schools should be used for this purpose.

Every report since this question has been considered, beginning with the interim report of the Fleming committee in 1942, has made it absolutely clear that independent schools, funded with any sort of public funds at all, should be used only when local authorities request that that facility should be made available because, usually temporarily, their own facilities are not sufficient.

For the first time the Secretary of State is turning the whole proposition on its head. For the first time he is completely and blatantly eroding the basic principle of the 1944 Act, that where a school is grant-aided with public funds, fee paying in that school should be illegal. That is what the 1944 Act stated. Admittedly, the direct grant system, because the Fleming committee could not agree, was temporarily removed from that system, but that was the principle of the 1944 Act. The further principle was that if independent schools were to be used to supplement county and voluntary schools, the only conditions under which they could be used were those in which local provision was not sufficient.

We have not the full details of the system under which the Secretary of State is to use the provision, but we know that the assisted places scheme is unique in education finance. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, every other penny that goes into education has to be funded through the rate support grant so that local authorities can use it. This is the only feature of the school system where the right hon. and learned Gentleman is taking powers, as it were, to override local wishes.

So far from using the old principle that local authorities should, as it were, go to the Minister and request help, the Minister has threatened to use this principle actually to penalise local authorities. Whereas a local authority had facilities, under the freedom that was given to it in the Education (No. 1) Act, to plan its system, to abolish the 11-plus and to make a natural progression from primary to secondary school, the threat that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is using, in places such as Sheffield and London, is to reimpose an 11-plus system on those cities and completely distort not only the secondary education but the primary education.

Would I be right in understanding, from what the hon. Gentleman is saying—I should be interested also to hear the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) on this—that if the assisted places scheme were to include a provision whereby local education authorities had a voice in whether such a place were to be given, the hon. Gentleman would regard that—as do some of its present opponents, such as the headmaster of Westminster School—as being a useful bridge between the private and the maintained sector, and would support the scheme?

I would not go that far. If the local authorities that are charged with the responsibility of organising education in their areas have the right to be consulted—which they do not have under the Bill—and have the right, as laid down in the amendment, of saying "No, we prefer not to have assisted places schools in our area, whatever happens in other areas", it would go a long way towards mitigating the evil effects of the scheme.

I do not wish to pursue that matter further, as I know that the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) and others wish to intervene. If the Secretary of State insists on putting the assisted places scheme forward as penal sanction against local education authorities that wish, with the full consent of their electorate, to run a comprehensive scheme without an 11-plus, he will make political problems for himself over the next few years of which he knows not. It is not my duty to warn him of that; it is the duty of those behind him. He is making not only an appalling administrative mistake, going against the whole historical tradition of the development of education in this country, but the worst political mistake ever made by the Conservative Party.

I have never before followed an hon. Member who has encouraged you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to call me. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman thinks that I may make a speech that supports some of the views that he has expressed.

I do not suppose that any authorities that are opposed in principle to their ablest children being taken away from their comprehensive schools are any more comforted than I am by the half-abandonment of the scheme that we have seen over the past few days. My objection to the scheme is not only that ablest children would be taken away, but that in many cases it would take away the most concerned families, who have a great part to play in the schools that their children attend.

In the speeches from the Treasury Bench before the scheme was truncated I sensed a feeling that it could be explained by saying that it was a modest proposal of which too much notice should not be taken. That is entirely wrong. It is a matter of principle. It makes no difference to me whether we spend £55 million or £25 million. Indeed, £1 million would be too much. It is wrong in principle.

Over the past week or so I have met no less enthusiasm to explain that it is now an even more modest scheme. It appears rather like the Victorian parlour maid who explained away the arrival of her illegitimate child by saying "It is only little". That is not an adequate reason for us to ignore what is a matter of considerable principle.

I turn to one or two technical matters before I come to the broader issues. Local authorities must be deeply interested in first, the argument that the scheme would not cost them very much and would not take anything away from the maintained system. That argument has been put forward on two bases. One argument—which I find great difficulty in understanding—is that, somehow, money that is used for private purposes is not money that is taken away from the maintained schools. In my book, money that is available to the Department of Education and Science is available for education.

The second argument is even less reputable, namely, that all that we are doing is to spend about the same amount on the assisted places scheme as we spend to educate a child in the maintained system. That is economic nonsense. The first child in any comprehensive school will probably cost £1 million. The meridian child certainly costs £500 to £600. The marginal child—and there can be no more marginal child than the one that is being bought out—costs virtually nothing. It costs the gas and the Bunsen-burner, a few extra books and perhaps another desk.

On the other hand, and conversely, the child who is sent to the private school is equally marginal—otherwise we would not have had the scheme—as is the cost to the private school. It has to provide little else than the extra books and the place. Therefore, the true cost of this scheme is almost every penny in every pound that is spent, and it is wrong to pretend otherwise.

The difficulty is that this is public money being used for private purposes. I should have thought that many of my hon. Friends would pause before enthusiastically supporting that proposition. Of course, there are circumstances in which this is perfectly proper, such as extreme talent in music. There are plenty of circumstances in which this scheme can be used. But the use of money in order to provide one of the prime duties of the Department of State seems to me to be unacceptable.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman take courage from the fact that on Staffordshire county council, of which I am a member, one of the toughest Tory operators, who is chairman of the education committee, has said publicly that he is totally opposed to this scheme? If the Government have £50 million to spare, he can apply that quite successfully to the development of micro-electronics education, or anything else in the public sector.

I need no encouragement. Blackpool went comprehensive with an overwhelming Tory majority and I defy anyone to show that we have attained any fewer A-levels than anyone else, or that there has been any less success. The fact is that throughout the town, from one end of the constituencies to the other, every headmaster and headmistress in the maintained sector is totally opposed to what we are doing. We should pay attention to what has been said.

I want to turn for a moment to what may happen if the scheme is terminated, because I think that it has an educational as well as a political overtone. Let us consider who will go into the scheme. We all read in the newspapers last week about what will happen at the top end of the scale. Of course, those people will get only £100 or so, although why they should is a little difficult to understand. A family with two children and an income of £8,000 a year, as well as a modest mortgage, will be in the £10,000 bracket [Interruption.] Well, a £10,000 mortgage will cost about £1,500 a year. They are very high brackets.

