Transitional Arrangements for Existing Assisted Pupils

Orders of the Day — Education (Schools) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 10th June 1997.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment proposed [5 June], No. 11, in page 2, line 1, to leave out subsection (2).—[Mr. Forth.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman of Ways and Means:

I remind the Committee that we are also discussing the following amendments: No. 27, in page 2, line 1, after '(2)', insert `Subject to subsection (2A),'.

No. 3, in page 2, line 5, after 'or,' insert— 'b) in the case of a pupil with an assisted place at a school providing education for children up to the age of 13 but not beyond, at the end of the school year in which he attains the age of 13, or '. No. 34, in page 2, line 5, after 'or', insert— (a) at the end of the school year in which he completes his education within the school where he was provided with an assisted place; or'. No. 28, in page 2, line 10, at end insert— '(2A) Unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the pupil in question will receive secondary education which is comparable to the primary education which he has received in regard to—

  1. (a) its religious content;
  2. (b) the curriculum provided;
  3. (c) opportunities for sport;
  4. (d) size of classes; and
  5. (e) single-sex provision,
he shall determine that that pupil shall continue to hold that place during the period which he receives secondary education.'. No. 25, in clause 5, page 5, leave out lines 7 to 17.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) moved the amendment in a powerful speech in the small hours of Friday morning. The Committee should not lose sight of what lies behind the amendments. They are neither probing nor wrecking. We will continue to pursue the argument that the Bill is fundamentally bad, that it will destroy and not build and that the Government are mistaken in their determination to ram it through. That, however, is not what the amendments are about.

The amendments are about putting right a grievous wrong and a grievous breach of trust. I confess that, when the Government Chief Whip moved the Adjournment of the Committee in the small hours of Friday morning, I hoped in my naivety that the purpose was to allow Ministers to reconsider the position that they had adopted and to come back to the Committee later say that they accepted the amendments and would agree to our proposals. If the Minister is willing to make it clear that that is the case, I will gladly sit down, but it appears that the Government have not taken the opportunity of a few days' cool reflection to do that. That is the course of honour, but they have decided not to pursue it.

Why does the amendment matter? Let us remind ourselves what is at stake. The assisted places scheme was properly extended to include children younger under 11. Larger numbers of children now hold assisted places and attend independent junior schools through the benefit of assisted places.

Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment

The reason we sought the Adjournment of the House last Thursday was that an agreement had been reached with Conservative Members that today's proceedings would be timetabled and completed at 10 pm.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

I have no knowledge of any agreements made through the usual channels. If the Minister is threatening another guillotine motion so that the Government can again railroad the Committee, that is a different matter. I had hoped that he was pursuing the course of honour and reconsidering the Government's dishonourable position of seeking to break a pre-election pledge.

I return to my theme. In opposition, the Labour party threatened to abolish the whole scheme. Those engaged in the independent junior sector wrote, as is their entitlement, to the then Labour spokesman to inquire how that would apply to children in independent junior schools who had the benefit of assisted places. The answer they got in the first instance was unclear.

Cautiously and sensibly, the chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools sought and got clarification. It is not as though the letter that I shall cite was poorly drafted, or dashed off on the back of an envelope. It was a considered letter sent by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), which makes a very specific pledge.

The pledge was essentially that any child in an independent junior school with the benefit of an assisted place would continue to have the benefit of it until the normal age of transfer out of independent junior schools, which is typically 13. For greater accuracy and the avoidance of doubt, I quote the letter, which states: Much will obviously depend on the school to which the child has been admitted. If a child has a place at a school which runs to age 13. then that place will be honoured through to 13. I have examined the letter carefully to find whether there are any clues as to why that pledge should not be honoured in the legislation. I found no clues; it is a clear pledge. The only possible clue is that the letter is dated 1 April. The Government may mount the defence that it was an April fool and never meant to be taken seriously.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Does my right hon. Friend think that the fact that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) was not appointed to a ministerial position in the Department for Education and Employment suggests that the Government thought that they could, by that sleight-of-hand, slide out of the commitment that he had made on behalf of the Labour party and, therefore, one would assume, the Government? Does my right hon. Friend think that that washes as an excuse?

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

It is not for me to give an explanation. The only inference that we can draw is that the hon. Member for Walton gave a public pledge, in honour, and that the Government cynically, knowing that the pledge was to be dishonoured, chose to sideline him into the murky depths of the Cabinet Office, where he co-exists with the Minister without Portfolio.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

On Second Reading, I made it clear on behalf of the Government that we would use discretion if circumstances were appropriate, but that we could not give a carte blanche on the primary or prep school assisted places scheme, which will be introduced from September. We could not say that it would apply universally to people who, presumably before this year's tranche of assisted places, could take up the scheme only from the secondary school point of entry. The hot air that is being described this afternoon and was described into the early hours of last Friday morning is, frankly, bizarre given the key pledges that we have made, on the record, about protecting the interests of those children who were in assisted places—I stress the word "were"—through to this summer.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

I will come to that, because I intend to deal with what the right hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading. It is important and demands to be considered in detail.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard Conservative, South West Norfolk

Clearly, this is a matter of concern. The Secretary of State said that discretion would be used. I wonder whether he has any comment on a letter that I have here from the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett) to a Mrs. Brookes in connection with the education of her son, aged 10. This letter is dated 27 February and states: You were rightly concerned about possible disruption to your child's education. David Blunkett's office have confirmed that Labour will honour those existing places which have already been given. Your child will not be forced to move school. I assume that that is one child in respect of whom discretion has already been exercised.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

Time will tell. It is important for the Committee to hear the different ways in which the pledge has already been given, so that it can judge the extent of the breach of trust that we are talking about.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Before the Secretary of State gets too far away with trying to fudge that pledge, may I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what is said in the letter that was sent out to head teachers about the extent of the discretion to which the Secretary of State referred? That letter states: There is provision for the Secretary of State to exercise limited discretion to extend support under the scheme in exceptional circumstances. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is not much of a fig leaf there?

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

Again, I will discuss the way in which the Secretary of State sought on Second Reading and today to justify that breach of trust. My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point. The terms in which that pledge was put in a letter shows that the discretion will not be wide ranging. The fact that it will be used in "exceptional circumstances" shows exactly the reverse.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I object strongly to the notion that there has already been a breach of trust when the measure has not yet been implemented. I must make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have some respect, that the pledges on the incoming prep and primary school assisted places, which the outgoing Government forced through the House, and the old secondary school places, which assured people—perfectly reasonably in my view—that we would not take away their places under that pre-dated scheme, are being combined.

The two are being put together, and hon. Members are trying to make an intellectual case that anyone taking up a place from September, prior to the age of 11 and going through to 13, should automatically be able to carry it forward. One cannot have it both ways—one cannot retrospectively pick up a pre-11 situation that did not exist and apply it to the secondary school level.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham 3:45 pm, 10th June 1997

This will not do. The Secretary of State has spoken kindly of me and I shall return the compliment. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman is a dishonourable man, and I do not believe that he would deliberately put his reputation as a man of honour at stake. I urge him, even at this stage, to take the provision away to think about it. I regret to have to tell the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman is wriggling; he is seeking to disentangle himself from a pledge made in the clearest possible terms.

The Government did not have to make that pledge; they could have justified their position by saying, "No, we are sorry. If your child has an assisted place at a junior school, it must finish at 11; we do not care if that causes you hardship or if it disrupts plans that you as parents have made—that is just tough." That would have been a harsh decision, but it would have been an honourable position to have taken. It is dishonourable to have made the pledge in such specific terms and then to break it.

I urge the Secretary of State to turn his mind to the matter. The words are not capable of misinterpretation. The pledge was made in the plainest terms and, in the plainest terms, the legislation breaches it.

I shall return in a moment to the way in which the Secretary of State unsuccessfully sought to disentangle himself from the pledge on Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what we are seeing is proof positive that the Labour party was prepared to promise anything and to tell people what they wanted to hear before the election, only to break the promises within a few weeks? We could not trust what the Labour party said before the election; in government, they are breaking their promises very quickly.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

We Conservatives raise the issue much more in sorrow than in anger, although anger is amply justified. I shall return to the general point that my hon. Friend raised, as it is important and goes to the heart of the basis on which the Government were elected.

I shall now turn to the way in which the Secretary of State sought to extricate himself on Second Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) asked a question that went to the core of the debate and the amendments. He said: Why is the Secretary of State going back on that pledge in clause 2 and finishing education at the age of 11? Is it not the clearest example of a breach of promise? The Secretary of State replied using terms similar to those that he has used today. He said: I am very clear, and so is the Bill, that assisted places will remain in primary education up to the normal age of transfer at 11. Where an alternative transfer age applies in that area, the Secretary of State will have discretion, and my ministerial team and I will use it wisely to ensure that we do not have a situation where 500,000 youngsters transfer at 11, but other people think that they can transfer at 13, even if 13 is not the normal transferable age in that locality."—[Official Report, 2 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 27.] It is abundantly clear from what the Secretary of State said then, from what he has said today and from the letter that the Department has sent out and from which my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere quoted a little earlier, that the Government have no intention of using the discretion contained in the Bill to give effect to the pledge made before the election.

If there is an interpretation to be put on what the Secretary of State said, it is that, where the state system of education in a particular locality allows for the transfer of children aged 12 from a middle school to a secondary school, as happens in some areas, discretion may be used to allow the assisted place to continue until age 12. We welcome that measure, which we think is a good one, but we think that it should not be left to discretion. The Secretary of State and his team invite us to place our trust in their wisdom and discretion. The Secretary of State may ask us to trust him, but we may not feel as disposed to do so as we did before this legislation.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I come fresh to the debate on the amendment, and it seems to me that the Secretary of State's remarks about the normal age of transfer must mean the age of transfer within the state sector only and have no relevance to the normal arrangements for transfer of primary and secondary school children in the private sector. Is that my right hon. Friend's interpretation?

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

Even when the words are examined carefully and in the most generous and charitable way, they bear no interpretation other than that which my hon. Friend places on them. However they are interpreted, they are bleakly at odds with the clear terms of Labour's pre-election pledge—what I might call the Walton pledge—which was given, somewhat ironically, on 1 April. We have clearly established that the Bill breaches that pledge.

It is also clear, and the silence of Ministers amplifies it, that the modest discretion in the Bill is not intended to be used to give effect in any meaningful sense to that pledge. The Government stand indicted, and, unless they move swiftly to rescue their reputation, they will stand convicted, of a grave breach of trust.

Labour made many reckless promises before the election which will be found increasingly difficult to keep, because they are contradictory in so many ways. The Government have made so many contradictory promises to so many groups that at some stage those contradictions will fall to be resolved and will be found incapable of resolution.

However, I do not think that the Government would, without reason and so early in their life, put their reputation so recklessly at risk. Therefore, we must seek an explanation of why the Government should so quickly go back on their word and so lamely attempt to defend it. The explanation lies at the heart of another contradiction between the pledges.

The justification for the Bill is that the savings from phasing out the assisted places scheme will be used to pay for reducing infant class sizes. As the Committee knows, we have questioned that and we think that the sums are nowhere near right. Much of the independent research confirms our view that the figures, as often happens with the Government's figures, simply do not add up. When we probe this sorry little saga, we find that the Government themselves are beginning to realise that the sums do not add up. They are beginning to see that they will not even get close to the savings they need from abolishing the assisted places scheme to pay for the reduction in class sizes that they promised.

What do the Government do about that? As so often, they go on the grab. They think, "Where else can we grab some money? Where can we find a soft target who will not complain too much and will not be able to fight back and defend himself? We shall go for the 11 and 12-year-olds who have the benefit of assisted places. What do promises matter? We shall get the extra savings in future years by grabbing back those assisted places."

