HL Deb 25 March 1986 vol 472 cc1353-85

Committee stage resumed on Clause 3.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 5, line 12, at end insert— ("(8) Where in Wales a school is divided on linguistic grounds into an English medium unit and a Welsh medium unit, each unit shall be regarded as a separate school for the purposes of computation of the number of each class of governors and of election of the parent and teacher governors, provided that—

  1. (a) if the head teacher shall not be a fluent speaker of the Welsh language the senior teacher in the Welsh medium unit shall be a governor unless he chooses not to be a governor; and
  2. (b) there shall be only one governing body notwithstanding the separation of the units for the purposes of computing the number of governors and electing the same.").

The noble Lord said: I am to some extent an imposter in moving this amendment. Fortunately, my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies is much more experienced and well informed on the matter. I am not particularly helped by the fact that some of my brief is in Welsh—at least, there is a handwritten section at the end in Welsh, and I cannot be confident that it is entirely polite.

This is a serious matter., It is of great importance to those communities and individuals in Wales who find themselves in the position—this is particularly the case in Gwent—where there is a mixture of Welsh and English teaching in schools and where despite the provisions of the 1980 Education Act, and indeed sometimes perhaps because of the provisions of the Act, those pupils who are taught in the Welsh language and their parents do not always find themselves with adequate representation on the governing body. Their interests are not adequately preserved by that governing body.

The amendment—the first of a number that are related but not formally grouped—proposes that we should adopt the ingenious fiction that where there is a Welsh medium unit and an English medium unit in the same school they should be treated for the purposes of this Bill as two schools. In other words, there should be a governing body or that part of a governing body as appropriate elected or appointed by those in the Welsh medium unit and another governing body, as appropriate, by the English medium unit. There is the further qualification that if the head teacher is not a fluent speaker of the Welsh language, the most senior teacher who is fluent in the Welsh language shall be entitled to attend the governing body as if he were a head teacher—in other words, opting whether or not to be a member of the governing body.

It appeared to me on reading the arguments that this comparatively minor amendment, but one of great importance to those for whom this is a vital matter, was worthy of support and of being aired in the Committee. I hope that the amendment will commend itself to the Government either in this form or some comparable form and so give expression to the wishes of the parents and the schools concerned. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

I support very strongly the amendment that has been moved by my noble friend Lord McIntosh. It might be helpful to the Committee if I were to refer to the background out of which this amendment has emerged. I am glad to say that we in Wales are witnessing the renaissance or reflowering of the Welsh language. This is due in no small measure to the contribution of the Welsh medium schools and the Welsh medium units. I had better explain what a Welsh medium unit is. During the past decade or so, a particularly significant development in many Anglicised parts of Wales has been the provision or the creation of an English medium unit and a Welsh medium unit side by side within the same primary school building, both units having the same head teacher.

In this unique situation, the governing body has a duty to the English medium unit, to the Welsh medium unit and obviously to the entire school. But it is often the case, at least in some counties, that both units do not have a voice on the governing body. It is, I understand, often the case that the governing body does not have a parent governor who has a child at the Welsh unit and does not have a teacher governor who is teaching in the Welsh unit. I accept that it may well be the case that occasionally an English medium unit does not have a voice in the governing body. I believe generally, however, that the lack of representation arises from the Welsh units. This has a very odd result. If one of the two units does not have a parent or a teacher governor, this can clearly favour one unit at the expense of the other unit. That can lead to conflict. I would have thought that if the governing body is to discharge the functions allotted to it, then it must have links with both units.

I accept of course that the two units have a common interest. But they also have different interests. In general, the English medium unit serves the wards around the school while the Welsh medium unit serves a very much wider community and involves the pupils travelling a long distance to the school. Again, each unit is linked to a different secondary school. And, over time, each unit has developed its own instinctive characteristics and identity. For all these reasons, each unit should have a distinctive voice heard on the governing body. That is lacking at present.

We are now moving to a stage when the new governing bodies will be more important and more active. So there is greater reason for each unit having its own distinctive voice in the governing body. This amendment does just that, or seeks to do that. I hope very much that the Government will accept the principle of the amendment. I believe that the drafting takes us there. The Government may take a different view. I hope certainly that the Committee will be sympathetic to the principle enshrined in the amendment and that it will be acceptable to the Government.

Baroness Young

I have listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has said. Perhaps I can say in response to his Welsh credentials that I can claim only that my mother's family all came from Wales and that I like Wales very much indeed.

I have also listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has said on this amendment. Before turning to the details of it, I should like to say that it is important to realise that the eight local education authorities in Wales all endeavour to provide education through the medium of the Welsh language in response to demand. They do so according to local circumstances. In practice, that means that there will be variation in provision.

I understand that this amendment is directed at a single local education authority—Gwent—where demands for primary education through the medium of Welsh is currently being met through the establishment of units within county primary schools where classes are taught through the medium of Welsh. That seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable response to a demand which is not yet great enough to justify whole primary schools devoted exclusively to Welsh medium education. When that situation arises I have no doubt that the local education authority will respond appropriately.

We are here talking of county primary schools having Welsh units. Perhaps I should just say that there is no such thing as an English medium unit. Were an amendment on the lines proposed to be successful, we have to face the fact that it might lead to a reaction among English-speaking parents of a kind which would entirely defeat its purpose.

I believe that the primary schools about which we are talking are all large enough to contain three parents on their governing bodies. In these circumstances, if parents of pupils in the Welsh units are enthusiastic enough to stand for election as parent governors, and to vote at parent governor elections, it seems to me that there is every reason to expect that they will gain representation on the governing bodies. Moreover, if a governing body felt that it needed strengthening by the addition of a Welsh speaker the provisions of the Bill for co-option provide the answer. It would be perfectly possible for a Welsh speaker to be co-opted onto the governing body.

Furthermore, the Welsh-speaking parents who might be concerned that they were not represented on the governing body would be able to make representations about this matter at the next annual parents' meeting. There are therefore under the provisions of the Bill a number of opportunities to meet the problem which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, have identified; that is to say, there would be the opportunity for Welsh-speaking parents to stand; to vote; to be co-opted if they were not successful in an election; and, if they were not successful in that, to make representations at the annual parents' meeting.

Where teacher governors are concerned, we have already indicated our reluctance to agree to greater representation on governing bodies. The effect of this amendment would be contrary to that. I cannot accept its implications that a head teacher of a primary school which had a Welsh unit would discriminate against that unit. I should have thought that we would all agree on that.

For those reasons, we cannot accept the amendments proposed. However, I hope that I have said enough to indicate that the Bill as it stands, in the particular circumstances which have been identified under this amendment, provides the possibility for a Welsh-speaking parent to become a governor of a school. With that, I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will feel able to withdraw this amendment.

Lord Prys-Davies

I do not believe that the principle of this amendment would be confined to the county of Gwent. I believe that the problem has been highlighted in Gwent, but it is not confined to Gwent.

Under the Bill, the parents of the Welsh-speaking pupils can stand for election to the governing body. But if one has 90 English-speaking parents and 50 Welsh-speaking parents, their chances of being successful in the election are not high. This is part of the problem. We have the two units and there ought to be equality of representation for the two units on the governing body. I should not have thought that it is good enough to say, "You can all stand for election", because the chances of the minority being successful in that election are remote.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness said. I appreciate the force of the alternatives that she has suggested: that there may be ways by election or co-option whereby Welsh speakers could be added to the governing body. However, I am bound to say that experience, certainly in Cardiff, does not encourage that view. There is experience of a smaller Welsh unit in a larger English school being ignored or neglected from the point of view of addition to the governing bodies.

I should point out to the noble Baroness that the amendment now proposed works both ways. If there is a Welsh unit and an English unit in a school, both those units are provided for in the additional members of the governing body proposed. The reference to a head teacher not being a fluent Welsh speaker is in one direction only, but I assume that that is on the basis that there are not too many head teachers in Wales who are not fluent in English as well as in Welsh.

In regard to the single governing body composed of those two units, there is no difference between the Welsh and the English languages. I cannot see the possiblity of the backlash from English speakers to which the noble Baroness referred. Nor were we making any accusations of discrimination by English-speaking primary heads in Wales against Welsh-speaking children. That was not in any part of the argument that was being put forward.

