I hope that the Opposition will not claim that the Education (Schools) Bill has not been given full scrutiny by Parliament or that they require longer than the two hours that we are making available for the House to consider amendments made in another place. The Bill has had more than 40 hours of debate in the House and more than 30 hours of debate in the House of Lords.
I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) will remind us that the Bill was guillotined on Report, but he should also remember that that was done in curious circumstances. We had first agreed that it would be reported in one day, but the first day was taken up with delaying tactics and most of the second day was taken up with talking about the guillotine motion. The Bill was, ultimately, fully debated in Standing Committee without any need for timetabling. The final sitting agreed for Committee discussion was not used and the Bill had more than 36 hours of Committee debate.
There was full debate on the Bill in another place. We responded to suggestions with flexibility and tabled amendments at the request of the Opposition, sometimes, in the other place. We have accepted the results of Divisions there that were carried against us. The Bill as it now stands should be reasonably non-controversial and widely welcomed, if the Opposition now support the fundamental aspects of the parents charter.
The Government were defeated twice in the House of Lords and propose to accept those defeats. I have with me the parents charter. The changes made in the House of Lords do not alter one word of the document. It has been fought ferociously up and down the country by some elements of the Labour party, who have refused to distribute it to schools as they say that it is some sort of political document.
In so far as I understand the Labour party to have an education policy at all, I think that it is now converted to the idea of league tables for schools so that the public are aware of the comparative performances of different schools. I hope that it is converted to the idea of independent inspection and the notion that inspectors' reports should be sent unsolicited to parents.
In that case, some members of the Labour party, including the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) who speaks for one of the more reactionary sections of the Labour party, will continue to argue that education, at least in Newham, should remain a closed world without a great amount of information being given to parents or the public in that borough.
I believe that we shall find that the country is anxious to receive the benefits of the parents charter and that we can now proceed, in a fairly rapid debate, to take the Bill on to the statute book. I admit that there are many issues to be encompassed by our debates. The Bill secures regular inspection to high standards; reasonable, published reports to parents; follow-up action by governors; and comparative tables of key information to parents. The changes made at this stage are largely those of organisation, not substance. The parents charter Bill is now ready for enactment.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that two of the most important aspects of the parents charter are that people will know the staying-on rates of children at school and, in districts such as London, they will also know the truancy rates?
They will know the staying-on rates, the truancy rates and the examination results of all the schools so that it will be possible to compare the performances of all the schools that are in similar circumstances.
The hon. Members for Newham, North-West and for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) exploded with rage when I mentioned those provisions, and appeared reluctant to have such information given to the parents of Newham.
I shall give way in a moment, but that is all of a piece with the attitude of both those Newham Members who have used the difficulties in Stratford school as an excuse to try to get rid of Mrs. Snelling, who has done a great deal to improve that school. They are still demanding her head on a salver because she defied the Newham Labour party and Newham council by giving the school grant-maintained status, which she successfully achieved. Having criticised the voice of Newham when it barracked me, I shall give way to it.
I hope that I shall talk about Stratford school later in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and I wanted to challenge the Secretary of State's reference to independent inspectors. Is he saying that, in that sense, Her Majesty's inspectorate is not independent? If so, that is a slur on HMI.
HMI will continue to carry out inspections, and always would under the Government's proposals. HMI has never gone in for systematic inspection of all schools and reporting to parents. Indeed, it would have taken it more than 100 years to produce individual reports on primary schools at the rate at which it was going. The Government proposed that the inspection of schools should be carried out by inspectors registered with HMI—some would be local government inspectors, some would be outside consultants and experts approved by HMI.
We accepted amendments that proposed that HMI should have a veto over a school's choice of inspectors. Their lordships have taken the matter further and stated that HMI should not only register for the inspectors carrying out the systematic inspectors but should select the inspectors in the case of each school. The Government are prepared to accept that. I think that the principal practical difference will be that more schools will choose independent, non-local authority inspectors than would otherwise do so. HMI would be unlikely to choose local authority inspectors in every case, whereas the average body of school governors would be likely to choose the local authority inspectors in its district if the local authority had inspectors that come up to HMI standards, which quite a few local authority inspectors would do.
Everyone considers local authority inspection to be patchy and of variable standards, and that has always been the opinion of HMI. I think that that view is widely accepted by those involved in the subject.
In future, under the Bill, all inspection will be carried out by people who comply with the criteria laid down by HMI and meet HMI standards. We are prepared to start on the basis that HMI will select the inspectors for each school. As a result, the parents charter Bill is now ready for enactment. It is a great change in the culture of education in this country. It has not been rushed through but has received all the necessary scrutiny. I hope that, now, the Opposition will not try to make it fall victim to time-wasting and delaying tactics.
I confirm that my outburst and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was targeted not only at what the Secretary of State said but at the fact that he did not have the courtesy to give way. What he said about inspectors was clearly a reflection on the independence of the existing inspectorate. He may be quite right in saying that inspectors cannot go to all schools, but that is a different issue.
On the subject of what the Secretary of State asks of the inspectors, is he aware that, despite his ministerial colleague stating that Stratford school was working well—or words to that effect—the Secretary of State's answer to us was that the last time that an inspector of his Department went into that school was 1991? If he has not received any reports on that school recently, how can he tell the House accurately how that school is progressing?