Those places were given and accepted in good faith, but it seems not to matter that children's education was planned on the basis of the scheme, which was reinforced by Labour pledges when the party was in opposition. That matters nothing, and the Government will push it to one side because there is a little more money to be grabbed to try to make their figures add up.

I suspect that that was the reasoning in the minds of Ministers. That is why they have gone down the path of callously ignoring the pledge and disappointing the hopes and plans of real people. This is not a technical or academic argument; this is about people and children at a vulnerable age—children, almost by definition, from less advantaged homes, because if they were not from such homes, they would not be in receipt of an assisted place to begin with—whose hopes are being dashed cruelly and cynically.

I invite any of my right hon. and hon. Friends to volunteer an explanation as to why the Government should expose themselves to the contempt not only of the Committee but of the country by behaving in this way. It must be no more than this: the Government have realised what we have been telling them for so long—the sums do not add up. They will not be able to deliver the reduction in class sizes through the Bill and, therefore, they have used this provision in clause 2 to grab back a bit more and to go beyond what they said they would do. Frankly, nothing that we have heard goes any way to justify it.

Therefore, we have to look a little beyond the provision and make a case which I hope appeals to the decency in Ministers. I hope that the Committee will join Conservative Members in urging Ministers to take the provision away, even at this late stage, reconsider it and find out whether they can do a little to rehabilitate their reputation.

If the Prime Minister had applied his mind to the issue, he would be urging Ministers to do the same. He has made many remarks about trust and promises. If he understood that this saga was going on and that this breach of trust had taken place, I feel sure that he would intervene. Let us consider just what the Prime Minister said in the Loyal Address debate. Talking about the difference between the Labour Government and the Conservative party, he said: There will be one other difference. This Government will keep their promises. He went on to say—recklessly, the Committee may think: Conservative Members find that an extraordinary proposition."—[Official Report, 14 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 62.] Well, we certainly do now, given that the first opportunity Ministers have to deliver on a promise, they break it. But it is not just on that that I rest my case and urge Ministers to take this provision away and redeem their reputation—or, failing that, that I urge the Committee to accept the amendments and restore some decency to the Bill. On 1 May, as reported in The Independent, the Prime Minister said: The promises we have made are specific". I add in parenthesis: what could be more specific than the Walton pledge in the letter? He went on: and if we deliver on these, then I think we are entitled to trust. If we do not deliver on those, then we'll not be. If Ministers do not respond positively to the amendments, they will have broken their promises, they will have betrayed the trust that has been put in them and their reputations will have been irredeemably damaged.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands Labour, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

The right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) bandied about the words "breach of trust" and "promise". I say to my Front-Bench team that our biggest, most important promise was that we would use the funds that would arise from the Bill to lower primary class sizes in state schools. There would certainly be a breach of trust if we accepted the amendments, as funds would be less likely to be obtained for schools. There is a straight difference of values and priorities.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands Labour, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

I have scarcely started. The right hon. Member for Horsham developed his case at length.

I want briefly to say that, in relation to values and priority, there could be no greater contrast than that between the speech of the right hon. Member for Horsham and the one that I am about to make on behalf of schools in my constituency.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham

I am encouraged—well, discouraged really, but at least the hon. Gentleman is being honest about it. He admits that the reason for the provision is to grab back a little more money. What he is also saying is a little more bothersome: if the Government keep one promise, it does not matter if they break another one. That is exactly the point that we are making: they have made contradictory promises.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands Labour, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

I am about to tell the right hon. Gentleman why I support the Bill, and why I shall vote against the amendment. I want to contrast the schools that I suspect he has been describing with a school in my area, whose current position illustrates the problems that face our community here and now. Parents, governors, children and teachers involved with primary schools in our community will face problems in September—

4 pm

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands Labour, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

No. I want to answer the case put by the right hon. Member for Horsham.

Let me describe to the Committee, and to Ministers in particular, what is happening to Cwmsyfiog primary school at this moment. The core group of governors are having to make decisions. They will have to sack, or lose, one member of the teaching staff. The school's 1996–97 resources budget is to be cut from £5,000 to zero, which means that there will be no money to spend on learning resources—not a penny. I wonder how many schools that Opposition Members have described—schools that they say will be affected by the Bill, and will have problems—face a nil increase in learning resources, or a learning resources budget of nil.

The core group will also have to cut the supply teacher budget by a further £2,000. The consequences of the reduction in the school's resources have been described vividly. Class sizes will rise: there will be 35 children in class III. I want to make this point to Ministers. While we hope that, at some future date, the Bill will provide resources that will make it possible to reduce primary school class sizes, we currently face the prospect of rising class sizes this September, and no doubt the following September. Ministers must address the crisis facing primary schools now and in the next year, before the provision of any funds that may derive from the Bill.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

We note the hon. Gentleman's apparent support for the Bill. Is he aware that the Minister for School Standards, the hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), said in earlier debates—it is one of the few things he did say—that he did not expect any significant savings to result from the Bill, and hence did not expect any improvements in class sizes, until the year 2000? What has the hon. Gentleman to say about that?

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands Labour, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

That is the point that I am making. I welcome the resources that will be transferred: that will be a sensible redistribution of public finance and expenditure to support schools that are in desperate need, such as Cwmsyfiog primary school.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands Labour, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

I am answering the point made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

What I am saying to Ministers is that the crisis is hitting us now, before those resources become available, because of the local government settlement made by the previous Government, which left education in smaller primary schools in a dreadful plight. I am describing to Ministers the problems that are arising now, in the hope that the funds will be provided as soon as possible and will not be further eroded by the host of amendments proposed by Opposition Members. If those amendments were accepted, the amounts would be less, and, I suspect, would take longer to reach primary schools such as Cwmsyfiog.

When Ministers deal with the White Paper that they are to publish, they will have to address the present crisis in our primary schools. That is a simple point, and it is my reason for opposing the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and others.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I listened with interest to the comments by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who spoke with some passion about a school in his constituency whose name I will not begin to attempt to pronounce. I appreciate that he and, no doubt, his constituents feel passionately about their schools, but I must say that I found his logic somewhat surprising.

He seemed to be saying that the only way in which the Government, with their massive majority, could honour their commitments and pledges to the hon. Gentleman's constituents was by breaking promises that they had made to others. I find that a hard line of argument to follow from this all-powerful Government, with their massive majority and their ability to do as they wish within the purview of policy in education.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

In as far as the hon. Member for Merthyzr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) was replying to the charge made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), one derived from his speech the impression that, under new Labour, the end will always justify the means.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Notwithstanding my recent remarks, I do not want to be confrontational about this, because we understand that that is no longer the mode in which we should behave, and I am very concerned about being non-confrontational, being helpful and honouring promises, all of which, I understand, are important attributes and considerations of the present Government.

In the spirit of the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), I say that I hope that the Minister can think carefully about this, listen to the arguments and accept that it is a straightforward question of honouring a promise.

We have debated other aspects on Second Reading and in Committee, but the group of amendments that we are debating raises wider considerations than support for, or opposition to, the idea of assisted places. Even hon. Members who do not support the idea of assisted places will feel uneasy about those issues and may well wish to support the amendments, because this is very much a question of honouring promises.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) set the scene very effectively when the Bill was last considered in Committee, and dealt with the documentary evidence that is of concern in this case, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham has done. The key element is the promise that was made in the letter on 1 April—"the Walton promise", as it has been termed—by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who was then the shadow Minister with responsibility for schools. He made that promise on 1 April to the chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools—a shadow Minister, speaking about policy to the chairman of an important organisation, representing many children in preparatory education.

As has been made clear, there can be no way of quibbling over or fudging the terms in which the letter was phrased. The promise, freely given, is specific: If a child has a place at a school which runs to age 13, then that place will be honoured through to 13. That is about as specific a promise as one could possibly have, and it is clearly given.

A parent, reading of or hearing of that promise through the chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, would think, "There is not much room for doubt there; I can act in reliance on that promise."

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Does my hon. Friend recall the remarks made by the, sadly late, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, who was in his time the hon. Member for Liverpool, Huyton—not far from Walton? He once referred to something said in the House being not merely a lightly given promise, but a pledge. Should we not view the remark in the letter as being in that category?

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is right. It can be seen only as a pledge. It was given to the chairman of a large organisation, at an important time—1 April, only a few weeks before the general election—it related to a matter that had been the subject of considerable correspondence and discussion, which was of great interest to the chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, and it is about as clear as it could possibly be.

It would not be entirely surprising if parents acted on that pledge, regarding it as a cast-iron guarantee. Indeed, we understand from a later letter to the Secretary of State by the chairman of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools, complaining about what had taken place, that several parents may well have acted on it. The chairman quotes the words of the pledge given in the letter: if a child has a place at a school which runs to 13 then that place will be honoured through to 13 and continues: On that basis we, in common with a large number of Preparatory schools, have offered places to 7 and 11-year—olds and although we have warned parents that the Assisted Place will terminate when their child is aged 13, we did not, of course, sound any cautionary note about termination at age 11. Parents will have expected those places to be available for their children to age 13, because they had a cast-iron pledge from the Labour party that they would be available.

I remind Ministers that, after relying on the words and pledge of the Labour party, many parents made an important decision about their children's future education. Abolition of assisted places is a very serious subject for those parents. I invite the Minister to direct his attention to the issue and to realise its seriousness for those parents. I share those parents' concerns, because there are many assisted places in my constituency.

I appreciate that part of the Labour party's manifesto was elimination of the assisted places scheme, and I noticed that the scheme's abolition was one of the principal elements of the Queen's Speech. Therefore, on 15 May 1997, during the debate on the Loyal Address, I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Employment about Labour's pledge.

The Secretary of State gave no hint that any such breach of pledge would occur, and I was fortified and reassured by his words and by his attitude to assisted places and to the children in them. He said: During the general election campaign, I said that children who have been allocated places will be permitted to take them up. We shall legislate within weeks to ensure that schools do not abuse the licence that was given to them to look after the interests of children by agreeing to places for 1998 or 1999 onwards. The hallmark of this Government will be to put children before dogma. It will be to ensure that the interests of our children come first on every occasion."—[Official Report, 15 May 1997; Vol. 294. c. 183.] One week later, we discovered that those sentiments do not apply to the 2,000 or so children who have received assisted places to age 13. When I read the Bill and an accompanying letter of guidance to headmasters in schools offering assisted places, I was surprised to find that places would not be available to 13 but would end at 11. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham was right to mention the response that I received from the Secretary of State in the debate on the Bill's Second Reading. The Secretary of State said: I am very clear, and so is the Bill, that assisted places will remain in primary education up to the normal age of transfer at 11. Where an alternative transfer age applies in that area, the Secretary of State will have discretion, and my ministerial team and I will use it wisely to ensure that we do not have a situation where 500,000 youngsters transfer at 11, but other people think that they can transfer at 13, even if 13 is not the normal transferable age in that locality. It would not do the children a favour if we pretended that we could do that. Discretion is the better part of valour, and we will use it wisely."—[Official Report, 2 June 1992; Vol. 295, c. 27.] If one reads the words in the Department's letter to headmasters alongside the Secretary of State's words about his discretion and how he will use it wisely, it becomes clear that—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham quite properly and appropriately said—that discretion will be very limited. The letter describes limited discretion to extend support under the scheme in exceptional circumstances". That limited discretion apparently will apply only when the normal transfer age in the state sector is 13 and there is a system of middle schools. The discretion will therefore apply only to a very narrow range of pupils, and it demonstrates a great diminution of the Government's unconditional pledge to all children in assisted places that should last to age 13.

I have studied the Secretary of State's words in the Second Reading debate, and I appreciate the reason that he gave for his decision. The question, however, is one not so much of the reasons of the Secretary of State—or of whoever took the decision—in making the decision, but of whether the decision was justified. People who break promises have reasons for doing so, and the question is whether they are justified in doing so. In studying this decision, I find it very hard to find any possible justification for the Secretary of State's proposals.