However, the analysis of the noble Baroness deserves careful study. It may be that we shall wish to come back on this at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I had given notice of my intention to oppose the Question. That intention was based on the hope that the Committee would see the wisdom of agreeing to Amendment No. 4. In the circumstances, I do not wish to pursue this matter.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Governing bodies for aided and special agreement schools]:

9 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 5, line 15, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert— ("(2) The instrument of government for such a school shall provide for the governing body to include—

  1. (a) parent governors, whose numbers shall be determined as in section 3 above;
  2. 1358
  3. (b) governors appointed by the local education authority, the numbers of such governors to be determined as in section 3 above;
  4. (c) foundation governors;
  5. (d) in the case of a school which has fewer than 300 pupils, at least one teacher governor, and
  6. (e) the head teacher, unless he chooses not to be a governor.
(3) The instrument of government for such a school shall provide for such number of foundation governors as will lead to their outnumbering the other governors by one.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment. I wish to make clear that I am speaking personally and not on behalf of the Labour Party.

This is a matter which, in the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, starts to affect the dual system because it provides in aided schools for a diminution in the proportion of the governing body which is to be provided by the foundation governors. Let me make it absolutely clear from the beginning that it is not proposed in any spirit of antagonism towards foundation governors.

The principle behind the proposed amendment is not negative but positive in the sense that we believe that the benefits which will flow from the increase in the number of parent and teacher governors from the Bill as a whole and as it relates to county, controlled and maintained special schools will also apply to aided and special arrangement schools. We agree that it is important that parents and teachers should be adequately represented on the governing bodies of county, controlled and maintained special schools. However, there are the same kinds of parents and teachers in the aided and special arrangement schools. Surely every effort should be made, consistent with the rights and past participation of foundation governors in the work of the school, to see to it that parents and teachers are as well represented as possible?

This is not a major amendment, and it is certainly not a revolutionary one. It maintains the overall majority of the foundation governors on the governing body. Admittedly it maintains it at the lowest possible level—there is a majority of one rather than a majority of two or three, according to the size of the school, which is proposed in Clause 4 of the Bill. It seems to us logical and rational to accept that if parents and teachers can make a contribution in the county and controlled schools, then the same kinds of parents and the same kinds of teachers have something to say, have a right to be represented and have a right to be heard in as close as possible the same proportions in the aided and special agreement schools.

I have made it clear that I am speaking for myself. If any of my noble friends who have a particular interest in the aided school sector have anything to say which differs from what I have said, I certainly shall not feel offended. This is a matter which verges on an issue of conscience, and I speak from the Dispatch Box in full recognition of that. I certainly do not propose to pursue the amendment to a vote. I hope that the Government will recognise that it is, in a sense, a logical extension of the purposes of the Bill as they have put them forward, and that, on that basis, it will be given sympathetic consideration. I beg to move.

The Earl of Swinton

The reason why aided and special agreement schools are treated differently under this Bill is simply that they are different. I should like to take this opportunity of repeating the high value that the Government places on the diversity these schools bring to the maintained sector under the dual system of county and voluntary schools which the Government are committed to preserve and foster. At this point I should like to echo the comments made earlier in the evening by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, when she described the good work that these schools are doing.

One of the main aims of the Bill is to re-establish governing bodies as a force for good in the life of individual schools. No such re-establishment is needed in the case of aided and special agreement schools. Their governing bodies already serve to give them a distinctive life of their own which is part and parcel of their distinctive and, as I have indicated, highly valued status.

The governing body of such a school is also the agency through which the voluntary body responsible for the school exercises that measure of control and direction which has been accorded to it since the 1944 Act. It has never been the Government's intention to disturb these arrangements, which continue to serve the nation well, and I am not persuaded by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord say that he was speaking for himself rather than on the part of the Labour Party.

I accept that re-enacting the 1980 Act formula in Clause 4 obviously leaves parents with fewer governorships at these schools. I see nothing anomalous in this given the schools' rather different nature which turns, in large measure, on the composition and functions of their governing bodies. I would be more concerned if parents found the difference unacceptable. The evidence however clearly shows the contrary: such schools continue to be highly popular.

However, notwithstanding the proposed retention of the 1980 Act's formula, parental influence and involvement in these schools will be increased under the Bill. The governing bodies of both aided and special agreement schools will, by virtue of Clauses 24 and 25, be under the same duty as other governing bodies to report annually to parents on the discharge of their functions and to hold annual meetings at which the parent body as a whole can discuss particular matters of concern to them.

To turn briefly to the detail of the proposed amendment, the important functions exercised by the voluntary body through the governing body, not least in the employment of staff, would make it quite unacceptable to reduce the foundation's majority to the bare one proposed. I assume that it was an oversight that the amendments did not provide for the number of teacher governors—presumably at least two—in the case of a school with at least 300 pupils. I note that no provision is made for minor authorities as in Clause 4(2)(b) (and, in relation to Clause 3 governing bodies, in Clause 6(1)). The effect of necessary adjustments would be to increase the size of such governing bodies. By my calculation, the largest governing body would be approaching what would seem the quite unrealistic figure of 30.

Aided and special agreement schools do their job well and to general satisfaction. There is no need to tinker with a successful formula, particularly when this could tamper with essential features of the settlement in the 1944 Act which, to great advantage, brought aided and special agreement schools into the maintained sector. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord say that he had no intention of pressing this amendment to a vote. I hope that, having heard my explanation, he will withdraw the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the noble Earl for his remarks, and I confirm that I shall be withdrawing the amendment. However, despite the absence of any of the right reverend Prelates tonight, and despite the absence, to my knowledge, of any spokesman for the Catholic hierarchy, I should like to make the following appeal to the Churches. On the basis that there is to be no attempt in any way to undermine the dual system to which reference has been made, would it not be a valuable and co-operative gesture on the part of the Churches to make some attempt to see to it that foundation governors themselves adequately represent the parents and the teachers at the school?

I know from personal experience that the connections between the Churches and the aided schools are good. Where these connections are good, it ought not to be too difficult for the Churches to see to it that some of their foundation governors are qualified on other counts by their direct relationship with the school as parents or teachers. I would hope that any representative of the Churches reading this debate might be impelled to make some move in that direction. In that hope, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

Before the noble Lord sits down let me say that from the Lancashire authority co-operation on the lines that he has just indicated is now taking place.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am delighted to hear that. It confirms what I have just said, and it confirms my intention to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Appointment of parent governors by local education authority]:

Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 6, line 12, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: The object of this amendment is to ensure that in the case of residential schools—that is to say, boarding and hospital schools—where at least 50 per cent. of registered pupils are boarders the parent governors should be elected as in all other schools and not appointed by the local education authorities as intended by the Government in Clause 5.

One of the principles on which this Bill is constructed is that of giving more power to parents. It seems therefore to be rather odd that parent governors at county, controlled and maintained special schools are to be elected by the parents, yet at boarding schools they are to be appointed by the local education authority. There is, I acknowledge, a difficulty over the hospital schools to which I shall return in a moment. I am prepared to accept that my amendment may not be quite correctly drafted as it stands, but my object this evening is to probe the Government on the principle.

I think I am right in saying that Lord Taylor's committee, when it produced its report—he will correct me if I am wrong—came down in favour of the election of parent governors in boarding schools. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, nodding at me, so I am correct there. As I indicated at Second Reading, this is a section of the Bill about which I feel particularly strongly, as I happen to be the parent of a child at an ILEA boarding school. It is a boarding school in Suffolk, something like 80 miles outside London, but it is fully under the control and management of ILEA.

This school at present holds elections for its parent governors. It holds them by single transferable vote. There is a postal vote. I am sorry to come back to this. It is the second time I have mentioned it this evening. I shall mention it once more, but I am not making propaganda. I am simply reporting the fact that at the present moment the school holds elections by that method for its parent governors. The parents' association is just as active as at any other school. It holds exactly the same types of meeting and the same sort of events. It forms, I would submit, a well defined and natural electoral constituency.