The whole House can be indebted to the Department for its identification in this century of those who in the last century were soon to be people who were hard-up but who had done something to help themselves, and who were identified by the Victorian philanthropists as deserving causes. That having been said, the real bulk of the money will go to those at the bottom end of the scale.

12 midnight

I shall not go into the arguments about how much in reality those receiving grant will have to pay, but we must face the fact that we have an Opposition who have declared that they will terminate the scheme at the end of the educational year in which they achieve power.

I think that that is disgraceful. Educationally, the only respectable thing to do would be to phase it out. But one has to face reality, and that is not what we are arguing about at present. Lamentable though it is, there may well be an opportunity for the Opposition to do that.

If that happens—and one would need to be a believer in Henry Ford's view that all history was bunk to say that it never will—what will happen to these children? Will the schools that take them on now have to put them out, and will they have a disrupted education? Perhaps the Minister can help me here. When these schools volunteered to take these children, did we ask whether they would keep them if, when they had20 or 30 of them in the school, it meant that it would cost the school £30,000 to finish off their education?

I want to turn for a moment to the attitude of local education authorities. They are entitled to resent being told in the Bill that they have no say in this scheme when we as a party say, strongly and persistently, that it is the right of LEAs to choose the kind of education that they want for their districts. That is bound to cause resentment, and it has.

Above all, what the LEAs have a right to be concerned about is the attitude—as hinted at by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks)—that we are displaying towards the maintained system. Before the change we thought that the problem of providing a more academic education had been identified. As many as 100,000 children, according to the Department, were thought worthy of an independent chance. Now, at a stroke, that number is reduced to 50,000. I would like to know whether the Minister has any proposal for dealing with the 50,000 that have been removed overnight. If there is a scheme within the maintained system to give these children a chance by providing assisted places there will be no opposition from me, indeed, the Minister will have my support. But if there is such a scheme, and if it is right for the 50,000 that have been removed over the last fortnight to be given a chance, why is it not right for the whole 100,000?

I do not think that anyone can be other than perturbed at the wording and attitude disclosed by the clause. I do not disagree with the argument that there may be an advantage in going to several private schools, but that is not the question. If that is the position it is the first duty of the Government and the Department to make sure that it is changed as quickly as possible. It is not a solution increasingly to buy our way out of it over the years.

We are embarking on a policy of despair. We are saying that we shall not be able to match the best. It is an option for the second-rate. The clause is no more than a vote of no confidence in the maintained system. I have no intention of casting such a vote.

For not the first time in today's proceedings the most telling criticisms of what the Government propose to do have come from the Conservative Benches. We have heard two speeches that have been not only courageous but thorough and effective in their treatment of the Government's proposals. The content of those two speeches reflects to a considerable degree a view that I have found among leaders of education authorities in many parts of the country, including many Conservatives. That is true of many Conservatives in the county in which my constituency is contained, and it is true of the areas represented by those on the Conservative Benches who have so courageously criticised the Government. It is true of many areas.

The view that has seized the Government and led them to embark on the scheme is not regarded with much enthusiasm by some of their representatives in local government, who have committed their activity to the maintenance of as good a State education system as they can possibly produce. Working for many years on local education authorities enables those of a different political persuasion to share a commitment to achieve that objective. Many Conservatives have committed themselves to it, as well as Liberals and Socialists. There are those of all political persuasions in local government who are amazed by what the Government propose to do.

At a time when local government is being told that it cannot have money to spend on basic necessities and on improving its service, it is extraordinary that money can mysteriously be found to invest in the Government's scheme. We must assume that the Government have made the decision to lower the standard of the public sector and to buy out a small number of people upon whom the country will depend in future to educate them in the private sector. That assumption is as offensive to Conservative local government leaders as it is to Liberals and Socialists.

It is only right that local education authority leaders should be consulted on the practical application of the scheme in their areas. They are faced with extraordinary difficulties because of the way in which the Government have conceived the scheme. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State speak with enthusiasm of the replies that they have received to their circular from schools that wish to take part in the scheme. They do not tell us how many of the schools from which they have received replies are second-rate, third-rate and even fourth-rate. They talk as if every application has been received from a school that may be regarded as the pinnacle of the private education pyramid. Local education authorities that are trying hard to better the standards that exist in some quarters of the public sector are, not surprisingly, offended by the suggestion that their schools are inferior to some of the schools that are operating in the private sector.

Some Conservative Members who want to go along with the scheme may not realise that the Government do not propose that there should be any initial inspection by Her Majesty's inspectors of the schools to which public finance is to be devoted. It is merely upon a reply to a form that the Minister will assess whether it is the sort of school to which children of the highest academic standard must be diverted from the maintained education system. It is amazing that they should accept with any willingness the diverting of public funds to parts of the private education sector which have standards far below those of many parts of the State education system.

Some of the speeches of Ministers have suggested that the scheme is a device to take a few children into the best and most expensive schools—the ones with the greatest academic prestige. There is nothing in the arrangements that they have made so far to conduct the scheme that suggests that even that objective can be met. The absence of any provisions for inspection before schools are approved is bound to underline that feeling.

The hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) referred to the high income bracket which would still enable people to get some financial benefit from the scheme. Local education authority leaders are bound to be puzzled when the Government tell them that the only people that they need to help with the cost of school meals and school transport are those who are in receipt of family income supplement and supplementary benefit.

If a man earns £66 or £67 a week the Government do not believe it necessary for the local education authority to give him any assistance. However, people with income levels far above that are thought of as appropriate for assistance by central Government not only with school meals and transport but with school fees, once their children are plucked out of the State system and sent to the private education system.

Those few children will be entitled to assistance with the additional cost of uniforms and out-of-school activities. There will be all kinds of assistance for parents with incomes far higher than those for whom basic assistance with schools meals and transport are denied under other provisions of this Bill.

The information that we have so far is that remission will be against the school fees and that no provision will be made for expenses other than the fees. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) might care to reflect whether the remissions that have been advertised in the Press are the sums that families, whatever their incomes, will be asked to meet—or will there be hundreds of pounds on top of that to help children get to a school and stay there conforming to the requirements of school uniforms and the rest?

It is inevitable that unless substantial provision over and above the remissions is made—and I understood from discussion in Committee that the Government wanted to do this—children who take part in the assisted places scheme may find themselves at a great disadvantage compared to other children at the same school, particularly if they go to a school at which the remainder of the children come from rich families.