Is it the case that, since 1 April, circumstances have arisen which have made it impossible for the Secretary of State to carry out the pledge he gave? That is not the case. Is there any change at all in the circumstances? No. Have facts come to light which were not known to the Labour party when it gave the pledge and which put quite a different complexion on matters? No. That is an important point, because all the factors that the Secretary of State has given as reasons for not honouring the pledge were ones that he and his colleagues must have known of when the pledge was given on 1 April. Nothing new has come to light; these are all matters that are well known to the Government.

I am sure that, for the Minister of State, who has long experience of education, these matters are ABC matters. He and his team would have been perfectly well aware of all the circumstances when the decision was made on 1 April and when the pledge was given. If they knew of those matters then and decided to go ahead and give the pledge, they should now keep it, because there is no justification for not doing so.

4.15 pm

Since the Secretary of State spoke on 2 June, some discretion seems to have been used by him. Indeed, he seems to have taken at face value his comment about discretion being the better part of valour because he used his discretion when the head of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools wrote to him by not responding to the letter. He left it to a civil servant to respond. I will not go into what the civil servant said in that letter; I think that it is gobbledegook and does not take the matter any further. The original letter was written to the Secretary of State and I am a bit surprised—I do not want to criticise the Secretary of State too much because I am trying to get him and the Minister of State on my side-that he was not prepared to reply to it himself.

Before the election, the Labour party and its spokesmen were keen to correspond and communicate with those whose children were in independent education. I understand that the hon. Member for Walton—I give him credit for this—attended the conference of the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools. He wrote numerous letters to that organisation on matters that might be of concern to it and he even wrote an article for one of the independent school's magazines, which was headed "Now is the opportunity to build bridges and forget the divisions". I do not want to be too confrontational, but I must say that all that has happened so far is that the Labour party, through the Bill, has created divisions and forgotten its promises. That is what this amounts to.

When the Minister of State wound up the debate on Second Reading, he chose to ignore the matter altogether. No doubt the Secretary of State would say that he was using his discretion wisely. The hon. Member for Walton, the then shadow Minister, who made the original promise, has been moved on to other things. The Secretary of State does not want to answer correspondence on the matter. The Minister of State tries to ignore it altogether when he speaks in the House. We see at an early stage in this Government's life a decision that has become an orphan, one of those unfortunate decisions by Government which travel from in-tray to in-tray without anyone wanting to take responsibility for them. It is a sad little decision and it is sad that it should have been made so early in the life of this Government.

It is incumbent on Labour Members and particularly on Ministers to accept that there is a question of trust and promise. The promise was given in the clearest possible terms to the low-income parents of 2,000 or so children who were very concerned about their future and who wanted to make the best decision for them. Those parents will be very interested by the approach taken by Ministers on this occasion.

I must say to the Under-Secretary of State that parents will not want to hear too much of the refrain we heard the other evening—that we are the many and they are the few, so we can do what we like. That refrain should not be used on this occasion. I would like Ministers to look again at the matter and to show that they can be flexible. I would also like them to show that on the important matter of honouring promises, they are prepared to face up to their responsibilities.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham was right when he referred to the Prime Minister's words. Those words about trust and keeping promises stand in contrast with what the Government propose to do now. Surely the amendments give the Government an opportunity to find a way out of the dilemma in which they have got themselves. It should not take too much for the Government, riding high, with their massive majority and enormous power, to stop and think about honouring pledges made to a few parents from low-income families. Surely the Government have the wisdom, discretion and sense to recognise their plight.

It is an important issue, and I hope that the Government will not act in a confrontational way, but use their discretion and their power. I hope that they will reconsider the matter and show that they are sensitive to keeping promises to parents who regard the education of their children as, in the Secretary of State's words, of paramount importance.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I begin by saying that the Liberal Democrats support amendment No. 3 and, with your indulgence, Sir Alan, we will call for a separate vote on it.

Given the enormous amount of rhetoric that we have heard from Conservative Members, it seems incredible that they did not manage to table one sensible, composite amendment. Instead, on Thursday they chose to spend the entire evening filibustering so that we could not have a sensible debate on the key issues.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

No. I have only just begun my speech.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

On a point of order, Sir Alan. Can you confirm that the Bill is likely to make substantially faster progress in the House than it would have in Standing Committee and to accuse us of filibustering is a remarkable and possibly disorderly suggestion?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I cannot imagine that any of my colleagues in the Chair during the proceedings on Thursday would have allowed any conduct of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We shall make more progress if we get on with the substantial points.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I humbly apologise for the use of the term "filibustering". Perhaps it just took an incredibly long time for Conservative Members to speak.

On Thursday, the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) referred to my involvement in education. I thank him for his kind remarks and I return the compliment. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has a great commitment to seeing the Bill squashed and particular aspects of it reversed.

Oddly enough, I rise today in support of his amendment, but I do so with an extremely heavy heart. One of my principal desires in coming to the House was to redress some of the damage that the previous Government had inflicted on state education through their pernicious attacks based almost entirely on dogma and division. Having listened to some of the seven-hour debate on Thursday, and having heard Conservative Members arguing in defence of a scheme that, in many ways, was the very embodiment of the divisions of the past 18 years, I am now placed in the invidious position of having to warn the present Government against making the same mistakes.

Indeed, my party supports the amendment because we want to put an end to injustice based on division. If the amendment is not carried today, that legacy of division and mistrust will continue. If the Government insist on ending the assisted places scheme for all children at the age of 11, they will stand accused, quite rightly in our view, of placing dogma before reason and expediency before compassion.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Given his previous experience in education, does he agree that the only important issue is continually raising standards? Does he consider that the Bill does anything at all to raise standards in the state education system?

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to confirm that, over the past 18 years, the previous Government made a pernicious attack on state education in the name of standards. When Conservative Members attack the Government for the pernicious way in which they have introduced the Bill, that seems to be perfectly okay, but when the compliment is reversed by those of us who are committed to state education and not private, independent education, we are told that we are quite ridiculous.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

No, I will not.

I am dismayed that Conservative Members, who spoke so eloquently on Thursday and put on such mock shows of outrage and injustice, failed to recognise that the assisted places scheme did absolutely nothing for the vast majority of Britain's children, particularly when resources were in such short supply. What logic is there in an argument that states a desire to raise standards for all, yet deliberately sets out to disadvantage those in the greatest need by removing resources from them? Yet, that is exactly what the assisted places policy did and why it is monstrous for hon. Members to try to continue to justify such an unjustifiable policy.

Earlier in the debate, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) spoke of his experience during the election campaign of hundreds of people rushing up to him to express their anguish at the possible ending of the assisted places scheme. I did not have that experience once.

What I did encounter in virtually every household where there was a school-aged child was a deep concern that further Government cuts would mean yet larger primary school classes, yet further delays in urgent building repairs, yet more need for parental contributions to music and swimming lessons and the purchase of text books, and the cancellation of capital programmes. That is what they were concerned about and what they rushed up to me to talk about—not the ending of the assisted places scheme.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The only person who came to me during the election campaign to raise anxieties about the assisted places scheme was someone who asked whether their child would be able to remain in the scheme until the age of 13, which is the transfer age and the objective of the amendment that my hon. Friend is supporting.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention.

The assisted places scheme is not an issue in my constituency because we have an education system in which every school is a good school, where every school achieves at or above national standards, and where every school has rejected the siren calls of the previous Secretary of State to opt out and cause further division. We want high quality, high-value-added education for all, not simply a few.

Yes, we have two excellent independent schools, which have a total of 71 assisted places. Their examination results are on a par with the comprehensives, and their sporting and music traditions are also strong. Indeed, apart from two key components, they offer a comparable standard of education to the state comprehensives. The first is that in neither of the two independent schools—we have not heard this mentioned once in the debate—does one find one special educational needs pupil on an assisted place. Yet, in the six comprehensives, there are 854 such pupils.

The second factor is the element of grant that is received from the state—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I ought to point out that he is making a rather general speech, whereas we are discussing specific amendments, which, as I understood it, he particularly wished to support and to which his right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) sought elegantly to guide him back. May I recommend that he follows that guidance?

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

As always, Sir Alan, I am grateful for your guidance. As a new hon. Member, I was modelling myself on Conservative Members.

Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Conservative, Horsham 4:30 pm, 10th June 1997

On a point of order, Sir Alan. It is reasonable for the Chairman and Conservative Members to take strong exception to that remark. We have been at pains to address ourselves properly to the amendments under debate. If we had not done so, you and your colleagues in the Chair would have brought us up short.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I do not think that we are out of order. The point has registered that we should make progress on the specific matter of the amendment. Then the whole Committee would be more satisfied.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I am grateful for your guidance, Sir Alan. I am trying to balance the amendment with the overall structure that the Government are trying to address through the Bill.

When he paid me his compliment on 2 May, the hon. Member for Hertsmere might not have known that I had just finished a 34-year teaching career, all spent in state schools in some of the most deprived areas of Leeds and Middlesbrough. For the last 20 years of that career, I was a head teacher and for the last 13, I was head teacher of John Smeaton community high school—a comprehensive school in the constituency of Leeds, East.

That school served one of the most disadvantaged areas of Leeds, where unemployment was twice the average for the city, with a particular problem among 16 to 25-year-olds. Approximately one child in three came from a lone-parent family and housing stock was relatively poor, but the school was oversubscribed, with excellent reports, no failing teachers and a dedicated, committed staff. Many of the parents of children at that school could not spell assisted places scheme, let alone use it. Very few students from one of the most deprived areas of east Leeds attended private schools on assisted places.

Those students are failing not because they lack dedicated teachers or caring homes, but because they live in a spiral of deprivation—a legacy of 18 years of Tory education policy. They need high-quality early years education. They need a real commitment to reducing primary school class sizes, because teachers working with children already damaged by their social environment at the age of five need to be able to give high levels of personal contact—the contact that preparatory schools give to many children.

The Liberal Democrats would like more than the money from the assisted places scheme spent on redressing the balance. I know that Ministers would dearly love to have the £2 million a year that the Liberal Democrats would have put at the disposal of the Department, but the measure is a start.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Two billion. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his alacrity.

Despite my party's desire for the assisted places scheme to go quickly, we must not take advantage of a group of children, sacrificing them on the altar of expediency. The Education (Assisted Places) (Amendment) Regulations 1996 extended the assisted places scheme to junior departments of independent schools. Of the 850 places, 790 were taken up in 1996–97. Many such schools teach to the age of 13. It would be morally unjustifiable to remove those children in the middle of their education and return them to the state sector.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a further complication in local education authorities that operate a middle school system? In those areas, children will be put back into the system halfway through what would have been their middle school career. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should be addressed in the Bill?

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is difficult for the Library to obtain up-to-date figures. In 1995, 33 local education authorities—virtually one in three—had middle school systems. In the Minister's constituency, there are at least two different ages of transfer. Children in preparatory schools would find it difficult because their education would be halted at the age of 11 and they would have to rejoin the state system, not at the beginning, but in the middle of a different tier and a different style of education. That is unacceptable.

Section 2 of the Education Act 1997 allowed independent primary schools that were not attached to independent secondary schools to offer some 600 assisted places. Those places have been largely allocated for 1997–98. It would not be fair or just to allow those children in preparatory schools to be taken out of their education in midstream.

The point made by the shadow Minister about the oral and written commitments made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) to the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools was well made, and I do not wish to repeat it. However, it adds considerable weight to the arguments for the amendments. It must be wrong for a shadow Minister to promise one thing in opposition and then for his colleagues to renege when in power. We saw enough of that under the previous Administration, and we do not want to see it again.