I also mentioned at Second Reading, and I repeat it this evening, that it seems to me that if a child is at a boarding school, that school plays a much larger part in the child's life than a day school, and that is an additional reason for the parents being able to elect the representatives of their choice. At the school to which I refer the next elections are due in July of this year. Should this Bill have become law by then, that system will be outlawed and we shall have to submit to appointments by the local education authority. I cannot believe that the noble Baroness, the noble Earl, or indeed the other noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, have any wish to deprive me and my fellow parent governors of our existing rights in a system which is working particularly well. That is my point on election for boarding schools.

I have already accepted that there is a difficulty over the hospital schools, which are also covered by the amendment. There are only a few such schools which have a stable population. Of the Inner London Education Authority's six schools, one is long term and the rest cover periods of only weeks or months in the child's life. I accept that there would be a difficulty there in having elected governors. However, we should be able to come up with an arrangement which will allow long-term hospital schools to function normally and to elect their governors like other schools. We could talk about that at a later stage of the Bill, but I wanted to mention it now in case the noble Earl or the noble Baroness brought it up in their reply.

I am not happy about the second part of Clause 5 concerning the proposals in subsection (4) for local authorities automatically to appoint when a sufficient number of parent governors has not come forward. A compromise position might be to say that only in the last resort should local authorities fill vacancies and one or more efforts should be made to find suitable parents to come forward before that is done. My amendment does not cover that, though it would be covered by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, if he moves that the clause should not stand part of the Bill, which would remove the whole clause. I should have some sympathy with that.

I revert to my main point. It seems unjustifiable that parents of boarders with thriving parents' associations and a perfectly adequate system of meetings, who perform their parental functions in exactly the same way as the parents of any other school, should be deprived of this right to elect their governors. I shall not press this amendment this evening. I was hoping to receive from the noble Earl or from one of the noble Baronesses an acceptance in principle that what I am saying is right. We could then consider the matter before Report stage and see whether we could produce an amendment jointly which would cover the difficulty I have mentioned about hospital schools. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I should like to add a word of support to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, on this amendment. It seems to me that this is another example of the Government having trapped themselves into complete rigidity in the composition of governing bodies and of now being forced to take an extreme position. It is an extreme position to say that all the parent governors in boarding schools should be appointed by the local authority when, as the noble Lord has convincingly shown us, it is possible to have elected parent governors of a boarding school. They have a community of interest which is just as strong, despite the fact that they do not all live in the same neighbourhood. There are working examples of elections by parents and the successful functioning of parent-teacher associations in schools of that kind. In those circumstances, it is the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, who is being moderate and reasonable and, in the formula laid down in Clause 5, the Government are being exclusive, unreasonable and unrecognising of successful practice in another way. If the noble Lord does not press the amendment he may consider at a later stage some intermediate amendment which will allow for the possibility of election but which will also allow for the possibility of appointment if election is not feasible.

That takes us on to Clause 5(4), which, it seems to us, gives much too easy opportunities for a local education authority to make a gesture towards the election of parent governors and then to retreat and say that it is not possible and that they will be appointed after all. I do not think that was the Government's intention, because they have made much play of our support about the importance of truly representative parent governors. This is a matter on which all Members of the Committee are united. But the way in which the Bill has been drafted makes it far too easy for local authorities to bypass the election provisions for parent governors.

I give notice that although I shall not pursue the issue of whether Clause 5 stand part of the Bill I, too, shall be looking for ways in which to amend Clause 5(4) to provide something which, although it is still available for appointment as a matter of last resort, does not give the open invitation to local education authorities to make gestures only at the election of parent governors.

The Earl of Swinton

The moment has come when I am going to show that the Government are far from rigid on this point. I think that I shall go the whole way that the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, asked me to.

The 1980 Act provided for parent governor elections for all schools except those maintained special schools established in a hospital where the LEA considered elections impracticable. In such a case, the LEA appoints the parent governors. It seems like an oversight that the 1980 Act did not similarly provide for schools with a high proportion of boarders. As the noble Lord pointed out, the difficulties of holding meaningful elections in some of these cases are obvious. He cited the case of a hospital school where there may be a very high turnover of pupils. Alternatively, and in the case of boarding schools, the pupils' homes may be many miles away from the school so the parent body is very scattered in a way that makes it difficult for individual parents to be fully involved and equally difficult to regard the parent body as a single entity.

In view of the greater demands to be placed on parents to stand for election to reconstituted governing bodies, the Bill recognised these difficulties by providing for parent governors to be appointed in the case of all hospital schools and other schools where at least half the pupils were boarders.

After the concerns expressed tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and by others at Second Reading, the Government would be ready to move an amendment at a later stage to revert to the 1980 Act approach whereby parent governor elections have to be held unless the LEA considers this impracticable. I think I can go further, because this would not give the LEA carte blanche. If it acted unreasonably in the matter—and whether meaningful elections were being held under the current arrangements would be a significant factor—the Secretary of State could issue a corrective direction under Section 68 of the 1944 Act.

The Government would not be prepared to move quite to the point that would be reached under the amendment of the noble Lord of requiring elections in all instances. The noble Lord himself has confirmed on reflection, I think, that he believes it is right, too; since it seems quite clear that there will be some cases where elections for all practical purposes would be out of the question. With the commitment I have given to move an appropriate amendment in due course, I feel certain, judging by what the noble Lord said, that he would be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kilmarnock

This is a happy occasion and I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl for what he has said. I knew that his heart was in the right place and that it would show sooner or later, and it has shown on this amendment. I would agree with him that it will be necessary to write in some mechanism to draw the line between practicality and impracticality in the case of the short-term-stay hospital schools and the long-term-stay hospital schools. I have no doubt that the Government with their ingenuity will be able to do that.

I am particularly delighted that he has accepted the point that I and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, have put to him, because, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has said, boarding schools have a great community of interest which overcomes the dispersal of the parents and perhaps gives them an even stronger sense of community and common interest, or no less strong a sense of community and common interest, than the parents of a day school. I shall not go over that again. The noble Earl has accepted that point. We look forward to seeing the amendment that the Government are proposing to move at the next stage of the Bill. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Appointment of representative governors in place of co-opted governors]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 7, line 30, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert— ("by a panel of representatives of voluntary organisations concerned with special educational needs, appointed by the local authority, or under a procedure established by the local education authority.").

The noble Lord said: I am very pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is still in his place because I think that this is a point where I might be seeking his support and the value of his extensive and profound knowledge of our special schools system. The Bill as drafted provides that a governor shall be appointed by a voluntary organisation designated by the local education authority in relation to the school as the appropriate voluntary organisation concerned with matters with respect to which the school is specially organised. That is all very well as far as it goes, and there may be a number of schools for which that is an appropriate measure.

However, the experience of those who have been concerned with our special schools is that there are many cases where there is more than one voluntary organisation interested in the school's special educational needs. It could be a national organisation specialising in a particular handicap—deafness, blindness, mental handicap or whatever it may be. In addition to such national organisations whose participation in governing bodies can be very valuable, there are often local organisations with perhaps less professional expertise which may be interested in the charitable aspects of the handicap and whose participation would also be enormously helpful to the school's work.

The amendment does not propose an alteration in the final composition of the governing body; it proposes a more open method of selection and places an obligation on the local authority to consult, where appropriate—I say no more than that—as many local organisations as may contribute to the appointment of a member of the governing body. In other words, this is a natural extension of opportunity. There is not a greater diminution of opportunity, as unfortunately there has been in some previous amendments. I hope that the amendment will secure the support of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the Government's approval. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

For reasons which the noble Lord has been kind enough to mention, I naturally took great care to study his amendment and to compare it with the words in the Bill which he proposes should be left out. May I deal with the Bill as it stands for the moment? I should not like those words to be left out. If I needed to give a reason, it is to be found in the Notes on Clauses where in relation to Clause 6(3) they state that the subsection provides: to have a representative of the appropriate voluntary organisation or, if there is more than one such organisation, for those organisations to make a joint appointment". That is quite clear. The notes go on to say something which pleases me very much and which is in the Bill although I should not expect it to be. The notes state: For example, if a special school caters for mentally handicapped children, the appropriate voluntary organisation might be MENCAP". I should not dare to agree with anything that disturbed that satisfactory situation. Having said that, my mind naturally travelled on to the possibility of getting the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, the noble Lord's amendment does not allow us to do so. However, if he had allowed the words of the Bill to stand and added a new paragraph to subsection (3) preceded by the word "or" and followed by the words that he has on the Marshalled List, I should have been glad to give him my half-hearted support. That, alas, is not the situation with which we are at this moment faced.