If the outburst of the two hon. Members was caused by taking my reference to independent inspectors as an attack on Her Majesty's inspectorate, that was simply a complete misunderstanding on their part. The hon. Member for Newham, South will know that the Bill makes Her Majesty's inspectorate more independent of the Government than hitherto. In future, Her Majesty's chief inspector will be a much more powerful and independent watchdog figure than he was before and than he would be under Labour's proposals. The Labour party would promptly make him subordinate to a new quango of the great and the good and the usual educational interests that it proposes to set up. We are setting up the post of HMCI, who will have an important role in monitoring inspection of schools and advising the Government—that has never been threatened by the Bill. He will play a key role in the selection of those inspectors who carry out the parents charter type inspections of 6,000 schools a year and report to parents.
I have always believed that inspectors should be independent of schools. I do not think, as Labour appeared to believe until it voted otherwise in the House of Lords, that all the inspectors should be employed by a local authority to inspect only that local authority's schools and should then be expected to be critical of that local authority if there were failings when they reported to parents. The system that we envisage is much better and the whole education world will be opened up to much more independent, open scrutiny. That can only benefit the good schools and the many dedicated teachers we have, as it will identify weaknesses and correct them, and build on strengths school by school. That is why I hope that the Bill will proceed without any further delay of the rather absurd kind that we had on Report.
I am sorry to disappoint the Secretary of State, but we oppose this guillotine. If anybody wanted any convincing about our justification for opposing it, he need only look at the Amendment Paper and see that the Secretary of State is expecting the House to debate 38 groups of amendments and amendments to amendments in eight separate debates, and have votes, within a single hour. That shows an arrogance and a contempt of democratic procedures which have typified this Administration. The guillotine is doubly unacceptable, given that the Bill and the amendments were not delivered back to the House until this morning and hon. Members on both sides had only a few hours in which to table amendments to amendments and to consider the merits of amendments made in the other place.
The Secretary of State said that it had been agreed that the Report stage in the House of Commons should last one day. I should put it on record that there was never any such agreement either between the Front Bench teams or through the usual channels. Such an agreement was neither entered into nor even sought by the Minister of State or by the Government Whip. We ran into two days solely because of the incompetence of the Government Whips Office.
We had no need to do so, as 23 debates were to be squeezed into one day because of the incompetence of the Government Whips Office, who did not understand that there was no way in which those 23 debates could conceivably be contained within the six hours of debate allocated.
Thirteen years ago, this Administration came to power promising that they would "promote higher standards" in basic educational skills. Today, the public learned more of the truth of the Government's failure to achieve that promise and their neglect of a whole generation of the nation's young. A major study, including work by the National Foundation for Educational Research, shows Britain bottom of the class in terms of shortages of primary school books, almost bottom on shortages of secondary school books and just one from bottom on overcrowding of classrooms. We are in a worse position in comparison not only with our major competitors, but with Hungary, Portugal, Jordan and even Slovenia.
Four weeks ago, we learned in another NFER report that reading standards for seven-year-olds had shown an alarming decline of three months in the four years since 1987, when the latest and largest round of experiments on other people's children were introduced under the euphemism of "reforms". Last week, we saw the Secretary of State wriggling, squirming and blaming everyone but himself for yet another damning report by HMI, showing that 20 per cent. of children continue to be poorly taught in reading.
In an unusually candid admission last year, the Secretary of State told the House that after 12 years
we still lag behind our competitors in the participation of our school leavers in further education and training, and their achievement of useful qualifications."—[Official Report, 21 March 1991; Vol. 188, c. 432.]
To answer that dismal record, the Secretary of State introduced his so-called parents charter and the Bill on which he is now seeking to curtail discussion. It was Lord Beloff—a Conservative peer, and one who, as the Secretary of State would concede, is no wet—said that the Bill was:
the silliest Bill that any Parliament has ever had to consider." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 February 1992; Vol. 535, c. 634.]
He went on to say that the other place had never been given "the slightest indication—"
Of course I will paraphrase. I will do every justice to the noble lord. He considered that their lordships could see no sign of any thought having gone into the Bill. Should Conservative Members wish to ensure that my paraphrase is close to the words used, I refer them to the Official Report of the other place of 11 February 1992 at column 635.
Lord Beloff, whom I believe that the Secretary of State just described as dotty—I am sure that Lord Beloff will be interested to have that on the record, as it shows what little honour there is among those in the Conservative party —was correct. As the elements of the Bill were examined in this House and in the other place, its core simply dissolved. The truly bizarre proposition was that schools should be allowed to pick, choose and pay their own inspectors from the ranks of private, money-making consultants, with the power of local education authorities to make inspections in schools when things went wrong removed altogether, and with HMI reduced in size and therefore in facility and ability from 475 members clown to 170.
That is all right so long as they vote for me.
I would expect nothing else, as I was brought up in the same area and I have some knowledge of, and affection for, such car dealers. I would far rather be on a desert island or in a voting booth with an Arthur Daley than I would with that lot on the other side.