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment, in his opening remarks to the House on 2 June, tried to address that point when he made his famous statement: Discretion is the better part of valour, and we will use it wisely."—[Official Report, 2 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 27] Unlike many Opposition Members, I believe that the Secretary of State will use his judgment wisely. The amendments seek to remove the shadow of concern from parents by making the appropriate changes to the Bill. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendments and demonstrate that, unlike with the previous Administration, all children come first with the Government.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) on his latter remarks. He is right to express the hope that the discretion available to the Government under the Bill will be used wisely. We know that it will not be the Secretary of State for Education and Employment who exercises the discretion; in practice, it is likely to be the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris). She can be relied upon to use her discretion wisely, and I hope that she will prove that when she responds to the debate on the amendments.

It is a shame that we are considering the amendments and moving to the Report stage later today. Issues are raised by the amendments that do not conflict with the principles that guide the Government in their consideration of the Bill. They could usefully reflect on those issues and come back to the House with sensibly worded amendments. I understand that the Government cannot accept the amendments, because of drafting errors. That is often the case with Opposition amendments. I have sat on the other side of the Chamber and witnessed sensible amendments tabled by the Labour party in opposition that we could not accept because they were badly drafted. I accept that the amendments may have technical problems, but I cannot see any reason why the spirit that lies behind many of the amendments cannot be accepted by the Government.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough made a powerful and unanswerable case on the specific issue of transfers at age 13. The hon. Gentleman chastised us for speaking at length earlier in proceedings on the Bill. I cannot speak for my hon. Friends—although I hope that they have the same experience as myself—but I spoke on the amendments because I genuinely care about them. The Bill is being passed very speedily and I hope that the Minister will consider our arguments later, when she reads the Official Report. I understand that she will not be able to respond positively today, but I hope that detailed consideration will be given to our amendments in another place. They raise the most important issues of trust without interfering with the principle that guides the Government.

I spoke twice last week on the Bill and I made no secret of the fact that I think it is a bad Bill. It is misguided and I do not believe that it will save money. It will not achieve what the Government want it to achieve; rather, it will damage the education system and bring no benefit. However, I am faced with the challenge of mitigating its worst effects, and I believe that the amendments would achieve that.

The speeches that we have heard so far have mostly concentrated on the issue of transfer at age 13. I am not aware of any individuals in my constituency who are affected by that matter, although I suspect that there are some. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough teased me about the "hundreds" of parents who approached me on the general matter raised by the Bill. There were not hundreds, but it may have run into double figures—[HON. MEMBERS: "Twelve?"] I would not like to give an exact number, but it was well into double figures. That is quite a lot of people to raise a matter on the doorstep during an election campaign.

There are specific individuals in my constituency who are touched by the issues raised by the amendments; so I speak from a hard realistic point of view, not a hypothetical one, about individuals who will be badly affected if that aspect of the Bill is passed unamended.

I shall address in particular the transfer at the age of 11 from primary education into the so-called secondary sector, because that is the issue that touches individuals in my constituency. As I have said before, although the schools affected lie not in my constituency but in Worcester, many of the parents of children who attend them come from my Mid-Worcestershire constituency.

A characteristic of those schools is the strong link between their primary and secondary provision. For example, one of them has a shared Department for Education and Employment number and sees itself as one school, which children join at seven and leave at 18. It is organised in two separate units, with two head teachers, but it sees itself as a continuum, and seeks to encourage its pupils to see their position within the school in the same spirit.

That fact has important implications for the amendments. The encouragement of such a spirit makes a valuable contribution to the life of a school. Another Worcester school that the children of my constituents attend transfers pupils a year early from the primary school—that is, from the physical primary facility—to the secondary school. The children regard themselves as part of the secondary school at the age of 10 rather than 11.

I know about that, because my daughter attends the school and has made that transfer. When the children move across, they feel part of the secondary school a year early. I strongly suspect, although I do not know for sure, that the same considerations exist elsewhere—DFEE numbers, and so on, and certainly the encouragement of one spirit across the school, and the strong bonds of loyalty between the two separate units.

The issues involved are more complex than the Government realised when they drafted that part of the Bill. That is why I hope that they will respond positively, at least in tone, to the amendments. Integration of primary and secondary facilities in the schools is important, and deserves to be taken seriously by the Government.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) spoke about the "Walton promise", and quoted from a letter. I have not seen the letter, but I heard what he said, and he made a powerful case. Moreover, head teachers from the schools that I have mentioned tell me that, at the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools national conference in September 1996, they heard similar comments by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who is now the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service, but was then a shadow education spokesman.

4.45 pm

The head teachers cannot provide me with an exact copy of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but they are quite clear about the implication that he encouraged them to draw from what he said—that assisted places would be honoured for their lifetime. That means that, when a child goes to a preparatory school, the assisted place lasts the whole time the child is at that school. That relates to the question about 13-year-olds raised by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough.

The head teachers were also clear about the fact that, in schools that regarded themselves as single entities—one school in effect and, indeed, legally—assisted places would be honoured for their lifetime, from seven to 18. That is what they believed the hon. Member for Walton was saying last September.

I do not believe that accepting the principle behind the amendments would be a huge problem for the Government. The numbers involved are modest and time-limited. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said that he passionately believed that the amendments would strike at the primary school in his constituency that was suffering so badly, in its efforts to improve. I am sorry to hear about that suffering, but I sought to intervene to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he knew exactly what the cost implications would be if the Government accepted the principle behind the amendments.

I suspect that the sums are very small, and that by the time they are shared out throughout the whole state primary sector, they will be nugatory—almost non-existent. I believe that the savings that could be made by the whole Bill will be much smaller than the Government claim, and I have tabled a question seeking clarification on the matter.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

My right hon. Friend on the Front Bench thinks that I will be lucky to get an answer. Certainly that has been a characteristic of questions asked about the Bill—and that is one of the factors that makes scrutiny of it, in the dreadful rush that the Government have inflicted on us, so difficult.

I believe that the overall savings will be small, but the savings made by not accepting the amendments must be tiny. I asked one of the schools in my constituency how many assisted places it had, and the answer was that five had been awarded for seven and eight-year-olds in September 1996, and another five had been awarded for this September. In the case of that school, those places will be honoured through to the age of 11 and then scrapped.

I cannot believe that those numbers will be replicated across the country at anything like that level, because the schools concerned happen to have a long tradition of state provision. One was a direct grant school and another a grammar school. In effect, they were almost in the state sector; one literally was a state school.

Those schools tend to attract rather more assisted place applicants, because in the community they serve they are seen as state schools—glorified state schools, possibly, but none the less state schools—and many parents aspire to send their children there. The numbers involved are therefore likely to be at the top end of the spectrum, yet they are still extremely modest.

I have given the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Yardley, the text of a letter to me from a constituent whose child will be affected by this part of the Bill. I asked the mother concerned whether I could name her and her child, but she was reluctant to be named, and asked me to quote her letter anonymously. I shall therefore change the text slightly as I read, to take account of her wish to remain anonymous. However, I have given the Minister a copy of the letter, so she will be able to see exactly what my constituent wrote.

The letter, which was sent to me last week, says: I am writing to you in desperation to ask for your help in preventing the Government from cancelling the existing Junior School assisted places. My child … won a full place to the … school.… last September.Before the election the Labour party Education spokesman went on public record as saying that all existing Assisted places would be honoured. Now they appear to be breaking this promise.We are distraught at the prospect of my child losing her education when the older Assisted places are being left in peace. I have no money to pay fees and I am desperate to do the best for my child.Please advise me what to do, there must be many other parents in the constituency in a similar position … I enclose a letter I have sent to the Prime Minister". The letter that my constituent wrote to the Prime Minister reads as follows: I am writing to beg you to reconsider your policy on removing existing Assisted places from Junior School children. My child won a place to the … school … in September 1996 and we were impressed when your Education spokesman, before the election, promised that all existing Assisted places would be honoured. That is the nub of the debate—that promise made in terms, both explicitly and implicitly, by the hon. Member for Walton. The message was clearly received loud and clear by my constituent, whose letter continues: This now seems not to be the case and we are completely shattered that my child is to be punished for my child's wonderful achievement in gaining this place which was a passport to a better life.I exist as a single parent on my small self-employed earnings and Family Credit, since my husband left. The stability and security of my child's promised education … meant everything to us.My child is now distraught at the prospect of being torn away from a lovely school and friends, whilst the older Assisted Place children are left in peace, and I cannot justify it to my child.I understand that there is a principle at stake here but I beg you as a parent of young children yourself, not to break a promise made to my child and to reconsider this policy and be magnanimous here. That is the nub of the group of amendments. It is an appeal to the Government's generosity of spirit, an appeal to them to be magnanimous and live up to the trust that they said the electorate should repose in them—to govern for all the nation rather than respecting the tyranny of the majority.

I urge the Minister to reflect seriously on what my constituent says. I have no idea what the lady's political views are; I did not meet her on the doorstep during the election campaign, and she wrote to me only last week. She provides a powerful example of the kind of person who will be badly affected unless the Government accept the spirit of the amendments.

A range of solutions presents itself. The most obvious solution would be to accept the amendments—but the Government may be intent on rejecting them and the spirit that lies behind them. If so, I ask the Minister to give me a clear figure on the costs that would be involved in accepting them. If the sums are as small as I expect them to be—in a few years' time, they will be very small indeed—I can see no rationale for the Government digging in their toes and acting like a dog in the manger. There is no reason why they should resist such a straightforward case of humanitarian concern. The easiest course for the Government, therefore, would be to accept the amendments. Alternatively—a poor second best—the Government could state more clearly how generously they intend to use the discretion that the Bill will give them. I urge them to exercise that discretion wisely.

If nothing else, I urge the Minister to guarantee that the Prime Minister replies in person to my constituent, so that he is forced to give an account of why he believes the Government should break their pledge. If the Government accept the amendments, they will have a chance to prove that they do indeed put children before dogma.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I welcome the chance to participate briefly in the debate, which I join only today—but already I have been appalled by what I have heard. I have been impressed by the force of the arguments deployed by my right hon. and hon. Friends and by the Liberal Democrat party. I need not detail the Committee by dilating on the general importance of Governments honouring their pledges unless and until there is a clear and specific reason for breaching them.

The principle in international law of pacta sunt servanda is that people who make undertakings should keep them. I find it disturbing that the Government, with the first education Bill of this Parliament—they have said that education is their priority—should slip up in this way.

I should like to reinforce the eloquent remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) about the human consequences of this measure. It is all very well saying that the numbers involved are small. There may be only 2,000 who fall into the category of the 13-year-old problem, although more are included if we consider the primary and secondary sectors together. I thought that this House stood for the principle that one injustice to one person is an injustice too many. That is why I am troubled about the proposals.

I am, for instance, worried about the implications for parents, some of them single parents, and for children, many of whom entertained the reasonable and legitimate expectation of being able to stay at their current schools until such time as they would usually change schools. Now they find that that settled understanding is to be frustrated by an apparently capricious Act of Parliament.

As an only child, I attached great importance to the security of knowing where my schooling would continue at the next stage, if all went well. Family problems can exacerbate the insecurities. I well understand the technical issues described by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), because the same LEA, in my constituency and the adjoining one, administers a middle school system as well as the usual transfer at the age of 11. If a family with a child of 11 were breaking up, it would certainly benefit that child's education if he were allowed to stay on for another couple of years instead of being forced to move schools in the middle of the family breakdown. Unless there is good reason for doing so, it seems to me wrong to disturb the pattern of a child's education.

What could the reasons behind this proposed change be? Although I agreed with a great deal of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) said, I beg to differ with him over his interpretation of the amount that is supposed to be saved. On a rough calculation, I reckon that the 2,000 children associated with the 13-years-old problem might produce a saving equivalent to a couple of hours of primary school education throughout the country. That is so little as to be indistinguishable from background noise. Ministers cannot plausibly maintain that the Bill will transform the prospects of primary school children generally, so I cannot believe that a wish to save money was the real motivation behind the legislation.

