Monday, May 21, 2007

Freedom of Information Amendment) Bill

Greeted with a hum of discontent from all round the house when it was introduced this afternoon. There's a good chance that timetables and end-of-year congestion will mean that it fails to complete it's passage here, and dies. If it does get through, I'm certain that we'll excise the reference to the Lords.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill

So we are going to have to deal with this Bill. I had hoped that the Commons would kill it -- but it clearly has widespread support there.

It seems to me to be corrupt, in the finest sense of that word. For someone to protect themselves from the effect of general legislation merely because they have the power to do so, and to neglect to address the interests of others, seems to me to be profoundly wrong. It is just the sort of behaviour which we have become used to criticising in the European Parliament, and it pains me to see it appearing here.

I cannot see that any attempt was made in the House of Commons to defend what was being done -- they just sat there while their opponents tried to play for time. A measure like this surely needs details justification, and at least our procedures in the Lords will make sure that it requires that to pass.. At the very least, however much we pay respect to the House of Commons, we should insist on the removal of the House of Lords from this legislation.

Grammar Schools

For all the shouting, I can't seethat David Willetts was wrong in anything that he said -- though I expect that he regrets that he was not more careful about the phrasing of it.

Though Grammar schools used to offer a real hope, perhaps seen as the only hope, for bright kids from poor backgrounds, this is no longer the case. 30 years of practice have honed our ability to work the system: we help with homework, the tutor, we send our children to private prep schools, we take over primary schools and make sure that they focus on getting our children into the Grammar schools. The resulting social selection is quite clear.

We should not for a moment threaten Grammar schools -- pulling down the good because we hope to build the great is a Labour characteristic, not a Conservative one. We need to focus on building schools to suit those communities who have not managed to create good schools for themselves, and to give the school is a great deal of freedom in tackling this problem. The Academy program seems to fit that to a T.

We need to guide against central diktats -- central diktats have failed ever since the last war to produce effective schools in difficult areas. What we need is innovation, and the opportunity for a thousand headmasters and their supporters to show what can make a real difference. Once really good practice starts to emerge, then the centre should, of course, seek ways to support it and to spread it.

And if we are giving this freedom to schools and localities, perhaps some of them will choose to use it to create new grammar schools. So be it. It would not be what I would wish for myself, but again we should not impose central control. New grammar schools may well answer sectional interests in such areas as central London, where the middle classes have been driven to use independent schools because no state schools up to scratch.