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Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:20 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 11:20 am, 13th March 2020

I could not agree more—my hon. Friend is absolutely right—but that point does not so much go to the principle of the Bill as to what goes into the guidance when it is drafted. That is a matter for the consultation, which we should all want to look at in great detail. A lot of the concerns raised about the Bill allude to what is to be in that guidance and the consultation process, which I understand will happen in due course.

Philosophically, I would prefer national government not to involve itself in this level of detail. That is fairly standard Conservative thought; I suspect that most of my hon. Friends would agree. So what are we trying to do with this Bill? Ultimately, Conservatism is about pragmatism and seeking the result we would all wish to achieve, rather than being obsessed with or trammelled by dogma. In some circumstances, therefore, I think it appropriate that the Government step in and Parliament legislate, and that is what the Government are ultimately trying to do here.

The Department has already produced the guidance; the only question here is what someone can do if that guidance is not followed. As I understand it, the Bill seeks to provide that, in extremis—where a school is not listening—there is an appeal to the Secretary of State, who could then intervene to work with the school to address those concerns. The Government are not proposing to impose a certain school uniform type, or to abolish it, or to be the recourse in the first instance for any complaint. As I understand it, in all circumstances, that would remain with the school and the school governors.

This brings me to the intervention from my hon. Friend Andrew Lewer—I apologise to him for not having addressed his point earlier. I am interested in freedom, personal choice and localisation and localised decision making, and it seems to me that the Bill does not contravene those fundamental principles. If schools locally decide they do not want a generic uniform, they could make that decision. Equally, if they decide that across a particular town or region it would be in the interests of their pupils to do that, they could adopt that principle and make that choice. I am happy with that in these circumstances.