A second, more likely, possibility was a concern to avoid artificial arrangements. When I was the Minister responsible for higher education, I discussed with officials the theoretical possibility in a fully integrated education system—perhaps within a single foundation—that a child entering primary school at the age of five might claim, on the basis that he was embarking on an integrated course of study leading in due course to the award of a first degree, that he was entitled to a mandatory award from the local education authority for the whole of that period. I suspect that the adept lawyers in the DFEE would have overturned that idea; but if the Government say that they want to implement an anti-avoidance measure, as the tax lawyers would call it, I can understand what they are about.

The Government may be worried about preparatory schools—I do not believe they are usually run in this spirit—so reordering their affairs to give certain children one or two more years of assisted places. If so, I have some sympathy for their point. If children usually leave a particular preparatory school at the age of 11, but that school then decides to keep them on for another couple of years in assisted places until the age of 13—after the decision to abolish the assisted places scheme—the Government would be on to a point. I do not, however, believe that such cases are typical at all.

We are talking about schools whose normal age of transfer is 13, even though that does not mirror the pattern of transfer in the maintained sector. The amendments try to reconcile the problem humanely.

Earlier, I invited my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham to agree with me, and I think he did, that, although the usual age of transfer is 11, in the state sector—12 in middle schools—in the private sector and in schools offering assisted places it is usually 13. That is not universal, but it is fairly common. There is a simple discrepancy; consequently, under the Bill a small but significant number of children—any number of children is significant—will be forced to move at 11 when they would usually expect to transfer at 13. That would be unfortunate. Perhaps 2,000 children, on the most restrictive calculations, have been expecting to make their transfers at that age.

I concede that, if the Government are seeking to avoid monkey business—people trying to distort or frustrate the intentions for which the Government have a mandate—they may need to deal with that in some way, but they should not stumble on consequences for a significant number of individuals that will force them to change schools before they would normally expect to do so. In other words, we need to reverse the burden of proof. If there is a normal pattern of transfer from an assisted places school to another or to the maintained sector, that should be honoured. That is consistent with the pledge given by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle).

I can see that there are difficulties in effecting that. Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the importance of having a flexible interpretation of the regulations, which we have not yet seen. I agree in principle, but I must warn the Committee that, although it is important that regulations be interpreted flexibly, they cannot simply have a coach and horses driven through them, to allow for every single situation.

5 pm

What worries me about the way in which the legislation is framed is that it would be difficult in law—I am no lawyer, but I have some experience in these matters—to provide for everything to be at the Secretary of State's discretion. That might appear to be a tidy way of dealing with everything, but I have a horrible feeling that it is not reliable for the families involved, because discretion cannot be unlimited, however good the draftsman.

There is a human problem for a small but significant number of pupils and their families. In my view, it is because of the dissonance between the normal age of transfer in the maintained sector and that in the private sector and assisted places. The legislation must be considered in terms of that specific problem.

It would be possible to come up with a solution, along the lines of amendment No. 3, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), that preserves people's normal expectation for transfer and, as a safeguard or fallback, prevents people from distorting or frustrating the Government's intentions. The Government should therefore either accept the amendments or undertake to cover the point in another way.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes a helpful analysis. I invite him to consider the important point that in every case it is the parents who have decided that it is in the best interests of their child's education for it to continue until 13.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

My hon. Friend is a lawyer, and I am not. I may have appeared to be arguing the legal side—that is important—but I must emphasise the importance of the human side as well. We simply cannot afford—however much we want to do for the maintained sector or for anyone else—to ride roughshod over a small number of individuals, in pursuit of a principle that is in itself questionable, and on the back of pledges that ought to be undertaken and maintained.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I want to reinforce some of the points made in powerful speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison).

Many parents have contacted me about this matter. Last weekend, I was approached by a mother who said that she had grave reservations about the likely effect of the Bill on her daughter if the new Government do not accept the amendments. She said that the Prime Minister's "education, education, education" should be replaced by "broken promise, broken promise, broken promise". I hope that Labour Members will bear that in mind.

If the Government do not accept the amendments or a modified version of them, that will be a gross breach of trust. There can be no getting away from the unequivocal words of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) in a speech to the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools conference and his subsequent letters.

Ministers know that those words were unequivocal, and they cannot weasel out of them. If they do not accept the amendments, they will be guilty, within a few weeks of taking office, of breaking their first promise, on an issue that the Prime Minister has said is the most important to him as a parent and as a Prime Minister.

I have some experience of the preparatory school world. Some years ago, I taught in a preparatory school for a relatively short time. That school, let me tell the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), had children with special needs and made an excellent job of teaching them. I was fortunate enough to play a part in giving extra remedial teaching to some of those pupils. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support and his acceptance of the need to keep the promises made by Labour Front Benchers; he clearly has enormous personal experience of education.

My father was a university don at both the beginning and the end of his career, and my mother was a teacher at an independent girls' school—she was head of the mathematics department for many years and eventually became the headmistress—that also benefited from assisted places at the preparatory level and dealt with special needs children, so I know the importance of the matter to parents who are often on low incomes. If the Labour party, with its huge majority, is not prepared to start keeping promises made to parents only a few weeks ago, it will stand condemned in the years ahead.

It is important to consider the detail of the amendments. None of my hon. Friends has yet spoken in detail about amendment No. 28, which emphasises the importance of religious content … the curriculum provided … opportunities for sport … size of classes; and … single-sex provision". Such factors explain why parents on low incomes often choose the special facilities that the independent sector at preparatory level can provide.

The Government are going back to the bad old ways of the 1960s and 1970s, when they were hellbent on destroying good direct-grant schools, such as the one that I attended having won a free place on the 11-plus. They are acting on the same old doctrinaire belief that if not all can have, none shall have. That old Labour ideology permeates the new Government's rejection of the amendments.

The matter is of enormous importance to the parents involved. I hope that the Government will reflect further. If they do not, I promise them that, over the next five years, in the eyes—and the words—of many parents, they will live to regret it.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

In the debate so far, my right hon. and hon. Friends have adopted a generous approach towards the Government, as did the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). I shall try to follow that example, because I hope that we all agree that the key issue is the children and families who will be affected if the amendments are not accepted. Parents accepted assisted places for their children in good faith, in the expectation that they would be permitted to carry on to the age of 13 and not have their education disrupted, as it will be if the Bill is not amended.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), and urge the Government to listen carefully to the genuine concerns that have been expressed this afternoon. If they cannot accept the amendments, they should at least accept that they need to resolve the problem and table new amendments in another place.

Parents accepted places for their children in good faith because the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) promised that places would be honoured through to the age of 13. The promise was made on 1 April; I cannot imagine that he made it in the belief that there was no chance of his party forming a Government after the general election. Had he done so, one might question his bona fides and integrity in one sense, but we would have understood it more than we do in the circumstances that now apply. I think that he made the promise believing that his party would honour it in government and that people who acted on it could have faith in what the Government would do.

I ask the Government to consider seriously our concerns and to think more widely about how their approach to the Bill will set the tone of this Government. I think that this is the first legislation to go through this Parliament that will have an immediate impact on people. There is no doubt that if the Government do not accept our amendments, they will be guilty of a breach of trust. After all, during the general election campaign, the Labour party claimed that it was fighting on the issue of trust. It said that it was the party that could be trusted and that it would honour its pledges and manifesto commitments. Both the Bill in general and the specific provisions about the continuation of education for 11-year-olds up to 13 show that Labour is breaking its promises to the electorate.

Labour's manifesto pledge was to abolish the assisted places scheme and to use the money to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. The Bill abolishes the assisted places scheme but does nothing about the other side of the equation to ensure that class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds are reduced. I have already heard teachers in my constituency say that they know what will happen: the money will not appear; it will not be enough if it does appear; the chances of its coming are fairly slim; and that class sizes will not be reduced as a result of the Bill. Given that the Government are setting the tone for their whole period of office, I urge them to think carefully about the pledge that was given and to honour it.

I make no apologies to hon. Members who have heard me speak about the matter before, although I am sorry that it always seems to be the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), who is here when I raise the point, given that it concerns one of her ministerial colleagues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry said, the Bill's impact is most significant on families with 11 to 13-year-olds for whom the scheme is used because of social need. It is in such cases that the difficulties of adjusting when the child no longer has a place will be most significant, especially when the scheme has been used to provide boarding school education.

Charitable foundations contacted the hon. Member for Walton before the general election. He discussed the issue with them and gave them every expectation that even if the assisted places scheme was abolished, as Labour proposed, a way could be found to deal with children who required boarding school education because of social need, family background or other difficulties. Again, there was an expectation of Government action because of statements made—in good faith, I am sure—by the hon. Member for Walton. Charities and parents, in good faith, expected action.

I urge the Government to reconsider and to accept either our amendments or those proposed by others. They should ensure that the Bill does not go through with the breach of trust that exists as it stands, but accept that the hon. Member for Walton acted in good faith, and accept the genuine concerns expressed by Conservative and Liberal Members. The Government must accept that if they do not agree to the amendments, some children will be seriously affected. I urge them to find amendments that they can accept, so that the children involved can continue their education as they were promised.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold 5:15 pm, 10th June 1997

Much has been said on the amendments, so I shall keep to a few brief remarks.

I should like to take the House back to the atmosphere that prevailed in March and April. Time after time, Conservative Members asked the Labour party, in the unlikely event, as we thought then, of it being elected, to give an expenditure pledge on this or that subject. It is therefore inconceivable that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) would have given a pledge on 11 to 13-year-olds if it had not been cleared by the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). He must have had it cleared, and the money must have been allocated.

If my maths is correct and it is right that about 2,000 places are involved in extending the assisted places scheme from 11 to 13-year-olds, and we generously assume that the marginal difference between the cost of educating a pupil under the scheme and education in the state system is about £2,000—I think that it is only £1,000 at the most—I calculate the additional cost to be in the region of £4 million. Given that people have based their decisions on their children's educational future on the basis that they would continue to be educated in the private maintained sector until 13, that is not an unreasonable cost.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

My hon. Friend's mathematics is excellent, but the difference between the cost of a secondary place on the assisted places scheme and a state school place is only about £700 or £800. The sum involved is therefore considerably less.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I said that £2,000 was generous and that I thought that it was probably £1,000 or less. She has probably given a more accurate estimate. I ask the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), as she has already been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), to give the Government's accurately calculated figure. That would be helpful.

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). I tried to get her as my next-door neighbour, but it did not quite work out. She has made an excellent start in the House, and I hope that we will hear many more of her contributions, because her grasp of this subject is obviously great. She and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) made some telling remarks about the human aspect of the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry mentioned cases where parents divorce. I have never had to grapple with that subject, and I hope that I never will. However, from friends who have had to grapple with it, I know that it is traumatic for the children. I hope that, even if the hon. Member for Yardley cannot incorporate it into the Bill, she will use the discretion available to her under the various Education Acts sensitively, so that, even if we cannot get a blanket extension for children aged 11 to 13 to continue on the scheme, sensitive human cases will be sympathetically considered.

I can conceive of other difficult cases. As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry said, if a local education authority operates a middle school system for children to the age of 12 and the assisted places scheme stops at the age of 11, children will have to change to one school and then to another at 13. Changing school always sets back a child's academic education, as we all know from our own children. Again, I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to exercise her discretion in that circumstance.

A third category of human difficulty is that of a really bright child on the assisted places scheme who might get a scholarship to a privately maintained secondary school. He or she would have to leave the primary maintained school to go to a secondary school before getting a scholarship to continue further in the private system. That would mean further disruption for a child who, under normal circumstances, would not have expected it.

Amendment No. 28 deals with the type of state schools that might be available. Many of the best state schools have a waiting list—that is certainly the case in my constituency. Often, it is not possible for a child to get into the preferred school. Again, it may be a case of a child leaving an assisted place at 11 to go to a state school that may not have been his or her first choice. Great difficulties could be involved. The child might have to travel further from home and might not be with his or her friends or with relations who had attended the school nearest the home. Those are all individual circumstances that need to be taken into account.

