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Lords Amendment

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 6th November 2002.

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Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 9:00 pm, 6th November 2002

My Lords, on the Wednesday evening that this amendment was first moved by the right reverend Prelate I was attending a dinner meeting. I did so with a clear conscience because, at first sight, I thought it highly unlikely that the amendment would be carried into the Bill. In my state of mind at the time, it seemed to me that it should not be included in the legislation. It is a sad coincidence that the amendment has appeared again on this Wednesday night when I was due at exactly the same dinner party. In the interim, I have read the Report stage debate in the Official Report and my mind is now a great deal more open.

I, too, have had experience of education not only as a recipient but also as a teacher—though in the secondary and primary sectors, not in higher education. Like other noble Lords, I believe that children are the prime concern in this issue. While not wishing to be in any way patronising or superior, I have to say that I believe the debate has become a little simplistic. It appears to assume that every school into which the child of a potential member of our society from abroad is received will be small, well-endowed, happy, and free—it seems—from bullying, and that every teaching facility set up in an asylum centre will be large, under funded, strict, and unfriendly. Life is not like that. Two of the years that I spent teaching took place in a comprehensive school with 1,500 children on a slum-clearance estate in Nottingham where bullying was endemic and where I once had a knife drawn on me. That was many years ago, well before that sort of thing came to be thought of as common.

Recently I attended a fantastic conference set up by a Member of the other placeDiane Abbott. She is one of the black representatives of inner-city London. The aim of the conference was to consider what is happening to black children in London schools. I was one of 11 white faces there of about 1,000 people. What is happening to black children in inner London schools is horrifying. Some children report that they feel safer in a gang on the streets than they do in school. What, one parent asked, is it that turns the little cherubs we loved in our arms into gun gangsters?

Something is very wrong with education in many inner London schools. I do not say that people are not doing a brilliant job in some of those schools and that some of them are not very good. But, please let us not think that all we have to do to a young person, or perhaps a very young person, without a word of English in order to make them feel safe, happy and at home is to put them into one of those schools. Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I agree that it is not an either/or case.