If, however, the Government find ways of meeting those additional costs, those few children will be at a great advantage compared to children whose parents have lower incomes and who are not even provided with basic help with meals and transport at State schools. Either way the local education authority has a deep and genuine interest in the anomalies thereby created.

I think that the Government have now had time to discover what an unenthusiastic reception the assisted places scheme has received from their friends and supporters, let alone from their opponents. I am totally depressed by the inability of the Government Front Bench to recognise that we are engaged in a scheme that could do profound damage to the State education system. They give no other impression than that they regard that system as second best—one that is bound to decline and from which they must now rescue a very small number of children.

I leap to my feet to prevent the Secretary of State being bullied by a lot of toughs from different parts of the playground. I thought that the speeches in this debate were to be of a high intellectual level. They have not been. Hon. Members have been throwing verbal stones at someone they seem to think cannot defend himself, but they underestimate the qualities of my right hon. and learned Friend.

I listened to all the speeches tonight except when I was having a short snooze during the opening speech, and as far as I recall parental choice and the choice of the children were never mentioned by one spokesman opposing or supporting the amendment. Parental choice and child choice figured in the Tory Party manifesto and I am delighted to see that choice provided for in the Bill.

The people of Harrow and Middlesex, especially those who are not so well off, look forward to having the opportunity of obtaining places in the private schools that have traditionally been used by the children of Harrow and elsewhere in the past 100 years. Long may it remain so.

12.15 am

First, I commend the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) on the high intellectual calibre of his speech. Coming from Harrow, it is appropriate that he should be an apologist for the private sector. Of course, Harrow school was originally a charitable foundation, but, under a most unfortunate Act of this House, it changed its trustees so that it did not deal with the poor of Harrow but with the elite of the aristocracy. In order to do that, the lower school of John Lyon was founded to act in lieu.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is in the privileged position of following the intellectual hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page), I wonder whether he will inquire, on matters of intellectual content of choice which the hon. Gentleman raised about the schools desired by parents, what is the hon. Gentleman's view of the proposed closure of a sixth form college in Harrow? So far as the House knows, the hon. Gentleman has remained silent on that matter.

I am desperately sad that the reading of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) does not cover the Harrow Observer and Gazette as it should. Week after week, my speeches demanding production of the facts are reported and I am sorry that before the hon. Member for Bedwellty cast the stones he did not fully eat the plums.

It seems that the local education authority of Harrow is in some difficulty. I dare not hazard its political complexion, but I suggest that it might wish to be consulted by the Secretary of State or a Minister about the possibility of assisted places being given. I doubt whether that would be at Harrow school but it might take place at one or two lesser-known institutions.

I believe that it is necessary for the Secretary of State to have drawn to his attention certain matters that may have escaped him. In his opening speech he spoke broadly about the maintained sector and the real public sector of education. He called it the independent sector, but I shall hereafter call it the private sector. He may be interested to know that in Committee I sought to demonstrate that the "pukka" private sector—he will know what I mean; I do not mean the little private school around the corner—has, at a stretch, 1·3 per cent. of all secondary pupils in England and Wales. Even if that is doubled, to a generous 2·6 per cent., about 97·4 per cent. of secondary school pupils in England and Wales are in the maintained sector—the responsibility of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Even if the figure were 95 per cent., the proportions are almost out of the imagination of those hon. Members who leap to the conclusions that the only educational quality against which we measure all the rest is in the private sector.

I do not deny that the private sector sometimes develops proposals that might be worth adopting or modifying in the public sector. That has happened over the years and it is happening the other way round, nowadays. The contributions in the past of Dr. Arnold and Headmaster Thring may have been educationally advantageous but that does not mean that the nineteenth century ascendancy of those schools should follow into the middle and later part of the twentieth century. Since the Education Act 1944 we have had a universal national system of secondary education. It came rather late in the day, but we have certainly got it.

In supporting the clause, the hon. Gentleman is pretending that anything that is not outside the pukka private sector is somehow ersatz, or second-rate. That demeans his position. Many Opposition Members as well as many of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's supporters in the country, believe that that is what he is doing.

Conservative Members should clearly understand the scheme before they vote. Not many of these places will go to the "top 20". During the past few months we have been regaled by television programmes giving sidelights on Westminster, as well as a long-running saga on Radley. We learned in Committee that such schools are above the norm that the Minister is likely to set. Even if those schools were interested in offering places, such places would be unlikely to be selected under the scheme.

The Minister went out of his way to suggest that the bulk of pupils in the assisted sector would go to schools that were previously direct grant schools. Many of those pupils will be day pupils. That is the Minister's plan. It is a far cry from the Radley—Eton—Winchester image that the press and perhaps the Secretary of State have in mind.

As for boarding, the Minister did not give much of a reply during the Committee stage. He must come clean. The fees to be paid relate entirely to tuition. The Minister agrees. There will be places at boarding schools, but will those schools be topped up by local authorities? In Committee, the Minister said "Yes". The hon. Member for Harrow, West should reflect that it is a matter not of parental choice but of public money for private education. It is being done in anew way. Will he support a clause whereby additional moneys may be paid by the taxpayers and ratepayers of Harrow, in order to provide boarding education for some pupils in that borough?

Is the hon. Member for Harrow, West prepared to see some schools recruiting such pupils for the good of the school rather than for the good of the pupil? There will be a scramble for brains. We all know that there is competition within the private education sector. There is competition for Oxbridge entry and for A-level statistics. There is a market place. It is done in a gentlemanly way, behind closed doors. None the less, it exists. What is to prevent second-or third-rate private schools from muscling in on the scheme? They say that they will get bright boys from Harrow, and so on. If such pupils have to travel by train, they may get help towards the cost of that transport. We do not know. Such schools wish to improve their statistical academic performance.

In Committee, the Minister told us that he would oblige every maintained school to publish its examination results. Will there be a league of educational quality that is directly related to statistical examination results? I hope not. If such a league were to exist, schools would be able to demonstrate an apparently superior quality. The Secretary of State has not understood the difference between educational attainment that can be judged, perhaps, from public examination results, and innate educational quality. I do not believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman understands the difference. If he did so he would not have made the speech that he did at the beginning of the debate.

I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon. I meant to say in intervening.

The task of a schoolteacher or headmaster in dealing with pupils of all ranges of ability is harder and more exacting than that of a teacher in a selective school. Teachers in the private sector who are best known—those who write in the evening papers and appear on television—are guarded from most of the professional problems of the majority. They are protected by selection from having to deal with the commonest and most daunting tasks of professional educators. If the Secretary of State does not believe me, he has only to ask his Under-Secretary, who is sitting next to him. The Gentleman knows that that is true.