The Earl of Swinton

Having heard from my noble friend, at the express invitation of the noble Lord who moved the amendment, I do not think that I need say very much. I was not absolutely certain what was behind the amendment because, as my noble friend Lord Renton said, the Bill provides for specialist representation on the governing bodies of maintained special schools not established in a hospital by the appropriate organisation or organisations.

9.30 p.m.

I cannot see what this committee would do if there were disagreement, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, between two groups of very worthy charities which both decided that they were the right ones. I should have thought you would then have a rather cumbersome and bureaucratic committee set up to decide what could and should be done by a get-together of the various interested parties round the table.

Under this Bill things are even better than my noble friend Lord Renton said, because I should emphasise that once the LEA has made a decision that need not be the end of the matter. If the governing body are unhappy with their instrument of government, they are free to make representations to the authority to have it changed. Under the provisions of Clause 2 of the Bill, the LEA would be required to give serious consideration to such representations.

Of course, if parents thought that the wrong charity, as it were, had been appointed they would be perfectly free to bring this up and register their view at the annual meeting. Again, the LEA would be required to give the proposal very serious consideration. So I really do not think that the difficulties which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, envisaged, and which my noble friend did not, are likely to arise. In the light of those comments, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to both noble Lords. If the noble Lord, Lord Renton, promised me that he was half-glad to give me full-hearted support, that would give me even greater pleasure. But I recognise the force of the points made. I also recognise that the Bill provides for joint appointments when that is appropriate. I still feel that there could be an advantage in a panel of this kind, which need not be as formal as the noble Earl suggests. But I will consider the form of the amendment in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has suggested, and see whether it is more appropriate to put it forward in that way at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Governors' proceedings and tenure of office]:

Lord Ritchie of Dundee moved Amendment No. 30: Page 8, line 26, after ("of") insert ("up to").

The noble Lord said: I am speaking to Amendments Nos. 30 and 31, which are consequential on each other. I do not feel that there is very much to say about them, because it seems to me that there is a possible omission from the drafting of the Bill and that the need for some amendment such as this is self-evident. The object of being a parent governor is that you should be a governor during the time when you are a parent, and the object of being a teacher governor is that you should be a governor during the time when you are a teacher, and both sorts of governor become irrelevant after that time. As I said, I feel that the need for some amendment such as this is self-evident. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The virtues of this amendment seem to me so apparent that I am sure the Government will give way, and it would be inappropriate for me to make any grumbling noises. I rise only to say that I support wholeheartedly what the noble Lord has said. I recognise that his wording is preferable to that of my own Amendment No. 32, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and my noble friend Lord Irving will agree with me on that. I hope that the Government will give as sympathetic consideration as they can to something which I am sure must have been intended, and which I am also sure is what parents, teachers and all governors would expect to be the conditions of appointment to a governing body.

Lord Renton

I appreciate the purpose of this amendment. However, I am a little worried about the large number of by-elections to which it will give rise. I think that it is going rather far to put it in the terms of the amendment. At the same time I must confess that I am not happy about the Government's provision in subsection (2) of Clause 7, that the governor shall hold office for a term of four years unless it is an ex officio governor. As I understand it, the only ex officio governor will be the headmaster if he serves. All the other governors, once elected, will be there for four years. Does that mean that there will be a general election every four years in every school? Democracy is a very good thing but you can have a bit too much of it sometimes.

Baroness Hooper

In spite of the apparent virtues of the amendment extolled by noble Lords opposite, I hope that I shall have the support of all your Lordships, and of my noble friend Lord Renton in particular perhaps, when I say that these are matters which are best left to the regulations which the Secretary of State will make under subsection (5) of this clause.

The 1981 regulations currently make the provision suggested by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in his amendment. In the case of teacher governors, we intend to make the same provision in the new regulations. For parent governors, the story is a little longer. We proposed the same provision in the Green Paper "Parental Influence at School". We then received many comments to the effect that it would aid continuity particularly on the governing bodies of infants' schools and sixth form colleges which pupils attend for only two to three years, if parent governors were permitted to serve out their term of office even if their children had left the school. In response to these comments, the Government announced in the White Paper Better Schools that parent governors would indeed be allowed to serve out their term of office. This announcement promptly provoked comments from those who had agreed with the Green Paper's proposition and had therefore previously remained silent. I think that all goes to show that there are arguments both ways.

However, I repeat that these are points which we intend should be covered in the regulations rather than in primary legislation. So far as concerns teacher governors, I believe that we are in agreement over what the provision should be—though we would agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that the end of the school year should be the relevant point, not the end of the term as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie. On parent governors, there are arguments both ways. The Committee will be aware that the regulations are to be made by statutory instrument, subject to negative resolution of either House of Parliament. The Government will consult widely before making the regulations, and on the question of the term of office for parent governors we will take account of what has been said today as well as comments arising from our consultations before deciding which way lies the balance of the argument. I hope therefore that the noble Lords will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Renton

I hope that my noble friend will forgive me if I say that I do not understand her argument and cannot follow it in relation to the Bill. She says that this matter which is governed at the moment by subsection (2) is to be governed in future by the regulations to be made, and they will be made under subsection (6). But if we look at subsection (6)(d) we find that the regulations are to be subject to subsections (2) and (4), so that it seems as though—

Baroness Hooper

Perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend to say that the regulations I referred to are to be made under subsection (5) of Clause 7.

Lord Renton

Yes, but that deals with another matter. It does not deal with the tenure of office, which is what I thought we were discussing on the amendment. I think my noble friend will have to ask those advising her to look again at the matter in the light of this discussion. It is a very confused situation in my opinion. I should certainly wish to read what my noble friend has said before being at all satisfied, because I must confess that I am perplexed.

Lord Kilmarnock

If I may add to what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, it seems to be perfectly clear that subsection (5) is concerned with regulations that make provision as to the meetings and proceedings of the governing bodies". It says nothing at all about the length of the appointment of governors. It seems a very confused position if subsection (2) is to be subject to or overridden by subsection (5), which does not itself refer to the subject matter of subsection (2).

There is the further provision in subsection (6)(d), which, as the noble Lord pointed out, makes it subject to subsection (2). We shall need clarification before the next stage of the Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to remain on my feet long enough for the noble Baroness to obtain advice on this matter. It would be preferable to have the matter clarified now rather than wait until a later stage of the Bill.

It seems clear to both the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and to ourselves that subsection (5) refers to the meetings and proceedings of the governing bodies, and that subsection (6), which refers to the regulations that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned, as well as to tenure of office, is quite unqualified in saying that subsection (2) and (4) have precedence in terms of the way in which regulations may be made.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, is an expert not only on the subject of governing bodies but also on what should be on the face of Bills and provided for in codes of practice and in regulations. I am absolutely certain that his advice to the Committee is correct and that there ought to be an opportunity now for this matter to be resolved by the Government.

I shall take a moment or two more to refer to the issue of whether the tenure should run to the end of the school term or to the end of the school year. Reference has been made to the fact that if it were to run to the end of the school term, there might be an excessive number of by-elections. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that such would be undesirable. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has herself referred to her preference for using the end of the school year rather than the end of the school term. I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, and I would happily agree to reach a compromise of that kind, provided that we can secure an adequate commitment from the Government as to the effective provision of what I believe it is that we all want.