Given that this extraordinary description of the provisions appeared to satisfy one or two of the more eccentric of their lordships and also the hon. Gentleman, will he explain how Arthur Daley was meant to get the approval of HMI to get on the register of HMI in the first place so that he could be selected by the schools? Will he explain why HMI would not have used the veto given by the Bill to overrule an unwise choice by the school? As he knows, the amendment that has been carried in the Lords does not change a great deal other than the mechanics for selecting the inspectors.
While the hon. Gentleman quotes my noble Friend Lord Beloff in his general judgments of the Bill, is it not the case, when one moves off this provision, that the Labour party is now thinking of being in favour of league tables, outside inspections, reports to parents and all the other policies embodied in the Bill?
I shall deal with our policy in a moment. The Secretary of State shows an ignorance of the detail of his own Bill. The reason why Arthur Daley would have been able to slip through the original scheme was that only the registered inspectors—those in charge of each of the inspection teams—would have been subject to any scrutiny by HMI. That point was understood by both sides of this House and, more to the point, by both sides of the other place. Because there would be only 40 registered inspectors responsible for checking on up to 3,000 to 4,000 inspectors, all sorts of dodgy characters would be likely to get though the net.
The Secretary of State could not be bothered to serve on the Standing Committee. He always likes to travel light, and he had not bothered to consider the detail of the Bill. There were some extraordinary admissions in Committee by the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State about freelance inspectors who would be roaming the country—[Interruption.] I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) here for what will be his last debate on education in this place.
Of course not.
The proposal was for roaming, specialist inspectors who would be inspecting provision for the deaf in Devon one day and, if they could find a train, going to Durham the next day. The Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State admitted in Committee that schools would be allowed to pick and choose their inspectors according, not least, to the particular dogma that a school was following. I guess that the Under-Secretary of State has fled to Darlington to try to garner a few votes before his defeat on 9 April. I am surprised that he is not here, as he seemed very attached to the Bill. I wonder whether he will have much to say about it during the next four weeks.
The Under-Secretary of State made the stunning admission in Committee that if a school was following a kind of discredited dogma, which the Secretary of State certainly does not share, of having children sitting around tables not learning anything, with progressive education and all that, it could choose inspectors who shared that dogma. Quite what that would do to raise standards, I am not sure. No one could explain how such a Bill would raise standards. Virtually no Conservative Member with any knowledge of education, from left or right, volunteered anything in detailed support of the Bill.
One reason why it is preposterous for the Secretary of State to railroad the Bill through the House in the dying days of this Administration is that it has come back to us in a markedly different form. The other place inflicted two major defeats on the Secretary of State. We need much more time to consider those changes and their impact on the rest of the Bill. Amendment No. 111 in the other place—amendment No. 11 here—removes the right of schools to pick and choose their own inspectors and relaces it with a power for the senior chief inspector to appoint the inspectors.
As I said earlier, the Secretary of State travels light and does not pay attention to the detail. For a long time he misled himself, if nobody else, about the nature of Labour's policy on inspection. As became manifest in Committee, the officials had read the fine document, "Raising the standard", as had the two junior Ministers. The document sets out our proposals for an education standards commission which will take HMI under its wing, and for those inspectors on the commission to supervise and direct the work of local inspectors who would be at arm's length from the local authority. That proposal is fully consistent with amendment No. 111 in the other place. That is precisely why my noble Friends Baroness Blackstone and Lord Peston moved the amendment and those associated with it. Had the amendments been inconsistent with Labour policy, they would not have done that.
I understand from your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that rather than paraphrase I can directly quote a Minister in the other place. I am glad to have that approbation.
Does my hon. Friend agree—I hope that the Secretary of State does—that it is difficult to find any member of the general public, throughout the country, who agrees with the Bill? Almost the entire teaching profession is opposed to the Bill. It would be charming of the Secretary of State if he could tell us who, other than the Tory party—driven to the wall as it is—agrees with the Bill.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. To encourage individuals and organisations to come forward, we offered a generous prize of a week in Europe to any Government Member who could name a single organisation that supported the Bill.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) always accuses me of not studying Labour policy closely. I take out my microscope from time to time, to try to scrutinise it with considerable care, but it is difficult to see that speck of policy. The hon. Gentleman argues that the Bill, as amended in another place, is consistent with Labour policy. I assume that, despite the hon. Gentleman's wish to have more time to scrutinise the Bill, he supports the system of schools inspections as amended by Labour peers. I do not believe that is so, and that the amendment received Opposition support in another place because a collection of 1960s peers happened to be hidden away until half-past nine in the evening, when it was voted on. It does not bear the slightest relation to Labour's policy during the earlier stages of the Bill.
If the hon. Member for Blackburn is trying to persuade me that the Bill as amended is now consistent with the amazing document that Labour published, presumably he is also saying that it has Labour's approval.
That would be more than he could bear, I should imagine.
Yes, but I was about to tell the Secretary of State that the Lords amendment was fully consistent with Labour policy. Regrettably, not every one of our amendments was carried, so the Bill is not in quite the shape that would allow us to support it.