In producing the scheme, the Secretary of State is, in effect, harking back to the nineteenth century and producing a Poor Law complex—the idea that those who can afford it or who win scholarships can attain something genuine, but the remainder must make do with second-best. It is not surprising that he thinks that. In his county of Cheshire fewer than 2,500 non-handicapped pupils are sent to independent schools. In Trafford, not very far away, the number is 1,046. That education authority has rigid selection.

In its concept and assumptions, the scheme suggests that we do not have a national system but a nineteenth or early twentieth century system of rationed education—that real education is retained for the lucky 3 per cent., 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. The deserving poor can have access to that education but the remainder must take second-best. We reject that assumption and hope that the House will reject it by supporting the amendment.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) suggested that I had spoken at the beginning of the debate, and criticised my speech before I made it. I hope that he will now do me the kindness of listening to my reply and not discount that which I have not said before I have the opportunity to say it.

The hon. Member asked about boarding school places. I thought that we had made it clear that the assisted places scheme would not extend to boarding fees and would extend only to any part of the fee related to tuition in a boarding school. We also made it clear that schools would be able to offer assisted places to boarding pupils only where that was provided for in the participation agreement. Few, if any, places are likely to be offered in that way.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that a specific clause in the Bill allows local education authorities to top up at will? That was admitted in Committee. Will he admit it now?

I do not accept the phrase "at will". The clause allows for payment of the tuition element of boarding fees, if those fees are being paid from some other source. It would occur only if an arrangement was made between the Government and the individual school within the participation agreement to allow for those places.

12.30 am

I come back to the speech of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). At the beginning of that speech the hon. Member was at his most moderate and most seductive. He said that this was just a little amendment. All he was asking was that we should include consultations with local education authorities about the running of assisted places schools. If that were all that the amendment intended I would be happy to say at once that I accepted it.

In the letter that we sent to chief education officers on 6 December last year we made it clear that local education authorities would be notified of provisional responses to the letter of invitation from non-maintained schools in their localities and would be given an opportunity to make known to the Secretary of State their views about the operation of the scheme in their area if they wished to do so. The hon. Member for Bedwellty claimed that all he wanted was consultation, but it is already quite clear that we would consult.

The hon. Member knows full well that his "mild" amendment, which supposedly goes no further than consultation, is, in fact, aimed at totally frustrating and killing the assisted places scheme. It is clear that the debate that has developed tonight is about the principle behind the assisted places scheme.

The amendment would give the right of veto to any local education authority. It would enable it to say to any school that wished to take part in the scheme "We say that the independent schools in our area shall not participate". The local education authority would have the power to tell parents in the area who might wish to take part that they could not do so, for purely doctrinaire reasons. In other words, the hon. Member would give the right, at the diktat of local education authorities, to overrule the will of the House of Commons.

No, I shall not give way at the moment. If this amendment were accepted the hon. Member for Bedwellty would storm the country telling local authorities that they should refuse to take part in the scheme. Let us take the case of Manchester.—[HON MEMBERS: "Why not Blackpool?"]—I shall come to Blackpool in a moment. I shall have certain things to say to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell)—in the politest and kindest way, of course.

Just as the Manchester education authority has attempted to block the scheme put up by the Greater Manchester council to give financial assistance to those attending schools such as Manchester grammer, so the hon. Member for Bedwellty would wish to give power to the education authority to say that despite the fact that the scheme had been approved by Parliament, the education authority, because of its Socialist principles, should have the right to prevent a school of the calibre of Manchester grammar from taking part.

Therefore, the hon. Member would perpetuate a view that I find difficult to understand—a view that is constantly put forward by Labour Ministers, namely, that the high academic education that exists in many of these schools should be for ever limited to those who can afford to pay the fees, rather than made available to those whose children might benefit from it.

Does the Secretary of State not agree that the counterpart of the dictation that he is talking about is that he will allow non-elected governors of a school such as Manchester grammar school to dictate to the primary schools in the city that they should re-institute an 11-plus exam that they have got rid of? Is he saying that self-perpetuating, non-elected governing bodies should be given greater weight in their ability to dictate such matters than the democratically elected representatives of the people?

I do not accept that I am giving to the governors of Manchester grammar school the means to dictate to the primary schools in Manchester the type of curriculum that they should follow. I am providing the opportunity for parents in Manchester to send their children to Manchester grammar school, if they wish, on the basis not only of the size of the parents' purse but on the ability of the children.

The hon. Member for Bedwellty took me to task for the speech that I made in Manchester recently, and he took exception to the fact that I said that one of the advantages of an independent sector of education was that it provided a standard of comparison of performance against which the State sector could be judged. I cannot understand what objection the hon. Gentleman can have to the use of that phrase.

Let me put it the other way round. The existence of the State sector provides a standard of comparison of performance against which the independent sector can be judged.

The point is simple. If the hon. Member for Bedwellty examines the context of my speech he will see that the point was clear. I was saying that there were certain fundamental arguments in favour of having an independent sector of education.

One reason that I gave was the freedom of choice for parents to decide to educate their children and spend their money as they wish. The second reason that I mentioned was that the existence alongside the State sector of an independent sector provided a standard of comparison of performance against which the State sector would be judged. I find nothing discreditable to the State sector in that statement, and I do not intend to withdraw it.

I believe that my third reason was that the existence of a non-State-maintained sector prevented the possible future danger of too great a State intervention in our education system.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's third point was that the private system was so good because it was a demonstration of parental interest. In one speech, the Secretary of State defaced liberty by putting a price tag on it, undermined confidence in the maintained sector and taught parents that unless they paid they were somehow not meeting their obligations.

That is a gross exaggeration of my modest speech. I will look again at the speech, but I believe that I said that one of the important aspects of the success of a school was parental involvement, which is what a number of clauses in the Bill are about.

If parental interest leads to their involvement and therefore to interest in the schools and improvements in the standard of education it is something that the House ought to applaud.

I want, therefore, to leave the arguments of the hon. Member for Bedwellty—except to say that concerning the circular letter that we put out, certain replies, as I shall show shortly, are still coming in.