Baroness Hooper

I am most grateful to my noble friend and to other noble Lords for their helpful comments. Obviously the position is not absolutely clear. I will only mention that subsection (6)(d) refers to "tenure of office". I had therefore assumed that the regulations that were going to be relevant to these amendments were those to be made under subsection (5). I simply add that we note the comments made and will clarify the position.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I think that we might ask the noble Baroness to go a little further than that. In view of what she has said, and whatever may be the position in respect of subsection (6), it would not be unreasonable of us to ask her to confirm the Government's view that it would be desirable, if it can be achieved, not to have lame duck governors, either parents or teachers, after the end of the school year in which they are either teachers or have pupils at the school. If the noble Baroness will confirm that, and will simply say that a means must be found of achieving it, then she will deserve and receive the gratitude of parents, of schools, and indeed of this Committee.

Baroness Hooper

I am sure we shall do our best to achieve the most desirable solution, but I think the main point to be made in relation to these amendments is that any detail will be governed by regulations rather than by primary legislation.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Forgive me for intervening again but the matter is governed by primary legislation in subsection (2). We are totally relaxed about whether it should be primary legislation or by regulation at the end of the day. We are saying that the primary legislation on the face of the Bill does not achieve the objective which I think all Members of the Committee want.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

I can only repeat what I have just said. We have noted the comments and shall consider the matter.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I feel that we have threshed out this amendment and I offer my thanks to all who have contributed to trying to undo this knotty point. On the undertaking from the noble Baroness that the matter will be looked into, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 7 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Renton

I have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question, but let me enable your Lordships to relax by saying that I do not propose to divide the Committee. I use this legitimate device as a peg on which to hang a plea to the Government. I am partly inspired to do so by the speech made towards the end of the Second Reading debate by the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford—and Dartford is where I was born. Having referred to me in over-generous terms, the noble Lord said: There is no doubt at all that, in terms of the report, and in terms of properly devised legislation, much of what is in the Bill should at worst be either in the schedules or in regulations, and at best in guidelines".—[Official Report, 10/3/86; col. 463.] I dispose of the guidelines at once. I think that that would be a deplorable way of setting out the detail, if it is necessary to have it.

I suggest to your Lordships that regulations are justified when the law has to be amended from time to time, with a change in the value of money, and so on, but we should not have important provisions in regulations when, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would say, they deserve to be in primary legislation: I quote the phrase used by the noble Lord in our last discussion.

I turn to Clause 7 in the light of those comments. In Part II of the Bill generally there is a mass of legislative detail which deals more with matters of administration and organisation than of principle. I suggest most seriously to the Government that they should look in particular at Clause 7 and, to save your Lordships being burdened with another speech on the same point from me, at Clause 14 as well, as I had given notice of my intention to oppose Clause 14. There is a vast amount of matter which often these days the draftsman puts into schedules. To do him credit, we frequently find that matters such as we have in Clause 7 and 14 go into a great deal of detail about which there is not much controversy. If there is, the schedule can be amended.

I think it would make for a better presentation of the Bill if the Government were to use the usual sort of device by which one subsection of Clause 7 need not be a subsection at all but just a few lines of a clause saying that the provisions concerning governors' proceedings and tenure of office shall be as set out in the first, second or third schedule—whatever it may be. The same applies to Clause 14, which merely has a side note saying "Miscellaneous". There is a mass of miscellaneous provision there dealing with matters that have to be tidied up because of what is being enacted in Part II of the Bill.

One only has to look at the excellent Notes on Clauses to see what Clause 7 is about and how it can be summarised. The notes simply say: This clause contains a number of technical provisions concerning governing bodies' proceedings and governors' terms of office. It provides in particular for the Secretary of State to make regulations concerning the meetings and proceedings of governing bodies". Perhaps I should eat my own words in respect of that. Sometimes, because of the small print, even though regulations do not deal with matters which are temporary, nevertheless they are matters which should be in regulations. That is what this clause does.

The notes then add: Generally, the clause draws together the previous provisions that appeared in the 1944 and the 1980 Acts, with some clarification and extension". It is what one might call the small print of primary legislation. Let it be primary legislation, but let it not clutter up the clauses. Let it be placed properly in the schedules.

Lord Irving of Dartford

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for quoting from my speech. He and I have known each other for many years. In fact, for many years we were pairs in another place. I knew he would not let me down but would defend the excellent report of the committee which he chaired with firmness and conviction. If by any chance he should be persuaded to go into the Lobby, I should be glad to follow him.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I also intended to say that I should be delighted to follow the noble Lord or to act with him as a teller if he felt inclined to give effect to statements with which I entirely agree, but for another reason.

The fact of the matter is that though, as he says, the Notes on Clauses are excellent, in this case they are somewhat less than excellent because, as we have seen from the preceding discussion, Clause 7 does not concern itself merely with technical matters. The question of the terms of office of parent governors and teacher governors after they have ceased to have their original connection with the schools is by no means a technical or unimportant matter but one which would arouse a great deal of feeling if it were abused other than by resignation, if it actually happened on governing bodies. If governing bodies were to contain a significant number of people who did not have their original connection with the schools, the credibility of the governing body would be very seriously diminished.

For that reason, we pressed the Government on this matter. I hope that they are still thinking about it and that they will come to realise that the reasons given for rejecting the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, are not satisfactory and the matter can be corrected at a later stage. As it stands, Clause 7 is something which needed and still needs debate. It could indeed have been debated if it had been in a schedule rather than in a regulation, but it is not yet in a satisfactory state.

Lord Renton

I am deeply distressed, as I seem to have lost an ally. I thought that the noble Lord started off by commending the suggestion that we did not want the primary legislation to contain too much detail in the clauses but that it should go into the schedules.

As to this question of appointments and tenure of office, I do not have the information at my finger tips but, if my memory is correct, the proceedings of various statutory bodies—indeed, of local authorities as well, I think—will frequently be found in recent statutes. When it comes to a question of laying down appointments, tenure of office, dismissal, proceedings and so on, it will all be found in the schedules. I am so relieved to find the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, nodding his head like the good friend and ally that he has been for so many years.

Baroness Hooper

I am glad to have the assurance from my noble friend that he does not propose to divide the Committee on this particular point. Of course, we were fully aware of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, during the Second Reading debate, and indeed of the report of my noble friend Lord Renton which has been referred to.

On the question of whether procedural matters of this kind are in a schedule rather than in a clause, I think that this is essentially a matter of choice. After all, it does not greatly affect the parliamentary process. The matters dealt with in this clause will be of considerable interest and use to governing bodies; and I think that they will find them helpful to have them stated in a clause in the part dealing with school government. It is essentially a housekeeping clause, as has been said, and since it is largely a technical one I hope we need not be further detained on it.

Lord Renton

I am very disappointed.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 33:

After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:

("Training of school governors.

. A central advisory unit shall be set up to—

  1. (a) collect and publicise governor training materials;
  2. (b) promote good practices in governor training; and
  3. (c) develop new initiatives in governor training and support.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment, when I look at it, is a very sensible one, but it is in a rather curious place. I really think that this matter ought to be dealt with in Part IV of the Bill when we are concerned with matters such as training. Clause 43, I think it is, is concerned with training.

I hasten to say that this is a matter on which we are in very substantial agreement with the Government and any amendments we put forward will be designed to give greater effect to the Government's intentions, and of course to secure the funding position for local authorities. However, on reflection I think that this is not the right place or the right time to debate this amendment. I shall seek to have it reinserted at a more appropriate place for a later stage in Committee and not move it now.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Grouping of schools under single governing body]:

10 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 10, line 14, at end insert— ("save that in Wales a school designated as a Welsh medium school or a school with a Welsh medium unit shall not be grouped with an English medium school.")

The noble Lord said: I think this can be dealt with fairly rapidly, because our opposition is to grouping of any sorts of school and is therefore to the whole of Clauses 8 and 9 of the Bill. I move the amendment now formally only to establish whether the Government have sympathy for the objective, which seems to be reasonable and modest, to secure that Welsh medium schools are not submerged in English medium schools; and it is only in order to give the Government an opportunity to react now that I beg to move.

Baroness Young

I understand that the purpose of the amendment is to preclude local education authorities from resolving that any two or more maintained schools may be grouped for school government purposes if any school involved is a Welsh medium school or one that has a Welsh medium unit attached to it. I must draw attention to subsection (1)(c) of Clause 9 which, I believe, meets the point behind the amendment. That part of the Bill makes it clear that in the kind of case the amendment seeks to cover, grouping of schools under a single governing body by a local education authority cannot be automatic. It must be subject to the consent of the Secretary of State for Wales.