I allowed the Secretary of State to intervene because I thought that he was going to pop up with the name of an organisation that supports the Bill—perhaps that which represents parents in his own constituency. The Bill is apparently meant as a parents charter, but the body that speaks more for parents than the Secretary of State is the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations. Two days ago, it wrote to all right hon. and hon. Members pleading with them to oppose the Bill because of its serious effects on our children; the NCPTA rightly believes that the Bill will damage children's education.
When the amendment was considered in another place the Minister of State, Baroness Blatch, said—I presume with the approval of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and according to a brief provided by the Department:
The amendment seeks to tear the heart out of the Bill by substituting a centralised regime in place of a system based upon choices by governing bodies. The noble Baroness"—
said that I would be likely to proclaim this a wrecking amendment. It is just that. It would replace the Government's preferred scheme with another scheme … it totally invalidates the scheme which is set out in the Bill … I want Members of the Committee to realise that the amendment removes a key element of our proposals, namely that those choosing the inspectors should also be responsible and publicly answerable both for the current state of the school and for taking action on the recommendations which flow from the inspections."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 March 1992; Vol. 536, c. 662.]
The following morning, in a radio interview, the Secretary of State blamed the trade unions for the Government's defeat in another place—though how they managed that, no one quite knows. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is usually fluent even when he has a weak case—and a great deal more fluent at any time than the Prime Minister. However, on the "Today" programme, he was apoplectic to the point of incoherence. Asked whether he ought not to be grateful to the Lords for saving him from an act of folly, he said that
we are intending, as the Labour Party … to the object … in face of objections from the Labour Party, to open up inspection to the outside world.
He spent the rest of the interview burbling, trying to explain away the depth of his defeat in the House of Lords. The BBC transcript is an accurate reflection of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said and how he said it.
I will give way to the Secretary of State in a moment. Even the Daily Express—which normally takes orders from Conservative central office like a lamb—deserted him. Its editorial on Wednesday told him to think again, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman went to ground on the Thursday. The House and the country having been told that the Lords amendments tore the heart out of the Bill and removed a key element of the Government's proposals, it was on the Friday that the right hon. and learned Gentleman issued an incredible and laughable statement in which he said that he would accept the amendments. He said that they were only minor matters in the context of the inspection of schools. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will explain what change took place between the Minister of State saying that the amendments would tear the heart out of the Bill and the Secretary of State, saying that they were only minor matters.
First, I advise the hon. Gentleman to get a better audio typist. He keeps insisting that I was apoplectic with rage—that is always his description—but I was rather amused by the farcical performance in the other place, with so many Labour and Liberal peers rushing out of bars in the middle of the evening to vote for an amendment which I continue to insist bore not the slightest resemblance to Labour party policy before that day. The hon. Gentleman continues to claim a great triumph, but if he reads the parents charter from cover to cover he will understand that the two great victories in the other place do not change a word in the charter. I am still waiting to hear which bit of the charter the Labour party is still against, if it is continuing to oppose the Bill.
The Secretary of State did not answer the question that I put to him. I asked him how an amendment which apparently tore the heart out of the Bill turned into a minor matter on Friday last week. The amendment did tear the heart out of the Bill, and I suspect that it tore a bit of the heart out of the Secretary of State.
The other amendment that was agreed to in another place reflected an argument that was resisted almost to the bitter end in this place. It took up the sensible suggestion that in some circumstances local education authorities should be given power to inspect between cyclical inspections to fill the void in the orginal scheme presented in the Bill.
Other parts of the Bill are as objectionable as they were when the measure was first introduced. It is now riven by an incoherence between those parts of it that would implement Labour policy and those that contain the undiluted dogma of the Conservative right. There is a need for more time so that we can try to bring together the two parts of the strange animal with which we are left.
I will again paraphrase the words of Lord Beloff, who was damning of the idea of what could be described as commercial inspections of schools. However, commercial inspection, or the privatisation of the inspectorate, remains in the Bill, as does the emasculation of the inspectorate. For example, clause 15 provides that a local authority's inspection service must be entirely self-financing from the tenders, if any, that it wins under the four-year cycle of inspection. If an authority fails to win sufficient tenders, there can be no local inspection service in a given area. There is no power and no funding arrangement to run a local inspection service if the local authority does not win tenders.
Amendment No. 21 would provide the local education authority with power to inspect between cyclical inspections, but that has to be inspection by an officer of the local authority. I ask the Secretary of State whether that officer can be one of the LEA inspectors, if there is a self-financing LEA inspection service. If there is not, where will the expertise come from? The amendment is explicit. It provides, as I have said, that inspections must be undertaken by officers of the authority. In areas where there is no local authority inspection service, we are likely to end up with inspectors without the necessary expertise having to try to inspect schools where there are problems. Those are crucial issues that we do not have time to debate.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that that leads to the conclusion that all these measures to diminish or even eliminate local authority inspection, whatever their merits, have been introduced by the Secretary of State to pave the way for the disappearance of local education authorities altogether? Has the Secretary of State ever denied that that is his real purpose?
On the front page of The Times this morning, there is an article stating that the Secretary of State has it in mind to replace local education authorities with a new, centralised bureaucracy to run those schools that have opted out. At a time when everybody else is devolving the administration of education and giving power to local communities, we find that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is introducing new systems of centralised control.
