Report (3rd Day)
Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)
My Lords, I intend to support my noble friend Lady Flather, but before so doing I would like to support the remarks made my noble friends Lord Quirk and Lord Northbourne. My wife is a speech and language therapist who works with autistic children. Although they fall into the special category that my noble friend Lady O'Neill has just referred to, my wife would emphasise-and I would too, from my own background working in education-that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, is right: it is a catastrophe if a child does not have language in place. Earlier today, there was a Question during Question Time about restorative justice. Anyone who goes into any prison and meets some of those who are now in prison because of their participation in the riots earlier this year will know that there is a link with language deficiency and with literacy as well. If we are ever going to get these things right, we will have to spend a lot more time and energy on language, literacy and the early years development that my noble friend Lord Northbourne has made a personal crusade for so long.
I particularly want to speak in favour of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. My reason for doing so is that I drafted the original amendment on community cohesion which was incorporated in the previous education Bill. My noble friend Lord Sutherland and my noble friend the late Lord Dearing were other signatories. We took the amendment to the Government. I personally went to see the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I was very pleased when he accepted the amendment, which included that this matter should be inspected by Ofsted. That was put forward 24 hours later, in place of the amendment which we had drafted, as a government amendment, and was accepted in the legislation. I think that the House took the right decision, because it was not singling out one category of schools and saying that they may be a problem with community cohesion; it was saying that all schools have to promote community cohesion. However, that has to be measured, and it is right that it should be measured by Ofsted.
I find it extraordinary that this is being removed at this stage from the legislation. I therefore hope that the Minister can give an undertaking that it will be reviewed. This is too important a question just to leave to one side. That amendment was passed because of concerns that people raised about specific schools where there might be ideological or narrow agendas, and it was to ensure that such things did not happen that this was included in the legislation.