This was a deliberate insertion in order to meet the legitimate concerns of parents and pupils in Welsh medium schools and units. We believe that this is the right way to handle the matter rather than by specific exclusions. There may be exceptional cases where a local authority feels that it has a strong case for grouping English and Welsh medium schools, and it is right in those circumstances that it should have the opportunity to make out its case to the Secretary of State. I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment. I have indicated that we believe that the point he makes has been met in this clause of the Bill.

Lord Prys-Davies

We are grateful for Clause 9(1)(c) but it does not meet the point of the amendment. Clause 9 distinguishes between the two categories of school in Wales for grouping purposes. There are the schools where there is no significant difference between them in their use of the Welsh language. They can be grouped without the consent of the Secretary of State. Then there are the schools where there is a significant difference in the use of the language, and their grouping can proceed only with the consent of the Secretary of State. This amendment establishes a third category; namely, where there is a designated Welsh medium school or unit, it cannot be grouped with a non-designated Welsh medium school or unit. In other words, the Secretary of State, in this case, would not have the authority to approve such a grouping.

I understand that the Welsh medium schools that have been grouped with non-Welsh medium schools are highly critical of the Secretary of State's decision that authorised the grouping. Having experienced his judgment once, they want to put the issue henceforth beyond his discretion. They do not want to rely on Clause 9(1)(c). In Cardiff, every Welsh medium school in the primary sector is grouped with an English medium school. Indeed, there is one Welsh medium school that has been grouped with two English medium schools, although the parents had objected to the application to the Secretary of State. Time is getting on, and I shall not give particular examples. But the evidence that we have of the grouping of these two categories of school draws attention to the difficulties inherent in grouping. The inference that we should draw from the evidence is that the two categories should not be merged and that this should be beyond the discretion of the Secretary of State so that there is a distinction. The amendment deals with the position that Clause 9(1)(c) does not deal with satisfactorily.

Baroness Young

I take the point that the noble Lord makes that there is this problem. If I have understood the position correctly, it is similar to that referred to in the earlier amendment on schools with Welsh medium units attached to them. The noble Lord's concern is that they should not be grouped with English schools. He has given examples of where this has happened. I shall look carefully tomorrow at Hansard to see what he has said about the matter and come back to him if I have not correctly understood.

My understanding of the position is that in the circumstances the noble Lord has described the Secretary of State for Wales would clearly need a great deal of convincing to override the kind of considerations which he has adumbrated in his remarks on this amendment. There would have to be, from the point of view of the local authority, overriding reasons for consenting to a grouping of that kind. I take that point. Primia facie, that would appear to go against the kind of considerations which underlie the whole of the principle of this Bill: that schools would have their own governing bodies because of their distinctive character.

I hope that the noble Lord will understand that under the provisions of Clause 9 there would be this opportunity for the Secretary of State to look at it, and to consider the situation carefully against the background of all the provisions of the Bill. I therefore think it unlikely that the kind of situation which he has described would happen.

I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment. I shall certainly undertake to look very carefully at what he has said. If there is something more I shall undertake to get in touch with him either by letter or by meeting him to go more fully into the situation which the noble Lord has described.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I find myself wholly convinced by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. I think that the Minister has gone as far as one can reasonably expect. The noble Baroness will have to do some reading of my noble friend's speech; and my noble friend will have to do some reading of her speech. In the light of that, I do not doubt that we shall come to a satisfactory conclusion at a later stage, whether or not we have to put down a further amendment. In the light of those considerations, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My noble friends and I have given notice of our intention to oppose the Questions on both of these clauses. Clauses 8 and 9 are closely related. My noble friend Lord Taylor will no doubt wish to refer to the very lengthy considerations of the Taylor committee about the grouping of governing bodies. This was a matter which caused them considerable concern, not least because of the very substantial abuses which took place under the preceding legislation. Reference was made at Second Reading to the fact that Manchester Local Education Authority for many years thought it appropriate to group all of their schools together under one governing body, which was in effect the education committee. Reference was also made to Sir James Graham of Leeds, who managed to use the 1902 Act to circumvent the provisions of the 1870 Act. This is a matter which goes back a number of years.

I am the first to accept that, in particular in Clause 9(1), the Government have closed most of the loopholes which are available for abuse of grouping powers. Clause 9(1)(a) says that the Secretary of State has to give his approval to a proposed grouping unless the group consists only of two primary schools both of which serve substantially the same area, and neither is a special school, and the Welsh provision with which we have dealt in the preceding amendment.

The reason for opposing these two clauses is threefold. First, this is another example of the attempt to put on to the face of a Bill extraordinarily complicated procedures which should be dealt with in schedules or regulations. There is virtually nothing in Clause 8 which ought to be in a Bill. Secondly, despite what has just been said about Welsh schools, we are not entirely satisfied that the Secretary of State's say-so will be an effective block to undesirable groupings, partly because it is difficult to see how, if there are a considerable number of proposals for groupings put to the Secretary of State, he can actually deal with any number of them effectively. There are several places in the Bill where the Secretary of State puts upon himself and his department obligations to concern himself with the day-to-day activities of individual local education authorities and individual governing bodies which seem to us wholly undesirable. Therefore, we are not satisfied that the Secretary of State's approval is an adequate safeguard.

Thirdly, on the issue of two primary schools serving substantially the same area, we presume that what is being referred to is what used to be called "JMI schools", where the infant school and the junior school are in the same building and share some common facilities. The assumption appears to be that it is satisfactory to have a group governing body for those two schools. I have served on the group governing body of a JMI school and I have served on the group governing bodies of more than two primary schools in the same area. I am bound to say that I found both of those types of governing body wholly unsatisfactory. In one instance the governing body concerned managed several primary schools and it consisted of little more than head teachers' reports and cosy questioning, but no real consideration for the needs of the school. We were all seated on tiny chairs listening to a series of head teachers giving necessarily abbreviated reports.

In the case of a joint governing body of a JMI, the situation is rather different. Of course the people concerned know each other rather better. However, when there is an infant and a junior school together there is definitely the feeling that the infant school is somehow inferior to the junior school in other ways apart from the age of the children. There is the feeling that such a group governing body does not really do justice to the needs of the infant school.

Therefore, in the particular case of the two primary schools both serving the same area, I would say that the consent of the Secretary of State—if that were a sensible procedure at all—would be even more strongly needed. In other words, what we are saying is that there are no real exceptions to the rule that the grouping of governing bodies is undesirable. There are many local authorities which have succeeded in having ungrouped governing bodies. There is no reason to suppose that the requirement to have ungrouped governing bodies will cause excessive difficulty to local education authorities. In the circumstances, surely it is better to remove all the provisions in Clauses 8 and 9 of the Bill.

Baroness Young

I have listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has said on both Clauses 8 and 9, and with the permission of the Committee I should like to speak to both clauses at the same time. Clause 8 re-enacts Section 3 of the 1980 Act and provides for the detailed procedures to be followed where schools are to be grouped under a single governing body, or where those groupings are to be terminated. However, it introduces a new requirement for grouped schools which, like every other school, are to have an instrument of government to establish the constitution of the governing body and to contain other provisions for their proceedings, term of office and related matters.

In the past, such matters were dealt with in an arrangement made by the LEA, but we believe that it is important that the governing body of a grouped school, like any other governing body, should have a formal instrument of government subject to all the procedures for making these documents in Part I.

10.15 p.m.

As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said—and as was argued by many noble Lords at Second Reading—he believes that each school should have its own governing body and that none should be grouped. We have no difficulty in agreeing with the general proposition that the governing body is a major determinant of a school's individuality and that therefore schools should, by and large, have their own governing bodies. But the 1980 Act recognised that there were some schools and circumstances where it was not only sensible but positively advantageous for them to share a governing body; for example, an infants' school feeding a junior school on the same site, perhaps with strong curricular links.