The hon. Gentleman used the word "bureaucracy". As he well knows, I have been visiting the schools in my constituency where, time after time, headmasters have said to me that they could not imagine what the county ever did with that money. They also said that they are using the money that they have been given to spend on administration to do all sorts of other things. They told me that they wonder what on earth the county did with that money when it had it. The trouble was that the bureaucracy was so overweening. We should be delighted to get rid of the Lancashire education authority.
The only reason why the hon. Lady wants to get rid of Lancashire education authority is that her party failed to win control of Lancashire in successive county elections.
The Secretary of State spoke at length about the parents charter leading to the provision of information to parents. Our position on that is clear. To answer a direct question that he put to me, we did not vote in Committee against clause 16 stand part. Had he wished to salvage the wreckage of the Bill by getting rid of the ludicrous arrangement that we have ended up with for inspection, by including a provision that would have allowed information to be given, he could have had the Bill. The Secretary of State must have been aware of that, because we did riot vote against clause 16. He could have had the Bill, despite the fact that clause 16, for all the propaganda that he has tried to make out of it, provides few additional information-giving powers on top of those provided for in the 1986 and 1988 Acts. He knows that the powers that he has already exercised in respect of the provision of information on the key stage 1 tests derive from the 1988 Act, not from the Bill.
What makes an even greater mockery of this guillotine is the fact that, in my view, no sensible Government would begin to implement the dog's breakfast of an inspection system provided for in the Bill. When we form the next Government, we shall move quickly to establish, by means of our educational standards Bill, an education standards commission which will be powerful and independent of Ministers. It will report to Parliament and bring within its ambit Her Majesty's inspectorate. Moreover, it will supervise and direct the local inspectorate. It will also inspect local education authorities. That will provide parents and governors with new guarantees of education standards for their children and with real power to seek redress from the commission when standards fall.
I hope that during the next four weeks the Secretary of State will not try to con people about the independence of the inspectorate under his proposals. He is the person who will be given the power in the Bill to appoint the senior chief inspector. I hope that he has taken time to find out about the headhunting that is going on for the new senior chief inspector. To my certain knowledge, all kinds of people with absolutely no knowledge or experience of education are being approached by these headhunters to put themselves forward as potential candidates for the job.
Under Labour's proposals, which the hon. Gentleman always accuses me of neglecting and failing to study, Her Majesty's inspectorate would be made subordinate to the new quango that would be set up. HMI would be made less independent than it has ever been in its history. It is absurd for the hon. Gentleman to defend the independence of a body that he proposes to destroy, if he is ever able to implement his manifesto.
The Secretary of State says that it is a union, but it represents virtually every one of Her Majesty's inspectors. Of course, they are placed in a difficult position because they are officials and it is difficult for them to speak out. I shall not quote the comments of any individuals because they are officials and answerable to the Secretary of State. That is the constitutional position, but I am entitled to quote the First Division Association which represents them and has excoriated the proposals on behalf of the inspectors, 95 per cent. of whom are members of the FDA. It believes that our proposals would greatly strengthen the independence of the inspectorate, and I shall tell the Secretary of State why.
When the Secretary of State sits on the Opposition Benches dealing with the education standards Bill, it will become clear to him that under our proposals the constitutional position of the senior chief inspector and Her Majesty's inspectors will be similar to the relationship between, for example, the controller of the Audit Commission and the Audit Commission, or that between the Comptroller and Auditor General in the House and the Public Accounts Committee.
Throughout the proceedings on the Bill, we have said that the appointment of a senior chief inspector under the Bill should first be subject to approval by the Civil Service Commission, a proposal which was resisted, and to submission to the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, which was also resisted. If the Secretary of State had been interested in ensuring that the senior chief inspector was independent, he would have accepted at least one of those modest safeguards. Every inspector knows that it was the Secretary of State's intention to emasculate and undermine the inspectorate because it has told the truth year after year about the failure of the Government's policies in the past 13 years.
The Times this morning carries an interview with the Secretary of State. It begins:
Ministers have failed to convince the public that their education reforms are necessary to raise standards in state schools, Kenneth Clarke, the education secretary, has admitted.
The Secretary of State need look no further than himself and his Government if he wants to know the reasons for his failure to convince. No Secretary of State for Education and Science has been less popular with teachers, parents or the public than this one. No education policies have received less popular support than those of this Government, and there has rarely been a bigger gap between the levels of public support for the Conservatives' education policies and support for ours. No other Bill to privatise the inspectorate of local schools and to emasculate Her Majesty's inspectorate could do more damage to standards in schools.
The guillotine motion is a fitting epitaph for a dying Administration, whose educational failure is now admitted even by Ministers who perpetuated their wretched policies and allowed our education record to become a national humiliation. For that, they will be driven from office on 9 April.
I oppose the guillotine motion—I usually do oppose them—but I shall be happy for the guillotine to be working overtime on Tory heads on 9 April. I shall be happily knitting new Labour party policies as their heads fall into the buckets of sawdust.