Amendment No. 28 incorporates a number of features that must be taken into consideration. For example, the state school available might not be suitable on religious grounds for a child coming out of the private system. What would happen if a child had attended a private school with assisted places money, but the religious ethos of the state school nearest to his or her home was different? A child might be particularly gifted in music or sport, but the local state school might not have those facilities.

I am keen to ensure that all state schools have a wide curriculum. That is why the previous Government, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) was involved, produced the White Paper "Sport: Raising the Game". I am keen for all our state schools to have good sports facilities.

Parental choice is what matters most in the extension of the assisted places scheme from the age of 11 to 13. After all, parents expected when they put their children into the private system with assisted places money that their child would stay there until the age of 13. If a parent has an expectation and the Government give a pledge—even when they are in opposition—under all the rules of basic justice, that pledge should be honoured. I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Front Bench to honour that pledge. A small amount of money is involved and the parents affected have a right to expect that it will be honoured.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

I will be brief, as others want to speak on this group of amendments.

I rise to support amendments Nos. 11, 3 and 28. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) made a number of telling points very eloquently. First, he referred to the human aspect of the Bill and how it will impact on children. It is important for us to recognise that we are talking about individual children within a peer group in a school who will be removed from that peer group as a consequence of this Bill. It is not simply a matter of those children transferring to another school inside the maintained sector, which may or may not be able to meet the child's needs as well as the school that he or she was attending. Clearly, in the parents' view, the school that the child was attending under the assisted places scheme offered them facilities and choice that were not available in the maintained sector.

There is a human aspect above and beyond that. Having made a choice on behalf of their children, parents had the reasonable expectation that their child would be able to proceed along that path. In addition, the children had become familiar with and very much a part of the school and its ethos. All of us with children know that, if they become attached to a school of any kind, leaving is a wrench and can have a deleterious impact on their education if they think that the way they are removed is unfair.

Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire referred to schools that appear to have a different character, but are in reality the same school, with a continuing ethos that runs from the primary to the secondary school. There is an example of just such in south Cambridgeshire. St. Faith's school enjoys the same charity number and the same Department for Education and Employment number as the Leys school. Parents of children attending St. Faith's have the expectation that their children will continue to the Leys when they are 13.

That brings me to the point of the amendment that deals with the impact on children who would normally be in a school until the age of 13 but who will be required, under the circumstances foreseen by the Government, to leave at 11. I shall not continue at length, as my hon. Friends have explained the case more eloquently than I could.

Parents clearly had reasonable expectations when they chose a school. Those expectations were reinforced as recently as April this year, when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) said that, if children had commenced at a school, they would be able to continue until the age of 13. I fear that we may have discovered during this debate and from the Government's actions in moving the hon. Gentleman into the recesses of the Cabinet Office that, whereas we believed that there was a doctrine of collective responsibility on the part of the Government, there seems to be a doctrine of collective irresponsibility where pledges made in advance of the election are concerned.

In those circumstances, it was reasonable for parents to expect that their children would be able to proceed until the age of 13. For that reason, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) was right to draw our attention to the fact that the Government made a pledge and that it is one that should be honoured, not broken.

As I said on Second Reading and when speaking on an earlier amendment—I think that the Minister said this from a sedentary position earlier—the Government argue that, if children are required to leave schools that they attended under the assisted places scheme, it is acceptable for them to revert to the maintained sector—which indeed it may be for some, but it is important for the Government to recognise that parents have made their choices for diverse reasons.

St. Mary's in south Cambridgeshire, for example, is a single-sex school with a Roman Catholic orientation. That brings me back to amendment No. 28. It is incumbent on Ministers to answer this point. If there is no school of the character that I have described, it is not sufficient for them to say that children must revert to the maintained sector and that that is good enough and they are in exactly the same position as all other children. If no choice of school is available to parents, where do Ministers expect their children to go? On what basis are Ministers removing that choice? I want the Minister to clarify the situation in her reply.

Representations made to me by schools in my constituency seem to show that they foresee a time when children over the age of 11—when they would normally transfer to the maintained sector—in schools that take pupils up to the age of 13 may continue for one or two academic years and then, aged 13, be asked to transfer to the maintained sector. That may not be convenient; it may be difficult for those children to transfer into a new peer group and a new class of pupils who have been at that school for a couple of years.

By contrast, children at a neighbouring school who may have taken up their assisted places at 11 could continue with them through to 18. According to the letter from the Department for Education and Employment, one child of 12 may be required to leave school and enter the maintained sector a year later and another child of 12 on an assisted place may be assured of that place through to the age of 18. I should be grateful if the Minister would reflect on that point and, if time allows, answer that matter, which has been raised with me in my constituency. I should be grateful if she would say how that problem can be resolved.

It is right for Conservative Members to press an amendment that seeks to remove a provision that would mean the Government reneging on the pledge that they made before the election to allow children to continue from their primary places up to the age of 13.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) 5:30 pm, 10th June 1997

I am replying to a debate which has taken, I think, five days—we started in the early hours of Friday morning. The amendments deal with just one issue and I shall attempt to address the comments made. Although it has been a wide-ranging debate, the amendments are quite clear.

There have been a number of thoughtful and considered speeches. I am thinking particularly of the speeches of the hon. Members for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), to which I listened carefully. I apologise to the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May): I realised some time after I sat down on Friday morning that I had not addressed her specific query, although I had intended to. I shall take the opportunity to do so now.

I share the hon. Lady's concern about children, of whatever background, whose education is made more difficult. I also share her concern about children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, who have enough to contend with without having to cope with extra burdens. I have not yet received representations from the organisation to which she referred on Thursday evening, but when I receive its letters I shall reply to them.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

I should be happy to pass the correspondence to the Minister directly in order to speed up the process. I am grateful for her generous comments, and I look forward to her addressing the issue as sympathetically as she suggested she would.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

The letters, which I shall look at, are probably wending their way from the officials to my office.

The hon. Lady referred to the assisted places scheme. I see from the note given to me by my officials that boarding fees are expressly precluded from the assisted places scheme. In the cases to which I suspect the hon. Lady is referring, an assisted places day scheme has been supplemented by boarding fees from elsewhere.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

I am talking about those cases where the boarding fees are paid by charitable foundations and the assisted places scheme is used to top up the educational element of the package.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

I do not wish to sound too sympathetic, for fear that I may mislead the hon. Lady, but our pledge not to extend the assisted places scheme remains firm. Decisions about whether to fund boarding education are for the local authority—sometimes they are mandatory and sometimes discretionary. That is a more complicated issue than that considered by the legislation. I shall ensure that a full reply is given, as I am aware of the hon. Lady's great interest in the subject.

I confirm that, as a Government, we have made it clear that we do not wish to extend the assisted places scheme and that the commitments that we gave in our manifesto will be honoured. I shall remind the Committee of those commitments. First, children in a secondary school will be able to finish secondary school and, secondly, children in a primary school will be able to finish primary school. Opinions differ over the age at which primary school is deemed to finish—whether it is 11 or 13. For all the long debates that we have had, it is that point which the amendments address.

I should like to clarify something that I think the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire was saying. The law has never allowed someone who takes a place under the primary assisted places scheme to transfer it and continue to 18. Even under the legislation passed by the Conservative Government, a child could not win a primary place aged five, seven, eight or 10 and automatically transfer it and use it up to the age of 18. My understanding is that someone on a primary assisted place would have to reapply for more funding for another place at 11 and someone on an assisted place at a prep school—where pupils stay until they are 13—would have to apply for a further place on a competitive basis at the age of 13.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

The hon. Lady is using a sympathetic tone, but her comments basically amount to, "No, no, no." Will she answer a specific question? Some children have been offered an assisted place at the age of 10, alongside others who have been offered places at the age of 11. It is my understanding that the director from the Department has visited the schools to say that those children cannot have their assisted places. Those pupils have already prepared themselves to spend the next seven or eight years in those schools.

The information that I have received show that those children number no more than 70 or 80. Will the Minister give me an answer now, at the Dispatch Box, on whether she will consider the cases and come to individual decisions using the discretionary powers granted to the Secretary of State in the Bill? Will she consider the cases, because they are causing a great deal of heartache and hardship to a small number of families?

Ms Morris: I have outlined the Government's thinking on the issue:

the primary age should finish at 11 and the secondary age at 18. I can confirm that the Bill contains a discretionary clause that the Secretary of State will use. I cannot give the hon. Lady her answer now, but, if she wishes, I shall reply later.

The Bill's principle is clear. We had to decide whether we deemed that the primary level finished at 11—

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

No, I must make some progress. I have been generous in giving way.

We had to decide whether the primary level finished at 11 or 13—that is the crux of the matter.

I shall give way now, but then I must make progress—this is likely to be the last time that I give way.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I thank the hon. Lady, who has been most generous with her time.

I wonder whether, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), I can invite the Minister to try to give her response before the Bill is further considered in another place.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

I shall certainly consider that invitation and try to respond to it—if not this evening, then later.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) talked about the age of transfer—11 or 13. He mentioned the difficulty of pupils entering schools where friendship groups have already been made, the curriculum has already been set and children have already settled down socially and academically.

Those aspects governed our decision on the transfer of pupils at 11 or 13. Half a million children every year already change schools at the age of 11. It is, therefore, sensible to provide for pupils to move into the maintained sector at the same age as other 11-year-olds transfer from primary to secondary schooling. Our approach is fair and puts the interests of the child ahead of the interests of the school—a point which was adequately summed up by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire.

It is also fair—using the guidance mentioned by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire—that, if the age of transfer to secondary school in an area is other than 11, the Secretary of State should hold discretionary powers. That provision is contained in the Bill—it is one way in which the discretionary powers can be exercised.

I reiterate that the Secretary of State will have discretionary powers that he may exercise when he sees fit. The golden rule is to make sure that we do not expand the assisted places scheme. We must move as swiftly and as fairly as possible so that we may use the resources that are freed from the scheme to make sure that five, six and seven-year-olds will not be in classes of more than 30. That is dear to our hearts, and there is a genuine difference of opinion on the issue between the Government and the Opposition.

We believe that class size matters. We, too, want to give opportunities to children and we care about lost opportunities and broken dreams. We have made the commitment that we shall do all in our power to make sure that the education system delivers the best to the many and not the few. I shall use that phrase again.

It is wholly appropriate that public funding which, in the past, has been used to give opportunities to the few and deny them to the many, should more properly be used to ensure adequate class sizes. We have been generous and fair and have tried to ensure that no child's education is broken or damaged. We differ from the Opposition in that we think that to transfer 11-year-olds to the maintained sector is not dreadful. They will be transferred to good-quality schools where they will have opportunities and will succeed. Their education will not be damaged. We have more faith in the maintained system than Conservative Members who ran it for the past 18 years seem to have. That is why I invite the House to reject the amendments.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

We intend to press the amendments to a vote, and I understand that Liberal Democrat Members will press for a vote on amendment No. 3.

This part of the Bill will go down as the broken pledge clause because the Walton pledge was broken by the Government within a few minutes of their coming to power. The amendments relate particularly to children of about 11, but the Minister does not fully appreciate that for many children that is a vulnerable age. There is no doubt that such children will be badly affected by the Bill.

The Minister repeated the saying, "We are for the many, not the few." Therefore, the voice of protest and the voices of the parents of those children is obviously too small to be heard by the Government, although they are the few and not the many. If they were a mob, they would be listened to by the Government, but, because they are small in number and the children are from low-income families, the Government ride roughshod over them.

I do not want to add much to the excellent speeches by my hon. Friends. If the Minister is so firmly committed to abolishing assisted places, why did the Secretary of State agree to allow me when I was the Minister responsible for this area to expand the primary school places for at least a year? Was it not the most callous act to allow the scheme to expand for just 12 months? The Secretary of State was keen to get more money so that he could try to keep a pledge which he knows it will be impossible to fulfil.