I repeat that the principle behind the assisted places scheme is that it should be complementary to the State scheme, to use the advantages that exist in certain of the independent schools to provide opportunity for individual children, which I do not believe can necessarily be adequately met in the schools in the area. The hon. Gentleman said that in proposing this argument—and I look back at his speeches—I was somehow slurring the State sector, that I was saying that this provision could not be made within the State sector. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the party that damaged the State sector was the party that withdrew the direct grant schools, which were then a part, basically, of the State sector. It was the Labour Government who, withdrawing the direct grant system, sent 123 of those direct grant schools into being independent schools and withdrew the facilities that up to that moment had been available to children in the maintained sector.

:The Catholic ones did. All that we are basically trying to do by this scheme is to restore the opportunities that existed at the direct grant schools to children in those areas.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just made a very important point. He talked about the need to make special provision for children in certain areas, all of which implies that he will be making some choice, when he chooses which schools can take part in the scheme, as to which parts of the country have some deficiency in the State education system. Will he really be doing that? Will he confine it to certain direct grant schools? If so, will be he consulting the local authorities of those areas and others in order to decide whether they are really the places which have these alleged deficiencies?

Of course I shall be consulting the LEAs. I shall also be assessing individual schools on their individual abilities and relating them to needs in the area; that I accept.

I want to come to the point of the hon. Member's question. He asked what the schools that are applying were. He implied that they are the second-rate schools. The situation is that to date there have been provisional replies from 430 of those schools and 113—[Interruption.] Provisional replies are what they were asked for. If I have got the wrong word, I apologise. They replied to express their provisional interest in involvement in the scheme, and 113 out of the 118 ex-direct grant school have indicated their interest in being involved in the scheme. Overall, the total number of places is now 12,000. Therefore, my intention and the desire that the scheme should be based basically on the old direct grant schools is, I believe, already being confirmed by the standard of school that is replying about the scheme.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman again drew upon the instance of that direct grant scheme and used it as evidence to show that it offered opportunities to children that now allegedly do not exist. Is he aware—if he had been on the Committee he would be aware of it—of the class background of the children attending the direct grant schools?

About 73 per cent. were from the administrative and professional classes, 20 per cent. were from skilled worker classes and 7 per cent. were from the unskilled worker class. That is the profile that will be continued through the assisted places scheme. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not be meeting one of his major objectives, which, allegedly, is to help poor children.

12.45 am

I should like to make two points. First, the financing of the assisted places scheme is different from that which existed previously.

Secondly, although this is a lesser point, the ex-direct grammar schools still have at the latter end of their school age group those who were the entry of the old direct grant schools.

I do not wish to be accused of knocking State education at all. However, I do not believe that anyone can, with honesty, say that certain centres of academic excellence in our industrial areas are not, for all kinds of historic reasons, based on the old direct grant schools. I used the example of Manchester grammar school. I shall take another example of a school which I recently visited. [Interruption.] The Labour Government threw them out by insisting that they could not continue with their previous status. That is what we are trying to restore.

I shall take another example—Bradford grammar school—where the former Chancellor of the Exchequer—the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—was a student. Recently, I went to the prize-giving at Bradford grammar school—an ex-direct grant school—andsaw that one could not but be impressed by the high academic results achieved there.

Of course. It is no criticism of the schools in the area to say that the results being achieved by the children at that school would not have been achieved by them if, instead of being at Bradford grammar school, they had been at other schools in the area. The ability to be educated in competition with those of one's own academic ability must have some reaction on the standard of education.

I am trying to answer the debate. In the end, I have the responsibility to consider—with respect, the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) got the legal basis wrong—the individual opportunities of the individual child. If I believe that a particular child of talent will benefit by attendance at certain of the old direct grant schools, it is a proper use of public money to assist that child to benefit from that education.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman concede that he has a responsibility to other children in the State education system? If, as he said, there is a greater talent available going to the direct grant schools and if he is saying that the parents of those children may be more involved in their children's education, how can he help to raise general educational standards for those children who cannot get entry to direct grant schools by withdrawing other pupils and the parental involvement that is necessary to ensure that education is improved?

The fundamental responsibility of any Secretary of State for Education and Science must be to the vast majority of the children in the State sector. I do not accept that the opportunities provided by the ex-direct grant system—now the assisted places scheme— will interfere with the opportunities available in the State sector. I have to weigh against that the effect of the opportunities for the individual child. I believe that we have the balance right.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, by the way in which he has embraced competition and the competitive virtue, and by the way in which he has applauded the attributes of the direct grant system, has given a strong and clear impression that it is his profound belief that he has to create this isolated separatist system to provide the opportunities about which he has been talking. But by that means he is discarding any interest in the children who are not in that sector.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about results. The 1977 Department of Education and Science statistics on school leavers who achieved one or more A-level passes as a percentage of those who attempted A-level examinations show 85·1 per cent. for comprehensive schools, 91·6 for grammar schools, 77·9 per cent. for modern schools and others, 95 per cent. for direct grant schools, 91·2 per cent. for independent schools, recognised as efficient, and 87·8 per cent. for all schools. That is the margin of difference between schools with the advantages of emphasis on academic achievement against schools with practically none of those advantages. There is no difference in the outturn.

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I believe that the old direct grant schools were a useful and valuable addition to the maintained sector of education available to children. I believe that we are right to restore that similar opportunity through the assisted places scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) talked about the scheme being politically unwise at this time. Of course, I realise that the Department, at this moment—I have never disguised the fact—is under serious financial restraint over education generally.

I have equally made clear that I would retain the timing and the speed and the degree of implementation of the assisted places scheme in my own hands. It is only right, in view of the speculation that has arisen in the press over recent weeks, and in view of certain remarks today, that I should make clear that my present plan is to start the scheme in 1981. I propose that it should start, in the first financial year, at a cost of £3 million, building up over the period to 1983–84 and providing for the admission of about 6,000 pupils a year. I would say to my hon. Friend that it is beyond belief that the spending of £3 million in this way against a total budget of £8 billion can possibly be expected to have the effect that he suggests.

I must tell my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North that one cannot go on arguing about marginal costs. The whole of the education expenditure is based on the idea of the cost of the individual child. The cost of the support under the assisted places scheme is likely to be very similar to the cost of educating that child free at the moment in the State scheme. I do not accept that the implementation of the assisted places scheme will have any adverse effect on the State education system.