On 10 March, I presented a Bill that provided for fixed-term elections, for compulsory attendance at polling stations and for a public holiday on general election day. I gave 9 April as the Second Reading date. I can only assume that that announcement caused the Prime Minister to panic and to announce the general election for 9 April. However, it raises one significant point.
What we have seen this morning is no way to run a country. During the business statement on Thursday last week, the Leader of the House announced the business knowing full well that the business being announced would not be played out in the House. I am not suggesting that that was dishonesty on his part. I suppose that he had no choice but to announce it, although we all knew that we would end up with this unholy, miserable shambles as a way of trying to get legislation through the House. This is not the way to do it.
Guillotines are never satisfactory, although one can understand that .they might be necessary in certain circumstances. When guillotines are brought in simply because the Government have now decided that there is no alternative but to go for an election on 9 April, we see clearly that party interest is being put before the national interest. It is about time to raise the wider issue of fixed-term Parliaments, which would certainly mean that no Parliament would end in this way, in this—
—in this undignified shambles, as my hon. Friend says.
Does my hon. Friend also accept that, if we had fixed-term Parliaments, discussions on such a Bill might not end without anyone present to represent the Liberal Democratic party? In view of what the Liberal Democrats said about the Bill, is it not extraordinary that not one of them is here now?
That is a good point, although I assume that the Liberal Democrats have a much larger mountain to climb than most other hon. Members, and have rushed off in a panic to try to garner a few votes.
This is not the way to run a Parliament, and I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—soon to be Prime Minister—made it clear at the Labour party conference that the Labour Government will introduce fixed-term Parliaments. That was a significant constitutional announcement, although it did not get the sort of coverage that it should have had. A Prime Minister in waiting is saying that when he is in office, he will give up a power that Prime Ministers have hitherto clutched jealously to themselves, and treated as precious—the ability to decide when to hold an election, in order to maximise party advantage.
One cannot blame a Prime Minister for maximising party advantage, but it is unseemly and undignified. It undermines democracy and gives rise to much cynicism among the electorate when they see what is going on. The Prime Minister loitered so long that, had he been the former Director of Public Prosecutions, he would have been arrested for loitering with intent. However, he was the Prime Minister and he could choose his time to the best of his ability—although even then he managed to box himself into a corner.
I oppose the guillotine and hope that, in the next Parliament, with a Labour Government, fixed-term Parliaments will be introduced. Then no Parliament will end in this sort of shambles.
I understand that the Secretary of State for Education and Science will be a player in the next Parliament—as the new Leader of the Opposition. I am sure that he would make a good Leader of the Opposition, and I am sure that in the new Parliament he—or whoever else becomes the Leader of the Conservative Opposition—will make a lot of noise about the curtailment of discussion on radical measures of great significance.
I believe that one of the reasons why the Bill has encountered such problems in the House of Lords has something to do with Stratford school in my constituency. The problems arose when their lordships started considering the idea of so-called independent inspectors being appointed by schools. Can the Secretary of State imagine what sort of inspector would have been appointed by the existing governors of Stratford school if the original provisions of his Bill had become law?
The Secretary of State should think carefully about the matter, because the Education Reform Act 1988 was also guillotined, and it was clear then that the Government had not thought through what might happen if a situation arose such as that involving Stratford school. There were no provisions to deal with that possibility, and now the Secretary of State finds himself in a corner over Stratford school. We have asked the following question many times, but I shall ask it again. Why was Stratford school allowed to opt out, and grant-maintained status given, whereas Walsingham school, in Wandsworth, was refused?
I remind the Secretary of State that about 96 per cent. of parents at Walsingham school in Tory Wandsworth voted to opt out. The proposal was overwhelmingly supported by parents and governors at the time, yet it was turned down. Why? Walsingham school, like Stratford school, was facing closure. Will the Secretary of State tell me why Walsingham school was turned down, yet Stratford school was allowed to opt out?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, when parents vote in favour of opting out, the matter comes to Ministers for decision. Ministers allow some applications and disapprove others according to the best judgment we can make in the light of consultations about the likely success of the school. In the case of Stratford school, the judgment was plainly correct. Mrs. Snelling and her staff have built up a rundown school from 150 to 600 pupils. They plainly have the support of the overwhelming majority of parents, and they are raising educational standards in the area.
Does it remain the position of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that Mrs. Snelling should be sacked? I understand that he and his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—I accept that they come from a rather different direction from some of the governors—are as anxious as some of the governors that Mrs. Snelling should be removed from the school. They believe that the school should be returned to Newham and closed because they are so furious that Mrs. Snelling divided Newham Labour party and was one of those who took the school successfully to grant-maintained status.
I will answer that point, but I must come back to the original question I posed, which the Secretary of State did not answer. Of course I know that the Secretary of State had discretion to refuse or accept an opt-out proposal. The fact is that the two schools did not face closure because of vindictive local authorities. The two local authorities are completely different. Both schools faced closure under reorganisation proposals set out by Lord Joseph, the then Secretary of State, so that both authorities should reduce surplus places.
Stratford school did not face closure because anyone wanted to close it. Closing a school, like a hospital, is not popular. The Secretary of State knows that. We did not want to close the school. To get two new schools in the south of the borough in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), where the population is growing, it was necessary to close the school. We were doing what the Government wanted us to do.