We have slightly tightened in Clause 9 the conditions in which the LEAs can group schools without the consent of the Secretary of State because, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, rightly said, under the 1980 Act some LEAs had observed the letter but not the spirit of the law, and had grouped primary schools many miles apart. We believe that schools should be grouped only where a single governing body can adequately meet the school's distinctive needs, but we recognise that in some circumstances grouping may be beneficial and we therefore believe that the provisions in Clauses 8 and 9 are necessary.

Perhaps I should add, on Clause 9, that the powers of the Secretary of State to approve groupings are used sparingly. The guiding principle is that a single governing body should adequately meet the distinctive needs of the schools involved. The sort of cases that might be approved are either an infant and junior school linked, or two infants' schools which both feed a nearby junior school with close curricular links, or a junior and senior high school, or the upper and lower parts of an 11 to 18 school which happened to be organised as two separate schools.

I hope that with this explanation it will be accepted that the provisions of Clause 9 restrict the circumstances where grouping is permissible so that schools are still able to develop their own individual identity and sense of purpose, because that is a fundamental principle of the Bill. Following our experience of the 1980 Act it will be apparent that the circumstances of grouping have now been restricted further than they were before, and are allowed in particular circumstances where the local education authority and the Secretary of State believe that it would be to the advantage of the schools concerned.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

I disagree entirely with the noble Baroness on this. In my experience, since the 1980 Act was introduced it has not worked even where you have two schools on one site co-operating together. At this time in the evening I have no intention of entering into a long debate, but I give notice of my intention of putting down an amendment at Report stage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I always find the noble Baroness a very effective advocate. I must say that on this occasion I find her brief wholly unconvincing. Nine-tenths of it was devoted to saying how little grouping there was going to be, and the only statement of defence for the remaining grouping was to say, "In some circumstances grouping may be beneficial". She did not say in what circumstances grouping may be beneficial, and she did not say what benefits might be thought to arise from it. I suggest that when my noble friend fulfils his promise to bring the matter back to a more populous Committee, or at a later stage of the Bill, the Government ought to have a better brief than they have had this evening.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clauses 9 to 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Miscellaneous]:

Lord Ritchie of Dundee moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 17, line 10, at beginning insert— ("( ) It shall be a duty of the local education authority to consult the head teacher of a school before the appointment of a governor to the governing body of that school by the local education authority. After the appointment is made, the head teacher shall be notified of the names and addresses of any governors so appointed. The head teacher shall have the right to object to that appointment within two weeks of receipt of notification of appointment. In the event of such an objection being made, the local education authority shall be obliged to reconsider the appointment. If the appointment is confirmed, there shall be no right of further objection.").

The noble Lord said: We have spent a long afternoon and evening discussing the composition of governing bodies. No mention has yet been made of the position of head teachers. I have great sympathy for head teachers. There is no reason why we should have discussed them yet, but I should like briefly to do so now.

We tend to stand on the touchline and to observe, comment and criticise from the outside, but head teachers, deputy teachers and their staffs have the very tough job of running schools. It is most important to them, and to the head teacher in particular, that the governing body with whom he or she has to deal should be sympathetic and supportive and should also be active and dedicated. We have confined our thoughts to their being non-political, and that is a necessity as well. But governing bodies need to have those other qualities.

Not all governors do, I am afraid. As a matter of fact, there is a survey which shows that there is an enormous variety in the governing bodies in the country, between those who have those qualities that I have outlined and those who do not. I told the Committee earlier this evening of one school governing body I heard of a little while ago, and of whom the headmaster had to say quite honestly that only four out of 18 governors were of the slightest use, or had any dedication or true interest.

It is for these reasons that I feel there should be some communication between local education authorities and the head teacher over their appointments or nominations for governors. Not only is the head teacher very often not consulted, but he often does not even know who is appointed. I heard of a case a little while ago in with the head teacher learnt who was to be the newly appointed governor from the person herself. She just said, "Hello. Good morning. I'm your new governor".

I therefore feel that something needs to be done about this matter. I heard of another case in which the head teacher of a large school learnt of the appointment by the local education authority of a governor who, in her words, was completely persona non grata. I was unable to discover from her exactly what she meant by that, but I understood her to mean that she was the sort of person who should not be in a school and should not have any dealings with a school. She was the nomination of the local education authority.

I therefore feel that head teachers should be more closely involved in some way in the local education authority appointments. I am not claiming that the drafting of this amendment is perfect. I think it could be improved, but I hope that some consideration will be given to this matter by the Minister and that the Committee will also give it consideration. I beg to move.

Baroness Hooper

I understand the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, in moving this amendment, but unfortunately I have to say that I do not think the amendment adds particularly usefully to the existing legal position.

As the amendment recognises, it would not be appropriate to give the head teacher a veto over the local authority's appointment of a governor. What is proposed is that there should be a formal opportunity for the head teacher to ask the local education authority to think again about an appointment. Head teachers already have equivalent powers. No one needs specific statutory powers to make representations to a local education authority. A local education authority is under the usual administrative law duty to give proper consideration to matters brought to its attention. It would be acting unreasonably otherwise and subject to correction by the Secretary of State using his powers under Section 68 of the 1944 Act.

The Government are understandably reluctant to add unnecessarily to the statute book and, as I have indicated, although sympathetic to the reasons behind this amendment, the intention of the amendment is already fully available. Indeed, given that we are talking of what is probably only a small minority of possibly sensitive cases, I think it might even be counter-productive to seek to deal with such matters in the high profile way that this amendment suggests. In all the circumstances, I must ask the Committee to reject the amendment.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

I thank the Minister for her reply. I am aware that the amendment as worded appears in the first half to offer to the head teacher the power to veto; and this I feel is too strongly worded. My plea was that the head teacher should have the right to see the names and to object, and if objection were overruled that would have to be accepted. However, in the circumstances, and bearing in mind what the Minister has said about the facilities already being available, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 38: Page 17, line 25, at end insert ("subject to guidelines provided by the Secretary of State")

The noble Lord said: This amendment refers to the conduct of parent governor elections. I am conscious that there are other amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, on this matter and, indeed, another amendment in my name and in that of my noble friend Lord Irving. But I think that this is probably the least controversial way in which to raise the issue of parent governor elections.

We have had it represented to us, and I think that it is the experience of many, that there are possibilities for head teachers, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, said, to influence the election or selection of parent governors. It is not an entirely fanciful thing to say that there can be parents' meetings at which the question of the election of a parent governor arises and the head teacher says, "Now we come to the election of the parent governor. So-and-so is your existing governor. He or she has done an excellent job". Then he may say either, "Are there any other nominations?" or, "I propose that so-and-so should continue as the parent governor".

Whatever sympathy one may have with the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, to have the head teacher consulted, I do not think that anybody would wish the head teacher to have an influence on the election in the way that it can, and, indeed, does happen. What this amendment would achieve is that the Secretary of State should provide guidance to local authorities on how to conduct successful elections for parent governors. The Advisory Centre for Education has carried out a survey on this and has found that there are many cases where either the head teacher or the clerk to the governors has the responsibility for the election of parent governors. There is a huge diversity of practice, and I should have thought that most head teachers and clerks to governors would welcome guidelines as to how to conduct democratic elections.

This is not in any way an imposition on the authority, on the head teacher or on the clerk to the governors. It is trying to help all of those concerned to produce the satisfactory outcome which I believe to be the intention of the Government. I beg to move.

10.30 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton

I draw attention to the provisions of subsection (5) of this clause which gives some guidance on the conduct of parent governor elections. The Government recognise that there has been some confusion about the provisions of Section 2(9) of the 1980 Act and parents' rights to participate in parent governor elections. Subsection (5) clarifies the position. It prevents, for example, LEAs or governing bodies deciding that only one vote per household is allowed.

I do not believe that more detailed guidance is practicable or desirable. It is appropriate that LEAs—and, in the case of aided and special agreement schools governing bodies—should be able to determine the precise election arrangements that best suit their local circumstances. I do not think that democracy is necessarily harmed by having a variety of electoral arrangements, and any guidance offered by the Secretary of State could only be so broad as to be meaningless. I ask the noble Lord not to insist that he undertake such a wasteful task.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am afraid that I dispute that, even at this time of night. The noble Earl is assuming that the Secretary of State in his guidelines has to specify either exactly what form the elections should take or make the guidelines so vague as to be useless. There is a third option. It is possible for the Secretary of State to describe a number of ways in which the elections could take place and leave it to the local authority to decide which of those ways is the most appropriate for its circumstances. In that way the Secretary of State would not be overbearing or forcing a particular solution on a local authority; he would be providing the kind of practical help for what is after all a complex matter which I should have thought most local authorities would welcome and find helpful.