The reason for the Bill is to produce extra money to enable the Government to try to reduce class sizes, but the money that will be gleaned will be nowhere near enough to do that. When he appeared with me on a television programme earlier today the Minister of State gave the impression that he was scrabbling around for money to fulfil his pledge on class sizes. In answer to a question about funding for primary schools he said: What we are doing is. we are releasing money from the nursery voucher scheme and the phasing out of the assisted places scheme. In the short term, that will bring in more resources. He has not said how much will be released by the abolition of the nursery voucher scheme, but it is beginning to dawn on the Government that even the abolition of the assisted places scheme will not give them enough to fulfil their pledge. The first broken promise is the Walton pledge, and the next is the pledge on class sizes.

The Minister would not give me an answer about 10-year-olds. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) yesterday received a fax from a parent who is extremely concerned about this issue. I hope that the Minister will be decent enough to write to me on the matter because the author of the fax is the constituent of a Labour Member who, I understand, will take the matter up with the Department. The constituent writes: The assisted places scheme is affecting children who have been offered a place for 10-plus entry to secondary school this September. Very few schools in the assisted places scheme offer a 10-plus entry and so this ruling only affects a small number of children. But these few seem to me to be being overlooked and unfairly treated. 5.45 pm

The Minister is not paying attention. Those children are certainly being overlooked. The fax continues: For these children starting their secondary education at 10 they are to all intents and purposes in exactly the same position as those children who will be starting their secondary education at 11 this September. Both groups were notified of their assisted places at the same time, both will by now have begun to make the necessary arrangements for changing schools. Some will even have bought uniforms and both will be looking forward to spending the next seven or eight years at their chosen schools. Yet the dividing line has been drawn between them, and for this small group of 10-plus, maybe as few as 70, their future has been made worryingly uncertain. They achieved an assisted place and now, even before they have started the school, they have been told it will be taken away from them. It will only run for one year. By not considering those children, how much would the Minister save? How much would it cost her to honour those places and not destroy the lives of some 70 children? It is obvious that the Government are interested only in the many and not the few. I am not hopeful of any understanding from them.

Amendment No. 28 was spoken to by some of my hon. Friends. I challenge the Minister's statement that there is only one point in the amendments. Has she read them or did she just read the notes that were provided by her officials? The amendments certainly contain another point, and it is a key one because it deals with the provision of comparable education for children who are going on to secondary schools. Amendment No. 28 shows that the areas that we picked out were religious content, curriculum provided, opportunities for sport, class sizes, which are so dear to the Minister's heart, and, of course, single-sex provision.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

I read the amendment, but it seemed so out of tune with the hon. Lady's acts when she was in government that I thought it could not possibly be serious. Does comparability of class size mean that the hon. Lady and her party have changed their minds? Do they now believe that class size matters, and does the hon. Lady think that going from a class of 15 to a class of 35 would cause problems?

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

The hon. Lady seems to forget that I do not have to answer the questions now. [Interruption.] She has to answer them, but she was in opposition for a long time and a leopard cannot change its spots. She has to answer the questions and her response to these amendments has made it obvious that she is incapable of doing that.

As to religious content, will the Minister assure me that these children will have a Catholic school available to them, or perhaps a school that has worship every day or mass? Will the school deal with moral education in the same way as the school that the child has come from? She obviously does not care.

On the curriculum, these children sometimes study Latin, Greek and the classics. Will the Minister ensure that children will have the choice and the chance in the state sector to study those subjects? Will they be able to study politics and economics at A-level? State schools should offer at least the spread of subjects that is often offered by schools that these children would have expected to go to.

On sport at school, will those children be able to play lacrosse, hockey, cricket, rugby fives, real tennis, golf or rowing? Has the Minister any idea of the range of sports? Before she laughs, I have been told that Mike Atherton, who has just captained the England side to a brilliant success, which, I assure hon. Members, had nothing to do with a Labour Government—the side trained under a Tory Government—held an assisted place. Will the children be taught in the same size of class and will there be single-sex provision? The differences are obvious.

I have no hope that the Government will listen to anything that Conservative Members say. When I was a Minister and we considered legislation in Committee, we did listen and make adjustments. This Government have shown that they are not going to make adjustments or to listen. This group of amendments will be remembered as the broken Walton pledge amendments.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 147, Noes 400.

Division No. 23][5.51 pm
AYES
Amess, David(Grantham & Stamford)
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelDay, Stephen
Arbuthnot, JamesDuncan, Alan
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Duncan Smith, Iain
Baldly, TonyEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)Evans, Nigel
Bercow, JohnFaber, David
Beresford, Sir PaulFabricant, Michael
Blunt, CrispinFallon, Michael
Body, Sir RichardFlight, Howard
Boswell, TimForsythe, Clifford
Brady, GrahamForth, Eric
Brazier, JulianFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterFox, Dr Liam
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Fraser, Christopher
Burns, SimonGale, Roger
Butterfill, JohnGarnier, Edward
Cash, WilliamGibb, Nick
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Chope, ChristopherGorman, Mrs Teresa
Clappison, JamesGray, James
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)Green, Damian
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyGummer, Rt Hon John
Collins, TimHague, Rt Hon William
Colvin, MichaelHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Cormack, Sir PatrickHammond, Philip
Cran, JamesHawkins, Nick
Curry, Rt Hon DavidHayes, John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Heald, Oliver
Davies, QuentinHeath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
(Old Bexley & Sidcup)Robathan, Andrew
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasRowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Horam, JohnRuffley, David
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelSt Aubyn, Nick
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Sayeed, Jonathan
Hunter, AndrewShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex)Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Key, RobertSpicer, Sir Michael
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Spring, Richard
Kirkbride, Miss JulieSteen, Anthony
Laing, Mrs EleanorStreeter, Gary
Lansley, AndrewSwayne, Desmond
Letwin, OliverSyms, Robert
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lidington, DavidTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterTaylor, Sir Teddy
Loughton, TimTemple-Morris, Peter
Luff, PeterThompson, William
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasTownend, John
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTredinnick, David
Mclntosh, Miss AnneTrend, Michael
MacKay, AndrewTyrie, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidViggers, Peter
McLoughlin, PatrickWalter, Robert
Madel, Sir DavidWardle, Charles
Malins, HumfreyWaterson, Nigel
Maples, JohnWells, Bowen
Mates, MichaelWhitney, Sir Raymond
Maude, Rt Hon FrancisWhittingdale, John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr BrianWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
May, Mrs TheresaWilletts, David
Merchant, PiersWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Moss, MalcolmWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Nicholls, PatrickWoodward, Shaun
Norman, ArchieYeo, Tim
Page, RichardYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Paice, James
Paterson, OwenTellers for the Ayes:
Pickles, EricMr. Richard Ottaway and
Prior, DavidMr. Peter Ainsworth.
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeBetts, Clive
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Blackman, Mrs Liz
Ainger, NickBlears, Ms Hazel
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Blizzard, Robert
Allan, Richard (Shef'd Hallam)Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Allen, Graham (Nottingham N)Boateng, Paul
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Borrow, David
Anderson, Janet (Ros'ale)Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyBradshaw, Ben
Ashton, JoeBrake, Thomas
Atherton, Ms CandyBrand, Dr Peter
Atkins, Ms CharlotteBreed, Colin
Baker, NormanBrinton, Mrs Helen
Ballard, Mrs JackieBrown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E & Wallsend)
Barnes, Harry
Barron, KevinBrown, Russell (Dumfries)
Battle, JohnBrowne, Desmond (Kilmarnock)
Bayley, HughBurden, Richard
Beard, NigelBurgon, Colin
Begg, Miss Anne (Aberd'n S)Burstow, Paul
Beith, Rt Hon A JButler, Christine
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Byers, Stephen
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCable, Dr Vincent
Bennett, Andrew FCampbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Benton, JoeCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Bermingham, GeraldCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Berry, RogerCampbell-Savours, Dale
Best, HaroldCanavan, Dennis
Cann, JamieFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Caplin, IvorFoster, Don (Bath)
Casale, RogerFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Caton, MartinFoster, Michael John (Worcester)
Cawsey, IanFoulkes, George
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Fyfe, Maria
Chaytor, DavidGalbraith, Sam
Chidgey, DavidGalloway, George
Chisholm, MalcolmGapes, Mike
Clapham, MichaelGardiner, Barry
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)George, Andrew (St Ives)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Gibson, Dr Ian
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Godman, Dr Norman A
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Godsiff, Roger
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Golding, Mrs Llin
Clelland, DavidGordon, Mrs Eileen
Clwyd, Mrs AnnGraham, Thomas
Coaker, VernonGrant, Bernie
Coffey, Ms AnnGriffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E)
Cohen, HarryGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Connarty, MichaelGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Grocott, Bruce
Cooper, Ms YvetteGrogan, John
Corbett, RobinGunnell, John
Corbyn, JeremyHain, Peter
Corston, Ms JeanHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Cotter, BrianHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cousins, JimHancock, Mike
Cox, TomHanson, David
Cranston, RossHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Crausby, DavidHarvey, Nick
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Heath, David (Somerton)
Cunliffe, LawrenceHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland)Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Curtis-Thomas, Ms ClareHesford, Stephen
Dafis, CynogHewitt, Ms Patricia
Dalyell, TamHill, Keith
Darvill, KeithHinchliffe, David
Davey, Edward (Kingston)Hodge, Ms Margaret
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Home Robertson, John
Davidson, IanHood, Jimmy
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Hoon, Geoffrey
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Hope, Philip
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)Hopkins, Kelvin
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Dawson, HiltonHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Dean, Ms JanetHowells, Dr Kim
Denham, JohnHoyle, Lindsay
Dewar, Rt Hon DonaldHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, JimHumble, Mrs Joan
Dobson, Rt Hon FrankHurst, Alan
Donohoe, Brian HHutton, John
Doran, FrankIddon, Brian
Dowd, JimIllsley, Eric
Drew, DavidJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst')
Drown, Ms JuliaJackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethJamieson, David
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)
Edwards, HuwJohnson, Alan (Hull W)
Ellman, Ms LouiseJohnson, Ms Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, BillJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Fearn, RonnieJones, Ms Fiona (Newark)
Field, Rt Hon FrankJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Fisher, MarkJones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Fitzsimons, Ms LornaJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Flint, Ms Caroline
Flynn, PaulJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Follett, Ms BarbaraJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jowell, Ms TessaOaten, Mark
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Keeble, Ms SallyO'Brien, William (Normanton)
Keen, Alan (Feltham)O'Hara, Edward
Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)Olner, Bill
Kemp, FraserOpik, Lembit
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Mrs Sandra
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Palmer, Dr Nick
Khabra, Piara SPearson, Ian
Kidney, DavidPendry, Tom
King, Andy (Rugby)Perham, Ms Linda
King, Miss Oona (Bethnal Green)Pickthall, Colin
Kingham, TessaPike, Peter L
Kirkwood, ArchyPlaskitt, James
Kumar, Dr AshokPollard, Kerry
Ladyman, Dr StephenPond, Chris
Lawrence, Ms JackiePope, Greg
Laxton, BobPound, Stephen
Lepper, DavidPowell, Sir Raymond
Leslie, ChristopherPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Levitt, TomPrescott, Rt Hon John
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Primarolo, Dawn
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Prosser, Gwyn
Liddell, Mrs HelenPurchase, Ken
Linton, MartinQuinn, Lawrie
Livingstone, KenRadice, Giles
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)Rammell, Bill
Llwyd, ElfynRapson, Syd
Love, AndyRaynsford, Nick
McAllion, JohnReed, Andrew (Loughborough)
McAvoy, ThomasReid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
McCabe, StephenRendel, David
McCafferty, Ms ChrisRobertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
McDonagh, Ms SiobhainRobinson, Geoffrey (Ccv'try NW)
Macdonald, CalumRogers, Allan
McDonnell, JohnRooker, Jeff
McGuire, Mrs AnneRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McIsaac, Ms ShonaRowlands, Ted
McMaster, GordonRoy, Frank
McNulty, TonyRuane, Chris
MacShane, DenisRuddock, Ms Joan
Mactaggart, FionaRussell, Bob (Colchester)
McWalter, TonyRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McWilliam, JohnRyan, Ms Joan
Mahon, Mrs AliceSalter, Martin
Mallaber, Ms JudySavidge, Malcolm
Marek, Dr JohnSawford, Phil
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Shaw, Jonathan
Marshall-Andrews, RobertSheerman, Barry
Martlew, EricSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Maxton, JohnShipley, Ms Debra
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelShort, Rt Hon Clare
Meale, AlanSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Michael, AlunSingh, Marsha
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)Skinner, Dennis
Milburn, AlanSmith, Ms Angela (Basildon)
Miller, AndrewSmith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S,
Moffatt, LauraSmith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moore, MichaelSmith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)
Moran, Ms MargaretSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Smith, Liew (Blaenau Gwent)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)Soley, Clive
Morley, ElliotSouthworth, Ms Helen
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Spellar, John
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Squire, Ms Rachel
Mountford, Ms KaliStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Mudie, GeorgeStevenson, George
Mullin, ChrisStewart, David (Inverness E)
Murphy, Dennis (Wansbeck)Stewart, Ian (Ecdes)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr HowardTyler, Paul
Stott, RogerVaz, Keith
Strang, Rt Hon Dr GavinWallace, James
Straw, Rt Hon JackWalley, Ms Joan
Stringer, GrahamWard, Ms Claire
Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)Wareing, Robert N
Stunell, AndrewWatts, David
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)Webb, Steven
White, Brian
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)Whitehead, Alan
Taylor, David (NW Leics)Wigley, Dafydd
Taylor, Matthew (Truro & St Austell)Williams, Dr Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)Wlliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)Willis, Phil
Timms, StephenWinnick, David
Tipping, PaddyWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Todd, MarkWise, Audrey
Tonge, Dr JennyWood, Mike
Touhig, DonWoolas, Phil
Trickett, JonWorthington, Tony
Truswell, PaulWright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Wyatt, Derek
Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)Tellers for the Noes:
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Mr. John McFall and
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)Ms Bridget Prentice.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 3, in page 2, line 5, after `or,' insert— `(b) in the case of a pupil with an assisted place at a school providing education for children up to the age of 13 but not beyond, at the end of the school year in which he attains the age of 13, or ` —[Mr. Don Foster.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided. Ayes 181, Noes 354.