We visited the then Minister of State and put it to her that the parents thought—we do not blame the parents—that they could prevent the closure by going for opt-out. Surely even the Secretary of State at the time of the 1988 legislation did not think that opt-out would be used as a way in which to avoid a reorganisation accepted by his Departmenmt. That is the point. When we saw the Minister of State, she was very reasonable, and we came away expecting that the school would close because it was required to close.
We then saw the completely different approaches which the Department adopted to Walsingham school and to Stratford school. We came to the obvious conclusion that political dogma was at play. That is what it was all about. I have no dobut that the then Prime Minister threw a bit of a trantrum, and started handbagging the Secretary of State and saying that there were insufficient closures in Labour areas.
We had a change of junior Ministers, and the present Minister of State was brought in to deliver an opt-out. He delivered the opt-out in Stratford in my constituency, which is a solid Labour area where the Tories have nothing to lose. We have a lot to lose. Community relations in our area are suffering. That has nothing to do with the local authority. It has to do with the arguments between the governors, the head teacher and the staff.
The Secretary of State talked about the school being built up again from 160 pupils. It was being run down because we were taking pupils out and putting them in other schools in preparation for the closure. That is what it is all about.
I will address the question put to me by the Secretary of State. I said—this is my opinion as the constituency Member, not the opinion of the Labour party—that, because of the bitterness created by the decision, which now floods through the area, it would be in the best interests of the children and of the community if the governors and the senior staff concerned stood down so that we could start again. There will be no vindictiveness by the local authority. Why should we want to be vindictive?
When we have a Labour Government and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Staw) is Secretary of State, we shall expect to see a number of things. The first is a full HMI inspection of the school to see exactly what is going on. We do not even know what is going on in the school at the moment, because, as the Secretary of State admitted, there has not been an inpection since 4 December 1991. There must be a full inspection. Stratford school must then be returned to the control of the local community.
The Secretary of State and other Ministers portray local authorities as alien forces imposed upon us by a totalitarian regime. In fact, they are bodies of people elected by the local community. If Conservative Members do not like the fact that some local authorities are Labour controlled, it is up to them to do something about it within the democratic system. People in Newham do not vote Tory, because they do not like Tories. They can hardly be blamed for that. My constituency is a Tory-free zone and will remain so for the foreseeable future, for no other reason than that the people of my area cannot see anything that the Tories can usefully do for them.
Another question that I want to ask the Secretary of State is this: was he advised by his own civil servants at the time of the application for the Stratford opt-out that it was non-viable and should not he allowed? I should like him to answer that question yes or no, because I have asked it in the House a dozen times, and no one has answered it.
Ministers do not give answers about advice that they receive from their civil servants. That is a convention which Ministers in any Government will always defend. If the hon. Gentleman is asking about the judgment that the application was viable, which was the judgment made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State and me, I can only say that events have vindicated that judgment. The number of children in the school has grown from 150 to 600, and the parents are backing Mrs. Snelling and the staff, who are presiding over a steady improvement in standards.
The difficulty is that, when the opt-out decision was taken, Newham council launched personal attacks on Mrs. Snelling, took property from the school and barred the then governors when they wanted to go in to prepare for the take-over. The hon. Gentleman and his allies in the council still demand the removal of Mrs. Snelling, but the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is so doubtful about the bona fides of some of his supporters in the council that he yesterday made it clear that, in the unlikely event of our having a Labour Government, he would feel it necessary to pass legislation to protect some of the people involved in grant-maintained schools against the kind of personal come-back that they would otherwise get from some Labour councils.
The Secretary of State is misleading the House, and he is certainly misleading himself, if he believes the rubbish that he has just come out with. What is the point of stirring up trouble in one's own constituency? Why would we deliberately cause trouble in our own area? It is nonsense to suggest that. Neither the local authority nor my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has said that Mrs. Snelling should be removed as the head teacher of Stratford school. What I have said is that, in the interests of everyone and in an attempt to return to some sort of equitable basis, we should ask all the main players—which I say means the head teacher, senior staff and governors—to stand down in the interests of the kids and of my school.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the position clear. Is it not true, however, that the Secretary of State has not been using the independent inspectorate that is available to him in the past two months? The Minister of State claimed last week that the school was now running well. How can Ministers make such statements when the Secretary of State has not used the offices of the independent inspectorate—which he agrees is independent—to find out the facts? Does not that show added irresponsibility on the part of the Secretary of State?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Secretary of State has just parroted a load of allegations about Newham council and the school, but he cannot possibly know anything about it, as neither he nor his Ministers have been anywhere near the school, and as the inspectors have not been anywhere near the school. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must be getting the information from the newspapers or from a few Tory parents in the area. He is certainly not getting the facts, and he will not send the inspectors in to find out exactly what is going on in the school.
What is happening at Stratford school is disastrous. I used regularly to visit that school and brought pupils from it to the House. The pupils are now going home in tears, seeing their school crawled over not by Ministers but by the media. They see the police there daily because of the threats of violence. There is an atmosphere of intimidation. That is not the way to run education in Stratford or anywhere else, and the Secretary of State stands condemned for having created that situation in Stratford.