I do not want to spell all that out by putting it on the face of the Bill. I should earn the justified criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, if I did that. Here is an example, because it is not on the face of the Bill and the amendment speaks of guidelines, of how it is possible for our intentions to be seriously distorted, no doubt unwittingly, by what the noble Earl said. We shall have to find some other method of convincing the Government of the justice of the case. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 39: Page 17, line 27, leave out from ("dates") to end of line 29 and insert— ("( ) An election of governors to the governing body shall be conducted under the principles of proportional representation using the single transferable vote system.")

The noble Lord said: The noble Earl has just chided the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for wishing a wasteful task on the Secretary of State. In this amendment I am relieving him of that wasteful task by suggesting the method that should be used. Apart from the basic fairness of the proportional system, I should like to return to the remarks that I made when we were considering Amendment No. 22 which, the Committee will recall, was an attempt to give some effort to the Swann Committee's concern over the election of parents from ethnic minorities.

It seems to me that if we want to ensure a spread of parent governors, STV is clearly the best system. Many people are likely to exercise a second preference in favour of ethnic minority parents where the school's ethnic mix makes that a fair and reasonable thing to do. I have already spoken this evening of a specific school where that is done with success and where the result reflects very much that school's ethnic mix.

In view of the noble Earl's generosity to me this evening, I do not propose to elaborate the point any further or to deliver yet another speech on PR to him, but I think that I have made some of the shortest speeches in favour of PR ever advanced in the Chamber. I hope that I shall be given some credit for that. I beg to move.

Baroness Young

I should have been disappointed had the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, not moved his amendment tonight, particularly after he talked in such moving terms about his experience of PR in a boarding school run by ILEA. I am sure he must have been the person to influence the governing body to come to that decision. The noble Lord I see shakes his head. However, it shows how high is my opinion of his ability to put his case well that I should have thought that the boarding school governors would have decided to have their elections by PR. I think the Committee would have been disappointed had we missed this opportunity to discuss PR.

However, I do not think the Committee will be surprised to hear me suggest that it would not be appropriate to require proportional representation in the election of parent and teacher governors. But I should like to reassure the noble Lord and his noble friends that neither are we requiring the first past the post system. We are leaving electoral arrangements to be determined by the appropriate authority, subject only to the requirements of subsections (4) and (5) of this clause for a secret ballot, and for ensuring that parents are enabled to participate in the elections.

Therefore, if LEAs or governing bodies agree with the noble Lord about the effectiveness of proportional representation, they are free to conduct the election in accordance with that system. The Government believe that LEAs and, as appropriate, governing bodies are best placed to determine their own electoral arrangements in the light of local circumstances. It is on these grounds, and without considering whether proportional representation is or is not a desirable matter, that I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kilmarnock

Just as the noble Baroness was not surprised that I moved the amendment in the terms that I did, I am not surprised that she has advised the Committee to reject it. I did not intend to press it at this late hour; I simply wanted to air it. I want to discuss the matter again with my noble friends before we get to the Report stage of the Bill, and on those grounds I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 40: Page 17, line 31, after ("secret") insert ("postal")

The noble Lord said: This amendment refers to something which is more fundamental. I accept that there could be an argument in favour of leaving to local decision what form of election is to be used, but the mechanics of that election are of the greatest importance. The Government have already specified a secret vote and we have simply added in this amendment the single word "postal". I see that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in his Amendment No. 41, also asks for a postal vote and I think his amendment is a little less specific than mine, stating, and must include the opportunity for a postal vote". But the point seems to be made in both amendments that this is important.

Voting, even at a well-attended meeting with a ballot box, will not spread the net in such a way as to catch all the parents, and, if the Government are really interested in extending parent power as widely and as fairly as possible, I suggest that they accept the proposal in this amendment so that the opportunity to vote will reach all those who are entitled to that vote. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I prefer my amendment, Amendment No. 41, and I do not think it is appropriate to have two debates on two different amendments. The reason why I prefer my amendment is that I think an opportunity for a postal vote is more appropriate when there could well be a considerable part of the voting actually taking place at a meeting and when the need for a postal vote is complementary to that. In my professional organisation we have an annual general meeting. Postal votes can be sent in by the time of the start of the meeting, but those who come to the meeting can cast their votes in a secret ballot at the meeting itself, rather than sending them by post. That seems to me to be a more appropriate solution to the compulsory postal ballot which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, is proposing.

I should also say that in the terms of the Bill the Government are committed to a secret postal ballot or a ballot with an opportunity for a postal vote. Subsection (4) refers to a secret ballot. Subsection (5) refers to an obligation that the authority should, take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that every person who is known to them to be a parent of a registered pupil at the school is … given an opportunity", to vote at the election.

If I were a parent and I were, for example, disabled or working night shifts and unable to go to a meeting, I would certainly want to argue to the local authority that that obligation under subsection (5) required the local authority to give me an opportunity to cast my vote by post, because I certainly could not get it in any other way. I would argue that a postal vote is "reasonably practicable". Therefore, if the Government make the right noises now, the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and I could withdraw our amendments and retire happy.

Baroness Young

I have listened very carefully to what has been said on both these amendments. We think the provisions proposed in these amendments concern matters which are best left to the LEAs and the governing bodies' discretion. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was making this point quite clearly when he quoted Clause 14(4) and (5), which governs the general circumstances of the voting.

There will be schools whose circumstances will make a postal ballot the most practical method of conducting parent governor elections, and the LEA or the governing body, as appropriate, is free to adopt such a method if it wishes to do so. In some cases, a postal ballot could be more expensive than voting by a ballot box and voting in person. This will clearly be a factor which those conducting the elections should be allowed to consider. In particular, we would find it difficult to agree that it is necessary for teacher governor elections to be conducted by postal ballot. One has to assume that most of the electorate would have no great difficulty in voting at school.

In some schools serving tightly-knit communities, personal voting could well be a perfectly satisfactory method of conducting elections, especially if it was combined with the normal proceedings on the hustings for the candidates. We would not want to rule out this option. But as I indicated at the start of my remarks, nothing in this clause precludes a postal ballot or the opportunity for a postal ballot, and what is important is that the electoral arrangements are read in conjunction with all the provisions of the clause which makes these alternatives possible. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Renton

I am sorry to trouble the Committee further at this late hour, but a very serious point arises out of the prospect of leaving it to the local authorities. May I explain the experience of my former constituency of Huntingdonshire where there were several thousand men serving in the RAF on two large stations. Some of their children were educated locally—therefore, no problem—but most of the airmen were on temporary posting to these places, and their children were in different local authorities all over the country. Therefore, if we leave it to the local authorities some airmen may find that they have a postal vote and others would find that they have not. That would not seem to be appropriate.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Before the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, replies, I think that our colleagues who have responsibility for the employment brief would be amused to find the Government supporting workplace ballots and the Opposition supporting postal ballots if it came to trade union legislation. I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, thinks, but I thought that the Government's reply was peculiarly unsatisfactory and requires further action.

Lord Kilmarnock

I am in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in that respect. When he explained the reasons behind the wording of Amendment No. 41, he won me round to it. I am bound to say that it seems better to take account both of avoiding expense where that expense is unnecessary and casting one's net wide enough to make sure that one gets everybody in. In the light of this debate, and perhaps after further discussions with the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Renton, I may return to this point at a later stage of the Bill. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Renton

I had given notice of my intention to oppose the Question, That the clause shall stand part of the Bill, but when I spoke to Clause 7 I said that I would not make another speech. I was so disappointed by the reply that I received on Clause 7 that I do not wish my disappointment to be doubled.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 agreed to.

The Earl of Swinton

We have probably made enough progress on the Bill for one evening. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.