Division No. 24][6.8 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Allan, Richard (Shef'ld Hallam)Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth(Rushcliffe)
Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, JamesCollins, Tim
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyColvin, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Cormack, Sir Patrick
Baker, NormanCotter, Brian
Baldry, TonyCran, James
Ballard, Mrs JackieCurry, Rt Hon David
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Berth, Rt Hon A JDavis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Bercow, JohnDay, Stephen
Beresford, Sir PaulDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Blunt, CrispinDuncan, Alan
Boswell, TimDuncan Smith, Iain
Brady, GrahamEmery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brake, ThomasEvans, Nigel
Brand, Dr PeterFaber, David
Breed, ColinFabricant, Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterFallon, Michael
Browning, Mrs AngelaFeam, Ronnie
Burnett, JohnFlight, Howard
Burns, SimonForsythe, Clifford
Burstow, PaulForth, Eric
Butterfill, JohnFoster, Don (Bath)
Cash, WilliamFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Chidgey, DavidGale, Roger
Chope, ChristopherGamier, Edward
Clappison, JamesGeorge, Andrew (St Ives)
Gibb, NickNorman, Archie
Gill, ChristopherOaten, Mark
Gillan, Mrs CherylOpik, Lembit
Gorman, Mrs TeresaOttaway, Richard
Gray, JamesPage, Richard
Green, DamianPaice, James
Greenway, JohnPaterson, Owen
Grieve, DominicPickles, Eric
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnPrior, David
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamRedwood, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieRendel, David
Hammond, PhilipRobathan, Andrew
Hancock, MikeRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Harris, Dr EvanRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Harvey, NickRuffley, David
Hawkins, NickRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Hayes, JohnSt Aubyn, Nick
Heald, OliverSanders, Adrian
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward(Old Bexley & Sidcup)Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Horam, JohnSoames, Nicholas
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Spicer, Sir Michael
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelSpring, Richard
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Steen, Anthony
Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex)Streeter, Gary
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreySwayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Keetch, PaulTaylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro & St Austell)
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss JulieTaylor, Sir Teddy
Kirkwood, ArchyThompson, William
Laing, Mrs EleanorTonge, Dr Jenny
Tredinnick, David
Lansley, AndrewTrend, Michael
Letwin, OliverTyler, Paul
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Tyrie, Andrew
Lidington, DavidViggers, Peter
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterWallace, James
Uoyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Walter, Robert
Luff, PeterWardle, Charles
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasWaterson, Nigel
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnWebb, Steven
Mcintosh, Miss AnneWells, Bowen
MacKay, AndrewWhitney, Sir Raymond
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidWhittingdale, John
McLoughlin, PatrickWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Madel, Sir DavidWilletts, David
Malins, HumfreyWillis, Phil
Maples, JohnWilshire, David
Mates, MichaelWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Maude, Rt Hon FrancisWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr BrianWoodward, Shaun
May, Mrs TheresaYeo, Tim
Merchant, Piers
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)Tellers for the Ayes:
Moore, MichaelMr. Andrew Stunell and
Moss, MalcolmMr. David Heath.
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeAtkins, Ms Charlotte
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Barnes, Harry
Ainger, NickBarron, Kevin
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Battle, John
Allen, Graham (Nottingham N)Bayley, Hugh
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Beard, Nigel
Anderson, Janet (Ros'dale)Begg, Miss Anne (Aberd'n S)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Ashton, JoeBenn, Rt Hon Tony
Atherton, Ms CandyBennett, Andrew F
Benton, JoeDismore, Andrew
Bermingham, GeraldDobbin, Jim
Berry, RogerDobson, Rt Hon Frank
Best, HaroldDonohoe, Brian H
Betts, CliveDoran, Frank
Blackman, Mrs LizDowd, Jim
Blears, Ms HazelDrew, David
Blizzard, RobertDrown, Ms Julia
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Boateng, PaulEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Borrow, DavidEdwards, Huw
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Ellman, Ms Louise
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Ennis, Jeff
Bradshaw, BenEtherington, Bill
Brinton, Mrs HelenField, Rt Hon Frank
Brown, Rt Hon Nick(Newcastle E & Wallsend)Fisher, Mark
Fitzsimons, Ms Lorna
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Flint, Ms Caroline
Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock)Flynn, Paul
Burden, RichardFollett, Ms Barbara
Burgon, ColinFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Butler, ChristineFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Byers, StephenFoster, Michael John (Worcester)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Foulkes, George
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Galbraith, Sam
Campbell-Savours, DaleGalloway, George
Canavan, DennisGapes, Mike
Cann, JamieGardiner, Barry
Caplin, IvorGerrard, Neil
Casale, RogerGibson, Dr Ian
Caton, MartinGilroy, Mrs Linda
Cawsey, IanGodman, Dr Norman A
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Godsiff, Roger
Chaytor, DavidGolding, Mrs Llin
Chisholm, MalcolmGordon, Mrs Eileen
Clapham, MichaelGraham, Thomas
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Grant, Bernie
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Griffiths, Ms Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Grocott, Bruce
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Grogan, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Gunnell, John
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Hain, Peter
Clelland, DavidHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Coaker, VernonHanson, David
Coffey, Ms AnnHarman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Cohen, HarryHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Connarty, MichaelHealey, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cooper, Ms YvetteHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Corbett, RobinHepburn, Stephen
Corbyn, JeremyHeppell, John
Corston, Ms JeanHesford, Stephen
Cousins, JimHewitt, Ms Patricia
Cox, TomHill, Keith
Cranston, RossHinchliffe, David
Crausby, DavidHodge, Ms Margaret
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Home Robertson, John
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Hood, Jimmy
Cunliffe, LawrenceHoon, Geoffrey
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Hope, Philip
Curtis-Thomas, Ms ClareHopkins, Kelvin
Dalyell, TamHowells, Dr Kim
Darvill, KeithHoyle, Lindsay
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Hughes, Ms Beverley (StretfordA Urmston)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Humble, Mrs Joan
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Hurst, Alan
Dawson, HiltonHutton, John
Dean, Ms JanetIddon, Brian
Denham, JohnIllsley, Eric
Dewar, Rt Hon DonaldJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampsf'd)
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Jamieson, DavidMountford, Ms Kali
Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)Mudie, George
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)Murphy, Dennis (Wansbeck)
Johnson, Ms Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Organ, Mrs Diana
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Osborne, Mrs Sandra
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Palmer, Dr Nick
Jowell, Ms TessaPearson, Ian
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPendry, Tom
Keeble, Ms SallyPerham, Ms Linda
Keen, Alan (Feltham)Pickthall, Colin
Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)Pike, Peter L
Kemp, FraserPlaskitt, James
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Pollard, Kerry
Khabra, Piara SPond, Chris
Kidney, DavidPope, Greg
King, Andy (Rugby)Pound, Stephen
King, Miss Oona (Bethnal Green)Powell, Sir Raymond
Kingham, TessaPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kumar, Dr AshokPresoott, Rt Hon John
Ladyman, Dr StephenPrimarolo, Dawn
Lawrence, Ms JackieProsser, Gwyn
Laxton, BobPurchase, Ken
Lepper, DavidQuinn, Lawrie
Leslie, ChristopherRadice, Giles
Levitt, TomRammell, Bill
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Rapson, Syd
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Raynsford, Nick
Liddell, Mrs HelenReed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Linton, MartinReid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Livingstone, KenRobertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Love, AndyRobinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McAllion, JohnRogers, Allan
McAvoy, ThomasRooker, Jeff
McCabe, StephenRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McCafferty, Ms ChrisRowlands, Ted
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)Roy, Frank
McDonagh, Ms SiobhainRuane, Chris
Macdonald, CalumRuddock, Ms Joan
McDonnell, JohnRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McGuire, Mrs AnneSalter, Martin
McIsaac, Ms ShonaSavidge, Malcolm
McMaster, GordonSawford, Phil
McNulty, TonySedgemore, Brian
Mactaggart, FionaShaw, Jonathan
McWalter, TonySheerman, Barry
McWilliam, JohnSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Mrs AliceShipley, Ms Debra
Mallaber, Ms JudyShort, Rt Hon Clare
Mandelson, PeterSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Marek, Dr JohnSingh, Marsha
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)
Marshall-Andrews, RobertSmith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Martlew, EricSmith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelSmith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)
Meale, AlanSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Michael, AlunSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Milburn, AlanSoley, Clive
Miller, AndrewSouthworth, Ms Helen
Moffatt, LauraSpellar, John
Moonie, Dr LewisSquire, Ms Rachel
Moran, Ms MargaretStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Stevenson, George
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Morley, ElliotStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardiey)Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr HowardVaz, Keith
Stott, RogerWalley, Ms Joan
Straw, Rt Hon JackWard, Ms Claire
Stringer, GrahamWareing, Robert N
Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)Watts, David
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)`White, Brian
Whitehead, Alan
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)Williams, Dr Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Timms, StephenWise, Audrey
Tipping, PaddyWood, Mike
Todd, MarkWoolas, Phil
Touhig, DonWorthington, Tony
Trickett, JonWright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)
Truswell, PaulWyatt, Derek
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)Tellers for the Noes:
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)Mr. John McFall and
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Ms Bridget Prentice.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.