The hon. Gentleman ought to know that Her Majesty's inspectors went to the school in December. He will also know that one of the two governors whom I have appointed is the recently retired senior chief inspector from HMI. He is a very respected public servant, with whom I have an excellent working relationship and in whose judgment I trust.
The point has still not been addressed that the inspectors went in on 4 December and it is now 13 March. The Secretary of State is being negligent of his duties by not having ordered them to go in.
I realise that the time is now drawing to a close. However, in the circumstances of this guillotine motion, remembering the mistakes that the Secretary of State made in 1988, he should withdraw the motion and allow us to proceed properly and discuss the various amendments.
|Division No. 112]||[2.49 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Alexander, Richard||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Amess, David||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Amos, Alan||Forman, Nigel|
|Arbuthnot, James||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Forth, Eric|
|Ashby, David||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Atkinson, David||Franks, Cecil|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||French, Douglas|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Fry, Peter|
|Batiste, Spencer||Gale, Roger|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Bellingham, Henry||Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Gill, Christopher|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Glyn, Dr Sir Alan|
|Body, Sir Richard||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Boswell, Tim||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gorst, John|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Bowis, John||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Gregory, Conal|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Brazier, Julian||Ground, Patrick|
|Bright, Graham||Hague, William|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Hannam, Sir John|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hargreaves, A (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Burns, Simon||Harris, David|
|Burt, Alistair||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Butler, Chris||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Butterfill, John||Hayes, Jerry|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hayward, Robert|
|Carrington, Matthew||Heath, Rt Hon Edward|
|Carttiss, Michael||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Cash, William||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hill, James|
|Churchill, Mr||Hind, Kenneth|
|Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Clark, Rt Hon Sir William||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Colvin, Michael||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Conway, Derek||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hunt, Rt Hon David|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hunter, Andrew|
|Couchman, James||Irvine, Michael|
|Critchley, Julian||Jack, Michael|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Jackson, Robert|
|Curry, David||Janman, Tim|
|Davies, Q (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Jessel, Toby|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Day, Stephen||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Devlin, Tim||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Dicks, Terry||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Key, Robert|
|Dover, Den||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Dunn, Bob||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Knowles, Michael|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Knox, David|
|Evennett, David||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Farr, Sir John||Latham, Michael|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Rost, Peter|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Lord, Michael||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Shelton, Sir William|
|McCrindle, Sir Robert||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Macfarlane, Sir Neil||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Sims, Roger|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Maclean, David||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Speed, Keith|
|Madel, David||Speller, Tony|
|Malins, Humfrey||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Mans, Keith||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Maples, John||Squire, Robin|
|Marland, Paul||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Marlow, Tony||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Steen, Anthony|
|Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)||Stern, Michael|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Stevens, Lewis|
|Mates, Michael||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Sir Robin||Sumberg, David|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Summerson, Hugo|
|Miller, Sir Hal||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Mills, Iain||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Mitchell, Sir David||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Moate, Roger||Thompson, Sir D. (Calder Vly)|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Morris, M (N'hampton S)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Morrison, Sir Charles||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Moss, Malcolm||Tracey, Richard|
|Moynihan, Hon Colin||Tredinnick, David|
|Neale, Sir Gerrard||Trippier, David|
|Nelson, Anthony||Trotter, Neville|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Viggers, Peter|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Walden, George|
|Norris, Steve||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Waller, Gary|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Walters, Sir Dennis|
|Page, Richard||Ward, John|
|Paice, James||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Warren, Kenneth|
|Patnick, Irvine||Watts, John|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Wells, Bowen|
|Pawsey, James||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Whitney, Ray|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Portillo, Michael||Wilkinson, John|
|Price, Sir David||Wilshire, David|
|Raffan, Keith||Wolfson, Mark|
|Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy||Wood, Timothy|
|Rathbone, Tim||Woodcock, Dr. Mike|
|Renton, Rt Hon Tim||Yeo, Tim|
|Rhodes James, Sir Robert||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Riddick, Graham||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Mr. David Lightbown and|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Mr. John M. Taylor.|
|Anderson, Donald||Armstrong, Hilary|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Banks, Tony (Newham NW)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Meale, Alan|
|Barron, Kevin||Michael, Alun|
|Beckett, Margaret||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Beith, A. J.||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Blair, Tony||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Boateng, Paul||O'Hara, Edward|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Callaghan, Jim||Patchett, Terry|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Pendry, Tom|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Prescott, John|
|Cohen, Harry||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Richardson, Jo|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Cousins, Jim||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Cox, Tom||Ruddock, Joan|
|Crowther, Stan||Sheerman, Barry|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Dixon, Don||Short, Clare|
|Eastham, Ken||Skinner, Dennis|
|Enright, Derek||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Fisher, Mark||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Flannery, Martin||Soley, Clive|
|Flynn, Paul||Spearing, Nigel|
|Foster, Derek||Straw, Jack|
|Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Gordon, Mildred||Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)|
|Hain, Peter||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Hoyle, Doug||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Lewis, Terry||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Livingstone, Ken||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|McWilliam, John||Mr. Ray Powell.|