I abstained on the Second Reading of the Bill because of this clause. My right hon. and learned Friend has repeated his undertaking, given on Second Reading and in Committee, to introduce the scheme in 1981. As the Government have to refer inevitably to the possibility of further public spending cuts in the period 1980–81, would it not be appropriate for him to consider deferring further the introduction of this scheme, even on a partial basis, bearing in mind the difference between expending public money on this scheme and reducing educational expenditure in all other areas?

I obviously had to consider this matter. I have decided that rather than defer the introduction of the scheme, the right decision would be to introduce it in 1981 but at half the level that I originally intended. The cost in that financial year will, therefore, be about £3 million.

I have listened on many occasions to the objections of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North to the scheme, but, with respect, one of the weakest arguments that he could have advanced tonight was the one that I can only describe as giving in to blackmail. He suggested that we should not go forward with the scheme because the Labour Party has threatened to do away with it in the future.

My hon. and learned Friend said that he thought it was reasonable to make special provision out of public funds for children to attend special schools where music is taught. If he accepts that in principle, whether it be the Yehudi Menuhin school or Chetham's school of music, what is the difference between that and providing help to children of high academic ability to enable them to go to a school of an academic bent?

The difference is quite clear. One is a specialised thing, which it is not a general requirement to provide; the other is fundamental to our whole education system. We ought to cherish our brightest children. One would have thought that a Secretary of State would hold on to them rather than give them away. We ought to use them.

My hon. and learned Friend uses the phrase "give them away", rather in the manner that another hon. Member talked earlier about urchins and gutters. I found those terribly unattractive phrases to use, even if characteristic. We are not talking about giving children away, or about poaching, or urchins, or gutters. We are trying to provide a system that will give the best educational opportunities to individual children in this country. If by not only making use of the existing maintained sector but making partial use of those provisions that already exist in the independent sector we can assist the opportunities available to individual children, we are right to do so. That is why I believe that the scheme is right and that the amendment is totally misguided.

The Minister, by his doctrinaire intransigence, has rendered himself quite impervious to reasoned argument. It does not matter what we say; the Conservative Party will go through with its elitist scheme. We know that. None the less, the arguments need to be put and are being put. We spent nearly 100 hours in Committee listening basically to one Conservative Member and putting our arguments there. Then we have to put up with new clauses that were not put during those 100 hours, and that apparently have emerged only in the last few hours.

The sheer arrogance of the argument to which we have just listened is almost unbelievable. Clause 17 begins with wording that is completely removed from reality, after all the long years of maintained education. It reads:
"For the purpose of enabling pupils who might otherwise not be able to do so to benefit from education at independent schools".
In all conscience, what does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think he is talking about? The implication in that is that somehow or other the maintained schools do not produce the standard of education that can be obtained in private schools. What utter claptrap—and of course, our people know it. That is why the Tory council of Blackpool and Tory councils throughout the country are opposed to any scheme to reintroduce the 11-plus examination. In fact, the Conservative Party knows that—in line with practically every other policy it has in every other sphere of human conduct—it is now defending the indefensible in education.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has no arguments whatever. Hon Members will only need to read his speech tomorrow to realise how barren of any real educational approach it was. All that we are asking him to do is to consult the local education authority before this programme is put into action.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has intoned, like an incantation, for years that the Conservative Party wants decentralisation, yet as soon as we ask for the local education authorities to be consulted we are told that that cannot be done. The right hon. and learned Gentleman actually used the word "diktat". He said that he did not want any diktat from local education authorities—those who are elected councillors carrying out policies at the chalk face. They are democratically elected. One Conservative Member used the expression "elected dictatorship". I do not know whether that exists, but the closest that we have come to it is with the Government, who are determined that no locally elected people shall have the power to issue a diktat.

1 am

Let us get down to brass tasks. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to consult local councillors, but wishes to resurrect the 11-plus examination. He believes that these schools can provide some special education which cannot be provided by the maintained sector. The right hon. and learned Gentleman heard his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) say that the results from schools in Blackpool, and other areas, in terms of O-and A-levels were as good as those in the private sector, even with the larger classes that exist in local authority schools.

We tried to raise other matters. We pointed out that the segregation of elitist children is not compatible with the comprehensive system. It means that certain parents and children will no longer have access to the comprehensive schools, nor will they be able to add their voices to discussions of the comprehensive system. Certain children will receive special concessions at a time when other children are having concessions removed. [Interruption.] When Conservative Members scream, I know that the facts hurt.

The National Union of Teachers said in a report:
"This Government proposes to increase significantly the revenue of the independent sector at a time when it is inflicting uprecedented cuts on the maintained sector. New money and new pupils are to be introduced to private education at the expense of the maintained sector. While county and voluntary schools face a period of reduced capitation and fewer pupils, restraints in the curriculum, the curtailment of subjects and even teacher redundancy, the Government by direct intervention proposes the expansion and new growth of private schools."
One reason why we wish local education authorities to be consulted is that we know that many of the schools will be filled with these new pupils and that new private schools will be established. That is precisely what the Conservative Party is after. It is not after merely a rebirth of the schools. It wants public money for those schools. It has always wanted public money for them.

When the previous Labour Administration curtailed public spending on private schools, Conservative hon. Members immediately screamed, and now the Government are returning public money to those schools at a time when they are cutting expenditure on other services, such as nursery schools. They wish to give £60 million to the children of their own supporters. That is the reality, and that is what the Labour Party is fighting against.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, apart from the handout of public money that will occur as a result of the assisted places scheme, fee-paying schools—they are called public schools, but that is a misnomer—also receive handouts by way of tax concessions? How many millions of pounds do such schools receive?

My hon. Friend is correct. The Conservative Party will draw from the Exchequer in the interests of its own children. Anybody who disagrees with that may intervene.

Splendid. I shall give way in a moment. Is it not a reality that a sum of £55 million is being taken from the education of our children generally to be given to a few children of Conservative Party supporters?

All that I can say is that one of the greatest reasons for having the House of Commons is that it keeps the hon. Gentlemen out of a primary school. I remain convinced that one can run an assisted places scheme at a lower cost to the common exchequer, as the hon. Gentleman called it, than the maintained system. If parents who would qualify for the assisted money were so confident about the system provided by the State, they would not choose to take up those places. The hon. Gentleman must face that reality. Can he say what proportion of the lower-income families who would benefit would want to try? As a Member of Parliament, does the hon. Gentleman believe that a county or education authority should have the right to say to those families that they are wrong and that he is right?

