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Lords Amendment

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 6th November 2002.

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Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop 10:00 pm, 6th November 2002

My Lords, today is the 58th anniversary of the death of William Temple, the wartime Archbishop of Canterbury and a valued former Member of this House. His name figures for minor commemoration in the Church calendar; we remembered him this morning in my chapel; and I shall quote briefly from the end of a book that he wrote in 1942 entitled, Christianity and Social Order. I shall be brief tonight: I realise that I have kept up all you Labour Peers. Do not worry, we shall have a vote, just let me conclude. Poor things!

William Temple wrote:

"Every child should have the opportunity of an education till he is of maturity so planned as to allow for his (or her) peculiar aptitudes and make possible their full development".

I simply do not believe that the clause, however well intentioned, will realise that aim; in my view, it will seriously delay it.

I shall briefly address one or two points made in the debate. I am grateful to all those who have contributed to it, however they vote. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, perhaps I am not the person to absolve her, but I am sure that she will be absolved. But the constituencies of the Members of Parliament voting against the Government last night contain many asylum-seeking children. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, implied that point and was perhaps less polite than I should be in noting that 42 Labour MPs voted against the Government.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, yes, simplistic is one way of interpreting the character of the debate. I do not believe that schools are perfect, but the existing system is where to start. On the question of flexibility, again I make the point—but I shall not speak Danish this time—in my book, "may not" is "must not". I am glad that flexibility has appeared, but we have had to beat it out of the Government and it is simply not enough. Legislating for flexibility can be a slippery business. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, for his wise words: we should start with the norm and be flexible thereafter.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I absolutely respect those who abstain. Perhaps those on the Conservative Benches will therefore be patient when bishops suspend judgment on certain matters. I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. (I am really turning the knife tonight; I am enjoying this. I hope that those on the Liberal Democrat Benches will buy me a gin afterwards!) I take the Minister's point about throwing money at schools, but the Government are throwing money at useless accommodation centres—or rather accommodation centres in a useless project. We bishops may have our heads in the air, but we jolly well have our feet on the ground. The signal that we are picking up from sensible, serious people involved in education is that the project is not good.

As for not being willing to allow even a trial, I can answer only that, frankly, we mistrust its negativity. If such a small number of children are involved, why go to such lengths to provide for them as a norm? Adapt the status quo.

We have heard some assurances tonight and it has been a good debate. But the clause is ill-founded because it is a Home Office policy into which educational provision has been made to fit. The clause is impractical, because our education system is already fully stretched. How is a new kind of teacher to be recruited for a 51-week year? It is a question of the allocation of resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. It is rather late in the day to get those, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said. The clause is not only ill-founded and impractical; it is unnecessary. Proper use can be made of special-needs provision by adapting it.

Finally, the clause is wrong. This is not the way to treat children. Nothing I have heard tonight has persuaded me that "segregation" is an inaccurate description of what this measure is about. Segregation is not in the best interests of children. Having kept all your Lordships up so late, I must seek the opinion of the House.