The hon. Gentleman must think that we are incredibly naive. Obviously he wants to get buckshee from public money what at present he has to pay for privately. We all know that. I remember the last time that the hon. Gentleman intervened in my speech. He told me that he had been educated in a comprehensive school. I checked, and discovered that he went to a public school and was in America for a short time, where no such schools exist.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not mind my correcting him, as I often have to do. What I said was that at the age of 11 I went to a comprehensive school.

It was in Washington DC. As it happens, when I went back to the school two years ago I discovered that it had been closed because families had had the opportunity of taking their children away from it as better schools were available.

The hon. Gentleman has made my point for me. When he spoke, he never told us that the school was in Washington. He led us to believe that it was in England.

I want to take up an important point about inspection. The local education authority has all its schools inspected by reputable inspectors. We want these schools inspected. For example, teachers who have been kicked out of the maintained sector and fled into the private sector, often because they have assaulted children—[Interruption.] It is all very well Conservative Members laughing, but I assure them that any teachers' union will confirm that these things occur, even though many teachers belong to a union to defend themselves against charges of that nature.

We want the capitation allowances, the number of books and the size of classes inspected by the local authority. We want the sizes of classrooms inspected. We want to ensure that the children who leave the splendid education in the maintained sector are not going to something much worse. That is the reality of what I am saying, because we can prove by results that the maintained sector is better than anything in the private sector. Therefore, we want to defend the maintained sector.

If the hon. Gentleman is seriously advancing that argument, is he saying that he has so little regard for the interest, concern or sense of parents that he believes that they will send their children to schools, often at their own expense, which are far worse than those in the State system? That is what he appears to be saying.

I conclude on this point—[Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been answered over and over again. He knows that my whole life proves that I am dedicated to the education of children. I made the terrible mistake of thinking, at one stage, that the Minister was similarly dedicated. But the right hon. Lady, his master, has told him to do something different. That is the reality.

I want to deal—

I want to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page), who was described by one of my hon. Friends as not being a mental giant. He mentioned his concern for parental choice. We all know how deeply concerned the Conservative Party is about parental choice in education. During all the years when there was an 11-plus examination, 85 per cent. of parents had no choice whatever. It depended upon whether there was a grammar school in the area and the variation in the IQ of the children. In some areas children with an 10 of 100 got a place, and in other areas their IQ had to be an average of 117 before they were

Division No. 176]


[1.15 pm

Abse, LeoBooth, Rt Hon AlbertClark, Dr David (South Shields)
Adams, AllenBoothroyd, Miss BettyCocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Allaun, FrankBray, Dr JeremyCohen, Stanley
Alton, DavidBrown, Hugh D. (Provan)Coleman, Donald
Anderson, DonaldBrown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBrown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)Conlan, Bernard
Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestBrown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Cook, Robin F.
Ashley, Rt Hon JackBuchan, NormanCowans, Harry
Ashton, JoeCallaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Campbell, IanCrowther, J. S.
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Campbell-Savours, DaleCryer, Bob
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Canavan, DennisCunliffe, Lawrence
Beith, A. J.Cant, R. B.Cunningham, George (Islington S)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodCarmichael, NeilCunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Carter-Jones, LewisDalyell, Tam
Bidwell, SydneyCartwright, JohnDavidson, Arthur

accepted. It also depended upon the number of grammar school places that were available. All the other children were consigned to secondary modern schools, and a serious attempt is now being made by the Conservatives not merely to bring back the 11-plus but to resurrect the secondary modern school for our children. We shall fight that tooth and nail.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West talked about parental choice, but we never saw him get to his feet along with the other hon. Members to defend the parental choice of the 85 per cent. of parents whose children went to a secondary modern school whether they like it or not.

The Conservatives are a race of hypocrites out for something for themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw,"] I withdraw the word "hypocrite". The Conservatives are engaging in hypocrisy. Is that better? They want something for nothing, and they want it at the expense of our children. We shall not let them have it if we can avoid it.

May I intervene for 30 seconds to deal very kindly with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and remind him that even in the great ILEA, which has officially got rid of the 11-plus, during the last two months 11-year-old children have been taking the 11-plus examination, so that many of them will not be able to go to a school of their parents' choice because they are too bright, too dim or too average. The 11-plus is still there.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 239, Noes 292.

Davies, I for (Gower)Jones, Barry (East Flint)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRichardson, Jo
Deakins, EricKerr, RussellRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Kilroy-Silk, RobertRoberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Dempsey, JamesKinnock, NeilRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Dewar, DonaldKnox, DavidRobertson, George
Dixon, DonaldLambie, DavidRobinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Dobson, FrankLamborn, HarryRodgers, Rt Hon William
Dormaad, JackLamond, JamesRooker, J. W.
Douglas, DickLeadbitter, TedRoper, John
Douglas-Mann, BruceLeighton, RonaldRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
Dubs, AlfredLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Duffy, A. E. P.Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)Rowlands, Ted
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Ryman, John
Dykes, HughLitherland, RobertSever, John
Eadie, AlexLofthouse, GeoffreySheerman, Barry
Easiham, KenLyon, Alexander (York)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
English, MichaelMcCartney, HughSilverman, Julius
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)McElhone, FrankSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Evans, John (Newlon)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Ewing, HarryMcKelvey, WilliamSnape, Peter
Faulds, AndrewMacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorSoley, Clive
Field, FrankMaclennan, RobertSpearing, Nigel
Flennery, MartinMcMahon, AndrewSpriggs, Leslie
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)Stallard, A. W.
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMcNally, ThomasSteel, Rt Hon David
Forrester, JohnMcNamara, KevinStoddart, David
Foster, DerekMcWilliam, JohnStott, Roger
Foulkes, GaorgeMagee, BryanStrang, Gavin
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Marks, KennethStraw, Jack
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMarshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Freud, ClementMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
George, BruceMaxton, JohnThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMeacher, MichaelThomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Golding, JohnMellish, Rt Hon RobertThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Graham, TedMikardo, IanThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Grant, George (Morpeth)Millan, Rt Hon BruceTilley, John
Grant, John (Islington C)Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)Torney, Tom
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyMorris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Haynes, FrankMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Weetch, Ken
Healey, Rt Hon DenisMorton, GeorgeWellbeloved, James
Heffer, Eric S.Moyle, Rt Hon RolandWelsh, Michael
Hicks, RobertMulley, Rt Hon FrederickWhite, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Newens, StanleyWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWhitehead, Phillip
Home Robertson, JohnOgden, EricWhitlock, William
Homewood, WilliamO'Neill, MartinWigley, Dafydd
Hooley, FrankOrme, Rt Hon StanleyWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Horam, JohnOwen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Howells, GeraintPalmer, ArthurWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Huckfield, LesPark, GeorgeWinnick, David
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Parry, RobertWoodall, Alec
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Pavitt, LaurieWrigglesworth, Ian
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Pendry, TomWright, Sheila
Janner, Hon GrevillePenhaligon, DavidYoung, David (Bolton East)
Jay, Rt Hon DouglasPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
John, BrynmorPrescott, JohnTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)Mr. James Hamilton and
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Race, RegMr. James Tinn.


Adley, RobertBevan, David GilroyBrooke, Hon Peter
Aitken, JonathanBiffen, Rt Hon JohnBrotherton, Michael
Alexander, RichardBiggs-Davison, JohnBrown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)
Ancram, MichaelBlackburn, JohnBrowne, John (Winchester)
Arnold, TomBlaker, PeterBruce-Gardyne, John
Aspinwall, JackBody, RichardBryan, Sir Paul
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Bonsor, Sir NicholasBuck, Antony
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Boscawen, Hon RobertBudgen, Nick
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Bulmer, Esmond
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Bowden, AndrewButcher, John
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Boyson, Dr RhodesCadbury, Jocelyn
Banks, RobertBradford, Rev. R.Carlisle, John (Luton West)
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBraine, Sir BernardCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bendall, VivianBright, GrahamCarlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Brinton, TimChalker, Mrs Lynda
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Brittan, LeonChannon, Paul
Best, KeithBrocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherChapman, Sydney

Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Johnson Smith, GeoffreyRaison, Timothy
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRathbone, Tim
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Cockeram, EricKaberry, Sir DonaldRees-Davies, W. R.
Colvin, MichaelKershaw, AnthonyRenton, Tim
Cope, JohnKing, Rt Hon TomRhodes James, Robert
Cormack, PatrickKitson, Sir TimothyRidley, Hon Nicholas
Corrie, JohnLamont, NormanRidsdale, Julian
Costain, A. P.Lang, IanRifkind, Malcolm
Cranborne, ViscountLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Critchley, JulianLatham, MichaelRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)
Crouch, DavidLawrence, IvanRost, Peter
Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Lawson, NigelRoyle, Sir Anthony
Dickens, GeoffreyLee, JohnSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Dorrell, StephenLe Marchant, SpencerSt. John Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Dover, DenshoreLennox-Boyd, Hon MarkScott, Nicholas
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardLester, Jim (Beeston)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Durant, TonyLloyd, Peter (Fareham)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLoveridge, JohnShepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Luce, RichardShersby, Michael
Eggar, TimothyLyell, NicholasSilvester, Fred
Emery, PeterMcCrindle, RobertSims, Roger
Fairbairn, NicholasMacfarlane, NeilSkeet, T, H. H.
Fairgrieve, RussellMacGregor, JohnSmith, Dudley (War, and Leam'ton)
Faith, Mrs SheilaMacKay, John (Argyll)Speed, Keith
Farr, JohnMcNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)Speller, Tony
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Spence, John
Finsberg, GeoffreyMcCuarrie, AlbertSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Fisher, Sir NigelMadel, DavidSpicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)Major, JohnSproat, Iain
Fookes, Miss JanetMarland, PaulSquire, Robin
Format, NigelMarlow, TonyStainton, Keith
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMarshall, Michael (Arundel)Stanbrook, Ivor
Fox, MarcusMarten, Neil (Banbury)Stanley, John
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Mates, MichaelSteen, Anthony
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Maude, Rt Hon AngusStevens, Martin
Fry, PeterMawby, RayStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Gardiner George (Reigate)Mawhinney, Dr BrianStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinStokes, John
Garel-Jones, TristanMayhew, PatrickStradling Thomas, J.
Glimour, Rt Hon Sir IanMellor, DavidTaylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Glyn, Dr AlanMeyer, Sir AnthonyTebbit, Norman
Goodhart, PhilipMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Temple-Morris, Peter
Goodlad, AlastairMills, Iain (Meriden)Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Gorst, JohnMills, Peter (West Devon)Thomas, Rt Hon peter (Hendon S)
Gow, IanMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Thompson, Donald
Gower, Sir RaymondMoate, RogerThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Molyneaux, JamesThornton, Malcolm
Gray, HamishMonro, HectorTownend, John (Bridlington)
Greenway, HarryMontgomery, FergusTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Grieve, PercyMoore, JohnTrippier, David
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)Trotter, Neville
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)van Straubenzee, W. R.
Grist, IanMorrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Grylls, MichaelMudd, DavidViggers, Peter
Gummer, John SelwynMurphy, ChristopherWaddinglon, David
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Myles, DavidWakeham, John
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Neale, GerrardWaldegrave, Hon William
Hampson, Dr KeithNeedham, RichardWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Hannam, JohnNelson, AnthonyWaller, Gary
Haselhurst, AlanNeubert, MichaelWard, John
Hastings, StephenNewton, TonyWarren, Kenneth
Hawksley, WarrenNott, Rt Hon JohnWatson, John
Hayhce, BarneyOnslow, CranleyWells, John (Maidstone)
Heddle, JohnPage, John (Harrow, West)Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd a Stev'nage)
Henderson, BarryPage, Rt Hon Sir R. GrahamWheeler, John
Haseltine, Rt Hon MichaelPage, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Parkinson, CecilWhitney, Raymond
Hill, JamesParris, MatthewWickenden, Keith
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Patten, Christopher (Bath)Wiggin, Jerry
Holland, Philip (Carlton)Patten, John (Oxford)Wilkinson, John
Hooson, TomPattle, GeoffreyWilliams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Hordern, PeterPawsey, JamesWinterton, Nicholas
Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyPercival, Sir IanWollson, Mark
Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Pink, R. BonnerYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Pollock, AlexanderYounger, Rt Hon George
Hunt, David (Wirral)Porter, George
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hurd, Hon DouglasPrice, David (Eastleigh)Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Proctor, K. HarveyMr. Carol Mather.
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPym, Rt Hon Francis

Question accordingly negatived.